MADISON, Wis. — After losing top state offices in the midterm elections, Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin were racing on Tuesday to push through a series of bills that would diminish the power of the incoming Democratic governor before he’s sworn in.
Angry Democrats were gathering at the State Capitol for a tense showdown and a second day of protesting what they deemed an unethical power grab that amounted to an unwillingness to accept the election outcome.
Here’s what we will be watching for:
• Both chambers of the Wisconsin Legislature, dominated by Republicans, said they planned to vote on Tuesday on a package of bills that would limit the authority of the governor and a newly elected Democratic attorney general, and would protect some of the conservatives’ signature policies.
• The size of protests appeared likely to grow in a Capitol that has seen numerous battles over the past eight years, after power flipped from the Democrats to Republicans under outgoing Gov. Scott Walker.
• Republican lawmakers in Michigan were also weighing last-minute legislation that could increase their power before newly elected Democrats assume office, a move that North Carolina Republicans also took in similar circumstances in 2016.
The Scene From Madison
They started lining up well before noon on Monday. They chanted “stop this coup.” And when the committee chairman said clapping was banned, they waved their arms in the air to signal applause.
Residents crammed into a Capitol hearing room to speak, two minutes at a time, about why they opposed the bills. The hearing, scheduled to start at 12:30, stretched well into the night.
Andy Olsen of Madison accused Republicans of rejecting “the basic fundamental ground rules of American democracy.” Martha Pincus of Fox Point said Republicans were “disrespecting their constituents.” A Sheboygan native quoted the prophet Isaiah in explaining his opposition. A man from Wonewoc invoked Eisenhower.
For hours, lawmakers sat quietly and listened, reading off the surnames of the teachers and retirees and college students who accused them of disregarding their votes and dishonoring Wisconsin.
Almost no one came to support the legislation. In the end, Republicans, who have defended the bills as a necessary check on executive power, voted to advance almost all the measures to the full Legislature.
“This committee is intentionally ignoring the will of the people,” said Gail Milbrath, a retired teacher from Milwaukee. “Stop cheating because you lost. It’s such poor sportsmanship. Come on.”
What Would the Bills Actually Do?
The package of last-minute bills proposed by Republicans is sprawling — five sets of bills, to be precise. Most of them seek to reinforce policies cemented under Governor Walker and to block Tony Evers, the soon-to-be governor, and Josh Kaul, the newly elected Democratic attorney general, from exercising oversight or from rolling back conservative policies of the last decade.
Democrats are especially incensed about a bill that would allow legislative leaders to assign private lawyers to replace the attorney general on certain lawsuits, ensuring that Republican-passed laws get a full-throated defense if challenged in court. The bills would also prevent Mr. Kaul and Mr. Evers from withdrawing the state from a lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act. Democrats, who focused on health care coverage during their campaigns, also promised on the campaign trail that the state would, on their watch, withdraw from the suit.
Another provision would prevent Mr. Evers from banning guns in the Wisconsin Capitol without permission from legislators. And another would give legislative leaders, not Mr. Evers, the majority of appointments on an economic development board that has been a partisan sticking point.
Other measures being debated do not cut the authority of the new Democrats, but seem unlikely to be signed into law by a Democratic governor. Republicans want to curtail early voting and limit the number of road projects on which federal funds are used.
Mitch Smith reported from Madison, and Monica Davey from Chicago.