Progress Virginia – an avowedly liberal … I mean, progressive … advocacy group promoting higher taxes, subversion of the free market and the gradual erosion of individual liberty – issued a report last week challenging the role of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in directing the legislative agenda of Virginia’s Republican … that is, conservative … leadership in their efforts to eliminate the Commonwealth social safety net, undermine public education, put a gun in every glove compartment, pauperize the middle class, criminalize poverty and foster the transition of public infrastructure to the very private sector interests that fund ALEC activities. Or something like that.
Sometimes, inside the bubble in Richmond, the external world of lobbyists, interest groups, associations, NGO’s, companies, unions and ad hoc protestors seems to view the work of the General Assembly as if manifest in the starkest images of good and evil. The recent kerfuffle over the ALEC influence on a number of legislative efforts by House Speaker William Howell and Governor McDonnell seems to have fallen into this mode of political discourse. I have received no fewer than 20 emails in the last 48 hours from constituents who are furious at the thought that an organization with such an obvious partisan agenda as ALEC could drive the political process in Virginia and numerous other states, simply by declaring themselves non-partisan – and, with major corporate donors like AT&T, Pepsi, Kraft Foods and McDonalds endorsing this view with both funding and political cover.
Of course, like any good progressive, I’m shocked that legislators would introduce legislation drafted primarily by an outside interest group. I’m even more shocked that such groups would be so bold as to expect legislators “to carry the water” just because the groups have sponsored “educational forums” and provided “support and technical assistance.” Except, as Speaker Howell points out, progressives and conservatives alike attend the conferences of such organizations as the National Council of State Legislators – many trips undoubtedly paid from campaign funds – where legislators review model legislation and attend workshops on what works in state government, while their spouses are shopping or playing golf. Has anybody reviewed the corporate sponsors of the NCSL Foundation?
The origin of the current controversy surrounding ALEC seems to be a result of the organization’s role in fostering the national roll-out of “stand your ground” legislation or, as my husband calls them, “shoot first and ask questions later” laws. This legislation, of course, has come under intense scrutiny as a result of the tragic case of Trayvon Martin in Florida. The circumstances surrounding this incident, as currently reported in the media, are repugnant. The legislation, like most of the NRA agenda, is certainly questionable and, in its extreme form, bizarre. But honestly, I don’t know all of the data surrounding the application of the law – in Florida, Arizona or anywhere else – and am not in a position to judge the full impact.
Maybe it’s just PTSD from the experience of the 2012 Virginia General Assembly, but the intense passion that the ALEC controversy has triggered seems oddly out of proportion to this driving cause. ALEC is a tiny tip of outgrowth on a tiny tip of an enormous iceberg of corporate and political self-interest driving all legislative agendas today. We have reached a point where there is little dialogue across partisan lines on defining problems we face and bridging opposing views to produce solutions that is not dominated by corporate and partisan political interests. I’m sure historians out there will maintain that the current circumstances are not at all unique. But, at least in my fond memories of past decades, there was a time for politics and a time for governance. In 2012, we seem to have a lot more of the former and far too little of the latter.
Delegate Kory represents the 38th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. She may be emailed at [email protected].