A new normal at the Capitol

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Governor's picks likely to face dismissal for policy differences.

MOST PEOPLE can remember, somewhere along the way of growing up, when mom or dad admonished them to keep in mind that "what goes around comes around."

Wisconsin Senate Republicans may need a refresher course on the topic. And it's a safe bet, sooner or later, they'll get one.

On a straight party-line vote last week the Republican Senate majority fired Gov. Tony Evers' agriculture secretary, Brad Pfaff. The issue, according to Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, involved Pfaff's role with the Evers' administration approach to livestock manure handling rules for farmers.

And Fitzgerald made another point clear: Republicans may oust more members of Evers' team. "Some are going to go through, and I don't know if the rest of them are going to make it," Fitzgerald said on the Senate floor.

IN THE PAST, general practice has been that incoming governors name their Cabinet picks upon taking office in January, or near that date. The legislative confirmation practice isn't always rapid, but it tends to roll out relatively smoothly toward eventual approval of a governor's choices.

Not this time. It's November and several of Evers' team continue to operate as "secretary-designate" because the confirmation process has been, to be kind, slow-walked.

Meanwhile, what happened to Pfaff is virtually unheard of, with Capitol observers unable to recall the Senate firing a Cabinet-level operative for decades, if ever.

IS IT LEGAL? Absolutely. The U.S. Constitution gives the President the power to appoint with the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate. Mirroring the federal Constitution, Wisconsin also gives governors the power to appoint with oversight from the Senate.

Customarily, though, it's mostly a formality. A Cabinet-level appointee would have to surface some grave flaw in order to draw a rejection. Both parties in the past exercised considerable deference in confirming governor's picks, on the premise that the people made an electoral choice and the new leader deserved a team to his liking.

The Senate vote on Pfaff is something else, basically firing a Cabinet-level appointee over policy differences with the administration. That takes the process to a dangerous place.

AND, YES, WHAT goes around does come around. Some day, perhaps soon, perhaps not, there will be a Republican governor and a Democrat-controlled Senate. It's happened before, it will happen again.

The new precedent has been set. That Democrat-controlled Senate will feel liberated to slow-walk the Republican governor's Cabinet picks, and fire them at will over policy differences. Count on it.

This is the price of excessive, uncompromising, unreasoning partisanship. No matter which side does that, it poorly serves the people. In fact, its very intent is to thwart the will of the people who dared elect a rival from the other party. Down that road lies more divisiveness and more civil strife.

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