Wisconsin Republicans fire 8 more Evers appointees, including regents and judicial watchdogs

Wisconsin Budget
Posted at 8:17 AM, Mar 13, 2024

MADISON (AP) — Republicans who control the state Senate fired eight more of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' appointees Tuesday, including two Universities of Wisconsin regents who voted against a deal that limited campus diversity and four judicial watchdogs who wouldn't commit to punishing liberal state Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz.

The Senate also fired a member of the governor's domestic abuse council after Republicans accused the body of violating open records laws and taking what the GOP considered a stance against white people, as well as a member of the deferred compensation board, which administers a state retirement program.

The Senate has now fired 21 Evers appointees since the governor took office in 2019. The governor said in a statement Tuesday that he was "apoplectic" that Republican senators keep firing his appointees for no good reason.

"It's obvious this is about Wisconsin Republicans exacting their political punishment and retribution on Wisconsinites who've volunteered to give their time, expertise and experience to serve our neighbors and our state," Evers said.

Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu issued a statement Tuesday saying that the Senate has confirmed more than 500 of Evers' appointees.

"The Senate takes its role in the advice and consent process seriously," he said. "Appointments must prove that they are qualified, capable and that they will follow the law in their capacities."

The Senate voted to reject confirmation for regents John Miller and Dana Wachs. They voted twice in December against a plan UW officials brokered with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos that called for regents to freeze hiring for diversity positions through 2026 and shift at least 43 diversity positions to focus on "student success." In exchange, legislators agreed to release money to cover UW staff raises and building projects around the system.

Senate President Chris Kapenga threatened on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, that unconfirmed regents would be rejected if they voted against the deal.

"For the life of me I can't understand what is wrong with wanting to make everyone feel welcome (and) included," Democratic Sen. LaTonya Johnson, who is Black, said on the Senate floor Tuesday.

Wachs said in a telephone interview that he was disappointed by how petty politics in Madison has become. He said he's considering running again for the Assembly to change the tone. Wachs, an Eau Claire attorney, served three Assembly terms previously and mounted an unsuccessful bid for governor in 2018.

Miller said in an email that he voted to protect campus diversity and the deal set a precedent for future legislators to withhold funding from UW in exchange "for their next pound of flesh."

"What's next?" Miller wrote. "Legislative approval of course syllabi? Which books are on the library shelf?"

Evers announced after the votes that he had appointed attorney Haben Goitom and Amy Traynor, a teacher at a Mondovi charter school, to replace them.

The Senate also voted to reject confirmation for Wisconsin Judicial Commission members Yulonda Anderson, Jane Foley, Janet Jenkins and Judy Ziewacz.

The commission investigates and prosecutes misconduct allegations against judges. Republicans grew upset last year after the four wouldn't say how they would handle complaints against Protasiewicz and the rest of the state Supreme Court's liberal majority.

Protasiewicz provoked Republicans' anger when she proclaimed on the campaign trail that she supports abortion rights and called GOP-drawn legislative districts "rigged."

Republican Sen. Van Wanggaard, chairman of the Senate's judiciary committee, said it was clear after confirmation hearings last year that the four commissioners didn't understand their duties and authority. Democratic Sen. Kelda Roys shot back that the hearings were designed to inappropriately force the appointees to make a pre-judgment about potential Protasiewicz complaints.

Evers announced he had appointed Barbara Notestein, Roberta Gassman, Analiese Eicher and John Hendricks to replace the ousted commissioners.

Mildred Gonzales lost her seat on the governor's domestic violence council after the Senate voted to reject her confirmation. Democrats repeatedly asked Republicans on the floor what Gonzales did wrong but no one would answer them.

Republicans have previously accused the council of failing to notice meetings as mandated by state law. Brian Radday, a spokesperson for Majority Leader LeMahieu, pointed Tuesday to a council manual that says white people cannot be full allies in the fight against domestic abuse.

Gonzales didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment. Evers appointed Elizabeth Lucas, director of the state Department of Corrections' office of victim services, to replace Gonzales.

The Senate also rejected confirmation for Terrance Craney, a member of the Deferred Compensation Board. The board administers an optional retirement savings plan for government employees.

It's unclear why Republicans found fault with Craney. The Senate voted without any debate and Radday didn't respond when asked about him. No one immediately responded to emails sent to aides for Sen. Rob Hutton, chairperson of the Senate's universities committee, which voted to recommend rejection.

Craney didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment. Evers appointed retired financial consultant Timothy Graham to replace him.