By Roger Utnehmer
Picking the Right People New Governor’s First Challenge
As Governor-elect Tony Evers populates his administration with appointments he would be wise to follow the practice of former Governor Tommy Thompson.
Thompson’s first major appointment as a Republican governor was a Democratic state senator, Tim Cullen, to head the Department of Health and Social Services. Doing so fulfilled a pledge Thompson made to be a governor of all the people, not just those who voted for him. Thompson crossed the political aisle many times. He compromised. Tommy Thompson worked well with members of the opposition. His appointments occasionally created opportunity for fellow Republicans to replace Democratic legislators but he produced an environment of comity and bipartisan civility in state government that is missing today.
Tony Evers can help return a more civil government to Wisconsin. Appointing respected Republicans to positions of power will demonstrate confidence and strength.
Former state senator Dale Schultz should be considered. He knows his way around the capitol has a reputation for independence and integrity. Schultz would make a great secretary of Health and Family Services, Administration or Revenue.
Former State Rep and Department of Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb could step back into his former position and work effectively to restore Wisconsin’s crumbling infrastructure. Gottlieb, like Thompson, recognized the need to raise and index the gas tax.
Few Republicans in Wisconsin know how to navigate both the state and federal governments as well as Dave Anderson from Wausau. Evers would have an instant entree into the offices of Republican legislators, and many Democrats as well, if he hired Dave Anderson to work in his administration.
And if there is one Walker appointment worth keeping in a new administration it is Stephanie Klett at the Department of Tourism. If her enthusiasm could be taxed we would never have to worry about balancing a state budget.
Those without political affiliation could also contribute to a successful Evers administration.
Kewaunee County board member Lee Luft would make an outstanding head of the Department of Natural Resources. Luft is well-informed and passionate about air and water quality. His background in the paper industry makes him a good choice to balance job creation and environmental common-sense.
Few farmers are as articulate as Door County’s Rich Olson. His strong advocacy for family farms would make him one of Wisconsin’s most effective secretaries of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. The family farm is vanishing fast. A family farmer heading this important agency would say strongly that Tony Evers stands with them.
Education played a big role in Evers’ victory. Returning former UW Board of Regent member Mark Bradley would be wise. His experience and knowledge of higher education would assure continuity and historical perspective. Evers’ second appointment to the important Board of Regents should be former Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton. Her service to Wisconsin is not over. Her talents need to be tapped to make Wisconsin better.
An important appointment will be Secretary of the Department of Corrections, a problem-plagued agency in need of reform. The DOC now expends more money than the entire UW system. For too long Wisconsin politicians have been “tough” on crime at the expense of being “smart” on crime. The Wisconsin Department of Corrections needs a leader who appreciates restorative justice, recidivism and the sociology of crime. If I were Tony Evers I’d ask former State Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske to either serve long enough to change the direction of the DOC or recommend someone who can. Geske is an internationally-recognized expert on restorative justice whose voice in changing corrections policy would be invaluable.
Picking the right people is the primary challenge for a new administration. Some of these suggestions could make Tony Evers as effective as many Wisconsin governors who have come before him.
That’s my opinion. I’d like to hear yours.