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Taking the Wisconsin model national


Ari Berman lays out the Republican commitment to minority rule, and how it will only intensify as they stray further from the median national voter:

In 2018, Democrats swept every statewide race in Wisconsin, ending nearly a decade of Republican rule. “The voters spoke,” Democrat Tony Evers said after defeating incumbent Gov. Scott Walker. “A change is coming, Wisconsin!”

Not so fast. A month later, the GOP-controlled legislature convened an unprecedented lame-duck session to strip the incoming governor of key administrative and appointment powers and shorten the early voting period to dampen future Democratic turnout. Though their opponents had won more votes, Republicans believed only they were entitled to exercise power. “If you took Madison and Milwaukee out of the state election formula,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said of the state’s two largest and most Democratic cities, home to 850,000 people, “we would have a clear majority.”

In fact, they still did. Even though Democrats won 54 percent of votes cast for the state Assembly, Republican control of the last redistricting process in 2011 allowed the GOP to keep almost two-thirds of seats. The legislature set to work nullifying Evers’ agenda. Republicans refused to confirm members of his Cabinet and cut his budget for priorities like health care, schools, and roads. They thwarted his efforts to fight COVID-19, persuading the courts to block his stay-at-home order and his attempt to push back the state’s presidential primary.

Republicans had been preparing for this moment for years. Between gerrymandering and laws designed to reduce the influence of Democratic constituencies—by making it harder to vote, repealing limits on political giving, and stripping unions of collective bargaining rights—they had effectively made Wisconsin “a democracy-free zone,” says Ben Wikler, chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party. Those efforts helped conservative candidates win a majority on the state Supreme Court, which has upheld nearly every move by the legislature to weaken Evers’ power, creating an almost-impenetrable anti-­democracy feedback loop in a state that Joe Biden narrowly won.

“The way that Republican legislators have relentlessly sought to weaponize the courts and torpedo the governing power of Tony Evers is a preview of how Mitch McConnell and Republicans will treat Joe Biden,” says Wikler. “Democrats should prepare accordingly.”

The Wisconsin saga showed how much power Republicans can exert without popular support, and it’s about to be replicated on a much larger scale. The violent invasion of the Capitol on January 6 drew rebukes from many Republican lawmakers. But it reflected, in extreme form, something Republicans have long displayed: a disregard for the will of the majority. With Republicans shut out of the White House and congressional leadership, minority rule is likely to intensify over the next four years in ways not seen in modern times.

The question is not whether more Jim Crow will be injected into the American polity, but how much.

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