Under Republican Governor Scott Walker, Wisconsin has engaged in extraordinary and often embarrassing efforts to gag science for what appear to be blatantly political reasons. The state's experience mirrors trends in other states and on the national level.
Perhaps the strangest--and sadly illustrative--example is the attempt to silence Tia Nelson, formerly the head of Wisconsin's Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, which manages a land trust that provides aid to schools, libraries, and local communities.
Nelson is the daughter of Gaylord Nelson, the former governor and U.S. Senator who in 1970 co-founded Earth Day. She served as the board's executive secretary for more than a decade, under both Democratic and Republican governors, describing herself in an interview as "painfully nonpartisan."
"I knew, because I was serving in a Republican administration, that there was deep suspicion of me--environmentalist Gaylord's daughter," Nelson says. "So I was an extraordinarily careful person. I never engaged visibly in any partisan politics."
But that didn't keep the Republicans from putting a target on her back. In late 2014, a conservative Republican businessman, Matt Adamczyk, was elected state treasurer, one of three officials who oversee the public lands board. Even before taking office, Adamczyk asked that Nelson's name be removed from the board's letterhead and that it stop subscribing to The New York Times.
Adamczyk was aggrieved that Nelson had served as co-chair of a state task force on global warming convened in 2007 by then-Governor Jim Doyle, a Democrat, and had testified about the group's work at a congressional hearing in Washington, D.C.
In March 2015, Adamczyk tried to have Nelson fired, accusing her of "time theft" for her work on this issue. Nelson was stunned, and wonders to this day what state employee would refuse a governor's request to serve on a task force--one that was "pointedly balanced" with Republican lawmakers and utility industry representatives.
Though his effort to fire Nelson failed, Adamczyk in April 2015 got Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel, a fellow board commissioner, to join him in passing a rule to prevent staff "from engaging in global warming or climate change work while on [board] time." At this meeting, Adamczyk declared, "I don't want anyone in this agency to work on that topic again." The board's action, interpreted as a ban on even discussing these issues, drew...