MADISON — Wisconsin
Republicans continued their push Tuesday to weaken
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' powers, holding a hearing on a
constitutional amendment prohibiting him from using his
veto pen to increase spending.
GOP legislators have been
working since Evers won election last November to reduce
the governor's authority. They passed a host of laws
during a December lame-duck session prohibiting Evers from
pulling the state out of lawsuits without legislators'
permission, a tactic designed to prevent him from
withdrawing Wisconsin from a multistate action challenging
the Affordable Care Act. Evers still managed to withdraw
from the lawsuit after a judge temporarily put the laws on
hold this spring, but the lame-duck session set the tone
for the icy relationship that has developed between the
governor and Republicans over the last year.
Evers enraged the GOP in
July when he used his partial veto powers to rewrite the
state budget and give public schools $65 million more than
Republican legislators allocated. Republicans responded
within days by introducing an amendment to the state
constitution that would bar the governor from using his or
her veto powers to increase spending in any bill.
The constitution currently
gives the governor among the strongest veto powers in the
nation. He can strike words, numbers and punctuation in
spending bills, shifting money toward initiatives he
supports while starving opponents' projects of funding.
must pass consecutive legislative sessions and a statewide
referendum before they can take effect. The state Senate's
government oversight committee began that process with
The amendment's chief
Senate author, Republican Dave Craig, told the committee
that Evers' decision to boost school funding exceeded his
authority and trampled on the Legislature's power of the
He argued that Wisconsin
residents have been trying to scale back the governor's
veto powers for decades. He pointed to a constitutional
amendment in 2008 that ended the so-called Frankenstein
veto, forbidding the governor from deleting and stitching
words together to form new sentences. And he cited a 1990
amendment that ended the so-called Vanna White veto, in
which the governor deleted individual letters and numbers.
The spending amendment
"would shield taxpayers from further unauthorized
spending in the future," Craig said.
Sens. Fred Risser and Lena
Taylor, the committee's two Democrats, maintained the
amendment isn't necessary since legislators presently can
try to override vetoes they dislike.
Such a move requires a
two-thirds majority vote in both the Senate and Assembly.
Republicans are three votes short of that mark in the
Assembly and three votes shy in the Senate this session.
Craig said the override route doesn't change the reality
that Evers usurped the Legislature's spending authority.
Taylor went on to argue
that the state elected Evers to act as a check on
Republicans and she hasn't heard anyone complaining about
Evers giving schools more money. Craig countered that he
has heard from constituents that Evers went too far.
Risser said he's worried
about situations where vindictive lawmakers cut salaries
of state employees that have angered them. If the governor
vetoes the cut, he or she could be seen as authorizing a
spending increase, Risser said. Craig agreed that the
governor would be violating the prohibition but said
lawmakers have the right to make policy decisions.
Anna Henning, the
committee's attorney, said the situation Risser described
is murky but that the governor could argue that vetoing
spending cuts simply restores the status quo.
The hearing lasted only
about an hour. Only Risser and Taylor spoke against the
Craig, who doubles as the
oversight committee chairman, said he expects the panel
will vote on the amendment sometime next week. Approval
would clear the way for a full Senate vote.
Evers spokeswoman, Britt
Cudaback, said it's unfortunate that Republicans are upset
that the governor gave schools more money and that they
should stop seeking political retribution for an election
that happened almost a year ago.
Wisconsin Supreme Court
agrees to hear veto challenge
MADISON, Wis. — The Wisconsin Supreme
Court agreed Wednesday to hear a case brought by a
conservative law firm seeking to dramatically scale back
the ability of governors to change the intent of
legislators through partial budget vetoes.
The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty brought the
case in July after Democratic Gov. Tony Evers made 78
partial vetoes to the state budget passed by the
Republican-controlled Legislature. The Supreme Court,
which is controlled 5-2 by conservatives, agreed to take
the case as requested, skipping the usual process of
lawsuits working their way up from lower courts first.
The case seeks to reverse more than four decades of
precedent upholding the governor's broad veto power. The
lawsuit specifically seeks to overturn four of Evers' 78
partial vetoes, arguing that he improperly and
unlawfully used his broad constitutional powers to
create new laws never approved by the Legislature.
The court will hear oral arguments in the coming months
and likely issue a decision in the summer.
"Governor Evers abused his partial veto to create new
laws out of whole cloth," said Rick Esenberg, president
of the group bringing the lawsuit. "The people of
Wisconsin never intended the check on legislative power
the governors' veto represents to permit the governor to
legislate on his own. We are pleased the court agreed
that Governor Evers' recent use of the partial veto
warrants judicial review."
Evers' spokeswoman, Britt Cudaback, didn't address the
state Supreme Court's decision to take the case
directly. She defended the vetoes, however, saying they
"were entirely consistent with the Wisconsin
Constitution, decades of decisions by the Wisconsin
Supreme Court, and vetoes by prior governors."
Evers shrugged off the lawsuit when it was filed as an
attempt to re-fight old political battles.
The governor's veto powers are spelled out in the
Wisconsin Constitution. The lawsuit does not challenge
those powers, but instead how Evers used them, arguing
that he violated the separation of powers between the
legislative and executive branches by creating new laws
never intended by the Legislature.
Republican lawmakers are pushing a constitutional
amendment, which voters would have to approve, that
would prohibit governors from increasing funding through
a partial veto, as Evers did this year. A Senate
committee held a hearing on that measure this week.
Wisconsin governors, both Republican and Democratic,
have long used the broad partial veto power to reshape
the state budget. Former Republican Gov. Scott Walker
issued 98 partial vetoes in his last budget in 2017 and
104 in the one before that. Former Republican Gov. Tommy
Thompson holds the record with 457 partial vetoes in
Esenberg said at the time the lawsuit was filed that it
wasn't targeting Evers, but rather addressing an
"important principle" and that the group just didn't get
around to challenging it sooner.
Lawmakers and voters have been attempting to scale back
the governor's veto power almost since it was created in
1930. Since 1935, there have been 25 constitutional
amendments proposed to limit the governor's power.
Complaint could make up to
234K Wisconsin voters ineligible
MADISON, Wis. — More than a
quarter-million voters in Wisconsin identified as having
moved could be made ineligible to vote before next
year's presidential primary election if a complaint
filed Wednesday by a conservative law firm is
The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty argues that
the state Elections Commission broke the law when it
decided to wait up to two years, rather than 30 days, to
make ineligible voters who may have moved. The complaint
asks for that decision to be immediately revoked, which
could lead to as many as 234,000 voters losing their
eligibility until they can confirm their addresses or
The outcome could affect how many voters are able to
cast ballots in both the April presidential primary and
November 2020 general election in Wisconsin, a key swing
state that both sides are targeting. President Donald
Trump narrowly won the state by less than 23,000 votes
The concern from liberals is that younger and lower
income voters who are more likely to vote Democratic are
also more likely to be flagged as movers. The result,
they fear, is that more Democrats would be made
ineligible than Republicans, making it more difficult
for them to vote.
The commission said in a statement that it is confident
it is complying with the law.
State law requires Wisconsin to join the multi-state
Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC, but
it does not specify how the list of voters is to be
maintained, said Meagan Wolfe, the Election Commission's
executive director. Wolfe told reporters that she hadn't
reviewed the complaint, but that she disagreed with its
claim that state law requires the commission to make
voters ineligible after 30 days.
Last week, the commission mailed notices to 234,000
voters identified as potentially having moved. They had
been flagged by ERIC based on a review of documents from
sources such as the Post Office and Division of Motor
Vehicles that indicated the person may have moved.
Voters who do not respond to the postcard asking them to
confirm their address will be flagged as movers. But
instead of being made ineligible to vote 30 days after
the mailing, they will have up to two years to confirm
their addresses, based on a June vote by the commission.
The conservative group contends in its complaint that
the two-year grace period conflicts with a state law
that requires such voters to be made ineligible after 30
days. It contends that maintaining an accurate list of
who is registered to vote in Wisconsin is a matter of
Under the commission's decision, voters flagged as
movers will not be made ineligible ahead of the February
primary election for the state Supreme Court race and
numerous local offices. It will also mean they will
remain eligible for the April presidential primary and
spring general election in which a Supreme Court justice
will be elected.
Voters who are made inactive will be able to re-register
at the polls on election day if they have the required
form of ID and proof of residence.
Analiese Eicher, director of the liberal group One
Wisconsin Institute, which successfully sued to block
limits on voting, said this was an attempt to "bully the
Elections Commission into a backdoor voter roll purge."
The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty filed the
complaint on behalf of three voters. It warns that if
the commission doesn't take immediate action, it will
file a lawsuit. Rick Esenberg, the group's president,
said in a statement that the commission doesn't have the
authority to "invent or amend policy contrary to state
Commission staff said in a March memo that the
commission had the authority to delay making the voters
ineligible beyond 30 days because another state law
gives it the ability to create rules maintaining the
voter registration list. Staff said in the memo that
since no voter would be removed until after the April
2021 election under its policy, there would be time to
receive feedback from the Legislature about whether a
law change was necessary.
The complaint filed Wednesday, and possible lawsuit,
would force a resolution of that question.
Removing voters who may have moved was an issue in 2017
after the commission mailed post cards to 343,000
potential movers and more than 335,000 who did not
respond were made ineligible. That led to complaints
from voters and election officials, resulting in
creation of a supplemental voter list for elections last
year. Anyone on that list who came to the polls to vote
and affirmed they had not moved were able to vote
without having to re-register.
There are about 3.3 million registered voters in
Wisconsin out of about 4.5 million people of voting age.
Nicholson won't run for Congress, eyeing 2022
MADISON — Republican
Kevin Nicholson is passing on a chance to run for
Congress next year and instead is laying the
groundwork for a statewide run for either governor or
U.S. Senate in 2022.
Nicholson on Tuesday
endorsed fellow Republican Scott Fitzgerald in the 5th
Congressional District race. Fitzgerald is currently
the state Senate majority leader and the only
announced Republican candidate for the race in the
deeply conservative district that covers affluent
Nicholson ran for U.S.
Senate last year but lost in the primary. He says he's
focused on growing the conservative movement in
Wisconsin and preparing for a statewide race in three
Fitzgerald is vying to
replace retiring U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner. Several
other Republicans are still weighing a bid. Tom
Palzewicz is the only announced Democratic candidate.