Steven Walters
The State of Politics

Evers Respects His Agency Leaders

Walker at times ignored cabinet, made decisions for his political career.

By - Aug 5th, 2019 11:24 am
Tony Evers. Photo by Emily Hamer / Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Tony Evers. Photo by Emily Hamer / Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Ten months ago, weeks before the election for governor, four former cabinet secretaries Republican Gov. Scott Walker once appointed had either endorsed Walker’s opponent, Democrat Tony Evers, or criticized the governor who had given them jobs.

They were:

Paul Jadin, the first CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.; former Corrections Secretary Ed Wall; former Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb, and former Financial Institutions Secretary Peter Bildsten.

Why bring this up?

Because, in October 2022, when Evers is one month from his expected bid for a second term, don’t expect any of his ex-cabinet secretaries to actively oppose him.


Because, unlike Walker, once Evers makes a cabinet-level appointment, he lets them run their agency.

The Democrat respects the research of cabinet secretaries and career professionals in those agencies. That means he starts from the premise that they have “connected all the dots” and he won’t second-guess them.

Sure, Evers and his top deputies follow those decisions closely – especially when it comes to controversial issues like when and how to rebuild the busiest four-lane highways.

But that’s the opposite of the distain Walker had for the agency that runs the state’s 36 adult prisons, according to the pre-election book Wall wrote.

In his book, Wall wrote that he wasn’t even allowed to brief Walker on the Corrections Department’s proposed two-year budget.

And, Wall added, top Walker deputies repeatedly conveyed this message: Nothing helpful for the governor politically comes from the Corrections Department. So, don’t call or email or put anything in writing that could be subject to the Open Records Law.

It doesn’t matter what you think of the controversial Wall or his get-even book.

How valued would you feel if you ran a Corrections Department that spends $1 billion a year and was responsible for 90,300 individuals convicted of crimes (23,800 in prisons and 66,500 supervised in communities statewide), two juvenile prisons under investigation for harming inmates, and you can’t get an appointment with the governor?

And, what message was sent to the professionals you need to run that agency – including prison supervisors and guards – by Walker never visiting a prison during his eight years in office?

Corrections Secretary Kevin Carr, the former U.S. marshal and command office at the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department, would not have taken – or still have – the job under those circumstances.

Carr was ready to retire before transition-team aides to Evers, who Carr did not know, called to ask him to meet with the next governor.

And Evers, who started his career as a science teacher, picked one agency leader with a science background – Natural Resources Secretary Preston Cole, whose college degree is in forestry management.

That means, when Cole wants to talk about nitrate standards for surface or groundwater, lead found in drinking water in every Wisconsin county, or a multi-state approach to chronic wasting disease (CWD), Evers listens.

The governor chose Mary Kolar, who served in the Navy for 28 years and retired as a captain, secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Evers picked Transportation Secretary Craig Thompson for the experience he gained in those statewide issues by running the Transportation Development Administration (TDA) for years.

Thompson’s push to raise the 30.9-cent per gallon gas tax, unchanged since 2006, to help solve the long-term highway funding problem earned him enemies among Republican state senators, who still haven’t confirmed him for the job.

Evers, however, considers Thompson’s willingness to confront the highway funding problem a reason to stick with – and listen to – his transportation secretary.

Evers aide Melissa Baldauff said he has empowered agency leaders who “share his vision for pragmatic, progressive leadership.”

It’s “the most diverse” cabinet in Wisconsin history and “some of the best and brightest minds in their respective fields,” Baldauff added.

Evers just announced a search for an important cabinet job – CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), the state’s controversial jobs protection and jobs creation agency.

WEDC’s current CEO, Mark Hogan, a Walker appointee, will leave that job this fall after holding it for a record four years.

Evers learned to respect Hogan, whose final act at WEDC may be renegotiating changes to the controversial Foxconn tax break package passed by Walker and Republican legislators.

Whoever gets the WEDC job should know this: Cabinet secretaries in Wisconsin state government have the governor’s respect. They are again jobs worth holding.

Steven Walters is a senior producer with the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye. Contact him at

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