The Universal Notebook: ALEC empowers the power crazy

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Those smart ALECs are still at it.

Back on Nov. 11, 2011, I wrote about how Gov. Paul LePage’s administration was taking its agenda straight from the playbook of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative lobbying group closely allied with the ultraconservative Koch brothers.

Now ALEC is all over the news as Maine’s Majority, the group that arose in opposition to LePage’s business-before-people agenda, has been calling attention to the ALEC fingerprints all over bills submitted to the 125th Legislature.

In a March 15 report entitled “Who Is Writing Maine’s Laws?,” Maine’s Majority reported that 20 ALEC bills had been submitted to the Legislature in the past 14 months. Chief among them are those related to the administration’s education reforms, namely privatizing public schools by creating charter schools and allowing public tax dollars to subsidize religious schools.

Then there’s the newly enacted vigilante bill that prohibits state officials from disarming citizens during a state of emergency. Really? Was that a big concern of Maine citizens? There’s also the regulatory takings bill, so broad, unprecedented and complex that even LePage’s own attorney general had to oppose it, otherwise we’d have property owners suing left and right any time a new land use or zoning ordinance was enacted. And now we have ALEC leading the charge for a new Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) fight.

ALEC has been a shadowy background player in conservative politics for decades, but the rise of the tempestuous tea party has apparently emboldened it to step out of the shadows to start dictating social and economic policies to elected officials. Maine’s Majority identified eight members of the Legislature as ALEC members (Reps. Cushing, Hamper and Harmon; Sens. Langley, Plowman, Rector, Rosen, and Thibodeau) and another 13 who have introduced ALEC copycat bills.

Nationally, the Center for Media and Democracy has drawn attention to the organization with its ALEC Exposed project, and there is an ALECWATCH website that calls the group “Corporate America’s Secret Political Arm.” The issue that generated the most mainstream media coverage has been ALEC’s promotion of Stand Your Ground laws, such as the one in Florida at the heart of the Trayvon Martin killing.

ALEC has blamed “liberal bullies” for attacking its supposedly benign free-market agenda and scaring of corporate contributors. If Shoot Your Neighbor laws are free-market policies, then I’m pleased to be a liberal bully.

There is nothing wrong, of course, with either party or any politician using model legislation to draft bills. It’s done all the time. What we are seeing nationally and here in Maine, however, is not simply a Republican subscription to ALEC model legislation. We are witnessing the remote control of our elected representatives by far right ideologues in the employ of billionaires. This Republican administration isn’t about problem-solving or even addressing real Maine issues; it’s about doing the bidding of its masters.

If LePage had been truthful and forthcoming about the agenda he would pursue if elected, he would not be in office today. Remember LePage pooh-poohing expressed concerns about his positions on social issues during the campaign, insisting he was just all about job creation? Who knew that job creation meant privatizing public education, gutting environmental regulations, disbanding the Land Use Regulation Commission, attacking public employees and organized labor at every turn, reducing workers compensation benefits, throwing tens of thousand people off MaineCare, running a private four-lane highway through the woods, allowing guns in the Statehouse, and letting landowners sue if they’re not permitted to build a Walmart in their cow pasture?

Who knew? Boss Paul, that’s who.

What we have been seeing in the 125th Legislature is a power-crazy Republican Party trying to enact everything on the right-wing wish list in one session. Why? Because they know they’ll be out on their keisters as soon as the good people of Maine realize whose interests they are serving.

Hint: it’s not ours.

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Yarmouth. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

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