Kevin Kennedy’s predecessor was removed as Wisconsin’s top elections official after a few “management issues.” Kennedy recalled that included mistakes in tallying results from the September 1982 primary and a mix-up with the wording for a ballot referendum that was supposed to gauge support on a nuclear weapons freeze. But the language sent to local clerks left the word “weapons” out of the question. So Kennedy has taken the approach that he’s auditioning each day to keep his post as Government Accountability Board director and general counsel. “I don’t stand for election every four years. I get reviewed every day by a citizen board,” Kennedy said in a WisPolitics.com interview. “As I tell people it takes four votes, not a million votes, to get rid of me.” Kennedy will celebrate 35 years with Wisconsin’s elections agency this week, first as legal counsel and then executive director of the old Elections Board before heading up the GAB, which was created in 2007 and began its work in place of the old Elections and Ethics boards in 2008.
Lawmakers on a bipartisan vote created the GAB looking for a less partisan approach to regulating elections and ethics after the Elections Board’s conduct became an issue in the 2006 guv’s race.
Still, the agency has taken its share of criticism. That’s been particularly true in recent years from Republicans, who were unhappy how the recall elections were handled. Some GOP lawmakers have even suggested it may be time to replace the GAB with something new or even go back to the old model.
Kennedy said some of that criticism is just the nature of regulating elections and ethics. He called 2011 and 2012 “unprecedented” between a 2011 state Supreme Court race and then a series of recall elections in 2011 and 2012. He noted the agency received hundreds of complaints from both sides over what they perceived to be ethics violations by their opponents. “A lot of it is the nature of the business,” Kennedy said. “This is the nuts and bolts of democracy.”