MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republicans in Wisconsin and Michigan enacted last-minute limits on Democratic power Friday, with outgoing GOP governors in both Upper Midwest states signing measures protecting their priorities before leaving office in less than a month.
Democrats derided the moves as desperate power grabs, while Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder downplayed the scope of their actions while defending their rights to do it.
“There’s a lot of hype and hysteria, particularly in the national media, implying this is a power shift. It’s not,” Walker said before signing bills that weaken powers of the incoming Democratic governor and attorney general and limit early voting to two weeks before an election.
The push in both states mirrors tactics employed by North Carolina Republicans in 2016.
Snyder signed measures to significantly scale back citizen-initiated measures to raise Michigan’s minimum wage and require paid sick leave for workers, finalizing an unprecedented Republican-backed legislative maneuver that opponents blasted as shameful.
To prevent minimum wage and earned sick time initiatives from going to voters last month, GOP lawmakers approved them in September. That allowed them to more easily alter the measures with simple majority votes rather than the three-fourths support that would have been needed if voters had passed the proposals.
The tactic — never done before — was pushed by the business community as necessary to avoid jeopardizing the economy. But it was criticized as an unconstitutional attack on voters’ will at a time Republicans in Michigan are trying to dilute the powers of incoming elected Democrats.
Snyder signed the bills in private and issued a statement calling them a “good balance” between what the ballot drives proposed and what legislators drafted initially.
“They address a number of difficulties for job providers while still ensuring paid medical leave benefits and increased minimum-wage incomes for many Michiganders,” he said.
Walker traveled 130 miles from his Capitol office to sign the bills in Green Bay, a more conservative city far from the liberal capital of Madison where protesters converged on the Capitol to voice opposition to the lame-duck legislative session two weeks ago.
Just two hours later, a group run by former Democratic U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced it planned legal action to block the limitation on early voting.
Members of both parties, including Democratic Gov.-elect Tony Evers and former Republican Gov. Scott McCallum, urged Walker to reject the legislation. Evers accused Walker of ignoring and overriding the will of the people by signing the bills into law.
“People will remember he took a stand that was not reflective of this last election,” Evers said. “I will be reviewing our options and do everything we can to make sure the people of this state are not ignored or overlooked.”
Walker, speaking after he signed the bills, brushed aside what he called “high-pitched hysteria” from critics of the legislation. He said his legacy will be the record he left behind that includes all-but eliminating collective bargaining for public workers, not the lame-duck measures.
Walker’s signing of the bills came a day after he announced a $28 million incentive package to keep open a Kimberly-Clark Corp. plant in northeast Wisconsin. One of the lame-duck bills would prevent Evers from making such a deal, instead requiring the Legislature’s budget committee to sign off.
In Michigan, Democratic state Rep. Christine Greig blasted Snyder.
“With a flick of his lame-duck pen, Gov. Snyder chose to rob the people of Michigan of the strong paycheck and good benefits they deserve,” she said in a statement. “It is shameful that this governor, who is just counting down the days to the end of his tenure, would use this opportunity to hurt the people of Michigan one last time.”