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An Undemocratic GOP Enshrines Zombie Laws via Midwest Coups

What do the Michigan and Wisconsin power grab bills mean for the future?

Protests against the Wisconsin GOP's plan to strip crucial authority from governor-elect Tony Evers inside the state capitol building. (Photo: Ben Wikler/Twitter)

The anti-democratic nature of the present-day Republican Party has been fully exposed in the Midwestern states of Wisconsin and Michigan.

In both of these states, where the GOP has ruled all branches of government since 2011, lame-duck Republican governors and lawmakers are fighting to overturn the voters’ choices in the Democratic upsurge on November 6. As apostate conservative author David Frum ruefully explained in his book Trumpocracy, “If conservatives become convinced that they cannot win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism. They will reject democracy.”

"That repudiation of democracy has been on full display in Wisconsin and Michigan, where Republicans have made last-minute moves to strip away constitutional powers from incoming Democratic governors and attorneys general."

That repudiation of democracy has been on full display in Wisconsin and Michigan, where Republicans have made last-minute moves to strip away constitutional powers from incoming Democratic governors and attorneys general.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker reached out from his electoral grave to sign lame-duck measures restricting the power of incoming Democratic Governor-Elect Tony Evers to shape economic-development decisions. Michigan Republicans are rejecting the voters’ clear mandate on everything from the minimum wage to paid sick leave to hobbling Michigan’s new commission designed to overcome flagrant gerrymandering. (Gerrymandering continues unabated in Wisconsin, with the Republicans converting 46 percent of the votes for state assembly into 63 of 99 seats.) The situation has led to virtual minority rule in both states.

But these achievements may come at a high price. Signs of sharp rifts within the once-tightly disciplined GOP are coming to the surface. Former Wisconsin Governor Scott McCallum, a stalwart Republican, called the lame-duck bills a “power grab.”

Even Scott Walker’s campaign chairman and close advisor, Sheldon Lubar, warned that signing the bills would “destroy” Walker’s legacy. He told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “They can look on him as somebody who ignores the will of the people and creeps into the house at midnight to steal away the result of their vote.”

Importantly, in future elections, the GOP in the upper Midwest states will be encountering a fundamentally different electorate.

Protection of insurance for pre-existing condition was a central concern attracting voters to the Democrats, and anger at the Republicans seems certain to intensify. Campaign pledges by the Republicans to protect affordable insurance on pre-existing conditions, for example, were revealed as worthless. Wisconsin lawmakers failed to pass a promised legislation to protect people with pre-existing conditions, even as they rammed through a bill to prevent the new governor and attorney general from withdrawing the state from a federal lawsuit seeking to torpedo what’s left of the Affordable Care Act, including these protections.

A Texas judge recently ruled in favor of the Republican attorneys general who brought the lawsuit, putting people with pre-existing conditions at risk as the matter continues to play out in the courts.

Meanwhile, there is growing resentment in both states over government handouts to large corporations. Wisconsin’s decision to allot up to $4.5 billion in state and local subsidies to the Foxconn electronic plan in southeastern Wisconsin was likely a major factor in Walker’s defeat. Dan Kaufman, author of the recent book The Fall of Wisconsin, suggests this largess turned out to be an anchor rather than an asset in his bid for a third term.

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“[A]s the public has become aware of the spiralling costs for these jobs,” Kaufmann wrote in The New Yorker, “the Foxconn deal has become something of a political liability for Walker, particularly among voters outside of southeastern Wisconsin.”

Michigan has seen a similar “economic development” strategy pursued eagerly by Governor Rick Snyder and his allies. State Republicans have followed a pattern of enacting “mega-deals” that generate jobs for financially troubled cities, but at astronomical costs.

Michigan leads the nation in megadeals where incentives of $50 million or more are shelled out, almost entirely to large corporations, according to The Toledo Blade. The state’s twenty-nine big deals have provided $7.1 billion in public money to such needy recipients as General Motors, Ford Motor Co., and Chrysler.

Good Jobs First, a corporate accountability group, contends that many megadeals create few if any jobs. Nationally, mega-deals average “incentives” of $465,000 workers per job.

“These are giant giveaways, and the practice has gotten out of control,” says Philip Mattera, research director of Good Jobs First and the lead author of the study. “The subsidies are too big, too frequent, and too indiscriminate.”

The mega-deals will drain state budgets for education from kindergarten to college, health care, transportation, and parks. Meanwhile, the promised benefits will not materialize for years. Wisconsin will not break even on the Foxconn deal until 2043, according to the legislature's nonpartisan budget office.

Under GOP rule, both Wisconsin and Michigan have held down wages and deprived workers of a voice through Southern-style “right-to-work” legislation. Michigan’s “right-to-work” law was slipped through in a lame-duck session in 2012 with just one day for a hearing and passage the next day. In Wisconsin, a “right-to-work” law was zipped through the Legislature in 2015 despite strong promises from Governor Walker. Republicans in both states have piled on additional anti-labor legislation, including provisions of the new Wisconsin lame-duck laws to allow the state to avoid federal wage requirements on road projects.

Both Wisconsin and Michigan have long been progressive strongholds. But Republicans have trashed the states’ democratic institutions, breaking everything within reach in the hope of freezing their regressive policies into permanence.

But the increasingly despotic GOP has failed to recognize that minority rule can only last so long before the majority rises up to reclaim its democratic voice.

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Roger Bybee

Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and progressive publicity consultant whose work has appeared in numerous national publications and websites, including Z magazine, Common Dreams, Dollars & Sense, Yes!, The Progressive, Multinational Monitor, The American Prospect and Foreign Policy in Focus.

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