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WI Senate Denies Nomination of State Ag Secretary
USAgNet - 11/06/2019

With Gov. Tony Evers seated in the chamber, Wisconsin Republican Senators on Tuesday voted against Brad Pfaff in his confirmation hearing to officially become the secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. In a vote of 14 to 19, the Senate denied the DATCP secretary-designee after two hours of debate on the floor.

Five of the 'no' votes came from Republican members of the Senate Agriculture Committee who previously expressed support for Pfaff during a committee hearing in February. They include Sens. Howard Marklein, Jerry Petrowski, Patrick Testin, Andre Jacque, and Kathy Bernier.

Throughout the hearing, Democrats blasted GOP colleagues saying Pfaff is among the state's most qualified people to lead the agriculture department and that his only fault was disagreeing with Republican leadership last summer when he spoke up over funding mental health programs that were already approved in the state budget.

"Ag is in his DNA. The agricultural industry shaped his life and shaped his values," said Sen. Jennifer Schilling. "Brad Pfaff is undeniably qualified for this job."

Sen. Dave Hansen agreed, saying Pfaff spent his whole adult life helping farmers succeed.

"I think the people in that committee that day tells it all. They know he's a smart and dedicated public servant for our rural community," Hansen said. "Our industry is in crisis but it started a long time before Secretary-designee Pfaff took office. There is no evidence that he is disqualified from serving. This is all about our senators trying to score political points."

But Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald fired back, saying there has been a number of missteps during Pfaff's tenure at DATCP to cause some lawmakers to reconsider their support.

"I can continue to make the case that that this person deserves it or this person does not. But there's a whole slew of things, such as the ATCP 51 policy that people can bring forth as a reason to deny this confirmation," Fitzgerald said. "You have to be comfortable when confirming appointees... and there are a number of senators who do not feel comfortable."

In a written statement issued later in the afternoon, Fitzgerald elaborated by saying Pfaff 'tried to place burdensome rules on Wisconsin farmers at a time they can least afford it and repeatedly engaged in partisan political games targeting the legislature.'

ATCP 51 is the legislative policy that sets standards and procedures local governments must follow if they require permits for new or expanding livestock operations. Under Pfaff's leadership, the agency has been looking to revise the rule by enforcing more regulations on livestock farms, but decided to put the proposed changes on hold last week before sending it to the state's agriculture board for consideration.

Tuesday's vote means Pfaff is now dismissed from his duties at DATCP headquarters in Madison. Gov. Evers will now need to nominate a new person to lead the department.

Randy Romanski currently serves as the agency's deputy secretary, but that does not automatically put him next in line to become the next nominee. Coincidentally, Romanski was serving in the DATCP's number-two spot when former Secretary Rod Nilsestuen passed away in a drowning accident in 2010.

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