A “Paper-Shuffling Bureaucrat” at Center Stage in Wisconsin Politics

Kevin Kennedy refers to himself as “just a paper-shuffling bureaucrat. – I haven’t moved to rock star status.”

But sometimes, timing is everything. So that’s why there were a gaggle of television cameras, a cluster of reporters, and about 200 others in the room when Kennedy joined Mike Gousha for an “On the Issues” session at Eckstein Hall on Thursday.

Kennedy is director and general counsel of the Wisconsin Governmental Accountability Board. Now in possession of petitions with about 1.9 million signatures calling for recall elections for governor, lieutenant governor, and for four state Senate seats currently held by Republicans, the board is at center stage for one of America’s hottest political scenes. What the GAB decides in handling the petitions and setting the course for the elections that are almost sure to result will have a major bearing on Wisconsin’s future and become a vivid part of Wisconsin’s history.

“It’s an honor to be part this process,” Kennedy told Gousha, the Law School’s distinguished fellow in law and public policy. ”And it’s definitely energizing. You can’t help but get juiced when you’re working on something this challenging.”

Kennedy compared the role he and the board are playing to being an umpire or referee in a sports event. Asked by Gousha about contentions from partisans on both sides of the political spectrum that the board is biased, Kennedy said, “Ultimately, it’s just how you do the job. Someone has to play this role, whether it’s wrestling or soccer or football. . . . Someone has to make the calls.”

“People are going to try to work the ref,” he said.

For part of the session, large screens in the Appellate courtroom showed live images of the scene in an undisclosed location in the Madison area where GAB employees were scanning the recall petitions to create an electronic record that will be open to all. Kennedy said both tight security and an effort to be open to the public were necessary given the stakes at hand. He said 450,000 pieces of paper were submitted to the GAB on Tuesday, the deadline for the recall petitions, and each one of them needed to be scrutinized. They are also sure to be scrutinized by others. The GAB is planning to create a data base of the signers.

Under orders from Waukesha County Circuit Judge Mac Davis to give the petitions careful checks for proper signatures and possible duplication of signers, Kennedy said he was unable so far to set a timetable for when elections might be held. The GAB is expected to go to court next week to ask for more time than the 30 days for making decisions called for in state law. “We’ll probably be in this process for a while before things start to coalesce,” Kennedy said.

The conversation with Kennedy, which can be viewed by clicking here, was the first of what are sure to be numerous sessions at the Law School this year aimed at shedding light on the epic political developments in Wisconsin.

Coming up Wednesday will be the release of results from the first round of the Marquette Law School Poll. You can learn more about the poll by clicking here and you can click here to sign up for an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” conversation with Prof. Charles Franklin, director of the poll, at noon Wednesday at Eckstein Hall. The session will be free and open to the public.


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