Feathered Bastard

Jan Brewer's Top Sycophant, SRP Lobbyist Russell Smoldon, and ResistALEC's "Sleeping Dragon"

One unfortunate aspect of the occupation of the Salt River Project's Tempe headquarters last week was that the activists involved were not able to pull off a similar action at the Westin Kierland Resort, where corporate interests and GOP legislators were engaged in a veritable orgy of legislative cross-pollination during the American Legislative Exchange Council's big conference there.

At SRP on Friday, December 2, activists formed a "sleeping dragon," their arms linked with PVC pipe. According to the Tempe Police Department, Arizona Department of Public Safety Officers cut through the PVC pipe, and the five protesters so linked were arrested, as were at least 11 others.

Having visited day one of ALEC's summit, I believe the event could have been infiltrated. I was dressed casually, I hardly looked corporate, and my car is over ten years old. Yet, the cops parked at the front entrance of the Westin Kierland just waved me through.

I think five activists could have formed a sleeping dragon in the large lobby of the resort. They might have had to eschew the black attire and bandannas. But it could have been done. 

Similarly, Governor Jan Brewer's speech before the opening luncheon of lobbyists and legislators could have been interrupted using creative, non-violent means.

Because of the size of the resort, the protesters on the east side of the hotel engaging Phoenix cops and getting their fair share of abuse, as the song goes, were unheard and unseen, save by attendees who took a stroll down that way. Other conference-goers saw the pepper-spraying and the Cain-raising on TV.

That's not to say the protests were unremarked-upon by ALEC members. And I do believe the protests had a very direct impact on the media's coverage of ALEC, an organization that for decades has flown under the radar.

But some disruption of ALEC's self-congratulatory, reactionary rhetoric would've gone a long way toward putting these fat cats in their place.

Fat cats like SRP lobbyist Russell Smoldon, Arizona's private sector state chair for ALEC.

SRP is a cash cow for Arizona legislators, Democrat and Republican alike. But in his slavish introduction of Governor Brewer at ALEC's opening luncheon, Smoldon made clear how profoundly SRP supports Brewer and her pro-corporate agenda.

Brewer has been "near and dear to my heart for 25 years," Smoldon told the assembled, noting that Brewer is "a proud former ALEC member."

He ran through her bio, noting, "And now, thankfully, she's our governor." 

Smoldon then pimped Brewer's federal PAC, JanPAC.com, and informed the ALECers that "for a $100 contribution," they'll get an autographed copy of her memoir Scorpions for Breakfast. 

"Governor Brewer is known nationwide as a top no-nonsense leader," Smoldon oozed to the bigwigs. "She is a proud proponent of federalism and state's rights. She's not afraid to take on the federal government. 

"And as you know, she has in the areas of health care, pension reform, personnel reform, education and immigration...With her guidance, she will lead Arizona to great new heights."

Now that's about as broad an endorsement as is possible. And SRP is, in fact, linked to Brewer at the hip. HighGround, the consulting firm of Chuck Coughlin, aka, "Brewer's brain," is also listed as lobbying on behalf of SRP

SRP donated heavily to Brewer's effort to pass a temporary one-cent sales tax -- a regressive tax that affects the poor directly.

Smoldon's mention of immigration was no mistake, either. 

Significantly, SRP was not one of the 60 Arizona corporations that signed off on a letter from the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce asking that the state legislature ditch five draconian anti-immigrant laws sponsored by ex-state Senate President Russell Pearce in the last legislative session.

More recently, Smoldon forked over $200 to Pearce's re-election committee Patriots for Pearce

To Pearce's victorious foe Jerry Lewis, Smoldon gave nada.

So we know where SRP's sympathies lie -- with the nativist far-right, the Tea Party extremists and the believers in corporate welfare.

Because the great irony of SRP is that without federal and state government handouts, it would not exist.

SRP's own historical timeline tells this tale. For instance, it praises President Teddy Roosevelt for signing into law the National Reclamation Act.

"The act allows money from the sale of public lands to be made available for water reclamation projects to enhance the growth and settlement of the western U.S. territories and states," SRP informs readers. 

One of the original projects resulting from the act was the Roosevelt Dam, from which SRP harvests hydropower. Indeed, SRP operates a series of dams that owe their existences in whole or part to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Closer to home, the Arizona Legislature, "advanced legislation in 1936 that made it possible for the association to repay its federal loan and become what is known today as the Salt River Project," according to a 2003 resolution celebrating SRP's centennial.

During the Great Depression, SRP benefited from what wingnuts like Glenn Beck would label "socialism," by using laborers from the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal program that put the unemployed to work.

"In an effort to supplement its workforce during the Depression," notes SRP's timeline, "SRP contracted with the Civilian Conservation Corps to construct maintenance and construction work on the canal system.

"The CCC crews typically completed projects including: building fences, creating trails for trucks, constructing levees or dykes, clearing laterals, lining and piping waterways, or upgrading water control structures with stone masonry or rubble lining. 

"In less than three years, men from the CCC worked with SRP and for the Valley community, completing over 700 separate jobs."

But despite being wet-nursed by the federal government and assisted by such "socialist" programs, SRP's top lobbyist is shilling for Brewer, backing ALEC's corporate influence over state legislation and singing the praises of "federalism and state's rights."

So the targeting of SRP by the demonstrators was spot on. 

Also, by partnering with members of local tribes, the demonstrators were able to call attention to SRP's business relationship with Peabody Energy, also an ALEC member.  

Peabody, listed as one of the "least green" companies in America by Newsweek and The Daily Beast, touts itself as "the world's largest private-sector coal company." 

Its operation of a coal mining operation in Black Mesa, Arizona has long been a sore spot with some Native Americans. 

In a 1997 cover story, former New Times scribe John Dougherty discussed the historic betrayal of the Hopi people by the skullduggery of a two-faced lawyer working simultaneously for both the Hopi and for Peabody. 

The controversy goes back decades. The website blackmesais.org is a good source of information on SRP's involvement with Peabody and Peabody's conflict with indigenous peoples.

I did put a call in to SRP, BTW, to solicit a response on all this, including Smoldon's remarks at the ALEC event. 

SRP flack Scott Harrelson got back to me with this statement, written in transparent corporatese:

"Russell Smoldon's comments made during his introduction of the Arizona Governor, while reflective of his long-standing professional relationship with Governor Brewer, did not constitute a broad endorsement of all of her policies or programs.

"Smoldon referred to the Governor's leadership in several important public-policy issues that were part of the discussion at the ALEC conference including education, heath care, pension reform and energy.

"Smoldon is Arizona's private sector chairman for ALEC, and he currently holds a seat on ALEC's Board of Directors. SRP strongly supports a positive working relationship with appointed and elected officials of both parties and all levels of government."

Notice that Harrelson fails to mention "immigration," despite Smoldon's reference to the issue. 

As far as the Governor's "leadership" in "health care," those of you now cut off from AHCCCS because of Brewer can feel free to give SRP a call and tell them what you think of Smoldon's praise of Brewer on that point.

Ditto SRP's endorsement of Brewer's education plan, or lack thereof, which currently has Arizona ranked at 42nd in education, nationally.

Oh, and if you're a public employee whose pension is on the chopping block, you too, owe SRP a debt of ingratitude.

In any case, based on the sheer hypocrisy of SRP's history of benefiting from government hand-outs while copping an anti-government, pro-state's rights stance, I'd say, SRP deserved its visit from the sleeping dragon. And the bad press that accompanied it.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons