With major changes on the horizon to how the state manages its elections, a man who has helped guide that process for more than 37 years has announced plans to retire this summer. Government Accountability Board executive director Kevin Kennedy said in a letter to board members that he will retire on June 29, just a day before the GAB is divided into separate elections and ethics agencies.
Kennedy began working for the state in 1979 as an attorney with the former State Elections Board. He took over as executive director in 1982, and held the position through 2007, when the agency transitioned in to the current nonpartisan GAB, where ethics and elections issues are decided by a group of retired judges. A bill passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor last year is once again making changes to the oversight of those issues, with partisan-appointed boards set to take over later this summer.
In an interview with WRN, Kennedy said he had already been planning to retire at the end of 2016, but moved up the date after the Legislature voted to overhaul the agency last year. “Because there’s a transition in the structure of the agency, it made the most sense not to participate,” he said.
Kennedy said he never even considered applying to head up the new elections agency.
Kennedy has frequently been at the center of controversy during his tenure at the GAB, especially as Republican lawmakers have clashed with the agency in recent years during multiple recall elections, a statewide recount in a state Supreme Court race, and the GAB’s involvement in a John Doe investigation targeting Governor Scott Walker’s campaign and conservative political groups. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), a frequent critic of the director, has in the past said that he “has to go.”
Vos’ office did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
As for what’s next, Kennedy said there are number of sections of the Ice Age Trail he still needs to hike. He may also look to do some consulting and travel to other countries to observe elections. “It’s a whole new chapter and I think there’s a lot of fun things to do out there,” he said.