MADISON, Wis. — A Wisconsin Senate committee gave one of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ most controversial Cabinet picks unanimous bipartisan approval Thursday, but a larger confirmation battle is likely in the fall.
Craig Thompson, a former lobbyist and Evers’ selection to lead the Department of Transportation, easily cleared the committee vote 4-0. But the Republican-controlled Senate gets the final say on confirmation and some lawmakers have publicly voiced opposition.
The fight over Evers’ picks to lead state agencies has played out largely in the back halls of the Capitol, giving Republicans a way to foil the will of the Democratic governor by stalling Senate confirmation. All of Evers’ secretaries are serving on an interim basis and will stay in their jobs unless the Senate votes to reject them.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has been coy about what may happen, saying only that senators will meet later to discuss who will be confirmed and who could be in jeopardy. The Senate isn’t expected to vote on any Cabinet appointments until October.
Republicans control the Senate 19-14, but if all Democrats vote for him as expected only three Republicans would have to go along in order for him to be confirmed.
Some Republicans have voiced concerns about Thompson because of his former work lobbying on behalf of road builders and others in the transportation industry as head of the Wisconsin Transportation Development Association.
But Thompson is well-known and liked by many lawmakers and the approval vote by the Senate transportation committee puts him one major step closer to confirmation.
Committee chairman, Republican Sen. Jerry Petrowski, praised Thompson before voting for him.
“I have known Craig for a long time. I believe that Craig is a class act and he will do a great job for the state of Wisconsin,” Petrowski said. “I know there is constantly in the world we live in a lot of sniping going on for some of the secretaries, but I believe Craig has been involved in transportation for a long time and I believe he will do a good job not only for the governor but all the people of the state.”
Republican Sens. Steve Nass and Duey Stroebel, two of the most conservative members of the Senate, came out against Thompson.
“Today’s vote is further proof that too many Republican legislators are willing to aid-and-abet the extreme tax-and-spend policies of Governor Evers,” Nass said in a statement.
Petrowski, while strongly supporting Thompson, wouldn’t guarantee that he would ultimately win approval by the Senate.
“We’ll just have to wait and see,” Petrowski said after the committee vote, while discounting concerns about Thompson’s past work as a lobbyist.
“All of us have many jobs in life,” he said. “Your life history probably helps you to understand the issues much better than somebody else who isn’t involved in transportation.”
Mary Kolar, a retired U.S. Navy captain, who is Evers’ choice for secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, also won unanimous committee approval. Six other Evers’ Cabinet secretaries have already cleared committee votes and await Senate approval.
There may be hurdles for other Evers’ picks.
Dawn Crim, his choice to lead the department that licenses and regulates a variety of professional occupations, faced questions from Republicans about her qualifications and a 2005 felony child abuse charge after jabbing her 5-year-old son’s hand with a pen. The charge was later dismissed.
Evers has stood by Crim, but the Senate committee has yet to schedule a vote on her confirmation.
Brad Pfaff, secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, angered some Republicans last month after he criticized the Legislature’s budget committee for not releasing funding for a farmer mental health program. Pfaff was voted out of committee in February.
Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter: https://twitter.com/sbauerAP