Flap over conservative ALEC turns some Utah House Democrats against federalism resolution

(Denis Poroy | AP file photo) In this July 23, 2015, file photo, then-Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks at the American Legislative Exchange Council 42nd annual meeting in San Diego, Calif. For four decades, the well-funded conservative group, ALEC, has helped write legislation to help sympathetic state lawmakers rein in unions, expand charter schools and limit taxes.

A call for creating a national task force on federalism to help shift power from Washington, D.C. to state capitols seemed to have bipartisan support in the Utah House — until the topic of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council caused a rift.

HCR16 calls on the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Council of State Governments and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to establish a federalism task force that would convene a series of summits and develop plans “for restoring and maintaining clearly discernible divisions in the roles and responsibilities of the national government and the states.”

“It is meant to be bipartisan,” said resolution sponsor Steve Christiansen, a freshman West Jordan Republican.

“We would all agree as state legislators that the federal government is dysfunctional,” echoed Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville.

While Democrats expressed general support for that premise, they asked for the removal of one item in the resolution that they found troubling: the inclusion of ALEC.

The Arlington, Va.-based group has become known — as recent articles by the Arizona Republic, USA Today and The Center for Public Integrity have reported — as “the nation’s best-known ‘model’-bill factory over its four decades by providing more than fill-in-the-blank legislation.”

Supported by big business with annual membership fees of from $12,000 to $25,000 (plus an extra $5,000 for joining a task force where model bills are drafted), the nonprofit organization offers Republicans access to campaign donors, a social network and an almost evangelizing approach to spreading a message of small-government conservatism.

Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost, D-Salt Lake City, said she opposed “adding baldly partisan organizations like ALEC into our code.”

Democratic Minority Leader Brian King, also from Salt Lake City, said he agreed with the basic thrust of HCR16 and would vote for it but “I wish we would strip out ALEC.... I do think they have an ideological agenda.”

Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Sandy, moved on the House floor to delete the reference to ALEC, saying it only drove a partisan wedge into the debate. The amendment was rejected on a 43-13 vote, with a single Republican joining Democrats on the losing side.

The resolution then quickly passed the House on a 59-8 vote on its way to the Senate.