By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The chairman of the Department of Natural Resources policy board said Thursday he did nothing wrong when he consulted with a Republican congressman and an aide to the GOP state Senate leader about refusing to step down from his position.
Fred Prehn’s term ended in May. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers appointed Sandra Naas to replace him, a move that would give Evers appointees majority control of the board. Prehn, who was appointed by former
Republican Gov. Scott Walker, has refused to step aside for Naas.
He said he won’t leave until the Senate confirms her. Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu has taken no steps toward a confirmation vote, ensuring Republicans maintain control of the board and with it pollution and wildlife regulations. Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul has filed a lawsuit demanding a judge remove Prehn from the board, arguing he serves at Evers’ pleasure and his term has expired.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Monday that Prehn traded emails with U.S. Rep. Tom Tiffany as well as a LeMahieu aide, former University of Wisconsin Regent Gerald Whitburn, a Republican, and conservative lobbyists about his decision to stay on the board.
Prehn issued a statement Thursday morning saying suggestions that he coordinated or consulted with state Republican elected officials are “not factual.” He said he never spoke to any “currently elected Wisconsin state official in regards to this matter.”
“I did, however, speak with friends and acquaintances as I foresaw holding over could become contentious,” he said. “I wonder if any other political appointee has ever had discussions with friends and/or colleagues, or even a spouse about what is going on in their lives?”
He said he’s confident he can legally hold the seat despite Naas’ appointment and looks forward to the courts resolving the matter.
Prehn filed a motion on Monday seeking to dismiss Kaul’s lawsuit. He contends that a 1964 state Supreme Court decision clarified that state law allows board appointees to stay on until the Senate confirms their successors.
“Board terms start and end with the Senate’s advice and consent,” the motion said.
Republican legislators filed a motion last week seeking to join the case, arguing that state law allows the Legislature to intervene in cases where statutes are challenged and that Kaul’s lawsuit could end the Senate’s role in confirming appointees.
Kansas-based hunter advocacy group Hunter Nation also has asked for permission to join the case. The group argues that the DNR board regulates its members and as such the group has an interest in ensuring the board is legally constituted. Hunter Nation President Luke Hilgemann, a Wisconsin resident, submitted an affidavit saying he doesn’t want his tax dollars to fund an illegally constituted board because that would amount to a financial loss for him.
The attorney general filed a brief seeking a ruling barring the Legislature and Hunter Nation from joining the lawsuit. Kaul argued that the Legislature can intervene only if someone is challenging state law and in this case he’s seeking an interpretation and the case’s resolution won’t affect Hunter Nation at all.
Dane County Circuit Judge Nia Trammell has set a hearing in the case for Sept. 28.