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Wisconsin Senate approves two more of Gov. Tony Evers' agency heads

Wisconsin Senate approves two more of Gov. Tony Evers' agency heads

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The Wisconsin state Senate has signed off on two more of Gov. Tony Evers' agency picks in its first floor session of 2020. 

Senators unanimously voted Tuesday to approve Department of Workforce Development Secretary Caleb Frostman and Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority Executive Director Joaquin Altoro 33-0 following minimal discussion. 

Movement on the selections has been slow in the chamber, with the Senate waiting until October to act on the first of Evers' agency heads — 10 months after they started serving in their roles.

Now, around half sit unconfirmed, while former Ag Secretary Brad Pfaff was rejected along party lines in November. The move made Pfaff the first Cabinet appointee the chamber rejected in at least three decades. 

Frostman, who briefly served in the state Senate after winning a special election to northeastern Wisconsin's 1st SD, and Altoro, the former vice president of commercial banking for Town Bank, join the ranks of seven other department leaders who have made their way through the Senate committee and floor approval process.

Secretaries don't technically have to be confirmed to continue serving in their roles, but being approved by the full Senate is the main hurdle in making their appointments as agency heads permanent.

The other approved Cabinet choices are: Insurance Commissioner Mark Afable, Public Service Commission head Rebecca Valcq, Department of Revenue Secretary Peter Barca, Administration Secretary Joel Brennan, Financial Institutions Secretary Kathy Blumenfeld, Corrections Secretary Kevin Carr and Veterans Affairs Secretary Mary Kolar. 

Some remaining agency heads have faced scrutiny, including Transportation Secretary Craig Thompson, who has drawn attention from GOP lawmakers over his past at the helm of the Wisconsin Transportation Development Association, a transportation advocacy group; and Safety and Professional Services Secretary Dawn Crim, who's drawn concern surrounding a 2005 child abuse charge along with her professional qualifications.

Tourism Secretary Sara Meaney also faced "some concerns," Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told reporters in late fall, over the practices of the Governor's Council on Tourism and "the wrangling going on behind the scenes" there.

That includes attempts to elect council leadership via secret ballot that appear to have been in violation of the state's open meetings law and one member's allegation that Meaney asked her to resign, a charge the Tourism head denies. 

Going forward, it's unclear how many more nominees will see floor votes before lawmakers wrap up their work for the session in February or March. 

Fitzgerald in a year-end news conference last month said it’s “a possibility” the Senate won’t act on all of the remaining nominees -- meaning some could be serving as secretaries without being officially signed off on by the chamber. 

“I don't know that anybody is necessarily going to make the case to vote down a secretary at this point, but I know there's still concerns with some,” he said at the time. “But there are others that have garnered enough support." 

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Briana Reilly covers state government and politics for the Cap Times. She joined the staff in 2019, after working at WisPolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter at @briana_reilly.

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