This story was reported by Nina Kravinsky, Tony Castaneda, and Molly Stentz. Photo credit: Dylan Brogan.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says this extraordinary session is needed to restore balance of power between the governor and the Legislature. But he didn’t shy away from saying he wanted keep Republican legislation in place under a Democratic governor.
“We did have an election,” Vos says. “Whether everyone here likes it or not, I respect the fact that Tony Evers is the governor and he’s going to be starting on January 7. But he’s not the governor today.”
The Assembly is due to vote today, though has been delayed all afternoon. The Senate took up the bills this afternoon, also after several delays.
Senate Republicans approved more than 80 last minute staff appointments — over the objections of Governor-elect Evers. That includes two appointments to the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents.
Many of the appointees didn’t receive a public hearing, prompting sharp words from Democratic Senator Lena Taylor of Milwaukee.
“Are those the normal procedures that normally happen when individuals are not sore losers from the election,” Taylor asked of Republicans lawmakers.
That spurred laughter and jeers from onlookers in the gallery, which prompted Senate President Roger Roth to kick them all out.
Senators voted across party lines to approve all the appointments.
Regular citizens aren’t the only ones speaking out against the last minute Republican measures. Former Governor Jim Doyle called these moves by the GOP unprecedented.
He says the transition from Republican Gov. Scott McCallum’s administration before him was much smoother.
“He actually made a point at that time of saying that he felt that it was important for the public to see that democracy works,” Doyle says. “Even when he was on the losing end of that he was committed to making sure that people understood that it’s our democracy that matters more than whether one party or another happens to be holding on to power.”
Prior to being governor, Doyle served as attorney general for more than a decade, a position Republicans are attempting to make less powerful in their sweeping proposals. Doyle says he was able to work well with Republican Governor Tommy Thompson even when they disagreed politically.
“Never once when he was angry with the Attorney General did he ever go to the Legislature and say ‘let’s curtail the Attorney General’s power,'” Doyle says.
One of the proposals allows the legislature’s joint finance committee — rather than the attorney general — power to intervene in lawsuits that involve the state. The finance committee, like the rest of the legislature, is controlled by Republicans.
Midwest Environmental Advocates lawyer Sarah Greer says that could impact the kinds of settlements they’re involved in.
“This would allow the joint finance committee an opportunity to oversee the process and maybe reject a settlement offer the parties agree to, which would prolong litigation and clog up the courts and would basically insert the legislature into the department of justice,” Greer says.
The bills would also allow state officials to hire their own private attorneys on state-related lawsuits, rather than use the state attorney general.
Both chambers are expected to continue debating late into the night.