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State Republicans Eye Ways To Curb Next Governor's Powers

(WPR)---Leaders in the GOP-controlled state Legislature are defending possible changes to state law that would limit the power of Democratic Gov.-elect Tony Evers.

Speaking with reporters in Madison after a meeting of Republican senators, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, confirmed he met with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, to discuss possible law changes before Evers is inaugurated.

However, Fitzgerald downplayed the scope of the proposals.

"I’m not sure why there’s all this discussion of somehow trying to undermine the new governor, that’s not the case at all," he said. "I think there’s some stuff that’s going to be reasonable."

The senator’s comments come a day after Vos told reporters he was open to looking at ways to curb Evers’ power, inciting public pushback from the gov.-elect.

Evers responded Thursday morning, accusing Vos of making a "desperate attempt to cling to power." 

He called on Republicans to "stop any and all attempts to play politics and weaken the powers of the governor's office" before he takes over in January.

"Tony Evers is going to have the most powerful veto pen in the nation, the idea that he’s not going to be able to keep the legislature in check — I think it’d be naive to think that," Fitzgerald said on Thursday afternoon. "It’s equal, balanced government. We’ll respect Tony Evers like we have any other governor and we’ll work with him."

Fitzgerald said some of the changes under consideration are related to Wisconsin’s voter ID law. Specifically, Fitzgerald said some of the state rules governing voter ID could be transitioned from administrative code, which the governor has more power over, to state law.

"We feel strong about it, we think it’s something that all the rules associated with that should be in statute," Fitzgerald said of voter ID.

Other changes under consideration have to do with the makeup of state boards, Fitzgerald said, particularly the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. board.

"If there are some things we can do to adjust the appointees of WEDC, we think it should be fair," he said.

Evers said on the campaign trail he would like to do away with WEDC altogether, replacing it with a Department of Commerce.

Fitzgerald said lawmakers could return to the Capitol later this month to take up a proposed incentive package for consumer products company Kimberly-Clark Corp.. Any changes to other laws would likely be taken up on a different day, likely in December, he said.

Thursday afternoon Vos released a statement saying their goal is to "ensure our constitutional authority is reiterated and enforced."

"Wisconsin chose a divided government which may result in a slower process. The state constitution clearly delineates the powers between the branches of government. The Legislature appropriates funds, writes laws and approves administrative rules. Our goal is to ensure our constitutional authority is reiterated and enforced," the statement read. "Gov.-elect Evers made a generous offer to work together so he should not have a problem with the legislation that may be considered. The reforms are intended to keep both sides at the table to reach a consensus."

The Associated Press reported that Thursday afternoon, former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle said it would be "bad form" for Republicans to strip power away from Evers before he takes office.

Doyle told AP in an interview that such a move is "what people don't want" in politics.

"The Wisconsin voters have elected a new governor and they want to see how this works, they want to have a change," Doyle said, adding that he hoped Walker would oppose any such attempt.

Walker has not commented on whether he would sign a bill passed in a lame duck session limiting the governor's power.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 3:49 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018 with original reporting from WPR staff.

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