State capture How conservative activists, big businesses, and wealthy donors reshaped the American states--and the nation

Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, 1986-

Book - 2019

"Most Americans pay little attention to the massive number of elections that occur at the state level every year. Yet cumulatively, a party's success in state-level races across the country can produce major shifts in policymaking and governance. That is precisely what has happened in the US since 2010. In a wave election that year, the Republican Party began their ascendancy in state-level elections, and by 2016 had solidified their dominance. The party now fully controls 26 state legislatures and governorships--one of the largest advantages either party has had since the New Deal. After the GOP wave, a broad swath of states began considering and enacting a near-identical set of conservative priorities--often even using the exact... same text. Where did this flood of new legislation come from? How did so many states arrive at the same proposals at precisely the same time? As Alexander Hertel-Fernandez shows in the eye-opening State Capture, the answer can be found in a trio of powerful interest groups: the Koch Brothers-run Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and the State Policy Network (SPN). Drawing from an impressive evidence base, Hertel-Fernandez explains how, since the 1970s, conservative activists, wealthy donors, and big businesses constructed a right-wing "troika" of overlapping and influential lobbying groups. But it is about more than this. It also teases out how conservative-corporate mobilization has fostered epochal shifts in the American political economy: the decline of unions, party polarization, and the skyrocketing concentration of wealth. State Capture will be essential reading for anyone interested in understanding contemporary American politics"--Provided by publisher.

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New York, NY : Oxford University Press [2019]
Main Author
Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, 1986- (author)
Physical Description
xx, 356 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 319-342) and index.
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Abbreviations
  • Introduction
  • Part I. The Evolution Of Alec: A Corporate-Conservative Anchor Across US States
  • 1. "The Most Dangerously Effective Organization": A Smart ALEC Is Born
  • 2. Policy Plagiarism: A Window into ALEC's Reach across US States
  • 3. An Easy "A" with ALEC: ALEC's Appeal for State Lawmakers
  • 4. "A Great Investment": ALEC's Appeal for Big Business
  • Part II. The Right-Wing Troika And Its Foes
  • 5. A Little Help from Their Friends: Introducing the Right-Wing Troika
  • 6. Transforming the Nation One State at a Time: The Right-Wing Troika and State Policy
  • 7. "Feisty Chihuahuas versus a Big Gorilla": Why Left-Wing Efforts to Counter the Troika Have Floundered
  • Conclusion: State Capture and American Democracy
  • Appendices
  • Chapter 3 Appendix
  • Chapter 4 Appendix
  • Chapter 6 Appendix
  • Chapter 7 Appendix
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • Index
Review by Choice Review

Many state legislatures operate without professional lawmakers or seasoned staffers. Those who assume that most neophytes can hit the ground running when it comes to policy need to understand the genesis of a wide array of policy initiatives that seem to have materialized simultaneously in several state capitols. According to Hertel-Fernandez (School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia Univ.), the Koch Brothers--backed Americans for Prosperity, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and the State Policy Network troika is responsible for providing state legislators with model legislation on issues that include "stand your ground," right to work, and voter ID. In the preface, the author writes that these business-friendly, right-leaning groups churn out "ideas, research, legislative language, talking points, polling, and expert witnesses" either en masse or, if needed, on request. In fact, it is not unusual for inexperienced lawmakers to sponsor legislation that mirrors a model bill word-for-word. Hence the book's title. The author defines state capture as a scenario in which "small groups of well-resourced individuals and companies shape the political game to their advantage." Progressive groups are no match for cross-state networks in terms of political clout. This is required reading for those studying American federalism, interest group politics, or public policy. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals; general readers. --Melanie J. Blumberg, California University of Pennsylvania

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

An examination of how coordinated conservative advocacy over the past few decades has "produced a stark rightward shift across the states, ultimately contributing to a dramatic redistribution of political power."As Hertel-Fernandez (International and Public Affairs/Columbia Univ.; Politics at Work: How Companies Turn Their Workers into Lobbyists, 2018, etc.) shows, the shift in focusfrom Congress to state legislaturesby three key conservative groups has pushed forward a widespread right-wing agenda that has had remarkable, and alarming, ramifications. The author explores the work of this "right-wing troika" in gradually and successfully changing the direction of state legislation on specific issues dear to businesses and conservatives. This trio of special interest groups includes the American Legislative Exchange, created in 1973, which disseminates "model" legislative language that lawmakers can access for a yearly membership fee; the State Policy Network, created in 1986, which "testifies" to and markets the model bills produced by ALEC; and Americans for Prosperity, the organization of conservative activists created by the Koch brothers in 2004. With coordinated pressure on activists, donors, businesses, and politicians, these groups have been able to steer state legislatures in a "dramatic right-wing swing" in a variety of specific areas, including "stand-your-ground" (the right of individuals to use lethal force to protect against perceived bodily harm), right-to-work (draining labor unions of financial support), anti-Affordable Care Act measures, and voter ID laws. As the author asserts, the troika has no magic formula but rather a trial-by-error process of forming coalitions while relying on "overworked and underpaid state lawmakers" who can cut-and-paste prewritten policy proposals. In his systematic and impeccably researched work, Hertel-Fernandez discusses why liberal efforts to counter the troika have floundered and why this infiltration of right-wing state policy endangers the quality of American democracy.A highly specific, important study in understanding why attention to state legislatures and local elections across the country is increasingly crucial. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.