Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald described some of the GOP’s controversial lame-duck session legislation as “innocuous items” and said Republicans were just “protecting some of the public policy” they passed in eight years under outgoing Gov. Scott Walker.
In an interview that aired Sunday on “UpFront with Mike Gousha,” Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, also predicted Democratic Gov.-elect Tony Evers would be the most liberal governor Wisconsin has ever seen. “UpFront” is produced in partnership with WisPolitics.com.
In last week’s extraordinary session, Republicans passed legislation widely viewed as limiting the authority of Evers and Democratic Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul.
Fitzgerald said he and Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos started discussing the legislation “in a vague way” back in September when they became concerned Republicans could lose the governorship and one or both chambers of the Legislature.
Gousha asked him if there would be political consequences for Republicans.
“No, I don’t think so,” Fitzgerald said.
“We won an election too. Both houses, both chambers are Republican, will be under Republican control. And we’re simply starting to realize that this governor, especially over the last couple of days I think, when you see the rhetoric ramped up, (Evers) will probably be the most liberal governor the state of Wisconsin possibly sees,” Fitzgerald said.
“I am very concerned, and I think Wisconsinites should be concerned, that in mid-February when this governor rolls out his budget, it will be the most liberal document that anyone has ever seen,” Fitzgerald said.
“But people did vote for him,” Gousha said.
“They did, they did. Slim margin, and like I said they voted for us too, though. So I think the Legislature feels like we need to just maintain a balance, and protect a state that’s in great shape,” Fitzgerald said.
He also said the new limits on early voting that Republicans passed were a matter of fairness across the state.
“Many people in rural Wisconsin turn on their television and see people standing at the polls 45 days out, voting, day after day after day. But when they go down to their own town hall the lights are out, and there’s no clerk there. That’s inconsistency and that irritates people, and I think isn’t fair to rural Wisconsin,” Fitzgerald said, adding that he thought the new law would hold up to a court challenge.
Fitzgerald also said he found the governor-elect’s rhetoric on the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. and some of its projects “alarming.”
Evers has said he wants to get rid of the WEDC and favors a 72-county approach to economic development under the old state Department of Commerce model.
“I’m more concerned about some of the aggressive tone and the posture he’s taken over the last couple of weeks specific to some things that really could derail the economy in Wisconsin,” Fitzgerald said.
“He just doubles down on the same concept that he wants to get rid of it. That should be alarming to everyone,” he said.
Fitzgerald also said he expected “some good news” to be coming out soon on WEDC’s efforts to keep consumer products maker Kimberly-Clark in Wisconsin. A bill that would offer the company tax incentives to stay in the Fox Valley has stalled in the Senate.
“I’ve got my fingers crossed that they are going to come up with something that will keep Kimberly-Clark in Wisconsin,” Fitzgerald said.
In another segment, Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, accused the Republicans of a “really big power grab” in the recent lame-duck session.
“They knew exactly what they were doing,” Erpenbach said. “And they went to work on this, what a couple of days after the election, I think working with a couple of folks in the governor’s office. So it’s not like Gov. Walker didn’t know this was coming.”
“But more importantly,” he said, “we had an election. It was fair. It was legal. Tony Evers won, and then a couple of days later, legislation is developed, introduced and passed within a couple of days. And if you talk to voters around the state whether they supported Gov.-elect Tony Evers or incoming Attorney General Josh Kaul or not, they don’t like what’s going on and they don’t like what they see coming out of Madison this past week.”
Erpenbach said Republicans “set the tone right away” for the next four years of dealing with Evers. And he finds it frustrating, because “we’re all supposed to work together and try and get something done for the state that moves us forward.”
“When you pass that kind of legislation it’s almost like the Republicans are saying ‘We don’t care about the next four years. We’re just going to try and grind things to a halt and sort of run out the clock and see what happens,’ and that’s extremely irresponsible,” Erpenbach said.
But Erpenbach said he still thinks it’s possible for Democrats and Republicans to find common group on big issues like transportation funding and K-12 education.
He said it will be up to Republican leadership as to whether they want to work with Evers.
“Tony is always going to have an open door,” Erpenbach said. “That’s not going to change.”
Also on the program, Scot Ross of One Wisconsin Now said his group was studying a new legal challenge to the two-week limit on early voting that Republicans approved last week. The group brought a previous successful legal challenge to early voting limits.
“Our attorneys are going through what they passed line by line, word by word, syllable by syllable,” Ross said.
Ross said the federal judge in One Wisconsin Now’s 2016 case ruled that the GOP’s previous attempt to limit early voting was “racially motivated and designed to keep people from voting.”
“(Assembly Speaker) Robin Vos and the Republicans are trying to undo the will of the people. They are trying to rig elections for partisan gain,” Ross said.
He said 20 percent of the voting population chose to vote early in the November mid-term election.
“Record-setting early voting isn’t an emergency. It is democracy,” Ross said.
See more from the program: