Saturday, November 6, 2010

Gary Palmer: The Republican majority should stand and deliver

  The Republican majority just elected to the Alabama State Legislature have an opportunity to enact historic reforms that fundamentally change state government for the better. In a stunning repudiation of the culture of corruption and special interests domination that has been pervasive in our state government for generations, Alabama voters gave Republicans a majority in both the Alabama Senate and House of Representatives for the first time in 136 years.

  After the 2006 election, the Democrats maintained their chokehold on the state legislature with a 63-42 majority in the state house and a 23-12 majority in the state senate. On November 2nd, Alabama voters reversed those numbers and gave the Republicans super-majorities in both chambers - 62 to 43 in the house and 22 to 12, with one independent in the senate.

  The perception of many Democrats is that the Republicans "nationalized" the election by tying Alabama Democrat candidates to Obama and the Democrat Congress. If that is true, the Republicans are not solely responsible because some candidates such as Ron Sparks, the Democrat nominee for governor, and James Anderson, the Democrat nominee for attorney general, also "nationalized" the election by tying themselves to their liberal counterparts in support of the Democrats’ health care law.

  But, the Alabama election was not just about massive voter opposition to the left-wing agenda of Obama and the Democrats in Congress. It was the culture of corruption that has persisted for decades in Montgomery, the influence-buying by powerful gambling interests that led to the FBI investigating the legislature and the failure to keep the promises they made four years ago that also drove people to vote the Democrats out.

  During the 2006 campaign, both parties and both candidates for governor published campaign platforms with very specific promises. The Democrats and the Republicans held press conferences to publicize their commitment to the voters. The Democrats called their platform a "Covenant for the Future" and the Republicans called theirs a "Handshake with Alabama." Both titles purposefully represented a commitment that Alabama voters could trust.

  Gov. Bob Riley's platform was called "Plan 2010." The Republican legislative candidates' platform fully endorsed Gov. Riley's agenda of campaign and election reforms as well as ethics reform. These reforms were almost identical to the reforms promised by the Democrats in their "Covenant" and included promises to pass legislation that would:

    * Ban all PAC-to-PAC transfers,
    * Require full disclosure of all lobbyists' expenditures on elected and appointed officials,
    * Ban "pass through pork", and
    * Strengthen the Alabama Ethics Commission's ability to uphold and enforce Alabama's ethics laws.

  Even though the Democrats held super-majorities in both chambers of the legislature which would have allowed them to fulfill every one of their promises without the support of a single Republican in either legislative chamber, not one of the above promises was kept.

  Given that Gov. Riley and Republican legislators made the same commitments, legislation fulfilling these commitments should have been passed in the first ten days of the 2007 legislative session with almost unanimous support. Instead, the very first bill they passed was a 62 percent pay raise for the legislators. The fact that no campaign and ethics reform legislation was passed is clear evidence that the Democrats never intended to honor their "covenant" with the voters of Alabama. They were without excuse for their blatant breach of trust and the voters took note of it.

  The people of Alabama watched as gambling interests dominated every legislative session. They were shocked to learn that more than $162 million passed through more than 850 PACs between 2006 and 2010. They learned that lobbyists working for gambling interests created dozens of new PACs for the sole purpose of laundering campaign money so that the voters would not know the true source of the contributions to candidates. In fact, gambling interests poured $5.6 million into the campaigns of their favored candidates in this election with $1.6 million of it coming since July according to The Birmingham News. And finally, Alabama voters had a visual image of why we needed those 2006 campaign promises kept when 11 individuals, including four state senators, three prominent lobbyists and two gambling kingpins, were arrested and indicted on corruption charges. For Alabama voters, November 2nd could not come soon enough.

  The greatest obstacles to getting Alabama on the right course are public corruption and special interests-dominated government. Without laws to bring transparency to our elections and to our government, we will continue rank among the worst states in the nation for public corruption.

  The Republicans have a chance to change that by delivering on the long-awaited and much-needed reforms that the Democrats ignored. They should be eager to justify the voters' trust by taking advantage of this transfer of power and passing these reforms immediately.

  The Democrats squandered their opportunity. We can only hope and pray that the Republican majority will have the character and courage to not let the people of Alabama down. If they stand and deliver, it will lead to an historic transformation for the state of Alabama.

  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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