Whether Wisconsin’s unique nonpartisan elections board was a failed experiment or was so successful that it became a political target, this much is true: It goes away this week. Targeted for elimination by Gov. Scott Walker and fellow Republicans who control the Legislature, the Government Accountability Board officially disbands as of Thursday. It was the only nonpartisan elections and oversight board in the country. In its place are two new commissions made up of partisan appointees that will regulate Wisconsin’s elections, ethics, campaign finance and lobbying laws. Those new commissions look a lot like the partisan panels that were widely disparaged as ineffective before they were replaced by the GAB eight years ago.
The push to dismantle the board came after it approved an investigation into Walker and conservative groups that the Wisconsin Supreme Court eventually deemed to be unconstitutional. Critics of the GAB argued that the board was unfair and overzealous, pointing to the Walker probe as evidence. “I think people want a fresh start,” said Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, who voted for creating the GAB but became one of its loudest critics.
Part of that fresh start includes replacing the GAB’s executive director. At the same time the board of former judges is dissolved, executive director Kevin Kennedy is retiring. He has been working on Wisconsin elections for 37 years and has been in charge of them since 1983. As to what spelled the downfall of the board, Kennedy puts it this way: “The people in power did not like being held to account.”