OPINION - A coup in Madison? Let them hear you

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MAYBE Abraham Lincoln, or Mark Twain, or some other wit said it first: "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt."

Whoever correctly deserves credit for originating those wise words, a variation of the sentiment surely applies to the Republican leadership and its lockstep majority in the Wisconsin Legislature.

Such as: Better to remain silent and be thought a pack of partisan sore losers than to speak and act in ways that remove all doubt.

A SHAMEFUL chapter in Wisconsin history is being written at the Capitol this week, as the legislative majority steamrolls through measures that can only be described as intended to invalidate the will of the people as expressed in the voting booth.

On Election Day, remember that Democrats swept every non-gerrymandered race that was conducted border to border. Tony Evers defeated incumbent Gov. Scott Walker. Incumbent Sen. Tammy Baldwin won big against challenger Leah Vukmir. Josh Kaul beat incumbent Attorney General Brad Schimel. Incumbent Democrat Doug La Follette won over Jay Schroeder for secretary of state. And Democrat Sarah Godlewski defeated Republican Travis Hartwig for state treasurer.

Border to border, in legislative elections, Democrats received almost 10 percent more total votes than Republicans. Yet Republicans continued to hold big majorities in both houses, and even expanded their Senate majority. Part of that can be explained by geography - about a third of the typical Democrat vote takes place in two counties, Dane and Milwaukee. But extreme gerrymandering produced a legislative district map that guarantees Republican supremacy unless voters statewide rebelled in massive numbers.

NOW THE legislative majorities are conducting a lame-duck session, initially advertised as a way to consider a package of incentives aimed at persuading Kimberly-Clark not to close a Wisconsin factory. That seems to be off the table due to lack of support in the Senate, which, by itself, is not a bad thing. A line has to be drawn somewhere to limit corporate welfare from taxpayers.

The new hurry-up agenda, though, is not just a bad thing, it is a spiteful and mean-spirited thing.

Among proposals being pushed by Republicans:

• Move the 2020 presidential primary to a different date, so the anticipated high Democrat voter turnout will pose less of a risk to the election chances of Walker-appointed conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly. The leadership made no effort to hide its partisan purpose, despite the fact county clerks as a group went on record saying the logistics of holding three statewide elections in three months would be nearly impossible. And the state Elections Commission estimated an additional cost of just under $7 million for taxpayers.

• Limit in-person early voting to no more than two weeks before an election, following record early voting in November. Apparently, the majority found some objection to that high turnout. Note: A federal court threw out similar legislation as unconstitutional in 2016.

• Take away from Evers a range of authorities Walker held and used to manage state government. The plan also would restrict certain authorities for the incoming Democrat attorney general. The powers taken from the governor and attorney general instead would reside with legislative leaders.

THERE seems little point in stating the obvious, that suddenly discovering a need for change only after a Democrat beats a Republican is the height of hypocrisy. Clearly, the partisans behind this preemptive lame-duck coup d'etat are beyond shame.

So don't be stupid and don't fall for this: Proponents will claim governors have had too much power and this is only an appropriate rebalancing of power with the legislature. The lie in that line can be found in the fact Republicans have controlled the legislature since the 2010 election, and not once noticed Governor Walker was wielding too much power.

Speaking of Governor Walker. Ultimately, he will decide if it is proper to kneecap his successor, the new attorney general, and clap more limitations on voting rights. There are not enough votes in the legislature to override what would be a courageous Walker veto.

His actions will cement his legacy. Will Walker be remembered as a reformer and a governor committed to fair play for all, someone I've agreed with more often than not, or will he show himself to be a partisan hack who couldn't stand up for the integrity of the office he occupied on his way out the door?

STUDENTS learn that American government exists upon the consent of the governed. Apparently, a new chapter is being written in Madison.

If the governed masses get too big for their britches, their will should not be accepted without first arranging for voters' new choices to enter office handcuffed and shackled.

If you think that's right, rejoice. If you think it's wrong, here's how you can make your thoughts known:

• Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, (888-529-0031)

• Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit. (888-534-0045)

• Sen. Janice Ringhand, D-Evansville. (800-334-1468)

• Sen. Steven Nass, R-Whitewater, (608-266-2635)

• Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, (888-534-0063)

• Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, (608-266-5660)

• Gov. Scott Walker, (608-266-1212)

William Barth is the Editor of the Beloit Daily News.

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