by Gary Farber
The current attempt by the radical "conservative" Republican Party of Wisconsin, which is so typical of the national and other state Republican Party leadership, has met a roadblock.
Wisconsin Republic Party Leader: Hao! Dai ye! We won again! This is good, but what is best in life?
Cronan: The open steppe, fleet horse, falcons at your wrist, and the wind in your hair.
Wisconsin Republic Party: Wrong! Conan! What is best in life?
Wisconsin Republic Party Leader: To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.
Wisconsin Republic Party Leader: That is good! That is good.
We have video of this meeting:
And thus the saga of Conan meets Cronan.
What's the latest development?
The Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin, Biddy Martin, has issued a public statement:
Two weeks ago UW-Madison received an open records request from Stephan Thompson, deputy executive director of the state's Republican Party, for email records of Professor Bill Cronon.
Professor Cronon is the Frederick Jackson Turner and Vilas Research Professor of History, Geography and Environmental Studies at UW-Madison. He is one of the university's most celebrated and respected scholars, teachers, mentors and citizens. I am proud to call him a colleague.
The implications of this case go beyond Bill Cronon. When Mr. Thompson made his request, he was exercising his right under Wisconsin's public records law both to make such a request and to make it without stating his motive. Neither the request nor the absence of a stated motive seemed particularly unusual. We frequently receive public records requests with apparently political motives, from both the left and the right, and every position in between. I announced that the university would comply with the law and, as we do in all cases, apply the kind of balancing test that the law allows, taking such things as the rights to privacy and free expression into account. We have done that analysis and will release the records later today that we believe are in compliance with state law.
We are excluding records involving students because they are protected under FERPA. We are excluding exchanges that fall outside the realm of the faculty member's job responsibilities and that could be considered personal pursuant to Wisconsin Supreme Court case law. We are also excluding what we consider to be the private email exchanges among scholars that fall within the orbit of academic freedom and all that is entailed by it. Academic freedom is the freedom to pursue knowledge and develop lines of argument without fear of reprisal for controversial findings and without the premature disclosure of those ideas.
Scholars and scientists pursue knowledge by way of open intellectual exchange. Without a zone of privacy within which to conduct and protect their work, scholars would not be able to produce new knowledge or make life-enhancing discoveries. Lively, even heated and acrimonious debates over policy, campus and otherwise, as well as more narrowly defined disciplinary matters are essential elements of an intellectual environment and such debates are the very definition of the Wisconsin Idea.
When faculty members use email or any other medium to develop and share their thoughts with one another, they must be able to assume a right to the privacy of those exchanges, barring violations of state law or university policy. Having every exchange of ideas subject to public exposure puts academic freedom in peril and threatens the processes by which knowledge is created. The consequence for our state will be the loss of the most talented and creative faculty who will choose to leave for universities where collegial exchange and the development of ideas can be undertaken without fear of premature exposure or reprisal for unpopular positions.
This does not mean that scholars can be irresponsible in the use of state and university resources or the exercise of academic freedom. We have dutifully reviewed Professor Cronon's records for any legal or policy violations, such as improper uses of state or university resources for partisan political activity. There are none.
To our faculty, I say: Continue to ask difficult questions, explore unpopular lines of thought and exercise your academic freedom, regardless of your point of view. As always, we will take our cue from the bronze plaque on the walls of Bascom Hall. It calls for the "continual and fearless sifting and winnowing" of ideas. It is our tradition, our defining value, and the way to a better society.
Chancellor Biddy Martin
[...] At our request, Professor Cronon immediately undertook a search of all of his accumulated e-mails for the specific words, terms and names as you stated them in your request. The university’s legal staff then reviewed all of the identified e-mails to determine which ones must be made available to you pursuant to the Wisconsin Public records law. Those determinations have been reviewed and approved by the appropriate university officials. Copies of the records determined to be available to you under the law are enclosed.
You should further note that the e-mails that we have reviewed contain absolutely no evidence of political motivation, contact from individuals outside normal academic channels or inappropriate conduct on the part of Professor Cronon. The university finds his conduct, as evidenced in the e-mails, beyond reproach in every respect. He has used his university e-mail account appropriately and legitimately. He has not used his university e-mail account for any inappropriate political conduct. In fact, none of the e-mails contained any reference whatsoever to any of the specific political figures that you identified (except Governor Scott Walker), nor do they in any way reference the proposed recall efforts.
ALEC, meanwhile, denies all, knows nothing.
Cronon's story generated a tenfold increase in traffic to ALEC's website that caused it to crash, leading to false accusations that ALEC shut it down "to hide what we're doing," says Weber. She said the group bolstered its internet capacity to handle the extra interest, "but we're running a little slow, so patience would be appreciated."
Weber says ALEC's goal is to promote policies in line with Thomas Jefferson's principles of limited government, free markets, and federalism. Two thirds of its members are Republican, but she said the group does not coordinate with any political party. It holds regular conferences for members and operates a legislative library that lets members from different states exchange ideas for legislation. The group boasts that it has written hundreds of model bills, resolutions, and policy statements.
Although most of the group's members are legislators, corporations also join. Members of ALEC's "Private Enterprise Board" include executives from Pfizer, AT&T Services, Koch Industries, Peabody Energy, ExxonMobil and Wal-Mart.
A report on the group compiled by Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council says corporate members foot most of ALEC's bills, and collaborate on drafting the legislation it suggests. The group's most recent publicly available 990 tax form doesn't list donors but says it has a yearly budget of around $7 million.
Weber says the group is funded through membership dues and by foundations. She denied that corporations set the group's agenda, and said that only its legislative members get to vote on the group's policies.
"The complexity and diversity of our public and private sector members suggest there are different opinions," says Weber. "With that many people, not everyone is going to agree on everything."
Weber says ALEC has not taken any position on most aspects of SB 5. The organization maintains that collective bargaining should be an open process, that binding arbitration should be used to resolve disputes, and that public pensions should be moved toward a defined contribution plan with contributions from both government and employees, she said.
"We only support two of the policies in there and just don't have a position on the rest of it," she says.
The author of SB 5, Republican Sen. Shannon Jones of Springboro, says she drafted the bill herself after a year of work, and is unaware of any coordinated effort by ALEC or anyone else to pass similar legislation elsewhere.
"To the extent that there are similarities between bills, that this is happening all over the country, it is because states have run out of money and we need to change the structure that drives the costs of government upwards," says Jones.
A spokesman for Gov. John Kasich, Rob Nichols, says Kasich was formerly active in ALEC, but stopped after leaving Ohio's legislature. The group's website says Kasich participated in the group during its formative years. [....]
The Wisconsin Republican Party leadership appears to be stymied and is shutting up on Cronon, for now, officially.
Mark Jefferson, executive director of the Republican Party, released this statement: “We thank the University for complying with the open records request relating to the email correspondence of Professor William Cronon, and we thank Chancellor Martin for her statement. We share her belief that University faculty are not above the rules prohibiting the use of state resources for political purposes. Like other organizations from across the political spectrum, the Republican Party of Wisconsin has a longstanding history of making open records requests, and we will continue to exercise our right to do so in the future.”
Jefferson did not say whether Thompson would appeal and seek the records UW withheld.
I commend to all this summary of Protests, debates & grace under pressure in Madison, WI, with videos and pictures which also cover the events I covered not just at GOP's Radical Breakage Continues, but also at: Winning Wisconsin, Pigs & Hippies Together: This is OUR HOUSE!, The New Republican Congressional Revolutionary Volunteers Of America, and Scott Walker Reports To The Boss, David Koch.
BadgerFutures may be a good place to follow some future developments.
Also, Susie Madrak: In Fitzgeraldstan, Wisconsin Laws Are For The Little People
And that's where it stands for now. What do you think?
UPDATE, 12:38 p.m., PST: I decided the joke of combining "Cronon" and "Conan" in the title name didn't work, and switched it back to "Cronon," the good Professor's name. If anyone gets in wrong in comments, I led them into it.