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COLUMN

Happytown

The week where we watched (and listened!) as ALEC threatened to buy Florida legislators off again, worried about the imminent privatization of...

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Just as we were beginning to think that we were living in the middle of nowhere, – staring at our empty skyline baking in the summer sun and pondering the fact that CNBC named Orlando "America's emptiest city" last month – our focus shifted abruptly to Salt Lake City, the poor city that hosted that weird Winter Olympics that Mitt Romney saved in 2002. Why? Well, there was that whole thing on Thursday where Romney pissed off every soul in London – home of the current Summer Olympics – by calling the city unprepared for such a grand scheme as the international sportsfest. That act led to a public outcry from both the London mayor and the British prime minister, who, naturally, referred to Salt Lake City as the "middle of nowhere" in a public game of one-upmanship.

Hey, but it's also somewhere! Somewhere enough that the finely frocked folks at the American Legislative Exchange Council saw fit to convene there for their annual secretive barbecue of human decency. Now, we've covered ALEC pretty extensively in these pages before ("Hiding the sausage," Sept. 15, 2011), but it seems that the group that brought you the national scourge of Stand Your Ground laws, voter suppression laws, charter schools and prison privatization efforts – in a word-for-word manner that seems a little like cheating – has been crumbling in the recent ethos of class warfare. A total of 30 corporations have abandoned the pay-for-play organization in recent months (General Motors and Walgreens slipped away on July 26), with the expected hemorrhaging of legislators following suit. Because the annual confab is kept under a shroud of secrecy, we know very little of what billionaire corporations and idiot Republican legislators are gumming over this year, but we do know the National Rifle Association is hosting a shoot-off in a timely manner, Big Tobacco is pushing a "Can tobacco cure smoking?" bit of Snus-logic, and there's some talk of using meds in lieu of incarceration for criminals.

But how does that affect our middle of nowhere? Well, on July 26, a bevvy of progressive groups released a 50-page report specifically highlighting the "unprecedented influence" of ALEC over Florida lawmaking. We sat in on a conference call to discuss the report, and although we learned little that we didn't already know (i.e., lazy people who shouldn't even be in government become heroes to their party when they pass ALEC's boilerplate legislation without even really reading it), there were some interesting updates. Though the group seems to be losing favor elsewhere, 60 of 160 Florida legislators have had ties to the group since 2011. Though Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, told us that the group has "indicated from a number of sources that [ALEC's leadership members] are very upset that they have lost" a number of corporations and lawmakers, ALEC claims it is focusing on its economic agenda. "That economic agenda is an extreme one," she says.

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