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Incoming Wisconsin Governor To Undermine Lame Duck Bills

Tony Evers' budget reveals he will work around the controversial bills that took away his powers.
Photograph courtesy of WLUK

Photograph courtesy of WLUK

After incumbent Wisconsin governor Scott Walker lost re-election to Democrat Tony Evers last November, the Republican-controlled state legislature passed a controversial bill stripping key powers away from both Evers and incoming Attorney General Josh Kaul. Under the new rules, Republicans can appoint their own counsel for state lawsuits, overriding the rights of the Attorney General, limit absentee and early voting, and diminish Evers' control over the Wisconsin Economic Development Group.

Fortunately for Democrats, this does not seem to have stopped Evers' resolve to use his powers as governor to the hilt. As he told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel yesterday:

“I thought the lame duck session was an effort to kind of disenfranchise the people that voted in the last election. So, is that wrong? Yes, absolutely it’s wrong. So I will continue to have that stand, but at the end of the day I also know I have to work with the legislators to get things accomplished.

:I can walk and chew gum at the same time. I can be annoyed and against what they did, but by gosh, we have to solve some major problems. Education, transportation and health care was what I ran and won on. That’s what we’re going to be focused on.”

Evers is used to this kind of pressure. In his former position as Wisconsin state's school superintendent, he sued Walker and the Republicans over a 2011 bill that, like the recent lame-duck legislation, limited his powers as superintendent. The Wisconsin State Supreme Court ruled this law unconstitutional in 2016. Lawyers are already preparing to challenge Walker's last-minute laws, and with a crucial Supreme Court election this spring, liberals may have a chance to undo some of the damage.

But rather than waiting around for the courts to fix things, Evers has decided to take action into his own hands. While he did not specify which portions of the bills he would override, his recently-announced budget offers some clues, particularly around healthcare, the deciding issue of the 2018 midterms

One of the lame duck bills' provisions took away the executive branch's ability to withdraw from the Obamacare lawsuit making its way through the courts after a Texas judge declared it unconstitutional last month, leaving that decision to the state legislature. However, Evers has declared that his budget will expand healthcare coverage under the ACA through Wisconsin's BadgerCare Plus program. He has also appointed former Obama official Andrea Palm to run Wisconsin's Department of Health Services, which has a $12 billion annual budget. 

Evers' budget will also allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver's licenses if they pay a fee and pass a drivers test. This would potentially go a long way towards allowing more people to hold down steady, and better paying, employment and be a significant boost to the state's economy. It also reduces the likelihood of accidents and lowers insurance costs for everyone else, along with a host of other clear benefits. Evers is allowing the parents of undocumented children to pay their in-state tuition as well because an educated population is the surest path to economic growth.

Republicans are already displeased with this turn of events, but there is little they can do to stop Evers' plans. Wisconsin laws endow its governor with some of the broadest veto powers in the country, giving them the ability to "strike individual words and numbers from any spending bill...[and] replace spending amounts with new figures," according to the Associated Press. What's more, the legislature itself lacks the authority to take away those veto powers. 

Evers has walked back some of his statements from yesterday, saying he has "no intent" on breaking the law. But his budget is a good sign that he does not plan to take it lying down, either. Republicans, who put themselves first, have put themselves up against a politician who puts people first - and while these battles can be long, the people will always come out ahead.

Correction: This article originally stated that undocumented immigrants would be able to use their driver's licenses to vote. This is incorrect and the author will be fed to rabid wombats for his error.

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