By Joseph Ax and Brendan O’Brien
MILWAUKEE (Reuters) – Protesters chanting “Shame!” disrupted a tree-lighting ceremony and a legislative session at the Wisconsin state capitol on Tuesday as Republican lawmakers moved toward a vote on bills to weaken the incoming Democratic governor and attorney general.
Wisconsin’s lame-duck Republican-majority legislature called a rare post-election session this week to consider the proposals before Governor-elect Tony Evers takes office in January and can exercise his veto power.
Democrats say the moves undercut the results of Nov. 6 elections, when their party broke years of total Republican control of state government in Wisconsin.
A similar effort is underway in Michigan, where the Republican-controlled legislature is weighing new laws that would hamstring incoming Democrats.
Lawmakers discussed the legislation behind closed doors for nearly four hours on Tuesday evening before coming back into session at about 9:30 p.m. local time. Republicans are expected to pass the legislation later on Tuesday or early on Wednesday.
Earlier in the day, dozens of protesters disrupted a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony presided over by Republican Governor Scott Walker, drowning out a high school choir and prompting Walker to tweet, “I can handle the shouts but leave the kids alone.”
Soon after the state Senate took the floor in the afternoon, President Roger Roth ordered the gallery cleared of onlookers after catcalls from the public, drawing yells from Democratic lawmakers and jeers from protesters. Roth later allowed people to return after admonishing them to remain silent.
The proposals being considered would give the state legislature, which will remain in Republican hands, the power to intervene in litigation involving the state, a role normally reserved for the attorney general, and curtail the governor’s ability to issue rules that codify state laws.
The bills would also allow legislators, rather than the attorney general, to decide whether to withdraw the state from lawsuits. That measure is aimed at preventing Evers and the incoming attorney general, Josh Kaul, from following through on campaign promises to end Wisconsin’s challenge to the federal Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare.
In Michigan, Republicans want to end the secretary of state’s oversight of campaign finance laws and sidestep the attorney general in litigation.
The Democratic leader in the Senate, Jennifer Shilling, accused Republicans of “stealing” power from Evers, who has threatened legal action.
Republicans say the moves are aimed at keeping a proper balance between the legislative and executive branches.
The efforts are reminiscent of lame-duck maneuvers that North Carolina Republicans took in 2016 to strip the incoming Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, of the power to appoint a majority of members to a state election-oversight board.
A court later blocked the move as unconstitutional.
This year, Republicans in North Carolina are rushing to pass a new voter identification law before they lose their veto-proof majority in January.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax and Brendan O’Brien; Editing by Scott Malone and Sonya Hepinstall)