As the final day of the Alabama legislative session wound down Monday, House Speaker Mike Hubbard sent out a mass e-mail with the subject line, “Republicans are making headlines.”
They are indeed, something they were unable to do as a minority party.
The Alabama GOP has an absolute lock on state government. It has a supermajority in both houses. Republicans hold every statewide office.
This is, of course, a relatively new state of affairs. For 136 years, Democrats had complete control. Republican lawmakers, as a minority, could sponsor crazy bills and nobody cared. Like Alabama Democrats today, they had the luxury of irrelevance.
Republican legislators chafed at their invisibility, as do all lawmakers with the inability to exert control. What makes this group unique is that it continues to crave headlines, spurning the less glamorous work of governing.
They have too often failed to recognize their responsibilities changed when they became the majority. This failure has harmed the state and disappointed the solid conservatives who voted them into office.
Republican legislators made headlines by passing a law that forces employers to allow employees to bring guns into employee parking lots, removes almost all limits on where people can carry guns and limits the authority of sheriffs in denying handgun permits.
How will the next mass layoff go over, when all those who receive pink slips — some despondent and some angry — potentially have guns in nearby cars?
How will employers balance their moral obligation to protect employees and customers against the legal requirement that they allow guns on their property?
Legislators made headlines by passing a law that claimed to give students trapped in failing public schools a way out. But the law cuts $25 million from all public schools to give unlimited scholarships to students who transfer from public schools that are not failing. It shifts tax money for public schools to private schools, financing student transfers even when they are not trapped by low income.
They made headlines with the same law by subsidizing religious schools with money from the Education Trust Fund, despite a state constitution provision stating, “No money raised for the support of the public schools shall be appropriated to or used for the support of any sectarian or denominational school.”
Before 2010, a Republican minority’s support for these measures would not have made headlines because they would not have become law.
They made headlines this session because it seems inconceivable that a party with complete control over a state could pass such reckless laws.
They made headlines because, three years after becoming the majority, Republican legislators continue to rule as if they are a minority.
For the good of a state that is desperate for leaders who place a higher priority on governance than headlines, the Republicans in Montgomery need to accept the responsibility that comes with power.