BELOIT - Undemocratic, shameful, a partisan power grab.
Those are some of the hundreds of comments sent to local lawmakers in response to last month's Republican-orchestrated lame duck bill package to limit the powers of incoming Democratic governor Tony Evers and attorney general-elect Josh Kaul.
The sweeping changes were signed into law by outgoing Gov. Scott Walker on Dec. 15, and earlier this week Evers told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he expects to fight aspects of the legislation in court.
Locally, Republican lawmakers Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, and Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, received more comments from Wisconsin residents and constituents (around 200 for Loudenbeck and 250 for Nass) compared to Democrats Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, and Sen. Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville, according to records obtained by the Beloit Daily News through the Public Records Law.
Dozens of negative comments also centered on opposition to a proposed additional 2020 presidential primary election that was ultimately left by the wayside and not voted on.
"I shared their concerns to my colleagues, offered a few alternatives to address their concerns, and ultimately advocated for removing the provision that concerned them from the bill," Loudenbeck said.
All offices excluding Nass replied with records documenting voter contacts within 10 days of the newspaper's request filed on Dec. 10. Staff from Nass's office did not provide the documents until Jan. 2, nearly a month after the original request.
When asked about the delay, Nass said he felt the response time was "more than reasonable and in compliance with the Wisconsin open records law."
"To the contrary, we believe Senator Nass's office was tardy and the evidence is clear in the timely response by the other regional representatives," Editor Bill Barth said. "The law itself is vague, stating only that records are to be released 'as soon as practicable and without delay.' Customarily, the understanding has been that 10 business days is reasonable. We appreciate that level of cooperation from Senator Ringhand and Representatives Loudenbeck and Spreitzer."
Nass received around a dozen supportive messages while Loudenbeck received less than five, according to correspondence records.
While most exchanges between legislative staff, lawmakers and voters appeared routine, Nass occasionally scrapped with angry citizens, defending against name-calling and crude language.
In one exchange with a Sun Prairie resident in which Nass was called a traitor, Nass responded, "Calling someone a traitor over policy differences only confirms to me that you are the person with the issue."
All local legislators used pre-determined statements to respond to the high volume of comments. Loudenbeck said it should also be noted a large portion of comments sent by voters appeared to be issued through a template provided by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.
"When people contact me and tell me to vote 'no,' I try to provide additional context or supplemental information to explain my position, with the understanding that they may be disappointed with my vote, but I still appreciate their input," Loudenbeck said.
Nass said the public outcry was "by no means representative of the majority viewpoint of the citizens in the 11th State Senate District."
"Since 2011 and the Act 10 protests, it has been a common tactic for liberal groups to orchestrate flooding Republican legislative offices with emails and telephone calls from their members in opposition to all sorts of proposals," Nass said.
The longtime lawmaker said citizens that have taken the time to review specific proposals and "offer specific concerns or reasons for support" had a greater chance of impacting his position on a given issue.
"I have always valued the quality of the input on issues more than the quantity of contacts," Nass said.
Input sent to Spreitzer and Ringhand was supportive of the organized Democratic opposition to the lame-duck bills, according to records from both offices.
"I always appreciate hearing from constituents," Ringhand said. "Whether we agree or disagree on an issue it is an important part of our democracy for people to contact their legislators and voice their opinion. I take all the input I receive very seriously. Hearing from so many people on one issue makes me grateful for having the honor of representing the well informed and active people of the 15th Senate District."
"Understanding everyone's values and concerns helps me better represent them in our State Capitol," Spreitzer said. "The constituents I heard from were overwhelmingly opposed to the lame-duck bills, which were designed to override the will of the voters. I listened to my constituents and opposed all the bills."
Evers will be sworn in on Monday, along with the 99 members of the State Assembly. Beloit resident Pastor Dannie Evans from The House of God Church in Janesville will be offering the invocation at the 2019 inauguration ceremony.