Republicans discuss curbing Evers’ power

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republicans who control the Wisconsin Senate were meeting privately Thursday to discuss ways to scale back the powers of incoming Democratic Gov. Tony Evers as he worked on assembling his transition team.

Republican legislative leaders have not said exactly what they intend to target during a lame duck session that will give outgoing Republican Gov. Scott Walker one last chance to sign bills into law before Evers takes over on Jan. 7.

While Evers narrowly defeated Walker, Republicans maintained their majorities in both the state Senate and Assembly.

The upcoming session, which legislative leaders called at Walker’s request during the campaign, was supposed to be exclusively about approving a $100 million tax break bill for paper products giant Kimberly-Clark Corp. The incentive package is designed to save a Fox Crossing plant that employs about 500 people. Republicans didn’t have the votes in the Senate to approve the bill this year and it’s unclear whether they do now.

While that measure is in limbo, Republicans are talking about doing much more during the lame duck session, including kneecapping Evers before he takes office. Walker’s spokeswoman, Amy Hasenberg, did not immediately reply to an email asking if he would sign any measures limiting gubernatorial power before he leaves office.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos on Wednesday talked generally about wanting to reduce the new governor’s power, without saying what that might entail. Republicans in recent years increased the governor’s power over state agencies, increasing the number of political appointees he can make and his authority over the process of making rules that have the power of law. Other gubernatorial powers, like his extensive veto authority, are protected by the state constitution and would require a vote of the people to undo.

“If there are areas where we could look and say, ‘Geez — have we made mistakes where we granted too much power to the executive,’ I’d be open to taking a look to say what can we do to change that to try to re-balance it,” Vos told reporters.

Senate Republicans were meeting privately Thursday to discuss the lame duck session, which could convene later this month or in December.

Republican Sen. Luther Olsen is chairman of the Senate’s Education Committee and has worked closely over the years with Evers, the state superintendent since 2009. Olsen said Thursday that he didn’t know exactly what the Senate may be taking up, but that he’d be open to scaling back the powers of the governor.

“I didn’t like us doing it to begin with,” he said. “I think we were blindly doing what Walker wanted. … When one part of government cedes power to the other, it’s never a smart move.”

Even so, Olsen acknowledged it would not look good for Republicans to undermine Evers before he takes office.

“The problem is it just looks like you’re trying to tie the hands of the new governor,” Olsen said. “The optics problem looks bad.”

Republicans have an 18-15 majority in the state Senate for the lame duck session, giving them little margin to lose votes. But starting in January, their majority will increase to 19-14.

Evers has talked about wanting to work together with Republican legislators, but it will be difficult for him because he knocked off their close ally Walker. Evers’ spokeswoman, Britt Cudaback, said in reaction to Vos’s comments that it was “unfortunate” he was “doubling down on division.”