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Split power will force compromise at statehouse

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

But more often — especially here in Wisconsin — when power has been split between the two political parties, both sides have had to agree to a little give and take. This is all for the best, since compromise often leads to pragmatic and lasting policy decisions. Neither partisan side gets to push the state to extremes. Instead, shared responsibility for decisions provides a strong incentive for finding 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 the right tone during his inaugural address, saying he’ll work across the partisan divide by encouraging civility and cooperation.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, a Republican from Juneau, also had good things to say. Fitzgerald told his fellow GOP lawmakers to prepare for a slower pace in government.

More deliberation and openness in the coming year will definitely be an improvement over the fast and sneaky deals Fitzgerald, the Senate and Assembly approved in little more than two days during the lame-duck session held last month. Even some lawmakers acknowledged they didn’t know details of what they were then 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 engender, the more likely they’ll be to be able to secure bipartisan deals.

Instead of one party shoving its agenda on the other, we’d be able to see both sides balancing 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 the public’s 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 startup businesses, pursuing cheaper clean energy, protecting waterways and schools.

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

— The Wisconsin State Journal

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