Fred Prehn, the chair of the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board and appointee of former Gov. Scott Walker, has remained in his post for two monthly meetings of the body even though his term expired May 1 and Gov. Tony Evers’ new appointee has been waiting in the wings.
The move by Prehn, which allows him to retain Republican control of the board as it makes decisions over controversial issues such as wolf hunting and PFAS regulation, has brought fierce opposition from environmental groups and Democrats.
The board met on Wednesday to take up a number of important issues — including purchasing land to expand Devil’s Lake State Park, propose rules for another wolf harvest and set standards for contaminants in drinking water.
But in the meeting’s public comment, people from across the state aimed their criticism at Prehn — a dentist and cranberry marsh owner.
One Madison dentist, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported, said that Prehn was bringing shame to all Wisconsin dentists.
Prehn’s refusal to leave his post echoes several other actions by Republicans in recent years to prevent Democrats from taking control of state government that came with Evers’ victory — including the refusal to confirm cabinet level appointments by Gov. Tony Evers and waiting years to even hold hearings for appointees to several state boards and commissions.
But as Republicans run an end-around on Evers control of the administrative power of the government, Democrats are trying to bring normalcy to this political process.
Also on Wednesday, the Republican-held Senate rushed to confirm Tom Engels as the sergeant-at-arms of the body. Engels was in the Trump administration and prior to that was an official in the Department of Health Services under Walker. Sergeant-at-arms has usually been a nonpartisan position so legislators on both sides of the aisle could expect nonpartisan execution of its duties.
Two Democrats, Sens. Melissa Agard (D-Madison) and Brad Pfaff (D-Onalaska) voted to confirm Engels despite the rushed process because they want to bring “civility” back to state government.
“We need to break this extreme partisan fever because the people of this state deserve better,” Pfaff said in a statement. Pfaff has been the victim of Republican obstinance himself. He was nominated by Evers to be the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, but after a dust-up with then-Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, had his nomination voted down by Republicans in the Senate, firing him from the post. Republicans have also refused to confirm several of Evers’ cabinet secretaries.
“I voted to confirm Tom Engels, and despite our political differences, I am confident in his ability to execute the duties of his office,” said Pfaff. “I expect that my Republican colleagues will now finally step forward and confirm the numerous vacant high-level appointments the governor put forward. It’s time for this body to focus on the critical work that will move Wisconsin forward.”
GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.