By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov.-elect Tony Evers on Friday nominated Craig Thompson, the head of a group that has advocated for raising taxes to improve the condition of in state roads, to be the next secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
Thompson, executive director of the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin, was among four people whom Evers put forward on Friday for positions in his Cabinet. Besides Thompson, Evers announced his picks to lead agencies overseeing agriculture, insurance and public utilities. Those brought to eight the number of the people Evers has nominated for positions in his Cabinet. Henow has nine more to go.
As the top official at the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin, Thompson has consistently argued the state needs a long-term plan to ensure it can continue paying for road expansions and repairs without miring the state in debt. Concerns that the Legislature was borrowing too much for highway projects delayed the adoption of the state’s two-year budget by several months last year.
Many of the Republicans who control the Assembly had then argued lawmakers should at least consider using the gas tax to reduce the state’s reliance on debt. But their fellow Republicans in the Senate and Gov. Scott Walker refused to consider raising taxes.
On Friday, Evers repeated a position he had taken on the campaign trail: that all options for putting the state’s transportation system on a sounder footing should up for consideration. Thompson, for his part, declined to say on Friday what he would deem a reasonable increase in the state’s gas tax.
Evers’ nomination of Thompson won praise in various corners of the construction industry. Pat Goss, executive director of the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association, released a statement saying, “Craig has worked tirelessly during his time at TDA to promote all modes and aspects of transportation
in Wisconsin. I can’t think of anyone who is more knowledgeable and qualified than Craig.”
Terry McGowan, president and business manager of Local 139 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, said: “Craig has also demonstrated the ability to be bipartisan in his approach during his career at the Transportation Development Association representing multi-modal forms of transportation whether they be roads and highways, transit, shipping or rail. Craig Thompson will be both fiscally responsible and prepared to fight for fully funding the next generation of transportation infrastructure.”
But not everyone welcomed the nomination. At least one of the Republican Senators who will get to vote on Thompson’s appointment expressed reservations about letting a lobbyist lead a state agency.
State Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, said in an official statement that Thompson’s nomination looks like political “payback.” He noted that Thompson played a big role in the so-called “Just Fix It” campaign, which tried to persuade elected officials that the public is unhappy with the state of Wisconsin roads and wants a better long-term plan for improvements.
“Rewarding one of the leaders of the full-spectrum campaign to attack Governor Scott Walker’s transportation reforms with a top spot in state government is a generous, taxpayer-funded thank-you to a political ally,” Stroebel said in a statement “It is also deeply worrying to know that the head of the largest road builder organization in the state could now be responsible for doling out state transportation contracts totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. Such a conflict of interest raises questions about impartiality, and I want to ensure the public can rely on a fair and transparent system free of favoritism.”
Stroebel is likely not the only GOP Senator to have such misgivings. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, also a Republican, released a statement saying, “I have heard serious concerns over the governor-elect appointing a provocative figure to head the Department of Transportation who is a long-time advocate for special interests. Governor-elect Evers would be better served by nominating someone who worked in a less controversial role during previous policy debates.”
The other nominations Evers announced on Friday were:
- Mark Afable for insurance commissioner. Afable has worked for American Family Insurance in Madison since 1994 and is now its chief legal officer.
- Rebecca Cameron Valcq for chairwoman of the Public Service Commission. Valcq is a partner at the Quarles & Brady law firm in Milwaukee, where she specializes in regulator law. She had previously worked 15 years as a regulatory attorney for We Energies, the largest energy company in Wisconsin.
- Brad Pfaff for secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. Pfaff has worked as deputy chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, a Democrat from La Crosse, since 2017. Pfaff was born and raised on a dairy farm in La Crosse County. He also worked as executive director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency in President Barack Obama’s administration.
Earlier this week, Evers made four other appointments : Joel Brennan, chief executive officer of Milwaukee’s Discovery World museum, was put forward as secretary of the Department of Administration; Preston Cole, a member of the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board, as secretary of the Department of Natural Resources Secretary; U.S. Marshal Kevin Carr as secretary of the Department of Corrections; and Sara Meaney, chief marketing officer for Milwaukee Film, as secretary of the Department of Tourism.
All of Evers’ nominees are subject to approval by the Republican-controlled state Senate.
– Dan Shaw of The Daily Reporter contributed to this article.