Thursday, March 16, 2006

Legislators to Constituents: "We don't trust you."

People in Alabama are used to disappointment when it comes to their lawmakers. They’ve been waiting for a long, long time for things like term limits, sunshine laws, PAC to PAC transfer limits, and a re-write of the Alabama constitution. Yet, state lawmakers time and time again fail to provide. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just pass these laws on our own, without having to worry about special interests and lobbyists rewording them to suit their own purposes? Wouldn’t it be nice if Alabama’s government could truly be ruled by its people and lawmakers were held accountable to the role of public servant? Sounds almost like a dream, doesn’t it?

Only it isn’t a dream, and we came very, very close to having it come true. It’s called Initiative and Referendum. The voters want something passed, they sign a petition, have it added to a ballot, the people vote, and it becomes law— no political drama required! But there is a problem. In order for us to have I&R, the legislature has to pass it. That’s what turns the dream into a nightmare.

Yesterday, Rep. Mike Ball’s most recent attempt at passing such legislation failed miserably. His bill actually made it out of a House committee and on to the full House and was actually place on the schedule for debate. That’s when the predictable happened:

The bill died after lawmaker after lawmaker stepped up to question it. Rep. Mike Ball, R-Huntsville, after more than an hour of talk, saw the handwriting on the wall and withdrew his bill.

Now why on earth would lawmakers have such a big problem with this type of legislation? Why would they have a problem with their constituents passing laws that they couldn’t and, in effect, saving them some precious time? Because they’re scared, and they should be. That’s why. I&R means almost instant gratification for voters, and it would hold elected officials accountable at all times. For certain officials who are ruled by special interest groups (and their own personal interests) with the rare exception of an election year, that’s enough to make you cry like a little girl.

But some good did come of this. As a result of the debate, we now know which legislators have openly opposed I&R:

The opposition from lawmakers was clear. "We have a representative republic and not a direct democracy," said Rep. Robert Bentley, R-Tuscaloosa.

Rep. James Buskey, D-Mobile, said people should run for the Legislature if they want to pass laws. "If people want to legislate, let them run," he said.

And I fully intend to find out who else was opposed. I’ll be sure to post it here. I may even start calling or writing letters to their constituents if I get bored. That’s always fun. I agree with Rep. Ball on one thing:

"It will not pass until the public demands it."

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