ALEC Watch: What I did on my Summer Vacation

Rep. Mark Pocan's Special Report From New Orleans

I really thought it would take more than five minutes in New Orleans before I realized the conservative movement had landed.

But it didn’t.

As I was waiting for my bags, I heard a mid-thirties woman talking on the phone. “Yah, I’m down in New Orleans for the American Legislative Exchange Council meeting. We write legislation, and they pass our ideas. It’s the free market.”

I could have taken the next flight home, as that pretty much summed up what I am to experience over the next three days. ALEC (it’s acronym) is an organization that is much like a dating service, only with legislators and special interests. It matches them up, builds a relationships, culminates with the birth of special interest legislation and ends happily ever after. That’s happy for the special corporate interests that is.

I’ve followed ALEC for a while, including crashing their winter meeting about 4 years ago. I wrote a piece for the Progressive Magazine at the time. But with all the renewed attention on conservative legislation passing in the states recently--especially in Wisconsin--this seemed like an opportunity too good to pass up.

Half of the organization is made up of legislators, mostly conservative Republicans. There is a smattering of conservative Democrats, a handful of people of color and, well, me. The other half are the corporate special interests. They pay big bucks to put their logos, lobbyists and legislation in front of the objects of their attraction--state legislators.

Legislators can join for $100. For a corporation or other organization make that thousands of dollars to join. Every working group is an equal mix of - you got it - legislators and lobbyists.

Governor Bobby Jindahl (R-Louisiana) opened the lunch on the first day, with a pretty good delivery of some red meat - European Socialism bad, debt worse, Obama THE worst. He also gave some pretty sage advice based on the debt negotiations nationally: "It pays to be stubborn." Those are his words, not mine.

He basically told the gang of about 2,000 people that they win when they hold out and hold out and hold out. Just like they did in the debt ceiling fight. I wish he had delivered that speech to a big group of Congressional Democrats.

I spent the afternoon walking through the trade show floor, learning about model legislation to reform education and how the private sector can save states when it comes to Medicaid. But more on those later.

This is the first blog of several on this topic. Also, look forward to a much longer article in the Progressive Magazine soon.

But for now, I am your eyes and ears on what the cutting edge of the conservative movement is up to in the states. I’ll go to workshops, talk to vendors and eat with the conservative leaders, but don’t worry: I’m making sure I don’t drink any Kool-Aid. (Look a corporate plug, and I’ve only been here one day!)

Wish me luck.

Wisconsin State Representative Mark Pocan (D-Madison), who coined the term FitzWalkerstan on the floor of the State Assembly, served three terms on the state’s budget committee, including one as its co-chair. He also served as the vice-chair of the non-partisan National Council on State Legislature’s Budget and Policy committee. Pocan’s Assembly district includes both the State Capitol and the Governor’s Mansion, making Governor Scott Walker his most infamous constituent.

Madison Protest