Many would argue, and indeed numerous surveys indicate, that Alabama is one of, if not the most, conservative states in America. I would argue that if that is true then our Alabama Legislature is reflective of its constituents.
A good many of the online and remaining large city daily newspapers castigate our super majority Republican legislature as ultra right-wing, uncaring crazies that pass ludicrous and fanatical social issue bills that are blatantly unconstitutional. They also say that they have taken an ostrich approach to facing the state’s financial crisis in favor of sticking to their no-tax pledges.
However, I would argue that they are representing their constituents’beliefs and concerns. These left-leaning modern day journalists have never run for, nor could they get elected to, any public office in Alabama.
During my 16-year tenure in the Legislature my philosophy was that I should be a representative of and for my district. In other words, I believed that I should be a conduit for my county’s philosophy, wants and needs. Therefore, I would argue that these legislators are simply representing their constituents and, as a part of their constituency, probably their own beliefs.
As a legislator I had a pretty conservative voting record. In my later years, I earned a reputation as a leader when it came to probusiness legislation.You might say that even though I voted conservatively on social and business issues my primary conservative interest leaned toward fiscal responsibility.
The primary problem facing our country now is the federal deficit. Fortunately, Alabama has a constitutional provision that prohibits deficit spending. Unfortunately, our U.S. Constitution does not have this same handcuff. Thus, our Congress continues to spend with no restraint like drunken sailors, while China buys up our debt.
The only advice I would offer to our current legislators is that if they are going to continue to pass social issue bills that are without question unconstitutional, that they do it in the form of resolutions and not legislation. When you actually pass laws, they have to be defended in court by lawyers. It costs a lot of money that the state does not have.
The Legislature’s actions have rightfully placed Alabama in the eyes of the nation as the most conservative, both socially and tax-wise. That approach has also made us the most broke and least responsible state in America. No state can compare when it comes to cutting essential services of state government. No state has 25,000 prisoners with less than 13,000 prison beds. No state has 400 state troopers when the average state our size and population has 1500.
As a fiscal conservative, I would urge the Legislature to take the resolution approach when they want to politically posture on federal issues like abortion, immigration, gay marriage, and ObamaCare. Everyone knows that these issues sell well to their constituents. However, everyone who was awake and passed ninth grade civics also knows they are unconstitutional and the Alabama Legislature should have nothing to do with these issues. They are systematically and routinely ruled against in federal court. They are good campaign fodder but the legislation costs money to defend. A resolution would serve the same purpose and save the state millions.
The Legislature did continue to pass probusiness legislation to enhance business development that is constitutional. Legislation creating reinvestment incentives in the form of tax abatements will help prevent Alabama companies from moving or closing their operations.
Sen. Trip Pittman, Baldwin County, passed legislation that would create a separate board of trustees for the state’s community and technical colleges. It will be independent from the State Board of Education. The purpose of this legislative action is to refocus the system’s mission on workforce training. This is a good idea.
Another Baldwin countian, Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan, has taken the lead when it comes to promoting and regulating drones in the state. Farmers largely are poised to benefit from unmanned flying machines. In the future, they will be used in herding cattle, counting fish, taking an animal’s temperature, applying pesticides, checking irrigation devices and alerting farmers of thieves rustling cattle, as well as monitoring crop growth.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in over 70 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.