The vote by the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature to strip power away from the incoming governor and attorney general split for the most part along predictable partisan lines. Not surprisingly, Democrats didn’t go along with weakening those positions just as members of their own party are set to take the offices.
In the state Assembly, the measure passed on a party-line vote, 56-27. In the Senate, it passed 17-16, with every Democrat opposed. One Republican notably broke ranks and also voted against it.
State Sen. Robert Cowles (R), who represents Green Bay, released a statement Thursday explaining why he sided with Democrats on SB 884:
After working into the early morning hours to ensure that the bills considered in the extraordinary session struck proper balance between the incoming Governor and the Legislative branch, I was unable to support a third proposal, SB 884. While I am confident that some of the proposed changes in this legislation will help to strike a good balance and protect the process for issuing a valid voter ID, the final bill limited early voting, made certain changes to the administrative rule process, and automatically rescinded guidance documents which allow field staff to properly manage our state programs. I believe that these changes will have unforeseen impacts on businesses, property owners, outdoorsmen and women, and voters throughout Wisconsin.
Although Cowles occasionally breaks with his party, he’s certainly not viewed as liberal by Democrats in the state.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) has steadily amassed power during his eight-year tenure. But since he lost his re-election bid to Democrat Tony Evers, Republicans have pushed the last-minute effort to shift some of that executive branch power to the Legislature.
SB 884 would limit the duties of the attorney general by taking away his power to name a solicitor general to represent the state in major lawsuits. Legislators would instead get to hire their own outside lawyers to represent the state. The bill would also give lawmakers, rather than the attorney general, the power to decide how to spend settlement money.
The bill would restrict early voting ― which is generally known to increase voter turnout and thus help Democrats ― prevent Evers from banning guns in the state capitol without the Legislature’s approval and give lawmakers increased control over a beleaguered state economic development agency.
The legislation now heads to Walker’s desk for his signature.