'People are upset:' GOP not acting on Gov. Evers' appointments amid extraordinary session lawsuit

MADISON — Wisconsin Senate Republicans are "pretty wild" with anger over Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' decision to revoke appointments made during an extraordinary legislative session and may not vote on confirming his Cabinet secretaries while the court battle continues, the Senate's top Republican said Tuesday.

The position by Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald highlighted the deep divide between Republicans who control the Legislature and the newly elected governor. The Senate has not acted to confirm any of Evers' Cabinet picks while courts settle legal issues stemming from the session in which Republicans pushed through several measures weakening the powers of Evers and Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul.

"I think some of those Cabinet members are going to be in trouble," Fitzgerald said, declining to name those who may be in greater jeopardy than others.

Evers' Cabinet secretaries are working while their confirmations by the Senate are pending. If they are rejected, they would have to quit working.

The fight goes back to the session Republicans called for December, after Evers had defeated Republican Gov. Scott Walker but before he took office. Republicans approved 82 Walker appointments, in addition to passing a number of power-stripping laws.

Evers rescinded all of those appointments last month after a court invalidated actions during the session as unconstitutional. He re-appointed all but 15 of them. Days later, an appeals court put that ruling on hold, creating more confusion about the status of the 15 people Evers did not reappoint.

Evers argues the posts are vacant while Republicans say they should be allowed to return to work.

The 3rd District Court of Appeals has not yet responded to a request to clarify whether its ruling meant that the appointments made during the session had to be restored.

Those who were not reappointed include Public Service Commissioner Ellen Nowak and University of Wisconsin Regent Scott Beightol. The Evers' administration denied Nowak access to her building when she tried to return to work. The Regents took a different approach, allowing Beightol and student Regent Torrey Tiedeman to attend the board's meeting last week.

Fitzgerald said Tuesday that some senators were ready to reject some of Evers Cabinet appointments in reaction to his decision to rescind the appointments.

"All I can tell you is people are upset," Fitzgerald said.

Republicans were particularly angry with Nowak being denied entrance to the PSC building, he said. She is former secretary of the Department of Administration and well-known to Republican lawmakers, many of whom are personal friends with her, Fitzgerald said.

He said that Nowak was given the "bum's rush."

"I can't wait to see the governor and tell him that," he said.

Evers' spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff said while Fitzgerald's candor was refreshing, "it's sad to hear that (Republicans) will continue to put politics before people."

"Republicans have finally acknowledged that their decisions are motivated not by what's best for Wisconsinites, but by an irrational anger that the people chose a new governor," Baldauff said.

Fitzgerald spoke to reporters in his office after Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling accused Republicans of not taking action on Evers' Cabinet picks as payback over the lawsuits related to the session.

Fitzgerald quickly adjourned the Senate session after Shilling spoke, denying other senators the customary time to speak about whatever topic they wish.

"The political theatrics from Republican leaders are getting old," Shilling said in a statement reacting to Fitzgerald. "The people of Wisconsin elected Gov. Evers' because they support his plan to fund local schools, fix our roads and expand access to affordable health care. We'll never be able to address these issues that are important to Wisconsin families as long as obstructionist Republicans insist on picking petty political fights."