Republicans have taken aim at Wisconsin's Government Accountability Board and its director and general counsel, Kevin Kennedy, over ballot redesigns and handling of elections, and last week an audit of the group added more fuel.
The state's elections agency fell short in some of its statutorily required duties, the Legislative Audit Bureau found, and did not follow its penalty schedule for enforcing campaign finance, lobbying and ethics laws.
Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, used that report's release to call for a "complete overhaul" of the GAB, which she called a "rogue agency."
Kennedy, appearing on a Sunday broadcast of the statewide TV show "UpFront with Mike Gousha," said criticism of the GAB based on the audit was "overblown."
He said the board was burdened with extra elections and campaign finance responsibilities because of recalls. Administrative rules were consciously put on the back burner, he said, to fulfill those duties.
"There were no outcries about how well the elections were run by state and local election officials," Kennedy said. "There were no concerns that information wasn't getting to the public about where money was coming from. The board was really doing a very good job. There were a number of lawsuits challenging the decisions we made during the recall; every single one of those was upheld by the court."
Gousha, the show's host, asked Kennedy whether he would consider resigning if it would head off a Republican effort to dismantle the GAB and replace it with another model.
"I'm not a quitter, let's start with that," Kennedy said.
It seems to be a personal issue for some Republicans to get Kennedy out of office, Gousha said.
"I'm not going to take it personally," Kennedy said. "I will say that my agency would operate just fine without me because I've got really good, quality staff. Now, many of those staff are on a very short term, and if the Legislature doesn't act to extend that staff, then there will be issues. I have a number of people whose terms end as of June 30, 2015. And part of our budget request this year — and we've had it in the past — is the Legislature needs to recognize that. Otherwise we go from 30 people administering elections in the state of Wisconsin to four, and that doesn't include me."
Kennedy said he is regularly judged by the members of the board, a nonpartisan group of six former judges.
"The current board is not shy about telling me where I can improve," Kennedy said. "And if that's a discussion that the board wants to have (about his departure), we will have that discussion. But I'm not going to make any kind of public commitment that I'm going to walk away (from) something that I take all the responsibility for and I'm willing to share all the success with the people who've helped make our elections run very smoothly in a very tumultuous time."