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Vos’ recorded statement on immigrants, COVID-19 sparks outrage as Republicans criticize Evers’ staff for recording meeting

Lawmakers on both sides are criticizing Evers after a member of his staff recorded a meeting with Republican leadership that revealed controversial comments. 

Lawmakers on both sides are criticizing Evers after a member of his staff recorded a meeting with Republican leadership that revealed controversial comments. 

Image By: Michael Makowski

Days after Republicans criticized Tony Evers following the recording of a May 14 meeting discussing Wisconsin’s reopening leaked to the public, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is on the defense after a comment about immigrant communities sparked outrage. 

The call, which was first released to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel based on an open records request, took place following the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision that struck down Evers’ “Safer at Home” order. 

In the call, Evers sparred with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, over potential regulations such as bar capacity and school reopenings. 

During the call, Vos also discussed the effects of the outbreak in Racine County and seemed to blame immigrants and their culture for the high numbers. 

“I know the reason at least in my region is because of a large immigrant population where it’s just a difference in culture where people are living much closer and working much closer,” Vos stated. 

Racine County’s coronavirus cases are among the highest in Wisconsin. According to Racine County data, Latinos make up 13 percent of the population in the county and 23 percent percent of confirmed and probable cases. Ryan Westergaard, state chief medical officer, said that there is no biological predisposition for the disease among Latinos. 

Vos’ comments angered Latino groups. Voces de la Frontera, a Wisconsin immigrant rights organization, called for Vos to resign his leadership position.

“Instead of recognizing the important contributions immigrant essential workers and their families make to Wisconsin’s economy, he scapegoats them to absolve himself of his own failure to protect the health and lives of all workers,” a statement read. 

Rep. Jonathan Brostoff, D-Milwaukee, called Vos’ comments racist and also called for his resignation.

‘“How can his constituents of color trust him to represent their interests if he holds those kinds of hateful and backwards views?’” Brostoff tweeted. ‘At the same time, a staffer secretly recording conversations is never a good look, especially if [Evers] was unaware that it was happening.’”

Vos did not apologize in a Thursday interview, instead urging for people to “listen to what [he] said.” Vos also said the headline was “sensationalist.” 

“Facts show communities of color are disproportionately impacted. That's science," Vos said.

Meanwhile, Republican legislators expressed outrage that an Evers staffer recorded the call to begin with. 

“In 26 years in the Legislature, this is one of the most brazen examples of unethical, unprofessional conduct I have ever seen," Fitzgerald said. "The Governor has gone so far off the deep end, he’s making secret Nixonesque recordings from the East Wing of the Capitol."

Vos also criticized Evers, stating he violated “trust, civility and integrity” as well as calling for the staffer who recorded the call to be fired. 

Democrats also criticized the recording. Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz said in a radio appearance, “It’s bush league and amateur to have something like that happen and I do not condone it in any way.” 

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley, D-Mason, felt the controversy of the recording is a distraction.

“We’re in the middle of a health pandemic and there are public calls for police reform. I think at this point there is a bigger fish to fry," Bewley’s spokeswoman Kate Constalie stated.

In a virtual press conference, Evers denied knowing the call was being recorded. He saidys the practice will not continue, but did not name the staffer or discuss potential discipline. 

"The recording was intended for internal use only to inform detailed note taking and planning next steps,” said Evers’ spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff. 

Ryan Nilsestuen, Evers’ chief legal counsel who was also on the call, stated one party consented but refused to identify who. Recording conversations is legal under state law if one party consents, but it is unclear which party did. 

Regardless, recording meetings is not a common practice. Staffers of former governors did not recall the governor’s staff ever recording meetings. 

"I was in most every meeting with legislative leadership, and it definitely didn’t occur then," Scott Kelly stated, who staffed former Republican Gov. Scott McCallum. "No one on the staff would have been that stupid to abuse the trust like that.”

The controversy will likely impact the already fractured relationship between Evers and Republican leadership as the state continues to manage the pandemic and recent protests. 

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