MILWAUKEE — Democratic Gov.-elect Tony Evers drew heavily from the state's largest city in his first round of Cabinet appointees, a group of four prominent Milwaukee leaders he says will "connect the dots" and bring people together throughout the state.
"I’m seeking talent and I’m seeking people that can connect the dots and people that will work with the civil servants and others in their agency to provide the best services possible, and I’ll have a Cabinet that looks like the people of Wisconsin," Evers told reporters and local officials gathered in the library of the MacDowell Montessori School. "We have a great start here."
Joel Brennan, CEO of Milwaukee's Discovery World Science and Technology Museum, was chosen to serve as secretary of the Department of Administration — one of state government's most powerful roles. He served previously as executive director of the Redevelopment Authority of Milwaukee and as vice president of the Greater Milwaukee Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Brennan, who has campaign experience with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, praised Evers as someone who will restore faith in state government after years of citizens being "conditioned to expect too little from leaders in Madison."
To lead the Department of Corrections, Evers has chosen U.S. Marshal Kevin Carr, a 30-year veteran of the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office.
Carr pledged to bring a "smart on crime" approach to the state's criminal justice system, which ranks among the worst in the nation in racial disparities in incarceration. Carr said he and Evers share a commitment to maintaining public safety and offering effective, responsive resources to communities.
Carr also applauded the U.S. Senate's passage this week of legislation that would overhaul the country's criminal justice system and revise some sentencing laws, a move he said gives Wisconsin an "unprecedented opportunity" to move in a similar direction.
In a move he said would "bring science back" to the Department of Natural Resources, Evers tapped Preston Cole, commissioner of the Milwaukee Department of Neighborhood Services, to head the agency.
Cole, who previously served as director of operations for Milwaukee's Department of Public Works, was appointed to the state's Natural Resources Board by Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle in 2007 and was reappointed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker and elected chairman in 2013. He was the first African-American forester hired by the Missouri Department of Conservation.
"I’d like to double down on science in the epicenter of natural resource management," Cole said Wednesday, referencing decisions under Walker's administration to remove references to climate change from the DNR website. "Can I get an amen?"
Cole applauded Evers' connection with Milwaukee, a city that voted overwhelmingly in his favor, and said his actions send a message "to everybody that resides in this state that Milwaukee continues to be important to this governor."
Evers also emphasized the importance of Milwaukee in his comments.
"The survival and the well-being of the city of Milwaukee absolutely drives what happens in the state of Wisconsin. It’s not that the rest of Wisconsin is irrelevant, but if we have a sound largest city in the state, class one city, we’ll have a sound, class one Wisconsin," Evers said.
Walker praised Evers for his selection of Cole.
"Preston Cole is a solid pick for Department of Natural Resources Secretary. He did a good job on the board and understands the importance of the entire state," Walker tweeted after the announcement.
To lead the state's tourism efforts, Evers has selected Sara Meaney, chief marketing and development officer for Milwaukee Film. Meaney also recently served as managing director at the advertising agency BVK.
Evers' choice for Secretary of Tourism comes after several Republican lawmakers and one Democrat sent the governor-elect a letter urging him to keep current secretary Stephanie Klett in the position.
"I look forward to working collaboratively with the leaders of our Legislature to make sure that all people of all walks of life feel welcomed, with the warm Wisconsin enthusiasm that we are so well-known for," Meaney said.
Evers said he plans to announce the rest of his Cabinet in the coming days, with all 17 positions named before his inauguration on Jan. 7. He announced shortly after the election that his campaign manager, Maggie Gau, will serve as his chief of staff.
Republicans, who hold majorities in both chambers of the Legislature, shared concerns Wednesday that Evers is overlooking the rest of the state by naming four picks from Milwaukee.
"For those that may not be aware, there are good, qualified people outside of Milwaukee and Madison. Hopefully the rest of the state will eventually be represented in this administration," Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, tweeted Wednesday morning.
Republican Party of Wisconsin executive director Mark Morgan said in a statement the selections are evidence that Democrats are "beholden to the interests of Madison and Milwaukee."
Asked about those criticisms, Evers stressed that he has announced only four appointees so far, and said he thinks the concerns will dissipate as he rolls out the rest of his choices.
"Wherever people reside in the state of Wisconsin, any state agency or public agency or any private business knows that talent is what drives success, and I am looking for talent," he said.
Evers' choices are subject to confirmation by the state Senate, where Republicans will hold a 19-14 majority in the new year.