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Conformity: A Most Dangerous State of Affairs (Opinion)

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

Legislators often say they are going to Montgomery to represent their districts. While the intent may be good, the actual reality is much different, under Speaker Mike Hubbard.

The House of Representatives has always been a hierarchical body with the Speaker at the pinnacle. Over the years, good Speakers have afforded individual legislators room for some "give and take" as it applied to the needs of their districts with little or no interference from the top.

But, that has all changed under Hubbard, who not only sets the agenda, but enforces it with an iron will. Under Hubbard, the House is a body that unifies itself around his priorities before individual projects are even considered. Those who stay on message and do his bidding are rewarded with plum assignments, more prestigious legislation to carry, and other perks, such as getting their local bills passed. 

There is no room for independence in "Hubbard’s House." It's only follow and obey or he will find someone else to do the job. Freethinkers are an anathema to Hubbard. Those who do not bow his will are punished swiftly and harshly. 

Real conservatives believe in individual liberty and self-reliance. In the House that Hubbard built, conformity is the coin of the realm. The culture of conformity is pervasive under Hubbard. A willingness to compromise principle for power or to yield principle to power hangs heavily in the air. It continually undermines the good of the people and the future of our State.

Where else have we seen this type of dogmatic demand for conformity and how does it fit with out notion of democracy? 

It is called collectivism.

Collectivism in government is based on the idea that if an individual serves the state, he or she must must sacrifice their values for the goals of the group to achieve the “greater good.” 

The idea of working to meet the demands of a single man or collective body is far removed from the very American notion of individual liberty and self-reliance, which for centuries has served as the bedrock of our Republic. The idea that one man would be all powerful to set a political course, handpick all the committees, and demand total allegiance is absolutely contrary to the very core of America's values.

We, as a people, threw off the yolk of such imperial dominance centuries ago. Yet, here in the Heart of Dixie, Hubbard holds that same power over the members of the House, and none dare defy his will. 

Either through fear or complicity, the House is a broken institution that doesn’t serve the people; it serves only its master, Hubbard.

To be fair, many legislators have served under no other House leader, except Hubbard. They were chosen by him to run for office, he arranged, orchestrated and paid for their campaigns. And as a result, they are enamored of or beholden to him. They have fed at his trough and they are his creatures.

But, what of those who know better? Those, who have been around, so-to-speak. Why do they follow? It is easy to understand the Kool-Aid drinker, the sycophant and the weak, but what of the others?

They conform to survive. Robert Anthony said, “The opposite of bravery is not cowardice but conformity.”

Conformity is a killer, it breaks the mind and body, but most terribly, it devours the soul. 

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his essay, Self-Reliance, “I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to large societies and dead institutions.”

On the fifth floor of the Alabama State House, men and women trade their will and that of their constituents, for comfort and reward.

In a State whose motto is, We Dare Defend Our Right, it is the privileged, the well-connected, the politico on the take and the alliance of big business and government that threatens our liberty, not an external force. They point their fingers North to Washington, DC and the arch villain, Obama. But, that is not what plagues our State. What plagues us is the willingness of our elected leaders to choose what is easy and personally profitable, over what is right.

Hubbard's idea of governing is based on one man’s will over all others. According to his ideology, the only rights in the House are the ones he grants. This is not a conservative idea, but one that has been at the heart of every corrupt regime throughout history.

Hubbard doesn’t believe in a republican system of government, but a collectivist one, that serves the supreme leader and the “greater good.”

Sad really, but that is the state of our State, and why no legislator will really serve their constituency until Hubbard is dethroned. 

Until then conformity will be a dangerous threat to the affairs of our State.

 

Government Efficiency, The Lie About No-Bid Contracts (Opinion)

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

"Efficiency" is the latest rationale given for eliminating the State’s decade's-old bid laws for public works projects.

We are constantly reminded by every member of the State’s Republican leadership within ear shot of a microphone, that they are making the government more efficient. But, efficiency is more a business principle than a governing ideology.

For a conservative, it is limiting the size and scope of government that is important. In business, it is not how large or wide a company’s interest, but how profitable they are.

Private business is about profit; in government it should be about what does it cost.

Under a new statute proposed in the House and Senate, municipal buildings, most schools and even college stadiums would not require that companies propose bids to receive taxpayer-funded projects. The Construction Manager-General Contractor at Risk Bill would allow government entities to select those companies that would be best suited for the needs of a particular project, without the cumbersome inefficiency of the bid process. This is sold as a pro-business, conservative, efficiency measure.

This can be a very good way of doing business in the private sector where private funds are used and where the ultimate goal is profit. But, in public works, the projects are financed with taxpayer dollars, and making money is not the objective.

Tad DeHaven, a former policy adviser for Indiana governor Mitch Daniels, writing at the CATO Institute said, “Government is unconcerned with 'profit.' The 'cost' of government is equal to the taxes extracted from the private sector to pay for government activities, plus the economic damage caused by extracting resources from the private sector.”

In the case of no-bid public works projects, efficiency actually means eliminate oversight to profit a few, well-connected companies.

Government projects awarded because of efficiency will lead to corruption and crony capitalism, an idea that conservatives claim to hate.

Perhaps it is not unusual that the current legislative leadership should focus on efficiency. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) is a very successful businessman. While Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) has held himself out as a pro-business conservative (who the State claims has used his office to make money from private industry with business before the legislature).

But government is not a business, and the idea that it should operated as one is inconstant with good government, be it republican or democrat.

John T. Harvey writing for Forbes states, “Bear in mind, first, that 'efficiency' in the private sector means profit. Hence, to ask that the government be run like a business is tantamount to asking that the government turn a profit.”

Harvey further explains, “The problem in a nutshell, is that not everything that is profitable is of social value and not everything of social value is profitable.” 

For example, Duck Dynasty may have some moral value to share with its viewers and some might argue it has social value, but not so that the taxpayers should fund it. Few would think that any Real Housewives series has social value, but it is certainly profitable.

The military, law-enforcement and firefighters all have value to the citizens and are taxpayer funded but no one expects them to turn a profit.

Harvey makes the same case in his analysis. 

But, the no-bid contracts that the House and Senate leadership are promoting have little to do with efficiency and a lot to do with profit, for campaign contributors and lobbyists.

Public works are not about profitability, but are projects that are deemed necessary for the citizens; paid for with their money. Therefore, projects paid for with tax dollars demand the highest level of scrutiny.

In a State that has seen millions wasted in the Jefferson County sewer debacle and the two-year college scandals, it seems unconscionable that so-called conservative leaders would be calling for an end to the decade's old Design-Bid-Build process that is State law.

DeHaven writes,  “In its most benign form, government efficiency is a political tool wielded by policymakers who probably aren’t serious about downsizing government. In its more pernicious form, it can lend credibility to activities that government should not be undertaking to begin with.”

The legislature and the people are being sold a rotten bill of goods under the guise of government efficiency.

True conservatives do not seek efficiency in government, they demand, honesty, accountability and most certainly, an end to rampant corruption and cronyism.

One has to wonder where the State’s Attorney General Luther Strange stands on this particular efficiency bill. I must give him a call. 

 

If Just One Person Will Stand (Editorial)

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

A defiant Mike Hubbard sits high in the House Chambers, wielding the Speaker’s gavel with more power than any law-abiding citizen could possibly imagine.

The Rev. Billy Graham once said, “Self-centered indulgence, pride and a lack of shame over sin are now emblems of the American lifestyle.” Hubbard represents this lifestyle in full-measure.

Charged with 23 felony counts of public corruption, Hubbard still holds the most constitutionally powerful office in the State. Even now he controls the legislative agenda with an iron fist and none dare challenge him.

Even if Hubbard were found not guilty of the 23 felony indictments against him, few, who have actually looked at his own words, will ever doubt that he has roughly used the mantle of his office with greedy intentions. Hubbard has brought shame upon himself, our government and our State.

Now, his shameless pride is a further embarrassment to his adopted State. Alabama has given him all of her blessings of wealth, power and privilege, and he, in return, has consumed its goodness with reckless regard. Like a rapist, he has ripped and torn her. He has stolen her virtue. And, what is almost as equally disturbing, is that those who have the power to stop him continue to stand silently watching while he continues his assault, just in another form.

How can those who have been elected to represent the good people of our State turn their heads and do nothing.

Is moral character in such short supply that we do not have one man or one woman, Democrat or Republican, brave enough to stand in the well of the House Chamber and demand he step aside?

How is it that those who claim to dare defend our State’s rights lack the courage to defend its honor.

Just one member of the House could remove Hubbard. Yes, only one is needed to begin the process that would spur others into action. It would take time and it could be extremely uncomfortable, but those who prefer comfort over doing what is right are lost already. 

One representative of the people can began the process and here is how it is accomplished:

Any member can rise during a legislative session and call for a reorganization of the House.

The chair must ask for a second, if no second comes forward the motion fails.

But what would happen if everyday, that same representative stood up and called for a reorganization of the House?

Perhaps soon, another member would stand and second the motion, and if that happened the chair would be compelled to either ask for a vote or end that day's session.

Imagine, for a moment, the daily visual of one or two representatives standing bravely to call for a vote on a new Speaker. Soon, their courage would shame other House members into action.

And, if it did not, imagine the campaign ads that could be used in the next election against those, who time and again in their silence endorsed Hubbard.

Moral courage may rise slowly, but once set in motion, it is an unstoppable force.

As a child, my mother was fond of quoting this poem by an unknown writer:

One man awake awakens another.
The second awakens his next door neighbor.
And three awake can rouse the town,
and turn the whole place upside down.
And many awake can raise such a fuss,
that it finally awakens the rest of us.
One man up with dawn in his eyes - multiplies.

Many members of the House profess deeply held Christian beliefs, Ephesians 5, exhorts us saying, “Awake, thou that sleepeth, and arise from the dead and Christ shall give thee light.”

In the Book of Acts, Paul and Silas were wrongly imprisoned for standing for the truth, but God set them free.

If two like-minded legislators acting like Paul and Silas would stand up, the State House would be rocked as if by an “earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed.”

Prolific early Christian author Tertullian wrote, “Nature soaks every evil with either fear or shame.”

Hubbard grips the Speaker’s gavel out of fear. Far too many of those who sit in the House Chambers live in fear of him.

It is time to end this fear, and restore confidence that our State government is not a cesspool of corruption.

Not one bill that passes from the House is without suspicion as long as Hubbard remains in charge.

The defiant coward that now holds the Speaker’s gavel will leave in shame...

if just one person will stand.

 

Stutts Becomes Pariah (Opinion)

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

Newly-minted State Senator Dr. Larry Stutts (R-Sheffield) a OB/GYN wants to keep the government out of the exam room, especially when it comes to the field of women's health; an area in which he would seem to be qualified.

Many would agree with him that most medical decisions should be between a woman and her doctor, without fear of the government meddling. But, we also want to keep our mothers, sisters, daughters and wives out of the morgue.

In proposing SB289, Stutts failed to inform his fellow Republican Senators of his intimate knowledge of the bill he hopes to over turn. SB289 would eliminate the key components of “Rose's Law” which was passed in 1999, after Rose Church died under Stutts’ care. 

Church, a 36-year-old registered nurse from Haleyville gave birth to a healthy, baby girl on December 1, 1998. After 36 hours, she was released from the hospital, only to return 36 hours later due to sessile bleeding. She was given four pints of blood. She was again discharged only to die approximately 36 hours later of a heart attack, according to court and a 1999 report by the Tuscaloosa News.  Her autopsy revealed that Church had placental tissue still inside her womb, 11 days after she delivered her daughter Logan Rose.

Stutts was her doctor and named in the wrongful death suit filed by her husband, Gene Church.

The suit states, among other things, that Rose Church was released from the hospital despite the fact that she “was suffering from placental accreta and continued to display persistent tachycardia.”

Her husband told the Tuscaloosa News in 1999, that if the legislation had been law in 1998, his wife would have stayed in the hospital for 48 hours and the blood tests would have shown she was having problems before she was discharged.

Rose’s Law gives women a legal right to remain in the hospital for 48 hours after a normal live birth and 96 hours if the birth presents a complication.

Stutts wants to do away with this law named after his patient but he kept his relationship with the Church family a secret from his Senate colleagues. 

In the Senate, as in all relationships between equals, trust is the bond of cohesion. Stutts broke that bond when he failed to fully disclose the death of Rose Church and his plan to repeal of her namesake law.

Stutts, by his own actions, has become a pariah. In an ocean of sharks, he cannot hope to survive. Having betrayed six of his Senate colleagues, he had squandered the single most valuable asset a member can possess.

The Senate is a collegial body, a small group of powerful men and women who rely on each other to do good for their constituents.

Not only has Stutts betrayed his fellow senators, he has betrayed the people of his district by rendering them voiceless in the legislatures most powerful body.

Now, he will never be able to fully represent his Senate district after this grave omissions of facts. 

Rose's Law was passed to protect other women from the fate of one of his patients, yet, he used Obamacare as a cover for his past deeds.

Stutts sold his bill to Senators comparing it to Obamacare. The President may be the State Republican's punching bag, but in this instance, it was not a punching bag, but the body bag that contained the remains of Rose Church that was behind this act.

Stutts is arrogant and careless and now we know he is evil.

How can he continue to serve in the Senate when we now see that he is only there to profit himself?

 

Real Solutions: The Heart Of The Bentley Revolution

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

Perhaps the seminal moment in Gov. Robert Bentley’s State of the State address was when he dared say what other Republicans are loathe to admit, “There is nothing more conservative than paying your debts and getting your financial house in order.”

For decades, Alabama State Government has failed to pay its debts without handouts from the federal government or borrowing from its future.

Although the Republican super majority has trimmed government, it has also played the same shell game with reducing future spending, just like the Democrats before them.

These same legislators damn tax and spend Democrats while they are little more than borrow and spend Republicans. No intelligent human believes that they can actually borrow their way out of debt. Once again our politicos point a finger at Washington, DC and commit the same atrocities here at home.

In 2012, our cash strapped legislature asked the voters to allow for them to borrow almost $500 million from the State’s Oil and Gas Trust Fund.  The voters voiced their approval at the ballot box, because Republicans told them it was the only way to go.

At the time, Senate President Pro Tem, Del Marsh told AP, "the people trust us to be good stewards of taxpayer resources" and they wanted "us to avoid a crash landing while we continue to work to implement cost-cutting measures.”

Marsh has shown himself in most cases a good steward of the people’s money, but his “right-sizing government” has not produced enough savings to avoid another crash landing.

Once again, with a constitutional mandate to balance the State’s budget, there are too few revenues to keep the wolves at bay.

Katherine Green Robertson writing to the conservative Alabama think tank API, said, “Simply put, it has become more and more difficult to maintain level funding, much less increased funding, for all of the obligations of state government.”

Robertson and API are certainly not advocating raising taxes, but she does point out the realities facing our State when she notes, “Since 1980, the State has declared proration 11 times for the Education Trust Fund and eight times for the General Fund. In the last decade alone, the ETF went into proration six times and the GF three times. Notably, since the Republicans took power, the ETF has not gone into proration, because the 2011 adoption of the Education Rolling Reserve Act (ERRA) caps the appropriation limit. Proration was declared for the General Fund in 2012. Poor stock market conditions and tornado recovery funds were cited as contributing factors.”

Our State’s finical history demonstrates that lawmakers have run from real solutions, offering only empty words and temporary fixes to systemic problems.

In his State of the State speech, Bentley said, “The night I was Re-elected as your Governor I promised the people that we will face our challenges head on.” Now that he has articulated the way forward he is being denigrated on every side."

From a sitting State Senator attacking the Governor's plan publicly without even having read it, to bloggers comparing him to Obama and radio talking heads re-tweeting ridiculous astro-turf comments, Bentley stands undeterred.

This is not time for silly partisan talking points or political grandstanding. Serious men and woman must come together to honestly face our State’s problems. They must be willing to do what they and their predecessors have refused to do and that is to tell the truth. Alabama is broke, and far too many of our people are under-employed, under-educated and unhealthy. The Governor, in his State of the State said as much and offered the beginning of a solution. For Alabama, Bentley's stand is the equivalent of a revolution.

But perhaps the optics on the  dais right behind Bentley point to some of the roots of the State’s problems.

Bentley said in closing, "It is time we lead our great State and the great men and women who sent us here. It’s time for a bold move."

 

 

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