Unions are ALEC’s favorite whipping boy. When ALEC opened up their conference with Governor Steve Walker, he snapped that whip within his first few moments boasting “we took on the unions and won.” The crowd cheered. Even though union membership has been slashed by two-thirds from their peak in the mid-fifties, there are still enough left to be kicked around to show one’s allegiance to a free-market unfettered by over-paid complaining workers.
During one of ACCE panels a councilmember gave a thoughtful description of how a city’s permitting process could be streamlined, but then at the end he apologized for not laying off a bunch of city workers as it was part of a compromise to get his legislation passed.
While ALEC met inside the Hyatt in San Diego, several thousand union members and their supporters demonstrated outside opposing ALEC’s model legislation which would strip away the right of workers to organize and bargain for better working conditions. A councilmember speaking at our ACCE meeting chuckled after the sound of beating drums drifted up to the room. She smartly remarked, “We must be doing something right, if we can hear their drums.”
Later inside the elevator, several ACCE members chatted about how the demonstrators were bused in and they were just the same folks going to different sites. Another laughed and said that they were capitalists because they wanted jobs.
If the Democrat dominated unions are scorned and dismissed as a nuisance, it’s the Republican dominated SCOTUS (i.e. the Supreme Court) that is feared and loathed as an enemy of federalism and hence freedom. It seemed apparent to all present at ALEC that their recent decisions upholding gay marriage and the Affordability Care Act (aka Obamacare) trampled state sovereignty. That led to many a speaker on and off the stage to characterize SCOTUS as irrelevant and acting beyond its powers.
Gov. Mike Huckabee, renamed the Supreme Court the Extreme Court, telling an ALEC luncheon, that they “cannot make laws, they give thoughtful opinions, but they don’t have law making powers.” At another gathering, a speaker kept emphasizing how the court ‘s opinions – drawing out the last word so no one would miss her point, could be ignored since, “They don’t make laws, all they do is give opinions.”
Mark Meckler, the founder of the Tea Party Patriots and current President of Citizens for Self-Governance, argued for having a Convention of States to constitutionally limit the terms of the SCOTUS justices and possibly other federal judges.
Closer to home, at the ACCE meetings, the most apparent enemy to innovation were politicians’ own local city and county staffs and other politicians. It didn’t matter if they were Republicans or Conservatives.
Jon Russell, the director of ACCE, said the main purpose of their members was to rock the boat, get changes made. He told me how his own council was out of touch with the city’s substantial minority population, having only one black councilmember out of 9 when black residents made up close to a third of Culpeper’s population. He got the council elections moved, over opposition on the council but with the support of the local NAACP, from May to November in line with national elections in order to encourage more of the black community to vote.
A county commissioner in Indiana criticized the Republican super majority controlled legislature for funding a rapid ride bus project through an income tax increase. He assured me that he opposed this mass transit project because of the funding not the project itself. He also shared with a small group of us that the Chamber was behind the income tax, because they didn’t want businesses to spend the money on the project and instead were willing to see their workers pay for it.
A Phoenix Councilmember complained to our ACCE meeting that city staff refused to give him information on how they handled the permit process. And, that other councilmembers, Republicans and Democrats alike, didn’t care to make any changes to speed up permitting because it would be too much work. He was surprised to find that even some businesses would just as soon keep the current practices because they didn’t want to fight the system.
Other examples continued throughout the ACCE conference: stubborn and incompetent government staff, lazy and even corrupt politicians regardless of party, although Republicans came in for more berating because they should know better. Overall they were angry with the federal government, but often included the local ones they were supposed to be in charge of.
Next I’ll describe how the various clusters of fuming and frustrated ACCE & ALEC members create an organization that is both dynamic and riveted with contradictions.