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So long Palm: Evers’ power-grabbing health czar leaving

Empower Wisconsin | Jan. 19, 2021

By M.D. Kittle 

MADISON — After nearly a year of treating the Bill of Rights as a suggestion, Andrea Palm is leaving her post as state Department of Health Services Secretary-designee to take a position as deputy secretary of Health and Human Services in Joe Biden’s administration. 

Biden’s offer was a parachute for a controversial Evers’ cabinet secretary who was about to finally face a confirmation vote by the Republican-controlled Senate, Capitol sources tell Empower Wisconsin. Palm, who was widely criticized by Republicans for exceeding her power during the pandemic and bungling the agency’s response to COVID-19, would not have survived confirmation.

Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) said late last week that it was time for Palm to go. 

“I believe we need to vote her down. There’s a strong feeling in my caucus that we need to vote her down,” LeMahieu told WTAQ conservative talk show host Joe Giganti on the Regular Joe Show. “We’re just making sure we can garner support and do that hopefully sooner rather than later.” It would have been sooner, sources said, possibly by the end of this month. 

Evers named Karen Timberlake, who served as DHS secretary under Democrat Gov. Jim Doyle, as interim secretary, beginning Jan. 25. 

Palm returns to the swamp and to the Obama-Biden fold, steeped in Democratic Party politics and policy. Before Evers tapped her as DHS chief, Palm worked as a senior staffer in the U.S Department of Health and Human Services and as White House policy advisor under President Barack Obama and his vice president, Joe Biden. Before that, Palm served as an aide to Hillary Clinton when Clinton was a U.S. senator from New York. 

Evers called his embattled health secretary-designee a “public servant through and through,” a “critical part of our administration and a consummate professional who has done an extraordinary job helping lead our state during an unprecedented health crisis.” 

That’s not how her many critics describe a state health chief whose name is on the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s May ruling that struck down the Evers administration’s unlawful, extended state lockdown issued at the outset of the COVID-19 outbreak. The majority opinion cited the myriad constitutional abuses committed by the Department of Health Services in the ostensible pursuit of combating the coronavirus.    

Beyond the civil liberties questions, Palm has presided over an agency that was riddled with unqualified leaders, headline-grabbing resignations, partisan-first policy, and ultimately, a disaster of a COVID-19 distribution “plan,” said Sen. Andre Jacque (R-De Pere) 

“I think if you look at the situation Wisconsin finds itself in in not having a well thought-out plan in vaccine distribution, clearly that’s an indication of the lack of attention the administration put on being prepared,” Jacque said, adding that Palm was more interested in following Democratic Party orders than the “science,” or what was in the best interest of the people of Wisconsin. 

Rumors about Palm’s departure have been percolating since the election. Empower Wisconsin first reported in November that Palm was considered to be on the short list for bureaucratic posts in the Biden administration. With no real ties to Wisconsin and her looming ouster, her return to a far left presidential administration of which she is quite familiar is not surprising. 

Jacque said it will take an acknowledgment of the past problems under Palm and a commitment to doing things differently for the interim secretary to restore the trust of Republican lawmakers.

“I’m not expecting it to occur. I’m under no illusions,” the senator said. “DHS has been a very politicized agency under the Evers administration. That includes abortion politics and picking winners and losers for political purposes. It’s going to take time and concrete actions for that to change.”

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