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 focus—from Congress to state legislatures—by 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.