(WHNT) – The regular session of the legislature this year is long over, but what happened down in Montgomery still ripe for discussion.
Who better to give insight in this week’s Leadership Perspectives interview than Athens State professor and WHNT News 19 political analyst Jess Brown.
Brown started the interview by giving us his general feelings of the session.
“My impressions are that the Republican leadership in Montgomery have a super majority in the house and senate. The could pass any legislation they wanted to, pretty much, and they chose to use this session to pass legislation that would remind their core partisan supporters, core Republicans, that they wanted to be seen as the pro-business party and they wanted to be seen as a party that would perhaps fight liberal interests , and perhaps be the party of social conservatism. They did pass one anti-abortion bill for example. But I’d give them in terms of a grade, somebody asked me recently, B+, B-, something like that,” Brown said.
Though, it should be pointed out there was some disagreement between the governor and the legislature over a pay raise for teachers being included in the education budget. Governor Bentley had been an advocate for the raise, but the legislators did not include it in the budget passed.
“Procedurally, the legislature stiffed the Governor. The Governor could not even get a vote out of either chamber of a Republican Legislature, and he is very much a Republican. A Republican governor could not get a vote out of either chamber of a Republican controlled legislature on whether teachers should have a two percent pay raise.”
Why the governor couldn’t get a vote out of the legislature and how they avoided it
“[The legislature] intentionally adjourned four and a half hours early. They left other legislation that even they supported…They essentially insured its death in order to avoid having to vote for or against the teacher pay raise. I sense that you probably had some Republican legislators that didn’t want to cast that vote for this reason. If they voted for the pay raise, they are fearful of being labeled by the Republican Party as, well, supporting AEA and its agenda–the Alabama Education Association and its agenda. But they certainly didn’t want to go home and say they voted against a two percent pay raise, and to avoid that politically tough vote they essentially stiffed the governor.”
Brown explained exactly how this “stiffed” the governor, saying, “Stiffed the Governor in the sense–this was something from day one. You can go back to the beginning of the legislative session. He said this was an important part of his agenda and that the money was there to do the pay raise. Legislative leadership disagreed with his reading of this, essentially. He said the money was there and they said it’s not there. But they essentially they stiffed him. And I would argue this is the second time they’ve done it. I think they stiffed him at the end of last year’s session on the Alabama Accountability Act.”
What that says about the governor’s ability to push through legislation is something Brown says is discussed in the cups of lobbyists in Montgomery.
“Somebody told me recently, somebody who’s lobbied down there for a good 20 years told me, he said we kind of joked, some of us lobbyists drinking a beer… And the perception in Montgomery for this quadrenium, for this four year period, the Speaker of the House has had more influence on the actual flow of legislation through the legislature, and the content of bills, that he may have had more influence over that than the Governor of the State.”
And that fact is something the governor has likely taken notice of.
“My guess is, he’s not thrilled with this environment. But it comes in an election year, and how much risk does he want to take to do something about it. Steve, I can tell you, if there are indictments from the Lee County Grand Jury involving legislative leaders, this is going to create a ripe opportunity for the Governor to re-assert himself as sort of the primary figure in state policy making and state politics.”
In fact, two Republican Alabama legislators are in hot water, as of this month. Rep. Greg Wren resigned on April 1 from the Alabama House of Representatives as part of a plea agreement. Acting Attorney General W. Van Davis said Wren pleaded guilty to knowingly using his office for personal gain. Later in the month, State Rep. Barry Moore, a Republican from Enterprise, was charged in connection with an ongoing investigation into potential public corruption in Alabama.
“We also need to remember that this investigation in Lee County about corruption in state government is in one sense fundamentally different from others we’ve had in recent years, because the others we’ve had in recent years was an initiative of a Federal prosecutor’s office, the Justice Department in Washington. Remember this investigation, this prosecution and the Lee County Grand Jury is being done by a Republican Attorney General’s office, and that, that, always raises my eyebrows, because I begin to ask about a Republican Attorney General investigating other Republicans,” Brown said.
“The tea leaves and the landscape of politics is shaping up to make [Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange], by next January, the most prominent politician in Alabama.”
Perhaps, even, a gubernatorial candidate.