Lawmakers can’t wholly blame the Dems for Alabama’s ailments anymore.
Politics is a euphemism for “I love power! Gimme more!” So let’s not kid ourselves about why Sen. Marsh and, likewise, Rep. Mike Hubbard of Auburn may welcome their hot-off-the-press leadership positions in the reconfigured state Legislature.
Marsh, a businessman Calhoun County knows well, is now the most powerful Republican in an Alabama Legislature controlled by Republicans for the first time since Reconstruction. Don’t call him Del, and don’t bow in his presence; but do call him Mr. Senate President Pro Tem.
That’s heady stuff.
And, no, just to recall this past campaign’s best (or worst) political ad, Mr. Senate President Pro Tem isn’t a guitar player in a mariachi band, and he doesn’t wear a sombrero while performing legislative business, though he’d certainly liven up things in Montgomery if he would at least consider it.
I imagine Marsh one day will be the answer to a state history question for Alabama 11th-graders: “Name the legislator who in 2010 became the highest ranking senator in the state’s first Republican-majority Legislature in more than 130 years.” At least high-schoolers will find his name easy to spell.
And Hubbard? Well, Marsh’s ascension to the top of the GOP’s leadership was a noteworthy accomplishment, a sign of his upward mobility, a man on the move, apparently. But Hubbard, president of Auburn Network Inc. — which is busy these days, thanks to fellows named Gene and Cam — has long been a Republican fixture, kind of like small government, tax cuts and Big Mule friendships.
Republican minority leader in the previously Democrat-controlled Legislature. Chairman of the Alabama Republican Party. And now speaker of the state House, by a vote that’s hard to misconstrue — 100-0.
Alabamians, meet the men atop Goat Hill.
One leads the House. The other leads the Senate.
In retrospect, perhaps we should bow.
Don’t feel sorry for them; no one made them enter politics. They’re big boys, and surely they can take the heat that comes with legislative leadership. Alabama Democrats in Montgomery, though nearly extinct, will carp as all minority parties do. Pundits will criticize their foibles and missteps. Voters will make demands, because they want their politicians to do something for them, not to them.
Leadership roles only ramp up the carping, the criticism and the demands.
But I have to wonder what tune Marsh and Hubbard will be singing in two years, as this historic state government starts dealing with the profound funding problems that are facing Montgomery lawmakers.
This week’s special session is like a beach-side convention, without the sand and bikinis. Once legislators decide how much a lobbyist-paid Montgomery wine-and-dine is worth — go with $25, it looks better — Gov. Bob Riley’s ethics-reform package will sail through the chambers. Signed, sealed, delivered. If only state politics were normally that easy.
The real stuff — the lean, mean partisanship that clogs up the House and (especially) the Senate — begins early in 2011.
Along with Gov.-elect Robert Bentley, Republicans’ new leadership team will be asked to explain how Alabama government plans to address Alabama’s money — money it doesn’t have, to be specific — while adhering to Bentley’s stated claim to “streamline” government so that it can better create jobs.
Remember, schools are in proration.
Higher-ed funding has been slashed, over and over.
The state’s not getting much-needed revenue from bingo or other forms of legalized gambling — where are you now, Ron Sparks? — so it’s leaving money on the table, as controversial and problematic as it might have been.
The state’s year-to-year funding plans, many of which are based on regressive, unstable taxes that rest at the heart of more than a few Alabama woes, are a backward way of doing business.
If you work for the state, or lead a state department, or depend on a state department for assistance, then money and stability — absent traits during the Great Recession — are at the top of your worry list.
These men, Mr. Senate President Pro Tem and Mr. Speaker of the House, are about to see the other side of state government. The side of top-side leadership, of majority power, of ultimate responsibility.
If they enjoy challenges, if they relish the chance to kick critics in the backside, if they live for the opportunity to truly transform a state, then these are the roles for them.
If not, well, at least they have their day jobs.
Phillip Tutor — email@example.com — is commentary editor at The Star.