I was a state Senator in my native Ohio for a decade. During that time, I saw my fair share of lame duck sessions that ruffled feathers. Late nights, tense negotiations and efforts to push bills through at the last minute were not uncommon. In recent days, two other Midwest states, Wisconsin and Michigan, have been capturing national headlines due to efforts of their respective legislatures to hamstring the power of newly elected statewide officials.
In both Wisconsin and Michigan, Democrats won the governor’s race while the state house and senate will remain in Republican hands. Given that the GOP is losing its grip on one party rule, it may seem like a lame duck session loaded up with GOP priorities is just business as usual. And, frankly, that would usually be true. But, what has happened in Wisconsin and Michigan this time is different. It’s more than just the party in power capitalizing on their control to pass bills that they can still sign into law before the new administration comes in. What the state legislatures have done in both states is a much more concerning overreach. They have passed provisions that would limit the incoming Governors and Attorneys General to do their jobs when they are sworn in come January.
Michigan’s state legislature proposed a bill that would empower the legislative branch with the ability to engage in legal actions involving the state, essentially serving as an end around to the authority of the incoming Democratic Attorney General. It could also have the effect of the legislature attempting to protect itself through engaging in lawsuits.
In Wisconsin, the statehouse passed a bill that would curtail the governor’s decision-making authority over the state’s economic development office as well as require the governor to secure legislative approval to make changes to programs that have shared federal and state jurisdiction. Furthermore, the new attorney general would also need to get sign off from the state legislature before withdrawing from pending lawsuits. Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said, in defense of the moves to hamstring the incoming Democratic Governor, “I mean, most of these items are things (that) we never really had to kind of address because guess what — we trusted Scott Walker and the administration to be able to manage the back and forth with the Legislature. We don’t trust Tony Evers right now in a lot of these areas.”
While Leader Fitzgerald may not “trust” the Governor-elect, he must trust the will of the voting public. Elections have consequences, and, in a representative democracy, a smooth transition of power is a hallmark of what makes our system of government work. It is one thing to pass your party’s agenda while you still can. It’s another to essentially create conditions that prohibit the next group of elected officials, who happen to be from the opposite party, from executing their own policy priorities. Just another example of how government officials continue to work for themselves. We must demand better from both Republicans and Democrats at every level of government. A veto from the sitting governors of Wisconsin and Michigan would go a long way to restore trust amongst the people of their respective states.