Republicans Fire Wisconsin Agriculture Secretary-Designee Brad Pfaff

Nov 5, 2019

Skirmishes between Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and the GOP-controlled Legislature continue. The latest move? A rejection of Evers' agriculture secretary by the state Legislature, something that hasn’t been done in decades.

After serving in his position for 11 months, Brad Pfaff was voted out of a job. Pfaff has enjoyed the support of numerous organizations and lawmakers since being appointed as agriculture secretary by Evers in January. Born and raised on a family farm in Lacrosse, Wis., some of his supporters include the Dairy Business Association, Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, and the Wisconsin Agri-Business Association.

Pfaff was let go on Tuesday afternoon — even after he had been confirmed unanimously in committee in February, which signals a reversal by Republicans. Something that Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, was quick to bring up.

“I think the people in that committee that day, that 9-0 vote tells it all. Everything we know about Secretary-Designee Pfaff is that he is a smart very caring and dedicated public servant," Hansen explains.

The move to oust Pfaff comes after Republican lawmakers clashed with him over manure storage rules and suicide prevention funds for farmers. A point Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D- West Point, emphasized in his support of Pfaff.

"It's not because he's not qualified, because you know he's qualified. Everybody in this body knows his qualifications. It may be because of what he had to say when it came to mental health assistance for farmers. Maybe," Erpenbach says.

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In July, Pfaff criticized GOP lawmakers for not quickly making available $100,000 for mental health services for struggling farmers. Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, who is now running for Congress, told Pfaff his comments were beneath his position. In his Senate floor remarks, Fitzgerald listed the following as evidence against Pfaff: "ATCP 51, comments about Republicans and farmers suicide, certainly going back to some earlier changes that were made under DATCP. There's a whole slew of things that I think anyone could bring forth."

ATCP 51, known as the Livestock Facility Siting Law, is the administrative rule that regulates local government approval of new or expanding livestock facilities in Wisconsin. The rules were cited by Sen. Stephen Nass, R-Whitewater, as a reason to not confirm Pfaff. He calls the rules devastating.

"The Giacomazzi Dairy — 125 years in business, largest dairy west of the Rocky Mountains — recently said they are out of the dairy business. One of the striking things they said: it's because of government regulations. The rules that were government regulations," Nass says.

Pfaff put off advancing the manure rules on Friday, just after Fitzgerald said Pfaff didn't have enough votes to get confirmed. Now, with no agriculture secretary, it's unclear how or when the proposal can move forward.

Evers has indicated that he is not ready at this time to consider who he will nominate to replace Pfaff.