Yesterday evening, the daily email from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel arrived to provide links to the new stories of the day on their website, JSOnline. The lead story was one about Governor Tony Evers secretly recording a closed door meeting with GOP leadership, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, about the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“This conversation was supposed to be about a potential path forward on a statewide approach to the COVID-19 crisis in our state following the Republican lawsuit to overturn the Safer At Home order,” Baldauff said in a statement. “The recording was intended for internal use only to inform detailed note taking and planning next steps. This was not intended for release to the media or anyone else, however, we were obligated to comply with the open records law to release these records once they were requested.”
Evers’ team recorded the May 14 conversation also to make sure they had an accurate account of what happened because Republicans and Democrats have publicly disagreed over how past meetings had gone, according to those close to Evers.
A copy of the recording was provided to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel late Tuesday under the state’s open records law. Similar requests were made to the offices of Vos and Fitzgerald following the meeting, and their aides said they had no records responsive to the request.
An aide to Evers informed Vos and Fitzgerald the recording had been released to the Journal Sentinel on Wednesday before a story about the recording was published.
So, the GOP leaders are livid and they have a right to be. The meeting shouldn’t have been recorded without them being informed. And neither the governor nor his staff should have thought this was a good idea. I can’t imagine what they were thinking. It certainly breaks whatever little thread of trust remained between the executive and legislative branches. OTOH, they were never ever going to get along.
And it pretty much sucks that the governor’s staff felt the need to document the discussion. Apparently they feel that they can’t trust Rep. Vos or Sen. Fitzgerald…and their history this past 18 months would bear that out. I mean every time the governor does something the GOP sues him. That issue falls squarely on the shoulders of the two legislators and they really shouldn’t be surprised.
Now, getting past the ethical issue, recording a meeting without the participants knowledge is 100% legal in the state of Wisconsin. Vos called the recording “clearly outside the norm.” Yes indeed, but not illegal.
So if Rep. Vos and Sen. Fitzgerald want to prevent one sided recordings in the future, maybe they can meet out in the square [sarcasm], or better yet change the law. That is actually in their purview.
And by the way, Sen. Fitzgerald almost got Dirksenesque when said”…he’s making secret Nixonesque recordings”.
P.S. The governor says that he wasn’t aware of the recording at the time, but so far has failed to name the staffer responsible…and has ignored calls to fire the individual. But this isn’t done yet. The content of the recordings is still being digested.