Walker Prehn LeMahieu
Clockwise from top left: Former Gov. Scott Walker, state Natural Resources Board member Fred Prehn, state Sen. Devin LaMahieu. (Walker photo via The Associated Press. Prehn image via DNR video feed, LeMahieu photo by Jonathon Sadowski.)

Newly revealed text messages show board chair Fred Prehn planning to stay in place after his term ended, knowing Republican legislators would refuse to confirm Evers’ nominee to replace him.

Two years after Scott Walker lost his reelection bid, one of his appointees to the state Natural Resources Board (NRB) asked for and received the former governor’s blessing to carry out a scheme to ensure conservatives remain in control of the board, according to text messages obtained by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Armed with Walker’s support, Dr. Fred Prehn refused to step down after his term ended last year, ensuring that conservatives remained in control, 

Prehn, a Wausau dentist, was chair of the NRB when he sent the message to Walker on Nov. 11, 2020. According to the Journal Sentinel report, Prehn had been told by legislators—presumably Republicans—that even though his term was ending the following May, they were unlikely to hold a confirmation vote for a replacement nominated by Evers. At that point, state Senate Republicans were sitting on numerous Evers appointees, even though he was nearing the halfway point of his term.

“If possible, stay on,” Walker responded. “Any voices that can counter their racial [sic] view of the world are good.” It is likely Walker meant to type “radical” instead of “racial.”

Prehn was appointed by Walker in 2015 for a six-year term on the NRB. By refusing to leave the board, Prehn has ensured that the conservative majority can continue to set the policy direction for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR)—an agenda that includes refusing to set a groundwater standard for industrial chemicals known as PFAS and ordering a wolf hunt widely regarded as disastrous.

The text messages were uncovered as part of a lawsuit against Prehn and the DNR filed by Midwest Environmental Advocates. 

Prehn shared his scheme with messages to other Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) who is holding up the confirmation votes of Evers’ nominees.