Democratic and progressive legislators and activists are calling for citizens to rally against a series of Republican proposals to move the date of Wisconsin’s presidential primary, ensure low turnout in the next Supreme Court election, make voting more difficult and curtail the power of Governor-elect Tony Evers and Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul.
The legislature’s Joint Finance Committee (JFC) will hold a public hearing on the proposals at 12:30 pm Monday in room 412 East in the state Capitol followed immediately by an executive session to debate and vote on the bills, which, if passed, would then be considered by the full Senate and Assembly as early as Tuesday.
Activists are encouraging citizens to appear at the hearing to register or speak on their opinions. Further, progressive activist organization Indivisible Madison will host what it’s calling a “Protect My Vote Rally” at 5:30 pm on the steps on the State Street side of the Capitol. Scheduled speakers include columnist John Nichols, State Representatives Melissa Sargent and Lisa Subeck, State Representative-elect Shelia Stubbs and Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell.
Those who are unable to attend the hearing can email their comments to Madtown Os at firstname.lastname@example.org or the Dane County Democratic Party at email@example.com. Any comments submitted will be distributed at the hearing and entered into the record as time allows.
The Dane County Democratic Party has also organized a “virtual phone bank” for people to call voters living in the districts of Republicans to urge them to speak up.
“What we want to do is to show the legislators that there is a public uproar about what they are doing. They are really subverting the votes from last month’s election,” said Indivisible Madison Action and Events Organizer Linda Kessel in an interview Sunday. “What we are ultimately trying to do is to make it as toxic for them to vote with their party as it is to vote against it.”
Full Assembly and Senate sessions have not yet been scheduled, though Democratic legislators Friday said they had been told to be available for a floor session Tuesday, meaning Republican leadership seems to want to move the proposals through quickly.
“That seems to be the tactics of Republican leadership to avoid public uproar and that’s the reason that we are creating that public uproar as quickly as possible and as large as possible to make sure that they’re not going to get away with that,” Kessel said.
In fact, the bills were just released to Democrats late Friday, which angered some lawmakers.
“At 5:35 p.m. this afternoon I got 287 pages of bills designed to subvert democracy & the will of the people,” Democratic JFC member Chris Taylor posted on Facebook Friday. ”This abuse of power has nothing to do with the people, and everything to do with the GOP legislators’ own political careers and power.”
The five proposals might be voted on individually or combined into a single omnibus bill, Kessel said, even though they deal with a wide range of issues. They might also be changed by substitute amendment with no notice.
One bill that’s gotten vocal statewide opposition is a proposal to move the date of Wisconsin’s presidential primary from April to March of 2020. Currently, statewide elections are scheduled for February 2020 — the state Supreme Court and local election primary — and April — the general election for Supreme Court and local races, as well as the 2020 presidential primary. Republicans worry that a surge of Democratic voters coming out for the presidential primary could hurt conservative Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly’s chances of reelection, so they’d rather move the primary to March, creating a third election in three months — a proposal that’s drawn sharp opposition from county clerks, the ones who actually have to administer elections.
Dane County Clerk McDonell said 60 of Wisconsin’s 72 County Clerks opposed the move.
“If Brown, Milwaukee, Waukesha, Dane, Marathon, Racine, Sheboygan, Door, Bayfield and Kenosha all think you have a horrible idea, it is a horrible idea,” McDonell wrote on Facebook Friday.
Clerks say difficulties finding poll workers, counting absentee ballots and keeping voters informed all make the proposal all but impossible.
Another Republican proposal would take the power to approve major actions by Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul away from Governor-elect Tony Evers and give that authority to Republican lawmakers. That would block Evers and Kaul from fulfilling a campaign promise to withdraw Wisconsin from a lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act.
Another proposal would limit early voting to two weeks before any election. Some communities currently allow early voting as long as six weeks in advance.
Another proposal would restructure the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, a controversial agency that current Governor Scott Walker created to replace the Department of Commerce. The proposal would give the legislature authority to appoint most of the board members of the agency, which has been dogged by scandal and accusations of mismanagement. Evers has said he wants to dismantle and and reinstate a cabinet department to deal with commerce.
Yet another would remove the new governor’s authority to ban guns from the Capitol building.
Kessel of Indivisible Wisconsin said the Republican leaders are acting boldly because they don’t fear a serious re-election challenge.
“The problem is that this state is so gerrymandered that they are feeling very secure in their positions,” she said. “The popular vote last month saw 54 percent of the popular vote go to Democrats, but they earned only 34 percent of seats in the legislature. This is not even subtle. This is outrageous.”
The Republicans’ power grab has gotten some national attention, with figures like former United States Attorney General Eric Holder blasting the move on Twitter. Kessel said she’s hoping to garner some national mainstream media attention as well.
Evers weighed in on the proposals in a written statement Friday.
“I’ve said all along I’m committed to working across the aisle, but I will not tolerate attempts to violate our constitutional checks and balances and separation of powers by people who are desperate to cling to control,” he wrote. “Enough is enough. Republicans have to stop putting politics before people. Wisconsinites demanded a change on November 6. I stand with the people of Wisconsin, and we will be taking any steps necessary to prevent power-hungry politicians from overriding the will of the people.”
Many of the proposals, if approved, would certainly face court challenges.
Some activists have identified Senator Luther Olsen, JFC Vice Chair, and Senator Rob Cowles, among others, as Republicans who might be persuaded to vote no on at least some of the proposals.
“They seem to be more moderate Republicans,” Kessel said. “Basically we are trying to appeal to any legislator’s sense of respect for democracy because this move is just a power play and it’s not something that anyone should tolerate and we’re hoping that someone will break with party because they feel it’s more important to respect our state governments than it is to side with partisans.”