MADISON — How low can Tony go? We just learned.
Gov. Tony Evers’ team secretly recorded a meeting he had with Republican legislative leadership.
Empower Wisconsin has learned the meeting took place on May 14, the day after the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down the Evers administration’s statewide lockdown, declaring the public health edict in response to the pandemic “invalid.”
GOP leadership was livid Wednesday upon the revelations, referring to the secret recordings as “Nixonesque.”
“In 26 years in the Legislature, this is one of the most brazen examples of unethical, unprofessional conduct I have ever seen,” said Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau), in a statement. “The governor has gone so far off the deep end, he’s making secret Nixonesque recordings from the East Wing of the Capitol. This conduct is totally unbecoming of our state’s top executive and opens up questions about what other recordings his administration may have.”
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel sought a copy of the recording through the state’s open records law. The governor’s office turned it over late Tuesday. Just how the newspaper’s reporters arrived at the idea that a secret recording might exist is not clear in the Journal Sentinel story.
The newspaper made similar requests to the offices of Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), but found there were no records responsive to the request. That’s because, according to Capitol sources, Fitzgerald and Vos did not, unlike Evers’ team, record the conversation with the governor.
Evers’ spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff told the Journal Sentinel that the governor was not aware of the recording. He has instructed his staff not to do it again, according to Baldauff. The meeting was also recorded to “make sure” Evers team “had an accurate account of what happened because Republicans and Democrats have publicly disagreed over how past meetings had gone,” the newspaper reported.
But the Republican leaders were not told the meeting was recorded, Empower Wisconsin’s sources say.
“Governor Evers has dragged partisan politics to a new low in Wisconsin and damaged his reputation and the state’s, as well,” Vos said in a statement. “It’s shameful.”
Fitzgerald said the governor’s actions further erode trust between a liberal executive and conservative-led legislative branch that has experienced strained relations over Evers’ first year and a half in office.
“Legislating in divided government is dependent on trust. Secretly recording members of the opposite party sets a dangerous precedent, and will completely erode our ability to work together for the foreseeable future,” the senator said.
The secret recording won’t do much for the Evers administration’s abysmal record on transparency, a core issue for the Democrat in his campaign against former Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican.
“After eight years of Scott Walker, it’s time to restore transparency and put government back to work for the people of Wisconsin,” candidate Evers tweeted in 2018.
Vos said state governments, unlike the federal government, have found a way to get things done in times of crisis, but that can only happen if there’s a “sense of trust, civility, and integrity.”
“This governor has violated all three of these critical character traits by secretly taping conversations with fellow leaders,” the speaker said.