It’s not quite time for Christmas yet, but a little elf told me it’s best to get your wish list in early. That little elf must know Montgomery’s political wheels are slow to turn, and my wish list is long and detailed.
Below is my wish list for this year, and it is truly that: wishful thinking. Montgomery rarely gets anything completely right, but there are lots of things they get very wrong. Here’s to wishing some of these things change after this Christmas season.
1. I wish the Alabama Legislature would pass budgets without having to call one or more special sessions. Each year, the Legislature is allowed by law to meet for 30 legislative days over a few months, during which time they’re supposed to pass both the state’s general and education budgets. To no one’s surprise, this often doesn’t happen, and legislators are forced to meet in what are called special sessions to pass one or both budgets.
These special sessions have been held as many as four and five times a year, costing taxpayers up to $500,000 each time. It amounts to stopgap politics that result from a lack of compromise and leadership on behalf of lawmakers. I wish they’d just do their job and pass the budgets the first time.
2. I wish Montgomery’s political leadership would think before they act. Almost every year, the Statehouse passes legislation that winds up losing in court, all on the taxpayer’s dime. Whether it involves gay marriage, gambling or immigration, Alabama’s lawmakers don’t have a good batting average when it comes to controversial legislation standing up in court, and that’s cost us.
Each of these examples has cost the state hundreds of thousands on different occasions, costs we should not have to incur. All it takes is a little forethought.
3. I wish the impeachment proceedings against Gov. Robert Bentley were allowed to move forward. Recently the lawmaker heading the committee considering charges against Bentley suspended the proceedings at the request of Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange.
There’s no reason legislative and criminal investigations can’t run concurrently. In fact, if there’s truly a criminal investigation of our governor, as Strange’s request suggests, then impeachment proceedings should be expedited, not slowed. Alabama deserves an honest and accountable leader, and the Statehouse should help make sure we have one.
4. I wish Montgomery would let local issues be solved locally. Only a few counties in Alabama have any amount of home rule, and the power of cities is also very limited. Conservative politicians say they hold local governance, not top-down rule, as a core value, but somewhere on Interstate 65 between here and Montgomery, they forget that particular principle.
Mobile should spend its BP funds how it wants; at the same time, if Birmingham wants a minimum wage, that’s their solution. It doesn’t have to be ours, but let them choose. So this Christmas season, I’m hoping Goat Hill lets us do what we do best: govern ourselves.
5. I wish politicians wouldn’t lie to us. It seems every other week there’s a lying politician (or two or three) saying one thing, only to be contradicted by the stubborn truth just days later. The latest example is bigger and bolder than those before: this month we found out that the Alabama State Department of Education essentially lied about the state’s graduation rate, reporting it as the third-highest in the country when our K-12 academics are more middle of the road at best. I say “essentially” because the agency said it was lied to itself about student’s records by local school officials.
That doesn’t make me feel better, though; instead of just a few liars, we may have many, and we aren’t even being told who they are. I just wish we had the truth.
6. I wish Montgomery would end the practice of judicial overrides. Alabama is the only state in the country where if if a jury sentences a defendant to life in prison for a crime, a judge can override that decision and put that man or woman to death regardless of the opinion of his or her peers. The U.S. Supreme Court has said the practice is unconstitutional, and Alabama is still dragging its feet on the issue.
Just last week, the state executed a man who a jury had sentenced to life without parole. That’s not justice. I wish the Alabama Legislature would do the right thing and repeal the state law allowing for these overrides.
7. I wish justice wasn’t for sale in Alabama. Our state is one of only a few where judges run for office in so-called partisan elections, where candidates are labeled outright as Republican or Democrat. Judges from across the political spectrum, including former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Sue Bell Cobb, have criticized the practice. Studies have shown that under a system like Alabama’s, judges are more likely to sentence harshly ahead of election day. Justice shouldn’t depend on the election calendar.
Even further, Justice Cobb, for instance, has said that having to raise thousands in campaign donations from the very people who will then be before your court is truly problematic. Justice shouldn’t be up for sale. The Alabama Legislature, with a little help from the voters, can change the way our judges are selected. I wish they would.