Some Senate Republicans were not ready to recommend one of Gov. Tony Evers' cabinet appointees after a committee hearing Wednesday, citing concerns with a 2005 child abuse charge along with her professional qualifications.
Dawn Crim, secretary-designee of the Department of Safety and Professional Services, made her case to the Senate Committee on Public Benefits, Licensing and State-Federal Relations, fielding questions from lawmakers on the panel.
Crim served most recently as assistant state superintendent for the Division of Student and School Success at the state Department of Public Instruction, the department Evers led before he was elected governor.
After first moving to Madison in 1996 to work as an assistant coach for the the UW-Madison women’s basketball team, Crim then worked for two decades for the UW System and at UW-Madison. She also currently serves on the Edgewood College Board of Trustees and Madison Foundation Board of Trustees.
As DSPS secretary, she would lead an agency that oversees licensed professions and regulates safe conditions in private and public buildings.
Following her testimony, several Madison residents who know Crim personally and professionally vouched for her capabilities as a leader and as a mother.
Crim's parenting history came into question after the Wisconsin State Journal reported earlier this month that Crim had been charged in 2005 with felony child abuse for jabbing her 5-year-old son’s hand with a pen, causing it to bleed.
The criminal complaint alleged that, after reading in a teacher's note that her son had poked a girl with a pencil, Crim poked her son's hand with a pen several times and caused it to bleed. According to records from a Dane County Department of Human Services hearing on the case, a social worker described the injury as "not an accident, but not intentional."
In a case assessment, Crim said the action was not intended as discipline, but as a way to find out how her son had poked the girl at school. According to records, she showed immediate remorse. The incident was described in the report as "out of character" for her.
The record of the case was removed from the state's online court record system after Crim was given a deferred prosecution. She admitted fault for the injury to her son and was required to attend parenting classes and go six months without any legal issues.
"Fourteen years ago, I made a horrendous mistake that hurt my son," Crim told lawmakers on Wednesday. "It was the worst experience of my life. I’ve taken responsibilities for my actions and I have vowed that it would never happen again, and it hasn’t."
Throughout her testimony Wednesday, Crim repeatedly described the incident as a "personal matter" that she and her family had put behind them. Friends who spoke on her behalf described her as a "loving" and "thoughtful" mother who has served as a mentor and role model to young people.
"She has the right combination of experience and she’s willing to give her talent to the state," said Urban League of Greater Madison CEO Ruben Anthony. "She has been an exceptional mother and a model public servant and will make an excellent secretary for the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services."
Evers has supported Crim since the case became public, describing her as a "thoughtful, caring" person who served as a leader at DPI.
Committee chairman Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, and Sen. David Craig, R-Big Bend, both pressed Crim on when she had disclosed the charge to Evers and why she hadn't told senators about it when she met with them. Craig said he was concerned with Crim's characterization of a legal case as a personal matter.
Evers' office gave senators on the committee a packet of about 100 pages of documents related to Crim's case on Tuesday afternoon, Kapenga and Craig said, arguing they need more time to vet her.
The packet, which was also released to reporters after the hearing, includes records from Crim's court case, from a Dane County Human Services investigation and more than a dozen letters of support written to then-Dane County district attorney Brian Blanchard.
Kapenga said he doesn't necessarily think the incident disqualifies Crim.
"It's more about how it was handled," Kapenga told reporters after the hearing. "It caught us by surprise. It should have been talked about upfront. And then as we look into it more and try and figure out — it's not necessarily the charge itself, but how everything was handled. We have to make sure we're really comfortable with this person running an agency."
Kapenga said he is also uncertain about whether Crim has the appropriate experience to run a regulatory agency. He said he's not ready to vote on Crim's nomination yet. Republicans hold a 3-2 majority on the committee.
"I think she's pretty qualified," said Sen. Devin Lemahieu, R-Oostburg, after the hearing. "Unless something else comes up, one mistake in her past doesn't disqualify her."
In a letter supporting Crim, signed by diversity consultant Annette Miller and 29 other Madison-area community members, Crim was described as a "keystone throughout this community."
Her supporters touted her work at UW and her ability to focus on the big picture.
Crim, during her hearing, described herself as a "proven leader, both on and off the (basketball) court."
In response to how her experience qualifies her to lead a regulatory agency, Crim noted that as a coach and an administrator, she has had to lead people and organizations and enforce a set of standards.
"I'm successful because I set high standards for myself and for the teams I support," she said.