ALEC is coming to a city block near you

The conservative think tank known for flooding state legislatures with its agenda is starting to think locally

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has long made headlines as a conservative policy-sharing network that has pushed an agenda of voter suppression and dismantling of public education at the state level. Now the group, backed by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch, is going local with its new initiative, the American City County Exchange (ACCE). Soon, city government or county commission policies could be generated at the same right-wing think tank that has attacked environmental protections, attempted to undermine the rights of workers and made it harder for people to vote.

At a time of congressional gridlock and partisan rancor, local policies are easier to come by at the local level, with business and citizen groups coming together to generate solutions to problems such as affordable housing, public transit, open space and good-paying jobs. At the heart of these efforts is the spirit of regional collaboration among people who will have to live with the consequences of policy.

ALEC, with its new project, plans to interrupt that collaborative policymaking process by coming in from the outside with model bills based on an ideological obsession with privatization rather than on local knowledge about what works.

Some of the most successful, life-improving policies in metro regions involve partnerships among elected officials, private corporations and grass-roots activists. What has made collaboration successful is the fact that stakeholders come together. I saw this firsthand during more than a decade of work in Silicon Valley. There the Silicon Valley Leadership Group (a business consortium) worked with organized labor and community groups to ask for funding for quality public transit and the development of affordable housing. One result of this collaboration was a sales-tax-funded public transit system that is being built to serve all residents of Santa Clara County.

The business community in Silicon Valley also partnered with organized labor around the issue of children’s health care. In 2001 the Santa Clara County government, at the behest of the South Bay Labor Council and local business leaders, set up a combination of property taxes, tobacco taxes and outside grants to fund a universal health care program for all children in the county. Though its funding was shaky at times, the program managed to cover 97 percent of the county’s children, until it became part of California’s Medicaid program in 2013.

Instead of trying to contribute to locally relevant solutions, ALEC’s new project hopes to take local stakeholders out of the equation. It plans to take cookie-cutter bills thought up by corporate lobbyists and try to push them through local government. From its state-level work, ALEC is known for its attacks on environmental protections, its opposition to employees’ rights such as paid sick days and for promoting “stand your ground” gun laws that have been used as legal cover for violence against young unarmed African-American men and women.