Last Tuesday’s election was not a particularly good one for members of the Alabama Legislature.
There were no legislative seats on the ballot. Still, there were plenty of legislators on it, from near the top of it for the U.S. Senate Republican primary, and down to the bottom of it in races for delegates to represent President Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Charlotte, N.C., later this year.
All in all, members of the Alabama Legislature had seven wins and 12 losses last week.
As most probably expected, the long-shot bid of State Rep. Arnold Mooney, R-Indian Springs, for the GOP nod came to an end last Tuesday, as he finished sixth in a field of seven candidates, and former Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville and former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions moved on to the next round.
In Alabama’s first congressional district, State Rep. Chris Pringle, R-Mobile, was the odd man out among the top three in that race to secure a seat in the contest’s runoff. Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl and former State Sen. Bill Hightower lived on to play in the next round.
Farther down the ballot, despite an effort to travel Alabama and establish a statewide presence, State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, lost by 17 points in his bid to be an Alabama Supreme Court associate justice to incumbent Greg Shaw.
It is not until you get to the race for a spot on the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals do you find the first victory on the ballot, which came for State Rep. Matt Fridy, R-Montevallo.
From there, it doesn’t get any better. Members of the Alabama Legislature running to be delegates at the RNC in a mix of district and statewide contests went six for 15 overall.
Perhaps they are not household names for most, but heavy hitters in the Legislature like State Sen. J.T. “Jabo” Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills, who has served off and on in the Alabama Legislature going back to 1966, lost a bid to be a Trump delegate.
The aforementioned Arnold Mooney, who was even at one time running television ads touting his U.S. Senate candidacy, lost his bid by 12 points in a statewide race.
There were other indirect losses for members of the Legislature. U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Fairhope, won the lion’s share of legislative endorsements, but finished third to Sessions and Tuberville and missed the runoff.
Consider this: Alabama Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, the most powerful member of the Alabama Legislature, made a really risky bet and endorsed Chris Lewis, who ran against incumbent U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, for Alabama’s fifth congressional district nomination.
Despite that endorsement and others from the Alabama Farmers Federation and the Alabama Association of Homebuilders, Brooks crushed Lewis by a 50 point margin.
What does all of this mean? Was it a coincidence? Maybe, but not likely.
It appears to be tangible evidence the Legislature is not held in high regard by Alabama Republican voters, which could be problematic because Republicans have supermajorities in both chambers of the State House in Montgomery.
The exclamation point on this came with the defeat of Amendment One, which, if passed, would have changed the elected State Board of Education to a governor-appointed and State Senate-confirmed Alabama Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education.
Constitutional amendments require a three-fifths vote from both chambers of the Alabama Legislature to get on a ballot. By making it on the ballot, one would have to assume such an effort was supported by the members of the Legislature by an overwhelming margin.
It was defeated by an overwhelming, 25-to-75 percent vote tally, by both Republican and Democrat voters last week. If you wanted evidence of a disconnect between the voters and the Alabama Legislature, that is it.
Luckily, none of the members will face a ballot test until 2022, so there is some time for a course correction.
We are one-and-a-third years through the quadrennium. What are the notable accomplishments to date? A gas tax increase and a ban on abortions that is essentially a Hail Mary pass effort to overturn Roe v. Wade.
For starters, the Legislature should stop so much deference to Gov. Kay Ivey and her office. Her chief of staff, Jo Bonner, has been a very effective gubernatorial chief of staff, but it does not have to be that way.
Most in Alabama are in favor of a lottery, by an 80-to-11 percent margin, according to a recent Alabama Daily News poll. Yet, Ivey has employed what appears to be a stall tactic, chilling movement on a lottery constitutional amendment by appointing a blue ribbon commission on the first day of the 2020 legislative session to study gaming and release findings by the end of the year.
Should this not have already been done?
Despite an effort to push a lottery from Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, a heavy hitter in state politics by being the chairman of the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee, leadership in the Legislature seems to be committed to Ivey’s plan.
The lottery is one such example. But the State Legislature could be in trouble politically because of this disconnect.
It is not that the Legislature is presently a particularly partisan institution. It has a GOP supermajority, and Republicans will likely maintain that for the time being.
However, it is a body that seems to hold the priorities of the state’s elite over the rest of the public at the behest of the governor’s office and the business community.
Last Tuesday may have been the canary in the coal mine for what is to come.
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