Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer
Would Republican henchmen try to damage the career of a university employee because of something he had written? We know the answer is yes, thanks to the experience of William Cronon, a history professor at the University of Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin Republican Party is seeking e-mails from Cronon's university account in reaction to a critical article he wrote about GOP Governor Scott Walker and his efforts to weaken unions. The Cronon story gained considerable traction last week, bringing to national attention the notion of Republican operatives attacking a public employee for political reasons.
That notion is not new here at Legal Schnauzer. It's been almost three years now since I was fired as an editor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), after 19 years on the job, in apparent retaliation for critical posts I had written on this blog about Republicans in our state. For good measure, my wife was "fired" under mysterious circumstances at an insurance company, Infinity Property and Casualty, and we both remain out of work during the Great Bush Recession.
Do Mrs. Schnauzer and I understand what Prof. Cronon is going through? I think we do. Are we surprised that it's happening? No, we are not. Alabama tends to be thought of as a backward state. But when it comes to negative social trends, our state often is ahead of the curve. Long before Scott Walker became a national figure, we saw signs of Alabama Republican attacking university employees, and their loved ones, for expressing progressive or pro-labor views. And it goes beyond just our little household.
Glenn Feldman, a professor of business at UAB, endured a grotesque harassment and discrimination campaign, apparently because his academic specialties of labor economics, labor history, and macroeconomics made him "too pro-union" for the university's taste. Like Cronon, Feldman was a full professor with tenure, but UAB tried to unlawfully fire him on multiple occasions--and he wound up having to fight back via a lawsuit. Court records show that Feldman's case recently was settled. Terms of the settlement are not public, but UAB's online directory shows that he now teaches in the College of Arts and Sciences.
How did Cronon offend Republican sensibilities? He wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Times, showing the Walker is breaking with the state's history of sensible bipartisanship. Perhaps most alarming to the GOP was a piece Cronon wrote on his blog titled "Who's Really Behind Recent Republican Legislation in Wisconsin and Elsewhere? (Hint: It Didn't Start Here.)"
Why are Republicans suddenly attacking public-employee unions around the country? Cronon probably got way too close to the truth when he wrote this:
The most important group, I'm pretty sure, is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which was founded in 1973 by Henry Hyde, Lou Barnett, and (surprise, surprise) Paul Weyrich. Its goal for the past forty years has been to draft "model bills" that conservative legislators can introduce in the 50 states. Its website claims that in each legislative cycle, its members introduce 1,000 pieces of legislation based on its work, and claims that roughly 18% of these bills are enacted into law. (Among them was the controversial 2010 anti-immigrant law in Arizona.)
If you're as impressed by these numbers as I am, I'm hoping you'll agree with me that it may be time to start paying more attention to ALEC and the bills its seeks to promote.
Cronon probably pinpointed the low-profile group that is behind the most recent virulent strain of pathological conservatism. For that sin, the GOP has decided, he must pay. It apparently hopes to extract revenge by finding embarrassing tidbits in Cronon's e-mails, perhaps showing that he violated state laws regarding the use of public equipment for partisan political activities.
In a post titled "A Tactic I Hope Republicans Will Rethink: Using the Open Records Law to Intimidate Critics," Cronon summarizes the issue at hand. Why did Stephan Thompson, of the Wisconsin GOP, target Cronon? The professor provides insight:
It doesn't take a great leap of logic to infer that Mr. Thompson and his colleagues aren't particularly eager to have a state university professor asking awkward questions about the dealings of state Republicans with the American Legislative Exchange Council. This open records request apparently seemed to Mr. Thompson to be a good way to discourage me from sticking my nose in places he doesn't think it belongs.