Education, Civil Rights Groups Protest ALEC Summit in Scottsdale

Protesters gathered outside the Westin in Scottsdale on December 4, 2019 to protest Arizona legislators' attendance at a summit of the American Legislative Exchange Council.
Protesters gathered outside the Westin in Scottsdale on December 4, 2019 to protest Arizona legislators' attendance at a summit of the American Legislative Exchange Council. Elizabeth Whitman
About 150 people from a broad range of Arizona civil rights and education groups gathered outside the Westin Kierland Resort and Spa in Scottsdale on December 4 to protest a summit of the American Legislative Exchange Council being held at the hotel.

Protesters hailed from Puente, Black Lives Matter, #RedForEd, and other organizations or movements that work to oppose the influence of corporate money in politics and the varied impacts of policies enacted under such powers on communities of color. The protest was organized by those groups and about a dozen others, including No More Deaths Phoenix, Sunrise Movement Phoenix, Extinction Rebellion, and ProgressNow Arizona.

Some chants and posters seemed to target corporate influence in politics broadly, more so than they focused on the ALEC summit that was taking place a few hundred feet away. Others, including supporters of #RedforEd clad in bright red T-shirts, took aim at the Koch brothers, who have been major backers of ALEC.

ALEC, sometimes referred to as a "bill mill," churns out model legislation, developed behind closed doors and often catering to special corporate interests. Lawmakers in Arizona and beyond have introduced and successfully passed bills inspired by or closely resembling ALEC templates.

More than 40 Arizona legislators have ties to ALEC, according to the liberal watchdog group Center for Media and Democracy.

ALEC did not respond to a request for comment for this story. Nor did it respond to a request for media access to the Scottsdale summit.

Arizona's notorious SB 1070, often dubbed the "show me your papers" law, which activists say led to the racial profiling of members of the Latino community, passed in 2010. ALEC and private prison companies influenced the bill, which was introduced by then-State Senator Russell Pearce, a member of the ALEC Public Safety Task Force.

As dusk fell Wednesday evening, Sandra Castro Solis, a member of Puente, which for years has fought the deleterious impacts of SB 1070 on the Latino community, stood on the sidewalk abutting the entrance to the Westin.

She clutched a giant cutout of Arizona State Representative John Kavanagh, who was among the some two dozen Arizona lawmakers who attended ALEC's annual summit in Austin, Texas, in August.

click to enlarge Sandra Castro Solis, a member of Puente. - ELIZABETH WHITMAN
Sandra Castro Solis, a member of Puente.
Elizabeth Whitman
Castro Solis said the goal of the protest that day was to raise awareness about ALEC.

"It has definitely affected us very adversely," she said. "Our communities are being criminalized by some of the policies raised here."

Around 6 p.m., a light rain began to fall and the crowd started to thin. Passersby in cars honked in apparent support. "ALEC Go HOME" read one poster.

Someone began a call-and-response chant. "What do we want?" he blared. "Justice!" protesters cried.

"When do we want it?"


A man holding a loudspeaker and a Black Lives Matter banner, who gave his name only as "Renaissance," decried ALEC's participation in "some of the most harmful legislation for black, brown, and indigenous" communities.

"They've subverted what we understand the Democratic process to be," he said, referring to the closed-door manner in which ALEC holds gatherings where policies and bills are discussed.

Victoria Woodard, a member of Kochs Off Campus!, which opposes the influence of conservative donors like the Koch brothers on public education, came from Tucson to join the protest. Samantha Parsons, with Unkoch My Campus, which works with Kochs Off Campus!, said that the protest was the perfect place for people and groups with the shared goal of pushing back against corporate money in policies to meet and start building a coalition.

Jim Byrne, a history teacher, said he considered the protest a success, especially with how many people turned out. One group's estimate put it at 150 people; around nightfall, at least 50 people remained.

"It's an awareness and exposure campaign," Byrne said.

On Wednesday, several groups filed a lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior Court against the Arizona Legislature, claiming that its members' attendance at the ALEC Summit would violate state transparency laws.

An earlier version of this story misstated the last name of Victoria Woodard. We apologize for the error.
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Elizabeth Whitman was a staff writer for Phoenix New Times from March 2019 to April 2020.