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Progressives Create State Innovation Exchange To Counter ALEC

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Progressives Create State Innovation Exchange To Counter ALEC

Politics

Progressives Create State Innovation Exchange To Counter ALEC

Progressives Create State Innovation Exchange To Counter ALEC

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Liberals are trying, again, to set up a group that would counteract ALEC. That's the conservative nonprofit that produces pro-industry measures drafted by state legislators and corporate lobbyists.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Political progressives want to follow the example of a conservative group called ALEC. The American Legislative Exchange Council influences state legislation. People on the left are outraged by ALEC's success, or maybe the word is envious because liberals want a similar group of their own. NPR's Peter Overby reports on what ALEC did and how progressives want to respond.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: The mission of ALEC is to advance conservative goals through state laws. It's had great success with an agenda focused on cutting taxes and government spending and rolling back regulations. ALEC accomplishes this by bringing state legislators together with lobbyists from the corporations that underwrite ALEC. They team up to write initiatives that ALEC's lawmakers take home to their states. ALEC had its annual conference in Washington earlier this month.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONFERENCE)

THOM TILLIS: Thank you all.

OVERBY: Among the speakers, Republican Senator-elect Thom Tillis.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONFERENCE)

TILLIS: I hate now that I'm going to the U.S. Senate, you all are going to kick me to the curb, and I can't be a member anymore, but...

OVERBY: Tillis had been speaker of the House in North Carolina. He ran through his achievements - pretty much an ALEC wish list.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONFERENCE)

TILLIS: We cut personal income tax, corporate tax, sales tax, repealed land transfer taxes, cut regulations...

OVERBY: Then a week after the ALEC confab came the kickoff conference of the new progressive group, the State Innovation Exchange or SiX.

NICK RATHOD: My understanding of what ALEC does is that they're basically a dating service for corporate America and state legislators.

OVERBY: This is Nick Rathod, executive director of SiX. He says SiX will bring together progressive legislators and advocates.

RATHOD: What we're trying to do is really try to drive a people's agenda that focuses on working-class, middle-class issues.

OVERBY: Laura Kelly had come to the conference from Topeka, Kansas, where she's a state senator.

SENATOR LAURA KELLY: What we're talking about is healthy public policy that is in the best interest to the majority of people.

OVERBY: A notion that she says isn't just liberal. The State Innovation Exchange comes after not one, but three other attempts to go up against ALEC. This time, the plan is to start slowly. At first, SiX would go into several states with the same one or two issues. Likely possibilities are carbon reduction where unions and environmentalists will have to unite, and criminal justice reform where hard-core progressives and small-government conservatives can work together. Jay Kaufman, a state representative from Lexington, Massachusetts, says the slow-but-steady approach sounds good.

REPRESENTATIVE JAY KAUFMAN: I've talked to a fair number of people in this room who are tired of losing with a shared sense of righteous indignation. And we're angry about that.

OVERBY: Since 2012, progressive activists have campaigned to drive America's biggest corporations out of ALEC. About a hundred have quit, including eBay just this month. And the campaign blew a million-dollar-plus hole in ALEC's budget.

Still, ALEC claims the membership of about 1 out of 4 state lawmakers nationwide. And Republicans dominate the statehouses. In the 13 southern states, Democrats hold exactly one chamber - the Kentucky House. Ellen Bravo is director of the Family Values @ Work consortium and is on the SiX Advisory Board. She says that in her advocacy work, ALEC has become a liability for the other side.

ELLEN BRAVO: When we say to people, it's ALEC who's behind it, that legislator's a member of ALEC, other folks don't want to be associated with it.

OVERBY: Now, over at ALEC, communications director Bill Meierling shrugs off the attacks.

BILL MEIERLING: More perspectives and discussions on any issue is always a good thing for democracy.

OVERBY: Although he also says this...

MEIERLING: It's certainly ironic that we can be reviled and mimicked all in the same breath.

OVERBY: Meierling says he's fine with that. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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