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Wisconsin governor signs bills stripping powers from incoming governor

Outgoing Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed the legislation Friday in Green Bay.
Outgoing Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed the legislation Friday in Green Bay.Haley BeMiller/The Post-Crescent/AP

FOX CROSSING, Wis. — Scott Walker, the outgoing Republican governor of Wisconsin, on Friday signed into law measures that diminish the power of his Democratic successor and expand the authority of Republican lawmakers who teamed up with him over the last eight years to move the state firmly to the right.

Walker approved the measures over the objections of the incoming governor and despite fierce protest in the state Capitol as Republican lawmakers rushed the bills through in a hastily called session last week. Tony Evers, the Democrat who beat Walker in the November election, has suggested he may file suit over the changes and said Walker had chosen “to ignore and override the will of the people of Wisconsin.”

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The tactic by Walker and his allies was seen as carving a path for other states where Republicans are similarly contemplating limits on incoming Democrats. But it also risked energizing Democrats before a 2020 presidential election in which both parties will battle for the Midwest, as well as shaping how people remember Walker, 51, who leaves the governor’s job Jan. 7.

The final package of legislation that Walker signed Friday followed elections that brought defeats for Republicans in Wisconsin, a purple state won both by Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Republicans held onto the state Legislature but lost contests for governor and attorney general.

The newly signed laws will curb the authority of Evers in the rule-making process and give lawmakers, not the new governor, most appointments on an economic development board until next summer. The measures also will limit early voting, allow legislators to intervene in some lawsuits, and limit the power of the incoming attorney general.

“To me, that’s the legacy: It’s the fact that Wisconsin is working,” Walker said in Green Bay on Friday, where he signed the legislation. “These bills don’t change that legacy. And these bills don’t fundamentally change the power of not just the next governor but any governor thereafter.”

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But to opponents, the bills represent something sinister.

“This just goes to show what type of leader he actually was,” said state Senator La Tonya Johnson, a Democrat from Milwaukee. The legislation, she said, “will definitely go down in history as being the biggest power grab ever.”