By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
As the State Legislature cues up for the 2017 Regular Legislative Session, the problems that vexed our State last year continue to this day. The same troubles neglected for decades by Democrats are the identical ones left unresolved by Republicans. The problems facing our State are not new, and the solutions need not be original in nature, but the prescription should fit the disease.
Two things our State has lacked is a New South Governor and a conservative legislature. While hopes for a New South Governor are still a dream, the makings of a conservative legislature can be assembled from the existing stock.
Conservative icon, scholar, and writer Russell Kirk wrote, “[P]rudence is chief among virtues. Any public measure ought to be judged by its probable long-run consequences, not merely by temporary advantage or popularity.”
In last week’s interview on The Voice of Alabama Politics, House Speaker Mac McCutcheon said he was looking at long-term solutions not temporary fixes to the State’s many troubles. This is an encouraging change from the past.
Kirk also found that a conservative “declares that he acts only after sufficient reflection, having weighed the consequences.” This brand of conservative thought has been sorely lacking for the last six years. We have seen over and again what Kirk calls “sudden and slashing reforms” which “are as perilous as sudden and slashing surgery,” he concludes.
Under the leadership of former Speaker and convicted felon Mike Hubbard, the so-called Conservative House took a meat cleaver approach to reforms mainly to enrich Hubbard and his cronies. With McCutcheon, we will expect better, and for now, I believe that is what we will see.
New South Governors like North Carolina’s Terry Sanford, Florida’s Reubin Askew, and Arkansas’ Dale Bumpers all elected in 1970 turned away from the old form of race-based regional politics and focused on education, infrastructure, and economic development. Florida and North Carolina prospered greatly and continue to do so, while Arkansas has been a mixed bag of fits and starts. The closest Alabama has ever come to having an actual New South Governor was Albert Brewer who was defeated by the same machine that has kept our state near the bottom in every measurable category of success.
Borrowing nearly a billion dollars to build new prisons, saving the Medicaid RCOs, tackling an anemic General Fund Budget, redistricting and the threat of privatizing the state pension plan seem to top the list of to-dos in the upcoming session. Also, there is the need to strengthen, clarify and further codify the tough ethics laws that sent Hubbard to prison. But, there is a clever scheme afoot to gut the ethics laws.
This perhaps above all will be Speaker McCutcheon’s greatest test. Will he stand strong or kowtow to those who prosper when ethics laws are weak?
Kirk believed a conservative endeavors to limit and balance political power, a juggling act not seen in this current environment.
Other challenges facing our State is the need to address crumbling bridges and highways which is an issue that many would like to see addressed now rather than later. And there is a need to expand the Port of Mobile, to invest in workforce development and. for once. make commonsense decisions to shore up failing schools without giving bushels of money for silly, sinister plans like the Accountability Act.
Speaker McCutcheon says he is ready to face the daunting task of honest reform with a sober mind without political consideration.
President Donald Trump wants to Make America Great Again, and here in Alabama, the fervor behind that banner could be a rallying cry to get things done. But, as mused in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” said, “Good wombs have borne bad sons.”
President Trump in his inauguration speech said the government was being given back to the people. Is that so in our state? Will the legislature give the people a vote on a gaming bill?
For far too long the citizens have been victims of small thinking on the part of our State Legislature. And, as the 2017 Session rides on the heels of the 2018 General Election there will be an inclination to play it safe.
With the election season beginning at the end of the 2017 Session, the temptation will be to risk nothing and do nothing controversial. If not a time for bold action it is well past the hour for those responsible for State government to begin taking logical steps to fix persistent problems with long-term solutions. McCutcheon says that is the plan.
The question is, will our lawmakers hide their heads in bushes like ostriches or will they face these long-ignored challenges with a determined will, an honest mind, using fact-based ideas to build a better Alabama?
We will know soon enough.