Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Steve Flowers: Inside The Statehouse: The difference with a Republican legislature

  Alabama’s most prolific and legendary politician, George Wallace, used to say there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. Wallace’s words were never accurate when it came to the national political parties. The two parties have always been quite different philosophically on the national stage. However, I thought that on the state level Wallace was right but after seeing the Republican takeover of the state legislature my assessment has to be reevaluated. Folks, there is a difference and the proof is in the pudding.

  This GOP legislature is conservative to say the least. They have attacked Goat Hill with a reactionary vengeance. They have taken no prisoners and spared no sacred cows. In a typical legislative session it would be par for the course for one controversial big issue to be addressed and possibly passed. The new Republican House and Senate have taken on every possible problem and dealt with it in a very conservative way. Policies that were set in stone for decades have been uprooted and tossed aside. They have set the state government on a more conservative and some say right wing path. Most if not all of these changes would never have occurred under a Democratic led legislature.

  Another ironclad maxim of politics is that all politics is local. This generally rings true. However, this theoretical adage was swept aside by the anti Democratic tidal wave that changed the political landscape in Montgomery. This GOP takeover of the legislature was created by a national vortex of anger against Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi. This Washington based tsunami created the Republican super majority in the legislature.

  However, the GOP also had a good game plan and recruited excellent candidates. They developed and touted a platform called the “Handshake with Alabama.” Rep. Mike Hubbard was one of the architects of the GOP Handshake promise and platform. He is considered the mastermind of the GOP takeover of the House. After their success in November he was rewarded by being elected Speaker of the House. He has now spearheaded the effort to pass his party’s campaign agenda. He said early in the legislative session, “We promised Alabama voters that if they put us in charge these bills would be a priority and we actually meant it.”

  Many times in politics political parties and candidates tout idealistic plans but never really seem to deliver on their campaign promises. However, as the 2011 Legislative Session ends this week every one of the Handshake bills have passed. In addition, a litany of legislation came down the pike and passed.

  Included in the avalanche is a change in the way education dollars will be budgeted and spent in future years. This responsible budgeting and spending act mandates state revenue estimates be based upon a 15 year rolling average.

  The legislature also passed an illegal immigration bill that mirrors the controversial Arizona law. It allows local law enforcement officials the authority to verify the residency status of those they detain. It also requires business owners to verify new hires to assure they are not here illegally.

  A Public Transparency Act was passed that disallows legislators and their spouses from being employed by the state or any state college. A plan also was enacted to protect the Alabama Ethics Commission against retaliation by ensuring that its annual appropriation is an amount equal to a set percentage of the total funds from the State General Fund.

  Gov. Bentley got into the act when the legislature adopted his pet project that increases the tax break that businesses get for supplying health insurance for their workers.

  The session saw the end of the state’s deferred retirement option plan. This popular DROP Incentive Plan was considered lucrative and had become costly. Another bill that gouged the AEA made it easier to fire teachers. An overhaul to the state tenure law makes it quicker and less costly to get rid of bad teachers.

  In addition to this long list of conservative legislative initiatives, this GOP legislature body found time to pass austere Education and General Fund Budgets.  In fact, both budgets were passed early instead of on the last night of the session.

  George Wallace may have said there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the Republican and Democratic parties but folks he was wrong.  It is like night and day.

  See you next week.

  About the author: Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 72 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at

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