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Split power will force compromise at statehouse

January 10, 2019

The knock on divided government is that it creates gridlock. Witness, for example, the tedious standoff between Republican President Donald Trump and the new Democratic House majority. Their dispute over money for a symbolic border wall has partially shut down the federal government.

But more often — especially here in Wisconsin — split power between the two political parties forces both sides to give and take, which leads to better, more pragmatic and lasting public policy decisions. Neither partisan side gets to push the state to extremes. Instead, shared responsibility for decisions creates a strong incentive to find reasonable agreement.

That’s what voters should expect and demand, now that Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has ended eight years of Republican rule at the statehouse. The GOP still controls both houses of the Legislature, but any bill lawmakers approve must get past the governor’s powerful veto pen.

Evers set a positive tone during his inaugural address Monday, saying he’ll work to bridge the partisan divide by encouraging civility and cooperation.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, also had good things to say. Fitzgerald told fellow GOP lawmakers to prepare for a slower pace to governing.

A more deliberative and open process in the coming year will definitely be an improvement to the fast and sneaky deals Fitzgerald, the Senate and Assembly approved in little more than two days during a lame-duck session last month. Even some lawmakers acknowledged they didn’t know details of what they were voting on.

Fitzgerald warned his colleagues not to pursue legislation the Democratic governor is sure to veto, such as further restrictions on abortion. That’s wise advice. The less needless division and distraction state leaders create, the more likely they’ll be able to secure bipartisan deals.

Instead of one party shoving its agenda on the other, both sides will have to balance their priorities. That will be a refreshing change from the days when Republicans held a lock on power and were able to do whatever they wanted, including loosening gun regulations despite growing fear of mass shootings, and showering excessive tax breaks on a foreign manufacturer.

A great place to start with compromise is on roads, which have been neglected. Both sides seem open to a reasonable increase in user fees, which haven’t gone up in more than a decade.

Further agreement can be found in fighting homelessness, encouraging start-up businesses, pursuing cost-effective clean energy, protecting waterways, and innovating in education.

That’s what our editorial board will be rooting for — smart, pragmatic steps to fixing the state’s problems in ways that liberals, conservatives and everyone in the sensible center of Wisconsin politics can accept.

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