During the first days of 2016, critics of President Obama were up in arms over his executive actions to strengthen gun control laws. Central among these executive efforts was more broadly defining the types of gun dealers whose sales would require a background check prior to a purchase.
Hitherto, only federally licensed gun dealers were required to conduct background checks on potential buyers. Now the aim is to bring under the umbrella those who sell guns at flea markets, online and at gun shows — sellers that have typically been able to skirt the requirement.
The criticism from Alabama’s elected state leaders was swift, loud and concerted. Once again, they declared, this was a typical Obama overreach, and an overapplication and assertion of his authority. The will of the people, many vociferously noted, is being thwarted.
Throughout President Barack Obama’s tenure in office, many of our state leaders have loudly declared Alabamians should be more than alarmed at the way Obama in particular, and the federal government in general, has consistently usurped the will of the people through executive and legislative mandates that run counter to the democratic principles our country was founded upon. From education and health care, to environmental policy and marriage laws, we Alabamians have been told that popular sovereignty, the consent of the governed, is being ignored by political elites in Washington hell-bent on carrying out their own agendas.
Two weeks ago Gov. Robert Bentley signed the “Uniform Wage and Right-to-Work Act,” a bill that unanimously passed both houses of the Alabama Legislature. Its purpose is to block cities and municipalities from enacting their own minimum wage standards. Currently Alabama is one of just five states that have not set in place a minimum wage over the federally mandated $7.25 an hour. We share this dubious honor with the southern states of South Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana.
What prompted this legislation? It seems the city of Birmingham had the audacity to incrementally raise its minimum wage, to $10.10 by 2017. Leaders who were elected by the people of Birmingham to represent the city made a decision regarding the quality of life of its people living on the economic fringes. Birmingham had become the first city in the South to raise its minimum wage. That “first” did not last long.
State leaders in Montgomery decided this was neither prudent nor wise local governance. Thus, the issue has been settled, not by the people of Birmingham but by state leaders in Montgomery. It seems that, in our fair state, political paternalism that flows from the state level is to be welcomed and embraced. That which comes from the federal level — not so much.
Rep. David Faulkner Jr., a Republican representing the very well-off community of Mountain Brook who was the sponsor of the state legislation, said he doesn’t know “if cities are equipped to analyze and determine what the appropriate minimum wage is, and what those impacts are.” In other words, that type of wisdom only resides at the state level. Faulkner added, “While we say that we want local control of certain things, I don’t believe the minimum wage is one of those.”
Yet, it is almost certain that the state will most likely take no action to address raising the minimum wage because many legislators see it as a non-issue. But conversely, as we have seen, the Legislature will at the same time thwart the efforts of municipalities that do try to conscientiously address the issue. Many find this dichotomy egregious.
Alabama is an incredibly poor state. Without a doubt, it will not progress beyond being so by legislative fiat, or some legislative act that instantly guarantees everyone an exceedingly comfortable income. That’s not realistic to expect. But it can, and should, address what is an adequate basic living wage for the many Alabamians who subsist on having a job (often more than one) that pays at the minimum-wage level.
For all the vitriol that’s leveled against the federal government for its lack of concern and willingness to run roughshod over the authority of the states, one would think our leaders in Montgomery would be particularly sensitive to heavy-handed tactics that undermine the will of the people.
A very astute and insightful state senator, Republican Paul Bussman, who voted against the bill, observed, “There may be a time my district needs something none of y’all understand. Does that mean you’ll come in and prevent that?” In a paternalistic political environment, that’s most likely exactly what will happen.