WASHINGTON ― Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) says the uproar over the extraordinary proposals aimed at reducing the power of incoming Gov. Tony Evers and other Democrats in Wisconsin is "way overblown."
The Republican-controlled state legislature in Wisconsin passed a series of proposals shortly before dawn on Wednesday that would cut early voting in the state, give Republicans full control of a state economic development agency, block the governor's ability to write regulations and allow the legislature to hire its own lawyers to file lawsuits on behalf of the state.
The GOP measures are being widely seen as an attempt to cripple the authority of statewide Democrats before they take power in January. Current Gov. Scott Walker, who narrowly lost re-election to Evers last month, is expected to sign the package into law.
But Johnson, the senior senator from Wisconsin, downplayed its impact and expressed confidence about any potential consequences Republicans may face.
"Oh, I don't know, it depends on how much you guys blow it out of proportion, I suppose," Johnson told reporters when asked if he's concerned about a voter backlash.
He added that Walker had vetoed the proposals earlier this year, "so this is really what [they] wanted to do for quite some period of time."
Wisconsin Republicans claim they are simply making long overdue reforms to restore the balance of power between the legislature and the executive. There is evidence, however, to suggest the effort had more to do about the politics of the incoming governor. State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R), for example, warned lawmakers ahead of the vote that if the measures were not enacted, Wisconsin "would have a very liberal governor who is going to enact policies that are in direct contrast to what many of us believe in."
Wisconsin Democrats called the move an unprecedented partisan power grab that is subverting the will of the voters, who picked Evers to lead them.
"Power-hungry politicians rushed through sweeping changes to our laws to expand their own power and override the will of the people of Wisconsin who asked for change on November 6th," Evers said in a statement on Wednesday.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), meanwhile, accused the GOP-controlled legislature of showing "great disrespect to the voters of the state of Wisconsin."
Several of the GOP measures are aimed specifically at curtailing the governor's ability to make administrative changes to programs like unemployment insurance, food stamps and Medicaid. Moreover, they would also limit the attorney general and governor's authority to end lawsuits brought by the state, a move designed to keep Wisconsin in a legal action seeking to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Baldwin said Wednesday that she anticipated legal action over the matter.
"I think especially with regard to their actions on early voting, those are challengable in court. A similar measure was struck by a federal court two years ago," Baldwin said in an interview on Capitol Hill.