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HAL WICK: ALEC ideas are not partisan

The May 16 editorial, "Don't spend our money to send legislators to political events," provided some important information regarding legislative membership organizations.

Unfortunately, the editorial only got the facts half right. The American Legislative Exchange Council is a unique body of lawmakers and policy analysts, but not for the reasons cited.

There are a variety of legislative membership groups to which lawmakers belong. These groups hold meetings throughout the year, bringing lawmakers from around the country together with policy analysts and industry experts to discuss ideas that resolve issues facing state governments. Lawmakers typically belong to several of these groups, broadening our opportunities for education on a number of issues on which we vote.

Our constituents expect us to make the most-informed decisions we can for them, and we do that by learning from experts and hearing ideas and experiences about what policies have worked or failed elsewhere.

The editorial refers to the American Legislative Exchange Council as "a conservative group advocating conservative ideas," but then alleges the meetings amount to a Republican caucus meeting. This is simply not true, and the demonization of sharing ideas needs to stop.

Ideas are not partisan and are not beholden to one specific political party.

The ALEC motto is "Limited Government. Free Markets. Federalism." Lawmakers who are ALEC members typically believe government is involved in too many aspects of our daily lives, and that the innovation and efficiency of an entrepreneurial private sector can create better products and services and more job growth than bureaucratic regulations. Many ALEC members also believe the federal government takes too much power out of state and local hands.

Many, many South Dakotans hold these same beliefs, whether they be Republican, Libertarian, Democrat or Independent. The paper may be correct that these are typically considered conservative ideas, but conservatives aren't all Republican, just as not all liberals are Democrats.

A number of Democrats belong to ALEC because they find value in policy education from a variety of expert sources. In South Dakota, leading Democrats in our legislature have been active members of ALEC, including an assistant minority leader and ranking members of the Appropriations and Taxation Committees.

Some freedom-loving readers may take issue with last week's editorial calling these beliefs conservative. The American Civil Liberties Union can hardly be accused of being a conservative or Republican-leaning organization, but the ACLU works with ALEC on a number of issues regarding criminal justice and privacy rights. Google is certainly not thought of as a politically conservative company, but it works with ALEC to prevent government overregulation of the Internet that stifles innovation and prevents job creation.

There certainly used to be more Democratic members, before this campaign against ALEC designed to silence any discussions of limited government, free market policy proposals.

Why try to silence discussion and debate, when you can participate in the exchange of ideas and contribute to meaningful policy solutions? Those who attack ALEC do so either out of ignorance and misinformation, or a desire to silence competing ideas.

Readers of this paper can make up their own minds by going to www.alec.org, reading about the issues on which ALEC works and perusing the adopted model policies provided freely for transparent and productive discussion.

Readers should also consider how much of their money is spent on membership to the various legislative organizations. For all 105 South Dakota lawmakers to be members of ALEC, the state would pay $10,500 for a two-year membership, but the legislators who belong purchase their own memberships. The state currently pays the National Conference of State Legislatures more than $112,000 and the Council of State Governments nearly $95,000 for all lawmakers for only one year. Membership in ALEC is cheap in comparison.

This paper, having balked at $42,500 for travel to ALEC meetings, should at least appreciate the much smaller price tag for ALEC membership. Travel reimbursement may be higher for ALEC, but that's because more legislators find value in those meetings and policy proposals for a better South Dakota.

I've been attending ALEC meetings since 1977, when I was invited to share with other legislators from across the country about a policy I was working on. I find discussing ideas with other state legislators and industry experts helpful and informative. I also enjoy sharing with ALEC members what's working in South Dakota, so others can see the good things happening in our state and so we can hear about their ideas that could also help South Dakota.

For those trying to silence discussion, I have a message: come be a part of it. Bring your ideas, but leave the attacks at home. At ALEC, we only want the best ideas from everyone, because our constituents, our states and our country deserve it.

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