More than 40 years ago, a small group of state legislators and conservative policy advocates met in Chicago to implement a vision:
A nonpartisan membership association for conservative state lawmakers who shared a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism, and individual liberty. Their vision and initiative resulted in the creation of a voluntary membership association for people who believed that government closest to the people was fundamentally more effective, more just, and a better guarantor of freedom than the distant, bloated federal government in Washington, D.C.
At that meeting, in September 1973, state legislators, including then Illinois State Rep. Henry Hyde, conservative activist Paul Weyrich, and Lou Barnett, a veteran of then Gov. Ronald Reagan’s 1968 presidential campaign, together with a handful of others, launched the American Legislative Exchange Council. Among those who were involved with ALEC in its formative years were: Robert Kasten and Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin; John Engler of Michigan; Terry Branstad of Iowa, and John Kasich of Ohio, all of whom moved on to become governors or members of Congress. Congressional members who were active during this same period included Senators John Buckley of New York and Jesse Helms of North Carolina, and Congressmen Phil Crane of Illinois and Jack Kemp of New York.
The Birth of ALEC Task Forces
The concept of ALEC task forces dates back to the early days of the first Reagan administration when, in 1981, the President formed a national Task Force on Federalism, which was headed by U.S. Senator Paul Laxalt of Nevada. Also on the President’s Task Force was ALEC National Chairman Tom Stivers of Idaho.
The President’s Task Force on Federalism would come to rely heavily upon members of ALEC for expert testimony. Then State Senator John Kasich of Ohio and Senate President Robert Monier of New Hampshire regularly met in front of the committee. As a result of the interaction between ALEC members and Reagan Administration officials, ALEC established seven first-generation Task Forces, then called Cabinet Task Forces, which worked directly with the administration on policy development issues.
Almost immediately, the impact of this interaction was evident: In 1981, ALEC published and distributed 10,000 copies of Reagan and the States, detailing methods for decentralizing government from the federal to the state level. In 1982, ALEC began developing its first health care initiatives. In 1983, ALEC responded to the Reagan Administration’s landmark study, A Nation at Risk, with a two-part report on Education which laid the blame for the nation’s educational decline squarely where it belonged-on centralization, declining values, and an increasingly liberal social agenda that had pervaded schools since the 1960s-and which offered such “radical” ideas as a voucher system, merit pay for teachers and higher academic and behavioral standards for students as possible solutions to the problems.
After much success with policy formation and education, in 1986, ALEC made a commitment to form formal internal Task Forces to develop policy covering virtually every responsibility of state government. Within a year, nearly a dozen ALEC Task Forces had been formed, and they quickly become policy powerhouses. By 1987, the newly-formed Civil Justice Task Force developed the first comprehensive response to the nation’s frivolous litigation explosion; the Health Care Task Force had developed policies on medical savings accounts, a concerted strategy for reassessing mandated coverage, and a comprehensive response to the growing AIDS crisis. And the Telecommunications Task Force became second-to-none in the development of groundbreaking ideas in the face of rapid-fire technological advances and efforts to regulate them.
From Clearinghouses to Think Tanks
Following the end of the Reagan Administration, the Task Forces, under the leadership of Delaware State Senator Jim Neal, gradually began to shift from clearinghouses of ideas submitted by ALEC members into freestanding think tanks and model bill movers. They began to actively solicit more input from private sector members, seizing upon ALEC’s long-time philosophy that the private sector should be an ally rather than an adversary in developing sound public policy.
To date, ALEC’s Task Forces have considered, written and approved hundreds of model bills on a wide range of issues, model legislation that will frame the debate today and far into the future. Each year, close to 1,000 bills, based at least in part on ALEC Model Legislation, are introduced in the states. Of these, an average of 20 percent become law.
The ALEC Formula for Success
For more than 35 years, ALEC has been the ideal means of creating and delivering public policy ideas aimed at protecting and expanding our free society. Thanks to ALEC’s membership, the duly elected leaders of their state legislatures, Jeffersonian principles advise and inform legislative action across the country. Literally hundreds of dedicated ALEC members have worked together to create, develop, introduce and guide to enactment many of the cutting-edge, conservative policies that have now become the law in the states. The strategic knowledge and training ALEC members have received over the years has been integral to these victories.
Since its founding, ALEC has amassed an unmatched record of achieving ground-breaking changes in public policy. Policies such as teacher competency testing, pension reform, and Enterprise Zones represent just a handful of ALEC’s victories in the states.