Monday, March 28, 2011

ALEC is Hazardous to Our Health Care

I carried a new sign to the Capitol Square yesterday:

It says:
ALEC is hazardous to our health care - protect Medicaid & insurance mandates!

So what is ALEC? I actually had an oblique reference to it in my last post -- it's the organization that distinguished professor William Cronon wrote about so convincingly in the blogpost that caused the Wisconsin GOP to start a witch-hunt into his university e-mails two days later. One small excerpt from Cronon's writing to set up the explanation:
If it has seemed to you while watching recent debates in the legislature that many Republican members of the Senate and Assembly have already made up their minds about the bills on which they're voting, and don't have much interest in listening to arguments being made by anyone else in the room, it's probably because they did in fact make up their minds about these bills long before they entered the Capitol chambers.

ALEC is the organization that provides the text of those bills on which they have already made up their minds, marching in lock step with no room for debate. ALEC stands for the American Legislative Exchange Council (their site has been up and down since Cronon's post was published, but it is up as I type now). It's a membership organization with a secret membership list of Republican legislators and business interests. Not just anyone can join: Republican legislators can join after being vetted, paying $50 per year in dues. Businesses pay thousands of dollars for a seat at the table. Then those conservative legislators and the deep-pocket business partners sit down together and draft legislation that then shows up, with minor modifications, in state-houses across the country.

This is how, when they get majorities like they have in Wisconsin, they can move so fast and so ruthlessly. The legislation is all ready-made from out of state!

Now, as Cronon pointed out in his piece, there's nothing wrong with like-minded folks getting together and strategizing about legislative goals. On the other hand, what makes ALEC different and frightening, as Shawn Doherty of Madison's Capital Times sums up the objections, is
the corporate and wealthy interests behind ALEC (which others note include the billionaire Koch brothers) are far more organized, coordinated, and stealthy than anything we've seen before in this country.

Doherty has been doing amazing investigative work on a fast-shifting landscape on the health beat here in Wisconsin, and I hope she wins awards for it. She's the one who broke the story on the impending GOP bills I wrote about earlier this month, the ones that would smash not only the autism-insurance requirement we worked so hard so win, but also every other insurance mandate in Wisconsin as well.

Guess what? The mandate-busting bills are ALEC bills.

Doherty makes this connection via an ALEC publication called The State Legislator's Guide to Repealing Obamacare (.pdf) [alternate Google-space copy here in case the ALEC original goes down.] From Doherty's post:
Also included in ALEC's list of model legislation are proposals aiming to undo the power of health mandates, which the guide complains are "often steamrolled into existence by politically active interest groups."

That's us, friends, a politically active interest group. You better believe it. Except that we don't have the deep pockets and conservative credentials that it takes to buy a seat at the table where the legislation is being templated.

Hence the ALEC bills that are waiting to be introduced in Wisconsin, LRB0373 and LRB1529. From Doherty's post again:
This legislation, dubbed "Health Choices and Opportunities" by authors Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, and Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, Sen. is similar to what the ALEC guide calls the "Health Care Choice Act for States," which allows people to purchase health insurance across state lines. In 2010, according to the guide, 19 states introduced such legislation, and Wyoming enacted it.

That's what my new sign is all about. I want to see "ALEC" pop up on as many signs at the Capitol, and in as many bitter jokes, as quickly as the name "Koch" did when the funding connection and the prank call between a fake billionaire brother and Gov. Scott Walker made the news. This needs to be a well-known part of the conversation, on everyone's lips, part of the argument as to why we need to vote JoAnne Kloppenburg into the Wisconsin Supreme Court April 5, and recall the 8 eligible Republican State Senators who are forcing this ALEC legislation down our throats, and then recall Scott Walker when the time comes.

There's an interesting tension here when it comes to talking about ALEC. On the one hand, Bill Cronon did it and got a huge heavy-handed response just two days later. As a university employee myself, it makes me at least a smidge-bit nervous about blogging too, though I'm doing so early in the morning on a personal computer on my day off! But the more of us who spread the word, the harder it will be to come after us all... I am Spartacus! (There are folks at the university who are now including all the open-records-demand keywords in their sig files on every message: "Republican, Scott Walker, recall, collective bargaining, AFSCME, WEAC, rally, union, Alberta Darling, Randy Hopper, Dan Kapanke, Rob Cowles, Scott Fitzgerald, Sheila Harsdorf, Luther Olsen, Glenn Grothman, Mary Lazich, Jeff Fitzgerald, Marty Beil, Mary Bell." Just in case someone asks, y'know.)

On the other hand, I've got friends in legislative-related jobs who have known about ALEC for years. It's not as if the organization's existence and its mission are secret, or else they wouldn't have a web site, etc! Plus, again in Doherty's article, she interviewed WI Sen. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, who took an almost nonchalant approach:
But so what, asks Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, when I call him about my discovery. Fitzgerald says he has been a proud member of ALEC since he first became a legislator in 1994, and is currently the Wisconsin State Chairman. State lawmakers have always turned to such national organizations for help brainstorming ideas and crafting legislation, Fitzgerald says. "These groups are about exchanging ideas between different state legislators from around the country to be sure we're not isolating ourselves in Wisconsin," he tells me.

Which is it, guys? Harmless collaboration or sinister plot? Until the open-records intimidation-demand on Prof. Cronon is withdrawn, I'm going to have to go with the latter. Especially since the legislation resulting from ALEC templates is so radically hazardous.

Which takes me back to our trip to the Capitol yesterday. This time it wasn't just me -- it was me and both daughters, Joy's first protest participation. There wasn't any formal protest planned, but these days there is a constant ongoing protest during daylight hours, a small but determined trickle of people circling the Capitol Square, carrying signs and encouraging one another in our resolve.

The following photo (a little freaky-looking with blurred faces but it was too good not to post!) was taken by a fellow protester we met on the Square, a stranger who turned out to have Mennonite connections back in my hometown Kansas community.

Keep an eye on ALEC. This story is still being written.


Suze said...

Did you see Paul Krugman's op-ed in today's NYT about the request for Cronon's emails? Good stuff.

BTW, I love how university people are attaching all the search terms to their emails! It's a fine example of resistance to an action that is, at its core, unjust (even if that action is technically legal).

Anonymous said...

why are their faces blurred?

JoyMama said...

Suze - I did. Good stuff indeed!

Anonymous - blurred for... well, anonymity. :-)

Kathleen McLaughlin-Hoppe said...

Glad you wrote on this, I have planned to do so myself, but there's just so much else going on, as you know :)
The interesting this with the website being "up" is the absence of so many of their pdf files...which I have all of them, if you are interested in reading them. A bit long, but not boring!
My plan is to summarize them, since they ARE copyrighted and I cannot simply repost them. The graphics are lovely, especially the one with the Private Lawn: Residents Onlyon the front, which is really eye catching. It's all about who has the those private gated lawns to keep us slobs off of!
Hope to meet you soon! Gosh, did I leave my PRIVACY off again? (I can do that, I have nothing to hide...)

JoyMama said...

Thanks Kathleen -- summary of the ALEC docs would be awesome! Slobs unite! :-)