Talking points telling Assembly Republicans how to handle the redistricting process — including urging them to "ignore the public comments" — were created for one of the state's top Republican leaders, Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester.
The talking points memo was uncovered by a federal lawsuit against the new maps. The organization that filed the suit, the immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera, told reporters Wednesday that it proves Republicans used an unethical and illegal process to craft their voting district maps in secret, and without taking public comments into account.
"(The redistricting law) is rotten, and the process by which it was passed is rotten," said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera.
The talking points, prepared for one-on-one meetings between Vos and other Assembly Republicans, read in part, "Public comments on this map may be different than what you hear in this room. Ignore the public comments."
But Vos told the State Journal that the memo is being misinterpreted.
"This is another example of the loony left trying to present misinformation through innuendo," Vos said.
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He said the memo was created for him by Adam Foltz, an aide to Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald. But Vos said the item about ignoring public comments was not about citizens but rather "the public comments and talking points of partisan Democrats." And he said he didn't parrot the talking points.
Earlier Wednesday Peter Earle, Voces' attorney, insisted that the talking points proved GOP leaders planned to tell the public something different about the maps than what they were saying in private and keep the process shrouded in secrecy.
And Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said he found Vos' explanation difficult to believe.
"It would be tough to draw that conclusion that that's what he was referring to when he refers to 'the public,'" Barca said. "It's a rather contorted definition."
States are required to redraw legislative and congressional districts every 10 years to reflect population changes, which are reflected in the U.S. Census.
Even before the new maps, which were drawn by Republicans who control the Legislature, were released, a group of Democratic citizens sued in federal court challenging the maps' constitutionality.
That case is scheduled to go before a three-judge panel this month.
The newly released court documents in the Voces case showed that nearly all of Wisconsin's GOP state lawmakers took the unusual step of signing a legal agreement promising not to comment publicly about redistricting discussions while new GOP-friendly maps were being drafted. The memo also said that anyone who discussed the maps could be called as a witness in the case.