The head of the state Government Accountability Board says his biggest concern for the future of elections in Wisconsin is making major changes to the oversight process during a major election year.
Governor Scott Walker on Wednesday signed a bill that will split up the GAB into separate elections and ethics commissions, starting next year. The move comes after month of debate at the Capitol on changes Republicans argued were needed to reign in an agency that had abused its power. GAB director Kevin Kennedy maintains that’s never been the case though, and the only justification for the reforms were so the Legislature can have more control over issues such as ballot access.
“Wisconsin really was a model, and it performed well,” Kennedy said in an interview with WRN. “No other state had to deal with the political turmoil we were going through in 2011 and 2012, and it’s unfortunate that the vitriol that was spewed in support of this was so unfounded.”
AUDIO: Kevin Kennedy reacts to GOP arguments for splitting up the agency (:33)
Kennedy had urged Walker to veto the bill, or at least delay its implementation until after the 2016 elections. “I thought that would have been the better decision,” Kennedy said.
The agency will begin the transition to partisan-appointed commissions next summer, during what’s expected to be a hotly contested presidential race. “My only concern is the timing,” Kennedy said. “But I have a lot of confidence in the staff and I’m certainly committed to making this work.”
As for his future, Kennedy said it depends. “We’ll wait and see. There may be a role for me as one of the administrators or maybe even serving on the commissions.”
Kennedy, who has had a long career overseeing elections in the state, could face opposition if he seeks to stay involved after the transition. Republicans have repeatedly called for his removal from the agency in recent years.