Why Republican Operatives Want Access to a Wisconsin Professor's Emails

The Internet has been enraged in the past few days over the sad tale of William Cronon, a well known history professor at the University of Wisconsin who suddenly finds Republican operatives trying to dig through his private email.

Cronon contributed a New York Times column last week that was critical of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's union-busting "budget repair bill," and his aggressive and frequently dishonest means of passing it into law. But a week before that, on his first post to a new personal blog, Cronon wrote that more scrutiny should be applied to the American Legislative Exchange Council — a secretive right-wing group that proposes "model bills" for Republican state legislatures to enact and may, according to Cronon, have been stirring up the anti-union bills seen in Wisconsin and elsewhere.

The state Republican party apparently didn't care for Cronon's post. Because a few days later he received an open records request asking for any of his university address emails from January 1, 2011 onwards that mention the terms "Republican, Scott Walker, recall, collective bargaining, AFSCME, WEAC, rally, union, Alberta Darling, Randy Hopper, Dan Kapanke, Rob Cowles, Scott Fitzgerald, Sheila Harsdorf, Luther Olsen, Glenn Grothman, Mary Lazich, Jeff Fitzgerald, Marty Beil, or Mary Bell."

In other words, they want to dig through his email to smear or at least intimidate him or writing about political issues that annoy him, personally, on a blog no one even knew about. Cronon says there's nothing embarrassing to find, but outspoken professors everywhere stand with him in Solidarity nevertheless.

Anyway, Wisconsin should probably change its Open Records Law so that state university professors don't have annoying plutocrat-backed Republican operatives digging through their private emails whenever they riff about public matters on a blog. On the other hand, if you're a student, this is a great way to mess with that professor you hate so much.

[Image of a February 27 protest inside the Wisconsin Capitol via AP]