Kathleen Falk

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Kathleen Falk
Kathleen Falk in the 2009 St. Patrick's Day Parade.jpg
Kathleen Falk in the 2009 St. Patrick's Day Parade, Madison WI
4th Dane County Executive
In office
April 21, 1997 – April 18, 2011
Preceded by Richard J. Phelps
Succeeded by Joe Parisi
Assistant Attorney General
In office
Personal details
Born (1951-06-24) June 24, 1951 (age 64)
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Peter Bock (m. 2002)
Children Eric Phillips
Residence Madison, Wisconsin, U.S.
Alma mater University of Wisconsin Law School (J.D.)
Stanford University (B.A.)
Profession Prosecutor, politician

Kathleen Falk (born June 26, 1951) is an American politician who was the County Executive of Dane County, Wisconsin, serving from 1997 until 2011. In 2006, she was the Democratic Party nominee for the office of Attorney General of Wisconsin. She was an Assistant Attorney General and Public Intervenor in the Wisconsin Department of Justice from 1983 to 1997. Prior to her tenure as a prosecutor, Falk served as co-director and counsel to the Wisconsin Environmental Decade. She was the first woman elected Dane County Executive, and in 2002 became the first major party woman candidate for governor in Wisconsin's history.[citation needed]

Falk was one of the Democratic candidates to run against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, in the 2012 recall election.[1]

Personal life[edit]

Falk grew up in Waukesha County and lives in Madison. She earned a B.A. in philosophy from Stanford University in 1973 and a law degree from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1976.[2] She is also a graduate of Harvard University’s Senior Executives in State and Local Government Program.[3] Falk is married to former Democratic State Representative Peter Bock.[4] She has one son, Eric Phillips,[5] and is an avid baseball fan, bicyclist,[6] hunter,[7] and angler.

Professional life[edit]

Non-profit work (1977-1983)[edit]

Following law school, Falk became the co-director and general counsel for Wisconsin's Environmental Decade, Inc., a non-profit public interest organization devoted to litigating and lobbying for environmental protection goals. As in-house counsel for the organization, she was responsible for tax, labor, business, corporate affairs and litigation. Some of Falk's cases in the Wisconsin Supreme Court created national precedents in environmental protection and consumer utility law.[8]

Assistant Attorney General (1983-1997)[edit]

In 1983, Falk became an assistant attorney general in the State of Wisconsin Department of Justice, where she was appointed Public Intervenor by Attorney General Bronson La Follette. In her role as the state’s principal environmental watchdog, Falk’s work included litigation, lobbying and advocacy before agencies, courts and the legislature on a wide variety of matters including wetlands and farmland protection, transportation, mining and septage regulation, prevention of water pollution and urban sprawl, providing public access to navigable waters and encouraging fair procedural and substantive agency decisions. The Public Intervenor position was eliminated in 1995.[9]

Following the elimination of her previous position, Falk was assigned to the Department of Justice’s Government Operations and Administrative Law Unit. There she represented the State in matters relating to constitutional claims, voting rights and school finance law, and the defense of state agencies.[citation needed] In addition to litigation responsibilities, Falk provided advice and assistance to government officials and citizens with inquiries about the state's open meetings law.[citation needed]

County Executive (1997-2010)[edit]

Falk has served as an environmental advocate, an assistant attorney general and Dane County chief executive.[10] During her 14-year tenure as the county's chief executive officer she implemented mergers of county departments,[11] vetoed borrowing for jail construction[12] and ended Dane County’s practice of sending its inmates to other counties.[13]

For more than a decade Falk's budgets included investments in public safety programs and law-enforcement infrastructure. During her tenure, she created 134 new positions in the county’s sheriff’s department,[14] she opened a juvenile justice facility,[15][16] and launched a community-based initiative aimed at gang prevention.[17][18] Falk's budgets have funded jail diversion programs for non-violent substance-addicted offenders.[19]

Her time in the county executive’s office included a series of land use initiatives. In 1999, she struck the first-ever agreement with the state of Wisconsin to fund an environmental protection plan for a local highway development.[20] She called for Wisconsin to ban lawn fertilizer containing phosphorus and on toxic tar sealant,[21] and stronger storm water regulations.

In 2005, Falk created the “Early Childhood Initiative,” which directed resources and job training to the parents of newborns. Since its inception, it has served more than 250 families in the county’s four poorest neighborhoods.[14] Three years later, Falk launched an effort to combat the abuse of alcohol in the county. Falk’s model incorporated citizen coalitions, alcohol treatment for non-violent offenders, increased drunk-driving enforcement, a middle school education plan and an intervention pilot program targeting chronic abusers. In 2010, Falk proposed and helped install one of the nation’s first neighboring-farm manure digesters to target phosphorus and runoff pollution in the county’s lakes and streams.[22]


Falk stepped down as county executive in April 2010, citing an interest in contributing to public policy in a new way. Her tenure in office made her the longest serving county executive in the office’s history. “As I looked at what I set out to do, what we have done, and where I can best serve -- the answer was clear. As I approach the seventh decade of my life, it's time for me to find that next chapter of how I can make a contribution,” Falk said at a press conference in October 2010.[23]

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (2013-)[edit]

In September 2013, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius appointed Falk to serve as DHHS's Region V Director. As Director, Falk leads the department's efforts in a six-state area that includes Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin.[24] The Capital Times newspaper called Falk a "great choice for DHHS."[25]


Falk has received numerous awards and recognitions from environmental groups, business interests, women's organizations, LGBT equality activists, advocates for the disabled, conservation groups, the American Legion and domestic violence support groups.[26][27]

Political history[edit]

Falk made her first run for public office in 1996, joining a field of accomplished local leaders in the open race for Dane County Executive. She finished first in the runoff and eventually defeated a long-time conservative county board member, Mike Blaska. She was later re-elected three times (2001, 2005, 2009), all by wide margins. In 2002, she unsuccessfully ran for Governor, losing the Democratic primary to Jim Doyle. Falk was Wisconsin's first woman candidate for governor from a major political party.[citation needed]

In 2006, Falk challenged and defeated Wisconsin's Attorney General in a Democratic primary election. She went on to lose the general election race by fewer than 9,000 votes out of more than 2.1 million cast. Falk was advanced as a contender to challenge Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker in an ongoing recall attempt, and announced her candidacy for governor on January 18, 2012, but lost in the Democratic gubernatorial primaries to Tom Barrett.[28]

Electoral history[edit]

Wisconsin Gubernatorial Recall Election 2012 - Democratic Primary
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Tom Barrett 390,109 58
Democratic Kathleen Falk 228,940 34
Democratic Kathleen Vinehout 26,926 4
Democratic Doug La Follette 19,461 3
Democratic Party (US) Gladys Huber 4,842 1
Dane County Executive General Election 2009
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Kathleen Falk 59,180 59.29
Republican Nancy Mistele 40,495 40.57
Wisconsin Attorney General Election 2006
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Republican J.B. Van Hollen 1,065,453 50.15
Democratic Kathleen Falk 1,056,594 49.74
Wisconsin Gubernatorial Election 2002 - Democratic Primary
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Jim Doyle 212,066 38.36
Democratic Tom Barrett 190,605 34.48
Democratic Kathleen Falk 150,161 27.16


  1. ^ "With recall election probable, who will face Walker?". Wisconsin State Journal. November 26, 2011. 
  2. ^ DeFour, Matthew. "Kathleen Falk's Impact on County". Wisconsin State Journal. Retrieved 16 April 2007. 
  3. ^ DeFour, Matthew (June 8, 2010). "Dane County finances looking better than expected for this year". Wisconsin State Journal. 
  4. ^ "County Executive Falk and Representative Peter Bock Announce Wedding Plans". Dane County. 
  5. ^ "40 under 40". The Capitol. June 14, 2010. 
  6. ^ Moe, Doug (June 15, 2011). "Life came full circle on Falk's bike trip". The Capital Times. 
  7. ^ The Capital Times. November 26, 2003.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  8. ^ "Yahara Lakes Program Speakers". University of Wisconsin, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. 
  9. ^ "Public Intervenor Office Restoration". Midwest Environmental Advocates. 
  10. ^ Wisconsin State Journal. February 8, 1999.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  11. ^ Wisconsin State Journal. February 11, 2002.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  12. ^ The Capital Times. October 15, 1999.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  13. ^ The Capital Times. September 26, 2007.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  14. ^ a b "Falk memo" (PDF). Dane County. Retrieved October 4, 2010. 
  15. ^ "Falk opens new Juvenile Detention Center". Dane County. Retrieved August 3, 2007. 
  16. ^ DeFour, Matthew (August 2, 2007). "Helping teens get out of trouble". Capital Times. 
  17. ^ "City, County Officials Unveil Second Gang Task Force". CBS Channel 3. May 15, 2006. 
  19. ^ "Outstanding Community Leadership Award". Wisconsin Association of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse. December 2008. 
  20. ^ Wisconsin State Journal. March 7, 1999.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  21. ^ DeFour, Matthew (April 6, 2007). "Dane County bans sealants with coal tar". Wisconsin State Journal. 
  22. ^ Seely, Ron (March 31, 2011). "Dane County's manure digester ready to provide electricity". Wisconsin State Journal. 
  23. ^ "County Executive Falk to Resign". CBS Channel 3. October 5, 2010. 
  24. ^ http://host.madison.com/news/local/health_med_fit/kathleen-falk-appointed-as-regional-hhs-director/article_ba61dbba-8dae-52e6-809e-5f6cfdcf6c2e.html
  25. ^ http://host.madison.com/news/opinion/editorial/kathleen-falk-s-a-great-choice-for-dhhs-and-wisconsin/article_cb8bc7c2-c403-51af-800e-9ee673d6d6e4.html
  26. ^ "About Kathleen". Kathleen Falk for Wisconsin. Retrieved April 5, 2012. 
  27. ^ "County Leader to be Honored with Nilsestuen Conservation Award". Wisconsin Ag Connection. July 22, 2011. 
  28. ^ "Kathleen Falk Announces Candidacy for Governor". WQOW TV. Retrieved January 22, 2007. 
Preceded by
Richard Phelps
Dane County Executive
1997 – 2011
Succeeded by
Joe Parisi

External links[edit]