Lame-duck Wisconsin governor signs bill undercutting incoming Democrat

(Reuters) - Outgoing Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker on Friday signed legislation that will weaken the powers of his newly elected Democratic successor, dismissing critics who called the move a last-minute partisan power grab.

Democrats said the legislation and a similar set of pending measures in Michigan undermine the results of the Nov. 6 elections, when they captured the governorship in both states for the first time in eight years. The efforts take a page out of the playbook of North Carolina Republicans, who two years ago acted to limit the power of the incoming Democratic governor.

Republicans in both Wisconsin and Michigan, who will maintain their legislative majorities next year, have defended the moves as good-faith efforts to ensure that the legislative and executive branches remain equals.

Wisconsin Governor-elect Tony Evers, who will take office Jan. 7, has threatened legal action and said on Friday he will be “reviewing our options.”

“Wisconsinites deserve a government that works for them, and they deserve their officials to be willing to set aside partisanship,” he said at a brief news conference.

The Wisconsin bills, which passed the legislature on Dec. 5 largely along party lines, will limit the governor’s ability to pass administrative rules and block him from killing a work requirement for Medicaid recipients.

The legislation also allows lawmakers, rather than the attorney general, to decide whether to withdraw the state from lawsuits. That will prevent Evers and the incoming Democratic attorney general, Josh Kaul, from fulfilling a campaign promise to end Wisconsin’s challenge to the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

FILE PHOTO: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, U.S., February 23, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

“It’s worrisome, because it appears to escalate the tactics that the parties are willing to use against one another,” said Barry Burden, director of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Walker dismissed what he called “hype and hysteria” surrounding the legislation, saying it would have a minimal effect.

“The overwhelming authority that I have today as governor will remain constant,” he said.

The legislation will also limit early voting to two weeks before Election Day, despite a judge’s ruling in 2016 striking down a similar law.

The organization that successfully challenged the previous incarnation, One Wisconsin Institute, said on Friday it will do so again.

Michigan’s Republican-controlled legislature is expected to pass measures soon that would curb the powers of the incoming Democratic governor, attorney general and secretary of state. Governor Rick Snyder, a Republican, has not indicated whether he would sign the bills.

In North Carolina, much of the legislation passed by Republicans in 2016 to weaken the incoming Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, has been tied up in court challenges.

Cooper on Friday vetoed a voter identification law passed by Republican legislators, who want to push through the bill before they lose the supermajority that gives them the power to override a veto in January.

Backers of the voter ID law say it is intended to prevent fraud. The fight comes amid investigations into alleged absentee ballot fraud in a congressional race.

The state elections board has refused to certify the results and has scheduled a hearing for Jan. 11.

Reporting by Joseph Ax in New York; editing by Leslie Adler