Wisconsin Examiner

Senate Republicans Fire Four Evers Appointees

GOP boots one from DNR board, three from UW Health board.

By , Wisconsin Examiner - Feb 21st, 2024 10:26 am
Todd Ambs. Photo courtesy of the Office of the Governor.

Todd Ambs. Photo courtesy of the Office of the Governor.

Wisconsin Senate Republicans rejected four appointees of Gov. Tony Evers Tuesday, including one to the Natural Resources Board and three to the board that oversees the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics Authority.

One GOP senator said Natural Resources Board (NRB) appointee Todd Ambs was being fired because of a now-deleted tweet attacking Republicans and Fox News. But none of those who voted against the three UW Health board members explained their reasons on the Senate floor Tuesday.

After the votes, the governor’s office released a statement declaring that “Republicans’ refusal to confirm Gov. Evers’ appointments represents a continued escalation of efforts by Wisconsin Republicans in recent years to upend basic functions of democracy, obstruct the peaceful and respectful transfer of power, and threaten, intimidate, and even baselessly fire individuals who may not share their political beliefs or who dare to publicly disagree with them.”

In the statement, Evers said that “with these legislative Republicans, bipartisanship and common sense always seem to take two steps forward and two steps back, and that trend continued today when Senate Republicans took up yet another group of exceptionally qualified citizen appointees and fired them for simply doing their jobs.” Evers immediately named replacements for all four.

The 22-10 party-line vote against confirming Ambs to the NRB was the first of the rejection votes Tuesday.

Sen. Mark Spreitzer (D-Beloit) criticized the Republican motion to reject Ambs and brought up the Senate’s rejection of four other NRB appointees this past fall. He also criticized Republican Senate leaders for not scheduling confirmation votes for four other NRB members, all of whom were unanimously recommended for confirmation by the Senate committee.

“You may be trying to make sure that some future Republican governor can clean house and put in place people with different views on policy,” Spreitzer said. “But Gov. Evers is still the governor, and he’ll still be the governor next session. It’s been five years and I’m still waiting for all of you to get used to that.”

Ambs had been assistant and then deputy secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in the first three years of the Evers administration before retiring in 2021 after working 40 years in conservation-related positions in Ohio and Wisconsin.

On the Senate floor Tuesday, Sen. Mary Felzkowski (R-Tomahawk) accused Ambs of partisan bias. NRB appointees “have to work with people that are like-minded and they have to work with people that are not like-minded,” she said, then read aloud a tweet from Ambs’ Twitter account in April 2022: “The Republican Party and Fox News is filled with a – – holes and domestic terrorists and traitors.”

The tweet previously surfaced at Ambs’ Dec. 19 confirmation hearing. Felzkowski told senators Tuesday that “five minutes after a question on that, [the tweet] mysteriously disappeared” but had been captured with a screenshot by a Republican legislative staffer.

“My ask of Gov. Evers going forward is to please appoint people who are willing to work with liberals, who are willing to work with conservatives,” Felzkowski said.

Ambs released a statement after Tuesday’s vote calling the allegation “patently false” that he “can’t work with Republicans.”

“They cannot cite a single instance where that has been the case,” Ambs said. “On the contrary, I have spent more than four decades working in Wisconsin, Ohio and across the nation with members of both parties on a variety of important conservation policy issues.” Those included working with Democrats and Republicans negotiating the Great Lakes Compact more than two decades ago and recently completing a two-year term chairing the international Great Lakes Commission, he said.

UW Health board nominees

In December, the Senate Health Committee voted along party lines to reject two of the three UW Health board appointees, former state Rep. Sondy Pope and retired nurses’ union leader Candice Owley, and tied on the third, former Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton.

At the time, Sen. Andre Jacque (R-De Pere) said he voted against the three because he believed that as appointees of Evers they would follow the governor’s lead on abortion policy, according to a Wisconsin State Journal report. He also suggested they might violate state laws against spending state funds on abortions.

On Tuesday, however, Republicans were silent on the rejection of all three.

“We have not heard a single Republican senator stand up and answer the questions that my colleagues have asked to say why,” said Spreitzer before the vote to reject Lawton, the first of the three to be fired.  “Is there a tweet?” he added, sarcastically. “Is there something else other than the fact that Barbara Lawton was elected to two terms as a Democrat as the state’s lieutenant governor?”

Lawton served as No. 2 to Gov. Jim Doyle from 2003 to 2011.

Without naming Donald Trump, Sen. Kelda Roys (D-Madison) contrasted Lawton’s record with that of the former president and current front-runner for the 2024 Republican nomination.

“You know, Lt. Gov. Lawton, she did not engage in a violent insurrection when she left office, she did so peacefully. She didn’t steal the drapery. She didn’t defraud anybody. She didn’t sexually assault anybody. She did nothing but serve our state well and continues to do so. And yet this body is going to reject her because of pure partisanship,” Roys said.

Charging that senators had rejected previous Evers appointees under “pretext,” she added, “I bet many of you are going to go home and you’re going to spend this fall campaigning for a former president who is under multiple federal and state indictments for trying to overthrow our democracy, for inciting a violent insurrection, for sexual assault, for lying, for defrauding people, for not paying his bills, not paying his workers, and you’re going to go ahead and pull the lever for that guy for president. I just think the hypocrisy is stunning and it’s really sad to see.”

The vote to reject Lawton was 19-13. Three Republicans — Sens. Joan Ballweg (R-Markesan), Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay) and Felzkowski — joined the Democrats in opposing rejection.

Owley, the retired president of the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, has been serving on the UW Health board since January 2021, without a confirmation hearing until October 2023.

Calling on Republicans not to vote for her rejection, Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) recited a long list of Owley’s service on civic boards ranging from the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District to the Wisconsin Mental Health Association. “All of these things that she’s done, and I’d be happy to distribute a resume if you haven’t been able to access it,” he said.

Owley was rejected on a 22-10 party-line vote. “All they’ve done is disrupt the continuity of three serious board members,” Owley said Tuesday evening. “It’s a complete disservice to the university health care system.”

Pope is a Mount Horeb Democrat who retired from the Assembly at the end of 2022 after serving for two decades. “A lot of you know her, a lot of you served with her. You know she’s honest, she’s funny,” said Sen. Dianne Hesselbein (D-Middleton), the Senate minority leader.

As a member of the Assembly, Pope was “a champion of public schools” and advocated support for school meal programs including free and reduced-price lunches to help children do better in school, Hesselbein said. “I’m incredibly sad we’re doing this to my friend Sondy today, because she deserves to continue to serve,” she added. “She dives deep into the issues. We should be confirming her.”

The vote to reject Pope was 20-12. Cowles and Sen. John Jagler (R-Watertown), a former Assembly member, joined all the Democrats in voting against rejection.

Senate Republicans fire four Evers appointees from natural resources, UW Health boards was originally published by Wisconsin Examiner.

One thought on “Senate Republicans Fire Four Evers Appointees”

  1. Colin says:

    “Free speech” meet “chilling effect”

    How dare you ever speak against GOP? They’ll just fire you now, because they can. Sickening.

    Can’t wait for it to be impossible to backfill these spots as they won’t approve any of the new appointments, also bringing the whole system down as folks are removed.

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