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Murder and Politics

The killing of Trayvon Martin in Sanford Florida has lit up legacy and new media as the cause of the month.  Speculation from afar about violent last moments on this earth are immoral and indecent, so you will not get that here.  A young life was ended with a bullet, and that is a tragedy.  Period.

Florida’s history of racially motivated outbursts of violence reverberates through this tragedy.  The lack of investigation fits easily into the stories from the bad old days when there was more or less an open season on black people and justice was not even a dream.   Where that becomes more than hot rhetoric is the realization that, under current Florida law, there is a good chance that this murder was, in fact, legal.

How did that happen?  The story of the “Stand Your Ground” law which fuels the nightmares from a dark past takes many people to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the apparent source.  The Left has long wanted to bring this group to light, and through Martin’s sanctioned murder they may have their chance.

It may seem trivial to reduce the Martin murder to politics, but the search for some sense of justice is absolutely vital in Florida.  Any small victory will be necessary to calm the very real fears that racial violence might explode once again.  Years of riots and constant violence have created an entire culture in Florida with the flashes of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder running hot in their blood.  The law in question allows deadly force in response to a “reasonable threat to safety”, something that people boiling with fear grasp as if their own lives depend on it – as they sincerely believe they do.

What needs to be questioned are those who feed into that fear and fire the adrenaline in place of the cool ways of genuine justice.

The “Stand Your Ground” law was passed by the Florida Legislature in 2006, a few months after a nearly identical piece of “model legislation” was crafted by ALEC.  There is little doubt that this organization is the point of origin of this law, although to be fair they do deny it.  The killing of Trayvon Martin is far from the first time this law allowed open murder, too.  It has been called “The bane of prosecutors” who often have far too much to do and very few tools to do their job.  As the origin of what has become a government sanction for several murders, it is vitally important that we understand ALEC and what it does.

ALEC was founded in 1973 by our old friends the Koch Brothers.  It is officially non-partisan and not a lobbying organization, but instead models itself as a think-tank and training center for 2,000 legislators around the nation:

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.

Who is ALEC?  It started out as a corporate policy group funded heavily by the Kochs and fellow oil companies like Exxon-Mobil.  It picked up the other pieces of the Republican coalition, such as the NRA, over the years as its influence spread.  The public knew little about it before The Nation and others published leaked documents in July 2011.  It has created a furor in some circles, but in truth the concept of educating legislators and providing model bills has been around for decades.  What is new is how long this group escaped public scrutiny despite its influence.  Bills requiring groups like them to simply register as lobbyists are being introduced in many legislatures now.

This brings us back to the murder of a young man and what can be done to bring justice to his death with some sense of closure.  The Florida Legislature is very likely to at least modify, if not repeal, the “Stand Your Ground” Law very shortly.  But the lingering politics will almost certainly raise the profile of ALEC and their connection to a series of recent laws that span the breadth of the Republican coalition.  That is a good thing.

What remains to be seen is how the influence of the Koch Brothers turns ALEC into the great Bogeymen that the left needs.  Trayvon Martin’s death could become the polarizing moment that makes this happen.  Whether or not you see this is a good thing or not will almost certainly depend on your political perspective, but it will be attempted.

The caveat for the left going down this path is the same as for the right that got this bill made into law – always be very careful what you wish for.  There are places like Florida that are ready to explode when the temperature gets too hot – which it does all the damned time.

Addendum:  After further research and help from others, I have decided that blaming the “Stand Your Ground” law for the murder of Trayvon Martin is very wrong, especially in light of this interview with the author of the bill, FL Rep.  Dennis Baxley.  He states unequivocally that the law was never intended to apply to this situation and that justice was not done – and that if necessarily the law should be revised and clarified.  Baxley is an interesting guy – conservative as they come and once the head of the Florida Christian Coalition, but he also supports environmental resource protection and has spoken out against bullying.

22 thoughts on “Murder and Politics

  1. ALEC is evil and needs to be rooted out. this may be the right issue or the wrong issue but there are dozens of others including tax breaks for oil companies and the assault on worker’s right to organize. the public needs to know this shadowy organization and the agenda they have crammed down our throats. it is a shame that Treyvon had to die before people took notice but if that is what it takes to bring them to light than so be it.

    • Bringing ALEC to light is a good thing, although to be fair they did not deliberately “hide” in the shadows but were simply ignored for a very long time. I simply think that it is critical that the left not fan the flames of fear and hatred no matter how we move forward on this.

  2. Never have I found myself apologizing more for being from Florida. But it does allow me to direct some of my anger (again) towards the Koch brothers. They are clearly following in their father’s footsteps of turning the U.S. into a fascist/kleptocracy/corporatocracy wet dream. Private armies/police forces who swear their oath of office (to their employers) with their left hand on a copy of “Atlas Shrugged.”

    • Our remarkable homeland does have a way of bringing far more tears and shame than it does pride, but we are still a people with our own strange ways. We also have stories that we need to tell, and I’m doing my best to tell them in ways that they register. The Koch Brothers are nearly perfect villains if the story is told well, but they have escaped scrutiny for decades and their stamp on Florida, among other places, is very clear. They have a long track record now and we can judge them for the terrible mess they’ve made of civilized society generally. Let’s tell those stories and do it well so that people know.

  3. P.S. several commentators have noted that ALEC not only lobbies its wholly-owned subsidiaries (elected officials), but it also insists that they hire ALEC functionaries in key roles to better keep an eye on their investments.

    • That makes sense, but I hadn’t heard that before. It would be good to keep track of that, which I think many people have. This has been done very much in plain sight – it simply has been ignored. Let’s see what comes out of all it.

  4. I have been hearing of this ALEC lately but I had no idea what people were talking about. Thanks for the background.
    All the legislation we read about has to come from somewhere. I know that trade groups like the NALGA (local government auditors) also write model legislation. Business schools also do this. So its not wrong or unusual & probably helpful.
    Does any of this get attention though? Its not like ALEC has done anything wrong but maybe we should know more about them.
    But Trayvon’s death should not be a political issue. That just seems wrong. If they have to fix the law then do it.

    • I agree, this is not sinister in and of itself. But it has been invisible for reasons that are not the fault of ALEC, and that needs to be corrected.
      Martin’s death will be a political issue, especially if the left succeeds in going after ALEC. I included a link to my piece on “Rules for Radicals” because it is so terribly relevant – in both racial strife and the political struggle that we are in the middle of. As Alinsky advised:
      Pick the target – in this case, Koch Brothers
      freeze it – describe their work in great detail
      personify it – characterize the Kochs
      and polarize it – This is the issue that does it far better than gasoline prices, though both have their appeal.
      I am not yet Writing to Organize but that is where this is going.

  5. From compromise and consensus to murder and politics? Not with you on this one. You can disagree with ALEC on any of the bills they produce but there is no way people will care. They don’t do anything illegal or even wrong. If anything they help get things done. If Democrats want to use Trayvon Martins’ death to make an issue of ALEC they have a long way to go to make the case and it won’t stick.
    You’re better off writing about consensus than political strategy. This one won’t fly.

    • The issue isn’t really ALEC, it’s the Koch Brothers. They are the personalities people can relate to. The message is that if you elect Republicans you’re electing the Koch Brothers. I totally agree that ALEC is not doing anything wrong, but when people find out how much power they have and what it’s used for I think there will be a good story to tell.
      As for using Martin’s death, I do think that’s tricky at best and probably should be avoided as a political issue directly. Using it as a footnote to what ALEC can do and the consequences is about all – it would be divisive, wrong, and probably not successful to lead with it.

  6. I think you could have stopped at the first paragraph. It’s a tragedy, period. I understand there are a lot of implications because of the history and that is worth talking about but the politics should be left out, that is just not right.

    • We have two sides in the comments here, and I appreciate what you are saying. Making politics out of Martin’s death may make far more enemies than it could ever make friends. I respect that, and appreciate what you and Jim are both saying.

  7. I have added an addendum to this post after further research. Blaming the death of Trayvon Martin on the “Stand Your Ground” Law is very wrong, according to the author of the bill. It would be a mistake to link this tragedy to ALEC, and not just because of the potential for further insult to the dignity of a young man taken from us far too young. See the end of the post above for more details.

  8. I believe that ALEC goes far and beyond mere lobbying. They are the culmination of (corporate) money in politics. They LITERALLY hold “match-making” conventions — this is speed dating for legislators and corporations. This is Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket. This is the entree to life-long riches, quid-pro-quo, the spoils of winning elections.

    Pardoning the sexism, this is the “mixer” between the super-rich-exclusive-by-invitation-only fraternity on campus and the sorority with the hottest trophy-wives-to-be. (No difficulty figuring out who is who in this scenario.)

    If our entire political system is already legalized bribery, this is the orgy of money and access that is rotting from the top, taking this amazing democratic republic down with it.

    (Eric–isn’t typing/venting supposed to relieve one of anger/frustration? I find myself getting angrier with every word. )

    • Not having been involved with their operations, I can’t say for sure just how appalled I’d be with what they do if I got close enough to witness the details. To be completely honest, I’m certain that the vast majority of what they do would simply impress me if I got close to it – their organization is extremely effective and organized and I think we could learn a lot. On the other hand, we’re Democrats – and naturally not inclined to simply “follow the leader”. And there is this thing called “Democracy”, always a loose concept in our system, where legislators are supposed to represent the people that elected them first – not some wealthy patron or even a rigid ideology.
      What I can say is that using ALEC as something to run against is difficult without a good story people can relate to. My first approach is to apply what I learned from Alinksy, but there are other ways. I do think that from what I’ve heard voters would not like ALEC if they knew about it, but getting the message out in a way that engages people is tricky. I’d like to work on it.
      In short, don’t get mad – get even. :-)

  9. Keep mentioning Alinsky and Newt is going to start showing up on your doorstep! LOL

    Hey–for all of the readers who didn’t know him way back…Eric was a card-carrying Reagan fan in his reckless youth. LOL I cannot recall if it was Erik or another classmate who nicknamed me “Bolshevik”. ;)

    • I want to write about those times, I really do. But I have a lot of trouble doing it. This just doesn’t seem like the place, but I can’t say where is. So many stories to tell, so many things that would shock an ordinary Minnesotan. But it can’t be done in a maudlin or selfish way – that would defeat the memories before they spilled out onto the ‘net. I’m working on it.

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