Steven Walters
The State of Politics

Republicans Want to Purge GAB Director

Government Accountability Director Kevin Kennedy must go, says Robin Vos. Why?

By - Oct 20th, 2014 09:47 am

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.”

Kevin Kennedy, Government Accountability Board executive director.

Kevin Kennedy, Government Accountability Board executive director.

State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, a Republican who is expected to keep that powerful job for two more years, recently exploded at the GAB and its executive director, Kevin Kennedy.

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.

Rep. Robin Vos, state Assembly Speaker.

Rep. Robin Vos, state Assembly Speaker.

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.

*The GAB also angered Fitzgerald when it set separate dates for the 2011 recall elections for Senate Republicans and Democrats: July 19 for one Democratic senator; Aug. 9, 2011, for five GOP senators; and Aug. 16, 2011, for two more Democratic senators. Fitzgerald had argued that all Senate recall elections should be held on the same day. Instead, the GAB decided to hold recall elections as soon as signatures on recall petitions could be verified.

*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.

Steven Walters is a senior producer for the non-profit WisconsinEye public affairs channel. Contact him at

2 thoughts on “The State of Politics: Republicans Want to Purge GAB Director”

  1. Michael says:

    “Kennedy especially objected to a requirement that anyone casting an absentee ballot must also submit photo ID proof of their identity.”

    Good for Kennedy. Prior to the Supreme Court decision, I had to make a copy of my drivers license and send it into the clerk in order to receive my absentee ballot. How in any way does this extra step verify my ID? They already know who and where they are sending the ballot to.

  2. Big Al says:

    The legislature doesn’t like the GAB because they don’t control it – which is exactly the way it should be. All Vos and Fitzgerald want is someone who will agree with 100% of the time or they can fire at will. They want the inmates to run the asylum.

    Vos is the real embarrassment here.

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