AL. Legislative Session 2014: Early Candidate Qualifying & Complacency

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Tuesday marked the first day of the Alabama legislative session in Montgomery. It’s a session due to re-elections and the need to keep the political landscape on an even keel – that could be abbreviated or even considered a ‘lame duck’ session.

WHNT News 19 consulted our own political analyst about what we can expect in the coming weeks out of the state capitol. Athens State’s Dr. Jess Brown says the supposition that incumbent legislative members will not wish to ‘stir the pot’ so-to-speak is the pervasive expectation of the local 2014 session.

Brown says if there is to be an abbreviated session with the emphasis on the priorities of the leadership, a particular Madison County legislator will play a big part. Representative Mac McCutcheon, as chairman of the rules committee, would play a key role in implementing that legislative strategy, says Brown.

Brown says the one caveat to the idea of an abbreviated session is this: incumbents this time around are in effect receiving a favor by way of the fact that candidate qualifying is going to be over with when the sun comes up on Feb. 8.

Since the legislation starts the election year in January rather than February, incumbent legislators will be mostly through with the session by the time candidate qualifying ends. Qualifying usually does not conclude until April. Legislative members would surely be mostly done with the session by then.

“They will have had to be in session as an incumbent legislator waiting to find out exactly who is going to be their opponent.”

So, what will be the lay of the political land in their particular race in their particular district, incumbents will ask themselves:

“This time around,” Brown says, “They’re going to know that after the legislation only meets a few days in regular session.”

One could suppose, then, that even if law makers meet only 3 days a week, they could at a maximum be a third of the way throughout the session and learn their re-election standings are perhaps even more favorable than they had hoped. That, says Brown, could lead to complacency with two-thirds of the session left to go.

“On February 8 there could be a whole bunch of legislators who begin to sense, ‘hey I’ve got political freedom – I don’t even have an opponent or the opponent that I’ve got is weak, has enormous liabilities and no money and no message’ – and you could have an environment within the legislature where a large number of legislators are feeling more political freedom.”

Brown says this scenario also applies to the governor. Come Feb. 8, he says, if the political landscape of the governor’s race is the same as it is today, Governor Bentley may feel he can put his head on the pillow at night and sense he can be a much more independent and freer political bird, as it were.

Brown says for the most part though the republican super-majority will want to pass initiatives that will further their pro-jobs, pro-industry and pro-economic development platforms.

“They may even want to pass something symbolic where they can continue to look anti-Obama and also to be the party of frugality and ethics in government.”

Brown says much to republican surprise, a can of worms were opened with respect to previous legislation brought during this legislative quadrinium. He says with an unexpected progressive reaction from voters, he doesn’t anticipate the GOP going with more fundamental and sweeping policy choices.

“I don’t think we are going to hear a lot about immigration, I don’t think we are going to hear a lot about shutting any more money from public to private schools – I think you’re going to have a lot of members who are going to want to keep those kind of legislative dogs under the porch and asleep – you do not want to wake them up.”

Because the democrat party is so fundamentally weak statewide according to Brown, he predicts they will not regain many seats this session.

“And I won’t be surprised if republicans don’t keep their super-majority – and if they keep it in both chambers, while this particular session may be a ‘yawner’, you’ll have some legislative members get cavalier after being safe in the saddle for so long.”

Brown says that may mean the magnitude of policy developments to come in 2015 if the GOP remains the dominant party could be dramatic to say the least.