Cowles lone Republican Senate standout against GOP

Bill limiting governor’s powers headed to Walker’s desk

State Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay, was the lone Senate Republican vote Wednesday against a bill restricting the powers of incoming Democratic governor Tony Evers.

“The bill would have neutered the governor’s rule making authority,” Cowles said. “The administrative rules is a major thing. It’s not talked about much, but if the governor can’t even control their own administrative rules, that’s a big thing.”

The grab-bag of provisions in the bill also limits early voting to two weeks before an election, hampers the ability of field staff to manage state programs, and restricts the governors ability to run the WIC program, he said.

It would also curb the power of the attorney general by eliminating the position’s power to appoint a solicitor general, a move seen as intended to keep incoming Democratic attorney general Josh Kaul from taking Wisconsin out of a suit against Obamacare.

“It’s got like 40 provisions in it,” Cowles said. “A whole bunch of whistles and bells. That one was excessive, in my opinion.”

Cowles said most of the provisions in the bill are intended to strengthen the power of the Legislature at the expense of the Executive branch.

“During the Walker era, it wasn’t done,” he said. “That’s the big contradiction here, and the reason it wasn’t is I’m sure Walker wouldn’t have supported it.”

Deliberations over the bill turned out a brigade of protesters decrying the GOP-led Legislature’s attempt to overrule the will of the voters in the November election.

Cowles said he is hoping that Walker will veto the bill in whole or in part.

Cowles said he did support one provision of the bill that would protect the process for issuing a valid voter ID. He said that item should have been voted on separately.

“That is a good piece of the bill,” he said, “But when you vote against it you’re voting against everything.”

Cowles said he didn’t know what Walker will do with the bill.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. “I don’t know what he’s thinking.”

If it is signed into law, the next step is likely legal action.

“I believe that will get tossed out in the courts,” Cowles said.

Senate Bill 884 was the last of three bills passed during the Senate’s extraordinary session.

“It was stressful,” Cowles said. “We voted on that last bill at 7:30 in the morning. People were just zombies practically, like, ‘What are we doing here?’ So, not a good process.”

Senators never even saw the bill until the end of the day Friday.

“We got the whole package of bills Friday at 4:45 p.m., and it was daunting all weekend long to try to deal with this,” Cowles said. “It’s been a crazy few days.”

Cowles did support two other bills that he described as less significant.

One of those addresses transportation with language intended to facilitate a fair deal for the rest of the state versus the amount of transportation money going to Milwaukee.

“There’s concern that too much money would be flowing down there,” he said. “This would even that out.”

The other bill puts into state statutes initiatives the state has already gotten waivers for, including work requirements for able-bodied welfare recipients.

One initiative that never made it as far as a vote was a proposal to add a separate election in March 2020 for the state Supreme Court race rather than have that race on the presidential primary ballot in February 2020, when Democratic turnout is likely to be higher.

County clerks from around the state, including here in Shawano County, objected to the cost and the logistical problems the additional election would have caused.

“Several of us would just not vote for that,” Cowles said. “They never took it up for a vote.”

Cowles credited county clerks from around the state for helping defeat the proposal.

“They did a nice job of articulating the problem,” he said. “It was just the wrong thing to do, morally or logistically.”

Cowles said he was proud the measure was abandoned.

“That would have been just a terrible stain on everybody if that had happened,” he said.