Unmistakable Symbolism as Veterans Organization Commanders Seated with Cabinet, First Family
During tonight’s State of the State address by Governor Scott Walker, present and past members of the armed forces were front and center and DAV’s state commander was right in the middle of it all.
Not surprisingly, the focus of the Governor’s address was directly aimed at improving the Wisconsin’s economy and jobs outlook.
What was surprising however, was that the new Governor not only ended, but also began his comments recognizing the armed forces. The initial recognition followed right on the heels of Walker recognizing Wisconsin’s newest First Family, including First Lady Tonette Walker and their two sons, Matthew and Alex.
“We were given the royal treatment,” said DAV State Commander John Hoeft, who was seated almost directly behind the First Family.
Hoeft, a service-disabled Army Infantry Vietnam War veteran known for his extensive travels for the DAV, made the long trek from Omro, Wis. in spite of blizzard conditions and a winter emergency declaration across the state.
Hoeft was among the state commanders of the “Big 5” veterans service organizations who were specially invited to the Capitol for tonight’s State of the State address. The symbolism was unmistakable, with the delegation -- all in veterans service organization hats -- seated with members of Governor Walker’s cabinet.
Walker has pledged to make the state’s veterans agency secretary a member of his cabinet. Legislation is expected in the coming months that will dramatically change the all-volunteer, citizen Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs (WDVA) Board, which currently heads the agency and retains Ken Black as WDVA’s Secretary.
Also braving the weather to join in tonight’s State of the State ceremony were State Commander of The American Legion Bob Batty of Cedarburg, Wis. and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Senior Vice Commander Larry Kutschma of Lake Geneva, Wis. Batty and Kutschma are also both U.S. Army Vietnam War veterans.
Unable to attend due to inclement weather were Military Order of the Purple Heart State Commander Bill Hustad, a service-disabled U.S. Army Vietnam War veteran and AMVETS State Commander Gene Wagner, a U.S. Air Force veteran of the Cold War. Kutschma represented the VFW in place of State Commander Tom Lemmer, a service-disabled U.S. Navy Vietnam War veteran.
The “Big 5” veterans service organizations first came together in a meeting with the Governor, legislative leaders, and staff in the Capitol in Madison on January 20, 2011, speaking with one voice in identifying serious problems with WDVA’s current operations and leadership and making recommendations for the way ahead. That first commanders’ meeting with the Governor and his staff took place as exactly the same time Secretary Ken Black was hosting a meeting for them at WDVA, providing additional symbolism for the politically astute.
It is expected that the veterans organizations’ commanders and their top leaders and staff will continue to meet with the Governor, legislative leaders and their staff to help shape the final budget for the state’s veterans agency, programs, and services.
The Governor’s initial budget – only a starting point -- is expected to be proposed to the Legislature late this month.
State of the State Address additional resources:
See reaction from legislative leaders, courtesy of WisPolitics.