The Universal Notebook: Smart ALEC, LePage and the unconstitutional right

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Gov. Paul LePage has now proposed mandatory drug testing for welfare recipients. Unless he thinks needing financial assistance is reason enough to suspect illegal drug use, he ought to understand that what he is proposing is very likely unconstitutional.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott proposed and enacted the same discriminatory law earlier this year, but a federal judge has blocked its enforcement out of concern that Florida’s law violates the constitutional right to freedom from unreasonable search and seizure.

Where does LePage get these crazy ideas? Well, yes, he is a copycat governor, but it’s not just his fellow tea party gubernators who have his ear. For the most part, the LePage agenda comes straight out of the American Legislative Exchange Council playbook: a corporate legislative blueprint on how to restrict voting rights, privatize prisons and public education, repeal labor laws and worker rights, limit environmental protections, crack down on immigration and welfare, and enact tort reform.

So what is ALEC?

According to the Center for Media and Democracy’s ALEC Exposed website, “ALEC is not a lobby; it is not a front group. It is much more powerful than that. Through ALEC, behind closed doors, corporations hand state legislators the changes to the law they desire that directly benefit their bottom line.”

Here in Maine, Augusta attorney Ann Robinson, the corporate lobbyist who co-chaired LePage’s transition team and authored his radical regulatory reform package, is the ALEC co-chair. So if you want to know what LePage might do next, ask Robinson. Preti Flaherty Beliveau & Pachios must be very proud.

If you want to be proud of America, just take a quick look at how citizens around the country are already rejecting the ALEC corporate agenda.

In Ohio, voters overwhelmingly rejected Republican Gov. John Kasich’s union-busting legislation that would have stripped workers of their collective bargaining rights.

In Arizona, state Sen. Russell Pearce, the architect of that state’s draconian anti-immigrant law, was recalled and tossed out of office last week. Pearce, Gov. Jan Brewer, and their corporate prison cronies thought it would be just ducky to allow police to stop anyone who looked “illegal” and demand identification.

Imagine if every Maine resident whose name was Beliveau or LePage were subject to random I.D. checks to make sure they weren’t illegal Canadian immigrants. That’s what Arizona’s law amounts to. Had Arizonans not risen up against such a wholesale assault on human rights, it wouldn’t have surprised me if LePage came up with a similarly nutty idea to protect Maine’s borders.

Here in Maine, of course, the 61 percent who oppose LePage spoke last Tuesday by rejecting the Republican voter suppression law and restoring same-day voter registration. Now LePage is off in zealous pursuit of welfare fraud, which is about as big a problem in Maine as voter fraud.

No sooner had the governor proposed drug testing welfare recipients than Maine citizens began throwing the idea back at him, suggesting he start by taking a breathalyzer test. If being sober and substance free were requirements for receiving state money, we’d have to test every state employee, legislator, contractor, and a bunch of corporate CEOs as well.

The hypocrisy underlying the ALEC agenda being pursued by hard-line Republicans and repudiated by the rest of us is perfectly clear. While complaining about the erosion of personal freedoms, these right-wing ideologues and corporate stooges represent the greatest threat to individual liberties in this country today.

If tea party Republicans like LePage were successful in enacting all of their reforms, restrictions, programs and punishments, every U.S. citizen would have another U.S. citizen keeping an eye on them. That’s not America. That’s ALEC.

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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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