Kenneth J. Merkel Papers, 1964-1974

Scope and Content Note

The collection documents Kenneth Merkel's career as a member of the Wisconsin Assembly. With the exception of a few scattered items the documentation dates entirely from the 1967-1974 period. There are only a few items concerning campaigns or electoral politics in the collection and no personal papers nor any material pertaining to his work as an engineer. The collection is organized into three categories: alphabetical subject files, a small chronological file, and a file on the Joint Committee on Finance.

The entire collection has been weeded extensively to remove publications and state agency material better preserved in the records of the creating agency. The original subject file contained many very small, unnecessarily detailed headings. Where appropriate, such files have been combined in order to achieve more efficient storage. The constituent correspondence has also been weeded to remove routine and duplicative mail. The resulting collection, although much reduced in size, provides valuable documentation on the views of a conservative legislator during the turbulent 1960's and early 1970's, as well as the constituent response to his ideas and initiatives.

The bulk of the collection consists of alphabetical SUBJECT FILES. Included are correspondence from constituents, state agencies, and other legislators; memoranda; reports; minutes; and reference material. There are also incomplete genre files consisting of form letters, press releases, newsletters, photographs, and speeches. There is also a folder of biographical material and clippings. This consists of material culled from elsewhere in the collection, however, and is not the biographical scrapbook typical of most legislators' collections.

Topics which are most extensively documented include abortion; usurpation of local rights and authority by state government (especially DNR); public support of education and aid to private schools via busing, tuition grants and tax credits; the University of Wisconsin and the violence which occurred on campus during the period; and welfare costs. Although only a few exchanges with the John Birch Society were located in the collection, there are files on a number of Birch-supported legislative initiatives such as opposition to sex education in public schools and United States membership in the United Nations. In addition to the separately organized Finance Committee files described below, there are two substantial files within this category on committees on which Merkel held leadership positions: the Assembly Select Committee on Inner City Problems and the Joint Committee to Visit State Properties.

The photographs include one of Merkel with supporters of his 1969 bill banning sex education in schools; and three color images of a Wisconsin Citizens for Family Planning booth in support of Bill 381A, 1967.

The small CHRONOLOGICAL FILE consists of correspondence which was intended for filing in the subject category but never included.

The JOINT COMMITTEE ON FINANCE files consist primarily of documents for the 1973-1974 session, although Merkel also served on that committee for the 1967 and 1969 sessions. The segregation of fiscal records into this file is not precise, and much documentation on taxation may also be found in the subject files. Especially valuable here are the reports and analyses on financial issues prepared for Merkel personally by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau and his handwritten notes. Because the majority of records created by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau have not been transferred to archival custody, this section has been retained virtually unweeded.