We’re hearing more than usual about state legislatures these days. It’s mostly about what they can’t do — namely, overturn an election — since even in swing states, there’s only so far you can bend existing laws to humor a deranged and vengeful president.
Which doesn’t mean they haven’t tried. Nineteen members of our Michigan legislature publicly sucked up to Trump and endorsed his quixotic lawsuit — if that’s what it was — trying to get the Supreme Court to do him this one little favor.
As one of those enlightened public servants put it, she “just wants to make sure that everybody’s concerns are addressed.” Referring to concerns that don’t exist about an election that was never in doubt.
But there’s no shortage of mischief going on in statehouses. It’s there that Republican minor leaguers — people bought, paid for, and indoctrinated by the oligarchy — do the real grunt work of subverting democracy.
Emboldened by the out-front lawlessness of Trump, these legislators are even now working out ways to keep the actual electorate from participating in elections from now on. Mail-in ballots, long a mainstay of Republican voter turnout, have proven too easy and convenient — which is to say, too likely to get Black votes counted — to be allowed to continue. And you can expect them to double down on voter ID, voter roll purges, and gerrymandering as well.
Gerrymandering is particularly topical, since Democrats blew it again this election. Next year is a once-every-ten-years redistricting year, meaning each state legislature gets to carve up its districts any way it wants. Since I don’t think Democrats flipped a single legislature in November, Republicans remain free to commit the same kinds of districting atrocities they committed after the 2010 midterms. If you recall, that was the year Democrats brought health insurance to much of the country, then got slaughtered for it at the polls.
Legislatures have been getting feistier since Trump took office. In the 2018 midterms Wisconsin, Michigan, and North Carolina elected Democratic governors, which was not acceptable to the Republican thugs dominating those statehouses. They proceeded to pass veto-proof laws limiting the powers of the governor, just because they could. These laws will surely be repealed the minute the next Republican governor is sworn in.
But that’s just about how Republicans acquire power. The bigger issue is what they do with that power. And for that, you need look no further than the American Legislative Exchange Council, fondly known as ALEC.
Forgive me if you already know ALEC, but for such a powerful and insidious organization it keeps a remarkably low profile. And for good reason. In almost every red state, ALEC is the force behind all the state laws that you, as reasonable and responsible citizens, despise.
What ALEC does is draft “model” legislation on behalf of its members — all of which are major corporations. These models get turned into state laws by Republicans all over the country. Making ALEC, in effect, the engine room of the Republican party.
Since Republican legislators are generally too dumb to write their own laws, ALEC does it for them. All they have to do is copy and paste ALEC’s language into their bill, then get their Republican majorities to vote for it, then get their Republican governors to sign it. Voila — another nail in the coffin of democracy.
The “Stand Your Ground” laws — remember Trayvon Martin? — are among ALEC’s greatest hits. They’re still on the books in twenty-seven states. So are the “Right to Work” laws that eviscerate unions and trample workers.
Note the catchy names — an ALEC signature — carefully crafted to bamboozle. “Right to Work” could more accurately be called “Work for Peanuts,” while “Stand Your Ground” is basically a “Kill Black People and Walk Away” law.
There are few areas of American life that ALEC doesn’t touch. Literally thousands of ALEC-designed laws are out there, undermining the environment, workers’ rights, women’s rights, abortion rights, voting rights, public education, and just about anything else one can be on the wrong side of.
ALEC is behind voter ID requirements and most other legal impediments to fair elections.
ALEC laws protect the rights of sleazy financial services to fleece their customers through exorbitant fees, usurious interest rates, and rigged bankruptcy statutes.
ALEC drafts laws that guarantee energy companies’ right to pollute, coal companies’ right to dump hazardous waste, and a state’s right to block incentives for renewable energy sources.
ALEC blesses us with private prisons, and with the steady flow of free labor that passes through those prisons — a form of slavery that one would assume is constitutionally forbidden, but which thrives nonetheless.
ALEC’s membership is a Who’s Who of American business. Virtually the entire Fortune 1000, and then some, are members, though the ranks have been thinned in recent years, mostly from embarrassment. When Trayvon Martin was shot and George Zimmerman subsequently acquitted, there was a well-chronicled exodus of many of these companies from ALEC’s ranks. Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, Verizon, Exxon Mobil, McDonalds, Amazon, and about a hundred other household names — all one-time ALEC stalwarts — decided that the “Stand Your Ground” law was a bridge too far. Even for them.
This wasn’t about conscience or social consciousness, mind you. It was about public relations. Their customers were trashing them on social media and their marketing people were in panic mode. Dropping out of ALEC was the very least they could do. And the very least is exactly what they did.
State legislatures have been called the “laboratories of democracy,” and that might have been true once — though I’m skeptical. But now, with ALEC pulling so many strings, “morgues” might be the better metaphor.
There’s a tendency among well-meaning people to zone out at any mention of state-level lawmakers and their proclivities. We have to learn to stop doing that.
Because there’s a world of skullduggery going on in our state capitals, right under our noses. And Democratic apathy is its best friend.
P.S. Low profile notwithstanding, ALEC’s exploits have been thoroughly documented for decades. Easily googled, watchdog groups like The Center for Media and Democracy shine sunlight on all things ALEC, providing a dense website — alecexposed.org —filled with all the ugly details, right down to the text of those creepy model laws. If you’re interested in the inner workings of fascism as practiced in the US, you need look no further.