Democratic Gov. Tony Evers on Thursday reappointed most of the 82 people his Republican predecessor had installed after last November’s election, but whom Evers had briefly removed last week after a Dane County judge ruled their appointments were illegal.
However, 15 people were not reappointed, including Scott Beightol, former Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s pick for the UW System Board of Regents, and Ellen Nowak, who served as commissioner of the Public Service Commission.
Nowak and her assistant Bob Seitz tried to return to work Thursday, but a security guard stopped both of them and a human resources manager appeared and took them into a private room. When they emerged, Nowak said she had been told that Evers’ administration doesn’t believe an appellate court’s decision Wednesday to stay the Dane County court order reinstates the Walker appointees.
“Now I’ll go home and walk my dog, I guess,” Nowak said. “It’s really unfortunate we’re at this stage.”
Evers’ action on the board appointments Thursday is the latest move in a continuing legal battle over December’s lame-duck laws that has thrown state government into disarray.
In an “extraordinary session” in December, Republicans in the state Legislature pushed through laws curbing the powers of the incoming Democratic governor and attorney general, and additionally confirmed 82 board appointments Walker had previously made.
The laws prevent Evers from pulling the state out of lawsuits without legislative approval and prohibit Attorney General Josh Kaul from settling cases without legislative approval. They also give the Legislature the right to intervene in lawsuits using their own attorneys rather than Kaul’s Department of Justice lawyers. In the past, lawmakers needed a judge’s permission to join cases.
The laws are designed to weaken Evers and Kaul and to ensure that Republicans can defend in court state laws that Evers and Kaul do not support.
The laws have been the subject of multiple legal challenges brought by liberal groups.
Last week, Dane County Judge Richard Niess struck down those laws, including the appointments, because they were made during a session of the Legislature he deemed to be illegal. Evers on Friday acted swiftly to affirm the judge’s decision by rescinding all 82 appointments.
On Wednesday, the legal battle was thrown into further chaos after a Wisconsin Appeals Court issued a stay temporarily suspending the Dane County judge’s ruling. Republicans argued the ruling meant the 82 appointees were back in their jobs, but the governor’s office pushed back.
As he alluded to earlier in the week, Evers Thursday opted to reappoint 67 of the people Walker had appointed and the Senate confirmed during the extraordinary session.
Evers and Republicans are still at odds over whether the governor is within his legal authority to rescind or make new appointments.
Earlier Thursday Misha Tseytlin, an attorney for the Republican-controlled Legislature, wrote to Evers’ attorneys, warning them that Evers would be violating the law if he didn’t reinstate all 82 appointments. The appellate judges who issued the stay on Wednesday were not clear about the status of the appointees, although Tseytlin in his letter disagreed, contending Wednesday’s decision makes clear Evers is out of bounds.
Evers spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff previously said Wednesday’s ruling “does not invalidate the withdrawal of the appointees, nor does it affect the governor’s ability to make appointments to those vacant positions.”
Baldauff reiterated that position Thursday, and said Evers’ office is working to fill the other 15 positions in the near future.
Meanwhile, in another legal blow to Republicans, Dane County Judge Frank Remington in a separate lawsuit Monday issued a narrower ruling halting enforcement of a key provision of one of the lame-duck laws that gave lawmakers, instead of the governor, final say on whether the state attorney general ends or settles the state’s involvement in a lawsuit.
Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said they would seek to appeal the ruling.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.