Sunday, October 10, 2010

Senator Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches # 1217

  “Why is this election so important?” It’s a fair question, so I want to provide a fair answer. Of course, this is my personal perspective, so take it for what it is worth.

  Alabama is the only Deep South State to maintain Democratic majorities in both houses of the legislature. This feat has been accomplished in spite of the fact that only one Democratic governor has been elected since 1982 and the Alabama Supreme Court has been majority Republican since 1996. Moreover, eight of nine Justices are Republican. It was nine of nine before 2006. The chain of Republican attorneys general has been unbroken since 1994.

  In addition, five of the seven current statewide Constitutional offices are Republican (governor, attorney general, secretary of state, state treasurer, and state auditor) with only two being Democrat (lieutenant governor and commissioner of agriculture). In short, the Republican Party has been dominant in Alabama for the last two decades. However, the Alabama Legislature has remained Democratic in spite of this dominance.

  But there is a determined assault on the Democratic legislative majority. Control of the governorship and the Supreme Court is not enough for them. My mama would say, “For some people, 99 ½ won’t do. They gotta have a hundred.” That means taking the Alabama Legislature.

  Two years ago, Governor Bob Riley announced that his number one political goal was to establish a Republican majority in the Alabama Legislature. He has focused on that goal with laser beam intensity. He has raised millions of dollars to further this goal. Many of us strongly believe that the assault on bingo establishments created by the Constitutional Amendments as well as the federal criminal investigations related to bingo are part of this plan.

  This election will set the political table for years to come. For one, those elected will redistrict the Alabama Legislature. This will strongly influence the makeup of both legislative bodies into the third decade of this century. It is a well known fact that whoever redistricts has a much better chance of winning elections during the next twelve years. Therefore, this election is not just about the next four years but the next twelve.

  When Democrats have won just one gubernatorial election in nearly thirty years, it would seem that there is no chance of winning the governorship. But logic is just one factor in reality. It is an uphill climb but some of us are mountain climbers.

  If Democrats do not elect a governor and additional constitutional officers this time, it may be decades before a real opportunity presents itself again. Just as the Deep South was once solidly Democratic it will, in my feeble opinion, become solidly Republican.

  When the governorship, Supreme Court, and legislature are all in the hands of one party, there is no governmental force to check competing other governmental forces. Therefore I am truly concerned.

  We have seen how an activist governor teamed up with the Supreme Court can even nullify the effects of Constitutional Amendments, the highest human made law. Some years ago, the Alabama Legislature passed a proposed Constitutional Amendment that authorized electronic bingo in Greene County. The people ratified it overwhelmingly. Yet, for all practical purposes, it was cast aside like dead, dry straw in a high wind. It was as if it did not exist. In the process, thousands of jobs were destroyed in a recession that had already shed thousands of jobs. I am greatly concerned.

  We have also seen how the powers provided to the attorney general by the Constitution of Alabama can be snatched away by a determinedly activist governor. I could not believe that the Constitution of Alabama could be of so little effect. And I fear that this is just the beginning. If a governor can  take the powers of the attorney general, he can take the powers of the lieutenant governor, secretary of state, state treasurer, state auditor, and commissioner of agriculture and industries by executive order. I am profoundly concerned.

  Let me just touch upon several other issues that may be strongly altered by this election. Public education is one. We could move away from public education by virtue of all kinds of subtle fuses. We could have a reduction of health benefits provided by Medicaid for our children in the dawn of life, our seniors in the dust of life, and those in need in the prime of their lives. It could become harder for some people to vote. There are plenty of leaders chomping at the bit to make it harder to vote. The chances of taking the sales tax off food could decrease rather than increase. And that’s just a start.

  Yes, this may well be a watershed moment. If we are not careful, this could be an election where the waters run in a wrong direction. That’s a little of why I think this election is so important.

EPILOGUE – Author Andy Andrews said in his book, The Notice, that wisdom is the capacity to see the impact of a current event with pinpoint accuracy in the future. Clearly, I do not have wisdom but I am concerned about what I see. I do know that we can change the future by changing the present. That’s why I am acting as well as envisioning.

  About the author: Hank Sanders represents the 23rd Senate District in Alabama.

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