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In defiance of voters' will, Wisconsin GOP advances brazen power-grab

The GOP's posture is based on an elitist arrogance that democracy is an annoyance that must occasionally be ignored.
Protesters gather outside the state Capitol in Madison, Wis. on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2011.
Protesters gather outside the state Capitol in Madison, Wis. on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2011.

The election results in Wisconsin this year were unmistakable: voters in the Badger State handed Democrats victories up and down the ballot. As the dust settled on Election Day, we saw that voters had elected a Democratic governor, re-elected a Democratic U.S. senator, re-elected a Democratic secretary of state, and elected a Democratic state attorney general. Even in the state legislature, Democratic candidates easily won the most votes.

As regular readers know, Wisconsin Republicans have responded to the election results with truly radical tactics, scrambling to approve a new power-grab before Dems take office in the new year. The agenda is as brazen as it is aggressive, targeting voting rights, election results, and the powers of state offices the GOP will no longer control.

As of this morning, the agenda -- unveiled late on Friday -- is now on its way to becoming law.

The Wisconsin Senate voted just before sunrise Wednesday following an all-night session to pass a sweeping bill in a lame-duck session designed to empower the GOP-controlled Legislature and weaken the Democrat replacing Republican Gov. Scott Walker.Republicans pushed on through protests, internal disagreement and Democratic opposition to the measures designed to reduce the powers of incoming Democratic Gov.-elect Tony Evers and Democratic Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul. Both Evers and Kaul urged Republicans not to do it, warning that lawsuits would bring more gridlock to Wisconsin when the new administration, and the first divided government in 10 years, takes over.But Republicans forged ahead regardless, passing it 17-16 with all Republicans except one in support. All Democrats voted against it. The Assembly was expected to pass the bill later Wednesday, sending it on to Walker for his consideration. Walker has signaled support.

Robin Vos, the Speaker of the Republican-led state Assembly, defended his party's tactics last night, arguing, "We are going to have a very liberal governor who is going to enact policies that are in direct contrast to what many of us believe in."

It's rare to see an elected leader in the United States show such brazen contempt, not just for democracy, but for the voters of his own state.

I suppose there's some value in Vos being so candid -- he's effectively saying the quiet part loud -- and abandoning the pretense that Republicans are concerned with principle.

It's as common a cliche as you'll hear in politics: elections have consequences. Evidently, it's going to need an addendum: elections have consequences, except in Wisconsin, where the consequences are whatever Republicans say they are. In this model, the right to govern doesn't come from the electorate; it comes from what a radicalized GOP is willing to tolerate.

The GOP's posture is based on an elitist arrogance that democracy is an annoyance that must occasionally be ignored. It's a sentiment that effectively asks, "Who are the voters to tell us what to do with state government?"

What's more, let's not forget the importance of gerrymandering in this ugly scheme. Most Wisconsin voters backed Democratic state legislative candidates, but it's Republicans who'll have the most power, since it's Republicans who drew the lines to be voter-proof.

And it's those same Republicans who are now further rigging the game in their favor.

As we discussed yesterday, the problem with the Wisconsin Republicans' power-grab is not that it's anti-Democratic; the tragedy is that it's anti-democratic.

In any democratic system, there's an implicit social contract. There's a recognition, which often goes unstated and unappreciated, that voters have the final say when they cast ballots in free and fair elections, choosing representatives who will act within the limits of the law to advance the people's interests.

If and when the people grow unsatisfied, as part of the contract, voters know another election will soon follow, at which time they'll have an opportunity to make changes to better suit their goals and priorities. Those who earn the public's trust will get the chance to govern; those who don't will offer an alternative in the next cycle.

What Wisconsin Republicans are making clear is that they have no use for such a contract. It's a radical posture, but more importantly, it's a dangerous one.

Political scientist Seth Masket wrote this morning, "Wisconsin has been one of the best functioning democracies in the US for at least a century. What's going on in Wisconsin today shouldn't be dismissed as just one state's experience. If democracy can die there, it can die anywhere."