Facing opposition in their own ranks, Wisconsin Republicans did scale back or drop some of the proposals included in a 141-page plan they released late Friday. The package approved on Wednesday cleared the state Senate by just a single vote, 17–16, after one Republican sided with Democrats against the measure. One scuttled idea would have changed the date of the presidential primary in 2020 to help the reelection bid of a conservative state-supreme-court justice. While the final bill reduced early voting to two weeks from as many as six, the GOP scrapped changes that would have limited the number of hours and days it could be available within that shorter window. And the legislature did not weaken the attorney general’s office as much as Republicans initially proposed.
But the final legislation approved on Wednesday remained a far-reaching bill that will undercut Evers in significant ways. “Wisconsin has never seen anything like this,” Evers said in a statement after the vote. “Power-hungry politicians rushed through sweeping changes to our laws to expand their own power and override the will of the people of Wisconsin who asked for change on November 6.”
The bills now go to Walker, who has indicated he will sign them. “Hopefully, the governor finds it in his heart to veto some of this stuff, if not all of it,” Erpenbach said. “He’s got a legacy he needs to worry about, and I tend to believe this is what he’ll be known for.”
“That,” he added, “would be such a stain on his eight years in office.”
Assuming Walker signs the bills, the next fight might occur in the courts, as Democrats have said they will consider lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the legislature’s actions. A previous attempt to limit early voting was thrown out, and advocacy groups in Wisconsin were already discussing litigation on Wednesday.
Vos said he welcomed the possible challenges, expressing confidence in the legitimacy of the legislature’s actions. He and Fitzgerald, the Senate majority leader, were also betting that their GOP members—many of whom hail from gerrymandered legislative districts—can defend their bills when they next face the voters themselves. “I don’t think anyone’s losing their seat over this,” lamented Erpenbach. “But when they get home, they’ll start to notice people looking away when they walk in the room.”
Indeed, Republicans may have rushed through their legislation after a debate that occurred in the dark of night, but they were surprisingly forthcoming about why they were doing it. Without the new limits on Evers’s power, Vos said, according to Wisconsin Public Radio, “we are going to have a very liberal governor who is going to enact policies that are in direct contrast to what many of us believe in.”
That liberal governor, and those liberal policies, may be what Wisconsin voters wanted when they elected Evers last month. But after Republicans in the legislature insisted on having their say on Wednesday, that agenda may not be what the voters actually get.