State News

Split government quarrel, Senate reject Evers cabinet nominee

Partisan divides marked a turbulent week of disagreement and discontent in the Capitol. 

Partisan divides marked a turbulent week of disagreement and discontent in the Capitol. 

Image By: Will Husted and Will Cioci

The Wisconsin Senate dismissed Brad Pfaff, the agriculture secretary appointed by Gov. Tony Evers in a 19 to 14 vote made in a floor session Tuesday — unanimous along respective party lines.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, who first raised awareness of Pfaff’s potential to not get confirmed during a phone call with Evers Friday, shared his reasoning for voting against Pfaff’s nomination.

“[Pfaff] tried to place burdensome rules on Wisconsin farmers at a time they can least afford it and repeatedly engaged in partisan political games targeting the legislature,” Fitzgerald said.

Republicans allowed Pfaff’s nomination as a designee initially, but recently he received criticism for his proposed livestock siting rules, which aim to reduce the effect farm odors have on their neighbors through a scoring system.

In a Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection hearing on Sept. 17, the proposed rule faced opposition from politicians and farmers alike. The odor scoring system and its suggested changes were at the center of the debate. 

Mike Koles, executive director of the Wisconsin Towns Association, observed the science behind the system is “going away,” and similar systems are being phased out by other states as well. Multiple farm owners said increased regulation of the rules would limit future expansion of their livelihood. 

Fitzgerald’s reference to Pfaff’s actions against the Legislature stem from comments he made about their unwillingness to provide additional funding for a program focused on mental health care for farmers and their families.

“As of today, DATCP has funding to provide just five more counseling vouchers to farmers in need of mental health care If the Joint Finance Committee doesn’t want to move this funding forward immediately, then they have a choice to make: which five farmers will?” Pfaff said

The Senate has not voted to reject a governor's Cabinet appointee since at least 1987 — the farthest back the Legislative Reference Bureau has records.

Following the vote, Evers was irate.  

“It was apparently more important for Republicans to serve up political retribution because Brad had the courage and the audacity to scold them for playing politics with farmers mental health during this dairy crisis,” Evers said. “Frankly, it would have been a disservice to this state if I’d appointed a secretary who didn’t fight like hell for our farmers, regardless of the consequences.”

Democrats and organizations across the state like the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation shared support for Pfaff before and after the floor session, referring to the Republicans move to remove him as causing “uncertainty for our agriculture communities.” 

“From leaving mental health unfunded to rejecting a highly qualified secretary because he stood up for farmers, we have to ask what Republicans stand for,” Jon Erpenbach, D-West Point, said in a press release. “After today, it is hard for anyone to say that Republicans stand for farmers.”

Both sides of the aisles’ comments highlight the ongoing contention between the split government. 

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