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Inside the Statehouse

January 8, 2014

The 2014 Legislative Session begins next week. The session starts early in the fourth year of the quadrennium because it is an election year. Legislators want to come in and get out early so that they can go home and campaign.

Usually legislatures do not do much other than pass the budgets in a campaign year session. They especially do not try to tackle any controversial issues that could stir up any ire with voters. However, this current group of legislators will tackle anything controversial as long as it has a right wing slant to it.

It would be hard to think of any major conservative issue they have not addressed in the first three years of their super Republican majority reign. In years one and two they passed a stringent anti-immigration bill as well as dismantled the AEA.

Last year, this bevy of reactionary elephants passed an anti abortion bill. They also adhered to the NRA demands to affirm gun rights laws in Alabama. The legislation allowed people to carry guns openly even into their parking lots at work. The Business Council of Alabama adamantly opposed this provision. However, the NRA prevailed.

They enacted a controversial private school voucher bill that allows parents of children enrolled in “failing” public schools to take a tax credit for tuition they pay to private schools.

They revamped the state’s Medicaid program from the current fee-for-service system into a managed care program.

The Governor’s prize victory came when he got his wish to construct an $85 million luxury lodge and convention center at the location of the Gulf Shores State Park. It will be a joint public/private partnership. The state will own the property. The project will be funded with BP money from the gulf oil spill.

They also voted to allow Alabamians to make a limited amount of beer for personal consumption without a license or fee. We were the last state to allow home brewing.

One issue that has remained on the back burner is the Common Core State Education Standard. This Common Core concept spells out specific expectations of what students should know at the end of every grade. It goes from kindergarten through high school. Common Core covers the entire spectrum of learning, including reading, writing, listening, vocabulary and mathematics. It addresses the fundamentals of these subjects. Students are tested and asked details about what they have learned.

Conservatives around the country have come out stringently against Common Core. Some Tea Party activists have decried it as being developed by “extreme leftists.” Two extreme right-wingers, Glenn Beck and Phyllis Schafley, have attacked the effort as a dangerous threat from the Obama administration. However, other conservatives, like former Governors Jeb Bush of Florida and Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, are in support of Common Core.

These new standards have the endorsement of major business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is giving grants to support Common Core’s implementation.

Some opponents are implying that Common Core is a Washington based idea. Beck and Schafley have stated as much. However, that is not factual. The Common Core concept grew up from the states.

Government and state education people developed the standards.

State school professionals and legislators were concerned that an alarming number of students entering college were having to take remedial math and English classes before they could take classes for college credit. The federal government was not involved. Today, 45 states have voluntarily adopted the math and English standards.

Some critics say that Common Core would nationalize education. Proponents counter that the standards are goals and not mandates. There are no set requirements made upon educators. Teachers choose their own books and suggested reading lists.

Two state led groups are preparing the annual assessments that will be matched to the Common Core Standards. They plan to have them ready for the 2014-15 school year. It will be interesting to see if the GOP legislature will weigh in on this issue.

January 1, 2014

With each passing day it becomes less likely that Gov. Robert Bentley will get any serious opposition in his reelection bid. We are only five months away from the June 3, 2014 GOP primary. It would be very difficult for someone to mount a significant challenge to the popular incumbent in that time span.

It also appears that Sen. Jeff Sessions and Attorney General Luther Strange will have smooth sailing towards their reelections. Young Boozer and John McMillan also appear to be headed towards re-election to second terms as Treasurer and Agriculture Commissioner.

Under our state constitution, the aforementioned statewide incumbents are term limited after two four-year terms. However, U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions has no limitations on the number of six-year terms he serves. This lack of competition portends a quiet and dull 2014 election year. This is disappointing to those of us who thrive on following political races. Therefore, political pundits will begin their speculation of who will follow Gov. Bentley as governor in 2018.

Political junkies are already thinking about the 2018 races since the 2014 contests will be sleepers. All four of the major constitutional officeholders will have to move up or out. That means that speculation will obviously focus on Luther Strange, Kay Ivey, Young Boozer and John McMillan as possible entrants into the 2018 horse races.

None of the four could be called spring chickens. McMillan and Ivey will be over 70. Strange and Boozer will be in their mid-60’s. However, by today’s standards that is not old. Therefore, if they have the fire in the belly for a chase at the brass ring their age should not be a deterrent.

One major player, who has opted out of the 2014 races, is Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard. Some Goat Hill observers say he would lose power moving from his position as Czar of the House of Representatives.

Meanwhile, most of the action surrounding next year’s elections will center on Hubbard’s legislative election activities. It is expected that the legislative races will be the best contests in 2014.

Hubbard has amassed his power and control of the House of Representatives by garnering the money doled out by lobbyists and special interest groups. He has corralled the lobbyists to give the money to him or his PACs and he doles it out to his friends and loyal subjects.

The state has become so divided when it comes to partisan allegiances and voting patterns that it is fairly predictable whether a Republican or Democrat will occupy a House or Senate seat in the legislature for the foreseeable future. The legislative lines were drawn two years ago for the upcoming 2014 elections. They will be in effect for the remainder of the decade. These district lines are designed to keep the GOP in control of both the State House and State Senate by about a two to one majority.

There are only a handful of seats that will be in play on a partisan battle basis. The districts are drawn to provide for 65 safe Republican seats and 35 safe Democratic seats in the House. There are about five seats that could go either way. If they split, it remains a two to one Republican advantage. The Senate is drawn about the same way. It is designed to be a 25 to 10 Republican advantage in the upper chamber. There are only three or four seats that are in play on a partisan basis.

Therefore, the liveliest challenges next year will probably be within the GOP ranks. There will be intraparty battles to see who sits in these solidly safe Republican seats. Hubbard may attempt to purge some districts that have not totally followed his reactionary orders.

This super majority Republican legislature has emasculated the only Democratic friendly organization, the Alabama Education Association, during this quadrennium. They have driven daggers into the heart and soul of this once vaunted union. In three short years, they rolled back 30 years of union accomplishments under the leadership of the legendary King of Goat Hill, Dr. Paul Hubbert.

It will be interesting to see whether the AEA will roll over and play dead or fight back. If Hubbert were still in charge, my guess is that he would fight back with a vengeance. His approach would be to strike strategically within the GOP primary.

Steve Flowers announced today that he will be a candidate for Place 2 on the Public Service Commission in the June 3rd Republican Primary

Along with his weekly political columns, Flowers hosts a weekly television show seen throughout South Alabama, as well as a weekly radio show that is heard throughout the state on public radio and on 15 commercial stations.

Flowers’ television and radio shows are produced by Troy University. He also teaches Alabama and Southern Politics at Troy University.

Flowers was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1982 at age 30. In that race he received the most votes ever cast for any candidate in the history of his native Pike County. He was reelected four times and served 16 years. He left the House undefeated and uncontested, choosing not to seek reelection in 1998.

During his legislative career, he maintained one of the most conservative voting records amongst his peers. Flowers was the sponsor and author of the historic tort reform legislation passed in the 1980s. He earned a reputation as being one of the most pro-business legislators. He was honored by the Alabama Farmers’ Federation with their highest honor, being the recipient of the Outstanding Service to Agriculture Award. He was also honored by the National Federation of Independent Business with their highest award.

During his tenure in the House, Flowers sustained a perfect attendance record for 16 consecutive years. In 1992, he was voted by his colleagues as the Most Outstanding Member of the Alabama House of Representatives.

Flowers comes to the PSC race with a proven conservative pro-business record. In addition, he enters the race with a huge name ID, as well as a significant financial advantage.


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