Don't you just love politicians like state Rep. John Nygren?
Here he is this week while filing an open records suit to force Gov. Tony Evers to release records on farmer mental health programs.
"Governor Evers and his staff are blatantly hiding and denying access to public documents," the Republican co-chair of the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee declared in a news release. "Governor Evers is not above the law. These brazen attempts to hide public documents is shameful and begs to question what Governor Evers and his staff are hiding."
Indeed, the governor and his staff are wrong not to release the records. In fact, the office's stance on several open records requests has been troubling and inexcusable. There's little question that some of the requests have been politically motivated, but so what? Right-wingers, left-wingers or no-wingers all have a right under Wisconsin law to see and examine governmental records — no questions asked.
Yet, politicians with a record like Nygren's aren't in a good position to call Evers' failure to release the records "shameful." He has no room to talk.
It was only four years ago that we editorially insisted that Nygren and fellow Finance Committee co-chair Alberta Darling had "shamed themselves," following a brazen attempt, initiated in the JFC, to effectively gut the state's long-standing openness law without so much as a public hearing or debate.
The action was met by a huge outcry from not only the state's media, but representatives of both political parties, citizen organizations and even the Republican attorney general at the time, Brad Schimel.
The embarrassed co-chairs, along with then-Gov. Scott Walker, quickly withdrew the rewrite.
It was also Nygren who earlier this year put up a fuss when citizen activist Sheila Plotkin from McFarland filed open records requests to find out what constituents were telling the legislators on Joint Finance what they thought of their stands on education funding. All of them provided emails and other communications to Plotkin except one — John Nygren.
He used a loophole in the law that allows charges for records "searches" that cost more than $50 and told Plotkin he would give her the records only after she paid $110.41. That effectively made it impossible for the 81-year-old retired school teacher on a fixed income to get them.
A few months before that, Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council President Bill Lueders asked for communications Joint Finance had received favoring or opposing the state budget. All complied except Nygren. He would give Lueders the records only after he paid an upfront search fee of $334.66.
And, let's not forget Nygren's role in blocking the liberal group One Wisconsin Now from following him on Twitter. OWN sued Nygren, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and former state Rep. Jesse Kremer, contending that to block it from examining their Twitter feeds was unconstitutional.
A federal judge agreed and ordered the state to pay OWN's attorneys. Bottom line is that taxpayers wound up forking over $200,000 thanks to this violation of openness.
Now Nygren has suddenly become an open records advocate. Perhaps the pot ought not to be calling the kettle black?
Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. email@example.com, 608-252-6410 and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.
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