The phrase dates back to 19th-century Ireland’s struggle for self-government. In today’s lingo, “home rule” belongs to the line of political thought that says the best government for communities comes from locally elected bodies from within that community.
In other words, local school board members, city council members and county commissioners ought to have a better handle on what their constituents need. Also, those politicians are directly responsible to the voters for their actions.
In Alabama, we generally don’t do that. Our Legislature acts as the world’s largest city council, making decisions that would otherwise be made by a city council or county commission. That gives 35 senators and 105 representatives undue power over the lives of residents of one county or city; and most of those legislators never have to face the voters of that local government.
In practice, this perversion of democracy is even worse. Montgomery gets a say in narrow matters such as how much one county pays its sheriff or how stray animals are housed in a single county.
Alabama’s Republican majority swept into power in 2011 promising to fix the state Constitution that throttles local governments to act swiftly and efficiently. Montgomery’s power structure offered a go-slow approach, suggesting altering the Constitution on an amendment-by-amendment basis. This caution wasn’t without merit. A wholesale rewrite via constitutional convention is an invitation for mass revolt from Alabama’s regressives. Think the myths and scare-mongering of the anti-Common Core activists times 10.
So, the marching orders were take it easy and carve away at the 800-plus amendments in a careful manner.
As made clear by the status of Sen. Del Marsh’s home-rule bill, even the easy-does-it method is flopping. The bill, which was considered in committee Tuesday, is a watered-down version of what was already fairly weak tea. Special interests, particularly the Alabama Farmers Federation, have de-fanged the measure so that it denies local counties the power to tax, zone property or much else of substance.
Marsh, R-Anniston, even tells The Star’s Tim Lockette, “I’m hesitant to even call it a limited home-rule bill, because that makes some people nervous.”
The senator is correct. Real reform isn’t likely until Alabama residents are moved to take action against our democracy-denying Constitution.