A Week of Constitutional Showdowns at the Wisconsin Capitol

Sep. 15, 2023
By Bill Osmulski

Controversy erupted at the Wisconsin State Capitol this week, as the Republican-led legislature attempted to exercise its constitutional authority over several issues much to the indignation of the Evers’ Administration and its supporters.

The Assembly and Senate both held floor sessions on Tuesday and Thursday. Issues included redistricting, the governor’s veto authority, and agency appointments.

The situation is even more explosive now that liberals have a majority on the State Supreme Court. During her election campaign, Janet Protasiewicz indicated that she would rule in liberals’ favor on a number of hot button issues, eliminating any appearance of impartiality. Liberals now believe they can get anything they want, constitutional or not, as long as they control the court.

Adopting the Iowa Redistricting Model

The legislature has the constitutional authority and responsibility to draw voting maps in Wisconsin.

“At its first session after each enumeration made by the authority of the United States, the legislature shall apportion and district anew the members of the senate and assembly, according to the number of inhabitants,” according to the Wisconsin Constitution.

This has been a sore spot for liberals, because even though they have been very successful in statewide races, they only hold about a third of the seats in the legislature. This is because most Democrat voters live in Dane and Milwaukee counties, which creates a geographic disadvantage. Additionally, legislative districts aren’t apportioned by the number of active voters, but by the total number of people who live in an area. Despite these irrefutable realities, liberals insist the maps are “rigged.”

Gov. Evers attempted to usurp the legislature’s authority by appointing his own “People’s Map Commission,” nine Democrat voters who were supposed to come up with an alternate set of fair maps. Not only was this invalid and unconstitutional, the commission couldn’t figure out how to draw maps that would give Democrats a majority in the legislature.

Evers had a plan B. in 2019, he proposed that Wisconsin adopt the same model Iowa uses for redistricting. It has a non-partisan commission within the legislature draw its maps. Democrats have been pushing for that idea even longer.

Liberals now have a plan C. They will sue the legislature over the maps, and let the Supreme Court decide. It’s a forgone conclusion that they will rule in Democrat’s favor and select a liberal activist to draw new maps.

Then on Tuesday, Assembly Republicans introduced AB-415, which would adopt the Iowa model in Wisconsin. Liberals suddenly turned against the plan they had been promoting for years.

“My colleagues on the other side of the aisle have consistently introduced bills championing the ‘Iowa Model’ every session since 2017. In an era lacking bipartisanship, I am proud to stand with them on this issue by voting for the ‘Iowa Model,’” Rep. Gustafson (R-Fox Crossing) said.

The plan would put the non-partisan Legislative Reference Bureau in charge of drawing legislative district boundaries in Wisconsin. On Thursday, the bill passed on the Assembly floor on a 64-32 vote. That provides the 2/3rds supermajority, which could override Evers’ veto. However, it is not known whether the Senate will take up a vote on it.

Overriding Evers’ Budget Vetoes

Wisconsin’s governors have one of the most power line-item vetoes in the country. They can use it to eliminate words and reduce amounts in fiscal bills. There are limits, however.

“In approving an appropriation bill in part, the governor may not create a new word by rejecting individual letters in the words of the enrolled bill, and may not create a new sentence by combining parts of 2 or more sentences of the enrolled bill,” according to the Wisconsin Constitution.

Instead of crossing out individual letters, Evers crossed out individual numbers and symbols. By doing this, he turned a two-year $325 per student increase in school funding into a 400-year increase. On Thursday, the Senate choose to exercise its veto override authority to change that back to two-years.

Evers expressed his usual vulgar reaction.

“This is B.S.,” he wrote in a statement. “Doing what’s best for our kids will always be what’s best for our state.”

The Senate also voted to override Gov. Evers’ budget veto of a $3.5 billion income tax cut.

“Today, Senate Republicans voted to rollback Governor Evers’ rejection of the largest tax cut in state history and also repeal his 400-year property tax increase. Evers’ partial budget vetoes made it abundantly clear that he will do everything in his power to keep your money so he can spend it as he sees fit. That’s just wrong,” Sen. Duey Stoebel (R-Cedarburg) said.

The veto overrides in the Senate were largely symbolic, since Republicans lack the votes in the Assembly to approve it there.

Rejecting Wolfe’s Appointment to WEC

The Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) was created in 2015 to replace the disgraced Government Accountability Board (GAB). WEC has not proven to be much better. A central figure throughout WEC’s controversies has been its administrator, Meagan Wolfe. She was responsible for issuing illegal guidance memos to clerks during the 2020 election, and she also helped facilitate the Zuckerbucks scandal by helping a Democrat political gain access to local election officials.

Under state law, WEC appoints an administrator every four years and the Senate can either confirm or reject that appointment. Meagan Wolfe’s appointment expired on June 30th, according to state law. WEC, knowing that the Senate would reject her appointment to a second four-year term, decided not to appoint her. They claimed the office was not vacant, and therefore they didn’t need to make an appointment. Regarding this as nonsense, the Senate initiated the confirmation process anyway. Wolfe ignored it and did not sure up to her confirmation hearing.

“Ms. Wolfe decided to not even show up, denying me and my colleagues the opportunity to hear from her. Instead, we heard from dozens of individuals who shared concerns and discontent with her performance,” Sen. Dan Feyen (R-Fond du Lac) explained in a release.

And so, on Thursday the Senate voted to reject Wolfe’s second four-year appointment as WEC’s administrator.

“I voted to reject the appointment of Meagan Wolfe to another term because she no longer has my trust in her ability to carry out the duties of that position in a nonpartisan manner.  On several occasions, Wolfe has given the impression to many citizens of inappropriately twisting election procedures to benefit the desires of Democrats,” Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) explained.

Gov. Evers called this “Wisconsin Republicans’ attempt to illegally fire Wisconsin’s elections administrator.” State Attorney General Josh Kaul additionally filed a lawsuit that same afternoon to keep Wolfe in place at WEC. Wolfe announced she’s not leaving her job unless the court tells her to. With a liberal majority on the Supreme Court, liberals have every reason to believe they will triumph.