Wisconsin State Capitol. Photo by Rosina Peixoto [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Wisconsin State Capitol. Photo by Rosina Peixoto (CC BY-SA 3.0), from Wikimedia Commons

Almost three years after he lost a bid for a third term to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, former Republican Gov. Scott Walker continues to cast a long shadow over the Capitol.

The Walker-named chairman of the state Natural Resources Board, Fred Prehn, continues to head the policy-setting panel for the state’s environmental agency, although his term ended months ago.

Prehn insists that he can legally stay in that role until his Evers-nominated successor, Sandra Naas, is confirmed by the state Senate. A Dane County judge recently agreed, dismissing a lawsuit filed by Democratic Atty. Gen. Josh Kaul that sought to remove Prehn from the DNR board.

Last week, the Republican-controlled state Senate confirmed four Evers cabinet secretaries, who had served as designees for 33 months, and dozens of the Democrat’s appointments to boards and commissions.

The Senate did not consider Naas’s appointment, leaving Prehn on the DNR board.

Walker’s lieutenant governor during his eight years in office, Rebecca Kleefisch, is the best organized Republican candidate for governor. She hopes to challenge the Democratic governor seeking a second term in November 2022.

“Tony Evers and Joe Biden are weak, incompetent leadership, and it comes at a cost,” she said in her campaign announcement Sept. 9.

Kleefisch had no government experience before she and Walker were elected in 2010, so Walker would be her model for how to serve as governor.

Kleefisch has said she was a proud partner in all the significant changes Republican legislators enacted, and Walker signed into law, between 2011 and 2019.

That list includes the Act 10 elimination of collective bargaining for most public employees, legalizing concealed weapons, a right-to-work law, UW System tuition freeze and dozens of other changes fought by Democrats.

She and Walker survived separate recall elections, prompted by Act 10 changes, in 2012. Kleefisch says she was the “first lieutenant governor in American history to survive a recall.”

She has also said she would sign a Texas-like law prohibiting an abortion after a heartbeat is detected and she has championed small businesses and the Second Amendment.

Democrats say a Kleefisch administration would be a Walker-era replay.

Kleefisch “wants to drag Wisconsin backwards to the failed days of the Scott Walker era, and has shown she can’t be trusted to follow science and listen to the experts in a crisis,” said Democratic Party Chair Ben Wikler.

As lieutenant governor, she “championed far-right policies that hurt Wisconsinites and eviscerated protections for workers,” Wikler added.

But the most significant way Walker’s legacy looms over state government may be how he shaped the career of Supreme Court Justice Brian Hagedorn, who went from being the governor’s chief legal counsel to the state’s highest court in four years.

After serving as a law clerk to then-Justice Michael Gableman, Hagedorn gave Gov. Walker legal advice for five years – a period that included the Act 10 firestorm. In 2015, Walker named Hagedorn a Court of Appeals judge. That gave Hagedorn a portfolio to do two things: win a full Court of Appeals term in 2017 and, in 2019, win a seat on the Supreme Court.

In a Court with three conservatives and three liberals, Hagedorn has often cast the tie-breaking vote.

His latest significant fourth vote decided that the Supreme Court – and no lower courts  – will decide any legal challenges to new Congressional and legislative district lines, which the Constitution says must be drawn by legislators and vetoed or signed into law by the governor. The new lines must be in place for November 2022 elections.

Another Walker shadow over the Capitol is bitter partisanship – a tone set by the Act 10 controversy.

Soon after taking office, Walker and Republican legislators moved quickly to push Act 10 through within days, prompting all 14 Senate Democrats to leave the state to try and delay its passage. Republicans found a way to pass Act 10 and Walker immediately signed it into law.

Republicans reinforced that partisanship when GOP legislators pushed through new limits on the governor and attorney general after the November 2018 elections before Evers and Kaul took office. Walker signed those changes into law shortly before he left office.

Ten years after Walker was first elected, a veteran Democratic senator recently sat in his Capitol office signing new Blue Books. He summed up how Republicans run that chamber: “They don’t want our input.”

Steven Walters started covering the Capitol in 1988. Contact him at stevenscotwalters@gmail.com

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