State lawmakers, corporate lobbyists, and right-wing operatives got together in Scottsdale, Arizona last week for the 2023 States and Nation Policy Summit hosted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The summit — one of the largest annual gatherings of the ALEC faithful, along with the summer meeting — caps off ALEC’s 50th anniversary year.
Following its 50th Annual Meeting in July, ALEC held a formal gala on October 4 at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., where attendees were met with protests highlighting the pay-to-play group’s “50 Years of Harm.” ALEC also organized a “50th Anniversary Policy Day” at the U.S. Capitol that featured discussions on artificial intelligence; environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) investment strategies; school privatization; and the “state tax cut revolution,” as an agenda obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) details.
Meeting at the four-star Westin Kierland Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, ALEC politicians considered model policies and resolutions related to an Article V constitutional convention, so-called “woke” capitalism, school curricula, the environment, gutting regulations, and more.
Among the slate of Republican politicians and other right-wing speakers were former Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, U.S. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (via video), former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Arizona State Supreme Court Justice Clint Bolick, and many others.
Major Push for a Constitutional Convention
ALEC prioritized its push for an Article V constitutional convention early in the opening session with multiple speakers who advocated for the radical move to rewrite our nation’s founding document.
In his address, the new House speaker (and ALEC alumnus) called the size of the federal debt “the greatest present threat to our national security” and announced “plans for a bipartisan debt commission to study and propose solutions to begin reducing our debt and putting America back on a path to fiscal responsibility.”
Johnson has long supported the Convention of States, one of the right-wing groups lobbying for state resolutions to hold a constitutional convention. The group relies on ALEC as a tool to reach state legislators to back its extreme plan to rewrite the U.S. Constitution in order to drastically curtail federal powers and lock in minority rule.
ALEC used this most recent policy summit to double down on a strategy first presented in 2020 claiming that unrelated and outdated state resolutions should be counted to meet the threshold of the 34 state calls needed to hold a constitutional convention. Using this rationale, the threshold was reached in 1979, making Congress legally required to convene a constitutional convention immediately.
U.S. Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-TX) presented the bill he has introduced (HCR 24) to do just that, claiming Congress has “failed in its constitutional duty to count applications and call a ‘Convention for proposing Amendments.’”
“Working with my friend and our fearless leader in the House, Speaker Mike Johnson, I’m going to continue to push to pass this important legislation to stave off a sovereign debt crisis, to rein in the reckless and wasteful spending in Washington, and to return power back to the sovereign states,” Arrington said.
David Walker, former comptroller general of the U.S., discussed steps being taken to force the issue in the courts. “The Federal Fiscal Sustainability Foundation (of which I’m a board member) has financed the drafting of a declaratory judgment filing by a prominent D.C. firm with significant Supreme Court experience,” Walker explained. He noted that several states are considering whether to file a case against Congress with the goal being “to get a case before the Supreme Court to force the Congress to discharge its constitutional responsibilities. We need more states to join this effort.”
Utah State Rep. Ken Ivory (R) also called on ALEC lawmakers to urge the Supreme Court to act. “Please join us in the state of Utah as we look into the legal mechanisms that we have under the Constitution… to declare that Congress must count the applications,” Ivory implored. “And if, as we believe, we’ve already achieved 34 applications to Congress for a fiscal responsibility convention, call [it]… and hold a Convention of States.”
In a workshop titled “Article V: The People’s Voice and State’s Empowerment Tool,” ALEC lawmakers heard from “legal experts” who delved “into the merits of a Declaratory Judgment suit against Congress, specifically addressing its negligence since 1979 in calling a Convention for an inflation-fighting Fiscal Responsibility Amendment.”
Members of ALEC’s Federalism and International Relations Task Force heard a similar presentation called “Article V — Next Steps If the 34-State Threshold Was Met in 1979.”
Task force members then took a secret vote on a Resolution Demanding Congress Call the Fiscally Responsible Amendment Convention as Article V Mandated in 1979 Stipulating Ratification by State Convention, where “We the People Rule.” This resolution not only calls on Congress to hold a constitutional convention, it requires the states’ governors, attorneys general, and legislative councils “to seek judicial enforcement” if they fail to do so.
More Attacks on “Woke” Capitalism and Sustainable Investing
Attacks on so-called woke capitalism and sustainable investing were featured prominently throughout the summit.
ALEC’s Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force held a discussion on “States Keeping Politics Out of Pensions” and reconsidered the Proxy Voting Integrity and Transparency Act that failed to pass at the annual meeting in July. Now that this model bill — which seeks to prevent government entities managing public pension plans from considering ESG factors when engaging in the proxy voting process — didn’t pass this time either, it’s likely dead.
At their meeting, members of the Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force voted on making adjustments to the Model Policy Amending the Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act, but it didn’t move. The changes would have prohibited the consideration of ESG factors in the management of public institutional funds.
This model is also hosted on the Heritage Foundation website, as are most anti-ESG model policies introduced at ALEC meetings over the past few years.
At the closing session, Andy Puzder, former CEO of CKE Restaurants, the parent company of the popular fast-food chains Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s and a visiting fellow at Heritage, once again drummed up fears about ESG as a lens for investing, calling it a “Neo-Marxist investment strategy.”
Puzder has spoken at multiple ALEC meetings and drafted many of the anti-ESG bills the corporate bill mill has circulated since the summer of 2021, when it held its annual meeting in conjunction with the State Financial Officers Foundation, an association of right-wing state treasurers and other fiscal managers that is staunchly opposed to making decisions about public policy and funds based on factors such as climate change, equity and inclusion, and social justice.
At last year’s ALEC policy summit, Puzder compared the fight against ESG to his father’s generation’s fight against Nazism.
In addition to demonizing sustainable investing in his remarks last week, Puzder promoted the only anti-ESG model bill that has been approved by ALEC’s board of directors: the State Government Employee Retirement Protection Act. The bill, which he helped draft, prohibits anyone managing state, local, or university public pensions from considering the climate emergency or other social or political factors when investing pension funds.
Puzder also promoted anti-boycott bills that he refers to as “contracting legislation.” Originally called the Eliminate Political Boycotts Act but renamed at the December 2022 summit, this model bill bars companies with 10 or more employees from receiving state contracts if they take into account any “social, political, or ideological interests” to limit their commercial relations with fossil fuel, logging, mining, or agricultural businesses — and instructs legislatures to “insert additional industries if needed,” as CMD first reported.
ALEC’s board rejected the anti-boycott model due to opposition from the American Bankers Association, state bankers associations, and others.
“Science of Reading”
ALEC lawmakers also considered passing The Science of Reading Act. This model bill would require all schools to adopt the “science of reading” method of instruction in place of older approaches to teaching students how to read, prohibit the use of any other reading curricula, and require all new teachers to take 80 hours of additional training “aligned with the science of reading.” The training must be “provided by an organization accredited by the International Dyslexia Association” — which offers a clue as to which special interests likely drafted the model bill, something ALEC keeps secret. This is totally at odds with the National Center on Improving Literacy, which maintains that the “science of reading” is a body of research and not “a program, an intervention, or a product you can buy.” The bill does not include language on funding.
The unfunded “science of reading” curriculum has proven to be difficult to roll out and expensive to implement for school districts in states where this new reading program is mandated by law. Education scholar Diane Ravitch argues that there is no such thing as “the science” of reading. “There are better and worse ways of teaching, but none is given the mantle of ‘science,’” Ravitch points out. “Calling something ‘science’ is a way of saying ‘my approach is right and yours is wrong.’”
Energy and the Environment
ALEC politicians in the Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force meeting debated An Act to Prevent Lawsuit Abuse Regarding Ethylene Oxide Emissions, which would protect medical device manufacturers and distributors from potential lawsuits that may stem from a new rule from the Environmental Protection Agency regulating emissions of the cancer-causing chemical.
ALEC lawmakers serving on the Federalism and International Relations Task Force also heard a presentation titled “Protecting State Critical Infrastructure — A National and Homeland Security Imperative” and voted on the Statement of Principles on Securing and Protecting Public Utility Infrastructure. The model legislation makes the case that protecting public utility infrastructure is a matter of both “homeland security” and “environmental protection.”
This may also suggest a renewed interest from ALEC in pushing its 2018 model policy designed to criminalize and quell environmental protests in and around fossil fuel infrastructure.
City and Local Model Bills
ALEC’s sister organization, the American City County Exchange (ACCE) also introduced a couple of model bills to attendees.
The Homelessness Crisis Mitigation Act would prevent cities or towns within a given county from addressing the critical needs of the unhoused “without first entering into a shared services agreement with [COUNTY] to provide said services.” This would create a significant hurdle for social service agencies and possibly prevent shelters or other temporary housing options from being offered to those in need.
The Local Taxpayer Protection Act would require the vote of two-thirds of a county legislature in order to increase property taxes, raising the threshold needed and making it more difficult for counties trying to finance policies and programs unfunded by state legislatures.
In the Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force, members considered the Regulatory Sunset Act, which calls for any rule or regulation enacted or amended after the model’s passage to be terminated after five years and gives the legislature power to control any renewals. Regulatory agencies would have to notify the legislature a year in advance and provide a cost-benefit analysis for each regulation they wish to renew. This would create an extensive amount of additional work for state agencies and state legislatures, many of which operate part-time, and put health, environmental, workplace, and other regulations that keep Americans safe at risk of lapsing.
Other new model policies considered at the ALEC summit include:
- A Resolution Regarding Federal Action to Hold Foreign Polluters Accountable and to Promote U.S. Economic Development