(Reuters) – Outgoing Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker on Friday signed a package of legislation aimed at weakening the powers of his newly elected Democratic successor, dismissing critics who called the move a last-minute partisan power grab.
Democrats said the legislation and a similar set of measures in Michigan undermine the results of the Nov. 6 elections, when they captured the governorship in both states for the first time in eight years.
Republicans in both states, who will still have legislative majorities next year, have defended the moves as good-faith efforts to ensure the legislative and executive branches remain equals.
The Wisconsin legislation, which passed on Dec. 5 largely along party lines, will prevent Governor-elect Tony Evers and Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul from carrying out a campaign promise to withdraw the state from a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.
Evers, who will take office Jan. 7, and Democratic lawmakers have threatened legal action, and Evers on Friday said he will be “reviewing our options.”
“Wisconsinites deserve a government that works for them, and they deserve their officials to be willing to set aside partisanship and political ambitions,” he said at a brief news conference.
The law will limit the governor’s ability to pass administrative rules and block him from killing a provision that would impose a work requirement on Medicaid recipients. In addition, the legislation will allow legislators, rather than the attorney general, to decide whether to withdraw the state from lawsuits.
Walker dismissed what he called “hype and hysteria” surrounding the legislation, saying it would have a minimal effect on Evers’ powers.
“The overwhelming authority that I have today as governor will remain constant,” he said.
One piece of the legislation would limit early voting to two weeks before Election Day, a provision that will undoubtedly draw a court challenge. A federal judge struck down a similar limit in 2016.
Michigan’s Republican-controlled legislature is expected to pass measures, perhaps as soon as next week, that would curb the powers of the incoming Democratic governor, attorney general and secretary of state. Governor Rick Snyder, a Republican, has not indicated whether he would sign the bills.
The efforts mirror maneuvers made by North Carolina Republicans in 2016, when they attempted to weaken the incoming Democratic governor, Roy Cooper. Much of that legislation has been tied up in court challenges.
North Carolina Republicans are currently trying to push through a new voter identification law before January, when they will lose their veto-proof majority in the legislature.
Reporting by Joseph Ax in New York; editing by Grant McCool and Leslie Adler