MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A bipartisan group of political figures appealed to Gov. Scott Walker on Thursday to avoid staining his legacy and behaving like a sore loser by signing legislation that would weaken the powers of the Democrat who defeated him.
Rather than notching another partisan victory in his final weeks in office, they said, Walker should think bigger. Think of your recently deceased father, they pleaded. Think of former President George H.W. Bush. Think of Christ.
"You can have a long, successful career ahead," longtime Republican and major GOP donor Sheldon Lubar wrote to Walker in a deeply personal email. "Don't stain it by this personal, poor-loser action. Ask yourself, what would my father say, what would the greatest man who ever lived, Jesus Christ, say."
Walker, never one to shy away from a fight, gave no signs Thursday of tipping his hand. A spokesman said only that he was reviewing the bills. He's been generally supportive of the measures in the past, without promising to sign or veto them.
The choice is whether to satisfy fellow Republicans, who passed the bills over objections from Democrats, or strike them down to let his successor, Tony Evers, take office under the same rules in place when Walker was in charge.
"It just gets back to what does he want to be remembered for," said Democratic state Sen. Jon Erpenbach. "It's time to set aside your political beliefs and do what's best for your state."
Another Democrat, state Sen. Tim Carpenter, asked Walker to consider the letter Bush left for his Democratic successor, Bill Clinton, wishing him well.
"Governor Walker, PLEASE do the right thing and leave Governor-elect Evers your best wishes for him, his family and the state of Wisconsin," Carpenter said in a statement. "Governor Walker, what do you want your legacy to be?"
Charlie Sykes, a former conservative talk radio host in Milwaukee, made a similar appeal mentioning Bush, who died last week.
“Look at the way George H. W. Bush is being remembered and the way that he handled his transition after his very, very bitter defeat by Bill Clinton, the grace by which he handed over power,” Sykes told MSNBC. “I do think Governor Walker needs to reflect on the kind of legacy he’s going to leave.”
Evers said he planned to make a personal request to Walker for a veto. If that failed, Evers said, he would consider legal action.
Lubar, who first shared his email with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, urged Walker to consider his future.
At 51, Walker is leaving office at a young age. Although he's not said what he plans to do next, he may want to stay active in Wisconsin politics, perhaps to run for the U.S. Senate in 2022.
It's not clear how his political prospects would be affected by signing the legislation. Walker won three elections pursuing a strongly conservative agenda, and he nearly won re-election last month despite heavy Democratic turnout.
Lubar said he voted for Walker in the past but cast his ballot for Evers in November because he feared Walker had put his political ambitions ahead of what’s best for the state. There is still time for Walker to end on a high note, Lubar wrote.
"I ask you not to destroy your reputation," Lubar wrote.
Walker has 10 days after the bills are delivered to him to either sign them into law, allow them to become law without his signature or veto them. He may also be able to line-item veto portions of them, depending on how they are drafted and whether they spend money.
The GOP power grab in Wisconsin comes as Michigan Republicans vote on taking action before a Democratic governor takes over in that state. North Carolina lawmakers took similar steps two years ago.
It was Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, not Walker, who was the driving force behind the bills. Drafting notes show they originated with Vos' office. Vos first hinted at the need to take action just hours after Walker conceded defeat.
Vos and Walker have clashed in the past, and with Walker’s pending departure, the speaker is trying to position himself as the state’s most powerful Republican. A Walker veto would remind Vos that, at least until Jan. 7, Walker is still in charge.
The measures make it more difficult for Evers to undo the legacy of Walker and Republicans, who have had full control of Wisconsin's government for eight years. That includes protecting a work requirement for some people receiving state health care and blocking Evers from withdrawing Wisconsin from a multistate lawsuit seeking repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
The bills could also make it harder for Evers to renegotiate a $3 billion subsidy for a Foxconn Technology Group manufacturing facility, a deal spearheaded by Walker.
The governor's long history of clashing with Democrats doesn't give his opponents much hope he will change course and issue substantial vetoes.
Walker's decision "will be driven not by what is best for the office or the state but what is best for him," said Mike Browne, deputy director of the liberal group One Wisconsin Now.
State Sen. Mark Miller joined the chorus of those asking Walker to take a different approach as he prepares to leave office on Jan 7.
“Wisdom is knowing the right path to take. Integrity is taking it,” Miller said in the Democrats' weekly radio address. “Scott Walker would be wise not to sign these bills. I’m not holding my breath.”