The wreckage from a week of Republican power-grabs

The Republican Party has now fully entered the next phase of its all-out war on American democracy — not only are they cheating in an effort to win elections, they’ll now disregard the will of voters when they lose. After giving it a test run in 2016, when the GOP-controlled North Carolina legislature tried to strip Democratic Governor-elect Roy Cooper of many of his powers, Republicans are going all-in on the strategy in key states across the country.

The scheme played out this past week in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and once again in North Carolina, where Republicans have become the nation’s leaders in abject and blatant cheating. It’s hard to keep up with all the corruption, as so many of the most insidious clauses and maneuvers are nestled into giant bills that were kept secret from the public up until now. To help catch you up, here’s a running list of state GOP’s anti-democratic lame-duck treachery.

Wisconsin:

In a marathon Tuesday night session that stretched into the next morning’s rush hour commute, the GOP-held legislature passed a number of bills that will hamstring Democratic Governor-elect Tony Evers and Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul. The state is already gerrymandered beyond belief, which allowed Republicans to keep their legislative majority despite Democrats earning a majority of statewide votes this November. You’d think that would send a message to GOP legislators, but that assumes that modern Republicans have consciences or even self-awareness.

Awaiting outgoing GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s signature are a number of bills that will significantly weaken the executive branch and hurt voters and working people. They will:

  • Curtail early voting, reducing it from six to two weeks before the election;
  • Double down on new Medicaid work requirements
  • Stripping the Attorney General of the ability to remove the state from lawsuits, including the suit against the Affordable Care Act
  • Takes away Evers power to control or disband a key economic development council
  • Require legislative approval for some decisions made by the Governor

Michigan:

The GOP perfidy is even more egregious and wide-ranging in Michigan, where Republicans are trying to directly defang laws passed by ballot amendment and strip power from newly elected Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the rest of the all-blue executive slate. Once again, the GOP retained its majority thanks to gerrymandering, a situation that voters very clearly do not like.

Before the election, it looked like ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour and require some employers to give paid sick leave were going to pass with flying colors. To prevent that from happening, Republicans pre-emptively passed bills that would enact those policies… but only because they knew that it’d be easier to gut them later, after the election.

And lo and behold, they are doing just that, pushing the minimum wage increase off until 2030 and hobbling the paid sick leave act by requiring employees to have worked for a place for at least a year. Generally, it’s uncertain and seasonal work that gives no sick days, which makes the one year rule a devastating blow.

Michigan Republicans are also looking to hobble the ballot initiatives that did pass. Michigan voters overwhelmingly approved nonpartisan redistricting reform, which would prove devastating for a GOP that has relied on immense gerrymanders. So the legislature is trying to shape how the definition of political affiliation is determined, so that they can have some say in what is supposed to be an independent and bipartisan process.

Even worse, they want to take away oversight of campaign finance from the Secretary of State’s office. It just so happens that Democrat Jocelyn Benson literally wrote the book on how the Secretary of State’s office must be the guardian of democracy. And get this: the Republican who submitted the bill is very bad at following campaign finance rules:

Meanwhile, another rotten Republican, outgoing Rep. Tim Kelly, is working to create a shadow education commission that would have power over the democratically elected Board of Education.

The bills, which the GOP is calling “school choice” legislation, is really about choosing the wellbeing of some children over others and stripping the Governor of any choice in the matter. Via the nonprofit, nonpartisan Bridge Michigan:

The bills would create a commission largely appointed by Republicans that would have broad authority over schools. In essence, it would serve as a shadow State Board of Education that would not be accountable to the incoming governor, the elected State Board of Education or the state Department of Education.

If passed, the new commission would almost certainly have a huge impact on K-12 education in Michigan ‒ from which schools are closed, to which would get extra money and how much classroom instruction students receive.

“These bills basically strip the next governor of the ability to reform education,” said a person intimately involved in negotiations over the bills who asked not to be identified because he works with both parties. “That’s why we’re jumping up and down over this. It’s such a complete power steal from Whitmer that no one should be participating in this.”

The proposed commission would have 13 members, seven of which would be chosen by the governor. Unfortunately, Rick Snyder will be the sitting governor when the bill passes, and he has already said that he would use his last gasp of power to appoint those seven members, who would serve throughout Whitmer’s entire four-year term.

As a kicker, the GOP is also pushing a bill that would cripple unions even further by forcing them to take biannual certification votes that would require huge majorities to win.

North Carolina: 

It wouldn’t be a legislative lame-duck coup party without North Carolina getting involved. The GOP’s gerrymander was so extreme that it kept legislative majorities despite losing the popular vote in November, but not even their illegal voter suppression could keep them from losing their supermajorities. The upside is that in January, the GOP will no longer be able to override Gov. Cooper’s vetoes; the downside is that sore losers are in emergency democracy-hacking mode.

Remarkably, at the same time that a story about Republicans literally hiring people to change and/or rip up ballots is unfolding on the national stage, the North Carolina GOP is trying once again to grab control of state elections.

In short, they’ve spent two years trying to take power over the Board of Elections, have been continually shut down by courts, and are now trying once again. This time, they’ve put forward a laughable proposal that would technically split power between the parties, but guarantee that Republicans control the board during general election years.

Significantly, that Board of Elections would only serve administrative functions. The Republican proposal would also create a second board, a so-called Board of Ethics, that would have most of the power. With an even number of members, it would effectively serve to constantly deadlock and curtail any actual legal enforcement or big decisions.

Here’s the funny thing about ballot initiatives: When left-leaning proposals win, Republicans then try to gut the policy and even make it harder to win future initiatives (as is the case in Ohio). When conservative proposals win, the GOP decides that not only must the policies be enforced, they should go even further than voters intended. Such is the case with the North Carolina voter ID initiative, which the legislature is making even more restrictive than advertised. Gov. Cooper has ten days to veto the law, though Republicans still have that supermajority.

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