Here’s my full column from the Washington County Daily News yesterday.
Governor-elect Tony Evers is deep into his transition to power and has begun to announce his choices to fill his cabinet. While none of the picks are surprising, they do confirm the kind of governor that Tony Evers intends to be.
To run the Department of Administration, Evers has chosen Joel Brennan, the CEO of the Milwaukee’s Discovery World Science and Technology Museum. Brennan is an old Democratic operative who previously ran Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s campaigns for governor and mayor. Brennan’s brother-in-law is also a co-chair of Evers’ transition team. Brennan’s deep roots in Wisconsin’s Democratic political structure will put a firm stamp on the Department of Administration.
Evers has chosen Preston Cole to run the Department of Natural Resources. Cole currently works as the commissioner of neighborhood services under Mayor Tom Barrett and has been a member of the DNR’s board since 2007. Garnering praise from Governor Scott Walker, Cole has a degree in forest management and a long history of involvement with environmental management.
Sara Meaney has been chosen by Evers to run Wisconsin’s Department of Tourism. Meaney currently works as the chief marketing and development officer at Milwaukee Film. Meaney has a background in Milwaukee’s arts community and is a member of the Greater Milwaukee Committee.
Evers has picked Kevin Carr to serve as secretary of the Department of Corrections. Carr is a United States marshal who previously worked for the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office for 30 years.
Brad Pfaff has been selected to run the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection. Pfaff is another old-time Democratic political insider who worked for Congressman Ron Kind, U.S. SenatorHerb Kohl, as a political appointee in the Obama Administration, and has run for state office as a Democrat in the past.
Evers has chosen Rebecca Valcq to chair the Public Service Commission. Valcq is a lawyer and partner at Milwaukee’s Quarles and Brady law firm. She also spent 15 years working for We Energies as a regulatory attorney.
Mark Afable is to be Wisconsin’s insurance commissioner, pending Senate confirmation. A graduate of Marquette Law, Afable is currently the chief legal officer for American Family Insurance in Madison.
Evers’ most controversial Cabinet choice to date is for Craig Thompson to run the Department of Transportation. Thompson is the executive director of the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin. In that role for the last decade, he has been a vocal and aggressive lobbyist on behalf of road builders and unions to spend more money on transportation. Thompson’s selection is the strongest signal yet that Evers will push for a massive increase in spending, and the taxes to fund that spending, in the next budget.
Each of Evers’ cabinet choices will have to meet the approval of the Wisconsin state Senate, which remains firmly in Republican control. Under the new rules signed into law a couple of weeks ago, a cabinet appointee who fails to receive confirmation by the Senate will not be allowed to continue to serve in that office or be reappointed. As such, Evers will need to work with the Senate majority to ensure that his choices will gain approval.
In looking at the list of Evers’ appointments so far, one thing really sticks out. Except for Pfaff, every appointee is from Milwaukee or Madison. This makes complete sense when one considers how Evers won the election. His narrow victory was thanks to overwhelming liberal turnout in Dane and Milwaukee counties. The Democratic power base is increasingly concentrated in these two counties, so it stands to reason that a Democratic administration would be filled with operatives from these geographies.
The political divisions in Wisconsin, like in the rest of America, are increasingly along the lines of rural vs. urban instead of left vs. right. At least for the next four years, Wisconsin’s urban interests are going to be in control of the executive branch.
It’s premature to praise Cole, let’s see what he does with sewer plants first.
I understand Walker wants to find something nice among this liberal cabal, I hope he is right.