GOP Files FOIA Request for UW Madison Professor William Cronon’s Emails

Published at HNN (Source: David A. Walsh, associate editor of HNN), March 25, 2011.

The Wisconsin Republican Party is filing legal documents to gain access to the personal emails of William Cronon, Frederick Jackson Turner and Vilas Research Professor of History, Geography, and Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin—Madison and president-elect of the American Historical Association, in response to a March 15 blog post where he outlined the role of the American Legislative Exchange Council in drafting conservative legislation in states around the country … // 

… Cronon repeatedly emphasized, both in his original blog post on ALEC and his response to the Republican request, that he is an ideological centrist who belongs to neither party. Indeed, he took pains to emphasize in his March 15 post that he was not engaging in a partisan attack on the secretive and little-known ALEC, but that he wished to promote “open public discussion and the genuine clash of opinions among different parts of the political spectrum, which I believe is best served by full and open disclosure of the interests of those who advocate particular policies.”

The American Legislative Exchange Council, writes Cronon, was the most important group in drafting Wisconsin’s anti-union legislation. Founded by in 1973 by Henry Hyde (who would subsequently be elected to Congress in Illinois and serve for thirty-three years), Lou Barnett (a staffer on Ronald Reagan’s 1968 presidential campaign and an organizer of the Conservative Political Action Conference—CPAC), and Paul Weyrich (an original founder of the Moral Majority), it drafts generic templates for ideologically conservative bills which are then subsequently introduced by members (typically state Republican lawmakers) to state legislatures. Nearly a fifth of the bills eventually become laws, including, Cronon notes, “the controversial 2010 anti-immigration law in Arizona.)

Cronon also said that the state Republican Party is abusing the Freedom of Information Act by using it to “harass individual faculty members” and also worried that Republican investigators would be privy to confidential nonpolitical emails with students and colleagues. “Neither I nor my academic correspondents imagined that my doing so might put the confidentiality of our communications at risk,” a major assault on academic freedom.

The Wisconsin GOP responded to repeated requests from various news organizations by issuing a statement from Executive Director Mark Jefferson stating that “like anyone else who makes an open records request in Wisconsin, the Republican Party of Wisconsin does not have to give a reason for doing so.”

“Taxpayers have a right to accountable government and a right to know if public official are conducting themselves.”

“It’s honestly the lack of fair-mindedness in the [GOP’s statement that I find most disturbing,” Cronon responded in his most recent blog post. “I’m rapidly gaining an unhappy education about what hardball politics in the United States now looks like.”

“I worried for a while,” he wrote, “that my New York Times op-ed on “Wisconsin’s Radical Break” might have gone too far in drawing a carefully limited parallel between the current tactics of the Republican Party in Wisconsin and those of Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s…but since the Republican Party seems intent on offering evidence to support that comparison, I guess I should just let their words and actions speak for themselves.” (full text).

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