Politics: ALEC limits Idaho legislators

by Judy Ferro

At the recent District 10 town hall, an attendee asked the three legislators if they had accepted funds from ALEC, an organization commonly regarded as “the voice of corporate special interests.”

All three answered no (though Sen. Jim Rice did defend ALEC).

That would be significant if ALEC donated to candidates, but it doesn’t.  ALEC doesn’t reveal who it supports any more than it reveals its corporate members or the bills it writes.

It might be better if ALEC did operate that way; Idaho law would limit the organization’s donations to $2,000 per candidate per election.

But it’s ALEC’s 300 corporate members who donate.  A legislator who pushes ALEC bills through may get the nod that leads to donations and backing for higher office.

Indicators of an ALEC bills are it a) deals with issues few Idahoans care about, b) benefits corporations, c) is identical to bills in several states, or d) contains the clause “[insert name of state here].” (The latter did happen in another state.)

That bill to prevent Idaho cities from banning plastic bags and foam containers?  Utah has one just like it.  And aren’t those bags made from oil?  Probably an ALEC bill.

And the bills to support religious schools with taxpayer money and to allow charter schools to ignore teacher contract standards? ALEC bills to weaken public schools and teacher unions show up every session in states across the country.

Idahoans generally accept that our Republican legislators won’t increase the minimum wage or expand Medicaid during an election year.  Many assume they fear angrying voters.

            Yet, both a minimum wage increase and Medicaid expansion are backed by a majority of Idahoans, even the majority of Idaho Republicans.  You’d expect legislators to trumpet their support.

            Think about it—incumbents, who have a built-in advantage in elections—are shying away from bills popular with the voters.

Legislators’ refusal to take action makes sense, however, if they fear super corporations throwing megabucks into getting out the vote for a primary opponent.

Because of a leak five years ago, we know ALEC bills have included legislation a) allowing people to shoot those they fear (rather than the former rule—people that a reasonable person would fear), b) undermining unions and keeping wages low, c) suppressing the popular vote, d) controlling education, and e) siphoning taxpayer money off to their friends by privatizing services.

Privatizing is big. Idaho had troubles with a private prison that cut corners, lied about staffing, and mistreated prisoners, but, reportedly, things are far worse elsewhere.

Charter schools, once pushed as a means for masterful teachers to control teaching conditions, now rely on expensive canned materials and back laws to undercut teachers.

In some states, private companies have taken over highways, pocketed tolls until the roads deteriorated, and then dumped them back on the state.

And ALEC stands with insurance companies in opposing Medicaid expansion and insurance exchanges.

Idaho legislators know that the failure to expand Medicaid means that Idahoans will continue to die from treatable illnesses at the rate of one per day.  They know expansion is supported by a passionate public.  And they know expanding would save taxpayer money.

Does anyone really believe they accept Medicaid for those on welfare, but won’t cover workers because they fear the Feds will run out of money?

It’s easier to believe that legislators fear being replaced by amoral corporate puppets. It’s happened in states like Kansas, and the results have not helped anyone.

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