Gov. Scott Walker faced a deluge of irate emails from Wisconsinites, some from self-identified supporters or Republicans, after last month’s introduction of a proposal — which Walker and GOP lawmakers later abandoned — to gut Wisconsin’s open records law, newly released documents show.
GOP members of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee attached the proposal to the budget as part of a sweeping, last-second amendment in a vote on July 2. Two days later, facing backlash from across the political spectrum, Walker and Republican lawmakers announced they were abandoning the proposal.
Documents released Friday by Walker’s office in response to a State Journal records request filed July 7 show the livid tone of the more than 400 emails sent to Walker’s office throughout the Fourth of July weekend.
The vast majority of email writers — all of whom opposed the changes — either identified themselves as Democrats or Walker opponents or gave no specifics about their political allegiance. But some identified themselves as long-time Republicans or Walker allies on other issues. Some also noted that Walker would be attached to the proposal even as he prepared to announce his run for president.
“As a longtime supporter, I beg you to delete this language,” Debra Reitz of Verona wrote to Walker. “It’s contrary to all we stand for as Republicans, and the left is having a field day with it. Your integrity will be in question nationwide if you allow this language to stand!”
After the Legislature’s budget panel approved the records changes, Walker’s office initially told reporters he would review them. Later that afternoon, his office said he would work with lawmakers on unspecified changes. By July 4, Walker and GOP legislative leaders announced the plan was dead.
The subsequent release of state documents indicated Walker’s office played a lead role in drafting a key portion of the changes, which would have exempted from public scrutiny government materials considered part of a “deliberative process.”
Documents, first reported by the State Journal, have shown Assembly Speaker Robin Vos requested the changes. They would have blocked the public from reviewing nearly all records created by state and local lawmakers or their aides, including electronic communications and the drafting files of legislation.
Groups from across the political spectrum spoke out against the changes. Robert and Monica Latus of New Berlin, in an email to Walker dated July 4, noted that conservative groups such as the MacIver Institute and the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty were part of that coalition.
“While we did not want to start our Fourth of July sending out emails, it seems fitting to defend our state’s right to open records today,” the Latuses wrote.
Paul Nelson of Madison wrote to Walker calling the plan “breathtakingly misguided,” warning it “will take Wisconsin back to 19th century-style politics of smoke-filled rooms and backroom deals.”
Some voters threatened to actively oppose Walker and other Republicans who backed the measure. A voter who identified herself as Janice from Burlington told Walker the proposal was “pernicious and un-American.”
“If this legislation is passed, I will, for the first time in my 67 years, go door to door and actively campaign against you and any legislator who votes for it,” Janice wrote.
Reporter Molly Beck contributed to this report.