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State Senate votes not to confirm Wisconsin’s Ag Secretary

On a 14-19 vote, Wisconsin’s appointed ag secretary was fired as Senate Majority Republicans decided not to confirm Brad Pfaff’s appointment Tuesday. 

Democratic Governor Tony Evers appointed the former farmer, FSA Administrator and Congressional staffer to run the Department of Ag, Trade, and Consumer Protection.  Evers told reporters after the vote he does not yet have another nominee in mind.  “I don’t know.  I can’t even speak about that now, I’m so P-O’d about the fact of what happened today.  We’ll deal with that as we go forward.”

Evers says the battle over livestock siting rule changes known as ATCP 51, which Pfaff pulled from the DATCP Board’s Thursday action agenda is not why Senators removed him.  “Suddenly, that became an issue.  In order to assuage that concern that they have, they pulled them back at least temporarily, but the fact of the matter is rulemaking is this group’s bailiwick, so give me a break.  That is not the reason they did this.”

During the Confirmation hearing, Democrats including Lena Taylor from Milwaukee defended Pfaff and his work.  “This is our number one industry in our state.  We should not be playing politics with it, and with our farmer’s lives, and with the legacy of their farms.”

Republican Senators were unanimous in their vote of no confidence for Pfaff.  Howard Marklein issued a statement saying he was hopeful Pfaff would be a positive, strong leader for an agency that has traditionally been nonpolitical and focused on the industries it supports, but Marklein says he was disappointed by his actions over the last eight months by playing politics with information and says Pfaff attacked the legislature to the detriment of his agency.  Senator Patrick Testin says, “Mr. Pfaff’s choice to spew partisan sound bites while his department withheld critical information from the legislature is unacceptable.” 

Republican Representative Joan Ballweg was also critical of Pfaff in July after requesting DATCP Farm Center mental health statistics for the bipartisan Speaker’s Task Force on Suicide Prevention.  Ballweg said on Twitter she waited for the data, and Pfaff released the statistics to the media before providing them to the task force.  Ballweg received the Farm Center data twenty-three days after the initial request.

Bobbi Wilson with Wisconsin Farmers Union tells Brownfield they were disappointed in the Senate’s decision.  “Brad Pfaff was certainly qualified to head the department.  He had the support of the ag community, and we also recognize that just a few months ago, several Senators that denied his nomination supported him in the committee vote.”  President Darin VonRuden says, “He was, in my opinion, doing a great job at the department, and it’s too bad that politics, you can tell by the straight party-line votes, got rid of the Secretary of Ag for the first time in 35 or 40 years that there’s been an appointee not put through.”  Von Ruden also defended Pfaff’s July comments asking the Joint Finance Committee to quickly release already-approved funding for farmer mental health assessments.  Von Ruden says, “For Senator Fitzgerald to say that we’re going to wait and see what my task force recommends, and then having his task force actually recommend that those dollars actually go to the Department of Agriculture, there was three months there where there was money tied up in this process that the Department of Agriculture should have had and should have been able to use to help farmers who were struggling with their thoughts of suicide.”

Farm organizations including the Dairy Business Association, Wisconsin Corn Growers Association, Wisconsin Agri-Business Association, Cooperative Network, and the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association all released statements of support for Pfaff Monday ahead of the Senate vote. 

After Tuesday’s vote, a joint statement from Wisconsin Farm Bureau, Wisconsin Pork Association, Wisconsin Dairy Alliance, Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association, Wisconsin Soybean Association, Wisconsin Association of Professional Agricultural Consultants, Wisconsin Cattlemen’s Association, and the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association only said they respected both the Governor’s nomination and the authority of the Senate to review gubernatorial appointments, without supporting or opposing Pfaff as Secretary. 

Pfaff issued a statement after the Senate vote. He says, “Since Governor Evers appointed me to this position, it’s been a privilege to serve the people of Wisconsin. As Secretary-designee, I’ve been honored to travel the state to speak with farmers, listen to their concerns, and be their voice. I’ve been humbled by the many individuals and groups who have supported my appointment. I’m thankful for their partnership and collaboration. I have gladly told the story of Wisconsin agriculture and DATCP as Secretary-designee, and I will continue to proudly serve as an advocate for rural communities.”

Governor Tony Evers speaks to reporters after Senate confirmation vote
Farmers Union President Darin VonRuden comments on Brad Pfaff and Senate actions
Farmers Union Government Affairs Associate Bobbi Wilson comments on Brad Pfaff and Senate actions

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