MADISON — Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker voted to allow late-night lawmaking when he was a member of the Assembly even though he rails against the practice now.
Walker joined with the Republican majority in January 1997 to eliminate a rule that required lawmakers to finish their floor sessions at 8 p.m., voting records show. Republican lawmakers had voted to put the rule in place after taking control of the chamber in 1995.
The change allowed the all-night legislative sessions that had long been the Assembly’s way of doing business to resume. The sessions are often denounced by lawmakers themselves and government watchdogs for allowing lawmakers to take major action in the middle of the night when few are paying attention — except lobbyists.
Walker, the Milwaukee County executive, took up the issue this week as the Assembly pulled two all-nighters while lawmakers rushed to wrap up their two-year legislative session. He promised to sign legislation if elected governor that prohibits the Legislature from voting after 10 p.m. or before 9 a.m.
“I have two teenagers and I tell them that nothing good happens after midnight. That’s even more true in politics,’’ he said in a statement. “The people of Wisconsin deserve to know what their elected leaders are voting on.’’
Walker voted to do away with the 8 p.m. cutoff as part of a larger resolution setting the Assembly rules for the 1997 session. He also voted against a Democratic amendment that would have restored the 8 p.m. cutoff time.
Rep. Marlin Schneider, D-Wisconsin Rapids, said Walker was acting “disingenuous and phony’’ by raising the issue given his voting record. But he said the Republicans had a good reason to get rid of the 8 p.m. cutoff because Democrats used it as a way to defeat legislation.
“All you had to do was talk bills to death,’’ he said. “It didn’t work and so they repealed it.’’
Walker campaign spokeswoman Jill Bader said she saw no disconnect between Walker’s voting record and his proposal. She said he had no problem allowing votes after 8 p.m. because voters can still follow legislation then and contact their lawmakers. But she said he believes 10 p.m. is the right time to shut things down based on his experience.
“Scott’s been there and he’s seen it,’’ she said of Walker, who served in the Assembly from 1993 to 2002.
Walker’s rival in the GOP primary, former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann, called on the Legislature in January to change its rules to allow spending plans to be reviewed by the public for at least five days before passage. “Mark is no Johnny-come-lately on this troubling trend’’ of late-night lawmaking, campaign spokesman Chris Lato said.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, a Democratic candidate for governor, denounced Walker’s plan as a gimmick and said he didn’t mind working late hours to help middle-class families. Barrett is also familiar with late-night sessions, having served in the Legislature from 1984 to 1993.
Helping the middle-class isn’t always why lawmakers work until the wee hours of the morning.
The Assembly started meeting Tuesday and didn’t wrap up until 7:25 a.m. Wednesday, when lawmakers voted to censure Rep. Jeff Wood for being arrested three times for driving under the influence. At about 3:45 a.m. Friday, the Assembly voted to approve the sale of raw milk at dairy farms after lawmakers met for hours behind closed doors.