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 attorney and politician from Wisconsin who served as Dane County Executive from 1997 until 2011. A Democrat, Falk unsuccessfully sought the party's nomination for Governor of Wisconsin in 2002 and in the 2012 recall election. In 2006, Falk defeated Democratic Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager to win the party's nomination for Attorney General, but was herself defeated by Republican J.B. Van Hollen in the general election.

Prior to entering politics, Falk was a prosecutor and public-interest attorney. From 1983 to 1997, she was an assistant attorney general and public intervenor in the Wisconsin Department of Justice; she previously worked as a co-director and legal counsel of Wisconsin's Environmental Decade, an advocacy organization. Falk is the only woman who has served as Dane County Executive and was the first woman to seek a major party's gubernatorial nomination in Wisconsin history.[1]

Early life and career[edit]

Falk was raised in Waukesha County, between Madison and Milwaukee. She earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy from Stanford University in 1973 and graduated 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]

Following law school, Falk became the co-director and general counsel of Wisconsin's Environmental Decade, Inc., a non-profit, public interest organization devoted environmental litigation and lobbying. Falk successfully argued cases before the Wisconsin Supreme Court during her tenure at Wisconsin's Environmental Decade[4] In 1983, Falk was hired as an assistant attorney general in the Wisconsin Department of Justice. Attorney General Bronson La Follette appointed Falk to serve as Public Intervenor, a in which capacity Falk performed litigation, lobbying, and advocacy on environmental protection matters. Falk's position was eliminated in 1995,[5] during the tenure of Attorney General James E. Doyle, Jr., and Falk became an administrative law attorney for the department.

County Executive (1997-2010)[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. During her 14-year tenure as the county's chief executive officer she implemented mergers of county departments,[6] vetoed borrowing for jail construction[7] and ended Dane County’s practice of sending its inmates to other counties.[8] Falk enlarged the county sheriff's department by adding 134 new positions,[9] she opened a juvenile justice facility,[10][11] and launched a community-based initiative aimed at gang prevention.[12][13] Falk's budgets have funded jail diversion programs for non-violent substance-addicted offenders.[14] Falk's tenure also encompassed a number of land use and human services programs.

Resignation and later professional career[edit]

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.[15]

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.[16] The Capital Times newspaper called Falk a "great choice for DHHS."[17]


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.[18][19]

Political career[edit]

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.[20]

Personal life[edit]

Falk is married to former Democratic State Representative Peter Bock.[21] She has one son, Eric Phillips,[22] and is an avid baseball fan, bicyclist,[23] hunter,[24] and angler.

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. ^ DeFour, Matthew. "Wisconsin's First Major Female Gubernatorial Nominee". Governing. Tribune News Service. Retrieved 18 October 2015. 
  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. ^ "Yahara Lakes Program Speakers". University of Wisconsin, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. 
  5. ^ "Public Intervenor Office Restoration". Midwest Environmental Advocates. 
  6. ^ Wisconsin State Journal. February 11, 2002.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  7. ^ The Capital Times. October 15, 1999.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  8. ^ The Capital Times. September 26, 2007.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  9. ^ "Falk memo" (PDF). Dane County. Retrieved October 4, 2010. 
  10. ^ "Falk opens new Juvenile Detention Center". Dane County. Retrieved August 3, 2007. 
  11. ^ DeFour, Matthew (August 2, 2007). "Helping teens get out of trouble". Capital Times. 
  12. ^ "City, County Officials Unveil Second Gang Task Force". CBS Channel 3. May 15, 2006. 
  14. ^ "Outstanding Community Leadership Award". Wisconsin Association of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse. December 2008. 
  15. ^ "County Executive Falk to Resign". CBS Channel 3. October 5, 2010. 
  16. ^ http://host.madison.com/news/local/health_med_fit/kathleen-falk-appointed-as-regional-hhs-director/article_ba61dbba-8dae-52e6-809e-5f6cfdcf6c2e.html
  17. ^ http://host.madison.com/news/opinion/editorial/kathleen-falk-s-a-great-choice-for-dhhs-and-wisconsin/article_cb8bc7c2-c403-51af-800e-9ee673d6d6e4.html
  18. ^ "About Kathleen". Kathleen Falk for Wisconsin. Retrieved April 5, 2012. 
  19. ^ "County Leader to be Honored with Nilsestuen Conservation Award". Wisconsin Ag Connection. July 22, 2011. 
  20. ^ "Kathleen Falk Announces Candidacy for Governor". WQOW TV. Retrieved January 22, 2007. 
  21. ^ "County Executive Falk and Representative Peter Bock Announce Wedding Plans". Dane County. 
  22. ^ "40 under 40". The Capitol. June 14, 2010. 
  23. ^ Moe, Doug (June 15, 2011). "Life came full circle on Falk's bike trip". The Capital Times. 
  24. ^ The Capital Times. November 26, 2003.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
Preceded by
Richard Phelps
Dane County Executive
1997 – 2011
Succeeded by
Joe Parisi

External links[edit]