...WIND CHILL ADVISORY NOW IN EFFECT FROM 9 PM THIS EVENING TO 9 AM CST MONDAY... * WHAT...Very cold wind chills expected. Wind chills as low as 35 below zero. * WHERE...Sawyer, Price, Iron, Burnett, Washburn, Douglas, Bayfield and Ashland Counties. This includes the Tribal Lands of the Red Cliff Band, the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation and the Bad River Reservation. * WHEN...From 9 PM this evening to 9 AM CST Monday. * IMPACTS...The dangerously cold wind chills could cause frostbite on exposed skin in as little as 10 minutes. PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS... Use caution while traveling outside. Wear appropriate clothing, a hat, and gloves. &&
Most of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ appointees to the boards overseeing Wisconsin’s higher education systems remain unconfirmed by the Republican-controlled state Senate, a move that could allow the GOP to quickly gain control of the boards if the party wins the governor’s race in November.
Five of Evers’ picks for the state technical college system board are unconfirmed, with three of them unable to serve because appointees of former Republican Gov. Scott Walker refuse to vacate their seats even though their terms expired last spring.
And while Evers’ seven unconfirmed appointees to the UW Board of Regents have been serving without the Senate’s stamp of approval, the Republican lawmaker chairing the committee charged with confirming them recently warned that some may be in trouble.
Evers, in a statement to the Wisconsin State Journal, said the individuals he appointed are doing everything that’s asked of them.
“The transfer of power is a part of our democracy, and it’s breathtaking, frankly, that Republicans have decided it’s more important to play politics than confirm appointments they know are qualified, dedicated people who want to serve our state,” he said. “It’s wrong-headed, it’s clearly political, and it’s affecting the work these boards are doing every day.”
Sen. Roger Roth, R-Appleton, who chairs the Senate Committee on Universities and Technical Colleges, said he plans to “start moving on some” of the appointees after wrapping up hearings on some bills this month. But he also entertained the possibility of continuing to deny some appointees a vote over the next year or even booting some from their posts. Senate leadership ultimately makes those decisions, he said.
Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, told WisPolitics last week that Senate Republicans don’t plan to take up Evers’ remaining appointees to the boards overseeing the UW System and technical colleges.
LeMahieu spokesperson Adam Gibbs later clarified that some appointees will get a vote and others will not be confirmed. He also said the caucus tends to follow the opinion of committee chairs.
Committee member Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-West Point, said refusing to approve appointees for so long shows that Republicans are more concerned about political gain than governing.
“I don’t know what their plan is other than waiting out the next election cycle,” he said.
The 13-member board that sets policies across the state’s 16 technical college districts includes five Evers appointees, three individuals who serve by virtue of their position — state schools Superintendent Jill Underly, Workforce Development Secretary Amy Pechacek and Evers-appointed UW Regent John Miller — and five Walker appointees, including three whose terms expired in May.
The three holdovers are Kelly Tourdot, a Waunakee resident who is vice president of Associated Builders and Contractors; Mary Williams, a former GOP state representative from northern Wisconsin; and Becky Levzow, a dairy farmer from Rio. Meeting minutes show they have continued to vote and make motions, with Levzow even presiding as board president during a July meeting.
Their refusal to vacate their seats was first reported by WisPolitics late last month.
Williams, before being asked any questions by the State Journal, said “there’s no real story” in her refusal to make way for one of Evers’ appointees. She said she hadn’t talked to Republicans about holding on to her seat and has no problem stepping down after the Senate confirms someone to take her place. But she said she will continue to serve in her post until then because sometimes people appointed by the governor are not confirmed.
“Some people are making a bigger issue out of it than it needs to be,” she said.
Tourdot did not return a voicemail and email seeking comment.
Levzow, almost immediately after a reporter reached her by phone, said she was at work, could not speak and hung up. She did not respond to a follow-up email.
To replace Williams, Tourdot and Levzow, Evers appointed Sara Rogers, planning analyst for Employ Milwaukee; Daniel Klecker, state education director for the Foundation of the Wisconsin Automobile and Truck Dealers Association; and Paul Buhr, a Viroqua-area dairy farmer who ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for a state Assembly seat in 2018.
All three were appointed between May 1 and Sept. 7, according to the Legislative Reference Bureau.
Meeting minutes show Rogers, Klecker and Buhr have been attending board meetings, but not voting. The three have yet to receive a hearing although Roth intends to hold them, aide Jason Vick said.
Two of Evers’ other appointees to the board — student representative Megan Bahr and Northcentral University professor Quincey Daniels, Jr. — are also unconfirmed but records show they have been participating in meetings because their predecessors vacated their seats.
Board President Rodney Pasch, who was appointed by Walker, said he had no opinion on whether the appointees whose terms have expired should step down and he is instead focused on supporting the technical colleges’ mission. Asked if he would step down when his term expires in 2023, he said that’s quite a while from now and he’d think about it when the time arrives.
Seven of Evers’ nine appointees to the 18-member UW Board of Regents are unconfirmed, including four who have been serving unconfirmed for more than 20 months, according to the Legislative Reference Bureau.
Roth declined to specify which appointees whose confirmation he would support or oppose but noted his disappointment in the Regents’ recent decision to increase the salary ranges for top University of Wisconsin System administrators by as much as 32%.
“It’s not lost on the Legislature that this is one of the first big acts by the Evers Board of Regents,” he said in an interview. “I think I can get there on some (appointees) and not on others.”
The board’s Dec. 20 vote to increase salary ranges for top leaders was unanimous and had the support of Walker appointees. Board members said the increases — which affected salary ranges, not current salaries — were necessary to bring compensation in line with market demand and ahead of two major searches, both of which are expected to conclude in the first half of 2022.
Roth said he wants to see recognition from Regents that they’re willing to make changes, such as the ones he outlined in a committee report last spring. The report called for reducing and streamlining administrative costs to increase instructor pay, grouping all but the Madison campus into four regions and expanding online courses.
“I’m not sure the Board of Regents is up to that,” he said. “That’s the question that myself and senators want answers to before we’re willing to confirm them.”
Roth said the board’s work “does not have to be line-for-line from our report” but said boosting administrators’ salary ranges goes in the opposite direction his committee has recommended.
“I’m not quite sure we’re seeing that leadership right now,” he said.
Interim System President Tommy Thompson, a former four-term Republican governor, said he hasn’t heard whether Republicans plan to confirm Evers’ appointees. Asked if the GOP should, he deferred to the Legislature.
“That’s out of my ballpark,” Thompson said in an interview.
Regents President Ed Manydeeds, one of the few Evers appointees who has been confirmed by Republicans, said the board wants to “avoid unnecessary disruptions” so it can stay focused on its responsibilities.
“Our board governs best for its students and universities when it is both collaborative and empowered to act,” he said in a statement.
Manydeeds narrowly won the presidential post in a rare contested election last summer that came just a few weeks after Evers’ appointees gained a majority on the board.
In the lead-up to the election, Roth had encouraged Evers’ appointees to continue the tradition of electing the board’s vice president, who happened to be a Walker appointee, as the board’s next president. The senator’s suggestion led some appointees to fear that voting the “wrong way” could threaten their confirmations though Roth denied any connection between the two.
This is far from the first time that gubernatorial appointments have been bottled up by the opposing political party.
Most recently, Fred Prehn, a Wausau dentist appointed by Walker to the Natural Resources Board, has refused to step down since his term expired May 1, denying Evers’ appointee Sandra Naas a seat and maintaining a 4-3 majority for Republican appointees.
Citing a 1964 Supreme Court ruling, Prehn maintains he does not have to leave until Naas is confirmed by the Senate, but Republicans have made no move to set a hearing.
The GOP also hasn’t confirmed several of Evers’ Cabinet nominees.
Democrats, too, have held up gubernatorial appointments.
When the party controlled the Senate in the early 2000s, it declined to act on Thompson’s nominations to the UW Board of Regents for so long that even after he left to become secretary of U.S. Health and Human Services his picks remained held up for the entirety of his Republican successor’s two-year tenure.
When Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle was elected, he withdrew the Republican appointees and replaced them with his own.
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This article originally ran on madison.com.
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