By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Earlier this week, the Governor asked the members of the Alabama Legislature to agree to a two-year moratorium on portions of the Alabama Accountability Act. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh tersely responded by basically telling the Governor to “stick it.”
Marsh and his House counterpart, Speaker Mike Hubbard, seem to have no respect for Governor Bentley. At times, they ignore him; other times, they simply treated him like a useful nuisance.
Now, it looks as if the final hours of the 2013 legislative session are going to be a showdown between, the man elected by the majority of all the citizens of Alabama, and two men who were respectively elected by the Oxford Country Club and the Auburn Chamber of Commerce.
In a letter send to state legislators, Bentley asked that they listen to their constituents and delay implementing key portions of the wildly unpopular Alabama Accountability Act. Bentley urged lawmakers to delay for two years the part of the bill that gives tax credits to families who move their children from of “failing” schools to private schools.
In a twitter response Marsh wrote, “We only have one constituency when it comes to education in Alabama and that’s the children.” This, of course, is laughable. Anyone who knows Sen. Marsh knows he is not a tweeter. He barely uses a computer.
Marsh and his cronies pretend that the AAA is intended to help Alabama’s poor children stuck in failing public schools.
The bill itself belies that claim. HOW?
I have known Del Marsh for years. I like him as a person and I even voted for him, but he is no champion of the poor and downtrodden. Marsh is an elusive-businessman whose wealth is so vast that he owns a 1.7 million dollar island in the middle of the Tennessee river. He uses his 1500 acre island retreat as a private hunting club, for other millionaires. Naturally, as a rich politician who has served in the legislature for 12 years Marsh’s ego has outgrown his station. In a sad irony for five consecutive years Marsh sponsored term limits for Alabama legislators. But once he became President Pro Tem, he left that issue unaddressed. If his bills had passed, Marsh’s time in the senate would be up.
If Marsh was the man of steadfast principle he now seeks to portray, why has he not term-limited himself?
But now on principle he openly defies a governor who enjoys an 80 percent approval rating. Why? Because he along with his fellow corny-capitalist want to pave the way for private corporations to own education in Alabama.
Men like Marsh and Hubbard don’t know or understand real Alabama conservatives. They seem to think that conservatives in Alabama spend their time reading National Review or following the policy papers of the Heritage Foundation. This could not be further from the truth. Most conservatives in our state are what might most easily be described as “Church-Going Conservatives.” I know this because I am one of them.
By Church-Going Conservative I mean we are concerned about the moral foundation of our families and our communities. We want to be left alone to make a living, to provide for our kids, to support our church, to improve our town —through membership in civic clubs—and to live by the golden rule.
In other words, God, family and community are the things that matter most.
Politicians mistakenly think that they know us. I guess that is because they spend a lot of money with pollsters every four years figuring out how to manipulate us.
In reality most Alabamians don’t know who the AEA is or what ADEC does and, frankly, they don’t really care. But they know what is important and what is right.
This is why the Accountability Act polls like a dead cat.
The people of Alabama don’t buy things without knowing what they cost. And rarely do we follow a course-of-action without understanding details. But this is exactly what Marsh forced on Alabama citizens on February 28 when he pulled the switch-a-roo that substituted the straight-forward School Flexibility Act for the mammoth, unknown and untested Accountability Act. Behaving like Nancy Pelosi on Capitol Hill, Marsh demanded legislators on Goat Hill pass the Accountability Act immediately, and figure out what was in it later.
Marsh and Hubbard sold the idea to the governor, who has now awakened to their deception.
There are those who think that Bentley, has seen the polling numbers for the AAA and now opposes it so he can say he tried. But it could be that the governor now understands the costs and intent of the Alabama Accountability Act, and he wants to change it before it is too late for the people of Alabama. The full cost and impact of the AAA are unclear. But we are learning more and more as times passes.
Rep. Jay Love (R-Montgomery) was tasked with finding the cost of the AAA —after it became law. He places the price tag at around $60 million. What is shocking is that about 80 percent of that money would solely benefit families who can already afford to put their children in private schools.
Gov. Bentley has said he didn’t want money drained from the Education Trust Fund to provide millions in tax breaks solely for those whose children already attend private schools.
If you are a National Review or Heritage Foundation conservative, you might argue that the wealthy deserve the tax-breaks as much as the poor— even if those tax breaks take money away from successful school systems like the ones in Madison, Elmore and Baldwin counties. School boards in each of those counties, by the way, have called on the legislature to repeal the Alabama Accountability Act because it is bad education policy.
Rep. Love is another millionaire legislator. His children attend private schools, and he has said, publicly, that he looked forward to taking a tax-credit. Same thing goes for the sponsor of the AAA, Chad Fincher (R-Semmes) whose children also attend private schools.
This all might sit-well with crony-capitalist-conservatives like Marsh, Hubbard, Love and Fincher. But most Alabamians ain’t buying that mangy-dog.
Marsh has been working hard since the passage of the original AAA to fix a few troubling items. For example, he wants to add what I call the “Mountain Brook Exception”, named after the affluent community high above Birmingham. The exception should actually be called the “Race Amendment” because it allows school to reject any student who applies. Heaven forbid that the poor black children from Center Point or Anniston set foot in premiere schools in Mountain Brook or Marsh’s neighborhood in Oxford.
Let me say, I am for school choice, but not at any cost, or when it excludes the children who would benefit the most.
See, that is another part of being a Church-going conservative that these crony-country club republicans don’t get. We want to lift everyone out of the shallows of life, we believe that everyone should be offered a hand-up. We are not selfish or unfeeling toward those less fortunate.
Because to us the teaching of our Lord Jesus, and the Ten Commandments are not mere suggestions, they are our way of life. These are the principles we live by — not just the words we use before an election.
Love him, like him or dismiss him, Governor Dr. Robert Bentley, is a doctor first. As a doctor he has lived by the code of, “First, do no harm.” This is what the governor is trying to do, with his executive amendment.
Bentley, loves people, it shows. He is a church-going conservative, like most of us in Alabama. On the other hand, the leadership at the Statehouse doesn’t understand us, and, most troubling, they don’t seem to care about us, either.
Onward, Governor, the people are with you.