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Senate votes against governor’s Ag Secretary

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The Republican-controlled legislature in Madison has handed Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers another defeat. 

The state Senate on Tuesday voted against the confirmation of acting Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) Secretary Brad Pfaff. 

Republicans took the vote along party lines without much comment during the hours-long debate. But Democrats had plenty to say. 

State Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-West Point, said Republicans changed their minds on Pfaff since they embraced him back in February. Erpenbach then warned that the decision won’t be popular back home. 

“You all saw something that you must have liked, whether it was his qualifications, his ability, his passion, whatever. You saw something. The only difference is that some Republicans have a problem with him,” Erpenbach said. “That doesn’t mean you have to change your vote and tell your farmers that you’re not going to support someone who they support.”

Pfaff crossed some top legislative Republicans in how he handled $200,000 in rural suicide prevention money. Pfaff also oversaw an extremely unpopular update to land use rules that angered the state’s largest dairy groups. Those rules are on hold. 

Other Democrats say the vote against Pfaff is just the latest in the battle of will between Republican lawmakers and Evers, a Democrat. 

“[Over the years] we gave the benefit of the doubt to the administration. But not any more,” Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Somers, said. 

Republicans argue the issue is not politics, but basic competence. 

“What has Brad Pfaff done for the farmers?” Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, said during the debate. “You would think that more would have happened since February.”

Nass said the question that the Senate must answer is who is the best fit for the Department of Agriculture. The Senate has a role to advise and consent on the governor’s appointments. 

But Sen. LaTonya Johnson, D-Milwaukee, said there’s nothing about advise and consent in this vote.

“Let’s be clear why we are here today. His words and actions weren’t flattering enough to Republicans,” Taylor said. “And because he wouldn’t stay in his lane, he’s going to lose his job.”

Evers was on the floor for the vote. 

The decision not to confirm Pfaff means he will have to leave his job as acting-secretary.