SAUSAGE-MAKING MATTERS: The tedious process of selling, vetting and compromising legislation has its detractors who compare it to the distasteful process of making sausage. However, the 2013 session’s handling of a school reform bill taught us that process matters. Lots.
What was originally pitched as a bill to allow local school districts to apply for greater autonomy morphed into a plan to offer tax credits to parents of children zoned for failing schools. No hearings. No salesmanship. Just a few of Montgomery’s leaders behind closed doors.
What emerged was a tangled mess that the Legislature spent much of March, April and May trying to unravel. That state will pay for this inattention to legislative details. As any successful football coach can tell the Republicans running the show on Goat Hill, the fundamentals still matter.
BENTLEY STILL A BACK-BENCHER: Robert Bentley’s rise in 2010 from little-known Tuscaloosa lawmaker to governor is a testament to his perseverance as well as the political skills of the Alabama Education Association, which worked extremely hard to defeat a foe — Bradley Byrne, who was well-qualified to act as the state’s chief executive.
With Byrne out of the race, the amiable Bentley cruised to victory in November 2010. Still, much of the power in Montgomery remained with the two primary architects of Republican control of state government — Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, and House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn. When those two sides clashed over the school tax credit bill, Bentley, who wanted a two-year moratorium on the tax credit portion of the Alabama Accountability Act, found himself on the losing side of that argument.
BENTLEY NOT GOING ANYWHERE: Despite being put in his place by Marsh, Hubbard and the rest, the Accountability Act episode shows Bentley in a favorable light. The governor’s amendment was rooted in paying what the state owes before spending more money on the unproven and largely unknown expense of tax credits. The governor may have been rolled on this one, but he still wields the veto pen and we suspect he may inclined to use it more frequently.
LAW-ENFORCERS LOSE OUT: Alabama’s sheriffs made a concerted effort to retain their power to issue concealed-carry gun permits. Alabama lawmakers had a different idea. With the Newtown massacre and the inevitable push by Democrats to toughen federal gun laws, Alabama conservatives believed they needed to take a step in the opposite direction.
The sheriffs’ plea to retain more discretion on gun permits was denied. So much for heeding the advice of law-enforcers.
DEMOCRATS ARE IRRELEVANT: Goat Hill is the domain of Republican elephants, leaving Democratic donkeys with the smallest of roles. While true since the Republican electoral wave of 2010, this fact has been made with increasing clarity during the recently concluded session of the Legislature. Democrats might occasionally find ways to gum up the works as an act of protest, but instances of putting their stamp on significant legislation are becoming extremely rare. Republican super-majorities in the House and Senate must only compromise within their ranks to pass bills.
STILL THE WORLD’S LARGEST CITY COUNCIL: The authors of Alabama’s form of state government did not want power to land in the wrong hands. When the state Constitution was written in 1901, that meant hands that belonging to the poor who might take this notion of self-government too far and start demanding a more equitable system of taxing and spending. The solution was to centralize power in Montgomery, a place the fat cats’ lobbyists could more easily control than, say, 67 counties and hundreds of cities and towns.
That’s why cities like Anniston and Weaver had to turn to 105 representatives and 35 senators from across the state for permission to regulate the sale of alcohol solely within their city limits. The good news is that both cities got what they wanted. The bad news is that the entire Legislature is bogged down by too many purely local issues.