Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (2014–…): Season 1, Episode 23 - State Legislatures and ALEC - full transcript

John disusses robot sales associates at Lowe's, U.S legislatures in elections, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Are you wondering how healthy the food you are eating is? Check it -
Welcome, welcome, welcome
to "Last Week Tonight."

I'm John Oliver. Thanks so much for joining us.

Just time for a quick recap of the week.

And we begin--we begin--no! No! No!

That's literally too much. That's literally too much.

That's unearned.

We begin tonight in Hungary.

Yes, Hungary, the fantasy home

for every little girl who's young enough to love castles

but not quite old enough to be aware of

neo-fascist political parties.

Hungary has had quite a week.

WOMAN: Tens of thousands of
protesters marching in Hungary.

They're upset about
a plan by the government

to tax Internet use.

Tuesday's rally was
the second in 3 days.

TRANSLATOR: This tax is
the most stupid thing.

Other countries like Estonia,

they give Internet
for free to everyone.

It is hard to disagree
with the protesters

when their argument
is essentially,

let's catch up with Estonia.

Now, look, nowadays,

a tax on the Internet
is never going to be popular.

The Internet is supposed to be
free, like parking on a Sunday

or drinks at a wedding
thrown by non-assholes.

It doesn't help that
this tax is being proposed

by a Hungarian prime minister
who everyone hates.

MAN: Prime Minister Victor Oban
is accused of

becoming authoritarian.

He admits to moving Hungary

towards what he calls
an illiberal democracy.

He is close to President
Vladimir Putin,

and speaks warmly of how they
do things in Turkey and China.

Wow. That is 3 red flags
in a row.

Illiberal democracy,
close to Putin,

and likes how things are
done in Turkey and China.

If you just add "He likes
the way Hollister smells,"

we can officially declare
that man a war criminal.

Now, look, Hungarians marched
all this week, and the fact that

people are protesting the actions of an
authoritarian government

is not in itself a surprise.

The shocking thing here
was the result.

MAN: Hungary is nixing plans for that tax on the Internet,
at least for now.

The prime minister
says he is going to

revisit that tax,
though, next year.

Holy shit.
The protest worked.

And that is not a sentence
you get to say out loud often.

It's like, "Great one-man show"

or "Guy Fieri,
that was delicious"

or "I met my wife at
Dave and Buster's."

You don't often--the words
feel weird coming out.

But, look, there is no time
to celebrate, Hungarians.

You're on the clock.
If this tax

is being revisited next year,
you only have until 2015

to download as much pornography
as you can.

Do it now and get it all!

You don't know what
you're going to be into

this time next year!

The rest of us, let's move on
to the other side of the globe,

New Zealand, the country that,
like a bad Edible Arrangement,

is full of fucking kiwis.

Now, recently--recently,
John Key,

John Key, their prime minister,
was re-elected

despite--you may remember--
having a fight with Eminem,

or, as they call him
in New Zealand, Emmynem.

Now, Key is now back in office,

and he's ready
to tackle the most

pressing issues
facing the country.

MAN: You mentioned
changing the flag.

Is that something
you hope to achieve

in the next 3 years?

Definitely. You know, we
want to have the referendum,

and I want to embark on the referendum
relatively quickly.

I'd like that issue
dealt with in 2015.

Yeah, he wants to change
the New Zealand flag,

or as they call it there,
the flig.

And he's going to do that with
a flig referendum

in two thousand and fufteen.

Now, why is he gonna do this?
Well, one reason might be

it looks too much
like Australia's flag.

Because that is
Australia's flag

and this is new Zealand's flag.

Unsurprisingly, this has caused
some problems in the past.

There's just a huge
confusion factor.

So, I can tell you
as Prime Minister,

the number of times I
walk over to something

and I'm in an international
meeting and they sit me down

in front of the Australian flag
or the Australian area.

It's--you know, it's not funny.
It happens all the time.

Oh, it is funny, and that's
why it happens all the time.

Put him under
the Australian flag.

He gets so--

I want to hear him say "flig."
Make him say "flig."

Now, to be fair, John Key has
a replacement design in mind.

It's this one, which, granted,
looks like the flag

on a vegetarian pirate ship.

But it might actually
be inappropriate

for a different reason.

WOMAN: John Key originally
preferred the more traditional

black background
with a silver fern,

but now says his preference
is for a flag

that keeps more
traditional colors.

He denies that it has anything
to do with its similarity

to the flag flown by ISIS.

Oh, shit that is not good.

Because if you thought
being mistakenly seated under

Australia's flag was bad,
wait till they put you

under the one for ISIS.

This is not funny.
It happens all the time.

Why is it even here?

Look. Unfortunately, John Key's
even newer new design

has also met with some
resistance, as he discovered

when he went on TV
earlier this week.

MAN: OK. I'm going to
show you something now.

Have a look at this.

This is what you think is great...
I like it.

and I think it
is bloody horrible.

Bloody horrible.

How are you allowed to speak to
your prime minister like that?

It seems New Zealanders treat
their leaders like Americans

treat managers at Applebee's.

This shrimp is bloody horrible.
Take it back.

Still, I will say that is
a terrible idea for a flag,

which is why we have
a few suggestions.

First, how about a flag
that features two things

New Zealand is famous for,
such as a bungee-jumping sheep?

Or, if you don't like that one,

a kiwi bird having
sex with a hobbit?

Or you know what?
It honestly might be simpler

just to have a flag with the
words "We are not Australia"

written on a white background.

Although I can't guarantee
they won't seat you

underneath that just for fun.

Finally tonight, with
the biggest retail season

of the year nearly upon us,
one major retailer

unveiled a huge
innovation this week.

Lowe's is testing out
robotic shopping assistants

at one of its smaller
hardware stores.

I am Oshbot,

the Orchard Store
robot helper.

What are you
looking for today?

Where can I find
more of these?

Is this the item
you are looking for?

I'll take you.

Yes, Lowe's is introducing
robot sales assistants

to one of their stores, which
might seem like a good idea,

but brace yourself, Lowe's,
because you may be about to get

a lot of sexual
harassment lawsuits

from your refrigerators.

Although, going by their
promotional video,

at least someone
seems to be a fan.

I actually really liked it, and
we could be considered friends.

OK, stop.
Stop, stop, stop it.

Because the sentence
"The customer service robot

at Lowe's is my friend" may be
the single saddest sentiment

ever spoken out loud.

Robot assistants are a terrible
idea, and here's why.

Sales associates at
home improvement stores

are not there to help
people find things.

They're there to stop couples
from tearing each other apart.

If you really want
to test your marriage,

go buy home supplies together.

Because Lowe's is like
a swingers party

or a couples brunch.

No one is leaving
on speaking terms.

And the worst thing is,
Lowe's knows this.

Look at their own ads.

We went to Lowe's just
for some light bulbs.

And we got distracted.
I got distracted.

MAN: We got a little
bit distracted.

They were looking
at light bulbs,

but I had a feeling
they were interested in

some things
for the patio.

Can I help you with something for the patio?



I think that
means yes.

Nicely done, Lowe's employee.

You sensed an explosive
argument was coming

and you diffused it with
the emotional anesthetic

of patio furniture.

Robots can't do that.
They don't realize

that home improvement stores
are a lethal combination

of everything that can
ruin a relationship--

spending money,
reconciling tastes,

long-term planning,
and fluorescent lighting.

In fact, if I was Home Depot

and I heard that Lowe's were
replacing humans with robots,

this is the ad that
I would be running.

MAN: At Home Depot,
we value the personal touch.

Sure, Lowe's may have robots,

but we know there are some
things machines can't do.

MAN: We came to Home Depot to renovate
our kitchen

and things got
a little heated.

He had his heart set
on this copper sink.


They started bickering,
but I had a feeling

it wasn't about
the copper sink.

It never is about
the copper sink.

Why are you
fighting me on this?

It has a
10-year warranty.

Oh, I'm sorry.
Are we going to be

in this house
for 10 more years?

Well, where else
are we going to go?

In a house big enough
for the second child

you promised me
we were gonna have.

Hey, if I could
just butt in here,

there is a lot to be said

for a hammered-finish
copper sink.

It adds a lot of warmth
to any room

and copper is naturally
easy to maintain.

Plus, it is just a sink.

It is just a sink. Yeah.
It's just a sink.

You guys like Glade Plug-ins?
Check this out.

MAN: Doug was great.
He gave us advice

right when
we needed it.

Specifically right before
one of us said

something we could
never take back.

Hey, this
eucalyptus is nice.

Mama would love it.

Why does it matter what plants
your mother would like?

For when she
moves in with us.

No, I am not having
this discussion again.

Oh, boy. I told you again
and again.

I'm not putting her
in a home ever.

She raised me.

Yeah, you and your
deadbeat brother.

That's your
argument every time?

You bring up Devlin? He's trying.

It's hard to get
a job when they

have to do
background checks.

You should stick with the
Boston fern on this one.

The eucalyptus is for koalas
and pacifists.

Ha ha ha!
Now, if you want,

I can show you some of
our selection of floor plants.

Oh, my gosh, yes.
For sure.

He talked to us
about floor plants

for 5 solid
minutes until

both of us forgot what
we were fighting about.

That's what we do here.

Hey. I really like
this bamboo floor.

Of course you do.
He loves everything Asian.

Especially the girls
he looks at on his porn.

Excuse me?

Clear your history, Ben.
You're not the only one

who uses that iPad Mini.

someone's daughter.

What if our daughter
were Asian?

How would our
daughter be Asian?

Well, we could adopt
if you weren't so selfish.

OK, so, if you're
asking me if I want to

fuck my hypothetical Asian daughter,
the answer is no.

Home Depot, I don't want a fuckin'
Asian daughter.

My hero.

Guys, guys, forget
about the bamboo.

Sure, it's good
with the humidity, but

wood flooring is barely better
than a carpet

when it comes to a bathroom.

Let me show you
some ceramic tiles

I think you'll
both agree on.

Yeah, let's do it.

BEN: Doug was great and the bathroom
is beautiful.

So you don't wish we'd
gotten that copper sink?

Not as much as I
wish you hadn't

given a hand job
to my best man

on our wedding day.

For the last time,
we were not married.

Is that
the only one?

How many hand jobs did you give out
that day?

I don't know.
Let's count them up.

Right? OK, great. Let's do it.

2, 3? Who else?

Hey, let's take
a look at some

paint swatches
and think about

freshening up
that kitchen.

Oh, great.

What if you take
a Spring Grass

and lay it right in here
on Tournament Field.

Oh, wow.
That looks great.

I'd go with that.

Let's talk

Moving on. Ahem.

Our main story tonight
concerns the fact

that if you've been near
a television recently,

you've learned
exactly one thing:

The midterm elections
are upon us.

Two days to go before
the midterm elections.

All eyes are on them.

The big question,
really, the only question,

do the Democrats hold on
to the majority?

Can Republicans take control
of the U.S. Senate?

Bottom line here is, this is,
as we say it every time,

one of the most important
elections in American history!

Oh, but I'm serious this time.

Take your American
history books.

Burn them in the streets.
They're worthless after Tuesday.

Why, the Senate is up for grabs.
I repeat,

the fucking Senate
is up for grabs!

All this crazy attention
on congressional races

is a little strange
for one important reason.

MAN: This Congress, with Republicans in
charge of the House

and Democrats in charge
of the Senate,

is on track to be the least
productive in history.

This Congress is
shaping up to be

the least productive in history.

Although, to be fair:
Congress is like jazz.

It's really about
the bills it's not passing.

It's also like jazz
in that most people hate it,

and anyone who says
they don't are lying.

And the Senate is likely
to remain inactive

no matter which party
controls it after Tuesday.

So, why all this attention
on the national level,

where almost nothing
is happening,

when down at the local level,
everything is happening?

That's right.
Tonight we're going to talk

about the elections that
actually matter on Tuesday,

the ones for state legislatures.

And look, I know it can be hard

to take candidates for
state houses seriously

partly because of their
ridiculous ads.

MAN: Senator Chuck Colgan is
fighting for you in Richmond.

I could stand here and tell you

how I was born
on a poultry farm.

Together, we can make West Virginia's
economy take off.

That's a great ad,
and I'll tell you why.

Because you just inherently
trust a guy who wanders around

in public with
a bird on his hand.

Drape a snake around
his shoulders,

you've got yourself
a president right there.

In Montana, one candidate
has an ad running

declaring his belief
in the Constitution

over a shot of the Declaration
of Independence

and what appears to be
a photo of an old man

stabbing a small child
to death with a flag.

That's a compelling image, yes,

but I don't know if you want to
use it for a political campaign.

The other problem is, whenever you do hear about
state legislatures,

it's usually because
something crazy has happened.

Like a fistfight between two
old men in the Alabama Senate

or a Florida state senator
looking at topless photos

during an abortion debate

or this California
assemblyman discussing

his sex life into
a live microphone.

-I've been getting into spanking her.
-You are?

-Yea, I like it.
-Does she?

Yea, when I spank her she goes, 'I know
you like spanking me. Don't ya?'

I go, 'That's because
you're such a bad girl.'

Ugh. Ohh.

It's not really a surprise
that you made

that mistake with a microphone.

You don't seem like someone who
can tell whether something's

turned on or not.

And even--even when lawmakers
are doing their jobs,

things can actually get worse.

A Florida lawmaker is
pushing forward tonight

with his plan to repeal a ban on dwarf-tossing.

I've spoken to
doctors and lawyers

and CFOs that are little people.

They can make their own
decision, and this state said,

"No, you can't,
we'll make it for you."

OK. Individual rights aside,
let's all just agree

that if it happened in
"The Wolf of Wall Street,"

it should not be legal.

And of course, sometimes, you'll
hear about state legislators

because of something
insane they've said.

Like Sally Kern from Oklahoma.

Is this just because they're
black that they're in prison

or could it be because

they didn't want to
work hard in school?

And white people oftentimes don't want to work
hard in school,

or Asians, oftentimes.

But a lot of times,
that's what happens.

I taught school for 20 years
and I saw a lot of--

a lot of people of color who
didn't want to work as hard.

They wanted it given to them.

Look, Sally, if you're going to
be that racist in public,

there's really no need
for you to use the term

"people of color."

are not listening

to everything you just said.

They're going, "Lazy? Hey! In prison? Hey!

"People of color?
Well, that is nice.

That balances it out.
That's basically clear now."

And she's not the only one
in the Oklahoma House

speaking her crazy mind.

I do not doubt that.

The phrase "Islam is a cancer"
is not usually associated with

people who are open to
new ideas or arguments.

The point is, is it any wonder

state legislatures are
perceived as circuses

when they give us
footage like this?

These damn bills that come out
here all the damn time,

come out here
at the last second,

and I got to try to figure out
how to vote for my people.

I'm sick of it!
Every year!


I feel like somebody is trying
to be released from Egypt!

Let my people go!

Look. If...

If Moses had said,
"Let my people go" like that,

I'm pretty sure Pharaoh
would've said, "Fine, Moses.

I'll let them go.
Just calm the fuck down!"

Look, state legislatures
are hilarious.

There's only one problem.

Increasingly, they're the places

where most legislation is
actually taking place.

So far this session, Congress
has passed just 185 laws.

State legislatures have passed
more than 24,000.

I'm starting to realize why
that guy was getting so angry.

I'd hit a bill, too, if I knew
there were 24,000 of them.

It's too many!
It's too many!

It's too many bills!

And look, look, sure, some of
those bills were meaningless,

like Missouri
declaring jumping jacks

their official state exercise.

Incidentally, New York's
official state exercise?


But look, not all
state laws are so silly.

Some have profound impact.

Legislatures are
sometimes called

the laboratories of democracy.

Sometimes their
experiments are great,

like raising the minimum wage,
like these states have done,

or overturning bans
on gay marriage, like these.

But other times, state laws
can go a different way.

Between 2011 and 2013,

individual states passed

more than 200

abortion restrictions,

more than the entire

previous decade.

That's right. In fact, a law which
passed in Mississippi

is so restrictive,
it could close

the one remaining
abortion clinic

they have in the entire state,

meaning a Mississippi woman
right now

could be saying to herself,
"I need to go someplace

more progressive, like Alabama."

State houses do a huge amount of
work while no one is watching,

from abortion to gun control
to environmental legislation.

And yet, admit it,
you probably don't know

who your state legislator is,

which means all those
conspiracy theories

about a shadow government
are actually true.

Only it's not a group
of billionaires

meeting in a mountain
lair in Zurich,

it's a bunch of pasty
bureaucrats meeting

in a windowless committee room
in Lansing, Michigan.

So, we took a look at
state legislatures this week,

and the first surprising thing
was that no two are alike,

because just as each state has
a treasured regional cuisine,

from Maryland's
Chesapeake blue crabs

to Florida's
half-a-cubano sandwich

wrestled away from
a dirty pelican,

each state, each state
has its own way of governing.

For a start, they
range wildly in size,

from 49 lawmakers in Nebraska
to 424 in New Hampshire.

424. Sparta fended off Persia
with only 300 people,

and for some reason,
New Hampshire needs 424

to issue a fucking leafy stamp.

And while some operate

others are very much part-time.

Utah, for instance, has just
one 45-day session per year.

That's not a congress.
That's a summer camp.

Except instead of eating s'mores
and throwing sticks at possums,

they're passing laws restricting
a woman's right to choose

and throwing sticks at possums.

But whether they're full-time
or part-time, there is one thing

most state houses
have in common,

a shocking lack of oversight.

For instance, when it comes
to conflicts of interest,

"Generally, lawmakers
are supposed to

"recuse themselves from voting
on bills that would give them

a direct financial benefit."

You're essentially
asking state legislators

to practice self-control.

Remember, legislators
like this guy.

Let my people go!


So, let's look
at that in action.

Hawaii's state house
is part-time.

And one of its members,
Joe Souki, had a side job

collecting $24,000 a year
as a consultant

to a plastics
trade association.

So, when Hawaii was
considering imposing a fee

for plastic bags,
the onus was on him

to reveal his
conflict of interest.

Let's see how that played out.

I have a potential conflict of interest.

What is your conflict?

I'm a consultant with
the American Chemistry Council.

They produce plastics.

Right now I'm hired as a consultant
to work with Maury County

on this terraform problem.
Thank you.

Thank you very much.
There is no conflict.

What? What do you mean
there's no conflict?

He was being paid by
the plastics industry.

Unless in Hawaii
"conflict of interest" means both

"conflict of interest" and
"not a conflict of interest."

You know, like how "aloha"
means hello and good-bye.

That's the only fucking
acceptable explanation.

Now, to be fair, most states
have ethics commissions.

But an investigation into
how effective they are

gave grades of "D" or "F"
to 28 out of 41 of them.

And remember, if you
fail an ethics test,

that's doubly bad because
there's no fucking way

you didn't attempt
to cheat on it.

And yet, and yet somehow

with lax rules
and terrible oversight,

some state legislators still
manage to get in trouble.

MAN: In Massachusetts, 3
successive speakers of the house

have been indicted or convicted,

not to mention the lawmaker
who took a bribe

from an FBI undercover and
stuffed the cash in her bra.

Stuffing bribe money in a bra
is sad for two reasons.

One, you're corrupt.
But two, the amount of money

it took to corrupt you
fits inside your bra.

Meanwhile, meanwhile,
out in California,

State Senator Leland Yee
was arrested in March

on charges of arms trafficking
and wire fraud,

to which he's pled not guilty.

But that's not even
the most interesting part.

WOMAN: Yee was arrested
Wednesday along with suspected

Chinatown gang figure
Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow.

So, first, that's amazing.

And secondly, how
is that the photo

they used of
Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow

when this one also exists where
he looks like an early nineties

Steven Seagal movie villain?

Come on, news!

Why would
Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow

have a photo like that
taken of him,

unless he wanted it used when
he was inevitably arrested

for arms trafficking one day?

Do the right thing.

And some state legislators
get in trouble

in the most pathetic
possible way.

Take Rhode Island's
Dominic Ruggerio,

whose political career managed
to weather him being arrested

for allegedly shoplifting
condoms from a CVS

at the age of 41,
while in office,

and who in 2012 was pulled over
on suspicion of drunk driving.

When police were questioning
State Senator Dominic Ruggerio,

his senate colleague Frank Ciccone pulled
up to the scene.

Ciccone allegedly told one
of the patrolmen, quote...

It happened, everyone.

I think we just hit
peak Rhode Island.

Think about it--a legislator
called Ruggerio

being pulled over by police,

while a fellow
lawmaker called Ciccone

swears at them about pensions.

The only way that could
be more Rhode Island

is if they were all
somehow clams.

And yet, you have to remember
all the people you've seen

were elected to bodies
where legislation

actually gets passed.

A lot.

And whilst most people
may ignore these bodies,

corporations certainly don't.

In fact, they've taken advantage
through a group called ALEC.

And yes, "ALEC" sounds like

the name of a high school
lacrosse player

who just got baked and wrecked
his dad's Saab.

But incredibly, it's
actually even worse.

MAN: For more than 30 years,

a private tax-exempt

called the American Legislative
Exchange Council, ALEC,

has brought state lawmakers,
conservative think tanks,

and corporate interests together

to write model legislation
to be introduced and passed

in state houses
across the country.

It's basically
a conservative bill mill,

which has helped develop
model legislation from

Arizona's notorious
SB1070 immigration bill,

to bills expanding
private prisons,

payday loan companies,
and for-profit colleges,

all of which we've talked about
on this very show.

In fact, I'm going to list ALEC
in the credits for our show

as associate producer
of creating horrifying things

for us to talk about.

Great work, ALEC.

See you at the end of season
wrap party, you pieces of shit.

The thing is,
ALEC is everywhere.

Roughly one in 4 state
legislators are members.

And it's not hard to see why.
ALEC makes their jobs

troublingly easy.

Here's their model
electricity freedom bill,

which at one point says,
"Be it therefore enacted

"that the state of--
insert state--

repeals the renewable
energy mandate."

So, as long as you can remember

and spell the name
of your state,

you can introduce legislation.

And I think it's
fair to say that

most of the people we've
seen so far tonight

could probably do that.

And some legislators
don't even bother

hiding ALEC's fingerprints.

Just watch a Minnesota lawmaker

get confronted by
one of his colleagues.

I'm just curious,
does it have--

does the legislation have
some connection to ALEC?

Representative Atkins, I'm
not sure why we're pursuing

this course of questioning.

This bill is my bill,
it's not ALEC's bill.

Well, the reason I ask is
because earlier you passed out

a handout that says,
"Gottwalt," at the top,

and it says, "Health care
compact," and there's a logo

right in the middle
of that page,

and I went to the ALEC web site

and there's exactly
the same font,

the same size,
and the same logo.

I mean, literally,
it's verbatim.

Look, I hate to sound like
Billy Baldwin's agent,

but you can't just copy
everything that ALEC does.

It's pathetic.

At this point,
at this point, it's clear.

Between the bad behavior
and the lack of accountability,

states are not so much
the laboratories of democracy

as the frat houses of democracy.

And yet, they get no attention.

Perhaps that's because it's
very hard for us to be angry

with people whose names
we don't know.

And if you're thinking, "Well,
OK, now I'll pay more attention

before going to vote
on Tuesday," that's great.

Unfortunately, for many
of you, it's too late.

Because an estimated 25% of
the candidates on Tuesday

are running unopposed.

Their sole political asset
is that they exist

and they're going to win.

So, with that in mind,

with that in mind,
let's call some races.

Because you know what?
Even though

polls don't close
for another two days

and most people haven't
even started voting yet,

with 0% of precincts reporting,
we can call some winners.

So, let's do it.
Let's do it.

Remember the Florida
dwarf-tossing guy?

His name is Ritch Workman.

He's running unopposed,
so he wins!

Remember the lady in Oklahoma
with the interesting theories

on black prison population?

The "Islam is a cancer" guy?

The alleged drunk-driving
Rhode Island condom thief

and his angry friend?

Winner winner, chicken dinner.

And this is just the beginning.

Because we can call over
1,000 races across America.

He's a winner.
She's a winner.

All these people are winners,

so, congratulations
to all of you

for defeating the very
concept of nothing!

Congratulations, one and all.

We look forward to you wielding

a terrifying amount of influence

for the next several years,

safe in the knowledge
that no one will be

paying any attention.

That's our show.
Thank you so much for watching.

Good night!

This nice
laser green.

Lay it right in here
on Antigua Sunrise.

Oh, my.
That's beautiful.

That's a good combo.

I'm thinking maybe
a Spring Grass

or Go-Go Lime with
a Jade Mountain.

We drop it in on
an Aqua Fresco.

Oh, wow. Two.

What about
a Go-Go Lime,

lay it right in here
on Jet Ski?

Oh, my God.
That's beautiful.

That's your accent.
That's your back splash.

I like that combination
a lot.

You've got
an eye for color.