In coming to the ALEC/ACCE conference my big question was, would the American City County Exchange (ACCE) be able to duplicate ALEC’s success in getting hundreds of bills passed around the country that cripple worker and environmental protections? Would it open the floodgates to corporate influence in shaping our urban political environment?
It seemed to me that ALEC may find success in suburban and smaller cities but not in the largest metropolitan areas. That’s because their demographic profile is like Congress’s: it’s primarily older white men, which is not the profile of our largest cities.
As of 2007 there were just over 19,000 municipal governments. Although 90% of them have populations under 25,000, the 100 cities with populations of more than 100,000 account for about 20% of the nation’s population. Those cities have significant minority populations. At least 35 of them have more than 33% black residents, and that is not counting the percentage of other minority groups.
That reality has led conservative state legislators to dice up state legislative districts to pack as many democrats into as few districts as possible, i.e. limiting the voter impact of the larger cities. Now that the Supreme Court has thrown out a challenge to creating nonpartisan commissions to draw those boundaries, ALEC and ACCE, in the name of protecting state sovereignty from SCOTUS, should be expected to redouble their efforts to fight their creation.
While other major cities around the country have followed Seattle in raising the minimum wage, the right wing is pretty limited in what they can do to stop that effort – either within city councils or at the ballot box when proposed by initiative. As a result ACCE may continue to push laws and resolutions that make municipal governments cede their power to state legislatures. They can do this by stripping away the power of cities to control – or at least shape – their own economic environment. A perfect example: stopping cities from passing plastic bag bans by forcing them to go through the state legislature. This approach was deployed by ALEC for nearly two decades. Marching in lockstep with the legislative agenda of the NRA and the gun industry, ALEC peddled “preemption” of city laws through a claimed need for “consistency,” pitting rural gun owners against city efforts to control handgun crimes.
Although it wasn’t directly mentioned at this ACCE meeting, ALEC has long opposed paid sick leave or increasing the minimum wage, and ALEC has pushed Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s legislation to pre-empt paid sick leave in Milwaukee. ACCE has also embraced pre-emption in other areas while simultaneously pushing an effort by Brent Yessin to use counties to attack unions. This has resulted in a lawsuit about the legality of local bodies passing so-called “right to work” measures even though federal law expressly provides that certain union rules are governed by either federal or state laws.
It seems then ACCE’s primary mission will be to augment ALEC’s efforts to keep or gain control of the state legislatures. Consequently, progressive forces cannot assume that just passing good municipal legislation will be replicated in other states or that they are secure where they have been enacted.
With over 80% of the nation’s population living in urban areas, the debate will have to be framed around improving people’s lives, both socially and economically in that context. It is possible that by attacking “preemption” legislation coming from state legislatures dominated by ALEC and its funders, progressives may be able to reach out to those supporting federalism at the municipal level as a means for obtaining greater freedom– from prejudice and poverty.