As we return to another episode of Emo Senator, southern Minnesota's favorite telenovela, we find the scriptwriter furrowing her brow, distressed at the latest evidence that the circus animals are deserting Senator Mike Parry in Waseca, Minnesota.
In the Waseca County News, she scans an article, ALEC finds itself under scrutiny while Parry defends and finds this:
Parry is one of eight Minnesota state senators who are members of ALEC; he is a member of ALEC’s Telecommunications and Information Technology Task Force. Eighteen members of the Minnesota House of Representatives are also members of the ALEC, including its Minnesota chair, Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer.
Parry compared ALEC to belonging to Rotary.
What is it like to be a member of the Rotary Club in Waseca, Minnesota? According to the August 18, 2011 article in the Waseca paper, Rotary Club celebrates 50 years in 2011, the members have fun while serving their community:
. . .Waseca Rotarians are involved in the community through the Rotary Foundation, the STRIVE program at the high school, the Stoltenberg Scholarship, International Youth Exchange, the Farm and City Luncheon, the new teacher luncheon, the Waseca Rotary Golf Tournament, and the annual Service Above Self Award, which honors a local resident for unselfish volunteer service.
Frederick said Rotarians try to live by the Four Way Test: “Is it the truth?” “Is it fair to all concerned?” “Will it build good will and better friendships?” “Will it be beneficial to all concerned?”
“It’s the camaraderie. We do have fun at our club and we take our role as community service very seriously. We do a lot for the community and a lot internationally,” he said.
In short, an archetypical small town service club. The scriptwriter especially appreciates the Four Way Test, which a Rotary member from Cokato called to her attention on Facebook. Sadly, the Emo Senator's famous amnesia sets in when he tweets and conducts committee hearings, causing the Four Way Test to fall to the wayside. Since Parry was president of the Waseca chapter in 2009-2010, this is truly unfortunate.
Internationally, the organization promotes peace and works "support education and job training, provide clean water, combat hunger, improve health and sanitation, and eradicate polio."
(Perhaps the Emo Senator confuses "eradicating polio" with "eradicating asbestos-related cancer victim lawsuits") .
The scriptwriter finds little of Rotary's mission on the ALEC agenda, agreeing with yesterday's column by Brendan Greeley in Bloomberg Businessweek, What Occupy Wall Street Gets Wrong About ALEC, that ALEC is about maximizing certain government-related profit centers for corporations and that
. . .profits are neither good nor bad. Water flows downhill. Corporations seek returns on equity. This is good for my retirement portfolio, and bad by way of any number of negative externalities that begin with climate change and end somewhere around why America has inadequate rural broadband. ALEC is bad not because it helps corporations profit, but because it makes them lazy.
Corporations can invest in new capital. Or, if they’re lazy, they can secure favored tax treatment for their existing assets. They can invent new things or, if they’re lazy, they can find ways to collect rents on the things they already invented. They can compete on service and price or, if they’re lazy, they can arrange regulation that ensures they won’t have to compete at all. The American Legislative Exchange Council doesn’t replace democracy; all those model bills are still voted on by state legislatures before they become law. But it does quietly ease passage of bills that the laziest corporations like—the ones that prevent them from having to invest, invent, or compete.
“For me, joining ALEC as a new senator did nothing but give me information on how to govern, procedures, what’s it like to be in the legislature,” he said.
He said it’s like belonging to other organizations, such as the Council of State Governments.
“I use all that information when we’re looking at bills or how to write bills,” he said.
Parry said he went to a meeting of ALEC last year and then joined; he couldn’t remember if the annual membership fee was $50 or $100. He said the meeting was not political, but more like getting some college-level information.
Bluestem knows a bit about ALEC meetings. Curious about the organization, the scriptwriter paid to attend its spring task summit last year in Cincinnati, sitting in as a private citizen on the task force discussions related to health care, education, public safety, elections and agriculture.
If the meeting was "not political," Mike Parry must believe that a luncheon speech by Wisconsin State Senator Leah Vukmir telling the Republican side of the massive protests at the capitol in Madison wasn't political. That's certainly an interesting point-of-view.
Whatever the case, one would hardly call her remarks particularly good advice on how to govern Americans. Vukmir deeply resented the fact that Madison protesters looked her in the eye. (Also all that hippie drumming).
She told the assembled industry and corporate lobbyists, Republican legislators (none from Minnesota), and think tank staffers that she had gotten up early on the day of the task force so that she could watch the royal wedding in London. Vukmir specifically admired the television footage of the happy couple's first public kiss on the balcony of Buckingham Palace and the good manners of the crowd assembled below to watch it. Vukmir noted to her own approving audience that English people waited patiently behind police barriers until the bobbies moved them, then the crowd came forward in an orderly fashion to get a better look at the regal smooch.
If only Americans could behave so well, the Wisconsin state senator noted. The scriptwriter considered sharing information about the behavior of English people* attending anti-austerity protests, rather than royal weddings, but thought better of it as she wanted to remain on friendly terms with the people from Taser attending the summit, as well as the cheerful on-duty Cincinnati police officers stationed on every floor of the Hilton Netherland Plaza hotel.
One might call it college-level information. But the scriptwriter would never confuse an ALEC meeting with the local Rotary. She's never met a Rotarian who didn't welcome eye contact.
The WCN article suggests that the Belle of Waseca County clearly had his feelings hurt by a recent article in the Star Tribune about how Asbestos victims oppose company's push for liability shield in state law. This bit seems particularly vexsome:
Over the past decade, Crown has paid lobbyists in states across the country to help cap its liability -- in essence exempting it from future lawsuits. The company's argument, that it's an innocent successor, has gained traction in 15 states where the legislation has passed, including Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota.
The company has been helped by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a business-friendly group that helps craft model legislation for use in legislatures across the country. Minnesota is one of five states considering the proposal this year.
So not so, Mike Parry told the nearest hapless employee of Huckle enterprises, the conservative owners of the Waseca County News and other Southern Minnesota newspapers:
Parry said ALEC has not played a role in any of the legislation he has brought to the Senate.
“I don’t know about the other [ALEC members]. If we were to do something [from ALEC], we’d take it right back to our reviser and legal staff,” he said.
Parry also said his bill to protect corporate asbestos makers from being held accountable for the harmful effects of asbestos was “absolutely not” based on an ALEC bill.
“ALEC didn’t even get in the picture,” he said.
Parry described what happened to Crown, Cork & Seal, an Owatonna and Faribault company, when it bought stock in a fiberglass insulation company in 1966 to put a package together to purchase another bottle cap producer.
The scriptwriter now must draw upon her knowledge of Latin American magical realists' novels in translation in order to fully understand this new plot twist.
As a Rotarian, Parry is guided by the question: "Is it true?" Thus, since Mike Parry is an honest man, we can only conclude --with identical language as the bills in other states-- that "these bills grow wild in the fertile, democratic loam of America’s state legislatures," as Greeley describes ALEC's fiction.
Also as magical as a royal kiss? Parry's notion that a Fortune 500 corporation based in Philadelphia is "an Owatonna and Faribault company" that he's just helping out. The trial lawyers' American Association for Justice report, ALEC: Ghostwriting the Law for Corporate America, details the national history of the legislation on pages 8-10, concluding:
Through its special-interest panels, ALEC persuaded legislators in several states to do Crown’s bidding. Legislation providing Crown with immunity was enacted in Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin. Similar legislation was introduced in several states including Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia.
It's worth a read. Also worth noting: both ALEC and St. Paul origins of the "Innocent Successor Asbestos-Related Liability Fairness Act" pre-date Parry, who put his jacket on the latest iteration of the ALEC bill. Perhaps he's completely honest. Perhaps he never met with ALEC about the bill--and didn't bother to ask any questions when handed a copy. It's magic!
It's possible that the language simply appeared on his desk without benefit of lobbyists, lawyers or ALEC. And it's purely accidental that the name for a bill with similar language and intent shows up in a number of different state legislatures when Mr. Google is asked to search for it. It's magic!
The legislation first shows up in the Minnesota Legislature as HF3380, introduced by DFLer Kathy Brynaert, with an assist from Patti Fritz, Pat Garofalo and Mark Murdock during the 86th session.
The current iteration in the House is HF1418, with Kelby Woodard serving as chief author. Brynaert had her name stricken from the current version on May 6, 2011; Kory Kath remains as the sole DFL co-author. Fritz did not sign on to the new bill.
The Senate passed its version, SF1236, on a third reading of the bill on February 20, 2012. Mankato DFL Kathy Sheran, a co-author, voted for it; the rest was a straight-line party vote. Conservative DFLer Dan Sparks (of Ag-Gag fame) was a co-sponsor as well, but was absent from the Senate that day. It's doubtful that these DFLers are ALEC members, but apparently look more like non-member Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City) in carrying ALEC's water.
Image: Mike Parry, Emo Senator and the Belle of Waseca County, so a member of ALEC but so not getting any bills from them, even when there's a model bill with the exact same name. Do you believe in magic?
*The screenwriter also thought better than to educate ALEC members about the behavior of her own English relatives, who associated with those who chopped off the head of a king and were rather mean to her Irish ancestors as well as indigenous Americans. Best not to dampen Vikmur's royal dreams with a history lesson, since the English are so very nice.