ALEC, the move to codify the extremist Republican agenda, and the Michigan connection

    Reading a column by Paul Krugman just now on the role of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in pushing so-called “Stand Your Ground” legislation around the country, I was reminded by a recent article in Mother Jones about how ALEC, working through the Mackinac Center, played a role in passing Michigan’s Public Act 4, giving Governor Snyder unprecedented power to appoint unelected officials to liquidate the public assets of Michigan’s cities, break employee unions, and privatize public services, in the name of fiscal responsibility. Following are clips from both pieces.

    First, here’s Krugman, on the passage of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, its rapid spread to other states, and the role that ALEC played in that process. [note: According to our friends at Think Progress, since the 2005 passage of the “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida, which allows for the legal use of deadly force, if there is a “reasonable belief” it is necessary in order to “prevent death or great bodily harm,” 25 states have approved similar measures. In addition, 5 more states, at the behest of the NRA and ALEC, are presently considering joining their ranks.]

    …(L)anguage virtually identical to Florida’s law is featured in a template supplied to legislators in other states by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-backed organization that has managed to keep a low profile even as it exerts vast influence (only recently, thanks to yeoman work by the Center for Media and Democracy, has a clear picture of ALEC’s activities emerged). And if there is any silver lining to Trayvon Martin’s killing, it is that it might finally place a spotlight on what ALEC is doing to our society — and our democracy.

    What is ALEC? Despite claims that it’s nonpartisan, it’s very much a movement-conservative organization, funded by the usual suspects: the Kochs, Exxon Mobil, and so on. Unlike other such groups, however, it doesn’t just influence laws, it literally writes them, supplying fully drafted bills to state legislators. In Virginia, for example, more than 50 ALEC-written bills have been introduced, many almost word for word. And these bills often become law.

    Many ALEC-drafted bills pursue standard conservative goals: union-busting, undermining environmental protection, tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy. ALEC seems, however, to have a special interest in privatization — that is, on turning the provision of public services, from schools to prisons, over to for-profit corporations. And some of the most prominent beneficiaries of privatization, such as the online education company K12 Inc. and the prison operator Corrections Corporation of America, are, not surprisingly, very much involved with the organization.

    What this tells us, in turn, is that ALEC’s claim to stand for limited government and free markets is deeply misleading. To a large extent the organization seeks not limited government but privatized government, in which corporations get their profits from taxpayer dollars, dollars steered their way by friendly politicians. In short, ALEC isn’t so much about promoting free markets as it is about expanding crony capitalism…

    And, here’s the clip from the Mother Jones article on the origins of Michigan’s Public Act 4, officially known as the Local Government and School District Fiscal Accountability Act. [note: Michigan has made use of emergency mangers since 1990. The passage of the Emergency Financial Manager Act in 2011, however, really gave the Republicans in Lansing the tools they needed to make emergency managers effective tools in the war against public employee unions, and collective bargaining.]

    …(Louis) Schimmel (the appointed Emergency Manager of Pontiac) is also a former adjunct scholar and director of municipal finance at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a free-market think tank that shares his enthusiasm for privatizing public services. The center has received funding from the foundations of conservative billionaire Charles Koch, the Walton family, and Dick DeVos, the former CEO of Amway who ran as a Michigan Republican gubernatorial candidate in 2006.

    In 2005, Mackinac published an essay by Schimmel that called on Michigan’s Legislature to give emergency managers the power to impose contract changes on public-employee unions and “replace and take on the powers of the governing body.” When Republicans gained control over Lansing in 2010, Mackinac reprinted Schimmel’s article. Last March, the center celebrated when the Legislature implemented its prescriptions in Public Act 4.

    The Mackinac Center claims that Michigan could save $5.7 billion annually if public employees’ benefits were comparable to those of private-sector workers. Public-employee unions say cuts to public-sector jobs have only worsened the state’s economic woes with foreclosures and intensified reliance on state aid programs in cities like Flint, where the jobless rate was 17.5 percent at the end of 2011. “It’s an acceleration of the downward spiral,” says Brit Satchwell, president of the Ann Arbor Education Association, a teachers’ union. “Our goal is [to] outlaw government collective bargaining in Michigan,” wrote Mackinac’s legislative analyst in an email to a Republican state representative last summer. (The message was obtained by the liberal think tank Progress Michigan.)

    The Mackinac Center is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a clearinghouse for pro-business state legislation. (Its model bills have been linked to Arizona’s anti-immigration law and Wisconsin and Ohio’s collective bargaining bans.) James Hohman, the center’s assistant director of fiscal policy, was one of 40 private-sector representatives at an ALEC conference in December 2010 where, according to minutes from the closed-door meeting, participants hammered out model legislation that would align public- and private-sector pay and restructure state pensions. (Jonathan Williams, ALEC’s tax and fiscal policy director, did not respond to requests for comment.)

    Foundations affiliated with the Koch brothers have funded ALEC’s reports on state fiscal policy. The State Budget Reform Toolkit and Rich States, Poor States both echo elements of Michigan’s emergency-manager law, encouraging state legislators to target public employees and identify privatization opportunities. The most recent Toolkit report recommends that states create a “centralized, independent, decision-making body to manage privatization and government efficiency initiatives.” Michigan’s law grants far more sweeping powers to one appointee…

    So, if you were wondering, that’s how it came to pass that we have emergency financial mangers in Michigan. We have them because the wealthy old white men who fund ALEC wanted to “outlaw government collective bargaining,” and we were determined to be a good test market. (If I’m not mistaken, they also poured money into Wisconsin, where Republicans had chosen to go about the matter in a different way, meeting with much less success.)

    Now, we just have to sit back and watch, as our emergency financial managers spread across the nation, like “Stand Your Ground” gun laws. Soon, if all goes according to plan, you’ll be able to kill people that frighten you anywhere in the United States, and all of our once-great cities will have been sold for scrap, in an effort to keep taxes low on the wealthy… Welcome to the new American experiment.

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