Gov. Scott Walker’s push for the state Senate to approve more than 80 last-minute appointments before he leaves office — including one of his top deputies and two University of Wisconsin regents — became an early flash point in a lame-duck session of the state Senate Tuesday.
The controversy erupted after Gov.-elect Tony Evers asked Walker to withdraw the appointments.
Senate Republicans later voted on party lines, 18-15, to approve them en masse.
Senate Democrats objected to a GOP bid to confirm the appointees, with Sen. Jon Erpenach, D-Middleton, comparing the last-minute appointments to grabbing towels before checking out of a hotel room.
Shortly after, Senate President Roger Roth, R-Appleton, ordered the Senate gallery cleared of onlookers, prompting jeers and shouts of “Shame! Shame!”
In a letter to Walker released just before the Senate went into session, Evers said many of the Walker appointees have not undergone normal vetting. More than 30 have had no public hearing, according to an Evers spokeswoman, Carrie Lynch.
“Given the rushed timing and the fact that many of these appointments have gone unfilled for extended periods of time, I must request that you withdraw this slate of names to allow ample time for full review,” Evers wrote.
Among the most high-profile of the appointments is Ellen Nowak, Walker’s Department of Administration Secretary, who he tapped to head the state Public Service Commission.
Earlier Tuesday, Walker announced two of the appointments, for the governing board overseeing Wisconsin’s public universities. They were Scott Beightol, of Wales, to replace Janesville lawyer Bryan Steil for a seat on the UW Board of Regents for a term ending in May 2023, and Torrey Tiedeman as a nontraditional student regent for a term ending in May 2020.
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Beightol is a partner at Michael Best & Friedrich, a law firm headquartered in Madison that developed a close relationship with Walker during his governorship. The firm assisted Walker on mining legislation, parts of his 2012 recall campaign and a John Doe investigation. The firm also helped the GOP draft the state’s 10-year redistricting plan and defend it in court.
A call and email to Beightol were not returned Tuesday.
Steil, who joined the board in May 2016 for a seven-year term, defeated Democrat Randy Bryce for U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s seat in the state’s 1st Congressional District last month. He announced his resignation Friday and within a few days, Walker nominated his replacement.
The board’s other seat, however, has been open for nearly a year, setting a board record for longest vacancy, according to the UW System.
Walker appointed Torrey Tiedeman as a nontraditional student regent for a term ending in May 2020.
Tiedeman will replace Lisa Erickson, who was appointed to the board in May 2016 and had a term set to expire in May 2018. However, she graduated and then resigned from her seat Dec. 14, 2017, around the same time media reports indicate Walker’s office sought students to apply for the seat.
Walker spokeswoman Amy Hasenberg offered no explanation for why the position has been open for so long when asked after the election.
Gov.-elect Tony Evers said in a letter Tuesday that Walker’s list of names is the “latest example of putting politics before people.”
Evers requested the names not be “jammed through without transparency” because the appointees need vetting, a proper public hearing and are required to submit a statement of economic interest.