Behind the gavel: The newest 13 UW System Regents

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By Nathan Kober

March 30, 2016

 

In recent years, the UW System Board of Regents has added some new faces in the years since Gov. Scott Walker has stepped into his role.

Those faces are Walker appointees. Public records show many of them are campaign donors, and with many weaved into a web of lobbyists and interest groups that support him.

Walker has said repeatedly that removing tenure from state law and giving more power to the Board of Regents in the 2015-17 Biennial budget was an attempt to give the UW System more autonomy.

“I think it’ll make them more effective, more efficient, and ultimately more accountable to the taxpayers,” Walker said.

The Board of Regents are expected to be representative of an educational system, and yet most of the regents have backgrounds in business law or management, and have given money to Walker’s campaigns.

Public records available through searchable databases at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign show donations toward Walker from his Regent appointees total tens of thousands of dollars.

Regent Jose Delgado

Delgado, former CEO and founder of American Transmission Company, has also served on the board of WMC according to his personal website, and has given more than $14,000 to Walker’s campaigns.

WMC does not disclose the names of its donors.

Regent Tim Higgins

Higgins, owner of ChiRho Services, a healthcare consulting firm, has made comparably modest donations to Walker’s campaigns, totalling about $2,500.

Regent Mark S. Tyler

Tyler is president of OEM Fabricators, which donated $2,500 to Walker in 2014 and has pushed for business-friendly reforms as a member of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), a “big business” lobbying group.

WMC has spent millions of dollars on ads supporting Scott Walker and attacking his opponents. The group has also spent millions of dollars on state Supreme Court elections, including $2.5 million in 2007, $2.25 million in 2008 and $2 million in 2011, according the organization’s website.

The group boasts that the money was used to “fight back against the unions” and other political opponents.

Regent President Regina Millner

Director at Madison Gas & Electric, donated $600 to Walker’s campaign in 2014.

Regent Margaret Farrow

Farrow served as Lieutenant Governor under Gov. Tommy Thompson has also donated $2,575 to Walker.

Regent Michael Grebe

Another Regent who voted against the faculty’s amendments was Regent Michael M. Grebe.

While awaiting confirmation as a regent, Grebe told a state panel that the UW System should eliminate certain programs that are offered at multiple schools in order to make the system more efficient.

Grebe is also an executive vice president for HUSCO International Inc., a company that received $800,000 in taxpayer money from Walker’s WEDC.

WEDC was created to give loans and tax breaks to businesses that promised to invest in Wisconsin and create jobs. But the quasi-public organization came into controversy after it was revealed that it had given away money with no such guarantees.

A 2013 report by an independent, non-partisan State Audit Bureau found WEDC was in violation of multiple laws, and in July 2015 WEDC reported that $124 million dollars in taxpayer money had been given away without the legally required reviews.

As a partner at Quarles & Brady, Grebe donated $3,000 to Scott Walker in 2012. Grebe is also the son of Michael W. Grebe, who served as Scott Walker’s campaign chair in 2010 and has donated more than $20,000 to Walker’s campaigns.

New Appointments

One of the few Walker appointees with no clear ties to his campaigns is Nicolas Harsy, the non-traditional student regent. Harsy served multiple tours in Afghanistan as a United States Marine and was honorably discharged in 2013.

In May 2016, Harsy will be replaced by Lisa Erickson. Erickson is a crisis pregnancy counselor at Tri-County Life Care Center, an organization that according to its website warns women “not only of the horror of abortion but also the dangers of contraception and promiscuity.”

Erickson is one of three appointees chosen in 2016. The other two, Bryan Steil and Tracey Klein, have close political ties to Walker.