Lame Duck Republicans Across Country Work to Weaken Victorious Democrats
Republicans in Wisconsin, Michigan and elsewhere in the country have responded to stinging electoral defeats by using lame duck legislative sessions to preemptively weaken the statewide posts Democrats won, leveraging their heavily gerrymandered advantages in the state legislatures and the few remaining weeks of their party’s governorships to prevent the newly elected Democrats from exercising political power.
And these efforts go beyond attempts to weaken executive positions. Republicans in Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Florida are also using lame duck sessions to either weaken initiatives passed in statewide votes or to seize control of the electoral apparatuses in these states.
Here’s a rundown of what Republican legislators are attempting to do in their lame duck sessions.
In Michigan, Democrats pulled off a rare trifecta, winning all three of the gubernatorial, attorney general and secretary of state races for the first time in decades. Democrats also flipped two GOP-held Congressional seats.
Republicans in control of the state legislature have reacted by throwing together a flurry of legislation in a lame duck session. First, a Senate committee passed a bill that would remove responsibility for enforcing state campaign finance laws from the Secretary of State, instead giving that role to a bi-partisan committee. The members would be appointed by Governor-elect Gretchen Whitmer, but would have to include three Republicans and three Democrats.
Meanwhile, the state House approved a bill that would give the legislature the right to intervene in any lawsuit against the state at any stage. Currently, that right is reserved to the state attorney general, and the bill is seen as an attempt to protect legislation passed by Republicans in recent years that a new Democratic administration might not wish to defend in court.
Perhaps even more galling, Republican legislators have acted to dramatically water down an earlier law increasing the minimum wage and establishing paid sick leave in the state. The GOP-controlled legislature passed those laws in September in order to prevent activists from placing initiatives on the state ballot. However, Republicans are using the lame duck session to delay the increase in the minimum wage (to $12.05 an hour) all the way to 2030, while ensuring the tipped minimum wage – currently scheduled to increase to $12 an hour by 2024 – would be capped at $4.58 an hour.
All of these bills require approval by current Republican governor Rick Snyder, who has been largely silent. Activists have made clear they will place a minimum wage increase and paid sick leave initiative on the 2020 ballot if the watered down bills are signed into law.
As American Legal News has already covered, Republican legislators in Wisconsin have acted to limit the power of the newly elected incoming Democratic Governor and Attorney General to end state actions against the Affordable Care Act.
In addition, in a single day Wisconsin Republicans in the state Senate approved 82 nominees to state posts appointed by Republican governor Scott Walker, depriving incoming Democrat Tony Evers of the opportunity to fill those posts himself.
Republicans also passed a law forbidding municipalities from allowing more than two weeks of early voting, which usually benefits Democrats. Other provisions would, in the words of The Huffington Post, “give the Legislature full control of a state economic development agency, block the governor’s ability to write regulations and allow the Legislature to hire its own lawyers to file lawsuits on behalf of the state.”
Evers has said he will pursue legal action to block the laws weakening the governor’s office.
There will be no transfer of power in North Carolina in the new year– the governor will remain Democrat Roy Cooper, who won a narrow victory in 2016, while the legislature will remain firmly controlled by Republicans. However, the existing Republican super-majority will disappear on January 1, as Democrats made enough gains in recent legislative elections to break the GOP stranglehold.
However, Republicans in the state legislature are pushing a bill that would give their party control of county election boards in even-numbered years – that is to say, in years where the most consequential elections happen.
The future of the bill is uncertain. The bill’s author has said it is merely a placeholder until Republicans can negotiate legislation with Governor Cooper.
Finally, Florida Republicans will continue to maintain complete control of the state government in 2019 after Republican Ron DeSantis pulled off a narrow upset win in the state’s much-watched gubernatorial election. However, Republicans there are thinking long term, throwing confusion into the enactment of a felon re-enfranchisement constitutional amendment whose passage we at ALN called “one of the most important elections in the country.”
In the recent midterms, Florida voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 4, which restored voting rights to convicted felons who had served their sentences, including probation and parole terms (those convicted of murder and rape were excluded). While that amendment is set to take effect in the new year, the Republican Secretary of State has halted transmission of necessary documents to the counties, claiming that the state needs to consult with legislators to get clarity with “definitions” before county election boards can begin re-enfranchising voters.
This is infuriating local activists, who argue Amendment 4 was perfectly clear in its meaning and no legislative “consultations” are required. Amendment 4 would re-enfranchise 1.4 million Floridians, a majority of whom are African-American. In a state where recent elections came down to just tens of thousands of votes, this could have a major effect on Florida politics. As a result, the quick and proper enforcement of the voters’ will is a matter of great importance.