The Alabama Legislature is on an epic losing streak.
For more than 100 years, it has failed to adequately look after the well-being of its residents, which is what should be in state government’s mission statement.
Alabama’s education system is underfunded and therefore below average. The state public safety operations are starved of dollars that could make our streets safer. Attempts to protect our air and water from polluters are laughably inept. Alabama’s levels of poorly educated residents, poverty, infant mortality, overweight adults and violent deaths put the state at the bottom of national rankings. And when it comes to the social safety net to protect the poorest Alabamians, the Statehouse has always been counted on to provide the barest of minimums.
With exceptions, over the decades most Alabama lawmakers lacked the foresight, bravery and savvy to get done for Alabama what was most needed. We’re long on demagoguery and division and short on good government and smart planning.
From the end of Reconstruction until four years ago, the state Legislature was under the control of Alabama Democrats, a deeply compromised party that was barely clinging to power in a state where Republicans are the favored brand.
In 2010, Mike Hubbard, a Republican legislator from Auburn and head of the state Republican Party, promised something better than status quo. An action-oriented state Republican Party would put the grown-ups in charge. Republicans could get things done far better than the tired, unimaginative and poorly organized Democrats in charge in Montgomery.
The argument (along with massive backlash against a Democratic president) put the Republicans in charge of the state House and Senate. The problem is that Hubbard and his party have yet to make good on their promises.
The latest head-shaker is the indictment of Hubbard, the House speaker, on 23 counts of corruption. Hubbard is innocent until proven guilty, and he deserves his day in court to answer the felony charges.
However, regardless of his recent legal difficulties, Hubbard’s pathway to power is a testament that the most significant change in Montgomery since 2010 is not one of substance.
In terms of improving the lives of working Alabamians, very little has been accomplished by the Legislature’s new overseers. The economic outlook remains stubbornly weak. We see no big breakthroughs on the K-12 front, and, in fact, what’s been passed is taking dollars from public schools. The immigration law was a bust and a PR nightmare, as well. The state is paying some of its bills with borrowed money.
In sweeping Republicans into power in Montgomery, Hubbard did manage to lasso more than $1 million in contributions from out-of-state corporate contributions. While party powerbrokers and large contributors may have enjoyed the bounty of that windfall, it’s eluded everyday Alabamians. This disappointing scenario is similar to the Legislature as it was operated by Democrats. And while that’s not a crime, it’s a crying shame.
“What it shows,” William H. Stewart, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Alabama, told The Star of Hubbard’s indictment, “is that you can change parties, in terms of which party supposedly dominates state government, but you can’t change the culture of the state.”