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Wis. GOP Lawmakers Try To Limit Incoming Governor's Power


As Wisconsin's Republican governor, Scott Walker, prepares to leave office, GOP lawmakers in the state are working overtime to try and tie the hands of Walker's Democratic successor. The Wisconsin legislature met overnight and into this morning to consider several bills restricting the power of Governor-elect Tony Evers. Wisconsin Public Radio's Shawn Johnson reports.

SHAWN JOHNSON, BYLINE: Wisconsin's lame-duck session got off to a chaotic start Tuesday. After some people watching in the Senate gallery interrupted debate, Republicans ordered all spectators to leave. The crowd erupted.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Shame. Shame. Shame. Shame. Shame.

JOHNSON: Once tempers cooled and the crowd returned, most of what they saw and heard were speeches by Democratic senators like Jennifer Schilling...


JENNIFER SCHILLING: Today, you cheat and you steal your way into the next session and administration...

JOHNSON: ...And Jon Erpenbach...


JON ERPENBACH: It's been said before. I'm going to say it again. We would not be here today if Scott Walker would have won the election.

JOHNSON: Walker lost his election to Tony Evers by fewer than 30,000 votes, out of more than 2.6 million cast. When Evers takes office in January, it will be the first time in eight years that Wisconsin has been run by a divided government. Republicans, like State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, say Evers' liberal policies worry them, and that's why they're passing these bills.


SCOTT FITZGERALD: Listen. I'm concerned. I think that Governor-elect Evers is going to bring a liberal agenda to Wisconsin.

JOHNSON: The list of proposed changes is long. Evers' campaigned on ending Wisconsin's participation in a lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act. Republicans could block him from fulfilling that promise. It also blocked Evers from making changes to Walker administration policies like a new work requirement for food share recipients. And they'd give themselves more control over a controversial jobs agency Walker created. Evers, a soft-spoken school administrator, has called the changes power grabs.


TONY EVERS: The people of Wisconsin may feel that their voices were not heard on November 6.

JOHNSON: It's not just Evers' powers that will be curtailed. Another bill would restrict early voting, which people used in record numbers in Wisconsin's Democratic strongholds this year. Walker has yet to say whether he'll approve the bills, but he's left the door open. He says there's nothing wrong with the legislature considering these bills now.


SCOTT WALKER: Members of the legislature were elected not on a term that ended Election Day. They were elected on a term that ends in January, just like my term ends in January.

JOHNSON: But the timing of these changes has struck a nerve with Democratic voters. They were introduced for the first time late Friday afternoon and given their only public hearing Monday. Tammy Wood (ph) was visibly irritated when she testified against them, saying they undermined Wisconsin's election results.


TAMMY WOOD: It is abundantly clear that what is happening here is not the will of the good citizens of this state. We do not consent to kneecapping our governor before he even takes office.

JOHNSON: Republicans will maintain large majorities when the Legislature reconvenes next year, but this session will likely be the last time they work with Walker. The two-term governor shook up state government in 2011, when he dramatically scaled back union rights, sparking massive protests. These lame-duck session bills drew much smaller crowds of protesters, but they still drew a comparison from Democrats like Senator Erpenbach.


ERPENBACH: The first thing Scott Walker did when he came through the door here at the Capitol was to create chaos. The last thing he is doing on his way out the door is to create chaos.

JOHNSON: Erpenbach implored Republicans to consider their legacy before they voted on the bills. Republicans argue that's exactly what they're doing. For NPR News, I'm Shawn Johnson in Madison.

(SOUNDBITE OF PORTICO QUARTET'S "ENDLESS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Shawn Johnson covers the State Capitol for Wisconsin Public Radio. Shawn joined the network in 2004. Prior to that he worked for WUIS-FM, a public radio station in Springfield, Illinois. There, Shawn reported on the Illinois legislature. He also managed the station's western Illinois bureau, where he produced features on issues facing rural residents. He previously worked as an Assistant Producer for WBBM-AM radio in Chicago.