Democrats in Wisconsin girded for a fight and encouraged voters to speak out as Republicans prepared to move ahead quickly this week with a highly unusual and sweeping lame-duck session to pass a series of proposals that would weaken both Democratic Gov.-elect Tony Evers and Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul.
The bills up for a public hearing and committee vote Monday, setting the stage for legislative action Tuesday, would move the 2020 presidential primary to help a conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court justice, restrict early voting in way a federal court already disallowed and give the GOP-controlled Legislature the power to sidestep Kaul in legal fights.
The moves give Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who leaves office on Jan. 7, one more chance to reshape state government before his term ends. While lame-duck sessions are common in Congress, they are unusual in Wisconsin. There hasn't been one since 2010, when Democrats in power then tried unsuccessfully to approve union contracts before Walker took office.
Evers, who defeated Walker by just over 1 point last month, called the measures an attempt to invalidate results of the election.
"It goes to the heart of what democracy is all about," Evers said at a Sunday news conference held at a Milwaukee law firm. "I think it's the wrong message, I think it is an embarrassment for the state and I think we can stop it."
He urged voters to contact their legislators and said lawsuits were also being explored. He also held out hope Walker might stop the bills, but Walker has not voiced any opposition to date.
"His legacy will be tied to this," Evers said of Walker.
Republicans worked on the proposals in secret for weeks, discussing only portions of their agenda after they were leaked to reporters. They didn't make the bills public until late Friday afternoon , after they scheduled Monday's hearing before the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee. That panel, controlled 12-4 by Republicans, planned a vote immediately after the hearing was over. That would make the bills available for both the Senate and Assembly to vote on Tuesday.
Once passed, they would head to Walker, who last month voiced support for some of the ideas being discussed then, including moving the 2020 presidential primary from April to March. Democratic turnout is expected to be high in that primary, so moving it to March would help conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly, a Walker appointee, who is up for election in April.
The bill would create three elections in three months: the February state primary, the March presidential primary and the April state general election. Sixty of the state's 72 county election clerks have come out against adding a March election, saying it's logistically impossible to administer so many contests in such a short period of time and it would cost about $7 million.
The legislation also would limit in-person early voting statewide to a two-week window before elections. Similar limitations were found unconstitutional by a federal judge in 2016 and Democrats have threatened legal action again.
Other bills scheduled for the lame-duck session would:
Allow Republican legislative leaders to intervene in court cases and hire their own attorneys when state laws are challenged in court, replacing the attorney general.
Switch who can approve withdrawing from lawsuits from the governor to the Legislature's budget committee, a move that would prevent Evers from ordering Kaul to remove Wisconsin from a multistate lawsuit challenging the federal Affordable Care Act.
Ensure Evers appointees can't control the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, the state's private-public hybrid agency in charge of job creation.
Require state health officials to implement a federal waiver allowing Wisconsin to require childless adults to work to receive health insurance through the BadgerCare Plus program for the poor. The legislation prevents Evers from seeking to withdraw the waiver.
Require Evers to get permission from the Legislature before he could ban guns in the state Capitol.
Make it harder for Evers to enact administrative rules that implement state laws.