When the Legislature adjourned the second special legislative session of 2021, it was apparent that the once-proud pro-business Republicans of the Alabama House and Senate had surrendered to the parties fringe by passing anti-vaccine mandate legislations.
The business community’s question is what to do now that the state’s Republican leaders have chosen the extremes of the party over the pro-business, pro-economy, pro-growth wing.
The special session that began Thursday, Oct. 28, was set to address redistricting and reapportionment of congressional, state Board of Education, state House of Representative and state Senate districts based on the 2020 federal census and appropriations for pandemic-related health care services.
But the agenda was quickly hijacked by anti-vaccine legislation.
Only two of the 12 proposed anti-vax bills were passed — Senate Bill 9 by Sen. Chris Elliott and Senate Bill 15 by Sen. Arthur Orr — but the business community was put on notice; their seat at the table had been removed.
The business community fiercely opposed these bills because keeping a healthy workforce and having customers who feel safe to resume an everyday life is a key to economic stability. Unvaccinated Alabamians are a drain on medical, financial and workforce resources. But the economic impact of these laws was cast aside to appease a small number of angry ALGOP voters.
Prior to 2010, Alabama Republicans were in the minority in state government, but an alliance with the business community and a turn in the state’s mood after to 2008 elections gave ALGOP an overwhelming victory up and down the ballot.
During most of the last decade, Republicans who controlled the levers of state government were primarily focused on economic opportunities, expanding commerce and passing legislation that enabled Alabama to bolster small business and attract marquee manufactures to the state.
However, gradually Republican candidates for the state Legislature emerged who were more interested in culture wars than “good ole fashion” republican principles of free trade, fewer regulations and keeping the wheels of commerce rolling.
Recently a candidate announced his bid for a House district by saying, “Alabama Republicans are fed up with a GOP majority Alabama Legislature that increases taxes, increases government spending, and doesn’t push back against socialists the way [Gov.] Ron DeSantis does in Florida.”
While this candidate is dead wrong about the working of Alabama’s state government, he is regurgitating fundamental talking points heard in Republican clubs across the state.
Business leaders in the state, to their peril, have ignored the radical-right of the Republican Party because ALGOP leaders in the past supported businesses interests and were “good on their issues.”
The business community should learn from the last session that what was the radical fringe of the Republican Party is now trending mainstream as populism and rancor have replaced conservative principles.
It is absurd that today in Alabama, an employer can fire an individual for using medically prescribed marijuana but can’t terminate an employee for refusing a life-saving vaccine.
It may seem odd that Democrats stood up as the pro-business caucus during the last session, but this is becoming a national trend as Republicans have become more beholden to a base that is more worried about “the woke mob” than a job and financial prosperity. It’s time for business leaders to wake to the idea that a “pitchfork mob” doesn’t understand you can’t “own the libs” on an empty stomach.
Most Alabama lawmakers know being pro-business is the right course for the state. Still, Republicans calculated during the last session that voting against business would keep the base happy and further determined that business leaders had nowhere else to go since Republicans hold a supermajority in both chambers.
While Republican incumbents are worried about being primaried from the right, they should also understand that the business community can offer well-funded right, left and center candidates. Legislators who have been around for a while would be wise to remember former state Sen. Paul Bussman.
If a radical right is allowed to determine Alabama’s economic future, the state will be little more than the poorest in the Northern Hemisphere.
No one expects business to run state government, but a state government that ignores business concerns is a state destined for the rocky shores of insolvency.
Business leaders must now define a plan to regain a seat at the legislative table before the pitchfork wielders steal all the furniture.