Representative Debbie Lesko, Majority Whip of the Arizona House of Representatives and Arizona State Chairman for ALEC discusses the nonprofit organization that has had an influential role in shaping public policy in Arizona.
Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. This week, protestors gathered outside a Scottsdale resort where the American legislative exchange council, or ALEC, is holding an annual meeting. The nonprofit organization has become an influential force, some say too influential, at state capitols across the country. ALEC describes itself as a nonpartisan public-private membership association of state legislators dedicated to principles of limited government, free markets and federalism. Its membership consists mostly of state lawmakers, primarily Republicans, and corporations. They work together to draft model legislation that members take back to their home states. Here to tell us more about ALEC, is representative Debbie Lesko, majority whip for the Arizona house of representatives and Alec's Arizona state chairman. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.
Debbie Lesko: Thanks, Ted, glad they invited me.
Ted Simons: Why are you associated with this particular group and how does it help your constituents and help Arizona?
Debbie Lesko: You know, Alec is composed of about 2,000 legislators who -- conservative legislators from all over the country. We have a -- we have Republicans and democratic legislators and plus, private sector members, whether that be businesses or organizations like the Goldwater institute. They get together and so that we can share information and educate each other about major issues such as improving education, pension reform and fiscal responsibility. It's a great organization. It's been around for years and I find it to be very helpful and educational.
Ted Simons: It does draft model legislation, correct?
Debbie Lesko: No, it really doesn't draft model legislation. What happens is that, say, for instance, a legislator, like in -- in today's case, in the education committee meeting, our -- one of our Arizona senators, senator Rich Crandall came forward with a resolution he believed was important and basically said he doesn't want the federal government to override state educational standards and so what happens -- and it's -- let's say it was
model legislation. In this case, it was a resolution, he would have put this forward and it would have been discussed back and forth, some would have agreed. Some disagreed. And then they would have voted on it and determined if it should be ALEC-endorsed and then it will be posted. If it goes through the process and that type of thing and ALEC-endorsed, then it's posted on a website for legislators from across the country to be able to use it if they want to. You know, it's just basically model legislation, nothing is really drafted there. We don't draft any legislation. We discuss legislation that may have already been used in other states.
Ted Simons: As a concern that regards S.B. 1070 and the accusation it was drafted by Alec. And that folks that were involved in drafting or getting the wording right or making sure it was focused in the proper direction, private prison company, bail companies and these sort of things that would stand to benefit should S.B. 1070 be passed. Is that criticism on the mark?
Debbie Lesko: No, no. Anyone that knows anything about Arizona and our former senate president Russell Pearce, knows that Russell Pearce has worked on fighting illegal immigration for years and years and years. And so he has drafted this legislation and then he brought that forward to ALEC. It had nothing do with private prisons or anything like that. Russell Pearce believed it strongly in his heart we need to fight illegal immigration and he brought it forward to ALEC.
Ted Simons: You're saying that Alec members bring stuff to the conference, to the taskforce, whatever they are, and the taskforces look them over, if there's a drafting, that's where words are changed and ideas debated and then it goes from there. Nothing begins at ALEC?
Debbie Lesko: There's no drafting that I've ever seen of legislation at ALEC. No they come forward and -- and in my example, Russell Pearce had this legislation, and brought it forward and then other state legislators from across the country, look at it, they say, hey, you know what? I really like that idea and I would like to do that in our state and I would like an ALEC seal of approval on it. That's basically what it's about. In addition to that, ALEC has a lot of workshops and informational meetings. For instance, today at our lunch, which was sponsored by the foundation for education excellence, the superintendent of public instruction from Indiana, Dr. Tony Bennett was there, and he was talking about what they've done in Indiana to improve education. It's a great forum for legislators from across the country to learn.
Ted Simons: If it's such a great forum for legislators to learn, why are business interests there, corporate interests? Why are they in the building if you're talking amongst yourselves?
Debbie Lesko: I think it's very important you get business input on certain issues. Businesses, after all, are the ones creating jobs and improving the economy. On certain issues it's important for legislators to discuss with businesses the ins and outs of different things and businesses can say, you know what? That may be a good idea. That may help create jobs, or no, that's not a good idea. It's kind of like an open forum of discussion and give and take, plus legislators from across the country can get ideas from each other.
Ted Simons: The criticism is that ordinary citizens can't possibly match that level of access.
Debbie Lesko: That's totally inaccurate. I always invite constituents, in fact, anyone from across the state to come to my office and talk to me. I also go out to groups. I'm a Republican and I invited the district 9 democratic party to come to the state capitol and gave them a tour and - and I'm open to ideas at any time.
Ted Simons: When critics say ALEC has too much corporate benefit and not enough public benefit, you say --
Debbie Lesko: I say ALEC is a great group, they bring legislators together to talk about pension reform, improving education. It's a great forum. I think it's the strength of ALEC that businesses and legislators can meet together and share ideas, create jobs.
Ted Simons: Is that a disproportionate strength? 50 of the 90 lawmakers are members of ALEC.
Debbie Lesko: I'm very good at recruiting for ALEC.
Ted Simons: You are. But is the proportion healthy for Arizona?
Debbie Lesko: Yes, it's healthy, all the issues we talk about are issues that our Arizona citizens, the vast majority support. They want to make sure we're fiscally responsible and we talk a lot about that issue at ALEC. They want -- they're for states' rights. We talk a lot about that issue at ALEC. They're good solid issues that our citizens support.
Ted Simons: Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.
Debbie Lesko: Thank you so much, Ted.
Ted Simons: In a moment we will hear from the group that publishes ALECexposed.org.
Rep. Debbie Lesko:(R)Majority Whip, Arizona House of Representative, & Chairman, Arizona State ALEC;