The GOP's lame-duck power grab
The midterm elections happened a month ago, but you've got to hand it to Republicans: Even at this late date, they're still working on new and innovative ways to subvert the will of the voters.
This is certainly happening at the state level, but it's also happening across the country.
In Wisconsin, where Republican Gov. Scott Walker was ousted last month, lawmakers are hard at work on a plan to limit the authority of the new Democratic governor — as well as the new attorney general, also a Democrat — shifting power to the GOP-controlled legislature. Walker on Monday said he would support the proposal, and by evening, a massive protest was underway.
"I view this as a repudiation of the last election," said Governor-elect Tony Evers, the Democrat who beat Walker at the polls.
Similarly, in Michigan, Republican lawmakers have introduced bills to increase their own power at the expense of the three Democratic women poised to take over as the state's new governor, attorney general, and secretary of state. Republicans are calling the package a "good government" reform effort; Democrats, of course, see it as a power grab.
In Utah, Republicans don't have to worry about ascendant Democrats, but they're still trying to block the will of the voters, voting in special session to replace Proposition 2 — a medical marijuana bill approved last month by 53 percent of the electorate — removing provisions of the proposition that would let some Utah residents grow their own marijuana plants for medicinal use, and making it harder for people accused of drug possession to cite a medical need as a defense.
"It's a sham. It's an absolute sham," said Christine Stenquist, an activist who helped lead the campaign to pass the proposition. "When you sit there and you make the citizens of Utah jump through the hoops you jump through to pass an initiative and the first business day you undermine and remove our voice? That's a problem."
For the GOP, though, that "problem" is becoming business as usual.
It's true that defeated parties often engage in shenanigans during "lame-duck" sessions that occur after elections but before new officials are sworn in. They'd pass a few laws or approve new terms for appointed officials, then recede and plan how to win power again. It's undemocratic, but the efforts mostly occurred at the margins.
No longer. The new GOP efforts amount to a wholesale effort to disempower their victorious opponents over the long term. It's a repudiation of the democratic process.
This shouldn't be surprising, as it's been happening more and more in recent years. After the 2016 election, North Carolina's Republicans mounted a "legislative coup" and changed state law to disempower the state's new Democratic governor, Roy Cooper. At the end of 2017, Maine voters elected to expand Medicaid in their state — only to find that GOP Governor Paul LePage refused to do so in a kind of perverse Patrick Henry moment.
"I will go to jail before I put the state in red ink," he told a radio station. "And if the court tells me I have to do it, then we're going to be going to jail."
The GOP is already notorious for its efforts to prevent Democratic constituents from voting. Now the party, in state after state where its power has been challenged, is signaling that votes simply don't matter: Republicans will have their way no matter what.
For the democratic process to work, though, everybody has to play by the same rules. That means the losers have to agree to be good losers — they can't just change the rules at the last second so that the winners are robbed of power to implement their agendas. But there is no such thing as a good loser anymore, at least on the Republican side.
So we're going to need better rules.
Lame-duck legislatures should be disempowered from passing all but the most emergency measures — appropriating funding to fight a large wildfire, say. And the opportunities for lame-duck sessions should be eliminated to the extent possible — perhaps by swearing in new officials two weeks after the election, instead of two months. Certainly, they shouldn't be allowed to edit statewide propositions after the fact.
Nobody likes to lose an election or the power that comes with office. Dick Tuck, an old-time California Democrat, was famous for the bitterness he expressed after losing his election: "The people have spoken. The bastards." It was supposed to be a joke. The GOP has turned it into a guiding philosophy.