Ken Hare In Depth: GOP thumbs nose at public, key constituents

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - So much for the party of transparency. When the chancecame to flex its political muscle in the Legislature it now controls, the GrandOld Party proved that it places expediency first, and the need for publicdiscourse and input are not even on its radar.

In other words, the political party in charge in theLegislature has changed, but the tricky tactics remain pretty much the same.

By now most readers know the basics of the storyinvolving passage of what started out as a controversial school flex bill. Asenvisioned, the bill would have allowed local school systems -- with the OK ofthe state school superintendent -- the flexibility to avoid some stateeducation laws.

That was controversial enough. But after longnegotiations to work through some of the issues, the bills that had passed the House and Senate went to aconference committee supposedly to iron out differences in the two versions.

Instead, in a bait and switch move more expected from asleazy con artist, the Republican majority on the conference committee added 18pages to the nine-page bill.

Then the GOP majority slammed the rewritten bill throughwithout allowing time for it to be thoroughly read, much less debated.

The new bill givestax breaks to parents of children who live in attendance zones of failingpublic schools and who choose (whether they are doing so now or choose to do soin the future) to send their children to private schools. Those tax breaks, ofcourse, would siphon money away from funding for public schools and publiccolleges. It also would allow businesses and individuals to get tax credits fordonating to a scholarship fund for children to attend private schools -- again,tax credits that would siphon money away from public schools and colleges.

Basically, the Republicans in the Legislature seem to besaying their way of improving public education is to take money away from someof the worst funded public schools in the nation and give it to privateschools.

But this column isn't really about the pros and cons ofthe legislation itself. It was pushed through with so little study andessentially no public debate that it will take some time to learn enough aboutthe potential ramifications of the bill to know whether its positives willoutweigh its negatives.

However, the way the bill passed raises serious questionsabout the leadership of the  Republicanofficers in the Legislature and the governor.

It certainly appears that when they supposedly were negotiatingin good faith on the bill, they in fact were simply setting up the oppositionfor their bait and switch scheme.

If only the Alabama Education Association and Democraticlegislators were being duped, the scheming might be explained away just as politicsas usual. After all, the AEA and its Democratic allies often used strong-armtactics against Republican legislators back when Republicans were in theminority. Two wrongs don't make a right, but they do make such tactics moreunderstandable.

But those being conned also included State SuperintendentTommy Bice and the members of the state Board of Education and the stateAssociation of School Boards --  mostlygood, well-meaning people who did not deserve to be treated this way.

The public also was duped. Even if this bill proves to bethe best thing for the public since sliced bread -- and the verdict is stillout on that -- such a fundamental change in education policy deserves to bepublicly debated and explained before it is passed. The citizens of Alabamadeserved a chance to weigh in on these changes, and the GOP tactics denied themthat opportunity.

One of the saddest comments in the aftermath of thepassage came from Senate President Pro TemDel Marsh, R-Anniston. Marsh was quoted as saying that delaying passage of thebill to allow for debate would have allowed opponents to inundate legislatorswith calls.

Isn't that theway it's supposed to work? Isn't the public supposed to be allowed time toreact and provide input to elected officials?

If this bill isas good as Gov. Robert Bentley and Marsh claim it to be, why the need for thesubterfuge? After all, the Republicans control the governor's office and have asupermajority in both chambers of the Legislature -- in other words, enoughmembers to override any delaying tactic.

So if they wereso sure of the rightness of their cause, why not use that supermajority powerto pass this legislation the right way -- with public input and public debate?

As an editorialwriter in Alabama for almost three decades, all too often I had to blastDemocrats for running roughshod over Republicans when the Democrats were incharge. Such tactics were wrong then, and they are wrong now.

Lord Acton, aBritish historian, said, "Power corrupts, and absolute power corruptsabsolutely."  With supermajoritiesin the House and Senate and with a Republican in the governor's chair, theAlabama GOP has almost absolute power over legislation. The Republicanleadership needs to take care that it does not prove Acton's adage true.


Ken Hare was a longtimeAlabama newspaper editorial writer and editorial page editor who now writes aregular column for WSFA's web site. Email him at

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