John “Sly” Sylvester received the on-air phone call Thursday morning (“Sly in the Morning” AM1670 WTDY) from recently terminated State Employee Chris Larsen breaking the story. Larsen explained he had been fired for communicating a clarification to his fellow State Employees regarding the new Voter ID policy. This on the heels of an email from DOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb instructing DOT employees to refrain from offering the IDs for free – they had to be requested, fueling accusations of voter suppression and poll tax (to those who unknowingly pay for the ID). Chris Larsen sent the following email from his office computer at The Department of Safety and Professional Services to his fellow State Employees in the 1400 East Washington Building:
Do you know someone who votes that does not have a State ID that meets requirements to vote? Tell them they can go to the DMV/DOT and get a free ID card. However they must ask for the free ID. a memo was sent out by the 3rd in command of the DMV/DOT. The memo specifically told the employees at the DMV/DOT not to inform individuals that the ID’s are free. So if the individuals seeking to get the free ID does not ask for a free ID, they will have to pay for it!!
Just wanted everyone to be informed!! REMEMBER TO TELL ANYONE YOU KNOW!! ANYONE!! EVEN IF THEY DON’T NEED THE FREE ID, THEY MAY KNOW SOMEONE THAT DOES!! SO TELL EVERYONE YOU KNOW!!
Christopher J. Larsen
Department of Safety & Professional Services
In a phone interview with Badger Democracy, Larsen explained what happened next. Following the delivery of the email, Larsen was “called out of his cubicle” by his immediate supervisor Martha Zydowski , and led into the office of Division head, Jim Parker. He was told that Secretary Ross would be “very unhappy” with the email, and it would be better for them to separate his employment. The reason he was given for separation was “you shouldn’t use state email for those purposes.” Larsen then cleaned out his cubicle and was escorted out of the building.
Since that interview, Badger Democracy received information from DSPS sources that the Department is preparing to claim Larsen was in fact fired for “prior infractions.” Larsen stated unequivocally that he never received a written reprimand, nor did he ever sign acknowledgement of receipt of any reprimand. In fact, his LTE status had recently been renewed. None of Larsen’s prior supervisors in DSPS would comment on the record. In addition, John Murray, Executive Assistant to the Secretary is handling all statements regarding this action. He stated the Department has “no comment on personnel matters,” and that the action is “currently under review.”
This action against Chris Larsen presents two significant concerns. The first is the right to express and communicate accurate information to fellow state employees within the system without fear of retribution. Larsen’s email was only to staff in his building at 1400 East Washington Avenue. The email was not political in nature – it was to inform as to the policy and suggest communicating that information accurately. The email did not tell employees at the DMV counters to tell people the IDs are free – which would have been insubordination, it was merely non-political and accurate information. Free speech rights should still be applicable in State Government work environments.
The second is more nefarious. This action goes further than any previous to confirm the motive behind this law – voter suppression. It is obvious by this action the Walker Administration is desperate to have this law do what they intended – prevent as many people as possible from obtaining voter IDs for free, thus disenfranchising their vote through a “poll tax” of information omission. Further yet, preventing those who cannot afford it from getting a voter ID at all, complete disenfranchisement of the poor. The case of Chris Larsen has exposed, in real terms, the agenda and desperation for power behind the GOP Voter ID law.