MADISON– The state Senate is scheduled to vote Tuesday, Nov. 5, to fire Gov. Tony Evers’ pick to lead the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection — an unusual move that comes during continued conflict between the Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic administration.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, called on Evers last week to withdraw the nomination of Secretary Brad Pfaff, saying there weren’t enough votes in the GOP-controlled Senate to confirm his nomination.
Pfaff has clashed with Republicans since his nomination, particularly over delayed state funding for a farmer suicide prevention program. Republicans accused the secretary of politicizing the issue.
The vote would be the first time the Senate has used its authority to confirm gubernatorial appointments to fire a member of the governor’s cabinet in at least 20 years, according to the Senate chief clerk. The clerk’s office only has records on the matter going back to 1997.
Evers has been sharply critical of the Senate’s possible move, calling it "astonishing" and saying it would create more uncertainty and instability among Wisconsin farmers, many of whom are struggling.
Before his nomination, Pfaff served as the deputy chief of staff to Wisconsin U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, a Democrat. Previously, he worked as executive director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency under the Obama administration.
Pfaff has said his upbringing in a family of farmers in La Crosse County informs his work as agriculture secretary.
Several groups have come out with letters in support of Pfaff, including the Dairy Business Association and the Wisconsin Agri-Business Association.
Only five of the governor’s 16 cabinet members have been confirmed since he took office in January. Those are state Department of Administration Secretary Joel Brennan, Corrections Secretary Kevin Carr, Revenue Secretary Peter Barca, Veterans Affairs Secretary Mary Kolar, and state Department of Financial Institutions Secretary Kathy Blumenfeld.
Commissioner of Insurance Mark Afable and Public Service Commission Chairperson Rebecca Cameron Valcq are scheduled to go before the Senate on Tuesday.
The remaining eight unconfirmed cabinet members can still continue in their jobs without confirmation unless the Senate votes to fire them.
Fitzgerald has said some may never be voted on.
Limit on governor’s veto power also up for vote
The Senate is also scheduled to vote on a proposed constitutional amendment that would limit Evers’ veto powers.
The proposal, sponsored by Sen. David Craig, R-Big Bend, and Rep. Mike Kuglitsch, R-New Berlin, would bar the governor from making any vetoes that increase state spending.
Evers used his veto pen to increase K-12 education spending in the budget by about $65 million.
The sponsors argue that was an abuse of power.
Wisconsin governors have one of the most powerful veto pens in the country, with the power to remove words, numbers and punctuation from spending bills.
Wisconsin governor’s veto power has been limited gradually over the past 30 years through constitutional amendments.
In order for a constitutional amendment to go into effect it must pass two consecutive sessions of the state Legislature and then be approved by a statewide voter referendum.
In 1990, voters approved limiting the governor’s ability to delete letters from words to create new ones, a practice called the "Vanna White veto."
In 2008, they stripped the governor’s power to delete words to create new sentences, which was called the "Frankenstein veto."
The resolution has yet to be voted on in the state Assembly.
Drunken driving, nurse attack bills also under consideration
Lawmakers are also scheduled to vote on bills that would:
> Put in place an 18-month minimum prison sentences for fifth and sixth drunken driving offenses. The bill has yet to be voted on in the Assembly.
> Impose a mandatory minimum of five years incarceration for committing homicide while driving drunk. This bill has already passed the Assembly. If approved, it goes to Evers’ desk.
> Increase penalties for assaulting nurses. The bill has yet to be voted on in the Assembly.
> Make it a felony to trespass on or damage oil and gas pipelines. This bill has already passed the Assembly. If approved, it goes to Evers’ desk.
> Eliminate a penalty for individuals under the age of 18 who are victims of prostitution. The bill has yet to be voted on in the Assembly.
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