Empower Wisconsin | Oct. 14, 2019
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Road builder buddy and state Department of Transportation Secretary Craig Thompson continues to wait for Senate confirmation, even as several of his colleagues have been given the green light.
Thompson may be waiting a while.
Last week, the Senate unanimously confirmed five of Evers’ secretary picks. Thompson’s name was conspicuously missing from the list.
One fiscal conservatives who didn’t have much faith in Thompson to begin with is less convinced today.
“Sen. Nass is now more opposed today than he was even a month ago,” said Mike Mikalsen, spokesman for Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater).
Others have expressed similar concerns, particularly after a report in August by MacIver News Service that found Thompson’s DOT signed off on more than $320 million worth of single-bid road construction contracts. That includes a massive $126 million 1-39/90 expansion project that came in 20 percent higher than DOT expected.
Thompson defended that hefty bid, claiming he did so in the name of public safety.
But some of the same people he knew well when he was executive director of the Transportation Development Association, benefitted from the costly contract. Thompson led the road-builder friendly TDA until late last year, when he was tapped by Gov. Tony Evers to head the DOT.
Mikalsen said Thompson has been reluctant to compromise on numerous policy matters, and he has continued to “marginalize or in essence reverse many of the cost-savings changes” put in place by his predecessor, former DOT Secretary Dave Ross.
“If the Legislature is serious about DOT reform … then Craig Thompson is the wrong person to do that,” Mikalsen said. “In some ways it’s already been going back to business as usual, and that’s not good for taxpayers.”
The Senate Transportation Committee in August did approve Thompson’s nomination, sending it to the full Senate for a vote. That’s where it has stalled.
Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) said the jury is still out on Thompson’s confirmation.
“We want to see if he’s really representing the best interests of taxpayers. Some of us still have some skepticism,” Tiffany said, noting that Thompson and the DOT have been helpful on a couple of important projects in his district.
Transportation Committee Chair Jerry Petrowski (R-Marathon) gushed over Thompson and his resume.
“I believe that Craig is a class act and he will do a great job for the state of Wisconsin,” the senator said. “I know that there are, constantly in the world we live in, a lot of sniping going on for some of the secretaries, but I do believe Craig has been involved in transportation for a long time and I believe he will do a good job not only for the governor but for all the citizens of the state.”
Last week, the Senate approved a “clean bill,” checking the DOT on single-bid contracts. Senators removed an Assembly amendment that could have hampered open government.
Mikalsen said Thompson will not have anywhere near unanimous support, as Evers’ other nominees had, from the Senate’s Republican caucus.
“We are seeing across the board a return to the dark days of DOT,” Nass’ aide said.