By Joey Kennedy
Alabama Political Reporter
Beware the Ides of March! That was Wednesday, and while Julius Caesar may have needed to be more careful than he was back then, when the Alabama Legislature is in session, there’s really no reason to worry much. Not much is going to happen.
Not on the Ides of March, or the 16th of March or the 30th of September or in 2018 or 2019 or 2020. Nothing is likely to happen that’ll truly surprise us.
And not much has.
We pay our lawmakers a full-time salary to do full-time work. And if they’re doing full-time work, they’re not getting the job done. They would be fired in the real world.
Once again, for the how-many-ever Legislative Sessions they’ve worked, Republicans have shown they can’t govern. They can’t make the hard decisions to be sure Alabama has a budget that will take care of business.
Indeed, it looks like they just want to go through the motions, without really considering what Alabama needs. Not what we want, folks. What we need.
They always fall awfully short there. Except for themselves.
We need good public safety, but the Legislature, year after year, gives our State Law Enforcement agencies barely enough to survive. We need more State Troopers out patrolling. Good luck with that. We need a good State Forensics Department. Good luck with that, too.
Instead, the Legislature level funds most everything, and when you consider these Republicans took over in 2010, that’s pretty much level funding for seven years. As if there has been no inflation. As if demands of Law Enforcement haven’t increased.
We need to do more to improve our prisons and to get more nonviolent offenders out of prison. We’re great at warehousing men and woman at bargain rates. We’re not good at treating them with compassion and dignity. From what our lawmakers decide, it doesn’t look like they care much, either.
We need to make sure abused and neglected children and senior adults are taken care of. Well, can we just do it with what we have? Since forever?
Gov. Robert Bentley and the Legislature could have made great strides in 2014 by expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Bentley, a physician, was supposed to first do no harm. But he did. And continues.
And lawmakers did, too, and the State lost billions of dollars in Federal funding because they hated President Barack Obama more than they wanted to make sure their constituents had the opportunity to get health care coverage. Now, with President Trump and the Don’t-Care-A-Whit Republicans in charge, there won’t be another chance.
It’s like they’re saying: “Just die, working poor. Just die.”
We need to protect our environment. We need to work toward initiatives that will mitigate climate change. We need to show compassion toward our immigrants, middle class, and poor. We need to care for our hurting kids and our companion animals and our older citizens.
We don’t, and that’s intentional.
Instead of ditching former Speaker Mike Hubbard when he was first charged with corruption, the House re-elected him. Now, Hubbard has been thrown out of office in disgrace, never to return, headed to prison. That was several years the House and the Legislature wasted. Because they were afraid of a corrupt colleague.
Republicans always like to point fingers at Democrats, that they were in charge for more than a century, and look what we’ve gotten from that. Fair enough.
But Republicans have been in charge since 2010, and look what we’ve gotten from that. About what we got with Democrats. Except this is now, not then.
Because parties don’t matter in Alabama. What matters is populism. Our lawmakers don’t want to do what’s best for Alabama; they want to do what’s best for themselves. So they press the fear and bigoted buttons, smile slyly at the camera, and move on.
If that weren’t true, we wouldn’t have so many lawmakers – so many – that serve for 10 or 15 or 20 years or more. We would have some proposals that understand we are not funding State services at the levels they require. That we are a poor State, and we need to put forward programs that, most of all, help our poor.
State employees haven’t had a raise in a decade. State lawmakers got one just recently.
“As much as I’d love to see (State employees) get the raise, we can’t afford it,” said House Budget Chairman Steve Clouse (R-Ozark). Of course not, because the only state employees likely to get a raise in Alabama are those in the House and Senate.
“We can’t afford it,” says Clouse.
That’s so easy to say. That’s so easy to do – especially for somebody who’s not likely to do much more than draw a State salary for his service in the Legislature and whatever other money he gets because of his connections. Want to contact Clouse? Don’t think you’ll find that information on his legislative page. He’s got a P.O. address. His phone is his Montgomery office. His email is his legislative email.
Apparently, Clouse isn’t very close to his constituents. Yet, they voted for him.
But Clouse isn’t alone. Most all lawmakers, Democratic or Republican, are the same. What we need is some courage, somebody to say: “Hey, we’re going to have to come up with the revenue to do what’s right; not just the revenue to pay our high legislative salaries.”
Now, it’s up to the Senate to do right. Maybe somebody will step forward. Maybe.
And that’s why on the Ides of March, 2017, there’s really no need to worry. Nothing to see here. Nothing.
Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]