MacIver News Service | Feb. 28, 2019
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON, Wis. — Gov. Tony Evers likes to talk a lot about transparency and accountability.
Those two noble words, after all, were in the first paragraph of the Democrat’s campaign agenda.
“For the past eight years, Wisconsin’s state government has been used to … undermine our state’s rich tradition of transparency and accountability,” the opening lines of the political document state.
But it appears the governor is suffering from selective transparency and accountability. He certainly doesn’t seem to have much time for conservative journalists and critics.
Evers administration made that clear — again — on Thursday afternoon, when his handlers barred MacIver News Service from attending a Capitol Press Corps budget preview powwow behind closed East Wing doors.
This, despite the fact that MacIver has long been a credentialed Capitol news organization in good standing.
The usual players were there — the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Wisconsin State Journal, the Associated Press, TV reporters.
They were all on the “list” that Evers’ comms director Melissa Baldauff sent out earlier in the week. MacIver News Service learned about the press briefing and sent two requests – at 12:30 Wednesday afternoon, and again Thursday morning — asking to attend.
Two MacIver News Service reporters arrived with other Capitol Press Corps journalists just before 1 p.m., when the press briefing was slated to begin. An Evers official told the reporters that MacIver News was not on “the list.” When a MacIver reporter noted the news agency had sent two email requests to attend the briefing, the governor’s handler said she would speak to Baldauff.
She came back a moment later and said that she was sorry but news organizations had to “RSVP” to the meeting by 12:30 p.m. Thursday. Those who did not would not be allowed in. When a MacIver News Service reporter informed the official that MacIver did not receive a notice and could not possibly have RSVP’d, the official suggested MacIver call Baldauff, who, of course, would not be taking calls at the time of the briefing.
Baldauff and other Evers’ communications officials have repeatedly failed to respond to MacIver News Service’s request for comment and information. They did finally respond to MacIver’s open records request seeking salary information for Evers’ cabinet members. That document revealed state secretaries have received double-digit raises from the salaries of their predecessors in the Walker administration.
MacIver News Service has been covering policy at the Capitol for a decade. That coverage has included everything from marathon Joint Finance Committee and Legislative floor sessions to budget addresses and State of the State speeches.
While Evers and fellow liberals have been critical of former Republican Gov. Scott Walker and legislative Republicans, the former governor and GOP lawmakers have long opened their press events to all credentialed reporters, as Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) tweeted Thursday afternoon.
Amazing that @wisgop allow liberals to attend but @GovEvers is afraid to let @MacIverWisc attend? https://t.co/uRY60vXLTT
— Robin Vos (@repvos) February 28, 2019
Walker was honored in 2018 for an Openness Award, or Opee, from the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council. Walker took home the Political Openness Award.
“Last March, for the second year in a row, Wisconsin’s governor issued an executive order ordering state agencies to improve their performance on open records requests,” the council noted. “It directs them to track and post their record response times and limits how much they can charge. It also requires ‘regular training for all employees and members of all boards, councils, and commissions.’ Walker’s efforts in this area, including his executive order in 2016, are much appreciated.”
For Evers, a governor who claims to be a champion of open government, accountability, and transparency, his opening days in office are off to a rough start.