Gov. Scott Walker released 82 pages of records he wanted to keep secret after a judge ordered them to be made public Friday.
The records were related to Walker’s proposal in 2015 to change the University of Wisconsin System’s mission statement known as the “Wisconsin Idea.” He released the emails and attachments just before 5 p.m. Friday at the beginning of a three-day Memorial Day holiday weekend.
The Center for Media and Democracy filed a lawsuit a year ago against Walker, saying he was illegally withholding records related to the creation of the proposal to refocus the “Wisconsin Idea” on career readiness instead of public service and seeking a broader truth. He later backed down from the proposal after a public backlash, saying it was a mistake.
Dane County Circuit Judge Amy Smith, in ruling against Walker on Friday, rejected the Republican’s argument that he could withhold the records because they were part of a “deliberative process.” Smith said no such ruling exists in Wisconsin state law.
Before the judge’s ruling, Walker wrote a tweet poking fun at Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton over questions related to her official emails when she was secretary of state.
“I have turned over all my emails. I have been incredibly open about doing that,” Walker said, in an apparent reference to email disclosures he made related to a pair of investigations into his time as Milwaukee County executive and his recall election campaign.
Smith ruled Friday that Walker wrongly withheld 12 email exchanges and six attachments, but that three attachments were properly withheld. But for the majority of the material, Smith said that Walker’s concerns over releasing the records did not outweigh the public’s interest in disclosure.
“Wisconsin Open Records Law has long-held that the public interest in disclosure — the right of the people of Wisconsin to know what their government is doing — is a strong presumption for every record,” Smith wrote.
Brendan Fischer, attorney for the group that sued, praised the ruling for striking down Walker’s attempt to create a “deliberative process” exemption to the open records law.
The emails reveal conversations among Walker’s staff, bill drafters and others in his administration working on the budget mostly in late 2014 and early 2015. One document, which includes comments from unnamed UW officials to a draft of the governor’s proposal, shows that they suggested to Walker’s administration that the mission statement not be changed.
“The Legislature has been credited with crafting careful and wonderfully descriptive language to create the System,” the UW comments said. “The language is frequently quoted. If the purpose of the System is largely unchanged, this language should remain unchanged as well.”
But in a column labeled “SBO Decision,” referring to Walker’s budget office, the request from UW is marked as denied.
“The Gov requested a simplified and clearer mission and purpose statements,” the document said. “The Board of Regents is free to adopt any additional statements of mission or purpose.”
Walker last year said it was a “mistake someone made” and a “matter of confusion” to assume that his desire to add career readiness to the mission statement meant to also drop references to public service and seeking a broader truth.
The prospect of dropping the “Wisconsin Idea,” a cherished part of the university’s history, sparked an immediate and intense backlash when the Center for Media and Democracy first spotted it in the budget.
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