ALEC resurfaces with local angle 

New city and county focus by bill mill raises more questions about corporate influence in Orange County government

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JUST THE STATS

 

400

NUMBER OF STATE LEGISLATORS WHO HAVE APPARENTLY REMOVED THEMSELVES FROM THE ROSTER OF CONSERVATIVE BILL-MILL THE AMERICAN LEGISLATIVE EXCHANGE COUNCIL OVER THE LAST TWO YEARS; 60 CORPORATIONS HAVE LIKEWISE SEVERED TIES

$1.4 MILLION

INCOME DEFICIT IN ALEC DUES AS OF JUNE 30, 2013, MORE THAN ONE-THIRD OF THE TOTAL INCOME OF $3.9 MILLION, LARGELY AS A RESULT OF CONTROVERSY BEHIND ALEC’S “STAND YOUR GROUND” MODEL LEGISLATION AND THE RESULTING TRAYVON MARTIN CONTROVERSY

500,000

NUMBER OF ELECTED LOCAL OFFICIALS IN MUNICIPALITIES CURRENTLY BEING TARGETED BY ALEC’S NEW LOCAL GOVERNMENT WING, THE AMERICAN CITY COUNTY EXCHANGE

“AS A GROUP THAT FOCUSES ON LIMITED GOVERNMENT, FREE MARKETS AND FEDERALISM, WE BELIEVE OUR MESSAGE RINGS TRUE AT THE MUNICIPAL LEVEL JUST AS IT DOES IN STATE LEGISLATURES.”
– ALEC SPOKESMAN WILHELM MEIERLING
Source: The Guardian

 

 

COUNTY SEED

Given the past few years of municipal sweater-unraveling and general opaqueness in both policy and attitude in Orange County – OMG, text messages make government happen, you guys! – it should come as no surprise that we don’t throw too much weight behind the notion of political coincidences locally. This is Happytown™, not happenstance, after all. We just like it when things make sense.

But nothing, presently, does make sense at the Orange County Board of County Commissioners. Seriously, nothing has made sense there since Sept. 11, 2012, the dawn of textgate, but following Commissioner Fred Brummer’s recent omnibus attack on democracy – about which we frothed at length last week – things have seemingly stepped into the Twilight Zone. By now, you should be aware that Brummer – or whomever is dropping bits of cheese into his cage – is seeking to rush through a special election in May that would appear to appease a litigious Hispanic population while simultaneously wrecking everything in the background. In essence, Brummer wants to strip everything Democratic (and democratic) from the local government process while telling everyone that it’s in their best interest. Interesting, considering that Brummer is a termed-out Republican who seems ripe for the lobbyist picking (or a particularly robust gin blossom, your pick).

So maybe it’s not a coincidence that just last week we also learned that Koch-snorting legislative bullies the American Legislative Exchange Council – speed-dating your elected state legislators with powerful corporate entities behind closed doors since 1973 – had launched a new initiative aimed at rebuilding some of their credibility following some bad press involving a certain Sanford shooting and associations with an ALEC model-bill.

How will ALEC stand its ground? It will, allegedly beginning in August, start going after the 500,000 or so elected municipal officials in the United States, parlaying the same kind of one-size-fits-all sausage casing that its name has grown synonymous with, while trying to drag corporate interests (cough, Walmart, cough) back into the fold because small government equals happy board members.

According to a report from the Guardian last week, the American City County Exchange – ALEC’s localized little sister – is all set to become “America’s only free-market forum for village, town, city and county policymakers.” Say what? Nope. Can’t say much more than that, according to the newspaper, because as they are wont to be, ALEC-types carry locked briefcases that look like mouths. All we know is that companies will be offered two tiers of “free-market” government purchase: $25,000 a year to be on the “founders committee” and $10,000 to be on the “council committee.” No word yet on how much your commissioners will have to pay to sit at the table and be told how to vote. As we’ve learned via textgate, it could just be girl-talk-free for them (minus a pesky court fine for breaking the law). Which begs the question: Is Orange County the model for ACCE or is Brummer just one of the fledgling group’s first tools?

“Whether they have any involvement in what is happening in Orange County is really impossible to say, and that is really the problem with ALEC – and with ACCE by extension – which is that they provide a process for corporations to cost-effectively and secretly promote their agenda,” Nick Surgey, director of research for the Center of Media and Democracy – the group that outed ALEC in the first place – says in an email. “We don’t yet know what issues ACCE is going to work on, and we have no idea which of the hundreds of thousands of local elected officials they have managed to sign up as members.”

What we do know is that Brummer’s charter amendment volley stinks of Republican talking points and empty bluster. On a recent CFNews13 online interview, Brummer took the stance that all of this controversy is for nothing, that we’ve been talking about all of the items on his agenda, like, forever – killing the elected Tax Collector office, limiting petition drives, making all county offices nonpartisan, creating new Hispanic districts to which Gov. Rick Scott will conveniently get to appoint commissioners without guarantee of full representation – so why not cram it all together in the spring on unspecified, currently unnoticed dates in a manner that reeks of desperation and pork. It’s your responsibility to vote! If you don’t like what you see – or even just parts of what you see – vote against it. Or, better yet, don’t vote at all.

Brummer’s talking points were suspiciously dumbed down for a community meeting aimed at Hispanics on March 6 at Colonial High School. Apparently, according to some in attendance, the disrespect evoked some hostility, even as some marginal Republican Hispanics tried to sell cheap explanations like so much snake oil.

“Often times, a good idea, by itself, doesn’t generate enough support to get passed,” read a handout distributed by former Republican House candidate Rene Plasencia. “It’s a common tool in legislation to add several attractive ideas together to add votes to get it passed. It’s just good old-fashioned coalition building.”

Democratic District 4 candidate Euri Cerrud was there, and the animus in the room prompted him to issue a press release on March 7 calling out the entire proposition. People will have less than a month to even register for a May 27 special mail-in election, it will cost $1.7 million and each of the suggested amendments is “more complicated than the last.” In short, foul ball.

Brook Hines, director of the Main Street Alliance, Florida – and no stranger to the textgate fight of recent history – was also at the meeting, and says things went from bad to worse as the details were unveiled. Moreover, she sees the potential out-of-nowhere connection between Republican operatives – or even the ACCE – with Orange County’s most recent electoral kerfuffle as a clear possibility.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if our [board of county commissioners] didn’t serve as a model for this sort of lobbyist interference in policy-making. In the [Guardian] article they mention giving corporate America a ‘direct conduit’ to the policy-making process,” she says in an email. “That’s exactly what we saw in textgate, where each commissioner and the Mayor had a different corporate lobbyist (or lawyer, or special friend) giving them marching orders during the public hearing on how to derail the ballot measure.”

“Now we see that these same corporate interests are using Fred Brummer as a ‘conduit’ for a huge power grab that would shut citizens out of the policy process altogether while delivering a partisan victory to Rick Scott, as he’ll be able to appoint new Hispanic commissioners if this passes,” she continues. “The power grab is partisan, it’s anti-voter and its goal is to make big business the only voice heard in our local government. This is what ALEC and their new local-level group would like to see everywhere.”

Coincidence is dead.

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