Wisconsin Republicans reject eight Evers appointees, including majority of environmental board

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republicans who control the Wisconsin Senate voted Tuesday to fire eight state board appointees from Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ administration, including a majority of the panel that sets the state’s environmental and wildlife policies.

In a series of votes that fell mostly along party lines, the Senate rejected confirmation for four members of the Natural Resources Board, as well as a Democratic elections commissioner who tried earlier this year to prevent the Senate from voting to fire the state’s top elections official, a nonpartisan role. Republicans also rejected nomination of a medical board chair who has supported abortion rights, Evers’ former spokesperson who was reappointed to the Council on Domestic Abuse, and a member of an agricultural board whose appointment was opposed by dairy and business groups.

For years, Evers and Senate Republicans have clashed over gubernatorial appointments. GOP lawmakers refused to act on many of the governor’s nominations during his first term, and policy board members appointed by former Republican Gov. Scott Walker have blocked Evers’ picks by refusing to step down when their terms expired.

“This is insanity, and this is an issue of democracy — Republicans have to stop doing this,” Evers said in a statement. “These Wisconsinites are completely qualified to do the job they’ve been asked to do, and they are volunteering their time, talent, and expertise without pay to serve their neighbors and our state.”

Minutes after the Senate voted, Evers named new appointees to replace each of the rejected board members.

Gubernatorial appointees are allowed to serve before being confirmed, but a Senate vote to reject confirmation carries the effect of firing them.

“When does this end? Is this precedent-setting that every legislative body has this kind of relationship with the executive branch?” Democratic Sen. Brad Pfaff said on the Senate floor. Pfaff’s confirmation as Evers’ agriculture secretary, a Cabinet-level appointment, was rejected by Senate Republicans in 2019 — a move that hadn’t happened in the state for decades.

The Senate’s rejection Tuesday of Sharon Adams, Dylan Jennings, Sandra Dee Naas and Jim VandenBrook briefly left the seven-person Natural Resources Board without enough members to vote on anything and raised concerns about delaying consideration of the Department of Natural Resource’s contentious wolf management plan. Evers appointed Todd Ambs, Robin Schmidt, Patty Schachtner and Douglas Cox to the board on Tuesday afternoon.

Rejection of Joseph Czarnezki’s appointment to the Wisconsin Elections Commission comes in retaliation for his decision in June to join the two other Democratic elections commissioners in abstaining from a vote on reappointing the agency’s administrator, Meagan Wolfe. That move forced a deadlock on the commission and blocked Wolfe’s nomination from continuing to the Senate, angering Republican leaders who have vowed to oust her.

Republicans have argued that the Democratic elections commissioners broke the law by not voting.

“Wisconsinites will not stand for public servants who are unqualified or refuse to follow the law,” Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, a Republican, said in a statement.

Evers appointed former Eau Claire city clerk Carrie Riepl on Tuesday to replace Czarnezki on the commission.

Republican Sen. Rob Cowles was the only lawmaker to cross party lines in the confirmation votes, siding with Democrats in support of Czarnezki and the four DNR policy board appointees.

Dr. Sheldon Wasserman, a former Democratic state lawmaker now serving as chair of the state Medical Examining Board, was rejected after GOP lawmakers questioned him in a public hearing about why the board had not taken steps to discipline doctors who perform abortions. Wasserman, who has previously been confirmed by the Senate three times, has spoken in favor of abortion rights and is one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit to overturn Wisconsin’s 1849 abortion ban.

Evers appointed Dr. Steven Leuthner, a neonatologist and bioethicist who teaches at the Medical College of Wisconsin, to replace Wasserman.

The Senate also voted to fire Melissa Baldauff, a Democratic strategist and former Evers aide who co-chairs the Council on Domestic Abuse, and Jerry Halverson, who was appointed by Evers’ agriculture secretary to a board that hears challenges to decisions on where to build livestock facilities.


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