Kathleen Falk

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Kathleen Falk
Kathleen Falk in the 2009 St. Patrick's Day Parade, Madison WI
4th Executive of Dane County
In office
April 21, 1997 – April 18, 2011
Preceded byRichard J. Phelps
Succeeded byJoe Parisi
Assistant Attorney General of Wisconsin
In office
Personal details
Born (1951-06-26) June 26, 1951 (age 72)
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
SpousePeter Bock (m. 2002)
ChildrenEric Phillips
Residence(s)Madison, Wisconsin, U.S.
Alma materUniversity of Wisconsin Law School (J.D.)
Stanford University (B.A.)
ProfessionAttorney, politician, policymaker

Kathleen Falk (born June 26, 1951) is an American attorney, politician, and policymaker from Wisconsin who served as Dane County Executive from 1997 until 2011. In 2013, she was appointed Regional Director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Region Five.[1]

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 defeated by Republican J. B. Van Hollen in the general election.

Prior to running for elected office, 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 to serve as Dane County Executive and was the first woman to seek a major party's gubernatorial nomination in Wisconsin.[2]

Early life and career[edit]

Falk was raised in Waukesha County, Wisconsin. She earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy from Stanford University in 1973 and graduated from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1976.[3] She is also a graduate of Harvard University's Senior Executives in State and Local Government Program.[4]

Following law school, Falk became the co-director and general counsel of Wisconsin's Environmental Decade, Inc., a non-profit, public interest organization devoted to environmental litigation and lobbying. Falk argued cases before the Wisconsin Supreme Court during her tenure there.[5] 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, in which capacity Falk performed litigation, lobbying, and advocacy on environmental protection matters. Falk's position was eliminated in 1995,[6] during the tenure of Attorney General Jim Doyle, and Falk became an assistant attorney general at the department.

Political career[edit]

County executive (1997-2010)[edit]

Falk made her first run for public office in 1996, running for Dane County Executive. She finished first in the runoff and eventually defeated a long-time county board member, Mike Blaska. She was later re-elected three times (2001, 2005, 2009). During her 14-year tenure, she implemented mergers of county departments,[7] vetoed borrowing for jail construction[8] and ended Dane County's practice of sending its inmates to other counties for incarceration.[9] Falk enlarged the county sheriff's department by adding 134 new positions,[10] opened a juvenile justice facility,[11][12] and launched a community-based initiative aimed at gang prevention.[13][14] Falk's budgets funded jail diversion programs for non-violent substance-addicted offenders,[15] a home visitation model for at-risk families, and environmental programs focused on water quality and land conservation.[16]

Statewide office races[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.[17][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 a contender to challenge Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker in his recall attempt. She announced her candidacy on January 18, 2012, but lost in the Democratic gubernatorial primary to Tom Barrett.[18]

Later career[edit]

In October 2010, Falk announced that she would step down midway through her fourth term as county executive in April 2011, citing an interest in contributing to public policy in a new way.[19] She formally resigned at 8 am on December 21, 2010, in order to trigger a special election. Dane County Board of Supervisors chair Scott McDonell became acting County Executive,[20] and appointed Falk to serve as the Interim County Executive starting January 7, 2011, after confirmation by the full board, to serve until the special election. Joe Parisi won the election on April 5, 2011, and on April 19 succeeded her as Dane County Executive. Her tenure as county executive was the longest in the office's history.[21]

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (2013–2017)[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. Region V encompasses a six-state area that includes Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin.[22]


Falk has received awards and recognition 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.[clarification needed][23][24]

In 2014, the Dane County Board and County Executive named a wildlife area along the Sugar River the Falk-Wells Sugar River Wildlife Area for Falk and her chief of staff, Topf Wells, in recognition of their commitment to preserving the county's natural resources.[25]

Falk was inducted into the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame in 2022.[26]

Personal life[edit]

Falk is married to former Democratic State Representative Peter Bock.[27] She has one son, Eric Phillips,[28] and is an avid baseball fan, bicyclist,[29] hunter,[30] 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 (Non-partisan)
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Kathleen Falk 59,180 59.29
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. ^ "Kathleen Falk appointed as regional HHS director". 4 September 2013.
  2. ^ DeFour, Matthew. "Wisconsin's First Major Female Gubernatorial Nominee". Governing. Tribune News Service. Retrieved 18 October 2015.
  3. ^ DeFour, Matthew. "Kathleen Falk's Impact on County". Wisconsin State Journal. Retrieved 16 April 2007.
  4. ^ DeFour, Matthew (June 8, 2010). "Dane County finances looking better than expected for this year". Wisconsin State Journal.
  5. ^ "Yahara Lakes Program Speakers". University of Wisconsin, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.
  6. ^ "Public Intervenor Office Restoration". Midwest Environmental Advocates. Archived from the original on 2012-04-26.
  7. ^ Wisconsin State Journal. February 11, 2002. {{cite news}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  8. ^ The Capital Times. October 15, 1999. {{cite news}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)[full citation needed]
  9. ^ The Capital Times. September 26, 2007. {{cite news}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)[full citation needed]
  10. ^ "Falk memo" (PDF). Dane County. Retrieved October 4, 2010.
  11. ^ "Falk opens new Juvenile Detention Center". Dane County. Retrieved August 3, 2007.
  12. ^ DeFour, Matthew (August 2, 2007). "Helping teens get out of trouble". Capital Times.
  13. ^ "City, County Officials Unveil Second Gang Task Force". CBS Channel 3. May 15, 2006. Archived from the original on December 22, 2007.
  14. ^ "Dane County Executive Falk Releases Dane County Youth Gang Prevention Task Force Proposed Community Response Plan" (Press release). Dane County. Retrieved November 21, 2005.
  15. ^ "Outstanding Community Leadership Award". Wisconsin Association of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse. December 2008.
  16. ^ Matthew De Four (April 16, 2007). "Kathleen Falk's Impact on County Her Work on Environment, Quality of Life Issues Win Praise, but Did County's Building, Staffing and Tech Needs Suffer?". Wisconsin State Journal. Retrieved December 8, 2016.
  17. ^ "Celinda Lake: Making The Case For Pro-Choice Female Candidates". WisPolitics.com. Archived from the original on 2004-03-07. Retrieved 2016-12-07.
  18. ^ "Kathleen Falk Announces Candidacy for Governor". WQOW TV. Retrieved January 22, 2007.
  19. ^ Tarr, Joe (2010-10-04). "Kathleen Falk to resign as Dane County Executive in April 2011". Isthmus. Retrieved 2023-04-26.
  20. ^ Wescott, Josh (December 21, 2010). "Scott McDonell Takes Oath, Begins Service as Acting Dane County Executive" (Press release). Dane County Office of the County Executive. Retrieved 2023-04-26.
  21. ^ "County Executive Falk to Resign". CBS Channel 3. October 5, 2010. Archived from the original on December 19, 2010.
  22. ^ "Kathleen Falk appointed as regional HHS director". 4 September 2013.
  23. ^ About Kathleen. Kathleen Falk for Wisconsin http://www.kathleenfalk.com/about-kathleen. Retrieved April 5, 2012. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  24. ^ "County Leader to be Honored with Nilsestuen Conservation Award". Wisconsin Ag Connection. July 22, 2011.
  25. ^ "County to Name Sugar River Wildlife Area in Hono... - Dane County Press Releases". www.countyofdane.com (Press release). Retrieved 2016-12-07.
  26. ^ "Opinion | Conservation Hall of Fame honors three, including Kathleen Falk". 10 January 2022.
  27. ^ "County Executive Falk and Representative Peter Bock Announce Wedding Plans" (Press release). Dane County.
  28. ^ "2010 Capitol Rising Stars: 40 under 40". The Capitol. June 14, 2010. Archived from the original on 2011-10-17.
  29. ^ Moe, Doug (June 15, 2011). "Life came full circle on Falk's bike trip". The Capital Times.
  30. ^ The Capital Times. November 26, 2003. {{cite news}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)[full citation needed]
Party political offices
Preceded by Democratic nominee for Attorney General of Wisconsin
Succeeded by
Scott Hassett
Preceded by Dane County Executive
1997 – 2011
Succeeded by

External links[edit]