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ALEC Confidential: Inside the San Diego Conference

Bill Raden

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West Virginia Solicitor General Elbert Lin

The 42nd Annual Meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) got underway in earnest Wednesday at San Diego’s Manchester Grand Hyatt resort hotel. The mood was convivial and the attire corporate casual: Brooks Brothers suits without ties, Dockers and sports shirts.

Although this year’s star attractions — a GOP presidential frontrunner, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and a returning presidential contender, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee — weren’t scheduled to speak until Thursday, conference delegates had plenty to do yesterday.

ALEC, a secretive rightwing bill mill that gets its funding from the Koch Brothers and global multibillion dollar corporations, has been described as a legislative dating service that arranges hookups between mostly Republican state lawmakers and corporate lobbyists.

See more of our coverage of the ALEC Annual Meeting

The actual “dates” occur at meetings like those unfolding in San Diego — a council spokesperson said 1,300 conferees were in attendance — and take place behind locked doors, where the two groups hammer out the “model bills” that ALEC-member legislators then take home and introduce in their respective statehouses.

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The real work of drafting this year’s legislative agenda was mostly completed at ALEC’s May meeting in Savannah, Georgia. San Diego’s get-together is mostly a rubberstamping affair that presumably focuses more on implementation.

Wednesday’s heavy lifting took place in the morning, in closed-to-the-public working groups and subcommittee meetings held in the Hyatt’s second-floor conference rooms. These focused on rolling out ALEC’s latest efforts at legislating away state public-sector pensions (through its Public Pension Working Group), diluting environmental health standards for things like greenhouse gas emissions and ground-level ozone levels (Environmental Health and Regulation Subcommittee Meeting) or deterring injured workers from filing workers’ compensation claims (Workers’ Compensation Joint Subcommittee Meeting). And that’s just to name a few.

The tenor of those closed-door efforts could be grasped in the public afternoon seminars and policy workshops. On Wednesday, those included the conference’s packed opening luncheon, in which Iowa’s virulently anti-immigrant Republican Congressman, Steve King, introduced keynote speakers Clint Howard, the film actor and politically reactionary brother to liberal director Ron Howard, and West Virginia’s young solicitor general, Elbert Lin.

Lin recently joined attorneys from 14 other states in federal court in an attempt to invalidate the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan rule. That plan would require states to limit carbon emissions from the utility sector — currently the source of more than 30 percent of the U.S.’s carbon emissions.

Lin denounced this “federal takeover of states’ energy economies,” which he termed “Orwellian.”

“This isn’t something you’d expect, I think, from an environmental regulator,” he quipped. “Rather, I think it might be something that you would see from a central planning authority.” The room burst into applause.

A later “policy workshop” titled, “Brave New World: Efficient and Cost Responsible Alternatives in Criminal Justice,” featured Copia Interactive vice president Aryeh Lightstone and for-profit bail industry lobbyist Nick Wachinski. The two were peddling a cyber-education literacy and vocational training scheme to legislators as a surefire cure for prison recidivism. Copia describes itself as “fully dedicated to the success of the K-12 schools, school districts, states and higher education institutions that we serve.”

In addition to addresses by Walker and Huckabee (scheduled speaker Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz backed out at the last minute, citing senate business), Thursday’s agenda includes afternoon task forces on “communications and technology,” “civil justice,” “commerce, insurance and economic development” and “education and workforce development.” 


Photos by Bill Raden

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