More from The Evers Follies

It appears that predictions of the incompetence of the Evers administration following his election one year ago were too optimistic.

Beyond his attempts to raise taxes by $1 billion, his abuses of the First Amendment and his attacks on Wisconsin businesses, the Evers administration is rapidly demonstrating incompetence at non-political things, like letting your constituents and the news media know where you will be, while politicizing what should be nonpolitical things, with bad results.

Today’s exhibit A is reported by M.D. Kittle:

Not known for controversy, the Wisconsin Department of Tourism has become a hive of intrigue in the Evers era, in which liberal politics seem to touch even the most benign levels of government.

And not even Packers legend Donald Driver is safe under the new regime, sources tell Empower Wisconsin.

Several media outlets this week reported Tourism Secretary Sara Meaney has been criticized for reportedly trying to push out Kathy Kopp, a longtime member of the Governor’s Council on Tourism. The department also is in hot water for apparently violating Wisconsin’s open records laws, an all-too-common charge lodged against the Evers administration.

Kopp declined to comment for this story, but in an email to Meaney she notes the secretary had asked Kopp to resign her position as early as December. Kopp, a widely respected tourism leader twice reappointed to the tourism council by former Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, plans to retire next year as director of the Platteville Area Chamber of Commerce. She’s held that post for nearly 30 years.

“As I indicated to you, I had not thought about resigning early, especially before my duties here at the Chamber are completed,” Kopp wrote in the email, which she shared with some of her fellow council members.

Meaney, in her response to Kopp, wrote that she was disappointed in what she described as Kopp’s “gross mischaracterization” of their conversation and in Kopp’s “choice of this public channel to communicate.”

Multiple sources tell Empower Wisconsin that there was no mischaracterization of Meaney’s intention of getting rid of Kopp, who represents southwest Wisconsin, a region of the state not “diverse” enough for Meaney’s liking.

Officials from the Department of Tourism did not return Empower Wisconsin’s phone calls Tuesday seeking comment.

State Sen. Andre Jacque (R-De Pere) in a letter to Meaney expressed his concerns about what he described as the secretary’s repeated suggestions that Kopp resign. He claimed that the requests occurred in several phone calls that Meaney initiated.

Jacque wrote that he is concerned about Meaney’s indication that her criteria for future council appointees “are primarily weighted toward ethnic and cultural diversity, especially as tourism stakeholders outside of Madison and Milwaukee have repeatedly indicated anxiety that tourism investments will increasingly shift to those two largest urban areas of our state.”

Meaney and Evers have said they want to in particular to devote more focus on Milwaukee, site of next year’s Democratic National Convention.

It’s no surprise that Meaney, a longtime Milwaukee resident, would lead the department in a Milwaukee-centric direction. It is concerning to some observers that the nonpolitical agency has become so partisan.

The Department of Tourism these days is populated by plenty of left-leaning partisans. Craig Trost, the department’s comms director, previously served as political director for U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison), chief of staff for state Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee), and as an aide for state Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison).

Deputy Secretary Anne Sayers previously worked as deputy state director of For Our Future, a progressive political action committee, where she pushed issues such as climate change and racial justice. In that capacity, she also led political operations in Wisconsin in which she worked to “build the influence of partner organizations” such as Big Labor, which dumped north of $12 million into For Our Future’s political action coffers in the last election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.  

Jacque — chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Local Government, Small Business, Tourism and Workforce Development — also raised concerns about tourism’s attempt to elect officers and members of the council’s marketing committees via an online poll. Doing so is a violation of the state’s open meetings law.

“It appears that the Governor’s Council on Tourism may have violated Wisconsin’s Open Meetings law, which is deeply concerning to me — even more so as there are revelations that unknown individuals are voting multiple times, and perhaps including individuals who are not supposed to be casting a ballot. It appears that the council’s vote itself was not conducted at a meeting that was properly noticed and open to the public,” the senator wrote.

Kopp and another member were in the running for chairperson of the council.

Tourism leadership also prevented legislative representatives on the council from casting ballots, which also appears to be against the law.

Empower Wisconsin also has learned that the Department of Tourism has decided it will no longer feature Green Bay Packers legend and “Dancing with the Stars” champion Donald Driver in its ad campaigns. Driver, sources say, is contracted to serve as tourism spokesman through 2020.

What possible reason could there be to no longer use Driver, one of the most popular Packers during and after his playing career?

To quote ’80s commercials, but wait! There’s more! reports:

With Gov. Tony Evers making an unusual appearance on the Senate floor, Republicans voted Tuesday to fire the Democratic governor’s embattled agriculture secretary.

The denial of Brad Pfaff’s nomination to head the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection comes after a last-ditch effort by several Democratic lawmakers and agricultural groups to secure Pfaff’s job. The vote marks the latest partisan clash between Evers and Republicans, who hold the majority of the Legislature.

The Senate voted 19-14 along party lines to deny Pfaff’s nomination, with all five Republicans who voted in favor of Pfaff in committee — Howard Marklein, of Spring Green; Jerry Petrowski, of Marathon; Patrick Testin, of Stevens Point; Andre Jacque, of De Pere; and Kathy Bernier, of Chippewa Falls — changing their votes Tuesday.

A governor’s appointee has not been denied by the Senate since at least 1987, according to the Legislative Reference Bureau.

Evers told reporters he attended the Senate floor session to hear arguments for and against Pfaff, whom he regards as “one of the most distinguished agriculture leaders” in the state.

His appearance is likely the first time in modern history that a Wisconsin governor was present for a floor vote. A staffer for Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, who was first elected to the Legislature in 1956, said the senator could not recall a Wisconsin governor ever being present for a Senate floor session, although former Democratic Gov. Patrick Lucey once phoned him on the floor.

After the vote, Evers expressed his stern disapproval, peppered with expletives, and lamented what he said was a chilling effect the Senate’s action might have for cabinet secretaries who are not yet confirmed. Pfaff was fired ostensibly for offending Republicans in comments this summer. …

After the Senate session Tuesday, Fitzgerald said there might be other nominees who have yet to garner enough support from Republicans, including Sara Meaney, secretary of the Department of Tourism. Fitzgerald did not elaborate on why Meaney might not have support from Republicans.

In addition to Meaney, Fitzgerald said Dawn Crim, secretary of the Department of Safety and Professional Services; Craig Thompson, secretary of the Department of Transportation; and Andrea Palm, secretary of the Department of Health Services, also may have trouble getting support from enough Republican senators to secure approval. …

After the vote, Marklein said in a statement that he has been disappointed in Pfaff since he and other committee members approved Pfaff’s nomination in February.

“At the time, I was hopeful that Mr. Pfaff would be a positive, strong leader for an agency that has traditionally been nonpolitical and focused on the industries it supports,” he said in the statement.

“Mr. Pfaff has played politics with information and has attacked the Legislature to the detriment of his agency. He was willing to use political talking points to further a political agenda, when he should have been focused on doing what is best for farmers and consumers.”

Pfaff, who served as deputy administrator for farm programs in the U.S. Department of Agriculture under former President Barack Obama and most recently was deputy chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, drew the ire of some Republicans in July when he criticized the Legislature’s budget committee for failing to release funds for mental health assistance to farmers and their families.

Noting DATCP had funding at the time for just five mental health counseling vouchers for farmers while the suicide rate among farmers was rising, Pfaff told committee members they had a choice to make: “Which five farmers will it be.”

At the time, Fitzgerald called the comment “offensive and unproductive.”

DATCP also has also been under fire for proposed updates to the state’s farm siting regulations. The proposed regulations would update the state’s nearly 14-year-old livestock facility siting rule ATCP 51, which is used by participating local governments to set standards and procedures — focused on setbacks from property lines, management plans, odor, nutrient and runoff management, and manure storage facilities — that must be followed by new or expanding livestock facilities. …

Two other cabinet secretaries up for a vote Tuesday, Mark Afable, commissioner of insurance, and Rebecca Valcq, chairwoman of the Public Service Commission, were approved by the Senate.

The fact that Afable and Valcq were confirmed gives the lie to the accusation that the Senate GOP is doing nothing other than playing politics.

The Senate should in fact not confirm Thompson, whose entire career has been about nothing other than calling for building roads at whatever price taxpayers need to pay, and Meaney, who has turned the Department of Tourism into a partisan disaster area even before she officially has the job.


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