The goings-on in the state Capitol the past month have dipped below brass knuckle partisan politics and now threaten good governance in the state.
It’s all about power, and the Republican-controlled state Senate is wielding it ruthlessly as it attempts to block the ability of Democrat Gov. Tony Evers to run the executive branch.
In the latest power-grabbing gambit, Republicans three weeks ago voted to dump Evers’ agriculture secretary from his cabinet post by voting not to confirm his appointment made last winter.
It was a remarkable break from precedent, and undercut years of tradition that a newly elected governor is allowed — and expected – to name his own team to his cabinet upon taking office.
Now, Senate Republicans are taking aim at other cabinet appointees in the Evers administration and, according to news reports, are “closely watching Dawn Crim, the leader of the Department of Safety and Professional Services due to concerns over the department’s handling of its regulatory responsibilities, but also based on unsubstantiated claims over her professional conduct for which they were not able to provide evidence.”
“We’re just not sure she’s the right person at this point,” said Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, who is chairman of the committee that advances Crim’s nomination to the full Senate.
At this point, Kapenga said, he has no plans to hold a vote on Crim.
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That means she will continue to serve in her post with the potential of being ousted in the foreseeable future.
Under state law, cabinet secretaries are appointed by the governor with the consent of the state Senate. They serve at the pleasure of the governor, who has the power to dismiss them.
We have no quarrel with that system. If the Senate finds an appointee doesn’t have the proper credentials to do the job, has an unknown criminal history or is growing a horn out of the back of their head, the Senate can reject an appointee. That system also has the benefit of making the governor choose cabinet appointees that are acceptable for Senate confirmation.
But, by delaying confirmation votes — which could and should be done as soon as practicable — for months on end, the GOP senators have arrogated for themselves the job of doing performance reviews of Evers’ cabinet members, and not just reviewing their credentials when they are named to their posts.
That job is the governor’s, not the Senate’s. By delaying confirmation votes, the Senate is wielding a sword of Damocles over the department heads.
The practical effect of the GOP’s confirmation limbo is to undercut the ability of cabinet heads to run their departments: State employees under their direction may not be as responsive to direction if they think their boss may be out the door tomorrow.
And who, we ask, would be willing to leave their current job to serve in a governor’s cabinet knowing that they would have two bosses with wildly different political philosophies — both of whom could fire them?
That can only lead to inferior cabinet appointees, and diminish the effectiveness and responsiveness of state agencies — and that is not good governance.
The Republican majority in the Senate should abandon this confirmation-delay gambit, and show some respect for the majority of voters in the state who put Evers into office.