It’s great to have the conversation turned toward the conservative forces at play in Woonsocket, but it’s unfortunate that the concern seems to be getting lost in a search for something that doesn’t exist: secret ALEC model legislation that tells its members what to do when their city has a choice between bankruptcy and raising taxes.
Joe Nocera’s piece on ALEC in Woonsocket wasn’t about direct links, it was about what ALEC’s ideas on municipal government look like when applied to a financially struggling city. “It’s not pretty,” he concluded.
Besides, model legislation may be useful but in a way ALEC’s ideology has already gone viral.
This is how the New York Times reported on this pretty recent phenomenon in April:
“Most of the attention has focused on ALEC’s role in creating model bills, drafted by lobbyists and lawmakers, that broadly advance a pro-business, socially conservative agenda. But a review of internal ALEC documents shows that this is only one facet of a sophisticated operation for shaping public policy at a state-by-state level. The records offer a glimpse of how special interests effectively turn ALEC’s lawmaker members into stealth lobbyists, providing them with talking points, signaling how they should vote and collaborating on bills affecting hundreds of issues like school vouchers and tobacco taxes.”
Of course, ALEC has no blueprint on what to do when a city goes through what Woonsocket is going through. No city has ever gone through what Woonsocket is going through: the General Assembly, specifically the House, prevented the elected city council and mayor from raising revenue enough to avoid insolvency at the behest of three local legislators because they preferred receivership to taxes. There’s no model legislation for that.
But make no mistake about it, Brien’s policy positions for his hometown are tailored perfectly to how his fellow ALEC board members would want him to handle the situation. His stock in the far-right, anti-government group will surely skyrocket if the Woonsocket budget crisis is balanced on the backs of public sector retirees rather than private property owners. He’ll be the star of the conference in Salt Lake City this summer. Maybe Baldelli-Hunt will go too, she’s also an ALEC member.
Brien said he hasn’t been in touch with anyone from the organization since he attended a conference in May. He didn’t need to be. He implemented perfectly the broad brush ALEC game plan: fight taxes, shrink government and bust unions.
That may be why Times columnist Joe Nocera talks about the “ALEC philosophy” rather than the ALEC smoking gun. Nocera certainly didn’t blame ALEC for Woonsocket’s woes, as Ted Nesi reported. And while playing the ALEC card might sound unseemly when one words it as such, it is altogether fair in this instance. There is, as I wrote in my piece, “enough circumstantial evidence to at least raise the question.”
Ian Donnis makes an important point here: “Brien makes no bones about identifying with ALEC’s ‘free markets, low taxes’ philosophy; he says his constituents support the same values.”
There is no doubt Woonsocket is an ALEC-friendly place. There is a local small government group that’s been active the past several years called the Woonsocket Taxpayer Coalition, that adheres to the same low tax/small government values as does ALEC. And, indeed, ALEC has long had ties to the community. CVS is the only Rhode Island company that is a member of ALEC. And Brien said he got involved with ALEC through former Woonsocket legislative leader Jerry Martineau, who used to be the state ALEC chair in the 1990’s.
“Jerry and I have always been friends,” Brien told me in April. “I wanted to pick up that mantle.”
Brien now owns the ALEC mantle. He should do so for better or worse.