It's amazing just how much legislation is coming from the American Legislative Exchange Council
Chris Taylor, a Democrat from Wisconsin is an amazing woman. This past August, Taylor attended the annual ALEC conference in Chicago. For those who don’t yet know, ALEC stands for the American Legislative Exchange Council. It is a group of corporate lobbyists and state legislators working together to benefit the bottom line of corporations at public expense.
Being new to the legislature, Taylor was curious as to where the outrageous legislative bills were coming from in Wisconsin. Bills supported so strongly by Republican Governor Scott Walker, Paul Ryan and Reince Preibus. Particularly the changes to collective bargaining for public employees and the state budget.
Chris Taylor was new in the legislature, having arrived in the middle of the previous term. She had missed a lot of the debates and wanted to learn more. She wanted to have a better understanding of ALEC so she could fight some of these very regressive policies better. “I think it’s so incredibly important for people to understand where these [model] bills are coming from and try to understand the rationale. I was quite blown away by the extent of where [Wisconsin] policy is coming from, because so much of it is coming from this group.”
Born and raised in Los Angeles, she attended Birmingham High School, about five miles from where I grew up. In 2011, she was elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly in a special election for the seat vacated by Dane County Executive Joe Parisi. She beat six other Democratic nominees for her seat and in 2012, she was re-elected with no Republican opponent and there was no write in candidate. She has been blazing a trail ever since.
Having attended several conferences, she had never been asked for identification, but at the ALEC conference she was. Luckily, nobody noticed or asked if she was a Democrat and just assumed she was a Republican.
One thing she learned was that ALEC was trying to get a Federal Constitutional Amendment that says Congress has to approve Federal regulations. When she questioned one of the ALEC attendees about it, the response was: “Oh, well, you really don’t need people to do this. You just need control over the legislature and you need money, and we have both.”
Taylor said that sentiment was underscored several times… They don’t want people involved in the political process, or in the policy process. That seems to be the intent in a lot of ways. You have a think tank in every state, and all they do is come up with these very, very regressive policies. You have corporations who fund it all for their own benefit, and then you have the legislators acting as foot soldiers to carry out the tasks.
There were a couple of instances where legislators actually did challenge some of the policies, but they always lost. These legislators were admonished many times during this conference for not doing enough or for not standing up to the federal government more.
From climate change to endangered species, everything was about denying reality and presenting it to constituents as issues that would result in the loss of jobs or increasing the “budget.” Anything to push their agenda through was game. “ALEC members have been quietly working out of the public eye to develop their agenda so that when given the opportunity, they are ready to start creating an ALEC nation. That time has come. And they are ready,” wrote Taylor.
In an interview with Theresa Riley of Moyers & Company, Taylor said the following about her attendance at the ALEC conference:
“I was really impressed by their infrastructure. I mean, we would never duplicate something like this on the left because, first of all, we would never take instructions from corporations, but the coordination that they have between these policy think tanks, the money and the legislators, in terms of just driving an agenda, it’s incredible.”
“I’ve never seen anything like it. I’m fascinated by it because I’ve never seen anything like it from the left. I was the public policy director at Planned Parenthood, so I’m very familiar with building infrastructure. We did a lot of that in the state of Wisconsin. But we have nothing that I know of on the national front that connects all these things.”
“It is a well-oiled machine. They’re really organized, they’re really coordinated and they have the resources. They’re not afraid to push it when they have the opportunities. They now have 24 state legislatures that are Republican controlled and have Republican governors. So they’ve had incredible success. They’ve had 71 bills introduced just this year that make it harder for most people who are injured to access the courts. We’ve certainly seen that here in Wisconsin. That was one of the first things that Walker did when he came in was push this tort reform through.”
“They have been waiting for 40 years to do some of the things they’re doing right now. They’ve been developing these model policies, making these connections and building these relationships, and when they had an opportunity, like right here in Wisconsin, they pushed it. They did not hesitate to push their extreme agenda, even though it hurts people. It doesn’t help the average person. It hurts people to say we’re not going to invest in public education. It hurts people to deprive the government of revenue by these massive tax cuts to mostly rich people.”
If Democrats are going to succeed in 2014, heed Chris Taylor’s direct warning. Between redistricting, voter identification laws, and other schemes, ALEC will succeed using Republicans cronies if Democrats do not get aggressive on every level of government. Get to know your local representative, whether state legislature or Congressional Representatives. Research their biographies, voting histories, party lines (if they have switched parties) and who they are funded by. It’s so easy with the internet. You can even email your representatives and ask them questions.
It is scary to think about how much is at stake this year and in 2016. However, if enough progressive Democrats are determined to get out the vote and hold each other accountable, we will win this. Remember how President Obama won the first time? His campaign took baby steps using social networking and small donations. Get creative, get involved. It’s your city, state and country. It is your future and your children’s future.