Wisconsin’s non-partisan Government Accountability Board has seen its profile rise in the past several months with the pending recall elections, a statewide Supreme Court recount, redistricting and the implementation of a recently passed photo ID bill all falling under its purview.
Created through the merger of the state’s Elections and Ethics boards three years ago, the board is tasked with enforcing state elections, ethics and campaign finance laws. Lately staff members have had to navigate their duties in what director and general counsel Kevin Kennedy calls “politically charged times.”
Here’s Kennedy’s take on how his agency is handling the challenge.
The Capital Times: Do you find it is hard to maintain an image of being non-partisan?
Kevin Kennedy: I don’t think we (the staff) have a problem maintaining the image. I think people expect that somehow we will rule on their partisan behalf. There is a sense when an individual feels wronged, that we should be carrying on their cause for them. But really, our role is to play the referee, the arbitrator, to play the enforcer. Ultimately, I think when the dust settles, the agency’s non-partisanship shows through.
CT: You recently met with Dan Hunt, who led the effort to recall Sen. Robert Wirch, D-Pleasant Prairie. He was upset with the agency’s handling of the recalls and called for your resignation. How much interaction do you have like this with the public?
KK: Not much, but my office is a public office. In the case with Dan Hunt, he wanted to come meet me and clear the air. I was happy to have a conversation with him. You have to let people vent, and you have to learn from them, too.
CT: It’s not just the public that may view some GAB decisions as partisan. You hear this from lawmakers as well.
KK: They will raise the question (of partisanship), but when that happens, we explain where we are coming from. I’ve had a lot of conversations with legislators in the past two weeks. They’ll say, “So what was the basis for that decision?” I’ll walk them through what our workload issues were, and they’ll say, “Well, you know how it looks, but I understand where you’re coming from.”