Transparency, trust is not served with secret recording.
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers secretly recorded a telephone conversation with Republican legislative leaders last month, in the wake of a Supreme Court decision overturning the administration’s safer-at-home extension order.
It’s yet another example of Wisconsin government’s complete distrust and dysfunction.
What Evers did is legal. And wrong.
Wisconsin law allows phone conversations to be recorded if one party is aware. It’s not necessary for the others to know.
Now, though, how are others supposed to trust that Evers or members of his team aren’t secretly recording during conversations?
According to an Evers spokesperson, the governor wasn’t even aware his staff was recording the conversation. Let’s just say, we’re not buying that. Either way, though, Evers is responsible.
Look, this newspaper has been a fierce advocate for openness and transparency in government. But it is not transparent for one political leader to record others without their knowledge. Damaging what little trust exists between Democrats and Republicans in this divided state clearly is counterproductive.
That doesn’t, by the way, mean the public would be poorly served by being able to hear the horse trading, the insults, the partisan nastiness that harms the people’s government. Maybe if all conversations were recorded and made public record, with the full knowledge of all participants, government officials would feel pressure to work better together and get something done.
Make no mistake, most of what you see publicly in government is just showbiz. Everything that matters is done in secret, especially at the state and federal levels. The real conversations, the deal-making, the open acknowledgements of challenge, occur behind closed doors. What happens in public view is just political theater.
Undoubtedly, that’s a big factor in the hubbub over Evers’ secret recording of his Republican rivals. We get it. Making a recording unilaterally and secretly is a body blow to building trust.
But it also, we’re sure, had participants in the conversation quaking over the possibility they might have committed the political sin of saying what they really meant but never would have uttered for public consumption.
The people would be well served if much more government business was transacted with full sunshine. Do it the right way, though, by opening up the process with everybody’s knowledge.