-By Patrick Marley
February 8, 2012- Madison – Rep. Robin Vos acknowledged Wednesday that talking points were created for him last year that told Republicans to ignore public comments on new election maps.
But Vos, one of the Assembly's top leaders, downplayed the memo's significance and said he simply told other Republicans they should not listen to Democrats on the issue – a claim that critics called implausible.
Vos said he did not know why the half-page memo was phrased the way it was. He also distanced himself from other parts of the memo.
The memo was prepared for one-on-one meetings Vos had with Assembly Republicans in June and July.
"Public comments on this map may be different than what you hear in this room. Ignore the public comments," the memo said.
Peter Earle, one of the attorneys suing over the new election maps, said the talking points showed Republicans planned to tell the public something different about the maps than what they were saying in private.
"What those words meant was the Republican leaders would be making public comments to justify these maps and those comments should be ignored," Earle said.
Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Horicon) said Earle was wrong about that.
"They're interpreting it wrong," he said. "Why would I have them ignore comments I made in public about maps?"
Every 10 years, all states must draw new maps for legislative and congressional districts to account for population changes. Republicans control state government and so were able to draw maps that greatly favor their party for elections beginning this fall. A group of Democratic citizens sued over the maps even before they were unveiled, and they argue the maps violate the U.S. Constitution and federal Voting Rights Act.
A trial is set for Feb. 21 before a panel of three federal judges in Milwaukee.
The talking points, as well as confidentiality agreements nearly all Republicans signed, became public Monday as part of the lawsuit.
Vos, of Rochester, was one of a handful of lawmakers who was heavily involved in redistricting. He is co-chairman of the Joint Finance Committee and is widely expected to be the Assembly speaker next year because Fitzgerald is running for U.S. Senate.
Vos met individually with Assembly Republicans to show them the new maps of their districts at the law offices of Michael Best & Friedrich, across the street from the state Capitol.
Created in June
The talking points were created June 20 and last saved July 7, just days before the maps were introduced as legislation. The talking points were written by Fitzgerald aide Adam Foltz, who helped draw the lines for Republicans.
Foltz said in a deposition last week that Assembly Republicans provided feedback on the maps at the meetings with Vos, but that leaders did not make any changes to them in response to their comments.
Vos said Wednesday he told members he knew Democrats would allege their maps were unconstitutional and they should ignore such comments. He said he did not know why the memo said to ignore public comments, rather than to ignore Democratic comments.
"The point we were making was, when the Democrats say these maps disenfranchise people or when Democrats make up arguments that we think are literally not true, do not listen to the comments of Democrats because they are doing it for purely political reasons," Vos said.
Rep. Brett Hulsey (D-Madison) said he did not find Vos' explanation believable.
"It doesn't say 'Democrat' anywhere in that (document) and he's just trying to spin his way out of that," Hulsey said.
The GOP maps were passed just before recall elections were held last summer for six Republicans and three Democrats in the Senate. Those elections could have given Democrats control of the Senate, though in the end Republicans held onto the chamber by a one-vote margin.
"This is a placeholder map," the memo says. "If the Senate comes back in the majority, we may come back and adjust."