Frankly, ALEC doesn’t give a damn about what voters want
— December 10, 2013
One of the best examples of how states govern to the detriment of their residents is the misguided agenda of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an ultra-conservative group of state lawmakers that promotes bills that are inherently anti-democratic.
ALEC writes model legislation that it pushes in statehouses around the country, most recently the wave of insidious voter identification laws designed to reduce the voter turnout of minorities, the poor and seniors. It’s also responsible for the “stand your ground” laws in 26 states, including Florida, where the effort came unhinged when George Zimmerman was acquitted in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, a black teen who was armed with Skittles and a soft drink.
The response to that tragedy has shaken ALEC to its very core. More than 60 corporations pulled their funding, including Wal-Mart, McDonald’s and Amazon, resulting in the loss of about one-third of its operating budget. Meanwhile, the organization’s membership fell by nearly 400 state lawmakers who no longer want to be associated with the right-wing group.
ALEC is trying to rebuild its tattered image, but it may be too late to keep its power and influence from eroding. I hope so. Last week it held a three-day “policy summit” in Washington, D.C., in an effort to bring corporations back into the fold while rolling out even more devastatingly bad proposals.
Surprisingly, Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead jumped into the fray, speaking at the conference along with such high-profile GOP stars as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Mead has never been associated very closely with ALEC, beyond writing an article in support of a book written by one of its leading architects of the move to wrest control from the federal government by changing a massive number of state laws.
Why is our state’s chief executive trying to help breathe new life into ALEC? I was unable to obtain a copy of Mead’s breakfast speech last Thursday, and all of the national political punditry’s ink seems to have been used up on Cruz, who touted the foolish movement to repeal the 17th Amendment and have U.S. senators once again be elected by state legislators instead of directly by the voters.
Mead owes Wyoming residents an explanation about why he participated in ALEC’s recent D.C. summit, effectively showing state support for the group’s attempt to further erode the rights of working Americans while financially benefiting the corporations that fund the organization. Some of these proposals are so outrageous, they border on insanity.
Take, for example, ALEC’s latest push to stall America’s renewable energy resource movement by penalizing people who install solar panels on their homes. That’s right – to protect the profits of fossil-fuel companies, the group wants to stick it to people who dare to try to cut into industry’s huge monopoly in providing the nation’s power. Arizona has already passed the law.
The scheme was exposed last week by The Guardian, which reported that ALEC’s proposed legislation wants to charge homeowners using solar panels for feeding power into the grid. John Eick, the group’s legislative analyst for energy, environment and agriculture program, told the newspaper, “As it stands now, those direct generation customers are essentially ‘freeriders’ on the system. They are not paying for the infrastructure they are using. In effect, all the other non-direct generation customers are being penalized.”
How’s that for a blatant abuse of legislative power at the cost of Americans who are trying to help meet the Obama administration’s goals to increasingly use renewable resources and reduce our dependence on environmentally damaging fossil fuels?
I’ll admit that some of ALEC’s proposals will likely resonate with conservative voters in Wyoming – especially horrendous laws like “stand your ground” that are disguised as attempts to preserve Second Amendment rights. But come on – charging people more to use planet-saving solar energy? What’s next, laws that allow states to destroy commercial wind turbines?
But the attempt to cripple the solar industry is hardly the only energy proposal of interest to ALEC. One of its model bills would strip the EPA’s power to shut down a fracking site or oil industry facility, limiting the agency’s ability to enforce the Clean Air and Clean Water acts. The group also hopes to gut President Barack Obama’s plan to enforce EPA’s authority to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from existing and future power plants.
While Gov. Mead doesn’t outright deny that man plays a significant role in climate change, he’s become adept at playing to those who do. During a press conference in October, the governor suggested that climate change is still up for debate. A reporter asked, so what, exactly, about climate change is still up for debate? “It depends on who you talk to,” Gov. Mead answered. “If it is caused by man-made activities? If so, how much? And then what do you do about it? … I disagree with those who say there’s no debate on it.”
As ALEC noted in its news release announcing the governor would speak at its event, Mead said, “I do recognize we may face challenges presented by those who propose and believe they can change our climate by law with ill-thought-out policy like cap and trade.”
I understand why a Wyoming governor wants to protect the industries whose taxes largely pay for the operation of state government. But that doesn’t mean we have to cut off the solar energy industry at the knees, or excuse ignoring common-sense federal legislation aimed at reducing carbon emissions that are critical to saving the world’s environment.
And ALEC can’t justify new laws that allow people to get away with killing unarmed teens in the guise of self-defense, or to rob the labor movement of its right to collective bargaining, or the vast majority of the hundreds of other bills that the group takes from state to state.
ALEC’s proposed loyalty oath for state chairmen – which was ultimately rejected by the members – shows how desperately its leadership wants to control state legislators. The proposed pledge stated, “I will act with care and loyalty and put the interests of the organization first.”
ALEC wants to demand that its agenda be the first priority of state lawmakers, and not the will of their constituents? It shows what critics of the organization have been arguing for years: ALEC is concerned with power and money, voters be damned.
— Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake is the editor-in-chief of The Casper Citizen, a nonprofit, online community newspaper. It can be viewed at www.caspercitizen.com.
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