Book Talk: State Capture with Author Alex Hertel-Fernandez

Date: 

Monday, November 18, 2019, 4:15pm to 5:30pm

Location: 

Allison Dining Room, 5th Floor, Taubman Building, HKS

JUMP TO AUDIO RECORDING AND TRANSCRIPTION 

Event Description  

Join us for a discussion with Alex Hertel-Fernandez, author of State Capture: How Conservative Activists, Big Businesses, and Wealthy Donors Reshaped the American States -- and the Nation and Assistant Professor in Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs. Theda Skocpol, Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology, Harvard University, will moderate. 

Refreshments served

About the book

State capture book cover featuring multiple red state housesMost Americans pay little attention to the massive number of elections that occur at the state level every year. Yet cumulatively, a party's success in state-level races across the country can produce major shifts in policymaking and governance. That is precisely what has happened in the US since 2010. In a wave election that year, the Republican Party began their ascendancy in state-level elections, and by 2016 had solidified their dominance. The party now fully controls 25 state legislatures and governorships-one of the largest advantages either party has had since the New Deal.

After the GOP wave, a broad swathe of states began considering and enacting a near-identical set of conservative priorities-often even using the exact same text. Where did this flood of new legislation come from? How did so many states arrive at the same proposals at precisely the same time? As Alexander Hertel-Fernandez shows in the eye-opening State Capture, the answer can be found in a trio of powerful interest groups: the Koch Brothers-run Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and the State Policy Network (SPN). Drawing from an impressive evidence base, Hertel-Fernandez explains how, since the 1970s, conservative activists, wealthy donors, and big businesses constructed a right-wing "troika" of overlapping and influential lobbying groups.

But it is about more than this. It also teases out how conservative-corporate mobilization has fostered epochal shifts in the American political economy: the decline of unions, party polarization, and the skyrocketing concentration of wealth. State Capture will be essential reading for anyone interested in understanding contemporary American politics.

Audio Recording and Transcript

Transcript

Speaker 1:

You're listening to AshCast, the podcast of the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard Kennedy School. Most Americans pay little attention to the massive number of elections that occur at the state level every year. Yet, cumulatively, a parties' success in state-level races across the country can produce major shifts in policy making and governance.

Speaker 1:

That is precisely what happened in the US since 2010. In a wave election that year, the Republican Party began their ascendancy in state-level elections, and by 2016 had solidified their dominance. The party now fully controls 25 state legislatures and governorships, one of the largest advantages either party has had since the new deal.

Speaker 1:

On November 18th, the Ash Center hosted a discussion with Alex Hertel-Fernandez, author of State Capture: How Conservative Activists, Big Businesses, and Wealthy Donors Reshaped the American States and the Nation. Hertel-Fernandez is also an assistant professor in Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs. Theda Skocpol, Victor S. Thomas professor of Government and Sociology at Harvard University moderated.

Theda Skocpol:

Well I want to welcome everyone and thanks for the introduction. We're very fortunate today to have, I think one of the most provocative, innovative, and productive young scholars working on issues that really matter about what's happening in American politics in the past and leading into this period on the left and on the right. I should know because I helped to recruit Alex to the Social Policy and Government PhD program some years ago.

Theda Skocpol:

I had to argue with the think tanks in Washington he was working for at that time that wanted to hold on to him and no wonder. And then he got here and has just been engaged in one important research project after another. I think he is a good example of why the interest and importance of the questions that we ask in the social sciences is just as important, not necessarily more important, but just as important as the rigor, and the methods, and the quality of the evidence we bring to bear on developing valid answers to those questions.

Theda Skocpol:

Alex has worked on too many issues for me to summarize but just to name a few, part of a collaboration that I've been involved in working on the Coke network, and Republican Party extremism, and also the impact of organized leftist, left-leaning millionaires, and billionaires on politics. And that's going to flow into a book coming out within a couple years. He's worked on legislative staff representation in Congress with our colleagues Madame Mildenberger, and Leah Stokes and won a prize for an APSR article in that area.

Theda Skocpol:

He's worked on the important question of union decline, and its impact on Democratic Party politics, not simply the impact on inequality and unit and wages, but what difference does it make when a powerful set of organization aligned with the Democratic Party lose their ability to recruit members and to deploy money? And that uses a very elegant research design comparing across state lines between states that have, and have not passed right to work laws.

Theda Skocpol:

Most recently, he published a book that's already won two awards, the Robert Dahl Award, and the Gladys Kammerer Award, both through parts of the American Political Science Association. Called, Politics at Work, looking at the innovative question of how companies try to shape the political preferences, and activities of their workers. You can think about it as the next frontier in the long line of civic engagement research that Sidney Verba, Henry Brady, and Kay Schlozman have carried so far looking at citizens in general outside the workplace.

Theda Skocpol:

And most recently, he's published a book that we're going to hear about today called, State Capture: How Conservative Activists, Big Businesses, and Wealthy Donors Reshaped the American States and the Nation. And what I just want to say about this is that we'll all see very shortly, this is a book that grew out of Alex's PhD. This has been quite a bit of additional research beyond that. It does something that used to be fashionable in the study of American politics, and fell out of favor for a long time, and is now coming back into clear and crisp view, which is to recognize that the American political system is a federated system, in which a lot that happens at the national level, and across the nation is shaped in the states.

Theda Skocpol:

And the organizations that have an impact in setting public policy agendas, and persuading legislators to go one way or another on critical issues like regulation of the market economy, fighting or not fighting the global warming threat, supporting a citizen organization in voting rights or not, implementing the health reform law passed in Congress in 2010. Those policy choices are just as much shaped by what happens across many state legislatures as they are in Congress.

Theda Skocpol:

And Congress itself is shaped by what happens in state politics since our system is grounded in the senate, elected in the states, and in districts that are defined within the states, and redefined every 10 years after the census. So, Alex has brought those set of issues into sharp view in State Capture, and he has applied methods of research that include all of the usual suspects about voting patterns, and attitudes, and donations, but also look at organizational networks and how they influence legislative and electoral processes in the American system.

Theda Skocpol:

So, his work is innovative, both for his focus on a directed set of issues that provide the key to what's going on in our political system, and for its methodology, which I encourage everybody who cares about methods in the social sciences to take a close look at. With that, I turn it over to Alex.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

I'm just thrilled to be back here, and I'm thrilled to be presenting State Capture as well because of all the work that I've been doing in some ways it's some of the most personal in the sense that I am originally from the Midwest. I'm from Indiana, and part of the reason why I ended up pursuing this project as part of my dissertation was this feeling that I look back at my state, and was seeing the ways in which it was moving in this sharply conservative direction that was sort of a strong break from the politicians and the policies that I grew up with. And I wanted to understand why that was the case that forces that, explain that transition.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

In my short remarks today, I want to keep them brief so we can get to Q&A and discussion, I want to layout some of the core arguments of the book. And to do so, I want to take you to Iowa, and talk about some elections that happened in Iowa. I know we're all fixated on Iowa for next year's election, but I want to take you back to 2016, and the elections that unfolded then, and the implications they had for next legislative section.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

And in that election, control of Iowa state government flipped from being divided as it had been for many years running into that election year, to being fully controlled by Republicans. The state senate flipped control. And that was important because it ended up having, as we'll see, some pretty substantial consequences for the policies that were passed. But they weren't the policies that you might have thought would pass if you were paying attention to the election for those key state senate races.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

If you look at those seats that flipped, and gave Republicans full control of Iowa State government, they were running on pretty standard republican issues like cutting regulation, cutting taxes, reducing the size of state government. And so, when control of Iowa State government flipped, most people assumed that the trifecta would begin to move on standard Republican agenda of deregulation and tax cuts, but that's not what happened.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

In fact, the first measure that the Republicans ended up pursuing with full force when the legislature convened the following year was a rather sweeping set of changes to union law in states, massive cutbacks to the rights that public employees had to collectively bargain with state government. It also instituted a new requirement that unions in the public sector would have to undergo regular elections to re-certify themselves at the end of every contract. So, this had the promise of pretty dramatically curtailing union rights in the state, and transforming the interest group landscape there, and yet it was not something that many of the Republicans ran on.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

Another puzzle comes up when we think about where the sources of this push came from. The political scientists, if they weren't looking to the campaigns that these members were running, or these candidates were running, might look to public opinion. And there too we have a puzzle, in that the best polling that was available at the time of the legislative debate indicated that perhaps 60% of people opposed the changes that Republicans ended up pursuing.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

Less than half of voters in Iowa said that they approved of these sweeping collective bargaining cutbacks. It wasn't necessarily that the public was clamoring for these bills either. In fact, because of the surprise with which this legislative push emerged, several Republicans ended up voting against the measure saying that they felt that they would be betraying their voters if they ended up pushing the measure through. But not withstanding that opposition from some of the Republicans, the bill passed and Iowa ended up instituting these sharp cutbacks to union bargaining rights.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

So, if it wasn't voters, and it wasn't the party itself that were pursuing these sorts of changes to union law in Iowa, where did those ideas come from? I think the one clue we can look at the legislative text of the bill that ended up passing. If you examine the legislative text, it actually bares striking resemblance to the bill that passed in Wisconsin just a few years before, that severely curtailed bargaining rights, and instituted new owner's requirements on unions there under Governor Scott Walker.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

And both of those bills, there are striking resemblances, in some cases even copying and pasting sections from a model bill from an organization called ALEC. That's ALEC, not Alex, it often gets confused. But ALEC had produced suggestive legislative text that ended up being copied and pasted into law in both Wisconsin and Iowa. That's the first hint that there may be an organizational source for this legislation. Another hint comes from the identities of the main legislative sponsors of the bill. All three of the key Republicans in the state that were pushing this measure in the house and the senate, and then the governor, all had long-standing ties to this organization as well.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

The house speaker, who was championing this measure was a national chairwoman of this organization, serving on the board of directors of ALEC. The state majority leader was a state chairman of this organization. He was the main person in the state that was tasked with recruiting other members and disseminating the ideas. And lastly, the governor himself, was actually a co-founder of ALEC back in the 1970s. These traces of the organization could be found both in the bill text, and the people who were pushing it.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

But ALEC, and I'll talk about the organization a little bit more in a moment, but ALEC wasn't pursuing this on its own. It received big assists from two other organizations that were operating within the state, but had a national presence. The other organization was Americans for Prosperity. We'll hear more about that in a moment, and the role that it plays within Koch Political Network, drawing from some of the work I've been doing both with Theda and Caroline. But for now, I want you to note that Americans for Prosperity was a key player in whipping votes for the legislation during the marathon, all-night, legislative session that Republicans held in order to cut back these union bargaining rights.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

It actually happened over Valentine's Day, which is the level of commitment of these lawmakers to passing this bill. But at the time of the bill signing, Governor Branstad said that he wasn't with anyone, and he was going to have a private ceremony for enacting the law, for signing it into place. Shortly after, Drew Klein, who was the head for Americans for Prosperity in the state, posted this picture saying that he was actually at the signing ceremony, and was being thanked personally for the job that he did in recruiting grass-roots supporters, and legislative members to back the bill.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

But AFP and ALEC weren't the only ones, and the last organization that was on the ground in Iowa that was pushing for this measure was a think tank, a small outfit known as the Public Interest Institute, but crucially it was part of this broader network, known as the State Policy Network. And as soon as it became clear that Republicans were going to have full control of the Iowa state government, the Public Interest Institute, drawing on work that the State Policy Network had done in other states, began to publish documents, reports, op-eds, saying that Iowa should take advantage of this moment of full republican control to copy Scott Walker, and enact the same sort of legislation cutting back union rights that Walker did in Wisconsin.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

So, all three of these networks, which together Theda and I have described as the conservative troika, I'm now having some second thoughts about the label given all the Russian interference in American politics, but it is already out there so what can we do?

Theda Skocpol:

We'll change it to trio.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

It's a little less memorable, though. I like troika. So, these three organizations that have a national presence but are operating within each of the states in the country, play a crucial role in not only passing this sort of anti-union legislation that we saw in Iowa, but many other pieces of legislation. We'll talk about the scope more in a moment. But the three organizations contributed in different ways. They have slightly different constituencies, and they have slightly different services and activities, but they work hand-in-glove with one another to reinforce one another's efforts.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

ALEC, like I mentioned earlier, and as you got a sense from the model bill, develops ideas for legislation, and pulls lawmakers together in a network. Lawmakers are members, they get access to these ideas, and the bills tend to be written by businesses, and individual wealthy people or corporate philanthropies, conservative philanthropies, as well as advocacy groups. And it uses these bills to promote this coordinated, legislative agenda. It was founded in the 1970s. The State Policy Network, of which the Public Interest Institute was a member, that think tank that I mentioned, is a network of similar think tanks and advocacy groups across the states that operate an outside game.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

They produce research reports, op-eds, polling, to buttress many of the same bills that ALEC does. It's no coincidence that the State Policy Network supports ALEC because in its early years, when the State Policy Network was sort of struggling to get off the ground, ALEC's executive director opened up his donor list and said, "You know, it'd be really helpful if there was a network of think tanks that could support the work that we're doing."

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

The last organization is the newest, but in some ways has grown the fastest, and become one of the most sweeping. It is Americans for Prosperity, which is at the center of the Koch Brother's political network, or Koch Brother at this point. There's Charles, has long been the more active one, and he's the one who remains living after David passed away a few months ago. But Americans for Prosperity is a bit of an unusual creature in that it has some features that combine aspects of political parties. It's federated across the country. It has local field offices like a party might. It has state offices. It has a national office.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

And it also combines aspect of lobbying groups, it lobbies for new city council measures, state legislation, congressional legislation, and it weighs in on the administrative rules that executive agencies produce. And it combines both grass-roots heft, it has over three million volunteers that are on its lists that it can reach out to, to canvas for voters, to contact lawmakers. And it also has a large campaign war chest, and it can invest in election time advertising, or radio and TV and ad blitzes to push for particular legislation.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

So, these are the three organizations that I talk about in State Capture, and I focus the first half on ALEC, given that in many ways it was the first of the three and an anchor. In the subsequent part of the book, I talk about these organizations, and how they work together, and places where they don't work together, where there are even conflicts between the different components of the troika. But for the remainder of the talk, I'm going to focus on ALEC because I think there is some of the most interesting evidence that allows us to see particular trends in American politics and really understand how power is exerted, especially, at the state level.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

Okay. So, I want to take a moment to say what this book adds, and why you should consider getting it as a Thanksgiving present, Hanukkah present, Christmas present. I think if you have seen books like Dark Money, by Jane Mayer, The One Percent Solution, by Gordon Lafer, or the great journalism that's been done by the Center for Media and Democracy, or the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, you already have a sense of some of the key players like the Koch Brothers, or like the Bradley Foundation in Wisconsin that funds a lot of these efforts. But I think what's different about my book is that it take an organizational perspective rather than focusing on the individual personalities of key donors.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

It thinks about political structures, organizations, how they operate, and it also asks questions about where they've been successful like some of these books, but it also focuses on places where they haven't been successful. In the history of ALEC that I present in the book, I walk through step-by-step moments when the organization nearly went under, nearly went bankrupt. And I think social science tells us that we can't just focus on the episodes of success of an organization or an institution, you have to understand where things almost went off the rails, and that really gets us a better picture of the power, and scope that these political organizations may have.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

Okay. So, there are really arguments that I make about ALEC and the troika in the book that I want to unpack for you in the remainder of the talk. And I think they each point in their own ways to this question of how power is exercised in American politics. The first one is how ALEC in particular took advantage of state legislatures under professionalization. The fact that many state lawmakers don't have all that many resources to make policy with, and so, they're very relying in those cases on groups that can provide ideas, research, and outside capacity. The second insight that I think comes out of this book and in particular a close study of ALEC, is how political organizations on the right manage to combine disparate, and sometimes conflicting interests into a unified coalition that's pushing for a common agenda.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

And as we'll see, it was no forgone conclusion that ALEC would come up with these mechanisms for marrying diverse interests. I think that's something that often gets lost when these groups get covered in the news media or on the left. We tend to think that the right is relatively homogenesis. And the last argument that I put forward is how the troika, and especially ALEC, has thought very carefully about using policy, not just as a tool for changing economic and social circumstances, but as a way of building and maintaining political power.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

I also think that there are some myths along the way that my arguments debunk, or at least qualify, and I'd like to dig into those, maybe in the question and answer session, even as I won't present more on these now. But the first one is that the difference in the right and the left and how successful they've been at the state level is just a matter of money overall. That the right has more of it and the left doesn't, and therefore that's why liberals and Democrats have failed at building comparable networks or political influence at the state level.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

The second one, I've already slightly alluded to, which is to say the right is more ideologically cohesive than the left, and therefore, it's easier to build coalitions on the right than on the left. And the last is that it's all about campaign contributions. That the main reason why Republicans and conservatives, in particular, have been successful has been because of electoral-time giving as opposed to giving to organizations that operate between elections. Okay. So, let me dig into the first argument that I make about the lack of resources in many state legislatures.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

So, for political scientists, who study state politics and policy, this will come as no surprise, but I think for many people who haven't looked at the states in great detail, it often is. I'm often struck by the number of times that I teach this in my MPA classes, as in students don't really appreciate how in many states, lawmakers are lucky if they have one or two full-time staffers if full-time staffers exist at all. In many states, of course, lawmakers are only paid a part-time salary. Legislatures only meet a few months out of every year. There are some states, like Texas for instance, that don't even meet every year.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

Under these circumstances, lawmakers are really strapped for bill ideas, research that can support bills that they want to pursue, and political strategy because they don't have those resources inside of the legislature. And so, a group that provides those can be quite successful. And that's exactly what ALEC did. It realized that if it provided bill ideas and research support, it could have a big impact on state policy and politics. I think this quote by Kathy T. who is an early executive director of ALEC, basically illustrates the point.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

So, she was explaining that for the great majority of state legislators, being a lawmaker is their second career, and so the need for information is acute. Also, in the majority of states, the state legislator has no or very little staff support. And so ALEC, we will help them develop legislation, tailor it for their state, we'll put them in touch with legislators in other states who have been the sponsors of similar bills, who can discuss with them the legislative intricacies of the bill, the strategy, et cetera. And most of you think that this is only a product of ALEC strategy from the 1970s and 1980.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

In the book, I quote a nice interview that was done with an Oregon State Representative Gene Whisnant, from Present Day explaining why he relies on ALEC. It's a great resource for a part-time lawmaker like him. Oregon state legislature is part-time. Because during the session, he's lucky to have one staffer that works for him, but when he's not in session, his staff is comprised of his wife, who works half-time, and an aide who works three days a week.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

We have such limited staff at ALEC that helps us look at things and consider them. That really illustrates the need for capacity that ALEC is able to fill for these lawmakers. I'm not going to go into this too much further, but I'm happy to dig into it in the question and answer. But in the book, I go more systematically beyond these interviews that are done with state lawmakers to look at what I call policy plagiarism, or cases where lawmakers have actually copied and pasted bills from ALEC. And I show that systematically across the states and over time, states that have fewer resources with which to make policy end up copying and pasting more legislation from ALEC.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

That's the trend that you're seeing here. So, let me get to the second argument that I make in the book, which is about coalition building, and the fact that ALEC was able to be successful because it managed to overcome these tensions. So, the first thing to note is what tensions exist. Because I think a lot of the coverage of groups like ALEC is that everyone's on same page, they want smaller government, they want to weaken unions, the want to cut taxes. And to some extent that's true, but there are important tensions, and especially, in ALEC's early years, it was no forgone conclusion that they would overcome them.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

So, on the one hand you have organizations like private sector businesses like Shell Oil, Monsanto, UPS, or Walmart, that were participating in ALEC in its early years. This comes from the 1980s, but you also had libertarian organizations like the National Tax Limitation Committee or the Olin Foundation that agreed with businesses on some policies, for instance, like lowering taxes, but disagreed with them when it came to regulations that would support businesses in protected industries or increase subsidies for businesses. And both of those groups, the libertarians and private sector businesses sometimes came into conflict with social advocacy groups like the National Rifle Association, or the Stedman Foundation, that were focused on things like gun rights, abortion, defeating the ERA in the 1980s.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

And so, how did ALEC manage to get everyone on the same page working together, contributing to the same organization? Well, a key innovation was made by one of the ALEC executive directors in the 1980s, who is a former football player, Sam Brunelli, he played for the Denver Broncos. And he came up with this ingenious idea of delegating policy bill writing, and the responsibility for coming up with ALEC's legislative agenda to each of the sectors most invested in that particular policy issue area. So, for instance, if you were a pharmaceutical company you'd be on the healthcare taskforce.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

You could weigh in on healthcare policy, but you couldn't weigh in on all of the other policies that ALEC was tackling like agriculture or social issues. That also gave you plausible deniability to say, "We're in the organization just to write healthcare policy, we're not on the taskforce that deals with the ERA." For instance. And then within each taskforce, ALEC came up with an even more ingenious tool for setting its agenda when there were conflicts, and there were conflicts because in some cases you had a firm that was going up against another business over some regulation that would help the first business but hurt the other one.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

So, how did they manage to settle that within a particular taskforce? Well, they did that by setting a bidding system or companies or other members of ALEC who wanted to have their way would just pay more to the organization, and the dispute would come down to whoever was willing to contribute more to ALEC. And you can already see that there are some advantages to this: one, It's transparent. Everyone going into a conflict knows how the conflict is going to be resolved. It's how much money you're willing to pay.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

Two, it raises more money for the organization. And so, it's helpful both for the members and for the organization itself. And you can see here, this may be too small, but there is a nice excerpt from some of the archives from ALEC that I worked through that shows the different levels of membership that members could buy, and if you get in at the Madison Club level, you're guaranteed to have a legislative director work on an issue that you care about even if it comes into conflict with people who were a member of a lower tier, like the Lincoln Club, that falls below Madison.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

Okay. So, let me get to the last argument that I make in the book about ALEC, and why it's been successful. And this really draws on the great literature in political science on policy feedback effects, or the ways in which once in place policies can reshape the political terrain. I think a lot of that literature to date, a lot of the foundational pieces, focus on ironies, ways in which a policy once it was enacted ended up having consequences that the framers of that policy, the designers of the policy, might not have anticipated creating new interest groups, changing public preferences.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

But policy feedback effects can also be very intentional and ALEC realized this. It realized that it could have a substantial effect on the balance of power in the states by designing policies that disadvantage their opponents. It also realized that you could build coalitions through these policy feedback effects. So, I think, the example of that is tort reform in the 1980s. ALEC pursued this quite aggressively and there were several benefits to this. On the one hand, they were able to please their business constituencies.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

Private sector firms were worried about rising insurance costs, and so they were in favor of tort reform. But social conservative groups also saw a huge benefit to this as well because if you could take out trial lawyers who are the main folks who are bringing these tort claims, you can weaken the political base of the Democratic Party in many states because trial lawyers form an important part of the progressive and democratic coalition in many states, especially, where unions are weak.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

So on the one hand, you're providing material benefits to a key member of your coalition and on the other hand, you're helping to elect conservative candidates who will then pursue a more conservative agenda going forward. As I think this nice quote illustrates, it's a double kiss. Republicans get to force one of their biggest backers of Democrats to spend money just to survive, and at the same time please everyone from the chamber of commerce, the drug companies, to the realtors, doctors, you name it. So, there's really both a political and economic benefit to that.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

Another example of this policy feedback as political weapon logic that I think is probably the clearest is of course union policy. The example of the Iowa legislation that I described at the start of the talk being a key example of this. And it's no coincidence that you see this often being the first measure that republican legislatures pursue when they are in power because it then weakens a constituency that might be opposing them in later legislative battles or in subsequent elections. And from the state policy network archives that I include in the book, there's this great memo that describes very clearly to donors and lawmakers why that should be backing these anti-union bills.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

And note that there's not much of an economic case for backing these bills, although that's often one that gets made in the public space, but rather the arguments that SPN marshaled were if you pursue cutbacks to unions, you defund and defang one of our freedom movements most powerful opponents, the government unions, and clear pathways towards passage of so many other pro-freedom initiatives in the states. It was not just that you weaken an opponent, but that you pave the way for other unrelated issues going forward.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

So, let me start concluding, and I wanted to just put on the table a really productive argument, and exchange that I've been having in the past few months with a political scientist named Matt Grossman at Michigan State University. And he has a new book out as well called, Red State Blues: How the Conservative Revolution Stalled in the States. And in some ways I think it makes for a really productive dialog with my book because we're both looking at the same trend of increasing republican control in the states. We're coming to a slightly different conclusion.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

I think Matt views the republican control of these states as being much less successful legislatively than I do. I think its worth pointing out the places where we agree and where, I think, we part ways in our interpretation. I think one of the key insights that comes out of Matt's book is an important reminder that regardless of the party in charge of government, the overall size of government tends to increase even when Republicans take over states, state spending tends to increase. Another important reminder that comes from his book that I think draws on the comparative social policy literature, is that conservatives tend to be more successful when they're stopping expansion of new social programs or economic programs, than trying to enact wholesale cuts to existing programs.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

I think where we part ways and where there's a key difference of interpretation is what the baseline of success looks like. Let me give a concrete example of this. In his book, Matt would point to expansions of voting right that Democratic states have pursued in recent years showing that there had been an overall trend towards states passing new laws to make it easier for people to register to vote or to turn out to vote. There have also been an important spread of new laws raising the minimum wage in many states to 15 dollars an hour. And there have also been a number of cities that have done this as well.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

But when I look at those trends, I judge them not against the policies that those individual states are passing, but rather against an overall conservative move at the federal level that affects all states. The reason why so many states are taking action now on voting rights is because the Supreme Court took a major step to the right in retrenching voting rights, and making it easier for states to pass actions that curb access to the franchise in its Shelby County decision.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

Similarly, the reason why states are passing increases to the minimum wage is that over time the federal minimum wage has declined precipitously from a peak of over $10 an hour in the 1960s to just $7.25 today. So, the background conditions are a right-ward move on policy on a number of these important dimensions. I think you could make similar arguments, for instance, about climate change environmental policy. So, let me wrap up here because I really want to get to the Q&A. So, what can we take away from State Capture for a broader understanding about power and politics across the states and at a national level? Well, the first is that states and control of the states really matters for policy outcomes, as the troika realized.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

If the troika was able to have influence in shaping the legislative agendas of state governments, it could have a real impact on political outcomes, social outcomes, economic outcomes. It's an important reminder that states, as Theda mentioned, control these levers that effect or day-to-day lives in a big way. And because of this, organizations, like the troika, could have a national presence, but on the ground operations in individual states, can have a big influence, because they can move resources, and ideas, and staff across state lines to key battles.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

And I think the example of ALEC really points out how the lack of resources at the state legislative level can be a key lever for organizations that are trying to pass policy, and shape legislative agendas across the states. Third, and to return to one of the myths that I hoped to debunk in State Capture, so much of our energy and our attention around business influence, influence of outside groups, flows through elections.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

With people saying that one of the reasons why companies have outsize influence in government decisions, including at the state level, is because of how much they can spend on elections. And I think this work shows that while that may be true, a lot of the action happens in between elections too. That a lot of what the troika does, indeed most of what the troika does, is in between elections, in setting agendas for people who have already been elected to office.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

And lastly, I think the success of these networks as I tried to underscore in the narrative around ALEC, was not a forgone conclusion. Steve Teles, a political scientist at Johns Hopkins has this lovely phrase that I use in the book called the myth of diabolical conservative confidence, the idea that we have a tendency, particularly if you're on the left, to think about the right as doing everything right. And I hope that if you take one message away from State Capture is that that's not necessarily true.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

These organizations took deliberate steps, learned over time in ways that made them successful, but there was nothing forgone about that. So, thank you for your time, and I look forward to the discussion.

Theda Skocpol:

Great, so here are the ground rules. I think someone will bring me a microphone, and you'll introduce yourself and ask your question. Please make it an actual question. We'll try to pass it around, and then if you have to say stop, we can.

Spencer:

Hi, my name is Spencer. I'm a MPP2 at the Kennedy School, and I have a question. Why hasn't the left been as successful? It seems like this is a formula that could work for the left too.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

Yes.

Speaker 5:

There we go.

Ken Norris:

Thank you.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

Yeah, and there's a chapter in the book that goes into this question, and I think that it's one that often gets misdiagnosed as I alluded to. I think that the diagnosis that tends to be offered most frequently is there's just no money to do this. On one level that's true in the sense that there hasn't been investments in the type of these organizations, but if you add up all of the money that slashing around left-wing think tanks and advocacy groups, you'll see, [inaudible 00:37:47] magnitude as on the conservative side, roughly speaking.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

And the main difference is how it gets spent. And if you look over time at the budgets of ALEC versus all of these other attempts to counter ALEC on the left, that it's a slew of these lines that sometimes crawl up but then mostly stay at the lower end. You'll see that there wasn't really concerted investment in one network, and that brings me to the second aspect of progressive failure, which is that when these operations get launched they tended to get some initial energy, and attention from donors, but then trickle out. And another group would form just as that organization was losing ground. And so, they tended to compete with one another for the scarce donor attention that was focused on the states.

Speaker 5:

[inaudible 00:38:35] first year MBA student here at Kennedy School as well. My question is around funding for the legislatures and states. Do you see any change in that? So, increasingly political parties are becoming more aware that the states is where the actual policy happens given the gridlock in Washington. Do we see more funding for the legislatures? Do you see a difference between democratic controlled ones and republican controlled ones?

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

Yeah. So, I think there are two questions there, one is whether this picture of progressive woe that the state level has changed in very recent years now that progressives have rediscovered the importance of federalism under Trump. To answer that question, I think there is a movement in that direction. There is now concerted donor energy going to new efforts. With the State Innovation Exchange, and another group called Future Now, that are both trying to organize state lawmakers. And older groups like networks and think tanks affiliated with Economic Policy Institute, and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities are getting new attention as well. But I do think that there is a recognition of that. Whether or not the energy is sustained over time in a way that it wasn't in the past, remains to be seen.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

So, to answer your second question about legislative professionalism, unfortunately, we really don't see a movement to professionalize state legislatures, which I think is a real shame. If anything, overtime there have been moves to de-professionalize state legislatures. You saw several moves around term limits in recent decades and of course, Michigan very recently for instance, considered moving to being a part-time legislature. So, I don't think that there is ... There doesn't seem to be a political campaign around say moving legislatures to being completely full time.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

I can say over the long sweep of history, we have seen professionalization but you haven't seen like a campaign to give lawmakers two new staffers, new equal time staffers, political pull on lawmaker enough so they would only have to work on the legislature.

Johnny Lotesta:

Hi Alex. I'll just stand so you can see me. My name's Johnny Lotesta. I'm a post-doctoral fellow at the Ash Center here at the Kennedy School. So, thank you for the presentation and for writing such an insightful and rigorous book. You should be commended on that. I generally buy into your two arguments, and I think they're shown quite well in your book where you show how this network operates, and you make a very strong argument about the services that they provide to understaffed, and under-resourced legislators.

Johnny Lotesta:

I want to push a little bit on the question of variations. So, for example, given the national spread of this network, and its strength, vis-a-vis other types of political networks, why is it that we see their efforts succeed in some cases and not in others? I'm curious to hear you analytic argument in regards to that. Does it have to do with the strength of the troika in any given state? Does it have to do with contingent internal disagreements that they may not be able to resolve for one reason or another? Curious to hear your thoughts.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

Yeah. That's a great question. So, in the book, I have two in-depth policy case studies for union cutbacks, and the expansion of Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act. I look at what explains, because the troika in both cases was pushing for these things, but you don't see all republican states adopting for instance cutbacks into the law or accepting Medicaid expansion. I show that it's product of the Troika's capacities in a particular state, how many lawmakers has it recruited for AFP? How many staff does it have? What clear resources can it bear on the legislature? How big and active is the state policy network affiliate? But I don't think those are the only factors.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

I think internal cleavages in the business community, for instance, can go a long way in explaining that. With the Medicaid expansion, you actually saw the chamber of commerce in some states going head-to-head with the troika because the chamber realized that it was a good business case to support Medicaid expansion, and to be clear, these are the state chambers of commerce, not the US chamber of commerce, who is decidedly not in favor of the Affordable Care Act.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

But in those cases of cleavages, if the business community was sufficiently organized, and supportive of expansion, you tended to see Republicans listening to the chamber as opposed to the Troika. So, I do think that those internal cleavages in the business community and other factors certainly make a difference too.

Kate Williams:

Hi, my name is Kate Williams. I'm a second year master in Public Policy student here. So, the first time I had heard about ALEC was in the documentary, 13th, about its role in mass incarceration. And I was wondering to what extent you've thought that those kind of public awareness efforts were helpful in addressing ALEC and its influence, and whether the goal is to try to diminish ALEC's influence through those or other campaigns or to really get left-wing efforts to match ALEC's influence? Thank you.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

Yeah, I'm glad you brought up the example of mass incarceration because it's not an issue that I focus on in the talk, and only receives a little bit of attention in the book. But Iveshla Weaver is a political scientist who's looking more recently into the connection between ALEC and the spread of punitive criminal justice reforms, and actually more recently, ALEC has been on the other side of criminal justice reform pushing for measures that would take people out of prison.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

In part, that's a product of conservative ideologues who have had a conversion moment. And in part, it's a result of private sector businesses like bail companies or companies that make ankle bracelets for monitoring people on parole. As with all political reform, it's a diverse coalition, but ALEC is moving in these recent times in this opposite direction. In terms of the counter weights to ALEC, I think it really remains to be seen how seriously these new efforts are going to be supported by donors, and how much interest they're going to manage to get from state lawmakers too.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

In the book, I go through the first iteration of the State Innovation Exchange. It's now under a new leadership, but under its previous leadership, it really tended to be organizing in states that Democrats and progressives were already pretty strong in, building on progressive caucuses. And it turns there aren't a lot of lawmakers in progressive caucuses in many of these key battleground states that are determining our pivotal if we're thinking about determining things like Medicaid expansion or union laws. So, it's an open question whether they're really going to have success now and if they're learn from that past failure.

Ken Norris:

I'm Ken Norris. I'm a research assistant here at HPS. My question gets into, I guess, relationships between actual members of state legislatures, and the Troika. So, do you see the troika in the data following certain people over time? So, say someone gets elected who they flip a district from democrat to republican, do you see them heavily invest in them, and then follow them over time or is this something that they're just all about the actual republican majority? I guess, the question comes down to how strong is relationship building in all of this?

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

Yeah. That's a really good question. And that's a key advantage that ALEC had in its early years. Its executive director Sam Brunelli, who really built up the organization in the 1980s, I had a chance to interview him, and he explained how he spent most of his time on the road meeting with well-respected lawmakers in state chambers, who could then go in their social networks and recruit other people to the organization. Sometimes, these were chamber leaders, sometimes they weren't chamber leaders, but the idea is as a good organizer would do, you find the person who's the node in the social network who can spread the message.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

And then at that point, once there's a leader, they begin recruiting new people who are elected each year. And so, how the membership process might unfold is you're a member who was just elected, I come to you as a senior well-respected member of your chamber and say, "How would you like to get some help setting your legislative agenda? And by the way, you get to come to this sunny retreat, all expenses paid. For a time they would pay for your family as well, and daycare for your children. And you get to meet really interesting people, you get to meet business leaders, you get to meet policy experts who can help you crack this legislative agenda, and will support your career over time too. Will feature you at these conferences as a little building-out your profile and your recognition."

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

And they're very proud of the alumni that they have, ALEC in particular advertises the lawmakers that have gone on to higher office. So, I think it's all about relationship building and the extent to which they were really willing to invest in building out these social networks especially, in their early years.

Speaker 9:

[inaudible 00:47:06] proposition. So, the research question [inaudible 00:47:18] something that [inaudible 00:47:20] or about the [inaudible 00:47:22] of your relationship. For example, how is the leadership of [inaudible 00:47:28]. So, you can [inaudible 00:47:42] case studies, [inaudible 00:47:42] but then you can also [inaudible 00:47:43] something [inaudible 00:47:45]. That's also [inaudible 00:47:48]. I think we haven't done that [inaudible 00:48:00] good at what they did, and what relationships [inaudible 00:48:07]. And you know, in a social frontier, where everything is about [inaudible 00:48:15] individual characteristics, partisanship [inaudible 00:48:19]. They're all there but you can show that [inaudible 00:48:23] relationship also matter.

Adrian Lousman:

Hi, Adrian Lousman, former gov docs librarian. You mentioned the ALEC archives. Where is the archive? To what extent did you ... How is it that you had access? What is the depth of the archive? How does it either meet or exceed whatever filing requirements there are? Et cetera.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

The question about research methods, so, the ALEC archives exist on my computer. I've compiled them from a variety of sources. Probably the most interesting one is litigation. It turns out to be a really underused resource for social scientists. ALEC was a big supporter of the Tobacco Institute, and as part of the master settlement agreement that the Tobacco Institute, and the tobacco companies reached with the states, they had to turn over all the internal documents of their members, and folks that were involved in supporting the effort.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

And so, you get access to all the model bills, all of the memos, board of director meetings, over a pretty long sweep of time. In addition to that, legislative libraries were actually a big resource for me as well. I spent a lot of time with librarians at different state legislative libraries that had ALEC publications that lawmakers had filed with the library. So, I'm very grateful to the Widener staff here that was able to inner library loan a lot of those documents that I was able digitize.

Speaker 9:

You should be teaching that to [inaudible 00:49:58].

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

Well, so, I learned that from an investigative journalist who tipped me off to this, and I think that all of the political science work that I see, especially on interest groups, could really benefit from a closer engagement with investigative journalists and learning about their methods, things like FOIA requests, looking at tax records, those turn out to be a huge resource for this book. Non-profits have to file paperwork, that gives you a really good picture of their operations.

Maria:

I'm Maria. I'm PhD candidate in sociology in Brazil. And I'm here as a visiting scholar researching in political movements. And I'm curious about the second point that you mentioned about the what is the right about right? The one that is said that the right's more logical in consensus than the left so it would be easier to get consensus, but why is this not true?

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

Yeah. It's a good question. I think there is evidence that, for instance, at the interest group level you do see differences, greater fragmentation on the left relative to the right. And this is actually, Matt Grossman together with Dave Hopkins, have a really interesting book called Group Democrats Versus Ideological Republicans or some variation on that. Asymmetric Politics is the main title. And they're making the case that Republicans and conservative politics tend to be characterized much more strongly by a unified ideology rather than thinking about specific constituencies or policies, which tends to characterize the liberal and progressive coalition.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

At the elite level, I think there are important intentions on the right because you do have diverse interests. You have libertarians, you social conservatives, and even within the social conservative movement, you have folks who might be focused on criminal justice reform. Other folks who are focused on battles over LGBT equality or woman's rights. We have private sector businesses, within private sector businesses, you have competing sectors, and within sectors you have firms that may be competing with one another. There's really, as you unpack it, a lot of diversity that exists on the right where you're trying to assemble a broad coalition like ALEC was.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

And as a result, I think it's not right to say that just because they're conservative means that they're all subscribed to the same ideology. You really have to unpack, how is that ideology managed and constructed? And what are the ways specific organizational forms that facilitate that?

Devon Coey:

Hi, my name is Devon Coey. I'm a professor at MIT. I was interested in your thoughts on ... Well it's clear that Republican Party conservative activists have been successful in the short-term, and by that I mean over the last decade, in the states and at least stalling liberal initiatives enrolling, and some important conservative gains. I'm interested in whether you think it is likely to persist over the medium to longer term? And in particular, I've been thinking about the balance of positive versus negative feedback that the 2010s have put in motion. On one hand I think we have ... You pointed to some ways that conservatives have very strategically tried to change the structural conditions of state politics by undermining unions in particular, proud lawyers, in ways that are likely to be self-reinforcing.

Devon Coey:

But I think there's also evidence in regards [inaudible 00:53:33] see it of popular backlash against an electoral backlash against some of these initiatives. And I'm curious, and certainly Trump's presidency has not been great for Republicans in the states, just as Obama's wasn't great for Democrats in the states. I'm curious ... Or do you think this is going to from a static sense, rebalance or not?

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

Yeah. That's a great question. Certainly, I think, and I find the work that you've done with Chris Warshaw quite compelling in that states have distinct political cultures that dictate to some extent the scope of policy that they pursue over time. So, I think that's an important contextual trend. But thinking more about the shorter term dynamics, I would point to ALEC's and the conservative Troika's efforts in the 80s and 90s, and contrast them with present day. Because I think they have been particularly successful in fully republican controlled states, starting in 2010 onwards with this big republican takeover that you saw.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

In part fueled by the fact that we had a democratic president and a backlash to that. In part, fueled by the electoral map, and part fueled by a big investment by conservative organizations in particular states. But in the 80s and 90s you saw much more bipartisan success of the Troika. I would argue that they were successful even during that period, too, in part because the parties hadn't polarized as much as they had now. I think polarization is a key background characteristic that means the Troika's likely to only be successful now, or mostly be successful in states that are fully republican controlled.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

That's one consideration. The second consideration that'd I point to is underscoring these structural changes to politics that they've made in these states. The changes to union law, the changes to election administration, changes to social policy that we know were down or not to particular parties. Medicaid expansion, for instance, we now have good evidence that that increases turnout. And so, to the extent that these structural features remain in place is the states, it may disadvantage Democrats going forward.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

I do agree that we are seeing backlash in some cases, certainly. Actually, that my next project is looking at the teacher strikes in many of these conservative states. They have had some degree of success, but I think it remains to be seen just how much they're going to be able to fully transform partisan control in these states. I would go back the observation that the Troika's likely to be successful mostly when they can work through republican governments, so to the extent that we see more Democrats being elected under a subsequent Trump administration. We would see the troika be more successful.

Speaker 13:

This is great. Alex, I have a question about whether or not you'd accept a characterization that at the state, maybe at the national level the conservative politics are organized with a functional division of labor whereas progressive politics are organized with an issue-based kind of funnels. I don't think you put it quite this way in the presentation or in the book, but it feels like the division of labor with the troika is functional in that AFP is providing, organizing in a ground game.

Speaker 13:

State Policy Network is providing ideas, and then ALEC is providing legislators and connections with legislation to advance broadly speaking, a conservative agenda that they hammer out as you very, very interestingly described in these issue tables, right? Whereas, you look on the left and those three functions are crammed into different issue buckets, so environmentalists have particular legislators, particular idea shops, particular policies. Labor has its legislative connections, its idea shops, and lawyers, et cetera. And so, I guess, first, do accept the difference in the characterization and then what difference might that make?

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

Yeah. I think, I am persuaded by that. And I think that's a really nice way of framing that I'm going to steal talking about functional organization versus issues-based organization. If you look at the landscape across the states, I think you do see that there are progressive organizations in many of these states. I think you've got the Sierra Club, you've got Planned Parenthood, you've got unions where they still exist. But as you pointed out they're doing, or trying to do many of these functions themselves, and crucially, they're not agreeing on a single agenda that they're going to be putting forward. Instead, and often, they tend to just simply add up their demands across the organizations, and present them to lawmakers saying, "Here's everything we want to do."

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

As I think I try to argue in the book, ALEC plays a key agenda-setting function, saying, "What's in, and what's out? What are you going to pursue? What is the order of the issues that you're going to put in place?" So, I do think that that weakens their legislative effectiveness in the lack of a coherent agenda. I think it also limits the extent to which they can be working together on public good like policies, like weaponized policy feedback. I think about that as being a public good in the sense that it benefits the entire conservative ecosystem. And so, I think that may be one reason why you don't see as much weaponized policy on the left as you necessarily would on the right.

Speaker 14:

Hey Alex. How you doing? Really great presentation, I'm very excited about this project. A question here, I wanted you to say a little bit more about courts. One of the things you mentioned, Steve Teles' book, I just was wondering in terms of for these groups that focused on, these donors have focused on state legislatures, was there also a focus on courts as well at the state level? I know a lot of Steve's book is focused more at the federal level and changing politics on the federal level, changing politics on the federal bench. And so, I'm wondering if you could say a little bit more about that.

Speaker 14:

It's struck me, and I really appreciated your pushback in your presentation about this notion that I hear in so many left circles, especially, left donor circles which is that we can't compete with conservatives because we don't have the money and I hear that again and again and again, right? And I'm always like, "What about the strategy?" And so, I'm wondering in terms of where we are right now. I agree on your point about it's not that the left doesn't have all this money because they do.

Speaker 14:

But I'm wondering is it right now that part of their focus has been on let's say state legislatures, and main stream politics, and perhaps they've ignored the court? Because it seems that right now, and in that time, this timeline that you have up, that you have a focus of wealthy donors on state legislatures as well as obviously during this time the courts are changing dramatically on the federal bench. And so, I'm wondering do we not see is that where people should actually focus on in terms of if I am on the left and I want to seek some political change?

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

The short answer of course to your question about whether or not the federal courts are a venue for political change if you are on the left is all we know right now. Yeah, but thinking about how these other venues fit into the picture. State courts are actually an important target for the State Policy Network affiliates, and are becoming increasing so, so the Bradley Foundation, which is a key donor to these organizations, based in Wisconsin, has been supporting the development of a lot of litigation arms at State Policy Network affiliates, building on the successful model of a think tank in Wisconsin as well as a think tank in Arizona, the Goldwater Institute.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

They've had some success in pursuing litigation in a couple different ways. One strategy is to try and get through the courts what you couldn't get through the legislature. And in particular that's been effective around campaign finance, and trying to undo some campaign finance changes at the state level. Sometimes it's to buttress changes that you've already made through the legislature or through the federal courts by trying to either enforce or broaden cutbacks to the union bargaining rights. And then sometimes, it's to undo or rollback social programs or policies that state governments have passed, so I see those as being three key strategies that these new litigation arms-

Theda Skocpol:

Coordinated and basically attack the state legislatures and state courts.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

They compliment one another I think. And I think the State Policy Networks have recognized this. And that's why you're seeing this investment in trade to scale that up.

Theda Skocpol:

Just today the announcement comes that the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, whatever ... You'll tell us what that is ... Has just filed a suit arguing that more than 235,000 dollar in Wisconsin should be [inaudible 01:02:43] similar roles, because the election authorities they're supposedly [inaudible 01:02:53] implementing the law. So, since Wisconsin courts are controlled by the far right, this sounds like a very clever way to affect the one state that is probably going to decide the next election. I don't want to scare anybody.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

I think you just did.

Theda Skocpol:

See that's the kind of thing. That kind of attention to detail and the flexibility and moving initiative. I'm going to take one more question, but I think I'm going to ask it myself. Why is it that ... When people read your book they'll see that you trace things over time. That's one way to get at success and failure is to say well, why are they more successful in one state than another?

Theda Skocpol:

Another is to trace time, and show the cold starts, and that we need to self-correct and [inaudible 01:03:50]. What is a way to determine [inaudible 01:03:53] like that, because it's not always that way. And I think that is it ... Would you accept this [inaudible 01:04:05] for a decade or so, the right seems to have been more willing to experiment with open engagement. [inaudible 01:04:18] than the left may be. Because [inaudible 01:04:26]. We need to figure out what works, and what doesn't, and make an adjustment. So, I don't know [inaudible 01:04:53] what I'm asking [inaudible 01:05:00].

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

Yeah. It's an interesting hypothesis, and there is some evidence for it in some of the narrative that I present about ALEC. I mean, certainly you saw, for instance, ALEC learning from the structure of public sector unions. You saw AFP learning from the structure of public sector unions. But when you talk to some of the key players, and trying to set up these counterweights to ALEC or these other groups, they hesitate to draw from conservative models.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

So, I think that nicely fits the sort of empirical characterization. You know, I think there's also a story to be told about funder behavior too, and the willingness of funders to fund efforts that may fail. And this is an area where-

Theda Skocpol:

You learn from.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

... Yeah, and learn from failure. Yes, and because I think funders weigh really heavily on all of this as Megan, you've written about, it can really constrain the sort of possibilities that organizations can pursue. Steve Teles has also written about how conservative foundations were more willing, at least over this key period of the 70s and 80s to get longer term grants that were less conditional on project specific successes, and more about just funding good people, and good institutions that they thought were working.

Alex Hertel-Fernandez:

There's some evidence that that changed in the 90s, and was one reason that ALEC, for instance, began to seek funding from that in the corporate sector. So, I do think that there may be support for that hypothesis both because of the worldviews that dictate what liberals or progressive activists think that they can learn from the right and for the heavier funders that may shape organizational places.

Speaker 1:

You've been listening to AshCast. The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovations Podcast. If you'd like to learn more, please visit ash.harvard.edu, or follow the Ash Center on social media @HarvardAsh.