Wisconsin tourism secretary resigning to take private job

Wisconsin's tourism secretary plans to resign to take a job in the private sector, Gov. Tony Evers' office announced Wednesday, ending months of speculation over whether Republican legislators would fire her.

Evers' office said in a news release that Sara Meaney will leave her position later this month “to take a career opportunity outside of state government." It didn't say what job she will take. Meaney's last day will actually be Dec. 11, said Department of Tourism spokesman Craig Trost, who declined to say what Meaney plans to do next.

Meaney wrote in a farewell message to industry stakeholders Wednesday that she has accepted an executive leadership role that “feeds my entrepreneurial spirit while allowing me to pursue my passion for social equity.” She did not elaborate and Trost declined a request to speak with her.

Deputy Tourism Secretary Anne Sayers will serve as interim secretary after Meaney leaves, Evers' office said.

Meaney was among Evers' first cabinet picks in December 2018, weeks after he won election. The state Senate never confirmed her, though, after she ran afoul of Republicans who control the chamber.

Then-Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said in November 2019 that Meaney had politicized the tourism department and there was “a storm brewing” around her. He didn't elaborate, but a month earlier, Sen. Andre Jacque sent Meaney a letter alleging that the Governor's Council on Tourism may have violated open meeting laws when it elected officers via email.

Meaney denied any partisan agenda and said that as soon as she learned of the email election, she nullified the results.

Meaney isn't the only Evers appointee working under a cloud of uncertainty. Republican senators also have yet to take confirmation votes on Safety and Professional Services Secretary Dawn Crim; Transportation Secretary Craig Thompson; and Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm. In November 2019, the Republicans voted down Agriculture and Consumer Protection Secretary Brad Pfaff's confirmation, essentially firing him.

Pfaff got a measure of revenge in this month's elections, defeating rival Dan Kapanke to capture an open seat in western Wisconsin's 32nd Senate District. He'll be working with the same people who fired him from Evers' cabinet when the next legislative session begins in January.