The former Republican lawmaker at the center of a controversial $500,000 grant to a sportsmen’s group is not taking a job with the state’s Public Service Commission after all.

Former Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder of Abbotsford had accepted a $94,000-a-year job at the commission as the division administrator for Water Compliance and Consumer Affairs. He was to begin Monday.

But he changed his mind, according to a brief resignation letter Suder sent

Thursday to Chairman Phil Montgomery.

“I want to thank you for offering me an opportunity to work with the Public Service Commission, however I must respectfully decline as I have decided to accept a position in the private sector with the Wisconsin Paper Council,” Suder wrote.

Suder has been shadowed by controversy following his role in a new grant aimed at training sportsmen in the state.

Late in the state budget process, Suder worked with other GOP lawmakers to insert a provision into the state budget calling for a $500,000 Sporting Heritage Grant. The grant language in the budget was so narrow that it virtually ensured the United Sportsmen of Wisconsin Foundation, a group with close ties to a number of Republican lawmakers, would receive the grant to train and recruit people to hunt, fish and trap.

But Suder was not alone in pushing for the grant. Eighteen GOP lawmakers sent a letter urging that the organization receive the grant in August.

Gov. Scott Walker directed that the grant be rescinded after the group misrepresented its tax-exempt status and its leader was cited for a hunting violation.

Walker critics said Suder’s departure from the PSC was aimed at burying the controversy over the grant.

“The plot thickens as Scott Suder gets shuffled off of the state and onto the special interests’ payroll in the midst of the Walker-Suder-United Sportsmen scandal,” said Scot Ross, executive director of the liberal group One Wisconsin Now.

“While Gov. Walker may hope today’s personnel change will allow the GOP sportsmen scandal to dissipate, Wisconsinites will not be so quick to forget Gov. Walker’s continued misuse and politicization of Wisconsin’s taxpayer dollars,” said Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee. “Rep. Suder was not alone in his moves to funnel taxpayer dollars to a political group with little sporting experience.”

But a spokeswoman for Walker said Suder had been upfront from the beginning about the possibility of taking a job with the paper council.

“During Scott Suder’s initial discussions with PSC, he mentioned this other opportunity may present itself, and it did,” said Walker spokeswoman Julie Lund. “We wish him well in his new position in the private sector.”

The Wisconsin Paper Council hired Suder as its vice president of government relations, it said in a release.

Suder did not return a telephone call seeking comment Thursday.

Rep. Jeff Stone, R-Greendale, will replace Suder at the PSC, the Walker administration also announced Thursday.

Stone said he is retiring from the Assembly on Oct. 14.

He will start at the PSC soon after that, commission spokesman Nathan Conrad said.

“Jeff Stone has served the people of Wisconsin well for the last 15 years,” Walker said in a statement. “The Public Service Commission will be strengthened by Jeff’s professionalism and leadership. I thank him for his work in the Legislature and look forward to working with him in his new role.”

Stone could not be reached for comment Thursday.

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State Government Reporter for Wisconsin State Journal