The novelist John Steinbeck once observed, “Power does not corrupt. Fear corrupts...the fear of a loss of power.” It seems he could have written those words while visiting the Wisconsin state capitol.
After an all-night lame-duck session earlier this week, Republican lawmakers sent outgoing Republican Gov. Scott Walker legislation to advance an agenda designed to defy the will of the people as expressed in the November elections.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos are leading this attack on democracy.
High on the list of priorities on the lame-duck agenda are plans to take away critical pieces of the new Democratic governor's authority before he takes office.
Republicans plan to weaken the power of Gov.-elect Tony Evers, a Democrat, to make appointments to state agencies once he’s sworn in and to limit his authority with regard to how state laws are implemented.
Also, on the wish list of democracy-busting proposals is a plan to steal Wisconsinites democratic right to fully participate in the electoral process by limiting in-person absentee voting and enshrine rules around Voter ID disenfranchisement into state statute — making it harder for newly elected Gov. Evers to remove barriers to voting once in office.
After only making bills public at 4:23 p.m. on a Friday evening, Republicans rammed through multiple lame-duck measures that erode the Wisconsin tradition of fairness, transparency and decency in government in the dead of the night Tuesday.
Throughout Scott Walker’s tenure in office, Republicans in the legislature gleefully pushed the envelope with regard to legislative propriety. Consistently, Republicans have conducted legislative business with limited advance notice, limited time for public debate and limited time for public input.
Rushed through were attacks on collective bargaining rights despite mass protest. So-called right-to-work legislation was jammed through the legislature at warp speed.
Time and time again, Republicans have shamelessly advanced their own agenda through tactics that often violated the spirit if not the letter of the law, bringing an end to Wisconsin’s tradition of collaborative governance on behalf of all the people.
In November, voters clearly called for change. Instead of being sore losers, Republicans need to work together with Gov.-elect Tony Evers, a Democrat, to start solving Wisconsin’s problems.
Wisconsinites want our elected officials to work together on the issues that matter most to working families: creating good jobs, fixing a rigged economy that favors the wealthy, protecting affordable health care and strengthening our middle class by strengthening union rights.
To try to reverse the will of the people by rigging elections and undercutting our new governor before he takes office is not only cynical party politics at its worst, but an outright betrayal of democracy.
In fact, democracy cannot exist without an absolute expectation of a peaceful transition of power. Scott Walker broke that trust at the most basic level. This is the worst lame-duck power grab in the history of the United States.
In the remaining days before Gov.-elect Evers is inaugurated, Scott Fitzgerald, Robin Vos and the rest of the Republicans in the legislature have an opportunity to show that they still believe in the fundamental principles of our democracy.
Alternatively, they can demonstrate once again that they prefer a bare-knuckled, no-holds-barred approach in which partisan ends justify ethically questionable means. Wisconsin voters are looking for government that once again actually functions on our behalf.
It is the duty of Republicans in the legislature to ensure that the menu of their lame-duck session includes more than just sour grapes. Wisconsinites chose Tony Evers to be our governor. He deserves a fair chance to help us build a stronger Wisconsin.
Stephanie Bloomingdale is president of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO.