‘Our Democracy is Not for Sale’

by Jon Melegrito  |  January 25, 2012

Arizona public service workers, retirees and community activists
Arizona public service workers, retirees and community activists gathered in front of the statehouse in Phoenix last week to protest corruption and corporate money in politics. Their message to lawmakers: "Our democracy is not for sale!" (Photo by Allison Padgett)

Gathered this past week in front of the Phoenix Statehouse, AFSCME members, community supporters and MoveOn activists were loud and clear about what they thought of Gov. Jan Brewer’s budget proposal. They are ready to take on politicians who have turned their backs on constituents and the 99% to do the bidding of outside organizations and corporate funders, such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Goldwater Institute.

“Through ALEC and the Goldwater Institute, corporations and state politicians are voting behind closed doors to re-write laws that protect workers and middle class families,” said Sheri Van Horsen, president of Local 3111.  “We are taking a stand against corruption and demanding accountability from our government to the people it is supposed to represent: Arizona citizens.”

The press conference was a follow-up to a demonstration that occurred last month in Scottsdale to coincide with the annual meeting of ALEC. During these meetings, Arizona state legislators and corporate lobbyists get together behind closed doors to deal with issues like cutting taxes, outsourcing, gutting pensions and union busting. Right-wing politicians then draft ALEC-inspired bills and push them at the next legislative session.

Last year, Arizona lawmakers passed numerous “ALEC model” bills. One was a brazen attempt to take away workers’ right to voluntarily contribute to their unions’ political action funds. AFSCME and other labor and civil rights groups sued. A judge later ruled the law unconstitutional as it unfairly targeted unions and union members.

This year, Governor Brewer has been vocal about her plans to take away civil service protections for 30,000 state workers – another idea from ALEC – and is attempting to bribe workers with a 5 percent raise if they opt out of the state personnel system. That system gives them the right to file an appeal if they get fired or demoted.

“We reject the governor’s bribe attempt,” Van Horsen said. “We will not give up our rights and protections.”

Other ALEC and Goldwater Institute inspired legislation that have directly impacted families and communities in the state include measures aimed at enriching specific industries by privatizing city services and prisons, suppressing the vote and eliminating collective bargaining rights for public service workers.

Also at the press conference were city workers from Peoria, who were energized from their recent victory against corporate profiteers when an attempt to privatize city sanitation services was dropped.

“This move would have cost good jobs and hurt our close-knit community,” said Randy Cordero, a city utility worker for more than 23 years and president of Local 3282. “With this victory we are empowered to take on anyone who wants to put profits over people.”

For more information on the voice of corporate special interests in the halls of Arizona’s Legislature, see the joint report of People For the American Way Foundation and Common Cause, “ALEC in Arizona: The Voice of Corporate Special Interests in the Halls of Arizona’s Legislature.”

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