|Member of the Wisconsin State Assembly
from the 12th district
|Preceded by||Shirley Krug|
January 11, 1940 |
|Spouse(s)||Appeals Court Judge Joan Kessler|
|Alma mater||University of Wisconsin–Madison|
|Profession||attorney, arbitrator, redistricting consultant, former judge|
Frederick P. Kessler (born January 11, 1940) is an American lawyer, arbitrator, and former judge who has served as a Democratic Party member of the Wisconsin State Assembly, representing the 12th Assembly District since 2004. Earlier he served from 1960 through 1962, and from 1964 through 1970.
Kessler was born January 11, 1940 in Milwaukee, and attended Our Redeemer Lutheran School in Milwaukee until he became a United States House of Representatives Page, serving from 1955 and attending the House Page School. He worked as a machine operator (becoming a member of the United Steel Workers) and salesman, before his 1960 election to the Assembly.
First terms in the Assembly
In 1960, Kessler won a plurality in a six-way Democratic primary, with 38% of the vote, unseating incumbent fellow Democrat Patrick H. Kelly who represented the 10th Milwaukee County Assembly district (the 10th Ward of the City of Milwaukee); and went on to defeat Republican Herbert W. Smith 6,148 to 3,585. On the opening day of the 1961 legislative session, January 11, 1961, Kessler's 21st birthday, he became the youngest person, up to that time, ever to serve in the Wisconsin State Legislature. He was assigned to the standing committee on education. In 1962, rather than running for re-election, he sought the Democratic nomination for the Wisconsin Senate, District 6, coming in second to Martin J. Schreiber in a four-way primary race. Patrick Kelly reclaimed his old Assembly seat.
In 1964, he again unseated Patrick Kelly, taking an absolute majority in a five-way Democratic primary (Kelly himself came in third), and won the general election 7,004 to 2,525. He was assigned to the Assembly committees on elections and the judiciary, and a joint committee on revisions, repeals and uniform laws. Kessler received a law degree from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1966, and was re-elected easily in 1966, 1968  and 1970. In the Assembly, Kessler was chairman of the elections committee. He was the principal negotiator for the Democrats in crafting the reapportionment bill which was the first bill that passed in a divided legislature (the Democrats had an Assembly majority and the GOP had a Senate majority), which required each Senate District to be composed of three whole Assembly Districts.
In 1972, the Assembly was redistricted to an extent which makes it hard to decide who would be considered Kessler's successor in the Assembly; he was not a candidate for re-election, having himself served on the Governor's Task Force on Voter Registration and Elections established by the governor in July 1971, and on the Reapportionment Commission created by the governor in January 1972, as well. In 1972 he was appointed a Milwaukee County Court Judge, and was elected in April 1973.
Kessler was appointed to the Wisconsin Legislative Council Committee on Court Reorganization in 1978. He was a leader in the fight for a single level trial court and the appointment by the Supreme Court of the district Chief Judges (both which were approved by an 8 to 7 vote on the committee, and ultimately signed into law). He also initiated a successful effort in 1979, to outlaw commercial surety bail bonding, resulting in Wisconsin becoming the fourth state to prohibit the practice.
In 1982 Kessler was a candidate for the Democratic nomination for Wisconsin's 5th congressional district, coming in second to eventual victor Jim Moody in a ten-way race which included several past and present legislators and county supervisors, as well as the wife of Milwaukee mayor Henry Maier.
After the judiciary
As a civic leader, Kessler, in 1979, along with Milwaukee School Board member Leon Todd successfully led an effort to create three language immersion elementary schools in Milwaukee, one each in German, French and Spanish, see Milwaukee German Immersion School, Milwaukee French Immersion School.On May 15, 2014, Kessler and Todd receive a lifetime achievement award from the German Immersion Foundation for their effort in 1979.
He ran again in the Democratic primary for Congress against incumbent Jim Moody in 1988, this time coming in a distant fifth in a six-way race; and once more in 1992, coming in third in another six-way race won by Tom Barrett.
Return to the Assembly
On April 6, 2004, his wife Joan F. Kessler, a long-time member of the Board of Governors of the State Bar of Wisconsin, unseated incumbent Court of Appeals Judge Charles B. Schudson. In November 2004, Fred Kessler was once more elected to the Assembly, from the 12th District (northwestern Milwaukee, a part of Wauwatosa and one precinct in Waukesha County), by a vote of 18,720 to 1761 for Constitution Party nominee Joan Tatarsky. He was assigned to the committees on campaigns and elections; criminal justice and homeland security; the judiciary; and state-federal relations. He was re-elected without opposition in the primary or general election in 2006 and 2008; and in 2010 won re-election with 13,758 votes to 4868 for Republican Sam Hagedorn.
In 2012, after a drastic redistricting by the Republican-controlled legislature removed his home from the 12th and changed the racial complexion completely, Kessler faced a challenge in the Democratic primary from African-American newcomer Mario Hall, who was reported to be a school choice supporter with backing from the pro-voucher American Federation for Children and allied organizations. Kessler (who had to move into the redrawn district) won with 71% of the vote, and faced no challenger in the November general election. Kessler was re-elected without opposition in 2014.
Kessler is a member of Goethe House (vice president, former president); the Milwaukee Chapter of the ACLU (board member, former president); World Affairs Council of Milwaukee (board member); Wisconsin Bar Association; Wisconsin State Historical Society (board member); Industrial Relations Research Association, DANK (German-American National Congress) - Milwaukee chapter (former vice president); Milwaukee Donauschwaben; Amnesty International Group 107 (former chairman); Milwaukee Turners; N.A.A.C.P.; and a former member of the City of Milwaukee Harbor Commission.
He and Joan have two children.
- Toepel, M. G.; Theobald, H. Rupert, eds. The Wisconsin Blue Book, 1962 Madison: State of Wisconsin, 1962; pp. 51, 797, 868
- Theobald, H. Rupert, ed. The Wisconsin Blue Book, 1964 Madison, 1964; p. 53, 716, 722
- Theobald, H. Rupert, ed. The Wisconsin Blue Book, 1966 Madison, 1966; pp. 53, 743, 757
- Theobald, H. Rupert; Robbins, Patricia V., eds. The Wisconsin Blue Book, 1968 Madison, 1968: pp. 53, 715, 726
- Theobald, H. Rupert; Robbins, Patricia V., eds. The State of Wisconsin Blue Book, 1970 Madison: Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau, distributed by Document Sales, 1970; pp. 53, 805, 819
- The State of Wisconsin Blue Book, 1971 Madison: Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau, distributed by Document Sales, 1971; pp. 53, 303, 320
- Theobald, H. Rupert; Robbins, Patricia V., ed. The State of Wisconsin 1973 Blue Book Madison: Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau, distributed by Document Sales, 1973; pp. 363-364, 378, 871
- Theobald, H. Rupert; Robbins, Patricia V., eds. The State of Wisconsin 1979-1980 Blue Book Madison: Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau, distributed by Document Sales, 1979-1980; pp. 683, 685, 885
- Theobald, H. Rupert; Robbins, Patricia V., eds. The State of Wisconsin 1981-1982 Blue Book Madison: Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau, distributed by Document Sales, 1981-1982; p. 959
- Theobald, H. Rupert; Robbins, Patricia V., ed. The State of Wisconsin 1983-1984 Blue Book Madison: Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau, distributed by Document Sales, 1983-1984; p. 883
- Kloss, Gerald. "State, city scene was busy" Milwaukee Journal December 28, 1986; p. 3J, col. 3
- Barish, Lawrence S.; Theobald, H. Rupert, eds. State of Wisconsin 1989-1990 Blue Book Madison: Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau, distributed by Document Sales, 1989-1990; p. 906
- Barish, Lawrence S.; Theobald, H. Rupert, ed. State of Wisconsin 1993-1994 Blue Book Madison: Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau, distributed by Document Sales, 1993-1994; p. 898
- Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau. State of Wisconsin 2005-2006 Blue Book Madison: Joint Committee on Legislative Organization, Wisconsin Legislature; pp. 26, 27, 894, 928
- Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau. State of Wisconsin 2011-2012 Blue Book Madison: Joint Committee on Legislative Organization, Wisconsin Legislature; p. 907
- Map of new 12th District
- Noth, Dominique Paul. "How Fred Kessler Gets Under GOP Skin" Milwaukee Labor Press August 1, 2012
-  official government website