Brief

Legislative Republicans join fight to stop transfer of power on Natural Resources Board

By: - August 20, 2021 12:52 pm

Frederick Prehn | YouTube

Republican leaders of the Wisconsin Legislature are trying to join the fight to keep an appointee of former GOP Gov. Scott Walker in his post as chair of the Natural Resources Board long after his term has expired. 

The board member, Fred Prehn, has refused to leave his seat even though his term expired on May 1 and Gov. Tony Evers has appointed his successor. Prehn says a Supreme Court decision from the 1960s allows him to stay in the seat until the successor, Ashland natural resources educator Sandra Naas, is confirmed by the Senate. 

In the intervening months, Prehn has allowed the board to retain a 4-3 majority of Walker appointees as the board made consequential decisions on important issues in Wisconsin’s conservation and environmental policies — including the regulation of harmful “forever chemicals” in state water and the quota for a controversial wolf hunt this fall. 

Earlier this week, Attorney General Josh Kaul filed a lawsuit against Prehn, asking a Dane County Circuit Court judge to allow Evers to remove Prehn from his post. 

“This lawsuit is more about the Legislature’s authority and responsibility to approve a governor’s nominee than it is about Frederick Prehn or even Sandra Naas, who I believe is a good person,” Prehn told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) asked the Joint Committee on Legislative Organization on Thursday to allow them to hire private attorneys to intervene in the lawsuit. That request is likely to be approved by the Republican-held committee, but it is up to Judge Nia Trammell — an Evers appointee — to decide whether to allow the Legislature to intervene in the case. 

Legislative leaders have often turned to private attorneys to fight political battles. Earlier this year, they tried to hire attorneys in advance of an expected fight over the drawing of new legislative districts. Private attorneys hired by Republicans have cost up to $500 an hour of taxpayer money. 

Environmental groups from across the state and country had called for Kaul to sue Prehn to remove him but Prehn has remained obstinate — including in a meeting of the board last week when the board set this fall’s wolf quota at more than double what Department of Natural Resources biologists had recommended. The groups allege that Prehn is misinterpreting the law and doesn’t in fact have the authority to remain in the seat until his replacement is confirmed. In 2015, Prehn assumed his seat before he was confirmed by the Senate.

Rather than siding with Prehn, LeMahieu could end the political fight by holding a vote to confirm Naas. But Republicans have often waited months or years to confirm Evers’ appointees. Many of the governor’s cabinet secretaries have yet to be confirmed three years into his term.

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Henry Redman
Henry Redman

Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.

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