Senate vs. Governor: Secretary Confirmations

Leadership of State Agencies

Wisconsin state agencies need clear direction and leadership in order to be successful, along with consistency in that leadership. Since Governor Evers took office, many of his Secretaries appointed to serve in his Cabinet and head state agencies have been working in their positions without approval by the Senate. Prior to some Senate votes last week, there were actually as many unconfirmed Secretaries as there were confirmed, despite the fact that many of Governor Evers’ Cabinet Secretaries have been serving in their roles since he took office in January 2019.

Potential Impact

A lack of votes on Cabinet confirmations for an extended period has the potential to hurt our state agencies, as this uncertainty in confirmation means that the vision for some agencies is not on solid ground. These are important agencies that haven’t received a vote on their leaders, including the Department of Transportation, Department of Tourism, and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, all of which represent areas that can have a strong impact on our state’s economic health.

 Confidence in Government

It can be problematic in other ways to have a Senate delay voting to approve or disapprove Cabinet Secretaries for this long, as it has potential to foster distrust in the public. Some people may view it as difficult to have confidence in an agency whose leader has not been approved by the legislature, and some may lack confidence in the legislature because of their failure to vote on these Secretaries.

 The Partisan Divide

The lack of votes to approve or disapprove has illuminated the relationship between the Governor and the Senate as well. The Wisconsin State Senate’s lack of action on many of the Governor’s Cabinet appointments has highlighted the growing divide and emphasis on partisanship in the state government. Most notably, the firing of Agriculture Secretary Brad Pfaff last fall sent a strong message that Secretaries should not criticize or disagree with the legislature, or they could face the same fate as Pfaff. That firing was the first time the state Senate has fired a Cabinet Secretary since 1987 according to the Legislature’s nonpartisan research office.

Recent Confirmations

Two Secretaries received confirmation recently. Two weeks ago, the Wisconsin State Senate unanimously voted to confirm Preston Cole as Governor Evers’ DNR Secretary and voted 32-1 to confirm Emilie Amundson as DCF Secretary. This made Cole and Amundson just the eighth and ninth of Governor Evers’ Cabinet Secretaries to be confirmed by the Senate.

Confirmed, Unconfirmed, Fired

Below is a list of Secretaries that are confirmed, unconfirmed, and fired.

Secretaries confirmed:

  • Department of Children and Families Secretary Emilie Amundson
  • Department of Natural Resources Secretary Preston Cole
  • Department of Revenue Secretary Peter Barca
  • Department of Financial Institutions Secretary Kathy Blumenfield
  • Department of Administration Secretary Joel Brennan
  • Department of Corrections Secretary Kevin Carr
  • Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Mary Kolar
  • Department of Workforce Development Secretary Caleb Frostman
  • Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority Executive Director Joaquin Altoro

Secretaries unconfirmed:

  • Department of Transportation Secretary Craig Thompson
  • Department of Tourism Secretary Sara Meaney
  • Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm
  • Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation Secretary Missy Hughes
  • Department of Safety and Professional Services Secretary Dawn Crim

Secretaries fired:

  • Agriculture Secretary Brad Pfaff