Evers appoints replacement for University of Wisconsin regent who refuses to step down

FILE - Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers speaks at the Madison Area Technical College Truax campus on Monday, April 8, 2024, in Madison, Wis. Evers appointed a bankruptcy attorney Friday, May 31, 2024, to replace a conservative-leaning Universities of Wisconsin regent who is refusing to step down. (AP Photo/Kayla Wolf, File)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Tony Evers appointed a bankruptcy attorney Friday to replace a conservative-leaning Universities of Wisconsin regent who is refusing to step down, setting up another potential confirmation stalemate in the Republican-controlled state Senate.

Evers announced that he has appointed Tim Nixon to succeed Robert Atwell. Nixon works on law firm Godfrey & Kahn's Bankruptcy and Financial Restructuring Team. He holds a bachelor's degree from UW-Green Bay and a law degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“This is an opportunity to give back, in a unique way, to an institution that has done much for me and my family,” Nixon said in a statement released by Evers' office.

But it's unclear when or if Nixon will ever take a seat on the board.

Then-Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, named Atwell a regent in May 2017. His seven-year term expires this month but he has said he won’t step down until he chooses to do so or the state Senate confirms a successor.

The Legislature's two-year session ended this spring, and lawmakers aren't expected to return to Madison until January. Asked about the prospects of the Senate returning earlier for a confirmation vote, Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu's office said in a statement that Evers had only just announced the appointment and “it is imperative that appointees demonstrate that they are qualified and will prioritize students' education.” It did not elaborate.

The state Supreme Court ruled in 2022 that political appointees don't have to leave their posts until the Senate confirms a successor. The ruling came in a lawsuit Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul filed to force conservative Fred Prehn off the state Natural Resources Board.

Prehn's term ended in May 2021 but he refused to leave before his replacement, Sandra Naas, won Senate confirmation, extending Republican control of the board. He eventually stepped down of his own accord at the end of 2022. The Senate finally held a confirmation vote on Naas and three other Evers appointees to the Natural Resources Board this past October and — in effect — fired all four of them by refusing to confirm them.

Evers questioned Atwell's integrity during a question-and-answer session with reporters following an LGBTQ+ flag raising outside the state Capitol on Friday.

“When we have these games being played with Board of Regents members, that's a problem,” Evers said. “I know Bob Atwell and as I said before, he is — was — a person of extraordinary integrity. Something happened along the way that caused that not to happen. I do believe at some point in time he'll decide to get off (the board).”

Atwell didn't immediately return email and voicemail messages seeking comment Friday.

Also Friday, Evers appointed Jack Salzwedel and Desmond Adongo as regents.

Salzwedel, a former chairperson and CEO of American Family Mutual Insurance Company, replaces Walker-appointee Mike Jones, who vacated his seat after his term ended this month. His departure leaves Cris Peterson and Atwell as the only Walker appointees still on the board. Peterson's term expires in May 2025.

Adongo, a UW-Oshkosh student, replaces Jennifer Staton as the board's nontraditional student regent. Her two-year term ended this month as well.

Since their predecessors have made way for them, Salzwedel and Adongo can serve without Senate confirmation.