Last-Minute ‘Power Grabs’ Demonstrate Need For A ‘People’s Veto’ During Lame-Duck Sessions [Opinion]

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, speaks to the press with his arms reaching toward the camera.
Win McNamee / Getty Images

In Wisconsin and Michigan, Republican lawmakers in the respective state legislatures and governors’ offices are planning to implement new laws designed to take away the powers of the executive branches of governments, all because Democrats are set to assume those positions.

It’s a similar move that was attempted in North Carolina a couple of years ago – a Democratic governor-elect was set to take over, but Republican lawmakers sought to reduce the powers of the governor before that individual could do anything to stop them, according to reporting from Vox.

Upon seeing these methods take root in more states across the nation, we’re left to conclude one thing – Republicans in these respective states, perhaps more, don’t respect the rights of voters to select their leaders.

Constituents are meant to vote for the person they believe is best qualified for the job. It’s assumed that the individual they elect is going to come into office the following term holding onto the same executive powers that existed within those offices when voters cast their ballots.

But changes to those powers sends a disrespectful message to the people of those respective states — the lawmakers that seek to usurp and change the abilities of new governors to govern are saying “you voted wrong, now we’re going to change things to correct your mistakes.”

The reforms that Republicans in these states have or are attempting to implement are wrong and deface the spirit of representative democracy that our nation has long treasured. But there is a reform that could be adopted in order to remedy this kind of problem, to ensure it won’t happen ever again – allow citizens the right to pursue a “people’s veto” for whatever laws are passed during so-called lame-duck sessions.

Michigan already has such a method, which is sometimes also called a popular referendum, in place, as do a handful of other states. Some lawmakers, however, are probably wary of allowing citizens the right to overturn the laws that they have passed. It’s hard enough to pass laws in the first place, and making them subject to popular referenda would make things even more cumbersome.

Nevertheless, a law on the books that would allow citizens such a veto should be in place in every state, at the very least, to strike down controversial measures during the interim period between an election and when new lawmakers come into office. A lame-duck citizens’ veto would give lawmakers their continued right to pass laws, while also giving voters the right to stop baseless and frankly conniving legislation (like what we’re seeing in Wisconsin and Michigan currently) from taking hold.

As it stands now, citizens are helpless to stop these measures from happening. They didn’t vote for this — no lawmaker in Wisconsin or Michigan said they had planned to implement these changes before the election happened.

Voters selected the new executive branch lawmakers that they did, understanding that they’d have the same powers previously held by the outgoing administrations. The choice of the electorate should be respected for now — and in the future, if lawmakers want to make such rule changes during a lame-duck session, the citizenry should be given the right to say “no” to them doing so if they want to.