This Thursday will mark the last day of the legislative Session. For some, it was a Session that seemed would never end. For others, it was one that ended much too quickly. It may be early, yet, to write an obit on this Session, but as we approach the finish line, some perspective may be in order.
Many of us, forty-three to be exact (33 in the House, 10 in the Senate), are new to the legislative process, and most of us in the freshmen class are new to politics entirely. It is no surprise, then, that (for me, at least) this legislative Session was a high-speed tutorial on Alabama politics and governance. It has been a Session for which I have taken great pride in our accomplishments as a body, but it has also been a Session that has raised questions about the future of our politics and (more importantly) our State. As the editorial pages begin to catalogue our efforts in the 2011 Regular Session, they will almost certainly recognize this body for being one of action (perhaps an improvement over past legislatures). I am not convinced, however, that action for action’s sake is a quality best suited for government. We should be judged, not by the number of laws we pass as a body, but by the content of those laws and how they were passed.
Almost every one of us in the legislature ran on creating jobs. As one president so aptly put it, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Our Governor even promised, admirably, not to take a salary until Alabama reaches full employment. I’m afraid that, at this rate, the Governor may never draw a paycheck. Sure, we passed plenty of bills out of both chambers that were self-described “jobs bills.” How many of this bills will actually create jobs in Alabama once signed into law? Many of us also stumped on reforming ethics by increasing transparency and accountability in our government and elections. But what have we done this Session to increase transparency and accountability? Many important pieces of legislation (immigration reform and most of the Special Session’s ethics laws, for example) were written behind closed doors by a conference committee made up of hand-picked legislators. Members of this body were given the option of voting for a bill they had never seen, or voting against an undisputed principle, such as immigration reform or ethics reform. The congressional redistricting plan almost didn’t pass out the House because it was written behind closed doors, but an absent Democrat’s machine was voted in favor of the plan by a Republican colleague, despite his opposition (he, apparently, was not consulted) and it passed 48-47.
The bills that we can all look back on with pride were moved through the body by members of both parties in both chambers. Those bills were less about advancing a partisan platform and more about setting good policy. They may not have made for splashy headlines, but they became good laws. SB477, by Sen. Keahey, is a good example of one such law. It was a bill that Sen. Keahey passed with the help of Sens. Del Marsh and Phil Williams and Reps. Barry Mask, Phil Williams, Alan Harper, and myself, and it is a bill that will actually create jobs in Alabama. Another good example is the Brewpub and Breweries legislation, which I have discussed on this site in detail. Sen. Bill Holtzclaw and I worked together to get that legislation passed. It, now, sits on the Governor’s desk awaiting his signature, and once signed, it will create jobs in Alabama. Also worth noting is the campaign finance reform legislation that Sen. Orr and I worked on extensively throughout the Session. Last week, it passed the House, and it awaits the Governor’s signature. Once enacted, it will do more to promote transparency and accountability in our elections than any other ethics legislation we’ve passed since taking office.
I submit that the legislative body is at its best when it functions as it was intended, as a deliberative body that struggles through difficult issues and demands cooperation and compromise. This body was not designed to create laws just because one faction of the membership has the requisite number of votes. It was designed to pass a law only after the members of the body have wrestled through an issue and have, with the necessary give and take of the legislative process, reached a workable solution together. The legislative victories of this Session were a product of the hard work and collaboration from members of both sides of the aisle, who were advancing good policies for their constituents, not good politics for their party. It is my hope that those legislative victories can serve as a road map for the remainder of the quadrennium, and that as a body, the Alabama Legislature can serve the function our founders intended, because in doing so, we will best serve the people who put us in office.
First, I want to thank Danny for the honor and privilege of posting my thoughts, here. I look forward to working with Senators Keahey and Ward and Representative Merrill to provide readers of the Parlor with timely and insightful feedback on our legislative process.
Week One certainly got off to a fast start in the House. The number of prefiled bills was cut in half (in large part due to Sen. Ward moving up to the 7th floor), but we have some very good legislation working its way through our chamber. The big issues right now are obvious: balancing the budgets and creating jobs. Other important issues are working their way into the mix as well, such as immigration reform and the renewal of Forever Wild, both of which are generating a good bit of buzz amongst the membership.
I want to also take a moment to comment on the political mood in the House right now. Perhaps the happiest surprise for me as a Freshman was to see how ready most of my colleagues are to put partisan election-year politics behind us. Many of us are working together across the aisle to craft timely and necessary legislation. For example, I introduced a campaign finance reform bill in the House yesterday after visiting with Sen. Ward about his efforts on campaign finance reform. Sen. Ward committed to helping me with the bill in the Senate, and he suggested co-sponsors from his own Caucus in the House. In the end, a number of my colleagues across the aisle co-sponsored the bill with Sen. Ward’s support. Sen. Ward also discussed the bill with the Speaker, who commended the legislation, describing it as “much needed” and “a long time coming.”
This is the kind of cooperation the people in my District expect of me, and I dare say the people of Alabama expect no less cooperation of all of us in the Legislature. We would all do well to remember that the pressing challenges of the day are not Democratic or Republican issues; they are people issues. If we continue to work together and put the needs of the people above the politics of the day, I do believe that we will see a new day in Alabama politics.
I am pleased to announce that four legislators are willing to take time during the legislative session to share with us their thoughts and perspectives on the session here at the Political Parlor. Sen. Marc Keahey (D – Grove Hill), Sen. Cam Ward (R – Alabaster), Rep. Joe Hubbard (D – Montgomery), and Rep. John Merrill (R – Tuscaloosa) will be sharing insights, ideas, observations, anecdotes, recipes, one liners, household tips, and other folderol as the session moves forward. Well, maybe not all those things…
And while I hope it doesn’t need to be said, I’ll remind readers of my wish that our comments and discussion have the civility of a parlor and not of a middle school lunchroom table. It’s the difference between saying “Here’s why I believe that’s a bad idea,” and “You’re an idiot.”
Our four blogging legislators don’t need me to run interference for them, but they are invited guests who have won the respect of their districts. I remember from my growing up days that when company comes over, we put on our company manners. I am deeply honored that they would agree to be with us here at the Parlor and look forward to what they will bring to us during the session.
Look for their posts in Legislative Dispatch in the sidebar.
Republican Danny Joyner is running this radio spot in Senate District 22 where he challenges Democratic incumbent Marc Keahey.
Come Wednesday morning the state GOP hopes to find itself with a Senate majority for the first time in 136 years. I’ve listened carefully enough in the right corners that I can tell you how the GOP believes that can happen.
In the 35 seat Senate, a caucus needs 18 votes to have a majority.
Five Republican incumbents are unopposed: Arthur Orr in SD 3, Jabo Waggoner in SD 16, Jimmy Holley in SD 31, Tripp Pittman in SD 32, and Rusty Glover in SD 34. Two more Republicans will be entering the Senate without any opposition: state Rep. Cam Ward in SD 14 (in the seat Hank Erwin vacated to run for Lt. Gov) and Slade Blackwell in SD 15 (in the seat last held by Republican Steven French).
The GOP feels quite good about its chances in six other races:
- Paul Bussman in SD 4 (against incumbent Zeb Little),
- Greg Reed in SD 5 (against Brett Wadsworth for the seat vacated by Republican Charles Bishop),
- Clay Scofield in SD 9 (against Tim Mitchell for the seat vacated by retiring Democrat Hinton Mitchem),
- Del Marsh in SD 12 (against Wallace Wyatt),
- Scott Beason in SD 17 (against Tommy Hudson),
- Dick Brewbaker in SD 25 (against Doug Smith for the open seat vacated by retiring Republican Larry Dixon).
Only two of those are GOP incumbents (Beason and Marsh) but Republicans have felt quite good about their chances in these elections.
The Republicans believe with only some less confidence than they have in the above races that they are likely to win two more races:
- Bill Holtzclaw who is challenging Dem Tom Butler in SD 2, and
- Incumbent Ben Brooks in SD 35 (against Scott Buzbee)
If you are keeping up, you know that these total 15 seats. If they win those 15, then the keys to winning the Senate lie in three district races that the GOP believes are clearly leaning their way:
- SD 21 where state Rep. Gerald Allen is challenging Democratic incumbent Phil Poole,
- SD 27 where former Dem Tom Whatley is challenging Democratic incumbent Ted Little, and
- SD 30 where Bryan Taylor is challenging Democratic incumbent Walking Wendell Mitchell
Those three Democratic Senators have served a combined 76 years or nineteen terms in the state Senate, and the GOP believes they are poised to send them packing.
Victories in all of the above races would give the GOP 18 votes necessary to claim a Senate majority.
In addition, four other Republicans could provide either a larger majority or a cushion in case the Dems pull surprises in any of the above races. Incumbent Paul Sanford in SD 7 (fighting off a challenge from Jeff Enfinger), Phil Williams in SD 10 (against Dem incumbent Larry Means), Gerald Dial in SD 13 (against Greg Varner for Democrat Kim Benefield‘s old seat), and Danny Joyner in SD 22 (against incumbent Marc Keahey) are in races that the GOP believes are leaning their way.
Other races could go their way as well, but here is the path that the GOP sees to a Senate majority.