Saturday, January 9, 2010

Gary Palmer: Democrats have one last chance to keep their promises

  When the 2010 legislative regular session begins on Tuesday, January 12th, the Democrat leadership that currently controls the Alabama State Legislature will have one last chance to honor the written “covenant” they presented to the voters of Alabama prior to the 2006 election. They have had three chances to keep the promises they publicly made to the people of Alabama. They have failed to do so each time.

  Less than three months before the last election, Democrat leaders held press conferences in four Alabama cities on August 16, 2006 to announce an election campaign platform they called their “Covenant for the Future.” The Democrats presented this covenant to the voters of Alabama as their party’s top legislative priorities if re-elected and given control of the State Legislature.

  In their covenant, Democrat legislators promised to end the practice of PAC-to-PAC transfers. This is how powerful special interests and politicians hide the true source of campaign contributions – by passing money through multiple political action committees until voters have no idea who is really funding candidates. Quoting directly from the Alabama Democratic Party’s Covenant for the Future, they promised to “stop all PAC to PAC transfers.” In the three legislative sessions following the 2006 election, they either let reasonable bills die in committee or tried to pass legislation that would have simply rerouted the money through other untraceable channels.

  The Democrats’ covenant included a promise to pass legislation to require lobbyists to fully disclose what they spend wining and dining elected and appointed officials. Legislation to fulfill that promise never saw the light of day.

  Their covenant also included a promise to “eliminate all ‘pork’ projects from state budgets,” yet the budgets they passed in each of the previous three legislative sessions have millions of dollars in hidden pork funding.

  Why does this failure to be faithful to campaign promises matter? It matters because the lack of accountability and transparency in Alabama state government has contributed substantially to the imbedded power structure that has run the state into a financial ditch. It matters because the ability to hide the true source of campaign contributions by laundering money through the hundreds of PACs allows powerful special interests such as gambling and the education union to buy politicians without the public ever knowing.

  And it matters because Alabama ranked fourth in the nation in public corruption, based on convictions of public officials from 1997 through 2006. In 2006 alone, Alabama ranked third with 51 convictions of public officials. One reason we “earned” this despicable ranking is because our Legislature has done little to make government more open and accountable or more difficult for special interests to buy and control our elected officials.

  Democrats were not the only ones who made written promises to the voters. Republican legislative candidates as well as Gov. Bob Riley provided Alabama voters with written campaign promises that included commitments on issues that were practically identical to commitments made by Democrat candidates. All three campaigns strongly emphasized accountability and transparency as critical to the effort to establish honest and trustworthy government.

  Entering the 2007 legislative session, Democrats had a 23-12 super majority in the State Senate and a 63-42 super majority in the State House of Representatives. With the Democrats holding a super majority in the Legislature for the past three years, and with the Republican legislators and Gov. Riley on record in support of these reforms, they should have easily passed legislation to make Alabama’s government more honest and accountable. In the process, Democrats would have kept every one of those promises in their covenant. But the record of the last three legislative sessions speaks clearly about what has been done to honor their “covenant.” Sadly for the people of Alabama , it is a record of broken promises.

  This is not a partisan attack. Some will undoubtedly read this and reach an entirely wrong conclusion. If the Republican Party had majority control of the Alabama State Legislature and failed to deliver on their promises, they would be just as guilty and I would be writing about their broken promises.

  With an overwhelming super majority in both the Alabama State Senate and the House of Representatives, the Democrat leadership in the Legislature will have zero excuses if they do not deliver on what they promised in 2006. The 2010 legislative session is their last chance to stand and deliver. The people of Alabama can only hope that they do so.

  About the author: Gary Palmer is president of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research and education organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government and strong families, which are indispensable to a prosperous society.  

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