Partisanship took another nasty leap forward on Tuesday when the Wisconsin State Senate voted to deny Brad Pfaff’s nomination to head the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. There would be no story here if there was a legal or ethical claim as to why the nomination should not have been approved.
But there was nothing more than a partisan snit over how agricultural and health issues had been dealt with by Pfaff over the past months. To bring such base motives to the floor when a governor asks for the cabinet of his choice is a very sad chapter in our state.
There are plenty of places for political clashes to occur, and legitimately so. But to have a spectacle of this type play out in the statehouse over a cabinet nomination was unseemly.
One of the salient points Pfaff made earlier this year was a need to pay more attention to farmers who feel suicidal. He merely pushed back in public when the GOP tried to delay funding for a farmer suicide prevention program. Anyone who has grown up in rural Wisconsin, where agricultural economics are often unsettling, understands why such funds are much needed. That Republicans would retaliate for such concerns over mental health issues is simply outrageous.
People around the state, who follow the news but are not overly mindful of the politics of this story, need to be reminded that Pfaff was nominated in January. During this process, he was supported by all trade associations and also by all those Republicans sitting on an oversight committee in February.
And then today on the Senate floor the vote fell along party lines. Each of the 19 Republicans voted against Pfaff, while all 14 Democrats voted for him. How the five Republican senators were united in supporting Pfaff in committee, but rejected him on the floor, is why there is much to feel lousy about following this vote. Governing in our state is in serious trouble. According to the Legislature’s nonpartisan research office, the state Senate hasn’t fired a member of a governor’s Cabinet since at least 1987.
Fair play is how most Wisconsinites conduct themselves. Our civics classes helped us to reason why the Executive should be allowed to fill a cabinet with the choices best suited for the needs of the time. Unless there is a strong reason such as criminal behavior, ethical lapses, or moral impairments a governor should have the cabinet selections of their choosing.
Qualifications for the job, passion for farmers, and skills based on experience all would seem to be the desire for any legislature when selecting a person to lead this part of our state government. Pfaff’s resume had everything anyone could wish for but was rejected for purely partisan reasoning.
There will be those within the GOP ranks who will spin this vote in an attempt to demonstrate why such an outcome was required on the Senate floor. But for those in rural Wisconsin, who still feel a handshake and their word are as good as a contract, will feel a sense of sadness about the way governing has broken down in our state.