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UW regent appointed by Walker announces plans to stay on board past expiration of his term

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UW regent appointed by Walker announces plans to stay on board past expiration of his term

May 28, 2024 | 4:40 pm ET
By Henry Redman
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UW regent appointed by Walker announces plans to stay on board past expiration of his term
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Entrance to Senate Chambers in the Wisconsin State Capitol. (Baylor Spears | Wisconsin Examiner)

University of Wisconsin Regent Robert Atwell, one of the last remaining appointees of former Republican Gov. Scott Walker on the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents, says he plans to remain on the board past the expiration of his term at the end of this month. 

In an email sent Monday, Atwell told university system administrators and board leadership that he’s been advised by Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos that he can hold his seat until the state Senate approves his successor. 

The move is another in a series of efforts by Republicans to hold onto power on state boards and authorities after their terms have ended. The ploy was first adopted by Frederick Prehn, a former Republican appointee to the Natural Resources Board, which sets policy for the state Department of Natural Resources. 

Prehn held onto his seat on the NRB for more than a year, allowing him to retain influence over controversial decisions on wolf management and water quality. Prehn’s replacement had been named but he claimed he could remain in his seat until Senate confirmation. Prehn worked with Senate Republican leaders to accomplish the plan. 

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul attempted to fire Prehn and filed a lawsuit aiming to have a court force him off the board. Ultimately, the then-conservative majority on the state Supreme Court ruled that Prehn could remain on the body indefinitely so long as his successor wasn’t confirmed. 

Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe has used the precedent set in that case to remain in her position past the expiration of her term, drawing ire and lawsuits from Republicans, despite their involvement in setting the precedent in the first place. 

In addition to pushing for Walker appointees to remain in their posts, Republicans in the Senate have rejected or fired dozens of Evers appointees.

The earliest that the Senate could meet to approve Atwell’s successor is January 2025, meaning that as long as he doesn’t resign, he could serve eight months of his replacement’s seven-year term. 

Atwell is the founding CEO of Green Bay-are Nicolet Bank. He was appointed to the board by Walker in 2017. Of the 14 citizen appointees on the board, Atwell and Cris Peterson are the only two remaining Walker appointees. 

In an email to UW leadership, Atwell said he was staying on the board because of the “stunning absence of and frequent misuse” of data by university officials since he’s joined the board, as well as his  complaints that he’s been unable to receive information about how the system responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.