Yesterday we lauded Sen. Russ Feingold for his dedication to principles instead of politics. Unfortunately, among politicians this character trait is in short supply, especially in the office of State Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala.
For the last two years, Chvala has been using the UW Board of Regents as a political tool, holding regents hostage with his flagrant abuse of the state Senate’s advise and consent power.
Never has this been clearer than this past week.
A mere two-and-a-half months after he was nominated, the state Senate Tuesday unanimously confirmed student Regent Tommie Jones Jr., who will serve a two-year term.
The state Senate’s action was lightening-quick when you consider the plight of four other current regents, each of who serve seven-year terms. Vice President Gerard A. Randall, Jr. was appointed to a second term May 1, 2001; James R. Klauser was also appointed May 1, 2001; Phyllis Krutsch was appointed May 26, 2000; Lolita Schneiders was appointed May 1, 2000. None of them have been confirmed.
The case of the previous student regent, Joe Alexander, was even more egregious. Alexander was nominated Nov. 24, 1999, and completed his term last June having never been approved.
The fault for these delays falls squarely on the shoulders of Chvala. As Senate majority leader, he chairs the Committee on Senate Organization, which sets the agenda for the Senate. In other words, the aforementioned regents can be voted upon only when Chvala gives the go-ahead. And for the last two years, Chvala has shown no intention of fulfilling his duty.
The reasons for Chvala’s obstinacy are all too obvious. The four regents in limbo (and Alexander the past two years) are still bona fide regents, serving at the “pleasure of the governor.” Thus, should the governor wish to remove a regent, no impeachment process is necessary. Chvala is clearly banking on a Democrat being elected governor in 2002, and replacing all the non-confirmed regents with Democrats. This reasoning also explains why Jones was approved – he will be replaced in 2003,
It is also worth noting that the first regent to be delayed was Alexander, whose term ended well before the next gubernatorial election. The recent confirmation of Jones confirms what we suspected all along — Chvala was settling personal scores stemming from his battles with Madison developer Randy Alexander and Gov. Tommy Thompson by refusing to approve Joe Alexander, Randy Alexander’s son and Thompson’s hand-picked choice.
Regardless, the effect of Chvala’s actions on the independence of the regents is obvious. The regents in question must take care to not anger Republicans, for fear the governor will replace them. But they cannot offend Democrats either; if the next governor is a Democrat they would be removed. The result is a complacent Board of Regents unable or unwilling to ask politically risky questions or make the principled votes necessary to limit tuition increases while maintaining the quality of the UW System.
Chvala’s refusal to subject these regents to a vote on the Senate floor is damaging the UW System. We hope all politicians believe in the principle of improving education. Unfortunately, Chvala?s handicapping of the Board of Regents shows that, to him, politics are much more important than principle.