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Senate Sketches # 1226

1:02 AM ET, 12/ 9/2010

Senate Sketches # 1226


Senator Hank Sanders


We are going into a special session of the Alabama Legislature on December 8, 2010.  This is a special session that really makes me wonder.  But I am going anyway.

The special session will cost the Alabama taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.  The general fund, which provides the revenue for most state government except education, is already in terrible shape.  In fact, revenue is $65 million short just in the one area of matching federal Medicaid funds, which makes a gaping hole of $260 million.  This means that tens of thousands of our children and others may not have health care.  There are also many other critical needs in state government.  Yes, we are going into special session, but not to tackle challenges presented by the busted general fund.

We are going into special session.  The education fund is down $1.5 billion from the 2008 fiscal year.  We have used up our $437 million savings account known as the proration prevention account.  We have exhausted our $436 million credit line known as the Rainy Day Fund.  We have expended more than $1 billion in stimulus monies provided by the federal government with no more in sight.  Education is in dire straits in Alabama, but we are not going into special session to adequately educate our children.

We are going into special session.  A new governor is coming in on January 18, 2011.  The old governor has served eight years and is on the way out.  The new governor said early on that he would call a special session within the 2011 Regular Session to handle problems being considered in this special session.  The old governor had eight years to call a special session but did not.  But we are going into special session in December, and it really makes me wonder.

We are going into special session.  One of the things that appear will be considered is Senate confirmations of persons appointed to various positions by the Governor. Why is the old governor making appointments as he goes out when a new governor is taking office in less than a month?  It really makes me wonder.

The press release for the special session says it’s about “anti corruption reform” (ethics).  I pray that this is what it is about, but I wonder.  What I see are two bills dubbed as ethics, but what I really see is politics.  One of the bills seeks to stop the deduction of organizational dues by AEA (Alabama Education Association), which represents education employees and ASEA (Alabama State Employees Association), which represents state employees.  This provision is designed to weaken those organizations and its members.  Both organizations have been significant players in Alabama politics over the last so many decades.  AEA has been a truly powerful factor.  This seems like it’s not ethics but politics 301, the advanced kind.  We are going into special session, but I can’t help but wonder.

We are going into special session in December, just three weeks before Christmas.  The Governor’s press release says we are going to handle ethics legislation.  However, one of the proposed bills will prevent persons employed in public education and state and local government from serving in the Alabama Legislature.  It does not matter if that’s who the people want and need.  This is aimed dead at AEA.  But it also has a broader aim, for it’s a shotgun blast.  Let me explain.

The 1901 Alabama Constitution, which is the longest Constitution in the entire world, tried to insure that only “well to do” persons served in the Alabama Legislature.  It provided that legislators could be paid only $10.00 per day and only for legislative sessions.  That’s $300 per year for the 30 day regular session.  It also provided that the only travel for a session is 10 cents per mile one way at the beginning of the session and 10 cents per mile one way at the ending of the session.  Those provisions are still heavyweights in the Alabama Constitution.  These provisions, designed to ensure that only the “well to do” could serve, actually worked for more than a half a century.

The Constitution did not bar expense allowances because it did not foresee them.  Therefore, the Alabama Legislature dealt with the Constitutional limitations through expense allowances in recent years.  I represent nine counties.  The expense allowance is about $49,000 but the public thinks we receive over $100,000 in salary.  The expense allowance was just $29,000 until four years ago.  The expense allowance allowed the common man and woman to serve as legislators.  Now they are finding other ways to restrict service in the Alabama Legislature.

The rouse for stopping education and state employees from serving as legislators is so called “double dipping” — dip one time into state coffers as an employee and dip again as a state legislator.  Of course, the Constitution limits legislative salaries to about $300 per year and state employees cannot receive pay for the days served in the legislature.

We are going into special session.  There are some bills that deal with ethics.  However, they say the session is about ethics, but it is really about power:  more power for the powerful and less power for everyday citizens.  But few see what’s really happening.

Now on to the Daily Diary.

Saturday – I was back in Selma, but I was still in the Thanksgiving holiday spirit. I went to breakfast with my daughter, Ainka, her husband Joe, and Faya Rose where we talked politics for two hours.  I then stayed around the house until it was time to meet with Selma Mayor George Evans about economic development over lunch.  I returned home for the remainder of the day.

Sunday – I did Radio Sunday School with Dr. Margaret Hardy, Radio Education with Perry County School Superintendent John Heard, and Sunday Review.  I participated in Sunday School before returning home to see my child and her family before they got on the road to their home in Nashville but they were gone.  I returned to work but my feet got cold and I went back home.   I worked on Sketches and other matters and talked with various persons including businesswoman Yvonne Hatcher.

Monday – I talked with the following:  Lobbyist Dickie Whittaker; Lobbyist William “Noopie” Cosby; Heather Gray of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives (the Federation); Ola Morrow of Maplesville; Shrimp Farmer Lee Jackson of Lowndes County; Alisa Summerville of Alabama Power Company over lunch; Brenda Wood of the Dallas County Commission; Phil Fraas of Washington, D. C.; Selma Community Leader Lorraine Capers; Rev. Joshua Davis of Shiloh Baptist Church; Greene County School Board Members Lester Brown and Leo Branch; Gloria Pompey of Selma; Bobby England of Tuskegee University; and former White Hall Mayor John Jackson.  I went to Greene County where I met with Commission Chair Nick Underwood.  I participated in other meetings before returning to Selma and working into the night.  I also participated in several conference calls about Black farmers legislation.

Tuesday – I did not do my usual walk because of a severe common cold.  I attended a 7 a.m. meeting of One Selma where I made a presentation and engaged in a question and answer session.  I had a year old Sketches about voting rights icon Annie Cooper, who passed the previous week, read over the talk radio program, Faya’s Fire.  I then traveled to Montgomery for five meetings including one with Senator Del Marsh, Alabama Senate Republican President Pro Tem Designate.  Another was with Alabama Governor-elect Robert Bentley, and a third was with the Senate Democratic Caucus.  I talked with the following:  Senator Vivian Davis Figures; Senator Billy Beasley; Senator Marc Keahey; Senator Linda Coleman; Senator Quinton Ross; Dr. Keith Thompson of Montgomery; and Senator Roger Bedford.  I spent several hours at the doctor because my low platelet blood problem has reappeared.  I made a stop in Lowndes County on my way back to Selma.

Wednesday – I talked with the following: Dr. Carol P. Zippert of the Greene County Democrat; Shawanda Armstead of Selma; Lt. Johnny Tubbs  of the ABI (Alabama Bureau of Investigations)about the Uniontown Foot Wash; Rev. Winston Williams of Selma/Trinidad; Evelyn Turner of Marion; Youlanda Curtis of Washington County; Alabama New South Coalition (ANSC) President Robert Avery; Former Senate Majority Leader Zeb Little; and Franklin Fortier of Z105.3 Radio Station.  I hosted the Talk Radio Program, Law Lessons and attended a fundraising event for Selma High School.

Thursday – I talked with the following:  Ginger Avery Buckner of the Alabama Association for Justice; Dallas County Probate Judge Kim Ballard; Dr. Daniel Boyd of the Lowndes County School System; Dr. Paul Hubbert of the Alabama Education Association (AEA); Representative A. J. McCampbell; Dave White of the Birmingham News; Selma Community Leader Sam Walker; and Talladega Community Leader Dixie Bonner.  I had discussions over a late lunch with Charles and Gulla Sanders before working into the night on various matters.

Friday – I struggled with Sketches but did not get beyond the first two paragraphs.  I gave remarks at the Alabama Food and Farm Forum at Wallace Community College Selma (WCCS) that morning and gave the keynote address that night.  I talked with the following:  Deborah Anthony of the Legislative Reference Service (LRS); Yvette Patterson of Lowndes County; Felecia Jones of the Black Belt Community Foundation (BBCF); Representative David Colston; and Dr. James Mitchell of WCCS.  I handled many matters and visited Dr. Fannie McKenzie, Bobby McKenzie, and Dixie Bonner where we talked about corruption in politics before I returned to the Food and Farm Forum.

EPILOGUE –Terrible things are sometimes done under the guise of doing good.  This often happens when we depower the common citizens to enlarge the power of the already powerful.  I fear this is happening at this moment.

NOTE: Sen. Hank Sanders (D – Selma) has written weekly columns for papers in his legislative district for over twenty years. They are not available online from the rural, weekly papers which publish them. This column is provided by Sen. Sanders’ office to Doc’s Political Parlor for inclusion in the Daily Headlines.

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