Progressives Need SMART ALEC Approach to Policies

06/07/2016 03:26 pm ET Updated Jun 08, 2017

Politicians and policy-makers love to borrow or steal good ideas. There are organizations that represent elected officials on all levels of government, Federal, state and local where sharing what works in one community or state oftentimes is replicated by colleagues. Oftentimes this may be the result of personal interactions and relationships. However, in many instances annual or semi-annual meetings offer seminars or workshops on specific issue areas to bring to attendees' attention ideas that have proven successful in a particular city or state. Examples of valuable public interest group organizations include: U.S. Conference of Mayors, National League of Cities, National Governors' Association, National Association of Counties, National Association of Towns and Townships, Council of State Governments, and the International City/County Management Association.

Over the past several decades' conservatives have been particularly adept at forming think tanks on policy issues to disseminate ideas, policies and programs across a broad spectrum of the political/governmental arena and in many instances they have been so widely adopted that they become issues of priority in national elections. Take for instance the current proliferation of voter suppression legislation in state legislatures that are controlled by Republican majorities.

Coordinated state efforts to impose voter ID restrictions, privatize education and prisons, and drug test welfare recipients are but a few of the many regressive, pro-corporate or red meat social issues that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have hand delivered to politicians and legislatures in recent years. As Huffington Post has reported, ALEC is a right-wing, corporate lobbying firm and think tank that creates model legislation for replication in State Legislatures across the country here.

ALEC is to legislation what McDonalds is to fast food, but even better because they also deliver. Looking for a way to advance your conservative agenda? Why not dial up ALEC and have a ready-made, packaged, quick and inexpensive set of legislative proposals delivered to your door that has already been sampled in other jurisdictions of like-minded conservatives. Join the club and create what appears to be a movement garnering national attention.

In the process many progressive-minded politicians and elected officials are left to fend off an onslaught of pre-packaged momentum in a decidedly defensive posture. This has put progressives at a distinct disadvantage in an increasingly large number of jurisdictions and not afforded them the opportunities to pursue legislation in a forward thinking manner.

Well that is about to change if Mathew Charles Cardinale has his way!

Cardinale is currently a law student at Gonzaga University who also happens to be Chief Executive Officer of SMART ALEC, which stands for State and Municipal Action for Results Today/Agenda for Legislative Empowerment and Collaboration. Now this is a mouthful and as a former legislative staffer I applaud his mighty efforts to apply a description to a very clever acronym. But SMART ALEC seems like a perfect antidote to the senseless yet effective policy agenda advanced by a conservative revolution that has its roots tracing back to the Reagan Administration.

In 2012, at the age of 30, he sued the City of Atlanta without an attorney and prevailed before the Georgia Supreme Court. In Cardinale v. City of Atlanta the Court struck down a secret vote taken by the City Council of Atlanta, striking a blow to lack of transparency efforts taken by the Council during non-roll call votes. Cardinale is also the founder of Atlanta Progressive News, an online news service that is in its 11th year of publication.

SMART ALEC'S first model ordinance on Affordable Housing Impact Statements was adopted by the City of Atlanta last year and is currently being considered in New Orleans, Albany, and Pittsburgh. This model ordinance offers a unique method for cities and counties to keep track of the impact of lawmakers' public policy decisions on the affordable housing stock in their respective jurisdictions and was recently featured in an article by the Stanford Social Innovation Review here. Efforts are also underway in Multnomah County, OR to consider becoming the first county in the country to adopt Affordable Housing Impact Statements.

Dr. Dwanda Farmer, one of the nation's few PhD's in Community Development, and a Board Member of SMART ALEC, and a community development practitioner for nearly two decades offers that "a community's commitment to affordable housing cannot be demonstrated nor measured without the consistent use of Affordable Housing Impact Statements."

Cardinale's goal is to raise $100,000 on Go Fund Me to support the organization's efforts to have these affordability statements adopted in 10 cities/counties by 2018.

If the progressive community is serious about leveling the playing field with ALEC it has a lot of catchup to do and having SMART ALEC around might help it to recapture a foothold in the legislative public policy arena. It is long overdue and given the success of Bernie Sanders' efforts to initiate a more progressive agenda into the national election cycle this might just be the most opportune time we have seen in quite some time.