By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers’ controversial Department of Transportation Secretary-designee will be confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate, legislative sources tell Empower Wisconsin.
Craig Thompson has waited more than two years for the vote, delayed by Republican lawmakers concerned about Thompson’s close ties to road builders and his role in an attack campaign in 2018 against former Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
The Senate Committee on Transportation, Veterans and Military Affairs previously approved Thompson’s nomination and appears poised to do so again — with the full support of Sen. Jerry Petrowski (R-Marathon), chairman of the committee.
But legislative sources with knowledge of the situation say Thompson appears to have enough votes in the Senate for confirmation. Full Senate action could come soon.
“He’s performed the job, irrespective of past perceived indiscretions,” one Senate source said. “He’s done a great job being responsive and leading the agency.”
Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville) had his misgivings when Evers tapped Thompson to lead the agency. Nothing has changed in the two years since, Stroebel’s office told Empower Wisconsin Thursday.
“Duey still has serious reservations about Craig Thompson as the right fit for DOT secretary… Duey is still deeply skeptical and that’s not likely to change,” the office said in a statement.
Before joining Evers’ cabinet, Thompson was the long-time director of the Transportation Development Association, a road builder lobby group which led the Just Fix it campaign. The campaign hit Walker and Republican legislators hard on what they charged was a dangerous lack of transportation funding. Thompson helped lead a massive increase in transportation funding in the last state budget.
Crim not in
While Thompson looks to be in, Senate sources say some of Evers’ other cabinet appointees won’t make the cut.
Dawn Crim, secretary-designee for the Department of Safety and Professional Services, doesn’t have the votes, sources say. Republican lawmakers, professionals and industry representatives have blasted the agency under Crim’s leadership for mismanagement and a backlog of regulatory reviews that has cost businesses time, money and jobs.
Sources say the confirmation of Karen Timberlake, interim secretary-designee of the Department of Health Services, faces an uphill climb. Her chances may not improve much after the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Thursday that DHS in the last couple of weeks increased by nearly 1,000 the COVID-19 deaths attributed to long-term care facilities.
“The state is now reporting 45% of the people who died from COVID-19 were in long-term care facilities, when for months the state had only linked between 26% and 30% of COVID-19 fatalities to long-term care,” the newspaper reported.
State Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) on Thursday called for an investigation into DHS.
“I am asking the chairs of the Legislative Audit Committee to investigate DHS and their handling of COVID-19 data,” Darling said. “Their severe underreporting and lack of transparency put more lives at risk and diverted attention from the crisis in our long-term care facilities.”
Of course, most of the erroneous reporting occurred on the watch of Andrea Palm, Evers’ first DHS’ secretary-designee who resigned earlier this year to take a position in the Biden administration. Palm, sources say, was destined for the door. Senate Republicans were poised to reject Palm’s nomination on the same day they voted for a resolution ending Evers’ endless emergency orders.
They wouldn’t be the first Evers’ appointees to be sacked.
The Republican-controlled Senate in November 2019 sent the highly partisan Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Secretary-designee Brad Pfaff packing. Evers hired him a few days later as director of business and rural development for the state Department of Administration, where Pfaff made $121,000 a year before his successful run for the 32nd District Senate seat.