The hyperpartisan nature of Wisconsin state politics was on full display last week as state Republicans went to a lame duck session to cement some of their work under Gov. Scott Walker in the past eight years by stripping some of the powers from incoming Gov.-elect Tony Evers and Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul.
The uproar from Democrats and the political left was quick and loud as expected and included an echo of the protests that flooded the Capitol when Walker advanced his Act 10 agenda that stripped state workers of much of their bargaining power.
No, it is not the end of the republic as Democrats would have us believe. Nor is it a simple “codifying” of some of Gov. Walker’s executive orders and a “rebalancing” of powers between the executive and legislative branches as Republicans have cast it.
Lamentably, as we see it, the lame duck session by the Republican-controlled Legislature is likely to result in numerous lawsuits to challenge their last-minute legislation before they lose control of the executive branch and are forced to deal with possible vetoes from the new Democrat governor.
That likely scenario, which has already been threatened, could cost state taxpayers millions in legal fees to sort out – no matter which political party wins the legal argument. Just as lamentably, the lame-duck session takes the gloves off in the partisan infighting that dominates state politics these days and sets the stage for future legislatures and governors to try the same tactic before a new administration takes office.
That is exactly what has happened in North Carolina where the state is still mired in lawsuits and court fights in a similar fight and where judges thus far have found that lawmakers prevented the governor from carrying out executive branch duties.
All of which makes us want to sigh.
Against that backdrop of partisan infighting, we’re left to cheer what didn’t happen last week.
That was a proposal to change the date of the 2020 presidential primary from March to April, a move that was intended to bolster the bid of Walker-appointed state Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly to keep his job by distancing the Supreme Court race from the presidential primary which is likely to have a higher Democratic turnout.
The upshot of that proposal, however, was that it would have cost state taxpayers an additional $6.8 million for another election and it would have given the state three elections in three months. That provoked a harsh response from local clerks across the state who said a triple election cycle would be almost impossible to handle — particularly if there was a recount needed for the February spring primary or the March presidential primary.
In proposing the extra April election, GOP leaders argued it made no sense to hold a partisan election like the presidential primary on the same date as a nonpartisan election like state Supreme Court. Their collective noses — like Pinocchio’s — must have grown two inches that day.
The plain truth is that state Supreme Court races have in recent years become as partisan as all the rest of statewide races. It matters not whether the candidates bear an R or a D behind their names on the ballot. All you have to do is check the checks — the hundreds of thousands of dollars that have come from special-interest groups allied with both Democrats and Republicans to support the candidacies of one high court candidate or another to determine their political ideology and backing.
That’s a lament for another day.
As it crafted its package for the legislative lame-duck session, GOP leaders wisely dropped the proposed change in the 2020 election dates. We suspect that was more of a bow to the $6.8 million cost of an additional election and the complaints from 60 of the clerks in Wisconsin’s 72 counties.
Still, we’ll take that non-action as a win for Wisconsin taxpayers. We dislike the idea of timing elections for partisan gain or to advance one agenda or another. In the past, we have looked askance at proposals to schedule school referendums in low-turnout times in hopes of advancing their passage.
We continue to believe that high voter participation is better for good government because the results of those elections bring better buy-in from voters and more confidence in the actions of our elected officials.
So here’s a cheer, perhaps a weak one, for one thing didn’t happen last week.