ALEC Legislator Spearheads End-Run Around the Feds

Wisconsin Assemblyman Chris Kapenga, Republican of Delafield, was the subject of a laudatory video profile posted on December 17 by the right-wing MacIver News Service.

In the video, Kapenga, a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), explains how he decided to convene state lawmakers from around the nation to try to get more control over Federal policy.

On December 7, he helped bring together about 100 legislators from 32 states at Mount Vernon in Virginia, "for an historic event," MacIver reports.

The group discussed Article V of the Constitution, which allows the states to amend the Constitution if they can get ratification in 3/4ths of the legislatures, or at a national convention. More meetings will follow.

Until 100 years ago, there was no reason for state legislatures to want to use their power to amend the U.S. Constitution, the MacIver video explains over stock footage of the Capitol and lawmakers gathered there. That's because state legislators elected U.S. senators, "which meant they already had a direct part in the Federal Government." But the 17th Amendment changed all that, by allowing the people to elect their Senators directly. "And the state governments lost their voice in Washington."

"With Congress's approval ratings at historic lows, both Republicans and Democrats at the state level of government are interested in paths around Washington," the MacIver video intones.

More shots of the U.S. Capitol building and Mount Vernon. The whole news report has the look and feel of a nonpartisan civics lesson.

But why do you suppose state legislators might be interested in "paths around Washington," class?

And who else, besides state government officials, might be interested in going down those paths?

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and other rightwing groups and corporate lobbyists are concentrating their efforts at the state level, passing state legislation to repeal environmental protections, labor laws, progressive taxation, workplace protections, even the weekend.

Spending on elections for state senate and assembly races and even state supreme courts, where much of this policy is decided, has exploded in the last decade as national money pours into the states.

In just over half of the states, Republicans control both houses of the legislature. And thanks to redistricting in 2010, many of those states have locked in Republican control for the rest of the decade.

But in his interview with MacIver, Rep. Kapenga gives a completely bland, apolitical explanation for why he kicked off the movement for the national convention:

"It's going to start creating this 'play in the sandbox together' mentality, where, hey, all of a sudden, we're together. We're doing something we can unite on. And as we do that, I think you'll start getting some ideas that, hey, here's maybe the next step."

"Leadership is not always about knowing the end game," Kapenga adds. "It's about taking the step you know you can take and have to take."

Other times, leadership is about joining an ALEC task force where corporations pay $3,000 a year to help write boilerplate legislation to reduce their damages if their products kill people.

Kapenga is on ALEC's Civil Justice Task Force.

Among the model bills the task force has produced are measures that help corporations "escape responsibility for products or practices that injure or kill Americans," according to ALECExposed.

Making it harder for injured people to use class action, limiting damages for the loss of a child, spouse, or parent, and other "tort reform" measures are in some of the bills the task force has produced.

Kapenga himself has brought ALEC bills to Wisconsin that phase out capital gains taxes and to make it harder to vote with new Voter ID requirements, according to SourceWatch.

"This is strictly state legislators," Kapenga told MacIver in the interview about the Article V convention. "We don't have any outside groups that are involved. And we're being very careful, we are not touching subject matter," he added.

One year from now lawmakers plan to meet in Indianapolis to draft rules. Then comes the drive for state legislatures to authorize a national convention.

That part comes later, after another session in the sandbox.
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Photo: "A torn poster of Uncle Sam," via Shutterstock.