Throughout history, legislative branches of government have a bad habit of slowly allowing executive branches of government to accumulate more authority. We can see this in Washington D.C., and we can see it here in Wisconsin. Every representative at some point in their career can be found guilty of forgetting that they are part of a co-equal branch of government, especially during times when they support the person in control of the executive branch. This is true for members of both parties in today's politics.
Over the last week there has been much discussion on what legislative actions could be taken up before Governor Walker leaves office. I want to use this E-Update to give you a greater understanding of some of the changes being proposed, share with you my current position, and to answer some of the questions I have received.
Two weeks ago, I said that I wanted to work in a spirit of bipartisanship and good faith. We have a chance to do that with this package of bills. I want to be honest with you in telling you what I support, and why – and what I don’t support.
Here’s the thing: Democrats were convinced that centralizing more power in the Governor’s office was a bad thing in 2011. Now, they want you to believe that they were 100% wrong then, and that decentralizing powers is a bad thing now.
I owe you my honest thoughts, regardless of whether it’s a partisan win or not. Here are some of the changes that we’ve proposed, and my straight answers on whether I support them or not.
Pardon and Release Report
Under current law, if the legislature asks the Governor whom he/she has released from prison or pardoned before finishing their sentence, the Governor does not have to provide the information to the legislature. Although Governor Walker's position was to never grant a pardon (which I did not necessarily agree with), the legislature should at least be able to know when it happens and with whom. This is something I support.
Group Insurance Board Appointees
The Group Insurance Board sets policy and oversees administration of the group health, life insurance, and Income Continuation Insurance plans for state employees and retirees. Currently, the board is made up entirely of people appointed by the Governor. Under the proposal, both Democrats and Republicans in the Assembly and Senate would get to add an additional appointment. This would ensure that everyone has a seat at the table when decisions are being discussed, which is something I support.
Attorney General Settlement Funds
If the incoming Attorney General wins a lawsuit that results in settlement funds, the AG can spend those funds however he chooses with only passive review from the Joint Finance Committee. The proposed change would make sure those monies go into the state general fund in order to be expended with consent from the legislature and Governor, just like other state money. This puts the legislature back in control over the "purse strings," which is our constitutional role to begin with. I do support this.
Under current law, the Department of Veterans Affairs can take money out of our veteran homes and place it in the Veterans Trust Fund without consent or even notifying the legislature. The proposed change requires the Department of Veteran Affairs to at least notify the Joint Finance Committee before doing so. I do support adding this oversight of money transfers.
Spring Election Date Change
Under current law, the Presidential primary falls on the same April ballot as every other non-partisan election in the state. I support keeping our partisan and non-partisan elections separate. However, I do not support adding an additional election date in March, which is being proposed. Rather, I think it just makes sense to move the Presidential primary to our already scheduled spring date in February. Not only would this eliminate the hassle of scheduling an additional election, Wisconsin as a state would become more important for Presidential candidates on both sides.
Modifying the Wisconsin Economic Development Board
This proposal would add additional appointments from the legislature to the WEDC board. Governor-elect Evers has made it clear he plans to shut down WEDC, and possibly bring back the Department of Commerce. Right now we have a number of extremely important projects going on in our district, such as the potential to redevelop the Johnson Truck Bodies parcel in Rice Lake, which would be devastated if WEDC operations came to a grinding halt.
Even Democrats under Jim Doyle agreed that the Department of Commerce was inefficient and not focused on building our economy. That’s why Governor Walker created WEDC. Shutting down the only agency that is tasked with economic development deserves much greater conversation, and I will not put politics before the families and workers who rely on these local businesses that would be impacted. I support giving the legislature a role in maintaining oversight of WEDC, and support efforts to make sure it’s able to continue to support our district.
After being sued to stop the implementation of Voter ID, the State of Wisconsin made a number of changes in order to ensure the law was constitutional. Some of these provisions being followed have not yet been codified in state statute, which is what the proposal aims to do. As a supporter of voter ID, I do not believe the Governor should be able to single-handedly eliminate the requirement.
During the last 8 years (four years for me), the legislature has worked hard to help people go from government dependence to true independence. We've also implemented a number of measures to ensure that our programs encourage work, and are directed at those truly in need. In order to implement some of these changes, such as drug testing and work requirements for welfare, the state needed a federal waiver. Waivers are also needed for programs like SeniorCare, BadgerCare, and IRIS. The upcoming proposal would make sure any Governor could not unilaterally throw out federal waivers without the consent of the legislature. This is also something I support.
Questions I Have Received:
Why didn't you do this before?
I can almost guarantee that if Governor Walker had been re-elected, he would not have signed many of these proposals. Why? Because no executive likes to share authority with other branches of government. This also goes for Governor-elect Evers, who is also in public opposition of these changes. When Governor Walker announced his run for the Presidency, some of these same conversations began to take place because there is always a much better chance that an outgoing Governor would sign the proposals as opposed to and incoming Governor. Because Governor Walker's ambitions were so short lived it now just so happens that this (rare) opportunity falls into place as Tony Evers takes the helm.
Isn't this un-democratic? Shouldn't you respect the results of the election?
This question is more complicated because it has two parts.
On one hand, I was also elected to represent the wishes of the people of the 75th Assembly district. Our district was in support of re-electing Governor Walker, and the reforms that have been put into place over the last 8 years. Should I ignore our local election results and vote to undo the work that has been done, and that our district supports? On the other hand, how is it more democratic to allow one person to unilaterally make decisions? My colleagues and I represent unique districts with unique needs, putting us more in touch directly with the people we serve. Every one of our districts should have a say in our government.
As you read through the bills, a number of the upcoming proposals simply instill more oversight over state government operations. Some allow for just passive review, others require legislative action. None of them, however, take away any constitutional powers from the newly elected Governor.
Isn’t this a lame duck session?
Frankly, no. The people of Wisconsin chose to keep the Legislature strongly Republican (the Senate even gained a Republican seat). You called for us to continue to build on the progress we have already made.
The last true lame duck session in Wisconsin was in 2010, when voters chose Republicans over Democrats to control every branch of government. But even though the people of Wisconsin clearly rejected fiscal irresponsibility, the Democrats rammed through changes at the last minute, before Governor Walker and the new Republican legislature could take office.
Codifying a list of agency rules that have worked for Wisconsin for years into laws isn’t anti-democratic. It’s what the people of Wisconsin have made clear they want.
As the Joint Finance Committee begins to review the bills today, I will be watching closely to see what proposals may get dropped or changed. As always, please feel free to call or write the office with your questions and concerns.
You can watch the hearing live online until about 9.30 tonight.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos also did an interview on the Dan O'Donnell show today, where he discussed the extraordinary session. You can listen to the interview here.
Thank you to all who have written or called to voice their opinions or ask questions. My office is always open, and your feedback truly helps guide my thinking.
- State Capitol Room 323 North - PO Box 8953, Madison, WI 53703
- (888) 534-0075
- Email: Rep.Quinn@legis.wisconsin.gov