Iowa Republican State Rep. Ralph Watts is a proud member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). And amid the rapidly growing national backlash against the corporate-funded conservative advocacy group, Watts is doubling down on that support.
Last week, Progress Iowa asked Hawkeye State legislators to cut ties to ALEC in light of its work to push voter restrictions in state legislatures around the country and what the it called ALEC’s “detrimental effect on public policy.” Twenty-one Iowa lawmakers are ALEC members, according to Progress Iowa, including House Republican Leader Linda Upmeyer, who serves as ALEC’s national second vice chairman.
In response to this call for lawmakers to distance themselves from the increasingly toxic conservative organization, Watts fired back in a House floor speech yesterday:
How should we respond to Progress Iowa? … I say, Nuts to you! Your intimidation tactics may work on some legislators and even some high-level executive offices, but it doesn’t get traction with this legislator.
This hostile reaction from Watts is unsurprising: the top quote on his campaign website, the late arch-conservative Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC), begins “Compromise, hell! That’s what has happened to us all down the line — and that’s the very cause of our woes.”
Watts has done ALEC’s bidding in the Iowa legislature and nationally. In 2010, he signed an ALEC letter to Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) railing against the EPA’s plan to regulate greenhouse gases. A 2011 analysis by the Daily Iowan and the Center for Media and Democracy found that Watts sponsored three bills closely modeled on ALEC drafts. These included:
- HF285, based on ALEC’s Intellectual Diversity in Higher Education Act (a bill to force more “intellectual diversity” on campuses);
- HR 4, based on ALEC’s State Withdrawal from Regional Climate Initiatives bill; and
- HF 95, based on ALEC’s Voter ID Act.
Watts also sponsored the radical HJR 4, closely modeled on ALEC’s “Resolution Calling for the Congress of the United States to Call a Constitutional Convention Pursuant to Article V of the United States Constitution to Propose a Constitutional Amendment Permitting Repeal of any Federal Law or Regulation by Vote of Two-Thirds of the State Legislatures.”
Watts dismissed the significance of ALEC and it pro-corporate legislation mill, telling the Daily Iowan “There’s nothing sinister, there’s nothing secretive about it… The Exchange Council is open to the public. Anyone can be a member.”
But given that ALEC is well-known for its undisclosed corporate funders and membership and its opaque legislative agenda, much indeed remains secretive about the tax-exempt organization on which Watts relies so heavily.