Senate Republicans vote to fire Ag Secretary Brad Pfaff (copy)

The state Senate met for the last time before winter and voted to fire agriculture secretary-designee Brad Pfaff.

Can everyone who cares about Wisconsin agriculture please take a deep breath?

Last week was a demonstration of how partisan politics, if exercised inflexibly, benefits few and harms many.

Last week, the Republican-led Wisconsin Senate voted to not confirm agriculture secretary-designee Brad Pfaff. The explanations provided by Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, were largely that Pfaff had inappropriately politicized legislative inaction on a vote this summer that was important for struggling farmers.

Certainly, Pfaff’s statement in July was pointed.

“There’s no two ways about it: Republicans have chosen to leave farmers behind,” he wrote. “To help with the stress our farmers and their families are experiencing, Governor Evers proposed significant investments in mental health resources for Wisconsin’s agriculture communities across the state. The Joint Finance Committee agreed and included that funding in the final budget the Governor signed. Now, they’re going back on their word and abandoning our state’s farmers in the process … It has been 145 days since Governor Evers introduced his proposed budget to provide this funding. As of today, DATCP has funding to provide just five more counseling vouchers to farmers in need of mental health care.”

Pfaff stated the truth. It was indeed Republicans, not Democrats on the Joint Finance Committee, who were failing to provide promised funding for farmers’ mental health care. If stating the case so plainly wasn’t characteristic of Pfaff’s usually diplomatic style, it may be due to having sought that support repeatedly and his deep concern for farmers’ mental health wrought by three years in a row of Wisconsin leading the national in farm bankruptcies.

Fitzgerald personally whipped up opposition to Pfaff’s confirmation and made it into a partisan issue. In rejecting Pfaff, Fitzgerald led the Senate to ignore the unanimous 9-0 Republican-led Senate committee vote to recommend confirmation in February. The real issue wasn’t that Pfaff wasn’t qualified or was too political. It was that he publicly called out Republicans' failure to act on critical help for farmers.

One has to wonder at what kind of Republican leadership chooses not to hold confirmation votes on Evers’ cabinet appointees for almost a year. It’s the same partisan leaders who convened the lame-duck legislative session last year and passed laws removing power from incoming Gov. Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul. The same partisan leaders who tried last week to override three of Evers’ budget vetoes — all corrosive partisan attempts to force leverage however they can, regardless of who or what is harmed.

Sen. Fitzgerald operates as if there were a tremendous popular mandate for Republican leadership. In fact, were it not for the extreme partisan redistricting that Republicans crafted from the 2010 census, the Legislature would have many more Democrats in office. 

Clearly, this facts-be-damned partisanship is a national Republican strategy. The same party that undertook 10 separate investigations into attacks on the American Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, fruitlessly searching for evidence of Obama administration cover-ups, now responds to the growing and compelling evidence emerging from the impeachment investigation and challenges its legitimacy.

Brad Pfaff and I didn’t always agree, but he worked hard, spoke an important truth to protect farmers, and was punished for upsetting Republican leaders so fragile they could not bear to hear it.

Margaret Krome of Madison writes a semimonthly column for The Capital Times. She is policy program director for the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute.

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