Republicans Are Taking An Extremely Dangerous Turn Against Democracy

Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania are taking extreme measures to hobble the power of incoming Democrats.
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Photograph courtesy of NBC News

Photograph courtesy of NBC News

Despite the Democrats' massive victory in the 2018 midterms, Republicans in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania - the three states that decided the 2016 election - are determined to hold on to power by any means.  

The GOP's bid to maintain power is so extreme they are willing to the will of voters by enacting dangerous bills and prying into the qualifications of newly-elected officials. This sets an alarming precedent for how they will respond to future Democratic victories, and must be exposed at all costs. 

Wisconsin and Michigan 

Although Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker lost the election to Tony Evers, the state's lame-duck Congress approved a late-night bill yesterday to strip his authority over making legislative appointments and changing state laws. They rushed to approve 82 Walker appointees before letting Evers appoint any of his own choices. And they cut Wisconsin's six-week early voting period down to two weeks, potentially disenfranchising thousands in the process.

Republicans have not been shy about their reasons for doing all this, either. Wisconsin House Speaker Robin Vos admitted during the hearing that if these orders weren't passed, "we are going to have a very liberal governor who is going to enact policies that are in direct contrast to what many of us believe in." 

This despite Wisconsin Republicans losing all their statewide elections this year.  

The Michigan legislature has acted similarly, weakening the powers of incoming Democratic Secretary of State, Jocelyn Benson. Although she campaigned on a platform of election transparency, the new Republican legislation removes her ability to oversee campaign finance, handing that responsibility to a bipartisan committee of three Democrats and three Republicans. Michigan campaign finance watchdog Craig Mauger has said this committee "will not be able to accomplish anything because of the 3-3 divide and because these commission members will be accountable to the political parties and not the voters like the secretary of state."

Michigan's lame-duck bill also takes away the power of incoming Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel to intervene in lawsuits against the state that she deems unconstitutional, and hands that power to the Republican legislature. Michigan's courts have overturned unpopular Republican laws, like the state's ban on gay marriage, but Republicans want to remove Nessel's power to forward lawsuits that challenge their unpopular laws, and reserve that power for themselves. (This was also part of the Wisconsin bill.) 

Even though Democrats won major statewide offices in both Michigan and Wisconsin, gerrymandering prevented the state assemblies from flipping to blue. In Michigan, Democrats received 52% of the votes, but Republicans won 53% of the seats; in Wisconsin, Democrats won 54% of the vote, but Republicans won 64% of the seats. In an ideal scenario, the newly elected Democrats should be able to undo this problem in both states - but thanks to this law, both Nessel and Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul cannot pursue gerrymandering lawsuits without the approval of the Republican assembly. 

Pennsylvania

While Pennsylvania's legislature is not trying to enact a similar coup, it is going to war against a newly elected Democratic legislator, Lindsey Williams, who won a close election to represent Harrisburg in the State Senate. Under the Pennsylvania constitution, residents who seek elected office in the state have to have lived there for four years. Although Williams moved to Pennsylvania from Maryland in the fall of 2014, making the cutoff date by a hair, Republicans have objected to the constitutionality of both her campaign and her victory. She won a lawsuit challenging her right to run, but Republicans are now challenging her right to assume her seat next month.

Last week, Republican President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati wrote to Williams that she had seven days to hand over her drivers licenses, employment history, tax withholdings, real estate forms, and anything else that he deems relevant to this case. He's told her she's allowed to request a hearing, that she can do administrative work like hiring staffers, and accept her payment for the month of December. However, if the results of the investigation deem her ineligible to assume office, she will have to forfeit that salary. 

All eyes on 2020

These extraordinary measures taken against the will of American voters is a sign that Republicans are deeply worried about their long term electability. Their actions in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania were a direct assault on the most sacred democratic norms; the peaceful transition of power. 

One dreads to think of what they may do in 2020. 

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