People protest the legislature's extraordinary session Tuesday during the official Christmas tree lighting ceremony at the Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin. Demonstrators booed outgoing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Tuesday during the Christmas tree-lighting ceremony, at times drowning out a high school choir with their own songs in protest of a Republican effort to gut the powers of his Democratic successor. Credit: Mark Hoffman | Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP

Give Michael Madigan this: Even at his most devious and Machiavellian, the veteran Democratic Illinois House speaker hasn’t used the lame-duck session of the General Assembly to attempt to nullify the results of an election.

For all that Madigan’s foes bleat about his heavy-handed partisan tactics, they’ve got to admit that he hasn’t tried what Republican legislators are now trying in Wisconsin and Michigan — passing laws during the lame-duck session to disempower an incoming governor of the opposing party.

North Carolina Republicans paved the way. In December 2016, outgoing Republican Gov. Pat McCrory called a special ambush session of the GOP-dominated North Carolina General Assembly aimed at curtailing the power of then Democratic Gov.-elect Roy Cooper.

Just weeks before Cooper was sworn in, the GOP-controlled Legislature cut the number of jobs appointed by the governor to 300 from 1,500, imposed a new requirement that Cabinet appointments be OK’d by the state Senate and wrested control of elections from the governor’s office, among other crippling changes.

Republican legislatures are now mounting similar coups to pre-emptively dilute the power of Wisconsin’s Gov.-elect Tony Evers and Michigan’s Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer, both Democrats.

In Wisconsin, where Republicans lost every major state office in the midterm elections and won just 46 percent of the overall popular vote for legislative seats, the Wisconsin State Assembly, which will remain in Republican control due to heavily gerrymandered political maps, has acted to tilt power toward itself and hamstring Evers’ agenda.

Republican state House Speaker Rep. Robin Vos is unapologetic, saying that without the changes, “we are going to have a very liberal governor who is going to enact policies that are in direct contrast to what many of us believe in.”

Many but not, evidently, most.

In Michigan, where Democrat Whitmer won by nearly 10 percentage points to take a Republican-held seat and Republicans won just 48 percent of the overall popular vote for state House and Senate seats, the Michigan Legislature, which also will remain in Republican control due to gerrymandered maps, is attempting similarly brazen moves to neutralize the new governor and Democratic attorney general.

Adding to the shamelessness in Michigan is that GOP lawmakers voted Tuesday to scale back paid sick-leave requirements and delay a minimum wage hike that they’d previously approved in order to keep those issues off November’s referendum ballot.

Outgoing Republican governors in both states are expected to sign the sore-loser initiatives.
Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder was term-limited and couldn’t run for re-election, but let’s be clear: Voters in Wisconsin fired Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

In nearly every other job, when you get fired, you hand in your credentials immediately and walk out with your belongings in a banker’s box. You don’t get several extra months to exercise the power and privilege of your position.

Losing and leaving officeholders get this lame-duck period because incoming officeholders need time to make the transition. But they don’t need several months. Not anymore. That window might have been justified when people traveled by horse, but life moves much faster now.

Lame-duck legislative sessions have long provided an opportunity for mischief — for hastily passing controversial laws, casting tough votes and currying favor with potential employers on the way out the door. But in an era when partisanship is intense and no one seems to pay the price for hypocrisy or flipping off voters, Republicans in North Carolina and now Wisconsin and Michigan have taken the mischief-making to a new level.

They should be embarrassed. They should be worried that Democrats won’t just get mad but will eventually get even. They should realize that this silly war is bound to escalate and the ideals of democracy will be the loser.

They should turn back. But they won’t.

The solution, tabled just as often as it has been proposed in Illinois and elsewhere, is to shorten the interregnum to one month, eliminate nonemergency lame-duck legislative sessions and require any actions taken in such emergency sessions to earn a three-fifths majority of the vote in both chambers.

If our Democratic Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker wants to start off with a good-government bang when he takes office next month, he can have that idea free for the taking. Maybe it’ll pass before Speaker Madigan gets any ideas.

Eric Zorn is a columnist and daily blogger for the Chicago Tribune who specializes in local news and politics.