THE ISSUE: Morgan County District Attorney Scott Anderson last week expressed with dignity the frustration many public servants have in dealing with pandering legislators. The public has entrusted lawmakers with an enormous responsibility, yet political gamesmanship too often replaces the statesmanship Alabama deserves.
Morgan County District Attorney Scott Anderson does not often get riled up, but he did after a recent encounter with state Rep. Ed Henry, R-Hartselle. His frustration is increasingly common among those who want the best for Alabama and its citizens, yet are hampered by legislators who are caught up in political games.
The issue that prompted Anderson’s comments was a relatively benign bill limited to Morgan County. The Legislature, afraid of the political consequences of raising taxes to fund the essential services of government, has for years whittled away at the budget that funds courts and district attorney offices. To make up for the deficiency, many counties have successfully pushed their local delegations to increase court fees.
It’s not a good solution — high fees block many from the court system — but the increased fees at least keep the criminal justice system functioning. Morgan County’s court fees are below those of most neighboring counties, and Anderson joined with other local court officials in requesting an increase in the fees that fund their offices. The request was especially urgent because the House fiscal 2016 budget contains a 17 percent cut for all district attorney offices in the state.
Traditionally, the Legislature will pass a local bill if the local legislative delegation unanimously supports it.
Anderson’s frustration came in his dealings with Henry, whose support he needed.
“Rep. Ed Henry has informed me that he understands the court system in Morgan County is in need of these funds, he further instructed me to hound him publicly and ask him to do it,” Anderson said.
It’s a request that did not sit well with Anderson.
“Rep. Henry told me that he wants the courts, which includes me, to beg him publicly for these funds,” Anderson said. “I have never begged for anything in my adult life.”
But Anderson recognizes the heavy responsibility he bears to the people who elected him and to the victims of crime. He explained that the families of murder victims — including Joshua Davis and Antonio Hernandez, shot down May 15 — need his office to be effective, which is impossible if the Legislature will not fund it adequately. He explained he needs funding in order to prosecute cases of domestic abuse, and to put drug dealers behind bars.
“So if Rep. Henry wants me to beg, then I will beg for these people,” Anderson continued.
“Please, Rep. Henry, provide my office with sufficient funds to prosecute these capital murder cases so that the families of the victims can have some closure and see justice done.
“Please, Rep. Henry, provide my office with sufficient funds to prosecute those who rape, sexually abuse and molest little children.
“Please, Rep. Henry, provide my office with enough funds to prosecute the defendants charged with robberies, burglaries, assaults and thefts.
“Please, Rep. Henry, provide my office with sufficient funds so I can prosecute those defendants who commit acts of domestic violence.”
Around the state, Republicans and Democrats who care about the people they serve are being forced to beg. They are begging for the mentally ill, for public school students, for health care, for humane prison conditions. And often, their pleas are directed at legislators who are too busy playing politics to hear.