Empower Wisconsin | March 17, 2020
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — In one of the worst, manufactured stories published this year, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel suggests state Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm somehow can’t concentrate on the public campaign against the novel coronavirus because the Senate has yet to confirm her.
Headlined, “Republican lawmakers keep job of Wisconsin’s point person on coronavirus in limbo,” the story first asserts that Palm could lose her job at any time. This Sword of Damocles hanging over her, the newspaper insists, is thanks to the heartless Republican majority that could soon vote to reject Palm’s confirmation. This, despite the fact that Republican leadership has declined for over a year to schedule Palm’s confirmation hearing.
Her job is “uncertain,” the Journal Sentinel contends, right before the piece notes Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) has no plans in the near future to bring Palm’s confirmation to a vote. Based on an order from her boss, Gov. Tony Evers, the Senate couldn’t meet to vote on Palm’s fate at this point. Evers on Monday commanded the DHS to ban gatherings of 50 or more people.
So, what’s the concern? Apparently, Palm just can’t focus on her lead position in the war on COVID-19 if she’s merely the Secretary-designee.
Republican senators who spoke to Empower Wisconsin say the narrative is absurd.
“Certainly I have made clear my concerns with the secretary-designee, which others in my caucus share, but there is nothing in her ‘designee’ status that prevents her from carrying out the duties she’s expected to discharge,” said Sen. Andre Jacque (R-De Pere).
The Journal Sentinel story pointed to Jacque as evidence that Palm’s position remains in doubt. Jacque, a member of the Senate health committee, last year voted against the recommendation to confirm Palm. He was the only member of the committee to do so. Jacque has raised concerns about Palm’s hiring of Nicole Safar, a high-ranking staffer with DHS who previously worked as an attorney for abortion provider Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin.
Several Republican Senate members, however, have expressed support for Palm’s confirmation, if only because they believe governors in the main have the right to assemble their cabinets in the way they see fit.
“I don’t like the idea of holding the governor’s appointees captive,” one Senate insider told Empower Wisconsin.
Sen. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) said he would vote for Palm. As vice chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee, Kooyenga said he and his colleagues would work with Palm as a secretary-designee or a confirmed cabinet member.
“I have not heard from any health care providers or health care professionals concerned that her lack of confirmation has resulted in a lack of efficiencies in regard to her department,” the senator said.
Kooyenga is pushing to expand DHS’ authority in the current crisis, using free-market means such as expanding the scope of practice for health care professionals. In the short-term, registered nurses, for instance, would be given clearance to perform many of the duties of a nurse practitioner, Kooyenga said, noting there would be reasonable limitations.
“That doesn’t mean if you’re a garbage man you grab a scalpel and go to town,” he said.
State law already expands licensing to retired health care providers or those who have left the field (during the past 10 years) in good standing and offers automatic state reciprocity agreements during public health crises.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story insists, “Without her job confirmed, Republican lawmakers could vote to remove (Palm) if she took action they didn’t like — or in retaliation against Evers.” Evers could remove her, too, by the way. Cabinet members serve at the pleasure of the governor.
There also is another important question to consider: If Secretary-designee Palm is so concerned about her public servant future that it distracts her from serving the public during a pandemic, should she really be leading the state’s health agency?