With Congress and the states gridlocked and dominated by special-interest spending, America’s cities have emerged as engines of policy innovation. From efforts to raise the minimum wage and secure paid sick days to bills banning fracking, some of the biggest progressive policy victories in the United States are happening at the local level.
So how has the American Legislative Exchange Council, a powerful lobby serving right-wing interests at the state level, responded to this resurgence of local democracy? With a systematic effort to destroy it.
ALEC task force director Cara Sullivan recently explained to a room full of local officials that when it comes to citizen movements supporting job creation and higher wages, “perhaps the biggest threat comes from the local level.”
Thankfully, she added, ALEC has a solution: “ALEC has passed…state legislation that preempts the polities from within the state from raising the minimum wage higher than the state level.” In other words, if living-wage campaigns succeed at the city or county level, state legislators should intervene, repeal, and ban any such advances.
Sullivan’s comments were consistent with ALEC’s longstanding support for bills to block local control over issues that are important to everyday Americans. Even though ALEC has generally bashed all federal policy affecting the states, and its leaders have claimed that “people are better served by local leaders,” for decades its official policy has been to override local democracy when it threatens corporate interests.
So it is surprising that ALEC has launched a new offshoot aimed at city and county government called the American City County Exchange. ACCE, as it is called, held its first meeting last year.
“I was amazed that ALEC was telling a room full of local officials to do nothing, and to let state government handcuff their authority when it comes to matters of interest to their corporate funders,” says Fitchburg, Wisconsin, Mayor Steve Arnold, who participated in the meeting.
Following its big brother’s lead, ACCE is now grooming a farm team of corporate-friendly politicians and equipping them with the tools to promote special-interest bills at the local level. These efforts will be on full display this week as ALEC legislators and corporate lobbyists gather in San Diego for the organization’s annual meeting.
The new group’s director is Jon Russell, a local politician and all-around right-wing zealot. Russell served on the city council of Washougel, Washington, from 2006 until 2012. The Columbian, a local newspaper, once described him as “one of Clark County’s most divisive governmental figures.” When he resigned to take a position with Students for Life of America, an antiabortion group based in Spotsylvania, Virginia, some of his fellow council members told the paper that he would not be missed.