By Denise Tessier
This post might appear superfluous to regular readers of ABQJournalWatch.com’s sister site, Clearly New Mexico (a portal to which is carried in a box on the lower right side of this page).
But for those who are not regular readers of Clearly, I’d like to point out a recent post worthy of special mention that was done by my colleague, Tracy Dingmann. While it might seem gratuitous to do so, I forge ahead specifically because she covered something I was going to chastise the daily Albuquerque Journal for missing.
And it’s likely the Journal won’t cover it at this point, either because it’s a bit stale time-wise or because Tracy beat them to the punch.
In attempting to follow the political sea change still evolving in Wisconsin (as I’m sure many of our readers have), I was drawn to the March 15 blog piece by University of Wisconsin-Madison professor William Cronon, in which he methodically outlined an explanation for what he called “the sudden and impressively well-organized wave of legislation being introduced into state legislatures that all seem to be pursuing parallel goals only tangentially related to current fiscal challenges. . .”
Cronon’s piece, which is simultaneously a history of the conservative movement nationally and a primer on how he conducted his own research, included a link and quite a bit of information about a group called the American Legislation Exchange Council, also known as ALEC.
Visiting ALEC’s site, one finds in its membership brochure a paragraph that says:
ALEC is the only state legislative organization that adopts policies and creates model legislation for its members to use in their states. To date, ALEC has nearly 1,000 pieces of model legislation.
And this naturally raises the question: Had any of ALEC’s ready-to-debut templates been introduced on New Mexico’s Roundhouse floor?
While looking online to make sure I hadn’t missed possible entrepreneurial coverage of this by a reporter at the Journal, I instead found the question already answered by Tracy on the Clearly New Mexico site (March 17).
As her post pointed out, freshman Rep. Tim Lewis, R-Rio Rancho, had introduced a measure, House Joint Memorial 24, that was reportedly almost identical to an ALEC template that would have states back out of regional climate agreements aimed at reducing the effects of climate change. Her post linked to the blog site Grist.org, which had stated that:
Lewis readily acknowledges that the language in his resolution came from ALEC, but adds, “I am not a member of that group.” A first-term legislator who’s still busy learning the ropes in Santa Fe, Lewis admits he didn’t put much time into examining ALEC’s claims about cap-and-trade.
The point of this post is not to pick on Lewis or debate climate change and cap-and-trade, but rather to highlight how vulnerable New Mexico is to outside influence – whether it’s a well-funded national think tank like the Heritage Foundation having its ideas translated for a New Mexico audience via the Rio Grande Foundation (or RGF being given space on the Albuquerque Journal Op-Ed pages) – or ready-made legislation from ALEC.
And there’s the money influence as well. As we’ve pointed out on previous posts, Gov. Susana Martinez was heavily financed by out-of-state wealth from both the extractive industries and the Republican Party, notable because her legislative and administrative priorities appear more national-agenda based (i.e. rolling back industry regulation and adopting the “Florida” education plan) than home-grown.
As a smaller state and a swing state, New Mexico is especially attractive to these groups. (Because of its size, it has also attracted politicians who move here specifically to make a political splash. Two non-natives – former Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, and former U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson, a Republican – immediately come to mind, although they are certainly not anomalies.)
As Cronon and news coverage of political events make clear, special interest groups with an agenda are making inroads with these agendas nationwide. But Cronon added this caveat in his post about these groups and their agendas:
Again, I want anyone reading this post to understand that I am emphatically not questioning the legitimacy of advocacy networks in a democracy. To the contrary: I believe they are essential to democracy. My concern is rather to promote open public discussion and the genuine clash of opinions among different parts of the political spectrum, which I believe is best served by full and open disclosure of the interests of those who advocate particular policies.
And that is my point, too. When policy decisions are made in New Mexico, are they being made because they are in the best interest of the citizens of the state, or is the welfare of the citizenry secondary or even a consideration? It behooves all New Mexico media to be especially sensitive to outside influence and diligently point it out.
Postscript: Having taken some heat because of Cronon’s piece, ALEC has posted a response and explanation of what it does.
And while you’re over at the Clearly site, check out what Tracy found after inspecting public documents related to Gov. Martinez’s Small Business-Friendly Task Force.