Democratic Gov.-elect Tony Evers has chosen a retired U.S. Navy captain to lead Wisconsin's Department of Veterans Affairs, he announced Friday as he unveiled three new additions to his administration.
Dane County Supervisor Mary Kolar has represented downtown Madison on the county board since 2013. She served 28 years on active duty in the Navy, chaired the Dane County Veterans Service Commission and served as vice president of the Wisconsin Veterans Museum Foundation Board of Directors. She also serves on the Wisconsin Counties Association Board of Directors.
"I look forward to being a part of a team that will increase our reach to and our communications with all Wisconsin veterans to ensure they and their families receive the benefits they have earned," Kolar said at a news conference in Madison. "Our WDVA will work to ensure they and their families achieve their employment, education and quality of life goals in our beautiful state of Wisconsin."
Evers, with Lt. Gov.-elect Mandela Barnes at his side, also introduced his selections for Department of Financial Institutions Secretary and state budget director.
Kathy Koltin Blumenfeld, executive vice president of special operations at TASC, is Evers' appointee to head DFI. Before joining TASC, Blumenfeld worked for CUNA Mutual Group for 25 years.
Blumenfeld to work to "ensure the safety and the soundness of our state's financial institutions, to protect consumers of financial services and facilitate economic growth by ensuring access to capital."
Evers has chosen Brian Pahnke, assistant state superintendent for finance and management at the Department of Public Instruction, to serve as his budget director in the Department of Administration.
Pahnke has held budget and finance positions in state government for 28 years, including nearly five years in the state budget office under Republican former Gov. Tommy Thompson.
"Budgets are about priorities, and yours remain clear," Pahnke said, speaking to Evers. "Health care, education, transportation and infrastructure, middle class tax relief, the environment and criminal justice reform."
Evers has announced 11 appointments to his administration, 10 of which will serve in his 17-member cabinet.
Earlier this month in Milwaukee, he announced that he had appointed Joel Brennan as Department of Administration secretary, Preston Cole as Natural Resources secretary, Kevin Carr as Corrections secretary and Sara Meaney as Tourism secretary. Last week in Madison, he announced that he had appointed Craig Thompson as secretary of the Department of Transportation, Brad Pfaff as secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, Rebecca Cameron Valcq as chair of the Public Service Commission and Mark Afable as the state's insurance commissioner.
Evers' choices are subject to confirmation by the state Senate, where Republicans will hold a 19-14 majority in the new year.
Some Republican lawmakers and operatives have been critical of Evers for selecting cabinet appointees primarily from the cities of Madison and Milwaukee.
Republican Party of Wisconsin executive director Mark Morgan said in a statement the selections are evidence that Democrats are "beholden to the interests" of the state's two largest cities.
Asked about the criticism Evers said it's "not extraordinarily surprising" he would choose people from two populous areas.
"What we always do is strive for talent and making sure that we have good people that can connect the dots and we’ll continue to do that," Evers said. "I think as we move forward you’ll see others that may live outside of that arena. It's not that people who live outside the Madison-Milwaukee corridor don’t have talent or can’t add value, they clearly will, and we will see more diversity moving forward."
Also this week, Evers announced his intention to appoint Assistant State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor to lead DPI once he is sworn in as governor Jan. 7. Stanford Taylor's appointment is not subject to Senate confirmation.
"I am blessed to be surrounded by the talented and devoted staff in the department, who care about the work they do to improve the lives of our state’s youth. I look forward to this opportunity, and know that together, we can continue to advance educational equity for all students," Stanford Taylor said in a statement.
Stanford Taylor, who will be the state's first African-American Superintendent of Public Instruction, has worked at the agency for nearly 18 years. Before that, she spent 21 years as a teacher and administrator in the Madison school district. She could serve the remainder of the term to which Evers was elected in 2017, which runs until 2021.