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Gov. Scott Walker at the 2016 Governor's Blue Ribbon Livestock Auction at the Wisconsin State Fair. (Calvin Mattheis photo) Gov. Scott Walker at the 2016 Governor's Blue Ribbon Livestock Auction at the Wisconsin State Fair. (Calvin Mattheis photo)

Gov. Scott Walker at the 2016 Governor's Blue Ribbon Livestock Auction at the Wisconsin State Fair. (Calvin Mattheis photo)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher August 24, 2016

General public and the press not allowed to attend Gov. Scott Walker's 'listening sessions'?

Wisconsin state Sen. Chris Larson earned a Pants on Fire when he claimed, more than halfway into 2013, that Gov. Scott Walker "hasn't done a public event" the entire year.

The Republican governor had attended public meetings, presided over military ceremonies and given speeches, among many other public events.

Nevertheless, Walker has been criticized for not being more accessible. And on July 15, 2016, a claim made by another Democratic lawmaker caught our attention.

State Rep. Dana Wachs of Eau Claire, a lawyer and four-year lawmaker who has been mentioned as a possible 2018 gubernatorial candidate, said in a tweet:

"Walker holding listening sessions: Good. Making them invite-only & excluding the press: Not so good."

Is he right that the listening sessions are invitation only and exclude the media?

Wachs’ evidence

Wachs’ tweet included a link to a Capital Times news article that was posted the same day.

The article said that, according to state records, Walker's office had asked lawmakers, lobbyists, state agency heads and local economic development agencies to help select attendees for his invite-only listening sessions throughout the state.

The article said Walker had held 50 such sessions, all of which were open only to invited guests. The general public and the press were excluded.

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This wasn't disputed. The governor’s office issued a statement in connection with the 50th session that quoted Walker as saying:

Before every listening session, we’re in contact with area state legislators, no matter what party they represent, as well as community leaders to help us reach out and invite a good cross-section of people with different experiences and opinions. We also focus on ensuring those from a particular community are the primary attendees.

The statement continued:

Advance notice of participation is intended to ensure that there are no threatening criminal backgrounds and to avoid people whose intent is to be disruptive.

While listening sessions are closed to members of the press to encourage an honest and candid conversation between attendees, local members of the media are given the opportunity to sit down for one-on-one interviews following the listening session in the interest of transparency.

A few weeks earlier, residents in Pierce County held signs outside one of Walker’s listening sessions to protest not being allowed in. But such protests have not been common.

Walker had touted the tour six months earlier in his "State of the State" address. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel noted criticism from Democrats, including Russ Feingold, who is running against Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson for the seat he lost to Johnson in 2010.

As a senator, Feingold’s listening sessions were open to the public, and that wasn't always pleasant during the emotional debates over President Barack Obama's health-care law in 2010, the Journal Sentinel noted. If the meetings aren’t open to the public, Feingold told the newspaper, "you're going to have a pre-selection process and you're not going to get the full picture."

Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said the governor speaks to local media after each session.

Our rating

Wachs says Walker's "listening sessions" are "invite-only and excluding the press."

As he travels Wisconsin to meet with residents, Walker asks various people, including Democratic lawmakers, for suggestions on who to invite to his listening sessions. But the sessions are not open to the public or to the press, only to people who are invited.

We rate Wachs’ statement True.

https://www.sharethefacts.co/share/0c49b107-14c9-4af7-87b3-1be6a83985b7

Our Sources

Twitter, Dana Wachs tweet, July 15, 2016

Email, Dana Wachs, Aug. 11, 2016

Email, Scott Walker spokesman Tom Evenson, Aug. 11, 2016

Capital Times, "As Scott Walker reaches 50 listening sessions, critics continue to question invite-only policy," July 15, 2016

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Scott Walker hasn't done any public events in 2013, Democratic state senator says," Sept. 8, 2013

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Scott Walker trying to reconnect with voters in listening sessions," Jan. 24, 2016

Gov. Scott Walker, statement, July 11, 2016

Isthmus, "Access denied -- citizens barred from attending Walker’s listening sessions," July 21, 2016

Pierce County Herald, "Dozens protest Governor Walker’s invitation-only listening session in Pepin," June 23, 2016

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More by Tom Kertscher

General public and the press not allowed to attend Gov. Scott Walker's 'listening sessions'?

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