Newt Gingrich began his Friday morning address on the last day of the ALEC conference stating that, according to a recent Gallup poll, 79 percent of people believe that government is corrupt. All of the ALEC attendees around me nodded their heads. But I can think of no other organization in the United States that has done more to contribute to this belief. ALEC’s very existence depends on subverting democracy—undermining the actual people who are elected to make policy, and shutting the citizens who elect them out of the voting booth.
Mr. Gingrich went on to discuss the premise of his latest book, and laid out the struggle between, what he calls, “the pioneers of the future versus the prison guards of the past”. He referred to the ALEC members as those brave future warriors.
I looked around the room. The pioneers of the future seemed to skip this conference. The attendees had a bad case of PMS: Pale, Male and Stale. They looked and acted like the guardians of the past, in a desperate struggle to protect their current wealth and privilege by reverting to the past when corporations could do as corporations pleased.
Indeed, ALEC is the ultimate guardian of the past.
ALEC wants to go back to a time when people were excluded from participating in elections by replacing poll taxes with voter ID laws. As ALEC’s founding member stated in 1980 when speaking to conservative religious group, “I don’t want everyone to vote . . . As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”
Energy and environmental policies are the biggest areas of ALEC’s current focus. Many model bills and resolutions opposing federal regulations over clean air and clean water were adopted at this conference.
ALEC supports unfettered fracking, but its members like Peabody Energy are planning a “political tsunami” over proposed EPA regulations to reduce carbon emissions from coal fired power plants. As Donna Nelson, the chairwoman of the Texas Public Utility Commission warned, people are going to die from heat stroke because of these regulations. To underscore the point, ALEC passed out hand held paper fans which read “EPA’s Air Conditioner—Coming 2015.” Wind and solar are ALEC’s chief nemeses.
ALEC also wants to go back to a time of separate but unequal educational systems, draining public schools of resources that are re-allocated to private voucher and unaccountable charter schools. Interestingly, the charter movement has abandoned its claim that charter schools can do a better job with less money than traditional public schools.
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools now plans to return to states including Wisconsin with new ALEC model bills requiring charter funding parity with traditional public schools, expanding which entities are able to authorize new charter schools, and exempting these schools from all state requirements.
ALEC wants to go back to a time when there was no public safety net, and people experiencing hard times were left to fend for themselves or seek help from a church or charity. In the Medicaid realm, ALEC’s new model policy would make it almost impossible for anyone to qualify for Medicaid. Another model policy requires legislative approval for Medicaid expansions, but not for Medicaid restrictions.
Eric Cochling, Vice President of the right-wing think tank Georgia Center for Opportunity, told ALEC members that people go to charities for their health care. He claimed that Georgia charities would need only $2 million in state funds to meet the health-care needs of the Medicaid population. (Until, of course, former Medicaid recipients end up in hospital emergency rooms.)
And instead of foster care, Tarren Bragdon from the right-wing think tank Foundation for Government Accountability encouraged a “volunteer” system where struggling families are paired with stable families who provide support and even care for their children. Mr. Bragdon encouraged states to draft legislation prohibiting any regulations over these volunteers. So much for child safety and welfare.
ALEC has an incredible infrastructure. ALEC’s corporate members have all of the money in the world. But I do not think most Americans want to go back to a time when workers had no rights, when corporations could pollute our water and skies at their whim, and when eligible people were excluded from the ballot box, and children, the sick, and the vulnerable were cared for, or not, depending on the whims of their neighbors. ALEC represents the past. But most people want to move forward.
State Representative Chris Taylor, a Democrat, represents the 76th District in the Wisconsin State Assembly.
More information about the "think tanks" described above is available on the "State Policy Network" page of SourceWatch.org, a project of The Center for Media and Democracy, which has now merged with The Progressive magazine.