By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — The state Senate today is slated to take up confirmation votes on four of Gov. Tony Evers’ secretary-designees. And while three of the four cabinet members have plenty of political baggage, Senate sources expect all to be confirmed.
Up for a vote are Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Secretary Randy Romanski; Department of Safety and Professional Services Secretary Dawn Crim; Department of Transportation Secretary Craig Thompson; and Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation Secretary Missy Hughes.
A majority of Senate Republicans want to move on Evers’ remaining nominees after two-and-a-half years of delays, Senate sources say.
“It came down to everybody in this caucus takes the role of advice and counsel seriously,” a Senate source told Empower Wisconsin.
Evers and Democrats have complained about the long, drawn-out confirmation process, but the Republican majority has been burned before with quick confirmations. Caleb Frostman, for instance was quickly approved as Evers’ secretary of the Department of Workforce Development. He was a fiasco. Evers was finally forced to fire Frostman a year ago after the department’s failure to process hundreds of thousands of unemployment claims during the first six months of the pandemic. Claimants waited months, some more than a year, to get their unemployment benefits.
“The process has worked well where we have waited,” the Senate source said. “The Frostman case confirmed right away that moving less deliberately was a disaster.”
The Republican majority in November 2019 rejected Brad Pfaff as Evers’ secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection after the partisan Democrat played politics in his office.
It looks like pretty smooth sailing for Pfaff’s replacement, Romanski, and Hughes, head of WEDC. Sources say Hughes stumbled out of the gate but has proved to be among the few Evers’ cabinet secretaries willing to work with Republicans and businesses.
Crim and Thompson face some opposition.
Thompson came to the DOT post with a long history of cozy relationships with the state road builders and grow-government groups. Republican senators raised concerns he would put the lobby’s interests ahead of Wisconsin taxpayers. He’s won over several Republican lawmakers. For some who have had their own cozy relationships with the road builders, Thompson didn’t have too far to go to get their support.
Sen. Steve Nass has requested Thompson’s and Crim’s names be taken out of the en masse appointments list for fast approval.
“We brought this out going on nines months in our caucuses, It’s been a bloody battle,” said Mike Mikalsen, Nass’ legislative aide. “Some want to vote yes because they want it to go away.”
Crim has faced withering criticism since taking over the Department of Safety and Professional Services, mainly for long delays and bureaucratic screw-ups in processing business licenses and commercial building plan reviews. Industry officials, however, seem to have changed their tune about the agency in recent months.
For Nass, the problem is more about Crim’s past.
In 2005 she was charged with repeatedly stabbing her 5-year-old son’s hand with a pen to punish the child. The charge was ultimately dismissed under the terms of deferred prosecution because Crim admitted she was wrong. Mikalsen says his boss believes conduct does matter and there are no statute of limitations when it comes to child abuse and high-ranking public officials.
He noted the double-standard that Democrats have used in the cancel culture.
“If she were a Republican working for a Republican administration, the Democrats would be steaming about child abuse and how Republicans don’t take child abuse seriously, as they should,” Mikalsen said. “This is a clear example of why cancel culture works.”
Senate sources say at the end of the day, they are dealing with Tony Evers’ picks for administration leadership, many who have shown a failure to lead — particularly in a time of crisis.
Evers pick for Tourism secretary, Sara Meaney, was never confirmed. She left the post nearly a year ago after a tenure filled with controversy, not the least of which was injecting liberal politics into a traditionally non-political state agency.
His secretary of the Department of Health Services, Andrea Palm, spent 2020 trying to lock down the state, stifling business and pushing for illegal statewide mask mandates.
“For the Democrats crowing about us taking so much time, we feel we should be more deliberate,” a Senate source said. “That’s why we’re not confirming DWD and DHS secretaries on Tuesday, because they’re more fraught with harm for our citizens.”