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'Banana republic dictators': Democrats fume over last-minute GOP power-grabs in Wisconsin, Michigan

One Republican lawmaker said the measures were needed because the GOP didn't trust the incoming governor in Wisconsin.
Democratic candidate for governor Tony Evers speaks at a rally in Milwaukee on Oct. 26, 2018.
Democratic candidate for governor Tony Evers speaks at a rally in Milwaukee on Oct. 26, 2018.Morry Gash / AP file

Democrats fought back Monday as Republican legislators in Wisconsin and Michigan moved to strip power from them after the GOP lost a series of crucial races last month.

In Wisconsin, Republicans pressed ahead with a lame-duck session — the first held in eight years — to give GOP Gov. Scott Walker the opportunity to limit the power of his successor, Democratic Gov.-elect Tony Evers. The Republican measures would also change the date of the 2020 presidential primary to benefit a conservative state Supreme Court justice and limit early voting.

If passed, the state Senate and Assembly could vote on the measures on Tuesday, just days after Republicans released their plan to weaken the authority of both Evers' and incoming Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul.

Governor Scott Walker holds a sign as he speaks to supporters at a rally the night before the midterm elections in Waukesha, Wisconsin, on Nov. 5, 2018.Darren Hauck / Getty Images file

In Michigan, meanwhile, Republicans introduced bills late last week to diminish the powers of the incoming Democratic governor, secretary of state and attorney general as well. The Democratic victories for those three positions last month set the stage for Michigan Democrats to control those three seats for the first time in nearly three decades.

"These Republican legislatures are acting like banana republic dictators, not leaders in a democracy," Jared Leopold, communications director for the Democratic Governors Association, told NBC News in a statement.

"These proposals are an insult to the voters of Wisconsin and Michigan," he said. "Voters clearly chose Tony Evers and (Michigan Gov.-elect) Gretchen Whitmer as governor in November. It's time for Republicans to accept the will of the voters and stop this brazen and illegal power grab."

The efforts are likely to be met with legal challenges should they pass. In Wisconsin, Evers pledged to "take any steps possible" to stop the efforts.

At the center of Republicans' proposals is their attempt to move the state's presidential primary in 2020, which would cost an estimated $7 million, according to the Associated Press.

In written testimony submitted to the state Senate committee debating the lame-duck legislation, Evers said the efforts were "unfettered attempts to override and ignore what the people of Wisconsin asked for this November."

"This is rancor and politics as usual," Evers wrote. "It flies in the face of democratic institutions and the checks and balances that are intended to prevent power-hungry politicians from clinging to control when they do not get their way."

Earlier Monday, one of the top Republican legislators in Wisconsin said he helped draft the plan to weaken the incoming Democratic governor because state Republicans "don't trust Tony Evers right now."

Wisconsin state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald made the comments to conservative WISN radio host Jay Weber.

"The manufactured outrage by the Democrats right now is hilarious," Fitzgerald said. "I mean, most of these items are things (that) we never really had to kind of address because guess what — we trusted Scott Walker and the administration to be able to manage the back and forth with the Legislature. We don't trust Tony Evers right now in a lot of these areas."

As the backlash on the left intensified, protesters gathered Monday outside of the room where legislators were debating the measures.

Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont joined in with others on Monday in voicing his displeasure with the GOP efforts, tweeting that the legislative attempts were "disgraceful."

"This power-grab is pathetic and must be stopped," he added.