Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News earlier this week:
“Wisconsin’s open government laws promote democracy by ensuring that all state, regional and local governments conduct their business with transparency. Wisconsin citizens have a right to know how their government is spending their tax dollars and exercising the powers granted by the people.”
— Attorney General Josh Kaul, Wisconsin Public Records Law Compliance Guide
Based on the principle that transparency in government is both a right of the people and an obligation of government officials, Wisconsin has some of the best open records laws in the nation. That is why it is so troubling to learn that our Governor, Tony Evers, has been hiding his official email communications behind an secret alias for years. What else is he hiding?
The news came to light a few weeks ago when Wisconsin Right Now, a conservative news and opinion outlet, learned that Governor Evers has been using the name of Hall of Fame Milwaukee Braves pitcher Warren Spahn’s name for the governor’s secret email address warrenspahn@ wisconsin.gov. According to a disclosure from the governor’s office, there are over 17,000 emails to and from the governor’s secret email address between 2017 and 2023.
Evers dismissed the disclosure as not newsworthy while pretending that using secret email addresses was normal government practice. As someone who has requested records for decades, the governor’s assertion is news to me, other open government advocates, and news agencies. Secret emails are not normal except for politicians who are trying to hide something.
Wisconsin’s Open Records Laws are clear and unambiguous. When someone requests records from a public official about a particular subject or time period, the official is compelled by law to provide all of those records irrespective of whether the records are from their official email account, personal email account, text, chat, or any other format. It is the content of the records that makes them government records and subject to disclosure – not the means of transmission. The fact that the governor has failed to disclose the content of his secret email account despite dozens of legal open records requests is a clear violation of the law.
This governor has a history of secrecy. In 2019, FOX6 had to sue the governor to get emails. FOX6 had filed a routing request for a couple of weeks of emails. They had a practice of this to just see what might turn up. The governor rejected the request claiming that the news agency needed to narrow the request to a specific search term. The governor’s novel interpretation of the law was ludicrous and against the law as written and practiced for decades. After FOX6 sued, the governor finally relented and released some emails. At that time, however, the governor did not disclose the governor’s secret emails as required by law.
Furthermore, during that imbroglio, Tony Evers scoffed at the request saying, “Oh, that’ll be pretty, pretty boring I’ll tell ya. If I do one email a day, that’s an extraordinary day… It’s pretty boring. I mean, I can’t remember sending an email all week.’ That is a lie. Evers knew at the time that he was using a secret email account that was averaging over nine emails per day for years.
Governor Tony Evers’ culture of secrecy is antithetical to good government. When politicians are acting above board in good faith, they do not mind the public looking at their work and communications. When politicians are doing wrong, they scurry in the shadows like rats. Evers is reflexively secretive and acts with the arrogance on one who has spent his life in government. In the case of his secret email account, he has clearly been violating the law by failing to disclose it in response to records requests.