By Nicholas Condorcet
Arizona Community Press | www.azcommunitypress.org
November 30th, 2011 saw the beginning of a large protest at the Scottsdale Kierland Resort of a private American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) conference between legislators and corporations to craft model state legislation. Activists claimed much of the legislation is for corporate profit. Occupy Phoenix hosted a public discussion on December 1, 2011 of the effect of ALEC’s legislation at Cesar Chavez Plaza with national speakers Lisa Graves from the Center for Media and Democracy and Robert Sloan from the Voters Legislative Transparency Project; also Elders from the Tohono O’odham Tribe spoke on how ALEC’s legislation was affecting their people and land. Arizona Horizon on local PBS Channel 8 did a special report on ALEC with Lisa Graves presenting the case for concerned citizens.
In the following year ALEC has seen continued national protests from Occupy, a letter writing campaign from the group Common Cause, boycotts of their member companies and a pink slip campaign from Occupy Phoenix to not support ALEC members running for public office. ALEC lost several Arizona legislative members in 2012. State Legislator Representatives J Ted Vogt, Amanda Reeve, John Fillmore, Nancy McLain, and David Burnell Smith lost re-election. Senator Lori Klein lost the election and 7 other members were ineligible to run or are retiring. Nationally ALEC has lost over 100 legislators in the 2012 elections and approximately 50 corporations have left ALEC due to public pressure including Walmart, Pepsi, Intuit, Amazon and Kraft.
In Arizona controversy surrounds ALEC bills like SB1070 which appears to have been written at an ALEC conference with Corrections Corporations of America and ALEC member Arizona Senator Russell Pearce in Washington DC in 2009. The legislation was introduced and became law in several states by ALEC legislators with Arizona being the first enacted into law. The law resulted in a nationwide boycott of Arizona by many concerned groups and targeted campaigns against many companies involved. Russell Pearce was ultimately recalled from office.
National controversy exists surrounding ALEC’s Stand Your Ground Law when African American Trayvon Martin was killed by a Caucasian neighborhood watch member with seemingly no provocation other than Trayvon’s Hoodie. Martin’s death sparked protests across the country. At one of the local protests African American church leaders, activists from Occupy, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, and City Council member Michael Johnson gathered at Cesar Chavez Plaza. Phoenix City Councilman Michael Johnson remarked on an incident where he was tackled by a police officer without warning for possibly little reason other than his appearance. The protests led to ALEC shutting down their Public Safety and Elections Task Force which developed the law and had included AZ Senator Russell Pierce on its executive committee until his recall.
Protests of ALEC member corporations continue nationally and locally. On September 17,2012 Occupy Phoenix held a Anniversary march with perhaps 150 people speaking against injustice. Several targets included ALEC corporate members like Wells Fargo and Bank of America. November saw an Occupy protest of ALEC member Chase thru petition, speakers and concert which included speakers from local activist groups with a focus on moving your money out of companies invested in cluster bombs which often remain unexploded after war and often harm children who set them off. Two petition drives have been launched against ALEC members. One of the petitions is asking Salt River Project (SRP) to leave ALEC and action has included protests and a visit to their board. Some protesters claim SRP has used ALEC legislation limiting clean air/water/energy efficiency standards to avoid costly environmental improvements that would help valley health improve. Activist requested a public meeting with an SRP representative to discuss the companies membership as a public utility in ALEC. SRP appears to have declined setting up a meeting. Another petition drive has been launched asking Freeport-McMoRan to leave ALEC. It has seen frequent protests and there is a upcoming trip planned to protest in Phoenix, Tucson and Bisbee. Freeport’s pollution of local groundwater in Bisbee has forced lifelong residents out of their homes. A recent Arizona bill which is suggested has come from ALEC, often referred to as the Polluter Protection act, makes it a crime for employees of companies like Freeport to release health and safety information to the public and prohibits much of this information from public view even when investigated-limiting the public knowledge of dangers that may exist around them in the air they breathe and water they drink. Occupy Phoenix plans to show a film called the United States of ALEC in early December to increase public awareness of the real reason behind much legislation deemed to limit voting rights, union rights and endanger public health and safety.