MADISON — Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers faced bipartisan calls Thursday to fire the staffer who secretly recorded a private telephone meeting between the governor and Republican legislative leaders last month.
Gov. Tony Evers
The May 14 meeting between Evers and Republicans focused on the path forward after the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down the state’s stay-at-home order. Evers wouldn't say what action, if any, was being taken against his staff member who recorded it. Audio of the call was released under an open records request.
“I did not know about it," Evers said of the recording during a news conference Thursday. "A staffer wanted help in taking notes and that’s why that staffer did that. I will not discuss personnel issues in public. Needless to say, the practice has ended with this one time.”
When asked how he didn't know the call was being recorded, Evers said: “How did I not know? Because I didn't know.”
Evers said the staff member who recorded the call had been in a different room.
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Wisconsin law allows for telephone calls to be recorded as long as one party involved knows about it. Evers' attorney, Ryan Nilsestuen, would not say when asked Thursday who knew that the call was being recorded. He and Evers' chief of staff Maggie Gau were the only members of Evers' staff to speak during the call, but it's not known how many others were listening or who they were.
Republicans accused Evers of violating their trust. Rich Zipperer, who served as former Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s chief of staff, said Walker didn’t record his meetings with lawmakers.
The Republicans on the call, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, said the staff member who recorded it should be fired. Democratic Rep. Jonathan Brostoff also said the person should be fired.
“I don’t give a damn about what letter is next to someone’s name, this is unacceptable,” Brostoff tweeted.
Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz also criticized the recording, but stopped short of calling for anyone to be fired, during an interview on WHBY-AM.
“That’s just not acceptable,” he said of recording the meeting. “That’s not how we do things. It was bush league and amateur to have something like that happen and I do not condone that in any way.”
Brostoff also called for Vos to resign because, during the meeting with Evers, Vos blamed an outbreak of the coronavirus in Racine County on immigrants.
Scott Fitzgerald (L) and Robin Vos (R)
"This implication that immigrants are at fault is wrong. Period," Jenny Tasse, director of Jewish Community Relations, said.
On the recording, Vos said the outbreak occurred among “a large immigrant population where it’s just a difference in culture where people are living much closer and working much closer."
Forward Latino and the Racine Interfaith Coalition called for Vos to apologize. Forward Latino says Vos is blaming immigrants for an outbreak rather than acknowledging that many can't work from home.
"We're demanding Speaker Vos apologize for his comments," said Darryl Morin with Forward Latino. "I would appreciate Speaker Vos acknowledging that these are essential workers."
Evers was asked whether he thought Vos should apologize but wouldn’t comment, saying he hadn’t listened to the tape of the meeting. Evers was on the call in real-time when Vos made the comment that was caught on tape.
FOX6 News reached out to Vos' office for comment. A spokesperson says Vos is concerned about COVID-19 outbreaks in his region and was briefed by health officials prior to the recorded call.
In a tweet, Brostoff called for Vos' resignation based on his comments. Vos responded: "Listen to what was said and not the sensationalist headline. Facts show communities of color are disproportionally impacted. That's science."
Vos' office did not answer on whether he would apologize for his remarks.
Across the country, states reporting racial data indicate higher rates of positive cases of the virus among the Latino population. In Wisconsin, about 33% of the cases and deaths from COVID-19 are among Hispanics and Latinos even though they make up just 7% of the state's population.