DNR Board, Fred Prehn, MJS/AP generic file photo (copy)

Fred Prehn of Wausau in a Dec. 10, 2019, file photo. Prehn, who was appointed by former Republican Gov. Scott Walker, has refused to step down after his term expired and Gov. Tony Evers appointed a new chairman.

Now that Democrat Tony Evers has been reelected governor, it will be interesting to see if an even more Republican state Legislature will work with him, or even try to play fair.

Republican kingpins Robin Vos, the Assembly speaker, and state Sen. Devin LeMahieu, the Senate's majority leader, have signaled a willingness to do some compromising with Evers, but that's typically boiler plate language after an election, even one as bitter as this one was.

The real answers won't become apparent until the new legislative session begins in January.

A good indication of how serious Republicans are about compromising will be whether the stubborn majority in the Senate — now that Evers will be in his fifth year as Wisconsin's chief executive — will finally OK his appointments to key state government posts.  

The state Senate has yet to confirm nominees for secretaries of Health Services, Financial Institutions, Safety and Professional Services, Tourism and more than 100 appointees to boards and commissions that rule on and enact myriad significant policy decisions.

So while Evers has now won back-to-back gubernatorial elections, appointees of former Republican Gov. Scott Walker still control many of those boards and commissions, an unprecedented state of affairs in Wisconsin.

The most notable is the refusal of the state Senate to confirm Evers' appointment of Sandra Dee Naas to the Natural Resources Board, which directs the DNR in matters ranging from hunting to environmental protection. Consequently, a deeply conservative appointee of former Gov. Scott Walker has been allowed to stay on the board well past the expiration of his term, keeping the GOP in control. A similar circumstance exists at the Tech College Board and other agencies.

It's a ludicrous situation that effectively flies in the face of the wishes of state voters who have given the reins of governorship to Evers. But thanks to a ruling by the Republicans who mask themselves as justices of the state Supreme Court, the nonsense has been given a legal imprimatur.

So Wausau dentist and gun shop owner Frederick Prehn has been able to give Scott Walker accolites continued control of the board that sits on the forefront of the climate crisis battle.

That it's an act of gamesmanship was revealed in emails uncovered by environmental groups a few months ago:

"Laugh my ass off. There's no way even to put me back on but senators are asking me to stay put because there (sic) not gonna confirm anyone," Prehn said in an April 2021 message to a former DNR employee. "So I might stick around for a while. See what shakes out I'll be like a turd in water up there. Boy is it changing."

Whether Majority Leader LeMahieu will continue to orchestrate this charade even after Evers' easy win over Republican Tim Michels will be a real test of whether this emboldened GOP majority will actually play fair.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@captimes.com, 608-252-6410 and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.  

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