Mid-year look re­veals event­ful first half of 2017

Cherokee County Herald - - VIEWPOINTS - By Steve Flow­ers

As we take a mid-year look at Alabama pol­i­tics, it has been an event­ful first half of the year.

It is not ev­ery year that a gov­er­nor re­signs mid-term. Gov­er­nor Robert Bent­ley’s res­ig­na­tion from of­fice on April 10 will more than likely be the most news­wor­thy story of the year.

Bent­ley’s saga had be­gun 18 months ago. His trou­bles stemmed from his re­la­tion­ship with his pri­mary and prob­a­bly only ad­vi­sor, who was mar­ried to a quiet man whom Bent­ley placed in a vague $90,000 po­si­tion with the state. It was a tit­il­lat­ing story that led to an in­ves­ti­ga­tion and later find­ing by the State Ethics Com­mis­sion that there was rea­son­able ev­i­dence that Bent­ley may have vi­o­lated the law. Fac­ing prob­a­ble im­peach­ment by the Leg­is­la­ture, Bent­ley re­signed in dis­grace.

The most note­wor­thy event was the ap­point­ment of our Ju­nior U.S. Sen­a­tor Jeff Ses­sions to the pow­er­ful post of U.S. At­tor­ney Gen­eral. Ses­sions was one of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s first Cab­i­net ap­point­ments.

Ses­sions de­par­ture from the Se­nate seat left open his cov­eted post. In his wan­ing days as gov­er­nor, Bent­ley in­ter­viewed about 20 qual­i­fied can­di­dates for the in­terim ap­point­ment. Bent­ley even­tu­ally ap­pointed Alabama At­tor­ney Gen­eral Luther Strange, a wor­thy choice.

How­ever, the ap­point­ment of Strange caused tremen­dous furor among Alabami­ans. A few months ear­lier, Strange stated he was in­ves­ti­gat­ing the Gov­er­nor. The ap­point­ment of the At­tor­ney Gen­eral to the seat had the ap­pear­ance of a brazen act of col­lu­sion be­tween the Gov­er­nor and Strange.

Bent­ley re­signed a month later and Strange went to Wash­ing­ton. Upon the res­ig­na­tion of Bent­ley, Lt. Gov­er­nor, Kay Ivey, be­came the sec­ond fe­male gov­er­nor in state his­tory. Iron­i­cally, Kay was a stal­wart sup­porter and worked for our only other fe­male gov­er­nor, Lurleen Wal­lace, when she was in col­lege over 50 years ago.

Gov­er­nor Kay Ivey has shown calm, de­lib­er­a­tive and wise lead­er­ship in her first three months as gov­er­nor. She has done a good job and steadily stuck to her knit­ting gov­ern­ing, rather than cut­ting rib­bons. She in­her­ited the ship of state in the mid­dle of a leg­isla­tive ses­sion. She stayed in close con­tact with the Se­nate lead­er­ship and brought the ses­sion to a suc­cess­ful land­ing.

The leg­isla­tive ses­sion could in­deed be con­sid­ered a suc­cess. Mac McCutcheon, a Repub­li­can Rep­re­sen­ta­tive from Madi­son County, led his first reg­u­lar ses­sion as Speaker. McCutcheon is level headed and a nat­u­ral fa­cil­i­ta­tor. He is a re­tired po­lice of­fi­cer from Huntsville, who worked as a hostage ne­go­tia­tor. He seems fair and runs a more open and egal­i­tar­ian House than for­mer Speaker Mike Hub­bard.

Any leg­isla­tive ses­sion could be con­sid­ered suc­cess­ful when both bud­gets are passed. The $1.8 bil­lion Gen­eral Fund bud­get passed early due to a one­time in­flux of $105 mil­lion from the BP oil spill set­tle­ment. The be­lea­guered Gen­eral Fund will be much harder to bal­ance next year, which will be an elec­tion year. For the eighth straight year, state work­ers got no in­crease in pay.

Even though the Ed­u­ca­tion Trust Fund bud­get grew by $ 90 mil­lion, teach­ers also get no pay in­crease. The $6.4 bil­lion Ed­u­ca­tion bud­get did in­clude a 20 per­cent in­crease in pre-kinder­garten fund­ing.

The Leg­is­la­ture abol­ished ju­di­cial over­ride in death penalty cases, voted to re­quire in­sur­ers to ex­tend cov­er­age to autism ther­a­pies, and ended the ban on mid­wifery in Alabama.

They chose not to ad­dress the prison over­crowd­ing is­sue. How­ever, this may be a pru­dent call. It may be wiser to wait un­til the fed­eral courts de­cree what they want from the state. This could be a para­mount is­sue that re­quires a Spe­cial Ses­sion.

The Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity ram­rod­ded a reap­por­tion­ment plan through the Se­nate and House over adamant dis­ap­proval of black Democrats. The fi­nal au­thor­ity on whether it will stand rests with the fed­eral courts. Un­til this is de­cided, there is a cloud over the up­com­ing leg­isla­tive races. Repub­li­can leg­is­la­tors may have over­played their hand this time. A fed­eral judge may send Alabama’s de­mo­graph­ics to a com­puter in New York to draw the lines and sev­eral of them may find them­selves in the same dis­tricts sev­eral coun­ties away.

Steve Flow­ers is Alabama’s lead­ing po­lit­i­cal colum­nist. His weekly col­umn ap­pears in over 60 Alabama news­pa­pers. He served 16 years in the state leg­is­la­ture. Steve may be reached at www.steve­flow­ers.us.

Jim Pow­ell of Young Har­ris

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