When the Alabama Legislature gathers for its 2019 session, there will be a lot of new faces in the House and Senate chambers. About one-third of senators and about one-fourth of representatives will be new.
Of course, incumbents grow tired and abandon politics or seek another office or occasionally get beaten by an upstart challenger. That’s the nature of their business. Still, the 2018 election will see an unusually large amount of turnover in the House and the Senate.
“You’re going to have a group of people next quadrennium that are going to be wet behind the ears like we were in 2010,” state Rep. Paul Beckman, R-Prattville, told the Montgomery Advertiser. “But it takes about a year to learn.” Beckman is stepping down from the state House and is campaigning for probate judge of Autauga County.
Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, had a warning for the state. “In 2010 a lot of new people came in, and we passed a lot of bad legislation,” he told the Advertiser. “We have to make sure the leadership is honed in to train these people and teach these new people.” Ford is running for a state Senate seat as an independent.
The challenge is for Alabama voters to test all the candidates seeking a seat in the Legislature. Is there substance in their rhetoric? Are they engaging in wishful thinking? Will they bring well-developed plans to the table? Do they have the wisdom and maturity to engage in legislative compromise? Or do they intend to scorch the earth with an unbending style?
Beckman and Ford are correct in citing the example of the 2010 election.
A wave of freshman legislators, many of whom had been fueled by the Tea Party movement, stormed into Montgomery. A Republican supermajority asserted its authority, focusing less on the trappings of legislation like deliberation, expert testimony and compromise. The results were poorly considered laws that served the state poorly. The anti-immigrant law of 2011, for instance, triggered a series of embarrassing incidents like the detention of executives with international automakers before parts of the law were deemed unconstitutional by the courts.
Alabama voters need assurances that candidates for state office this year have learned from those unfortunate episodes of the class of 2010. We welcome newcomers to the Legislature who will bring passion, energy and a willingness to listen and compromise to Montgomery.