For now, we’ll set aside the really important work of good government, which can be summed up as improving lives of a state’s residents.
Punishing enemies has been relatively easy for the Republicans running the show in Montgomery since late 2010. The Alabama Education Association has a giant target on its back. Republicans in the Legislature have done what they could to lessen the AEA’s influence on the political system by limiting how it collects members’ dues, attempting to weaken its voice on the state retirement board and creating a tax-credit that encourages alternatives to public schools.
The other side of the equation is more of a challenge.
After more than a century as the minority party in the Legislature, Alabama Republicans had the misfortune of assuming power just as the state treasury was being buckled by the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
Republicans are right when they remind the state that money isn’t the solution to all that ails Alabama. However, it sure does come in handy in the friend-rewarding business that in the past has built roads, schools, bridges, community centers and so on.
Money is so tight that last year’s General Fund budget was balanced thanks to deficit-financing. That is, to keep the budget in the black, Alabama borrowed millions from a state trust fund. Ironically, that’s the very thing so many Republican politicians here criticize the Obama administration for doing.
So, with scarce dollars and an ideology that generally presumes all government spending is suspect, the state’s Republicans have been forced to get creative.
Over the past three sessions, we’ve seen the majority promote constituent-pleasing measures that don’t come with a big price tag. Let’s call these items “ideological pork.”
A law to force illegal immigrants out of the state. Check.
A law requiring more stringent voter-ID at polling places. Check.
A law to thwart a sinister United Nations plan to control the day-to-day lives of Alabamians. Check.
Does it matter that the federal courts have declared the immigration law an unconstitutional mess? Probably not to those enjoying this hunk of ideological pork. In fact, it likely confirms their belief that those nasty old feds are keeping Alabama down.
The requirement for a photo ID at the ballot box will likely cause chaos for many elderly non-drivers and poor Alabamians in 2014. Never mind. Constituents pleased by the voter-ID law won’t be bothered, even though there’s no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the first place.
Even a fist shaken at the U.N.’s supposed plans — ominously labeled Agenda 21 — to take over our cities is bound to make some Republican supporters happy.
The current session has delivered more of the same, including a proposal to drug-test welfare recipients with a history of illegal drug use and a bill that nullifies any federal government jurisdiction over the Second Amendment.
None of this stresses the budget’s bottom line — except for the inevitable legal challenges that will cost the state some money.
The public relations hits are a different matter. The recipients of ideological pork revel in this sort of criticism. They declare: Who cares what the liberal elites think? And if Alabama residents don’t like it, they can pack up and move.
For Montgomery’s Republican leadership, there’s really only one potential downside. This legislative posturing might turn off industries eyeing Alabama as a place to set up shop.
Most of those companies — both foreign and domestic — don’t really care where the Alabama Legislature stands on, say, the Second Amendment. The decision-makers that consider Alabama as a place to manufacture widgets care more about the education of the state’s labor pool, the quality of its public schools, the conditions of its roads and bridges, the rate of crime and so on.
If and when that happens, our state’s ideological pork might taste like nothing but empty calories.
Bob Davis is associate publisher/editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at 256-235-3540 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @EditorBobDavis.