By Bradley Byrne
Moments of transition are also moments of opportunity. As Alabama transitions from the old political system which passed away in the 2010 elections, to whatever the new system proves to be, reformers have an opportunity unlike any other in decades.
The post-election Special Session of December 2010 was breathtaking, both in what it accomplished substantively in ethics reform and in its graphic demonstration that the old Alabama political order was over. In less than ten days, the new Alabama Legislature broke the log jam of ethics reform bills and tightened the ethics code, banned pass through pork and PAC-to-PAC transfers, required ethics training for all public officials and employees, gave our Ethics Commission real enforcement power, and put an end to the practice of double dipping.
In the wake of the success of that Special Session, and the encouragement felt by so many of us, I, along with a group of like-minded individuals, created a non-profit foundation called Reform Alabama to identify key reform issues, work with legislators and other policy makers to create legislation, and shepherd that legislation through to final passage and signing by the Governor. We wanted to be a “Do Tank” not a “Think Tank.” There are other groups around which have thought through issues and crafted good solutions, and the trick is to form those solutions into workable legislation and then pass them.
There were some observers who doubted that the new legislative majority could maintain the pace of the Special Session, but they were proved wrong. Of the seventeen bills Reform Alabama endorsed during the Regular Session, fifteen were enacted and signed by the Governor. During my tenure in the Senate, if we had passed just one of those bills, we would have done cartwheels. Now, the Legislature passes them in bunches. Tort reform, budget reform, tenure law reform, government transparency initiatives, economic and job growth tax incentives, election law reform, and constitutional revision all became reality. To be sure, Reform Alabama was an endorser of some of these bills. On others, like election law and constitutional reform, we drafted and took the lead in pushing them through.
It took courageous and committed legislators to pass these bills, often in the face of stout, concerted opposition. And all of us in Alabama are in debt to these strong and committed elected officials for staying the course and passing the bills.
Emboldened by this success, we at Reform Alabama needed to focus our efforts more as we prepared for the 2012 Regular Session. So we adopted six core principles on which we will operate:
1. We will be steadfastly committed to honest, non-partisan conservative policies. We are not Democratic or Republican, but we are conservative in our views of what government should and should not do.
2. We will pursue proven policy reform we know will work in Alabama and serve our people well in the long-term.
3. We will pursue reform realistically and pragmatically.
4. We will focus on the positive and decline to engage in the negative.
5. We will be about substance, not symbolism. Symbolic gestures don’t educate a single child or put an unemployed person back to work.
6. We will seek out partnerships and build coalitions with like-minded organizations. President Truman said it best: “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”
With these principles in mind, we will focus on the following policy areas in 2012:
Education and Workforce Development
Election Law Enforcement
Infrastructure and Transportation
As was the case in the last Session, some of these areas already have groups working on and leading them, and we look forward to seeing and supporting their work product. Other areas will require our overt leadership and we will provide that leadership. If the good folks at the Alabama Political Reporter will let us, we’ll update you on what we intend to do in each of these policy areas before and during the Session.
To be sure, our State has some daunting challenges. Our economy has yet to recover from the Great Recession and far, far too many people are without work. Indeed, it is hard to hear that our unemployment rate is going down only because people have given up and quit looking for work. It is also hard to hear the negative effect of the horrendous cuts to State budgets. Not only are State and public education employees losing their jobs, but essential public services are increasingly reduced.
It is precisely in such a time that real reform is most likely to happen. Won’t you join us? Visit www.reformalabama.org and register with us. We’ll keep you up to date with our work and what you can do to help. Most importantly, we hope you will let us know what you think.
This is indeed a moment of great opportunity. Let’s work together so we don’t miss it.