Wisconsin Republicans Are Threatening a Legislative Coup

Early on Wednesday afternoon, I wrote an article warning that Republicans could try to strip power from incoming Democratic governors in states where the GOP currently has a trifecta—control of both houses of the state legislature and the governor’s mansion. The process, I argued, would be legally contentious but legislatively possible. The outgoing GOP governor, along with the leaders of the state legislature, could call a special legislative session. The General Assembly would then rapidly pass a series of bills that swindle the new governor

As I noted, it would hardly be the first time state Republicans attempted such a power grab. In 2016, Republican North Carolina Governor Pat McCroy lost re-election to Democrat Roy Cooper. Shortly thereafter, McCroy and the GOP-controlled state legislature called a special session, during which they hastily passed legislation that deprived the governor of authority over elections and appointments.

Roughly four hours after we published my piece, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel journalist Patrick Marley dropped this bombshell:

It’s too soon to say what powers the Wisconsin legislature will try to plunder from incoming Democrat Tony Evers, or whether they will even carry out these plans. While the state senate president says he’s open to the assembly speaker’s idea, Scott Walker has yet to weigh in. But the recently defeated governor has proven himself to be a dedicated opponent of democratic procedures, from his absurdist gerrymandering to his attacks on voting rights. And so far, the state appears to be hewing closely to the path that North Carolina blazed.

Democrats across the country should be concerned, and not just because of the move’s authoritarian implications. There are two more states—Kansas and Michigan—where a recently elected Democratic governor will soon break a GOP trifecta.

As of this writing, there are no reports that Republicans in either state are planning a similar legislative coup. But the party has proven itself shameless in its attempts to hobble political opponents and seize back power that voters took away. Incoming governors Laura Kelly and Gretchen Whitmer will need to be vigilant.

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Daniel Block

Daniel Block is an editor at the Washington Monthly.