Wisconsin Governor slams Republicans for firing the state’s Agricultural Secretary for raising alarm over farmer suicides

Once again, the Republican Party has proven all too willing to throw the people it claims to advocate for under the bus when politically advantageous.

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According to Laurel White, a reporter for Wisconsin Public Radio, the state’s Republican-controlled Senate has voted against confirming Brad Pfaff to lead the state’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. Pfaff has been serving as Secretary-designee in the position since January 2019.

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The vote was split 19-14 with all Republicans choosing to vote against Pfaff and all Democrats voting in his favor. Such a contentious ousting hasn’t happened in the state since 1987.

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Governor  Tony Evers, a Democrat himself, admitted he’s unsure who he will nominate for the position now that the GOP has torpedoed Pfaff.

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“I can’t even speak about that now, I’m so PO’d about the fact of what happened today,” Evers told reporters. He added that the entire thing was “bullsh*t” because other nominees might now feel they have to bite their tongues on certain issues in order to avoid getting fired by the Republican Senate.

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Evers was referring to the fact that Pffaf’s takedown by Republicans is being attributed by many to Pfaff’s decision to stand up to them over funding for suicide prevention for farmers. Democrats in the state Legislature wanted to fund $200,000 in mental health services for those working in the agricultural industry while Republicans callously argued that such a budgetary addition should be punted down the road to the State Assembly task force specifically dedicated to suicide prevention for their recommendations. Democrats reasonably argued that the much-needed aid shouldn’t be delayed any further.

Pfaff went after Republicans in July for not passing the funding and pointed out that the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection only had enough money remaining to afford to distribute a measly five more counseling vouchers to farmers in need of suicide-prevention counseling. In response, the GOP tried to smear him as attempting to unfairly politicize the issue which is clearly ridiculous given that the support and opposition for the immediate funding fell along party lines. It was a political issue. Luckily, the funding was finally approved in September.

The Republican Party’s hand in all of this becomes much worse once one realizes that the skyrocketing rate of suicide among farmers is tied at least partially to economic hardships that have afflicted their businesses since Donald Trump initiated his disastrous trade war with China, unleashing a retaliatory exchange of tariffs which in turn damaged numerous key American agricultural exports. In other words, it wasn’t enough for the GOP under Trump to hurt farmers economically and psychologically, the Wisconsin bloc of the party also decided to step into delay much-needed help.

The Republicans are claiming that their decision to fire Pfaff is rooted in concerns over certain policy decisions he’s made as Secretary, but as Democrats were quick to point out he has the broad support of the farming community and his firing sends the message that state lawmakers simply don’t care about the wishes of farmers.

Governor Evers typed up a length, heartfelt response to the firing of Pfaff in which he slammed the Republicans for serving up “political retribution.” He added that today is a “dark day” for Wisconsin.

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This sordid saga must serve as a reminder for how fundamentally dangerous the Republican Party has become. Not only will they make it harder for farmers, a demographic they claim to love, to get the mental help they need, they’ll actually block the confirmation of an Agricultural Secretary who dares to question their callous decision. The GOP has taken partisanship to a toxic extreme, and they do not deserve to be in power at any level of government until their party undergoes a deep, structural, and moral change.

Original reporting by Laurel White for WPR.

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Robert Haffey

Robert Haffey is a political writer, filmmaker, and winner of the ScreenCraft Writing Fellowship. He is a graduate of Drexel University.

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