I’m as outraged as most liberals (well, maybe not exactly as outraged) by the Republican shenanigans, especially in our neighboring state of Wisconsin. The particular immediate shenanigan was to call a special session of the Legislature and ram through a bunch of changes to reduce the power of the governor’s office.
This is, of course and transparently, because the voters of Wisconsin had the temerity to elect Democrat Tony Evers to be their next governor, replacing Republican Scott Walker.
Something, possibly that election result, caused members of the Wisconsin Legislature, still controlled by Republicans, to have a sudden revelation that the powers of the Wisconsin governor’s office were too many and too big, especially for a Democrat to wield. So the legislators rushed to Madison for a previously unscheduled “lame duck” special session to do what they can to transfer powers from the executive to the legislative branch while Walker is still has the power to sign (or veto) bills.
The engineers of what might be called this “soft coup” are making no serious attempt to disguise the purely partisan motive based on a form of the logic of Orwell’s “Animal Farm.” (In “Animal Farm” it was “Four legs good; Two legs bad.” Now it’s “Repub good; Dem bad.”)
Walker has not clarified whether he will sign any or all of the governor-power-reducing bills. The latest news is that Evers called Walker to ask him to veto the bills, but after the phone call Evers said he was “not particularly encouraged” that Walker would do so. Walker has previously said he would probably sign at least some of the bills.
Under the headline: “Are Republicans Abandoning Democracy?” the general liberal reaction was captured by Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne thus:
In case after case, Republicans have demonstrated an eagerness to undercut democracy and tilt the rules of the game if doing so serves their ideological interests. The quiet coup by the GOP-controlled legislature in Wisconsin is designed to defy the voters’ wishes. It reflects an abandonment of the disciplines that self-government requires.
So, to pick up from the first paragraph, why am I slightly less outraged than some other liberals?
Because I know that both parties have played this game. It was the great Franklin D. Roosevelt who tried to “pack” the Supreme Court with extra seats that he could fill with liberal justices because he was frustrated with some Supreme rulings that got in the way of his New Deal program. It was Senate Democrats in 2013 who reduced the number of votes necessary to overcome a filibuster because – well, for the obvious reason. (Although if you look into it, you’ll find that the Democratic change to the filibuster rule followed a massive change in how often Republicans used filibusters to block President Clinton’s appointees.)
Round and round the blame game goes. I only want to make sure I’m acknowledging (Lord knows why) that each party can (and does) excuse its latest previous outrage by pointing to something the other party did previously.
And, because I’m a Constitution nerd (but not a worshiper of that document) and a (mediocre) student of other systems of government, one other bit of comparative-political-systems point bears mentioning, namely:
What’s happening in Wisconsin is also partly a function of a feature (or does one mean “a bug”) of the U.S. system of politics and government, namely the long, slow transition from election to inauguration, which creates time for the kind of mischief the Wisconsin Legislature is attempting.
In typical parliamentary systems, the transition is much faster. In Britain, the new prime minister and Cabinet members take power the very day after it’s clear who has won the election. There may be downsides to that, but, at the least, it removes the temptation that two-month transitions like ours create. (Our elections have pretty much always been in November. But for the first century and a half the new president wasn’t sworn in until March.) Yikes. It was moved up to January, by constitutional amendment, in the 1930s.