Friday, December 17, 2010

Senator Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches # 1227

  I was hoping I was wrong. I was hoping that this special session was not really about reducing the power of some and increasing the power of others. I was hoping that I was wrong about this special session being ostensibly called about ethics when it was in reality a pure power play. I was hoping against hope.

  The first indications came with who sponsored what bills. Four bills were introduced allegedly to deal with ethics. One was not centered on ethics and one was not about ethics at all. I looked to see whether the Senate President Pro Tem, the highest position in the Senate, was sponsoring one of the bills. He was, so I looked to see which one. He was the chief sponsor of Senate Bill 2, the vehicle to strip AEA (Alabama Education Association) of its organizational power base. I knew in my heart that was the real reason we were here in special session just two weeks before Christmas but I kept hoping I was wrong.

  My fears were further confirmed when we were told that if we did not fight Senate Bill 2, we could work out anything we wanted on the other three ethics bills. My hope was almost gone but I was still hoping a little bit that I was wrong.

  Then the four bills were placed in order of consideration for the Alabama Senate. Lo and behold the first bill to be considered was Senate Bill 2. My last bit of hope slipped away.  My hope was based upon a mirage, hoping against hope.

  Before I tell you specifically what Senate Bill 2 does, I want you to understand how we arrived at this point. Governor Bob Riley was a strong supporter of Bradley Byrne. Byrne was his candidate in the governor’s race. He publicly promised to destroy AEA. To prevent Byrne from being elected and therefore in position to wreak havoc on the organization, AEA became heavily involved in the Republican Primary. It helped knock Byrne out of the election, thus insuring the election of Governor-elect Robert Bentley.

  Statewide elected officers such as governor, take office in mid January. Newly elected Alabama legislators take office immediately following the November general election. Now, Governor Riley had a super majority in the legislature. In the fear that soon to be Governor Bentley would not attack AEA viciously enough, Governor Riley called a special session supposedly to enact ethics legislation. However, the real purpose appeared to be the destruction of AEA, whose membership is 30 percent Republican. It was political payback.

  Since 1983, Alabama has by state law permitted AEA, ASEA (Alabama State Employees Association), ASTA (Alabama State Troopers Association) and other organizations to deduct voluntary membership dues from their paychecks. Members could also deduct other items such as insurance. This procedure helped the members, the organizations and businesses. Senate Bill 2 will stop deductions by AEA, ASEA, and ASTA for membership dues. However, it will continue deductions for businesses which have political PACS that endorse candidates such as ALFA Insurance Company.

  This bill is not about excluding politics from state government as alleged. It’s about hurting certain organizations, groups, and individuals. It’s about limiting the political participation of the average person. It’s about political payback right now and altering the political landscape for the long run.

  If Senate Bill 2 was about taking politics out of state government, state law would not permit a check off for donations to the Republican Party and the Democratic Party on our tax returns. It would not allow deductions for insurance companies with political PACS. It’s politics as usual, political payback a plenty and altering of the political landscape for years to come.

  Since Senate Bill 2 was not related to ethics, we Democrats tried to substitute the Rules Committee reports so that the ethics bills would be considered first and Senate Bill 2 last. We wanted to establish just how important Senate Bill 2 was. Of course, the Republicans resoundingly voted down our substitute.

  When Senate Bill 2 came up for consideration, we immediately commenced extended debate, commonly known as a filibuster. They needed 3/5 or 21 of 35 Senate votes to cut off debate. We knew they had 20 votes but was not sure of the 21st vote. After about four hours, they secured the 21st vote and ended the debate. But that was not the end.

  They then adopted a substitute bill that prevented state employees and public education employees from making donations to political PACs for their own organizations. They could not write their own checks to the PACS. It was not just political payback or changing the political landscape, it was punitive politics at its worst. It was outrageous in every sense of the word. I had hoped I was wrong but I clearly was not.

EPILOGUE – A sleight of hand happens when we to do something that is unseen while appearing to do another that is seen.  This special legislative session is a political sleight of hand.

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

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