Robert Bentley, the man who is now governor, captured the public’s attention — and its votes — by promising not to draw a salary until the state returned to full employment. (We’re still not there, although the state’s jobless rate has declined.)
It’s amazing how much the 2010 election was dominated by a discussion of allowing voters to have a say on gambling. Although Bentley supported the notion, there’s been no such vote, and one doesn’t appear likely any time soon.
It’s a familiar tale. What the politicians campaigned on wasn’t what they delivered.
If the politicians wanted to deliver realistic campaign promises, they might have sounded more like this:
An illegal immigration bill, known in legislative shorthand as HB56, will dominate our first legislative session despite the fact that reliable estimates number the state’s share of undocumented workers as extremely tiny.
In other words, we’ll focus on illegal immigrants, estimated to be 2.5 percent of the state’s population, and ignore functional illiteracy, which is a hinderance for 25 percent of our population.
The anti-immigration law will dominate the headlines in the middle of 2011, doing serious harm to the wider world’s perception of the Alabama brand. Once more the state will be labeled as intolerant and hateful.
Many members of Alabama’s major religious denominations will speak up forcefully against the law, reminding lawmakers of the biblical obligation to care for all our neighbors.
“If enforced, Alabama’s Anti-Immigration Law will make it a crime to follow God’s command to be Good Samaritans,” will read a lawsuit filed by state leaders in the Roman Catholic, Methodist and Episcopal churches.
By the time the new school year starts, public school administrators will panic over provisions that make them verify the citizenship status of every enrollee. We aren’t equipped to act as the citizenship police, they’ll protest.
Farmers, normally our allies, will suddenly find themselves without the undocumented migrant labor they depend on to bring in the crops. Why weren’t we allowed a seat at the table when this law was being written? they’ll complain.
Having been deputized as border agents, police will find themselves lost in confusion over their duties and responsibilities regarding the law. What constitutes someone looking like an illegal immigrant? they’ll wonder.
It’s around then that local police officers will detain executives from two high-profile international industries doing business in Alabama, Honda and Mercedes-Benz. This is making the job of recruiting industry to the state even more difficult, economic developers will sigh.
Cops won’t be the only ones confused. Local government clerks will find themselves in a bind. Our new law will be written in such a way that a member of the armed forces won’t be able to purchase car tags by presenting his or her military ID. Yes, the U.S. military. A mere oversight, the law’s legislative champions will mutter.
A University of Alabama economist will estimate that the state’s economy will suffer by $40 million because of HB56.
As the fire under our backsides begins to warm, some of us will run for cover. We’ll promise to fix the mess we made while never really acknowledging that we’ve made a giant mess.
All the while, the courts will chip away at major facets of HB56, making a strong case that we aren’t even capable of creating a law that can pass constitutional muster.
And then two-and-a-half years after we created this monstrosity, we’ll reach a settlement in the courts that effectively defangs our nasty little law. Of course, before we reach that conclusion, we’ll waste lots of your tax dollars defending it in the courts.
Maybe such bold declarations of disaster wouldn’t have mattered in November 2010. Maybe, or maybe not.
On the eve of the election, Bentley told reporters, “We’re going to do well tomorrow, but not just me. I think the entire state is going to change.”
Turns out he was right, but not in the way he was thinking.
Bob Davis is associate publisher/editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at 256-235-3540 or email@example.com. Twitter: @EditorBobDavis.