Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Senate failures lead Alabamians to consider recourse

(Originally published 5/24/08)

Alabama lawmakers will return to Montgomery Tuesday to try to do in five days what they couldn’t in three months: Pass a budget to fund this state’s schools.

I blogged about this earlier this week when the Alabama Senate failed to pass the education budget before the regular session expired at midnight Tuesday. The title of the post was, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, sen-a-tors have got to go.”

“Let’s throw them all out, thoroughly fumigate the building and start all over,” I said. Every one of them is either part of the failed leadership of the upper chamber, or they lack individual leadership ability to put a stop to the madness that is the Senate.

I joined many others across the state this week in a familiar refrain: What can we do? What can regular Alabamians do in the face of the repeated failures of our elected officials and their consistent disrespect for our will on things like PAC-to-PAC reform, a rewrite of the State Constitution, tax reform and a myriad of other issues?

The answer: Not much. Elections are still two years away. In the meantime, there’s not much recourse for anyone looking for sensibility in Montgomery. We lack even the ability to recall the worst legislative offenders.

One potential solution is initiative and referendum, commonly known as I&R. Basically, it gives citizens their own lawmaking pen and allows them to do for themselves and their state what their elected officials can’t -- or won’t.

I&R is by no means a panacea. Critics argue that it is an end-run around the Founders’ intentions to have a deliberative legislative branch. And if significant filing thresholds don’t accompany I&R, there is a tremendous potential for abuse. (Just ask any Floridian about pregnant pigs.)

Supporters argue, of course, that if elected officials were responsive to the needs of their constituents, I&R wouldn’t be used.

In any event, I&R would have to come to Alabamians by way of a constitutional amendment, the language of which would have to be approved by … yes, the Legislature.

And since I&R would mean that Alabama’s legislators would have to share their lawmaking power, you can guess how well it’s gone over: This year’s bill proposing I&R never saw the light of day.

Alabamians are manifesting their disgust with Montgomery in different ways. Some advocate patient, persistent, positive change; others, like Libertarian and former gubernatorial candidate Loretta Nall, favor revolution, hard and fast.

Nall is busy recruiting people to don straw hats and overalls and show up on the steps of the State Capitol next with pitchforks, shovels, rakes, etc. “We won’t be using them on anyone, but we want to get the message across that if things don’t change, there will be war ... very shortly,” she writes.

But for all their rightful disgust with the State Senate, Alabamians aren’t responding to the sound of Nall’s battle trumpet. “Alabama is long overdue for a little revolution,” she writes. “Where the hell is everyone else?”

The answer to her question is why almost every senator who stands for re-election has a 99.99999 percent chance of returning in 2010. They know Alabamians’ track record where this is concerned: Either we have all contracted some mysterious disorder that causes us to collectively forget the indignities we’ve suffered at the hands of those who govern us, or we’ve just been too abused to notice when the latest injuries occur.

On the blog this weekend, links to Loretta Nall’s planned uprising and an analysis of a potential Obama-Clinton ticket.

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