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State Rep. Chris Taylor during the Let's Talk About It: Race Relations community dinner at Madison Memorial High School.

Keep your friends close, your political enemies closer.

That’s the theory behind Rep. Chris Taylor’s third trip in 12 months to a conference hosted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, better known as ALEC. 

“ALEC is going to continue to exist in the shadows unless more people start to realize the connection it has to all these bills we are seeing in Wisconsin and across the country,” Taylor said. “People don’t want their state legislators in the pocket of special interests."

The more than 40-year-old organization has become known in recent years for hosting conferences and writing model legislation that is then pushed by conservative lawmakers in states around the country.

To the average Wisconsin voter, ALEC meant nothing until Gov. Scott Walker took office in 2010. That’s when people started to realize ALEC was more than just another non-profit, political group holding conferences.

“My takeaway after spending two days at a conference is ALEC is a well-oiled machine," said Taylor, D-Madison, after attending her first ALEC conference last August in Chicago. "Putting the amount of money it has aside, the coordination and the infrastructure this group has in place is incredible. I was both fascinated and horrified by it.”

While listening to a speech by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at an ALEC conference in Dallas last week, Taylor concluded the organization and its members are not pioneers of new policies, as they purport to be, but "prison guards of the past."

“Its members are a new acronym for PMS: pale, male and stale,” Taylor said Wednesday. “They want to protect their members by advocating for no corporate taxes and little regulation. They want to go back to a time when there was no public safety net.”

This time around, Taylor, D-Madison, attended a subcommittee on how to “think and talk about climate change” and an environmental discussion that featured a speaker representing tech firms Google, eBay, Facebook and Yahoo.

Taylor said the representative told the “coal is king” ALEC crowd that they needed to create more policies favorable to renewable energy. The representative spoke of the need for these companies to build large datacenters that use a lot of power to operate.

Taylor said some attendees asked how the companies explain this choice to their shareholders, while others asked why they should support subsidized energy like wind and solar.

Taylor said the attendees were told coal and oil is also subsidized and shareholders are told the use of renewable energy is a better long-term financial option that is increasingly popular with customers.

“It was really nice to hear someone come (to a conference) to present the other side,” she said.

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