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New Wisconsin Bill Undercuts Incoming Governor's Power


In Wisconsin and Michigan, voters in November replaced Republican governors with Democrats. But before they officially take office in January, the Republican-controlled legislatures are taking steps to weaken their power. In the case of Wisconsin, the state legislature passed a set of bills this past week that would place limits on incoming Democratic Governor Tony Evers. Outgoing Governor Scott Walker says he plans to sign the measures. Joining me now to talk about this and how the two parties plan to move forward in the state are Wisconsin State Representative Jim Steineke, a Republican, and Wisconsin State Representative Amanda Stuck, a Democrat. Welcome to you both.

JIM STEINEKE: Yup. Thank you.

AMANDA STUCK: Thank you for having us.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right, Amanda, I'm going to start with you. You've written that what the Republicans have done is a, quote, "power grab." Tell us why you see it that way.

STUCK: Because this is something they didn't draft until after the election. This was simply meant to preserve their power when they were angry that they would no longer have a Republican in the governor's chair. And this really went way out of line with what - anything we've seen before in terms of shifting power from the governor to the legislature.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Jim, you've described the outrage as, quote, "hyperbole" and that the goal of this legislation is to ensure a balance of power and to protect the legislative process. Please explain.

STEINEKE: Yeah. Over the course of a number of years, both Democrats and Republican-controlled legislatures have shifted authority to the executive branch. Everybody's bemoaned that over the years. And, really, all we're doing is regaining authority that we've had in the past.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Jim, to Amanda's point, the timing does seem purely partisan in nature. It was, I believe, 141 pages of bills by a body in a lame-duck session.

STEINEKE: Really, what this is about is codifying things that we've done over the last eight years to make sure that, if the incoming governor wants to make changes to anything that we've done, all he has to do is work with the legislature in order to get it done, use the same process to change things as we used to put them in place.


STUCK: First of all, limiting voting - I don't see how that has anything to do with a equal balance of power. That simply...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: One of the measures limits early voting.

STUCK: Yeah, limits it to two weeks. And so I don't see how that has anything to do with the balance of power. That's simply is punishing voters who didn't vote for Republicans statewide. You know, I would also say that Republicans had a chance to really set a tone of working together and chose - instead, they chose to go this route, which was really a tone of saying, you know, we don't want to really work in a bipartisan way. We want to protect our power at any cost.

STEINEKE: Well, the standardizing - the early voting - I mean, all we're saying is that - a standardized two weeks - if you can't get there over the course of two weeks, how long do you need? I mean, is six weeks enough? Or should we go eight or 12? I mean, it's getting to the point where people have to make voting a priority.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Amanda, what do you think it's about if it's not about what Jim is saying it's about?

STUCK: They want to win by changing the rules. They know if they limit early voting - that tends to help Democrats because it allows more people to vote that can't vote during normal voting hours. And so that's why Republicans want to limit it.

STEINEKE: Well, it's important to realize that we did not limit ours. What we're talking about is just standardizing statewide, so everybody has equal opportunity to vote. In many parts of Wisconsin, municipalities just don't have the resources to be open for voting for six weeks.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Jim, I'm going to jump in here. I want to look at one of the other measures which would make it harder for the state to withdraw from a lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act. It's not like health care was a small issue on the campaign trail. Democrats promised to get rid of this suit, and they were voted in. Aren't you going against the will of the people there?

STEINEKE: No, I don't think so. I mean, we - in the assembly, we passed a bill to protect pre-existing conditions, so people would continue to have coverage. Unfortunately, in the state Senate, they weren't able to get it passed. So it continues to be a priority of ours. And hopefully, that's one of those areas that we can work with the incoming governor - getting something passed so in case the ACA, for some reason, does go away - that protections for pre-existing conditions are in place.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Amanda, do you think the fact that it will make it harder for the state to withdraw from that lawsuit is going to really hamstring on the incoming Democratic governor?

STUCK: Yes, it will. And that's why people voted for him. The governor did campaign on health care and talking about that. And by usurping that power, taking that, making it harder for him to follow through on his campaign promises, what they're doing is telling the voters that we know better than you. And we're going to stop what you voted for and what you said you wanted to happen.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So I'm listening to you both. And I've got to ask you, can you find common ground moving forward? Both parties have a mandate for Wisconsin. And what does this say about the state of our politics? I'll start with you, Amanda, and then over to you, Jim.

STUCK: Well, I would say, right now it doesn't say very much. I mean, quite frankly, the national headlines have been pretty embarrassing. But I would say, with that being said, I mean, there are certainly members on my side who want to say, remember what the Republicans did? - in kind of get-them-back attitude. I would say we simply can't afford to do that. We simply don't have time to fight amongst each other anymore and play these games. We should have been having a special session on transportation or the budget or all these other things, but we didn't. Instead, we had a special session about power.

STEINEKE: We are going to do our best to put aside our differences. The key is that, I think, by and large, we all kind of like each other, both Democrats and Republicans. We get along pretty well over the course of the last eight years. Over about 90 percent of the bills that get signed into law have bipartisan support. So we've had the ability to work together in the past. We're going to have the ability to work together in the future. I know Governor Evers a little bit. I know Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes even better. I think we're going to have a decent relationship. It's going to take both sides to reach across the aisle.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Wisconsin State Representatives Amanda Stuck and Jim Steineke. Thank you both for being with us today.

STUCK: All right - thank you.

STEINEKE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sundayand one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcastUp First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.
Jim Steineke
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