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UP #372 – A Progressive Democrat Joins the Right-Wing ALEC Organization

It’s true. I plopped down my $50 and became a member of ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), dedicated to the three principles of limited government, free markets and federalism. This is the basis of a right-wing movement in America to repeal existing government legislation that promotes social justice and economic equity, and stop any future such legislation.
However, while these three words are blazoned across their brochures, the literature inside says, “The goal of ALEC is to foster efficient, effective, accountable and transparent government that respects hardworking people.” Heck, I’ve always campaigned supporting these goals and I don’t know anyone right or left who wouldn’t. So I was intrigued by how such commonly shared goals could lead to such divergent paths toward a more democratic America.

I know the shorthand explanation. Nick, don’t be gullible, the corporations run ALEC and their members are ignorant ideologues or, at best, are being honestly mislead by corporate propaganda. I had to meet these people. I’ve met ignorant ideologues on both sides of the political spectrum. Did the right wing have more of them because corporations spend gobs of money on deception?

There was one problem in finding out—ALEC is open only to state legislators or private-interest parties, i.e. corporations or business associations. Being neither, I wouldn’t be able to get into their conference. A break came last year when ALEC formed ACCE (the American City County Exchange) for city and county public officials. It was to take ALEC’s organizational approach of helping these elected representatives pass laws that could cut taxes, limit government and promote free markets (i.e. turn over government services and functions to businesses).

Scott Walker speaking at the ALEC Conference

Gov Walker begins his speech to the ALEC breakfast crowd boasting “we took on the unions and won.” i.e. Labor = enemy

I had assumed that this was a closed association, and that I would be required to take an oath or be screened and approved for admission. There have been democratic state legislators who experienced difficulty in getting admitted into ALEC meetings. But in the end, they were admitted. Why? Because ALEC is a 501c3 organization, which means that it cannot discriminate based on political beliefs if it wants to retain its advantageous tax status. The door was open, all I had to do was step through it and pay the admission charge. There I found that things were not as open as it might have appeared, but I’ll deal with the mechanics of how ALEC/ACCE operate in a later posting.

When I started tweeting (@nickjlicata) and posting on Facebook during my three days attending the joint ALEC/ACCE conference, the initial responses I received were of shock and bewilderment. What was I doing there? It was said that I had crashed this event. But as I point out it’s not about crashing it, since they legally can’t stop an elected from attending. Nevertheless, it does take some nerve to enter into a conference where everyone there has an adamantly different worldview and most likely will see you as the enemy.

The challenge for me, and in a way it is for all of us, is to get around seeing individuals as enemies. Yes, we have different strategies for protecting our democracy but we must listen closely to the other side to understand just how they hope to accomplish that, even when it turns our stomach because we can see how it will most likely cripple our democracy. You cannot sharpen a blade without grinding it against a tough stone. We have to do the same with our minds. If they are not challenged they become mere echo chambers for slogans.

In the following posts, I will introduce the people and leaders I met. I will let you know what they said during the meetings and afterwards. I will describe how ALEC and ACCE operate and how they have begun to reshape this nation to conform to their vision. I will reveal the divisions that exist within them and how those conflicts present an internal challenge to achieving their own goals. And I will talk about how the corporate interests shape these organizations and also how the most conservative elected officials complain about how those same corporations are corrupt.

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