Assembly leaders shake hands (copy)

Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, right, and Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, shake hands on the floor of the state Assembly. Rep. Bob Gannon, R-Slinger, asked both legislators for an apology after a heated debate earlier this month.

John Hart — State Journal

In a heated memo to legislative leaders, state Rep. Bob Gannon, R-Slinger, has asked Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, for an apology. But he made clear he doesn't want to "publicly" call them "stupid."

Gannon issued a two-page press release on Monday which he referred to as a "dissertation" in response to an "ambush" from Barca at the start of the Assembly's July 10 session.

At the beginning of that session, Barca chastised Gannon for public comments he made after a liberal group suggested some Republican lawmakers might be engaging in logrolling.

Wisconsin State Statute 13.05, entitled "Logrolling prohibited," prohibits legislators from promising to vote for or against a measure in exchange for another legislator voting for or against — or to change — another measure. Violating that law is a Class I Felony.

One Wisconsin Now asked Ozaukee County District Attorney Adam Gerol earlier this month to look into the actions of Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville. Stroebel said, on several occasions, that he would be a "no" vote on the budget unless a vote on prevailing wage reform came first.

OWN didn't name Gannon, but Gannon made similar statements about his own vote. He responded to the group's comments about Stroebel with a colorful press release headlined, "Throw me in jail!"

In it, Gannon said members of the Republican caucus had cautioned him against "draw(ing) a line in the sand." He then noted OWN's comments about the possible felonious implications.

"Here goes my allegedly-illegal statement on the budget: ‘I will not vote in favor of any budget that does not have real prevailing wage reform, including the removal of all local entities from the provisions of this law’. There, I got it off my chest, and I feel totally refreshed that I am taking a position that may not be favored by some special interest groups, but will save the taxpayers of this state as much as $300,000,000. Yes, even in Madison, WI, $300 million of taxpayer’s relief is worth going to jail for," Gannon then wrote.

At the start of the July 10 Assembly session, after the state budget was passed, Barca cautioned Gannon to "watch what you ask for," invoking the story of former U.S. senator and presidential candidate Gary Hart, who famously taunted reporters (although the chronology of Hart's downfall and the related reporting is fuzzy) to "follow me around ... it will be boring." 

"He didn’t ask to be handcuffed, he didn’t (flout) the law as you unfortunately did," Barca said. "But with your ridiculous and reckless talk about the idea that you’re not going to follow the laws, and go ahead and handcuff you, you bring dishonor upon this institution when you do this."

Barca said if Gannon weren't serving his first term in the Legislature, he would introduce a resolution for an ethics investigation or to censure him. Instead, he said he'd chalk it up to a "rookie mistake."

"But please do not bring dishonor upon this hallowed body by saying you’re above the law and you want to invite yourself to be handcuffed and taken away," Barca continued. "That doesn’t serve any of us well."

Gannon insisted that he broke no laws, and was being threatened for standing up for the taxpayers he serves. He accused "some people" in the Legislature of having no sense of humor, then doubled down on his challenge.

"Well, I'll tell you what — throw me in jail," Gannon said. "If I did violate a law because I stood up for the taxpayers — I don't believe I did, I was bringing sarcasm to that issue — but, then, beam me up, Scotty. We're out of control in this building." 

Vos tried to lighten the mood by joking that no one had gotten enough sleep after the marathon budget debate the previous night.

"There is nothing that is more honorable than getting the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to serve in this body. That is something that is bipartisan, it is felt to our core," Vos said. 

He added that every legislator makes a mistake at some point and said the appropriate thing to do when that happens is to apologize.

"So on behalf of the citizens of Wisconsin, I think it's important for us to remember why we're here, not play politics, not be the victim, and just say, once in a while, you say something stupid. And it's OK to admit that," Vos said. "Sometimes it's OK for somebody to stand up and say, 'I was stupid.' Sometimes people don't choose to do that. That's OK."

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That was where the debate ended — until Monday, when Gannon issued another press release.

Gannon said he had sent Vos and Barca the Ozaukee County district attorney's response to OWN a week ago. In a letter, Gerol said he did not view Stroebel's comments about prevailing wage as a violation of the state's logrolling statutes and would not take further action on the complaint. 

Citing Gerol's letter, Gannon asked Barca and Vos to "acknowledge their improper interpretation of the 'log rolling statute.'" He said on Monday he hadn't received a response from either office, then took it upon himself to clear his name.

"The inference from Barca is clear: quit causing problems by standing up for the taxpayers so vigorously or we’ll come after you with the Wisconsin version of the paparazzi," Gannon wrote, referring to Barca's story about Gary Hart. "I’m sorry Rep. Barca, but your private investigator would be quickly bored to death following me around. My boat doesn’t have a name, but if I was to name it, I would call it something like 'Over-Taxed'. As for women on my boat, this week I’m taking six senior citizens from the local retirement home on a cruise and out to lunch. Shoot your cameras away; these fine ladies will get a hoot out of your attention. As for other bad habits, I quit drinking so long ago I don’t quickly recall the exact date I threw the bottle away and took a vow of sobriety, and can’t think of anything else in my life that is even interesting to me."

He added that Gerol's opinion is "clear as glass" on whether he or Stroebel engaged in logrolling. OWN executive director Scot Ross responded by noting that Gerol has donated to Stroebel and other Republican candidates and committees.

"Seems Bob Gannon spent the last week pouting about Robin Vos taking him publicly to the woodshed," Ross added. "Gannon seems to have a serious anger management problem about being called out for saying he would willingly break the law."

Gannon concluded his press release by repeating Vos' comments about copping to saying something stupid and apologizing. 

"Rep. Barca and Speaker Vos, this humble Representative doesn’t want to publicly call you 'stupid'. I’m just asking for the damage to my reputation to be repaired, and an apology from both of you that you were wrong with your interpretation of my statements would be a good starting point," Gannon wrote.

Spokeswomen for Vos and Barca did not have an immediate comment.

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.