Area Republicans downplay signing of agreement
At least one local Republican lawmaker says he had nothing to do with what Democrats say was an oath to keep details of redistricting maps hidden from the public. Evan Wynn says he tried to distance himself from the redistricting process. Kyle Geissler reports.
MADISON All but one area Republican lawmaker said they signed an agreement not to discuss redistricting plans formulated by a law firm hired by the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Most lawmakers interviewed by The Gazette noted that the agreement invoked attorney-client privilege.
Sen. Neal Kedzie, R-Elkhorn, Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, and Rep. Evan Wynn, R-Whitewater, said they signed the document and believed it was simply an agreement to not discuss redistricting maps and related issues until the entire plan was presented in bill form.
Rep. Joe Knilans, R-Janesville, told WCLO radio he signed the agreement because it ensured confidentiality until the maps were ready for public disclosure. Rep. Amy Loudenbeck said, through a spokeswoman, that she would not comment on the matter.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Kedzie’s chief of staff denied the senator signed the agreement, but later admitted he had.
The newspaper cited emails between a Kedzie constituent, Jerry Hanson, and Kedzie’s chief of staff, Dan Johnson. The emails quoted Johnson saying, “Sen. Kedzie has never signed anything in regards to the redistricting maps.” In a follow-up email, Johnson was quoted as saying, “Again, Sen. Kedzie was never asked to sign anything, nor did he sign anything.”
Johnson later wrote that he was not aware of what agreements the Journal Sentinel was referring to, and he said the Journal Sentinel engaged in “creative reporting” and “wildly overstated” the agreement’s meaning.
In an interview with The Gazette on Friday, Kedzie said the initial statements from his staff were the result of a misunderstanding.
“In hindsight, they (his staff) should have just said they didn’t know and referred the matter to me,” Kedzie said. “We could have handled it a little
better, but I there was a misunderstanding, and then this issue was blown way out of proportion.
“My staff was asked if I had engaged in some sort of a ‘secret’ attempt to hide redistricting information,” Kedzie said. “My staff knew I had not, and that’s what they said. Then I get word that this was all about the redistricting agreement, and I, of course, said that, yes, I had signed that.”
Kedzie said he had to think about whether he signed anything regarding redistricting.
“One has to understand just what this document is,” he said. “It is such a benign, somewhat routine document that I thought nothing of it. All it says is that work done by the law firm constituted a work product that falls within the attorney-client privilege area.”
The confidentiality agreement reads, in part:
“Such discussions shall be conducted for the sole purpose of assisting MB&F (Michael Best & Friedrich) in rendering legal advice—and, therefore, are subject to the attorney-client and attorney work product privileges. You are not to disclose the fact and/or contents of such discussions.”
Wynn said he has no problem with signing the agreement.
“I agreed not to talk about what I had learned because it was preliminary and not in final form,” he said. “It had nothing to do with secrecy. It was very much like the process we go through when we are developing legislation.”
Nass agreed that the agreement had nothing to do with secrecy.
“It’s similar to the legislative process,” Nass said. “You don’t go around publicly discussing bills when they are still in draft form. Looking back, I’m not sure the formal agreement was necessary. Most of us knew very little about the plan other than how it might affect our individual districts.”
Republican legislative leaders said confidentiality was important because lawsuits were likely. The agreements were signed in April and May. A lawsuit challenging the district lines was filed in June.