Wisconsin Legislators Abuse Lame-Duck Powers: A Troubling Sign That Majority Will No Longer Matters To Voters
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is no stranger to confrontation and controversy. After all, he began his gubernatorial career with a highly contentiousness war on public unions that nearly cost him his governorship after enough signatures were collected to trigger a recall election. It was, however, thanks to Walker’s efforts to strip public employees of their right to engage in collective bargaining and the fierce opposition to it that allowed Scott Walker to become a national figure. Despite stripping Americans of their rights and enraging a significant number of Wisconsin voters, Walker’s political prospects were buoyed by the fact that a great number of people feel public employees are overcompensated with too little accountability, especially when compared to that of many private sector employees. Having lost the 2018 Election, Walker and his Republican cohorts in the State legislator have chosen to strip the new governor of the powers Walker coveted in order to push his agenda. State Senators also moved to embed Republican operatives into the State government by approving 82 of Walker’s appointees civil posts in one day, among other moves.
Although Wisconsin serves as a bold example of a fallen majority abusing its lame-duck authority, the same is happening in Michigan. There are, of course, countless examples of lame-duck leaders and legislators exercising their once-voter-approved powers throughout the history of democratic governance. Outgoing leaders no longer have to appease a critical mass of key demographics as they are no longer running for re-election, so they are free to pursue their own personal priorities. There are also countless examples of partisan factions engaging in sabotaging to hobble their processors. When President Bill Clinton left the White House to make way for President George W. Bush, Clinton staff notoriously vandalized government property. Today, the Wisconsin story is not simply important due to the severity of the power grab nor the fact liberal media outlets want to cast Republicans in a bad light. It is a significant development, because it represents a new reality in the partisan dysfunction that grips American politics and government.
The term “lame-duck” originally described leaders who lost their ability to push changes due to their electoral losses. After losing an election or losing the support of the populous before an election, lame-duck leaders could not muster enough support to pass legislation or implement major policies. For Senators and Congressmen looking to get reelected, supporting a lame-duck president or governor was seen as a political liability. In the case of Wisconsin and Michigan, it is clear Republican legislators have reached the opposite conclusion. It is also clear that the outgoing governors, who might still seek public office on the national level, do not view the abuse of their lame-duck powers as a liability. They, in fact, seem to view their actions as a victory for their supporters and an asset for their political resume. Quite frankly, they are probably correct.
The US electorate is so polarized along partisan lines that elected officials at the Federal and State levels are no longer even attempting to serve the collective interests of all citizens. Elected officials are no longer serving the collective interests of their constituents. They are catering to the interests of their supporters and backers, especially those difficult-to-please voters on the fringes of the political spectrum. Scott Walker did not loss his second reelection bid, because his supporters voted for the opposition candidate. He lost, because not enough of his supporters voted for him and more of the other guy’s supporters voted. This same pattern is, of course, seen in other State races and on the national level. Consequently, public figures like Walker do not need to worry about offending those who voted for their opponents, assuming future electoral victories matter to them. By hobbling the ability of Tony Evers to undo the Walker legacy and pursue his own agenda, Wisconsin Republicans can say they achieved a victory for their supporters despite the efforts of Democrats.
With all that in mind, all outgoing leaders are expected to solidify their legacies to some extent. The tendency for successors to undo the legacies of their processors tends to prevent democratic governments from progressing on key issues. The real problem, however, is that partisans tend to push partisan agendas instead of consensus agendas, so their legacies are politically unsustainable. The abuse of lame-duck powers, as well as the new-found push by lame-duck officials to cater to supporter whims, is just another layer of dysfunction. Quite frankly, the moves by Walker and others will be challenged in the courts. Most will be reversed to some degree over some procedural issue that was ignored in the rush to meet deadlines, which is why efforts to politicize the courts are so problematic. What is most troubling is what is happening to the electorate. Politicians tend to be opportunists, so they will do what they want and what the electorate will let them get away with. Unfortunately, the polarized electorate no longer cares about election results. Voters no longer care what the majority wants. It is only what they want and what their factions want. Democracy can only function when people respect the will of the majority. When voters cannot accept the fact that their preferences are no longer part of the majority, democracy has a major problem.
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