39 political appointees were approved by the state Senate today.
Four are secretaries in Governor Tony Evers’ cabinet. And with today’s confirmation, they can drop the second half of the unwieldy title, “Secretary-Designee.”
That includes Missy Hughes of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, Craig Thompson of the Department of Transportation, Dawn Crim of the Department of Safety and Professional Services and Randy Romanski of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
Some of Evers’ appointees have been waiting years for formal confirmation.
Legislative confirmation of the Governor’s appointees has historically been procedural. But since Evers took office, the process has morphed into a partisan battle between a Democratic Governor and a GOP legislature.
Unconfirmed appointees are vulnerable to removal by the state legislature at any time. Notably, former DATCP secretary-designee Brad Pfaff was rejected by the legislature in 2019, after making pointed remarks about the need for the legislature to fund farmer mental health initiatives.
It was the first time the legislature has effectively fired a gubernatorial appointee at least 1987, according to state records found by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
After the unusual move of watching the proceedings on the legislative floor — on his birthday — Evers characterized the move as having a chilling effect on appointees yet to be confirmed by the legislature.
“If I was a total cynic, I’d say keep your damn mouth shut,” Evers told reporters in 2019. “I want them to be forthcoming, I want them to be professional, that’s why we hired them. They’re the best people for the job and to think that they’re going to have to keep their mouths shut for the next, who knows, four years in order to get approved by this senate? That is just absolute bullshit.”
Speaking with reporters at the World Dairy Expo today, Evers said that he was glad the Senate was finally taking action.
“It’s about time,” he said. “I know they’ve been really busy, but we have some extraordinary leaders waiting to be approved. It’s about time.”
Nearly all 39 appointees won unanimous approval, with the exception of Dawn Crim, Secretary of the Department of Safety and Professional Services, as well as Craig Thompson, Secretary of the Department of Transportation.
Notably absent from today’s docket was Sandra Dee Naas, Evers’ appointee to chair the state’s Natural Resources Board. The Resources Board serves as the governing body for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
That role is currently occupied by Frederick Prehn, a Scott Walker appointee whose term expired in May. Prehn has repeatedly refused to step down from the board, citing a 1964 Wisconsin Supreme Court decision that allows a board member to continue to serve until their replacement is confirmed.
Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul sued to get Prehn off the board last month, but that case was dismissed. The Associated Press reports that Kaul is appealing that decision.
Also absent from today’s confirmation list was Karen Timberlake, who’s currently heading the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, which is tasked with overseeing the state’s COVID-19 response.
She’s held that role since her predecessor, Andrea Palm, left the DHS in January to serve as the deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Palm was also never confirmed by the state Senate.
PHOTO: Jonah Chester