Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

August 6, 2013

WE THE PEOPLE: When state’s rights aren’t the state’s

By Mary deWolf
Chronicle contributor

— Americans have argued over state versus federal control since the country began. The founders ultimately rejected the Articles of Confederation that favored state’s rights, for the Constitution, putting some important functions in the fed’s hands. Tennessee, like most southern states, prefers more state control. State lawmakers are behaving otherwise.

In recent years, many laws in Tennessee and other states have actually been created behind closed doors and promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a.k.a. ALEC.

ALEC is a national association of major corporations, e.g. BP, Exxon Mobil, Shell, Pfizer, and Koch Industries, and state legislators. In many instances, lawmakers’ membership fees are paid by state tax dollars. ALEC wines and dines these supposed representatives of the states’ citizens, again on the taxpayers’ dimes, to create “model” laws that increase corporate profits at the expense of the rest of us. All of this happens without public disclosure. Many members of Tennessee‘s General Assembly drink and feast at ALEC’s table.

Laws that ALEC has promoted include:

•Laws limiting use of renewable energy

•Laws undermining environmental protection

•Laws threatening Medicare benefits

•Laws weakening public education

•Laws wasting taxpayer dollars questioning the birthplace of our President

•Laws shrinking workers’ wages and rights

•Laws attempting to repress voters’ rights

The recent Tennessee “ag-gag” bill that protected animal cruelty in food production and threatened the health of consumers was an ALEC creation. Thankfully, Governor Haslam vetoed it on constitutional grounds. (We should note that our Rep. Sexton is not an ALEC member, but did vote for the bill.)

ALEC was also behind the Tennessee law that uses taxpayer money to fund for-profit education through K12 Inc., an online service. (This same legislature voted to decrease public school teachers’ compensation.) K12 has been charged with grade-fixing.

ALEC used to promote “Stand Your Ground” laws similar to the one in Florida that led to Trayvon Martin’s murder. After that tragedy, several corporations dropped out of ALEC and it stopped promoting such laws.

Unfortunately, as activity in Tennessee shows, ALEC is still alive and kicking, offering 1000 bills around the nation, with 200 of them successfully passed. Many corporations are still members, though it’s hard to know precisely which ones as ALEC keeps its corporate member list secret, along with the rest of its antics.

ALEC can’t be defended as “good for” the American economy. Data show that the policies promoted by ALEC do not promote job creation but do lead to more economic disparity and dormant earnings for the rest of us. 

We have already learned that our candidates are chosen “in the dark” before we can select from among them. Now we know that many laws introduced in state houses across this country are created out of sight at expensive conferences hosted by ALEC, long before they ever arrive in Nashville or any other state capitol. This is democracy?

We can and will continue to disagree over the balance between state and federal control, That’s a healthy conversation. But do any of us really want our laws dictated in secret by greedy executives of large corporations to the end of padding their portfolios at our expense? We have to bring ALEC out into the open, perhaps at a public pillory.

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This column represents alternative thoughts to other published columns in the Crossville Chronicle. “We the People” is published each Wednesday. Opinions expressed in “We the People” columns are not necessarily those of the Crossville Chronicle publisher, editor or staff. For more information, contact John Wund, editor, at jwund@frontiernet.net.