By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
We’ve all heard the old saying that “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” There’s a lot of wisdom in those words. Our founding fathers understood this concept and the necessity for and value of compromise. So when they created our government, they created it to operate within a system of checks and balances in order to avoid extremism. They also created it to prevent too much power from ending up in the hands of a select few.
This system has served our country well for more than 225 years. The compromises our government has made have not always been easy or fair, but they have allowed our government to survive. This has allowed our country to become the most powerful nation on Earth.
Our government works best when we have moderation and serious debate about the issues. A Supermajority is bad no matter which political party has control or who is serving in leadership. It is never good for one side to have too much power. That is why it is so dangerous that we currently have a Supermajority in the Alabama legislature.
By “Supermajority,” I mean that one side has more than two-thirds of the vote in both the state Senate and state House of Representatives. Because they have a two-thirds majority, the Republicans in the Alabama legislature have the power to do whatever they want. If the Democrats didn’t even show up, Republicans could still legally conduct business and pass laws. They have enough members to meet the requirements for the legislature to be in session. At any time, Republicans can end debate and force through any legislation they want.
Over the past four years, Republicans have invoked cloture (forcing an end to debate on a piece of legislation) more times than Democrats did in the previous 136 years!
But this problem goes much further than simply shutting off debate on legislation. The most serious violation committed by the Republican Supermajority happened when they forced through the Accountability Act.
Legislative leaders knew that the Accountability Act would be controversial and that if they tried to pass it through the normal legislative process it would never become law. So they decided to deceive the public by first passing a relatively non-controversial school flexibility bill. Once both the House and Senate passed this bill, the Republicans then switched the bill with what is now the Accountability Act. They then sent it back to the legislature where it was only debated for one hour before it was forced into law.
Because the Accountability Act was passed in this way, the press had no chance to report on it and the public had no opportunity to contact their legislators about it. Democrats in the legislature had only one hour to ask questions about a bill that no one had ever seen before, and the fiscal office had no chance to estimate how much it would cost.
After it was passed, the public outcry came. But the power had gone to the heads of our state leaders. In a March 1, 2013 article in The Birmingham News, Gov. Bentley was quoted saying, “Take away all of this (about) folks that are upset. I don’t care.”
I have never in my life heard a governor tell the voters that he doesn’t care what they think! It is a symptom of the illness that has infected our state government: one side has unlimited power and doesn’t believe they have to answer to anyone—not even the voters.
That is the other problem with the Republican Supermajority: it goes beyond shutting off debate and forcing through legislation. Too many legislators think they are untouchable. They think their elected offices are a right; they are entitled to instead of a privilege they have to earn. Instead of listening to the people back home, these legislators are taking their marching orders from their party leaders in Montgomery.
We need legislators who will be our voices in Montgomery, not politicians who will be Montgomery’s voice to us! We need leaders who put the people back home first and remember who elected them. We need moderation and serious debate before we vote on legislation in Montgomery. The only way we will get these things is if we put an end to the Supermajority and elect state representatives and senators who will be statesmen instead of politicians with a sense of entitlement.
Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.