Who’s writing the laws?

William Cronon is an outstanding historian on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin.  I own two of his books, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists and the Ecology of New England, and Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West. Both made me see the relation of history to geography and the natural world in a new way.

William Cronon

Recently Prof. Cronon turned his attention to Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker and the Republican legislative program, and found some interesting things about where they’re coming from.  Among other things, he found that the laws of Wisconsin are being drafted by an outfit called the American Legislative Exchange Council. I never heard of it before, but evidently it has been drafting model legislation for conservative legislators for 40 years, and claims a good success rate in getting its ideas enacted into law.  Proposals such as Gov. Scott Walker’s union-busting law don’t come out of nowhere.  They are part of a concerted nationwide effort.

As Cronon emphasizes, there is nothing wrong with people banding together to advance a political program they believe in.  The rise of the conservative movement in the United States in the past 50 years is a remarkable success story, and worthy of emulation by those of us who want to move the country in a different direction.  At the same time, I wonder why I never heard of the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Cornon posted his findings on his new web log.  I won’t try to summarize his post.  Click on Who’s Really Behind Recent Republican Legislation in Wisconsin and Elsewhere? (Hint: It Didn’t Start Here) to read it.   I strongly recommend reading the post in its entirety.

Wisconsin’s Republicans haven’t taken Cronon’s writings lightly.  The Wisconsin Republican Party has used Wisconsin’s Open Records Law to subpoena any of Cronon’s messages on his university e-mail account that may relate to Republicans and politics; they won’t say why.  Click on A Shabby Crusade in Wisconsin for the New York Times comment on this.

I attended the University of Wisconsin from 1952 through 1956, and learned Wisconsin’s great tradition of progressive reform, going back to the heyday of Robert M. LaFollette’s Progressive Party in the early 20th century.  I admired, and still admire, its great Regents’ declaration of 1894, which is on a plaque on Bascom Hall, a central university building.  An ex-officio members of the university’s Board of Regents demanded that Richard T. Ely, an economics professor, be fired for his alleged support of labor union strikes, boycotts of nonunion business, socialism and other dangerous doctrines.  The board in reply issued this statement:

Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere, we believe that the great state University of Wiscosin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth may be found.

Click on Why Wisconsin was probably not the best place to try the latest right-wing attack for a report on Cronon and his opinions on the Real Economics web log.

Click on Scholar as Citizen for Cronon’s web log.

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