WASHINGTON -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is facing a backlash from his attempts to consolidate his power over a veterans agency that traditionally remained nonpartisan and relatively free from political meddling.
On Tuesday, Marvin Freedman became the third member of Wisconsin's state Board of Veterans Affairs to resign, citing Walker's attempt to gain greater control over the Department of Veterans Affairs. The objections by Freedman and others stem in large part from AB 96, a law passed last year, that allows the governor to appoint the VA secretary. The secretary was formerly appointed by the Board of Veterans Affairs, whose members are appointed by the governor.
"When you signed AB 96 into law last summer, you relegated the Board into irrelevance and ensured the politicalization of the position of Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs," Freedman wrote in a resignation letter addressed to Walker.
Freedman, a Vietnam veteran, has two bronze stars and has served as an advocate for Wisconsin veterans since 1982. In 2000, he received the United States Army Commander's Award for Public Service for his work with veterans. He was appointed to the VA board in 2004 by former Democratic governor Jim Doyle and was supposed to serve until 2015.
After the law passed in July, Walker appointed John Scocos as VA secretary. The Wisconsin State Journal reported that Scocos was previously appointed to that role in 2003 and served until the veterans board fired him in 2009, citing communication failures and financial mismanagement.
Scocos is still embroiled in a lawsuit with the state about whether his termination was lawful, despite his reappointment.
In his resignation letter, Freedman wrote that Scocos had used AB 96 to eliminate several key committees and councils that "substantively dealt with issues facing the veterans community and significantly contributed to the work of the Board and Department."
Cullen Werwie, a spokesman for Walker, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the governor had said he planned to convert the VA secretary into a Cabinet-level position during his 2010 campaign.
"Mr. Freedman's letter is nothing more than a political ploy by a longtime Democrat," Werwie said. "Gov. Walker looks forward to making another appointment to the DVA Board."
Board Vice Chairman Peter Moran resigned in August, shortly after Walker appointed Scocos as secretary. Two weeks later, Anthony Hardie, Scocos' former executive assistant, resigned as well, reportedly because he disagreed with the appointment of his former boss.
The VA board last met on June 17, 2011, according to a board member who spoke on condition of anonymity. Prior to AB 96's passage, the board had been meeting every two months. There was a meeting scheduled for December, but Scocos postponed it. He is now slated to meet with the board Wednesday for the first time since he was appointed.
The board member suggested that Scocos views the board merely as an advisory council, now that it lacks the power to fire him. Scocos did not respond to a request for comment for this article.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported in July that the law also increased the number of appointees to the VA board from seven to nine, and reduced the number of years they serve from six to four.