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Picture a land where nothing is what it seems, a network of shadowy organizations conspires to manipulate public opinion, and saying the wrong thing makes you a target.

Welcome to real-life Wisconsin, as described by State Assembly Speaker David T. Prosser Jr. in his recent publication "Teacher, Lawyer, Socialist, Spy ... "

The Cold War may be over, but the battle over school reform still rages. And Mr. Prosser, a Republican from Appleton, says there is a cabal that will stop at nothing to block Gov. Tommy G. Thompson's reform plans, which include overhauling the state bureaucracy and expanding the Milwaukee voucher program to include religious schools.

In his "special report" issued last month, Mr. Prosser seeks to dispel the notion that a grassroots movement has risen up against the Governor's plans. The truth, he alleges, is that a few labor leaders have fostered this impression by spinning off a host of opposition organizations with new letterheads but many of the same leaders and members--and the state affiliate of the National Education Association as their driving force.

Worse yet, he says, these organizers appear to have ensnared apple-pie organizations in their web of intrigue. Mapping out what he sees as the links between various groups and their leaders, the Speaker connects the Wisconsin P.T.A.. president with the "Friends of Public Education," a group with the same office address as a political activist who Mr. Prosser alleges recently worked with "a flock of self-identified socialist organizations" in organizing a May Day protest against the Governor's budget plan.

Mr. Prosser also links education groups with the Wisconsin Research Center for Pluralism in Public Affairs, which he accuses of asking people to monitor others' speech so it can track conservative political enemies.

Richard W. Collins, the president of the state N.E.A. affiliate, described Mr. Prosser's missive as "bizarre," noting that education and labor groups have often teamed up to influence state policy.

Stan Kocos, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Research Center, said his organization is nothing special either; like many political-research groups, it watches for the use of certain buzzwords to monitor issues.

Both noted that conservative groups have also been doing their share of networking.

Governor Thompson's office could not be reached for comment last week.

--Peter Schmidt

Vol. 14, Issue 38

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