Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the ALEC States of America
by Tom Sullivan
Republican presidential hopeful Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is in San Diego this morning to address the 2015 convention of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). If politicians really did wear sponsors' logos on their jackets like NASCAR drivers, Walker's relationship with ALEC's funders would win him the pole position:
It is a relationship that spans two decades. Since he first took public office in 1993 as a Wisconsin legislator, through to his current position as that state’s governor, Walker has maintained close ties to Alec, with policies to match. Many of Walker’s most contentious actions – a tough-on-crime bill that sent incarceration rates soaring, stand-your-ground gun laws, protection of corporate vested interests, attacks on union rights and many more – have borne the Alec seal of approval.
Should Walker win the Republican nomination in 2016 (a plausible outcome) and then defeat the Democratic candidate to take the presidency (a harder, though not unthinkable, challenge) he would become the first Alec alum to enter the Oval Office. In short, it is now possible to conceive of the first Alec president of the United States.
See Merriam-Webster's definition for "shill."
For those needing a refresher, Brendan Fischer of the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) reports:
More than 200 corporations and a quarter of state legislators belong to ALEC, where corporations vote as equals with state legislators on "model" bills before they are introduced in legislatures to become binding law. The group receives 98 percent of its funding from corporations like Shell Oil, Peabody Coal, and Altria/Phillip Morris, and from sources like the Koch family foundations, and many of the “model bills” that it has promoted – from prison privatization to environmental deregulation -- directly benefit the financial interests of its funders.
Fischer explores the conference agenda here.
ALEC may have chosen San Diego for its conference to draw a line in the sand. ALEC strongly opposes moves across the country to raise the minimum wage:
Aside from the weather, ALEC organizers may have also been attracted to the city’s political climate. Last year, the San Diego City Council voted to raise the minimum wage to $11.50 an hour. It joined Los Angeles and Boston as one of the communities to raise the minimum wage at the local level. Detractors were able to put the measure to a referendum scheduled in 2016. Businessweek labeled San Diego a “bulwark against minimum wage hikes” in headline, talking [about] the referendum.
The group has long had public education as a target, with a goal of transferring public education funding to private schools (part of its overall privatization agenda) and abolishing pubic education altogether. Milton Friedman addressed this at an ALEC meeting in 2006 [emphasis mine]:
How do we get from where we are to where we want to be—to a system in which parents control the education of their children? Of course, the ideal way would be to abolish the public school system and eliminate all the taxes that pay for it. Then parents would have enough money to pay for private schools, but you're not gonna to do that. So you have to ask, what are politically feasible ways of solving the problem. And the answer is, in my opinion, choice, that you have to change the way government money is directed. Instead of its being used to finance schools and buildings, you should decide how much money you are willing to spend on each child and give that money, provide that money in the form of a voucher to the parents of the children so that the parents can choose a school that they regard as best for their child.
And of course deceiving the public about that goal is the way you go about it. You sell the hollowing out of the American tradition of public education with talk about choice, racial inequity, innovation, etc. And school reformers did for a long time. At this ALEC conference, however, it seems finally the mask has come off:
With vouchers gaining momentum nationwide, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which is meeting in San Diego today, has decided to drop the pretense that vouchers have anything to do with social and racial equity, and is now pushing vouchers for the middle class—a project which, if pursued enough in numbers, will progressively erode the public school system and increase the segregation of students based on race and economic standing.
As President of the United States, Scott Walker hopes to take the first ceremonial swing with ALEC's golden sledge hammer.