Friday, May 7, 2010

Gary Palmer: Broken promises: A Summary of the last four years

  Most of the media coverage of the 2010 Alabama legislative session has been an evaluation of what was, or was not, accomplished in the last session. To get an accurate picture, Alabama citizens should evaluate the entire body of work of the legislature and look at the four legislative sessions since the election in 2006.

  The first thing to note is that the first legislative session following the 2006 election was convened in the midst of an investigation of state legislators and two-year colleges and the final session closed with the FBI investigating corruption involving state legislators and gambling interests.

  The next thing that should be noted is that during the 2006 election both Democrat and Republican candidates for the state legislature campaigned on written platforms that had ethics and election reform as top priorities.

  The Democrats’ platform was entitled a “Covenant for the Future.” On August 16, 2006, Democrat Speaker of the House Seth Hammett, along with House Majority Leader Ken Guin and Senator Zeb Little of Cullman, held press conferences in four Alabama cities to promote the Democrat “covenant” to Alabama voters.

  The Republicans issued a platform entitled “A Handshake with Alabama” in which they endorsed and adopted Governor Bob Riley’s campaign platform agenda outlined in his “Plan 2010.” Rep. Mike Hubbard, the Alabama Republican State Chairman and House Republican Caucus Leader, pledged that, “If Republicans gain control of the legislature, we pledge to support the governor’s Plan 2010 initiatives and further pledge to pass the items in our agenda within the first ten legislative days of the next regular session.”

  The Democrats had also pledged to pass their agenda in the first ten days of the 2007 regular legislative session. Quoting from their “Covenant for the Future,” the Democrats promised, “In the first ten days of the next regular session, Alabama Democrats will introduce legislation as required and ensure a vote to enact the plan …,” the plan being their “Covenant for the Future.”

  As mentioned above, these written platforms contained three almost identical promises relating to ethics and election reforms—a ban on PAC-to-PAC transfers, a requirement that lobbyists report all expenditures related to appointed or elected officials, and the elimination of “pass through pork” spending in state budgets. In fact, the very first section of the Democrat’s “Covenant for the Future” was Ethics and Election Reform and the very first action they promised to take was to “stop all PAC-to-PAC transfers.”

  Second on the Democrats’ Ethics and Elections Reform list was passage of a bill to “require registered lobbyists to report to the Alabama Ethics Commission all expenditures related to appointed or elected officials.” Last on their reform agenda was a promise to “eliminate all pork projects from state budgets.” Although the Democrats won supermajority control of both houses of the state legislature and Republican legislators and Gov. Riley had all pledged to support these reforms, not one of these things had even the slightest chance of passing. Given the cloud of suspicion hanging over the legislature as a result of the corruption investigation, every Alabama citizen should be asking why.

  In the Senate, the Democrats had a 23-12 majority and in the House of Representatives they outnumbered Republicans by 62-43 which gave them complete control of the entire legislative agenda. If they had really wanted to restore a level of public trust to state government, they could have passed every one of their ethics and election reform agenda items without a single Republican vote and without Gov. Riley’s support. But in four straight legislative sessions, they did not.

  By publishing and promoting written platforms prior to the 2006 state-wide elections, the Democrats and the Republicans made evaluating the legislature a lot easier because they established a baseline for themselves … a baseline of promises they made.  Now the people of Alabama can evaluate candidates and political parties on how they lived up to their “covenant” or “handshake.”

  Some people, particularly Democrats, will view this article as a partisan attack and reach an entirely wrong conclusion. If the Republican Party had supermajority control of the Alabama Legislature and failed to deliver on their promises, they would be just as guilty and I would be writing about their broken promises.

  Evaluating the last four legislative sessions shows a repetitive pattern of legislators breaking promises, engaging in questionable activities and serving powerful special interests instead of the people of Alabama. This only intensifies the need for passage of ethics and election reform legislation.

  In that regard, with overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate for the last four years and with Republican legislators and Governor Riley concurring on the same ethics and election reform initiatives, the Democrats have zero excuses for not delivering what they promised in 2006.

  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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