Iowa House Democrat Brian Quirk cancels ALEC membership

State Representative Brian Quirk announced today that he is no longer a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which lobbies for a wide range of conservative and corporate-friendly policies in state legislatures. Up to now, Quirk had been the only ALEC member among the 40 Democrats in the Iowa House.

Follow me after the jump for background and details on Quirk’s decision, as well as recent comments about ALEC by former Iowa House Democrat Dolores Mertz.

All 60 Iowa House Republicans are members of ALEC, and House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer is treasurer of ALEC’s executive council.

The Progress Iowa group called attention to Quirk’s affiliation with ALEC last month. Membership is not merely a symbolic expression of support for ALEC’s goals, because the organization receives public money for each state legislator who is a member. Iowa House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy discussed this angle in an Iowa Public Radio interview last month:

“The issue is that taxpayer money is being paid on behalf of legislators unless they affirmatively opt out of the specific organization,” said Rep. McCarthy. “39 of (the) 40 members of our caucus have opted out so that we’re not having taxpayer dollars sent to this organization that advocates for things like ‘Stand your Ground’ which is why the Gates Foundation, Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods and other entities are now withdrawing their financial support from this organization.”

Progress Iowa hailed Quirk’s decision to leave ALEC in a press release today. Excerpt:

Des Moines, IA — State Representative Brian Quirk announced today that he has cancelled his membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and will no longer participate in the organization.

Rep. Quirk released the following statement about ALEC’s dangerous agenda:

“ALEC is not the bipartisan organization it claims to be. ALEC’s leadership discourages bipartisan cooperation, and pushes an agenda that is wrong for Iowa. As a member I saw firsthand the sort of legislation they push on state legislators around the country. I disagree with ALEC’s extreme agenda and the partisan way in which they operate. Our tax dollars should never be spent on funding such a partisan organization.”

After learning of his decision to leave ALEC, other Iowans issued statements thanking the Representative:

“We want to thank Rep. Quirk for cancelling his ALEC membership, and we hope his fellow legislators will follow suit,” said Matt Sinovic, Executive Director of Progress Iowa. “Iowa can’t afford to operate under the influence of ALEC any longer.”

“I’m very excited to learn that Rep. Quirk has ended his ALEC membership,” said Marcia Nichols, Legislative Director of AFSCME Iowa Council 61. “ALEC regularly pushes legislation that hurts working and middle class Iowans. We need our entire legislature to abandon this extreme organization.” […]

Several pieces of legislation based on ALEC templates have been introduced in Iowa (click here for full information including links to Iowa legislation and ALEC model legislation):

* HF6 (introduced 1/11/11) “an act requiring the development of a searchable budget database.” Compare to ALEC’s “Transparency and Government Accountability Act.”

* HR4 (introduced 1/26/11), a “A resolution calling for the withdrawal of the State of Iowa from the Midwestern Regional Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord.” Compare to ALEC’s “State Withdrawal from Regional Climate Initiatives.”

* HF95 (passed by the House 1/27/11) “establishing a requirement for voters to provide certain identification when voting in person.” Compare to ALEC’s “Voter ID Act.”

* HSB19 (recorded 1/20/11) “concerning state preemption of firearms, firearm accessories, and ammunition regulation by political subdivisions and providing a remedy.” Compare to ALEC’s “Consistency in Firearms Regulation Act.”

* HF285 (introduced 2/15/11) “relating to intellectual diversity in community colleges and institutions of higher education under the control of the state board of regents and providing a reporting requirement.” Compare to ALEC’s “Intellectual Diversity in Higher Education Act.”

Quirk was slow to vote with his feet on ALEC’s “extreme agenda,” but better late than never. Quirk is the last remaining member of what used to be known as the “six-pack” of Iowa House Democrats who were relatively conservative on business and labor issues. Former State Representative Dolores Mertz retired in 2010, and the other four “six-pack” members (Doris Kelley, Larry Marek, McKinley Bailey, and Geri Huser) lost to Republican challengers the same year.

No Republican has filed to run against Quirk in the new Iowa House district 52 this year. He chaired the House Transportation Committee in 2009 and 2010 and is currently the ranking member of the House Commerce Committee.

I’m closing out this post with some unintentional comedy from both sides of the aisle. First, Republican State Representative Ralph Watts, who has co-sponsored several bills that closely resemble ALEC’s model legislation, denounced Progress Iowa as a “socialistic” advocacy group in a speech on the Iowa House floor last month. Click the link to listen to his speech.

Second, Dolores Mertz commented earlier this month that she is concerned about ALEC’s lobbying and favoritism toward Republicans.

“The year I was national chairman was kind of a very frustrating year for me. The executive director [then Lori Roman] did not follow what I expected her to do. I didn’t have a lot of support from the board,” said Dolores Mertz, a now-retired Iowa state representative who was the group’s national chairman in 2007. “[Roman] told me that she didn’t like Democrats and she wasn’t going to work with them.”

“I am concerned about the lobbying that’s going on, especially with their 501(c)3 status,” said Mertz, referring to the part of the tax code ALEC falls under, which requires the group to be nonprofit and bars it from spending significant money on lobbying. The last four chairmen of the group, which appoints a new state legislator to the role each year, have been Republicans, as have 28 of its 33 chairs since its founding in 1973 by Paul Weyrich, the conservative co-founder of the Heritage Foundation and other right-wing projects. […]

Lori Roman, who is now the founder and president of Regular Folks United, said in response to Mertz’s comments about her only that she “didn’t want to get into the middle of it.” Kaitlyn Buss, ALEC’s communications director, said that “someone’s comment from a few years ago doesn’t represent the current executive director and would be a gross misrepresentation of what ALEC is.” She described ALEC as a “principles-based, nonpartisan organization” that advocates for policies “founded on the principles of free market, free enterprise, and limited government.” Many of those policies, she said, “enjoy broad bipartisan support.” […]

Despite her frustration with her year at the helm, Mertz remained with the group until she retired from public office at the end of 2010. In fact, she even attended the annual meeting in New Orleans last year to accept an award for “Excellence in Leadership and Outstanding Service.” ALEC’s private-sector orientation remains “pretty good,” said Mertz.

“I really don’t want to say anything negative about them. I really think it’s a great organization. I’m mystified as to what happened to bring it to this point to [lose] so many sponsors.”

Mertz must have been about the last person to notice that ALEC is basically a front group for corporate lobbying. But then, she was virtually a “Democrat in name only” for many years in the Iowa House. Thanks to Governor Terry Branstad, Mertz now serves on Iowa’s state Environmental Protection Commission. CORRECTION: Branstad named Mertz to the Environmental Protection Commission last year, but in March 2012 he appointed her to the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission instead.

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