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State Senate ousts Evers appointee Todd Ambs from the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board

A man talking into a microphone
Screenshot courtesy of Wisconsin Natural Resources Board
Todd Ambs during what would be his final Natural Resources Board meeting as a member on Oct. 25, 2023.

The tug of war between Wisconsin’s Republican-dominated Legislature and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers was on display again last week.

The state Senate rejected one of Gov. Evers’ latest appointees to the Natural Resources Board — Todd Ambs.

This may not be a household name, but in the world of water policy world — Ambs is. He was Wisconsin’s lead negotiator during the lengthy and arduous development of the Great Lakes Compact, that's the landmark agreement between the U.S. and Canada to protect the huge freshwater resource.

Ambs headed the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ water division from 2003 to 2010. And, he served as deputy secretary for another decade until he retired.

Twenty-two months later, Evers tapped Ambs to serve on the Natural Resources Board. Its job is to oversee and guide Wisconsin’s natural resources department as it carries out the state’s environmental and wildlife regulations.

Wisconsin Senator Mary Felzkowski speaking during February 20, 2024 senate session.
Wisconsin Sen. Mary Felzkowski (R) speaking February 20, 2024 during a Senate session.

But last week, Republican state Sen. Mary Felzkowski of Tomahawk shared her view on Ambs as lawmakers prepared to vote on Ambs’ appointment.

"I concede Todd Ambs has a lot of knowledge, absolutely he does … but when you have someone who is power hungry at the DNR and does everything in his power to hurt the aquaculture industry in northern Wisconsin and basically sits back and says, ‘Well you guys don’t have the power, I do.' I’ve been in numerous meetings with Todd Ambs on numerous occasions," she said.

Ambs told WUWM, "Frankly, I have no idea what she was talking about in those comments." He acknowledged he had multiple conversations with Felzkowski — both during his tenure heading the state’s water division and while serving as DNR deputy secretary.

"She was upset at some of the times that I had relayed what the administration’s positions were on various bills and issues. Having a disagreement on where we are from a policy standpoint … that’s not a definition of ‘can’t work with people of the other party.’ Its a disagreement – it happens all the time," Ambs said.

Felzkowski had more to say about Ambs and the role of the state’s Natural Resources Board during the Senate's February meeting. "They have to work with people that are like-minded, and they have to work with people that are not like-minded. And let me read for you all tweet written by Mr. Todd Ambs. 'The Republican Party and Fox News are filled with BLEEP, domestic terrorist traitors,'" Felzkowski said.

Ambs said his tweet was a one-time and stupid post at a disturbing moment in history — the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. "I had just retired a couple of months earlier. The language was a little colorful, but I don’t apologize for what I said in that context because I still think it’s true," Ambs said.

Felzkowki conveyed this message to Evers last week as lawmakers rejected Ambs’ nomination to the Natural Resources Board. "My ask of Gov. Evers is to please appoint people who are willing to work with lib … with conservative .. green party, independent whomever … so we are asking him to send us appointees who are willing to work with all," she said.

After Ambs was voted out, Evers immediately announced the appointment of Deb Dassow, a former Port Washington high school teacher.

Three additional Evers’ board appointees remain unconfirmed. Ambs was one of four Evers appointees to various posts rejected by the Senate last week.

According to WisPolitics, the Republican-led Senate has turned down 14 of Evers’ executive branch appointments in the last five years. There were only four such rejections in the previous three decades.

The cycle seems pervasive in the state’s current politically-charged environment.


Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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