Every four years, groups like the Business Council of Alabama and the Alabama Farmers Federation spend tens of thousands of dollars through their political action committees on Alabama’s legislative races.
Of course, the idea is to have representation closely aligned with their members in the Alabama State House.
All of that money and those resources might as well have been given to charity in 2018.
Last week, Gov. Kay Ivey extended the expiration dates of a duo of economic development packages, the Alabama Jobs Act and Growing Alabama tax credits, by executive order.
Typically, this would require an act of the Legislature, but according to a tweet announcing her decision, Ivey said the decision was “with support of the Legislature.”
The governor’s office insisted Ivey has the ability to do this under the Emergency Management Act.
Who knew economic development and tax policy could be included as an “emergency” category alongside appointing air raid wardens, instituting curfews, issuing evacuation orders and demanding an unending mask ordinance?
There were a few gripes. State General Fund Chairman Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, told Alabama Daily News he wasn’t willing to “bequeath power to any executive department.”
Habitual Ivey critic Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Daphne, likened Ivey’s move to the fable of the frog meeting its demise in a boiling pot of water. Before you know it, power has shifted dramatically from the legislative branch to the executive branch.
Beyond that, it seems there has been a reluctance to speak out against the state’s top executive for fear of retribution.
That is a little unusual for Alabama. For more than a generation, there has been a natural tension between the legislative and executive branches of state government.
When George Wallace finally left office for good in 1987, that was the beginning of the end of one-party rule in Alabama. Democrats had controlled state politics going back to Reconstruction. Over time, Republicans made gains, and finally, in 2010, the GOP held everything.
The beneficiary should have been then-Gov. Robert Bentley, but he was unable to capitalize given the circumstances.
Meanwhile, Republicans continued to make gains throughout the next decade. In 2018, Ivey won both her primary and general election races by convincing margins, and the Republicans in the Legislature got a supermajority.
Everyone is on the same page. While there are still some divisions, they have been revealed to be more geographic and less ideological.
With that, the governor’s administration has capitalized. Out of the gate came the Rebuild Alabama Act. Lawmakers went along with raising fuel taxes and financing the expansion of the Port of Mobile.
After COVID-19 arrived, then came the shutdown order, a never-ending mask ordinance and this recent round of taxation policy by executive fiat.
As the Department of Justice has made its lawsuit against the state of Alabama and the Alabama Department of Corrections official, what will undoubtedly come next will be a go-it-alone approach to new prison construction.
A 30-year obligation for a nearly billion-dollar prison is possible in Kay Ivey’s Alabama without even a roll call of the State House of Representatives or Senate.
Beyond that, what might an emboldened executive branch try to pull off? Some form of Medicaid expansion (although it probably will not be branded as such) and a resolution to Alabama’s decades’ long gambling conundrum have been mentioned.
On this trajectory, in two or six years, Kay Ivey will leave office having solved gambling and health care (with the backdrop of a pandemic), improved infrastructure and made inroads on prisons (aside from the temporary DOJ setback).
Not since Wallace — and it took him four terms over 24 years — would a governor have as many accomplishments.
You might be wondering — why haven’t there been more objections to this approach?
No one else wants to be that guy. An example is made out of the first to step out of line. If you didn’t vote for the gas tax hike, you have a red mark on the infamous dry erase board in the governor’s office beside your name.
You lose funding for the state park in your district. No money for an overpass for you.
That retribution does not go unnoticed, and for fear of being the next one to be made an example of, which could come at a cost to your district, you fall in line and do as instructed.
The governor’s office aligns itself with a few key members of leadership in each of the chambers inside the State House. The rest of the body falls in line out of fear of punishment.
Organizing in a bloc within the Republican caucus, as the Freedom Caucus has in the U.S. House of Representatives, is discouraged.
So far, so good. Governor Ivey is still soaring with a high approval rating among voters.
It is incredible what a governor can do without that pesky system of checks and balances.
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