— 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.
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.
its place are two new commissions made up of partisan
appointees that will regulate Wisconsin's elections,
ethics, campaign finance and lobbying laws.
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.
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
of the GAB argued that the board was unfair and
overzealous, pointing to the Walker probe as evidence.
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
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
what spelled the downfall of the board, Kennedy puts
it this way: "The people in power did not like
being held to account."
board's record should be celebrated, not disparaged,
Kennedy said in an interview.
me I think that the GAB left a mark of what can be a
very positive way," Kennedy said. "I say
that by looking at what the agency accomplished in
eight short years and its ability to navigate in some
board was created with broad bipartisan support in
response to the so-called caucus scandal in the
Capitol that resulted in five former legislators being
convicted of campaigning illegally.
now says its creation was a "knee-jerk"
response to the scandal, even though a bipartisan
group of lawmakers discussed the idea with nonpartisan
government watchdog groups for months.
think many of us who supported it, including myself
who voted for it, thought that it would be certainly
an agency that would be more independent and probably
just do a better job than what was going on at the old
elections and ethics board," Fitzgerald said.
"But I think we could clearly see that didn't
its eight years, the board oversaw recall elections in
2011 and 2012 targeting Walker and members of the
state Senate, implemented a voter registration system
and campaign finance database and is now easing the
transition into the state's new photo identification
requirement for voting.
old board was comprised of nonpartisan former judges.
Members of the new commissions are appointed by
legislative leaders and the governor, subject to
approval by the state Senate.
the partisan nature of the new commissions, members of
the panel overseeing ethics include former Democratic
Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager and former
Republican Assembly Majority Leader Pat Strachota.
said the new ethics and elections commissions should
aspire to be like the board they are replacing. And
his advice for the new commissions is brief:
"Follow the law. Put aside partisan