It was a change a long time in the making, as Democrats continued their decades-long slide in popularity among Southern voters. Helping the Republicans’ cause were Montgomery Democrats who had grown way too comfortable in their positions of power.
When the inevitable happened and Republicans enjoyed a 2010 landslide, their leaders promised a new sheriff was coming to town, one that would clean up the taint of scandal left by Democrats.
“This is more than just an historic day for the Alabama Republican Party, it is a victory for all Alabamians who believe in cutting wasteful spending, ending corruption and creating a business-friendly Alabama that will foster job growth,” said state Rep. Mike Hubbard, the Auburn Republican who is now speaker of the House. Along with Gov. Robert Bentley, Hubbard said, Republicans in the Legislature would “change the culture” on Goat Hill.
On the good side, the Republicans running the Legislature very quickly toughened ethics rules regarding the conduct of state officials. This year, they have taken the lead in slowly and carefully reforming the state’s 1901 Constitution.
From a few high-water marks, it goes downhill pretty fast from there, however.
Wednesday’s final day of the 2012 session illustrates just how far Republicans have to go in the culture-changing business. The takeaways from the recently finished session are stark. Just like last year, Montgomery stands out for scarcity and intolerance. With an ever-dwindling supply of money compared to the needs of the state, the Legislature has taken an ax to spending.
The cuts extend well beyond the frills — which weren’t that many to begin with — to line-items like education, health care and public safety. Very few people are attracted to a state with more crime and less education. Yet, smartly raising the money is off the table. Republicans would rather not burden those who can most afford to pay more taxes, which leaves it to the rest of the state to suffer the consequences.
The other matter that was prominently dragged into the final day’s deliberations was the state’s anti-immigrant law, an embarrassment from the 2011 session that continues to stain Alabama’s reputation.
To be fair, let’s grant that the new majority party is only in the second of a four-year term, 134 years less than the Democrats’ last run in charge of the place. A change in how Alabama operates can’t wait decades, much less more than a century.