Just about every politician in the state is a PAC, or “proud Alabama conservative.” Go ahead, ask ’em. To a man and woman, the vast majority will line up behind that designation. They hate spending. They want taxes low. And they want gubmint out of your life.
The upside-twist comes in application.
A real tenet of conservatism (as opposed to the art of reality-denial that’s all the rage today) is what political scientists call either “localism” or “devolution.” In general, that means that the government closest to the grassroots governs best. A local school board should better understand the wants and needs of its students than a one-size-fits-all bureaucracy headquartered 1,000 miles away.
Expressed another way, the county commissioners in Calhoun County should know how government can work best for residents of Calhoun County. What’s more, those county commissioners are directly accountable to the voters in Calhoun County. Every four years, voters have an opportunity to keep them on the job or send them packing.
Not so fast there, buster.
Alabama operates under a different system. Home rule that gives wider latitude to local governments is mostly absent.
The authors of the state’s 1901 Constitution had other ideas. Motivated mostly by greed and racism, they feared placing too much power in the hands of local governments. It was more convenient for the elites who wrote the 1901 Constitution to place power in the hands of the state Legislature. Why bother with sweating over the actions of 67 counties and scores of municipal governments when all you have to do is put your heavy foot on operations in Montgomery?
For a Sunday article by Tim Lockette in The Star, Sonny Brasfield, executive director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, said, “We’re far out on one end of the spectrum of local control.”
That’s a diplomatic way to put it. In reality, the 105 representatives and 35 senators who make up the state Legislature are really the world’s largest county commission. Hundreds of purely local decisions are controlled not by representatives from one specific local government, but by 140 lawmakers who gather in Montgomery for 30 days every year.
The result is a state Constitution containing 376,000 words and almost 900 amendments. That’s about twice as many words as the New Testament.
Here’s hoping for a road-to-Damascus moment for the state’s Constitutional Revision Commission in 2013, which will tackle home rule later this year.