Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News on Tuesday. Since I wrote this, there have been some very serious developments and it looks more and more like Evers might be covering up for a felon. I wonder… the Dane County DA and AG won’t investigate, but couldn’t the Jefferson or Racine County DAs (or wherever Vos and Fitzgerald were when they took the call)?
After the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Governor Tony Evers’ unconstitutional lockdown order, our state government leaders needed to figure out what, if anything, the state should do in its continuing effort to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Dutifully, Governor Evers and the two leaders of the Legislature, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, got on a phone call to discuss the path forward. What the legislative leaders did not know what that Governor Evers’ staff secretly recorded the conversation for dubious reasons and then released the recording to the media. Such a breach of trust, and his reaction to it, tells us a lot about our governor.
The rough details of the transgression are known. There were five participants in the call: Governor Evers, Speaker Vos, Majority Leader Fitzgerald, Evers’ Chief of Staff Maggie Gau, and Evers’ attorney Ryan Nilsestuen. The call was recorded and given to the media. Vos and Fitzgerald were shocked to learn that it was recorded. Evers claimed that he did not know it was being recorded, but wouldn’t say who did it. Gau and Nilsestuen have not admitted to anything.
Wisconsin law allows a call to be legally recorded if one participant of the call knows. The law does not require that all participants be notified that the call is being recorded, but it is considered both impolite and unethical to not make such a disclosure. However, if one of Evers’ other non-participant staffers recorded the call, it would be a crime. Since Evers will not disclose who recorded the call, he is either covering up for a staffer’s unethical behavior, crime, or both. What does all of this tell us about Governor Evers? Quite a bit. If we believe that Evers is telling the truth that he was ignorant of the recording, then he does not have any control over his staff. Whether a CEO, general, governor, or any other person of great responsibility, it would be unthinkable for a staff member to record the boss’ phone call with other leaders without the boss’ knowledge and consent. If Evers truly did not know, then he is not managing his staff. They are managing him.
Further, Evers’ refusal to disclose or discipline the perpetrator tells us more about him. It tells us that he is either afraid to hold his staff accountable for bad behavior, or he condones it. Recall that we do not yet know if the perpetrator committed a crime or merely violated ethical boundaries. Either way, Evers is allowing staff members to run rogue with no consequences.
Whether Evers knew or just condoned his staff’s recording of the call, it also shows that his administration is willing to use slimy tactics for political gain – even on an official call that was supposed to be about working together to respond to a pandemic. They recorded the call and released it to the media in an effort to embarrass political opponents. Despite the Evers administration’s claims of innocent motives, the results speak for themselves. Look at what they do — not what they say.
Finally, since the disclosure of the recording, Governor Evers has not seen fit to apologize to Vos and Fitzgerald for recording their conversation. He may have not known that the call was being recorded at the time, but he knows it now. His stubborn refusal to even do the simple mannerly thing and apologize for the breach of trust shows his inability, or unwillingness, to build relationships with people with whom he disagrees politically. His lifetime as a bureaucrat has not equipped him with the skills and he lacks the natural acumen to develop personal relationships outside his rigid ideological sphere.
After almost a year-and-a-half in office, Governor Evers has not made any progress in learning how to govern in a divided government. He has lurched from insults to partisan attacks to cursing to violating trusts. Is it any wonder why he resorts to unconstitutional dictatorial actions instead of working with the Legislature on behalf of the people of Wisconsin?