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Committee passes bill to dismantle Archives board, replace it with political appointees

Sen. Chris Elliott filed the bill after the department hosted a one-hour talk on the history of LGBTQ+ individuals.

The Alabama Department of Archives and History in Montgomery.
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A bill that would remove all current members serving on the board of the Alabama Department of Archives and History moved forward out of committee Tuesday despite multiple speakers in opposition.

The bill by Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Josephine, would remove the current members and replace them with appointees handpicked by four elected officials: the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the House and Senate president pro temper.

The bill originally would have given each official two appointees, but was amended to give them each three appointees instead.

Elliott filed the bill following a public argument with the department for hosting a one-hour lunch-and-learn on the history of LGBTQ+ individuals and movements in the state. Elliott has tried to frame the bill, however, as dealing with a self-perpetuating board that is unanswerable to the people.

“Unelected bureaucrats claiming superiority over the very people they’re meant to serve goes against the foundation of our republic. State-funded institutions are meant to reflect the will of the people, yet the Department of Archives and History has blatantly disregarded Alabama’s longstanding commitment to defending democracy and instead promoted their own professional political class,” Elliott said in a release after the committee meeting. 

Senate Majority Leader Dan Livingston, R-Scottsboro, made it more clear in his statement that the change is a direct response to the LGBTQ+ program.

“The current board of trustees has supported programming and education that undermines Alabama’s values,” Livingston said. “The Legislature established the Archives to research and preserve Alabama’s history, not to utilize public funds to promote a social agenda inconsistent with our state’s principles.”

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Carrie Banks, a former member of the Alabama League of Municipalities, told the board that the board structure has worked effectively for 123 years.

“It’s dynamic, diverse and requires participation from all seven Congressional districts to ensure statewide representation …” Banks said. “ADAH is a nationally recognized success story for our state—we don’t have a whole lot of those in the state of Alabama. To completely dissolve the board structure that has been in place for more than a century is to upend one of our most dynamic and enduring agencies. Why would you do that? The Alabama Department of Archives and History is an Alabama treasure.”

Wanda Battle told the committee that “if you walk through the halls and exhibits at the Archives today, you won’t find a political agenda—what you will find are representations of all parts of Alabama’s history; good, bad and everything in between.”

“Boards set the course of an agency,” Battle said. “I ask you to look at the people who currently serve on the Archives board including civil rights attorney Fred D. Gray. These trustees are public servants of all walks of life and all parts of the state.”

Elliott emphasized that current members of the board could be reappointed by elected officials.

Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, D-Birmingham, told Elliott that the bill is a “slippery slope” and that other people could be marginalized as well because “we’ve made it a political football.”

Sen. Merika Coleman, D-Birmingham, questioned Elliott’s process for chairing the committee. 

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“I’m going to leave,” Coleman said. “You don’t have to do us like this; you’re going to run over us anyway. You should still talk to us like we are an equal member on this body.”

Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, said he would vote the bill out of committee, but had concerns about how the legislation could create a back-and-forth between Republicans and Democrats depending on which party is in power.

The legislation passed along party lines.

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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