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The state Senate voted to fire eight of the governor’s appointees last week.
Nonpartisan researchers for the legislature found that before Tuesday, only five appointees have been rejected since 1981.
A sixth appointment was rejected in 1972, before online records are available.
The Republican-controlled state Senate on Oct. 17 took up 47 of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ selections to various state commissions, occupational boards and councils — many of whom had already been serving for months on an interim basis.
Republican senators voted to fire eight of those appointees, including four of his picks for the Natural Resources Board and the Democratic appointee to the Wisconsin Elections Commission.
State Sen. Melissa Agard, the Democratic leader in the upper chamber — which has the power to give "advice and consent" on many of the governor’s appointments — rose to speak before Republicans began the rejection votes.
Agard called their decision to reject appointments and reappointments, including members of the Medical Examining Board and Council on Domestic Abuse, "unprecedented."
"Since 1981, the state Senate has only rejected five executive appointments," she said. "The GOP, today, is more than doubling that number."
The Senate and Evers have been at loggerheads over appointments since he took office. Many of his Cabinet officials have served years without being confirmed. And GOP appointees to the Wisconsin Technical College Board stayed in their expired positions due to a court ruling that found a vacancy doesn’t exist until the Senate holds a confirmation hearing.
Historically, the chamber often defers to the governor, even when the branches are from opposing parties.
That’s why Agard’s claim caught our attention. Let’s take a look.
When asked for backup for her claim, Agard’s office forwarded an email between her communications director and an analyst at the Legislative Reference Bureau, a nonpartisan agency that provides research to lawmakers and their staff.
The analyst searched as far back as the 1981-82 session, the earliest date that records of the Legislature’s activities are available online, according to the email.
She "was only able to find five executive appointments that have been rejected by the full Senate." They are:
Brad Pfaff as Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection in 2019. Pfaff was appointed by Evers and rejected by the Republican-controlled Senate.
Michael Rosen as a member of the Technical College System Board in 2006. Rosen was appointed by former Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, and rejected by the Republican-controlled Senate.
Francis "Bill" Murphy as a member of the Natural Resources Board in 1999. Murphy was appointed by former Gov. Tommy Thompson, a Republican, and rejected by the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Terry J. Kohler as a member of the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents in 1991. Kohler was appointed by Thompson and rejected by the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Dom Gordon as a member of the Council on Domestic Abuse in 1988. Gordon was appointed by Thompson and rejected by the Democratic-controlled Senate.
The analyst also found a 1999 Cap Times article that noted a sixth appointment, Charles Stoddard to the Natural Resources Board, was rejected in 1972.
Republicans divulged some reasons for the Tuesday firing votes.
Those included Natural Resource Board members’ views on whether the state should have a wolf quota.
Another was a Democratic elections commissioner’s decision to abstain from a vote to reappoint the leader of WEC, preventing the chance for Senate Republicans to fire her.
Pfaff, who was rejected in 2019, actually participated in the vote, opposing the firing of the eight appointees. He is now a Democratic senator representing Onalaska.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's report of the 2019 vote, Republicans argued the manure storage rules Pfaff was developing would hurt farmers amid one of the worst downturns for the dairy industry.
Evers, at the time, said the GOP was punishing Pfaff — who had been serving as secretary for nearly a year when he was fired — for publicly criticizing Republicans over holding back suicide prevention funds.
The reasons for the other firings are harder to find, but scant newspaper records explain why two of Thompson’s appointees were rejected.
Racist and sexist jokes were part of the opposition to Murphy, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.
The Senate also rejected Thompson’s pick to the UW Board of Regents, after lawmakers expressed concern over Kohler’s comments about minorities and LGBTQ+ people.
Republicans noted before the 2023 rejections, that before that day they had rejected only one of 380 nominations made by Evers. State Sen. Julian Bradley, R-Franklin, noted "the approval percentage, as of right now (is) at 99.998."
That number was not quite right. In any case, though, it doesn’t undermine the claim Agard made.
Agard claimed "Since 1981, the state Senate has only rejected five executive appointments. The GOP today is more than doubling that number."
It more than doubled, given the Senate rejected eight people on one day, versus just five in the last 42 years. That brings the total rejected to 13, more than doubling the previous five.
We rate her claim True.
WisEye, Wisconsin state Senate floor session, Oct. 17, 2023
Email exchange, Chandra Munroe, communications director for office of state Sen. Melissa Agard, D-Madison, Oct. 18, 2023
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Tony Evers blasts GOP firing of ag secretary as ‘political BS.’ Jan. 22, 2020
Wisconsin State Journal, Resources Board nominee rejected, Nov. 4, 1999
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Terry Kohler: Businessman, philanthropist and political activist, Sept. 20, 2016
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