The head of the state Elections Commission says the attorney general is effectively stopping him from participating in a forum on Wisconsin’s gerrymandering case — a move that he says amounts to a top Republican limiting the speech of a Democrat. Attorney General Brad Schimel counters he is simply following a rule for lawyers to make sure one of his clients doesn’t talk to opposing attorneys without his own lawyers present. The dispute comes as state officials adjust to a new elections agency that is split evenly between Democrats and Republicans. Mark Thomsen, a Democrat and chairman of the commission, was invited to speak Friday on a panel that also features attorneys challenging Wisconsin’s election maps and voting laws. Thomsen wanted to participate in the forum but Schimel barred Thomsen and the attorneys from appearing together because Thomsen is a named plaintiff in the lawsuits at issue.
“That office is trying to use technical rules to exclude me from sharing my opinions from the same stage as other people,” Thomsen said of Schimel and his aides. “They’re trying to limit and define the ‘when’ and ‘who with’ discussion.”
Thomsen said he will speak separately at the event, rather than with the other lawyers who will be talking about the cases and the issues surrounding them. Friday’s event at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is being put on by the progressive American Constitution Society.
GOP Gov. Scott Walker and GOP lawmakers created the Elections Commission as a bipartisan agency after raising concerns that its predecessor — the Government Accountability Board, which was officially nonpartisan — had a bias against Republicans. Thomsen said the attorney general was not honoring the belief that both sides should get an equal say on public issues.