"The entire thing is frankly a hot mess."
Tony Evers, the incoming Democratic governor of Wisconsin, offered that pithy appraisal on Tuesday night of Republican efforts to limit his authority and that of the incoming attorney general, who is also a Democrat. Evers, the state schools superintendent, bested Gov. Scott Walker, once a Republican star who ran for president in 2016, in the November election. "We won fair and square," the Democrat said.
But his message fell on deaf ears in the GOP-controlled legislature, which was continuing into Wednesday to advance the lame-duck legislation.
Just after midnight, Republicans succeeded in approving, through party-line votes, a plan to lock in place a work requirement for Medicaid and food stamps, which would force tens of thousands of indigent yet able-bodied and childless adults under the age of 50 to work to qualify for these public benefits. Health care providers, insurers and hospitals have warned of adverse consequences. By early Wednesday, both chambers had also approved a transportation-related proposal, and the state Senate on Tuesday backed a series of appointments made by the outgoing governor weeks before he leaves office.
Appearing on CNN, Evers joined Democratic lawmakers in calling these actions a power grab.
"I see this as essentially a Republican majority trying to repudiate and turn back the clock," he told CNN's Don Lemon, condemning the maneuver as "an embarrassment for the state of Wisconsin."
The severe rhetoric from the mild-mannered, Midwestern educator reflected the pitch of the debate in Madison, as the second day of extraordinary legislative action spilled into the wee hours of Wednesday morning. The marathon session, marked by long delays as both sides huddled to plot the way forward, unfolded against the backdrop of protests at the state capitol, which found an echo within the legislative chambers. State Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling accused the GOP majority of "handcuffing the incoming administration."
The state's GOP leadership framed the undertaking as an attempt to safeguard Walker's policy agenda, as well as to check executive authority. Republicans in Wisconsin have controlled the state government since 2011. Robin Vos, the speaker of the Assembly, took to Twitter late Tuesday to defend his party's actions, but his messages, rather than reassuring Wisconsin voters, became a lighting rod for them to voice their discontent.
The legislative package that Republicans are seeking to shepherd to Walker's desk includes measures unlikely to attain the signature of a Democratic governor, such as limits to early voting and a prohibition on the state's withdrawal from a lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act.
Walker, addressing reporters this week, said he expected the legislation to be altered in the course of debate and promised that his approval "depends on what they send me."
Evers, speaking to CNN, aimed for defiance in the face of what he described as a bald-faced attempt to thwart the results of last month's election. "That's just not going to happen," he said. "We're working hard to make sure it doesn't happen."
Yet, he also acknowledged that Republicans showed no signs of relenting.
"We'll try to convince the governor to veto it, and that's an unlikely prospect," he said, referring to Walker, who survived a hard-fought recall vote in 2012 and was reelected in 2014. Otherwise, he said, "we have several strategies in place, but everything's on the table, from litigation to other actions."
He added, "The time to stop it is now. That's the bottom line."
Evers said he was especially incensed by a measure that would bar him from making the state capitol a gun-free zone without the approval of lawmakers. Efforts to tie his hands when it came to former president Barack Obama's signature health law were equally odious, he said, because of how central support for Obamacare, as the health reform is called, were to Democratic campaigns in Wisconsin.
"Both the attorney general and I ran on those issues. I said it 15 times every single day," Evers said. Not following through on his promises, he reasoned, would be "hypocritical."
Not just Democrats, he insisted, but all people who "respect Wisconsin's democracy" should connect with their legislators.
"They have to speak up now," Evers said.