Gov. Tony Evers’ agriculture secretary pick, Brad Pfaff, must have done something horrible to become the first cabinet official since at least 1987—and possibly ever—to be rejected by the state Senate.
He must have been involved in some scandal, perhaps a bribery scheme. Or, maybe he perjured himself.
Whatever Pfaff did, surely it brought embarrassment upon the state because the Senate would not have rejected Pfaff for frivolous reasons.
Indeed, the only thing Pfaff appears to be guilty of is representing a Democratic governor’s administration.
The Senate rejected Pfaff in large part because he sought the implementation of a manure storage rule that Republican senators don’t like. Keep in mind, the rule initially was devised by former Gov. Scott Walker’s administration.
Tuesday’s vote set a disturbing precedent, driving state government farther toward partisan gridlock. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald deserves most of the blame. In February, five Republicans in committee unanimously recommended Pfaff’s appointment, but those supporters mysteriously vanished on the Senate floor Tuesday as Fitzgerald declared he wasn’t “comfortable” with Pfaff.
If the Senate’s new standard for approving cabinet picks is to obtain near-total agreement on policies, many of Evers cabinet picks stand little chance of approval. Fitzgerald is inviting endless war with Evers by abandoning past practice of the Senate largely deferring to the governor’s judgment on cabinet posts.
Evers was near the mark when he described the vote as “absolute bullshit,” even if the former teacher’s words might be too salty to include in a classroom discussion. After all, Democratic lawmakers—though they passionately opposed many of Walker’s policies—voted in large numbers to support Walker’s cabinet picks.
Fitzgerald, who is running to fill the congressional seat held by retiring Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, has co-opted the Senate to advance his congressional campaign. He’s burnishing his conservative credentials ahead of an August 2020 primary, determined to stand out as the most extreme of all Republican candidates. Tuesday’s vote bodes well for Fitzgerald’s election chances but poorly for effective governance.
An irony of Pfaff’s rejection is that Fitzgerald claims to be looking out for the farmers’ interests, and yet Fitzgerald has gone on record stating he supports President Trump’s tariffs, which have suppressed prices for crops and dairy products. Fitzgerald wants the public to blame Pfaff for farmers’ misfortunes, but this is a gross oversimplification of reality.
Pfaff has done nothing wrong except to advocate the administration’s agenda, which legislators are free to oppose. The difference is that policy disagreements have never justified rejecting cabinet appointees—until now. The significance of Tuesday’s vote was undoubtedly lost on Fitzgerald, who cannot see beyond the 2020 election. But his Republican colleagues should be concerned.
A Democratic Senate someday might be in charge and all too eager to remind a Republican governor of what Fitzgerald and his followers did to Pfaff.