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SCOTT WALKER- 15-12212016135408 (copy)

Gov. Scott Walker at his residence on Dec 21, 2016 in Madison, WI. PHOTO BY SAIYNA BASHIR

After a year of political unpredictability, one certain belief shared by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Attorney General Brad Schimel is that the state's relationship with the federal government will change dramatically under President-elect Donald Trump's administration.

The Republican governor sent Trump a letter earlier this week outlining actions he said would help direct power away from the federal government and toward the states, including offering block grants to states for programs like Medicaid and giving states more authority over how many refugees they accept and from which countries.

Walker also asked Trump for help implementing his policies to drug test recipients of some public benefits, measures that have been blocked under President Barack Obama's administration.

Walker and Schimel have clashed frequently with the Obama administration, challenging policies including the Clean Power Plan, the Waters of the U.S. rule, a federal overtime rule and a set of guidelines regarding the treatment of transgender students in public schools.

"We sued, boy, 10 different federal regulatory agencies — the whole alphabet soup," Schimel said in an interview. "In the course of doing that, we learned an awful lot about what the law does and does not allow, and we’ve put a lot of thought into, because we’ve had to go to courts and make the pitch for why the states should be doing this better anyway, we’ve got a lot of ideas."

Walker said in an interview he expects the change to be abrupt and "for the better."

"I think it’ll be dramatic, both in the short and the long role," he said.

At a minimum, Walker said, he expects states will be given Medicaid block grants. 

"But I also think, you look at transportation, education, even workforce investment dollars, I’d love to think we could be at a point where Wisconsin and other states would get both the responsibility and the resources attached to those areas," Walker said.

Schimel agreed the relationship will "definitely" change, but said he still expects there will be a power struggle between state government and federal government.

"President Obama did not invent the executive order. He didn’t invent the idea that federal bureaucracies will try to expand their power at the expense of the states," Schimel said. "Before President Obama, the person who had done that the most was President (George W.) Bush. Now President Obama passed him for the number of times, but it’s the same principle."

Under Trump, Schimel said he expects to engage in fewer legal battles with the federal government, opting to work out disagreements through conversations rather than going to court. 

But he said it is still his job to act as a watchdog, reminding the federal government of the power and responsibilities meant for states. 

"I expect to have a continued relationship where there’s going to be pushing and pulling between us, between the state and the federal government. Hopefully we won’t spend as much time in the courtroom, because that’s expensive and it takes forever," he said.

Schimel was far from the only state attorney general to engage in frequent battles with the Obama administration, nor were all of the challenges solely brought by Republicans — although Democratic participation was rare. 

The roles of state attorneys general have become increasingly powerful and partisan over the last decade. Where Republican attorneys general positioned themselves as a check against a Democratic president — with some success, limiting Obama's actions on immigration, the environment and health care — Democratic attorneys general are expected to take on a similar role when Trump takes office.

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"I don’t think there’s any question that if you compare the work of state attorneys general offices 20 years ago with the work of the same offices today you will see that in many cases, that work has been greatly politicized," said Democratic former attorney general Peg Lautenschlager.

In a study of state litigation from 1993 to 2013, Marquette University political science professor Paul Nolette found that the activity of attorneys general has become "increasingly polarized," and that there has been a "dramatic" increase in the activism of Republican attorneys general under the Obama administration as compared to under the previous Democratic administration. 

"While bipartisan collaboration still occurs on some issues, Democratic and Republican AGs are pursuing increasingly divergent agendas across a wide range of policy domains," Nolette wrote.

Nolette, in his research, noted that Democratic attorney general activism increased significantly in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Partisanship started to play a larger role around that time, when the Republican Attorneys General Association and Democratic Attorneys General Association were founded. Since then, Democrats have also held fewer attorney general seats throughout the country. 

"Historically, state attorneys general viewed their roles as somewhat nonpartisan," Lautenschlager said. "Today, however, you see groups of Republican state attorneys general appointing solicitors general in their individual states who regularly meet to determine how to take legal action against the policies of the Obama administration. It will be interesting to see what sort of work they will do now that Donald Trump will be filling the office of the presidency."

Schimel disputes arguments that partisanship influences his approach to the office.

He said there have been cases that state Department of Justice attorneys have defended state laws that he disagrees with, but it's his hope no one would know which laws those are.

"We have faithfully defended Wisconsin law," he said. "We've tried hard to put aside the partisan part and just be a law enforcement agency, be the state’s lawyer and do that, and I’m proud of the work our team does."

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.