The world’s laziest bloc of elected ‘workers’ is Red State Legislators. It used to be that special interest lobbyist would gather the requisite state house and senate leadership honchos and committee chairs together in a paneled back room, light up a few cigars, take a sip or two or ten of libations and the order-taking would commence. “May we help you Mr. or Mrs. Lobbyist?” “Yes, we’d like a self-interest drib of this, a greedy drab of that and don’t forget the power player desert.”
And that would be that. The collective ingredients would be hustled upstairs to whatever agency was in charge of cobbling together bills and the final result would be shoe-horned into a compliant pre-prepared house and senate for an easy majority vote and the democrats be damned.
As 2012 dawns, it’s still the democrats be damned, but the process has changed dramatically. Other than naming bridges after local war heroes and declaring July ‘Read Your Constitution Month’, the current crop of legislators are little more than glorified order-takers with no input into the legislative process. And in the case of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the power brokers no longer even bother to come to the General Assembly deal-making venues; the General Assembly comes to them.
ALEC claims a state legislative membership of over 2,000; estimates run as high as 2,400. The organization cranks out about 800 pieces of ‘model legislation’ a year and claims a success rate of around 20%. There is an ALEC organization in all 50 states, with a House and a Senate Chairperson. There are also two corporate Chairpersons per state.
Several times a year ALEC throws mighty inviting shindigs, generally in a fancy hotel resort setting in one of America’s fun-filled cities. The most recent gathering was the ALEC States and Nation Policy Summit held at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa on Greenway Parkway in Scottsdale. Attendees listened to speeches, broke up into groups and spent most of their 3 days being wined, dined and propagandized. The offshoot of all this pleasant pressure was a spate of ‘model legislation’ written by ALEC and given to the legislators as templates for actual bills to be introduced on respective senate and house floors.
Sometimes, the ALEC bills are presented in near verbatim fashion. Matt Huffman, a Tea Party type Ohio House Majority Floor Leader once introduced an ALEC voucher bill (HB135) to the point of virtually copying the ALEC model legislation title. Huffman title: Parental Choice and Taxpayer Savings Scholarship Program. ALEC title; The Parental Choice Scholarship Act. : The bill itself included all of the ALEC critical elements. Full disclosure; I have personally known Huffman for well over a decade.
What’s in it for your elected state legislator? A little mini-vacation; lavish praise and even more lavish meals and booze and for many, reimbursement by ALEC for travel and lodging expenses. A lucky percentage are paid generous fees from ALEC. State Ethics Commission filings indicated that a Republican South Carolina legislator, Liston Barfield once earned a fee of $9,661 bucks under the nebulous single-word heading of ‘Educational’. In four ALEC events, he pocketed a handsome take of over $18,500 all for Educational, whatever that might have been since Barfield is a member of the ALEC International Relations Task Force. He is also the Secretary of the National Executive Board.
While by far the most powerful, ALEC isn’t the only template conveyor belt. Groups like the anti-abortion Americans United for Life (AUL) play a prominent role as well. AUL has a portfolio of 41 pieces of model legislation legislators can ‘order’ from their website. The uber-wacky alternate currency groups are loaded up with templates as well.
South Carolina State Senator Lee Bright introduced a joint resolution (S. 500) calling for the appointment of a joint subcommittee to study the issue. I did a little snooping around the Internet and found North Carolina (HB301), Tennessee (Joint Resolution 98) and Virginia (Joint Resolution 5572) joint resolutions and an Act that were mirror images of the Bright bill. I’m sure there are more states in this grouping. The local newspaper listed Bright as the sponsor of 500, when, in fact, I doubt he wrote a single word of the bill. Bright has also attended ALEC functions, but when I asked him the origin of the alternate currency template, he thought he might have copied it from the Virginia legislation. I doubt a bill this stupid on its face would come from the sophisticated environs of ALEC.
Most recently, another South Carolina ALEC adherent, Senator George “Chip” Campsen introduced a variation of a voter ID bill, SB 304 after the initial restrictive effort was shot down by the Justice Department. If the initial bill was a first cousin of an ALEC model ID legislation, the second is a twin brother. Mix the two together it’s nigh impossible to tell the difference.
The long and short of it is that legislators are handed most pieces of important legislation ahead of time; voter ID, Education (most especially the school choice voucher push), health care, the environment, taxes and women’s reproductive issues to name a few. If it’s an issue of vital importance to the state, it will be templated. Congressional republicans have also seen to it that similar legislation is introduced on the national level at roughly the same time.
It’s no coincidence that major issues appear in concert with congress and in the vast majority of state legislatures in a narrow time frame. We have a second shadow government of right-wing states working in tandem with their numbers in congress to pass every extreme conservative claptrap bill and resolution possible while the right-wing controls the majority of state legislatures 28 R, 15 D, 6 split (Nebraska is non-partisen) and governorships 29 R, 20 D and 1 Independent.
Go to your state ethics site and see how many ALEC events are claimed by your various legislators. If they’re not listed there, ask the ethics people where you can find them. You’ll be amazed how much clout this corporate funded group actually has in your state. In a later feature, I plan to background ALEC and name names. The Koch brothers will be a good place to start.
So the next time you go to the polls, know that you’re not voting for Joe or Judy or Alan. You’re voting for ALEC. That’s who runs your state.