Republicans Want to Purge GAB Director
Government Accountability Director Kevin Kennedy must go, says Robin Vos. Why?
Elizabeth Barrett Browning put it this way in a famous poem: “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”
Republican leaders in the Capitol have a brutal version of it: “Why do we hate thee, Government Accountability Board? Let us count the ways.”
The GAB oversees the administration of elections, campaign finance laws and ethics codes. It was created in 2007 by merging the Elections and Ethics boards. Kennedy administers GAB, implementing policies set by six retired judges who make up its board and who serve part-time.
But, Vos told reporters, Kennedy is an “embarrassment” who “must go.” And GAB is a “dysfunctional” and “undemocratic” agency that won’t be around in its current form in two years, the GOP leader promised. The criticism from one of the most powerful Republicans in the Capitol was stunning, for many reasons.
This was a public personal attack on a state official who has worked on elections for 35 years. Personal attacks like that usually are first sent through Capitol back channels. It pretty much told Kennedy to retire, or Vos will make sure he loses his job. And it came only weeks before the Nov. 4 elections.
So exactly why do Vos, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and other Capitol Republicans dislike the GAB and Kennedy? Let us count five reasons:
*Without a heads-up to legislators, Kennedy’s GAB redesigned ballots for the Nov. 4 election, sending a recommended template to local election clerks. Vos and Fitzgerald said they were blindsided by the GAB’s proposal, which they said made it easier to vote for Democratic candidates. Although many local clerks ignored GAB’s proposal, Vos and Fitzgerald sued to block its use. A Waukesha County judge threw out their lawsuit, saying Republican leaders should have first filed a formal complaint with the GAB.
*In June 2013, GAB judges unanimously – and secretly – voted to join John Doe investigations by local prosecutors into possible illegal collusion between business and independent groups trying to help Walker and Republican senators survive recall elections.
Four months later, Walker quietly rescinded his appointment of one of those GAB judges – David Deininger, a former Republican legislator and Court of Appeals judge. Although Walker said it had become obvious that Deininger’s GAB appointment would not be confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate, it’s fair to speculate that the GAB’s vote to join the John Doe probes played a role in the dumping of Deininger.
*When it became clear that eight Republican senators who voted for Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10 (which all but eliminated collective bargaining for most public employees) would face a recall, Fitzgerald and GOP lawyers asked the GAB to call those elections in their new districts – districts drawn by Republican legislators only months earlier. Instead, GAB required the eight GOP senators – three of whom lost their seats – to face recall elections in their old districts. Three Democratic senators also faced recall elections, also in their old districts, but kept their seats.
*Finally, Kennedy questioned – and tried to change – a top priority of Republicans: requiring a photo ID to vote. In April 2011, in written testimony before an Assembly committee, Kennedy especially objected to a requirement that anyone casting an absentee ballot must also submit photo ID proof of their identity. One in five votes in the 2012 presidential election were cast absentee. “There is minimal purpose in requiring photo identification of (absentee) voters, and the current proposal contains so many exceptions and variations it will be extremely difficult for poll workers,” Kennedy told Republicans.
Now, the only thing Vos wants Kennedy to write is his resignation.