By Wis. State Rep. Chris Taylor
Wednesday was my first day at my first ALEC convention. I wore my most conservative outfit and did my best Michele Bachmann impersonation. To say I had no idea what to expect at the American Legislative Exchange Council is an understatement. In fact, after joining ALEC, registering for the conference and shelling out almost $1,000 in conference and hotel fees, the group still wouldn’t send me a conference agenda.
This led me to wonder what they were hiding. After three attempts to obtain the agenda by my legislative office for this week’s Chicago conference, I finally received a bootleg copy from another interloper. While I arrived in Chicago knowing little about what the day held, by the end of the day one thing was clear—I was on another planet. ALEC brings together a whole galaxy of resources to persuade state legislators to enact a special interest and corporate agenda that includes privatizing everything that is public (including education) so that corporations can make more money, eliminating federal regulations that could interfere with corporations making as much money as possible and disabling the federal government so that it really can’t do much. As keynote speaker Stephen Moore, founder of the Club for Growth and writer for the Wall Street Journal, stated, “What we really need is more rich people,” regardless of the cost to everyone else. Though legislators and corporations supposedly co-exist in the ALEC universe, it was abundantly clear to me that the special interests and big corporations use the gravitational pull of money and resources to set and control the agenda. During a workshop on limiting the power of the federal government, the Citizens for Self-Governance promised a bevy of resources, including bundling campaign contributions and training an “army” of grassroots activists, to legislators leading their states in calling for a constitutional convention to, among other things, prohibit federal mandates on states. The presenters entreated legislators to act now to “save the Republic.” One special interest lobbyist I spoke with advocated a convoluted constitutional amendment strategy to require that all federal agency regulations receive Congressional approval. When I responded that voters might not be that excited about changing the constitution for regulatory “reform,” he responded that you didn’t really need the consent of the people if you had Republican control of enough states and the corporate money that would surely fund such an initiative. In the ALEC universe, policies no longer have to be by the people or for the people. It is actual people who seem to receive little thought on the ALEC agenda, despite repeated calls by almost every presenter (to all those corporations and special interest groups in the room) to put the people back in control of their government. ALEC is having success helping corporations solidify their control of the government. According to the Center for Media and Democracy, in the 2011-2012 Wisconsin legislative session, 19 ALEC bills became law, including the ban on collective bargaining rights for public employees, the Castle Doctrine and Voter ID. When looking at limiting access to and remedies in the judicial system, approximately 200 ALEC model bills have been passed throughout the country in this area alone. To cap off my bizarre first day, ALEC held its welcome reception at the Alder Planetarium, complete with unlimited food, drink and a trip through the universe. I did not just feel like I was on Mars. I got a close up view, while literally traveling through space with individuals who were in a completely different orbit. Wisconsin State Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) was elected in 2011. After an unsuccessful attempt by Republicans to gerrymander her out of the legislature, she now represents a significant portion of the Isthmus and downtown Madison, including the Wisconsin State Capitol. An attorney, wife and mother, she previously worked as the public policy director for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin.