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We, the Irrelevant

Formerly known as We, the People

Open Record Results for the Lame Duck Session, Dec., 2018

Final Results: Aug. 30, 2019

The Republican leadership of the WI legislature revealed a raft of bills late on Nov. 30, 2018. Several of the bills were designed to limit the powers of the incoming Democratic Governor and Attorney General. Leadership held one public hearing on Dec. 3. They passed three bills on Dec. 4 & 5. Former Gov. Scott Walker signed all three bills into law on Dec. 14.

We the Irrelevant wanted to know what Wisconsin voters were telling their legislators about the session and these bills. My open records request asked all 132 legislators for electronic records of all citizen contacts each of them received between Nov. 26 and Dec. 14, 2018.

In March, I published what I thought were the final results. That spreadsheet included data from the electronic records submitted by 112 legislators. But, 14 GOP legislators refused to send electronic records. Instead, they chose to print 7,877 paper records at a cost to taxpayers of $1,181.75. I could neither get to the Assembly Chief Clerk’s office to read them nor afford to have them mailed to me.

In the interest of publishing the data timely, I assumed that these paper records were likely to reflect the same percentages reported by the 112: 98% opposed to the lame duck legislation, 2% in favor. Knowing that the totals were not accurate, I published them with a disclaimer.

After a particularly galling exchange with a staff attorney for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), I decided to sue the 14, asking for a court order to produce electronic records. A similar suit had succeeded in Dane County Circuit Court in 2016, but the defendant legislator had filed an appeal. I filed suit on April 8, 2019. On June 6, 2019, the Court of Appeals issued a unanimous opinion in support of the Circuit Court decision, strongly restating the concept that paper is not an adequate substitute for electronic records. Once the Appeals Court ruling appeared, the outside counsel for the 14 moved to settle my suit.

Toward the end of July, I received a flash drive with 14 PDF folders, one from each defendant. The folders held PDFs of the original electronic correspondence. This was not a perfect solution, but I wanted the data. I settled.

In addition to the $1181.75 in paper and printing costs, Wisconsin taxpayers will pay my legal expenses as well as those charged by the outside counsel who represented all 14 legislators.

The tally of citizen contacts regarding the lame duck session is now complete. Wisconsin legislators received an aggregate total of 47,850 contacts including those recorded at the Dec. 3, 2018 public hearing. A bit about the spreadsheet:

  • There are 5 pages of results. The color key is in Row 1, Column H.
  • Row 2 tells you how the legislators voted on the three lame duck bills that passed.
  • The cumulative total of citizen correspondence/contacts appears in red in Row 4 at the top of Page 1.
  • The 1 in Column H signifies that electronic records have been received.
    • I added Columns J & K so readers can see the financial consequences of printing.
    • While the 14 printed 7,737 sheets of paper, they actually had 11,102 relevant records.
    • Records from Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) contained petition signatures delivered by Our WI Revolution. There were supposed to be 243 pages which OWR said contained more than 3300 signatures. I received only 174 pages with a total of 3,188 signatures. That's an average of 18 signatures per page. It's possible that the missing 69 pages contain another 1242 signatures, give or take. But, that is conjecture, not provable fact. 
  • Legislators are arranged alphabetically accompanied by their Assembly or Senate district number and home town. The Senate list begins in Row 137, Page 4.
    • Each name is a live email link. If you click on it, your default email program will generate a new message to that legislator.

 

 

 

Final spreadsheet