State Legislature not well-respected by constituents

Published 8:47 am Wednesday, July 1, 2009

By By Steve Flowers
The Alabama Legislature, as a governmental body, is thought of pretty lowly. Most states citizenry hold legislatures as a whole in low esteem, but Alabamians consider our legislature a body of rogues.
It is hard to argue with that assessment when you look at the past three years’ performance and lack of accomplishment. Basically, the only thing that has gotten any quick legislative approval is a 62 percent pay raise for themselves. Legislators even took a page from congress and attached an amendment to their 2007 pay increase whereby they get an automatic cost of living increase every two years, which activated this year automatically increasing their pay by $1,800 per year at a time when most Alabamians are grasping to make ends meet and many are losing their jobs.
All state workers salaries are frozen and furloughs are being called for by the Governor. Our state is basically bankrupt. Unfortunately for legislators this has been the highlight news item coming out of the legislative session this year. In addition to the pay increase, the Democratic legislators threw down the gauntlet and shut down the session because the Republicans refused to budge on their proposal to remove the sales tax on groceries.
Most legislators believe that you, the average voter, will get riled up about their dilatory shenanigans and self-serving travesties but forget about them within a week’s time and will not remember their behavior and inaction by Election Day. However, you the voters may be incensed enough by their stalemate and brazenness that you revolt.
The Legislature has written a recipe for defeat at the polls and voters might just surprise them next year. The average voter may be madder than legislators think. Occasionally Alabama voters will wake up, arise and vote to throw all of the scoundrels out.
Ironically, the legislators who are most vulnerable to the ire of the voter are probably Republicans. Their constituents are more attuned and critical. That is not to say that the Democrats do not read the paper and watch the news, but the fact is they are not as discerning. The average Democratic voter votes more along name identification and party lines as opposed to what they read in the paper or see on television. They believe that the media is simply out to get their people or their legislator.
This reminds me of a story about old Big Jim Folsom. During his time most of his people were country folks who loved Big Jim because he was their friend. Many of these rural Alabamians could not read and if they did they certainly did not read the “Birmingham News.” Instead, they read their local weekly newspaper.
The big city dailies were always writing terrible stuff about Big Jim. He could care less because he knew his folks would never read or hear about their accusations. He was basically immune. Therefore, Big Jim treated the big city papers with complete contempt and disdain.
One day they called and said, Governor we’ve got an expose on your administration and we want to come see you about it. Big Jim laughed and said, boys, where have you been for so long? Come on down here to the Governor’s office and tell old Big Jim what you got on him and have a drink with him. When they got down to the Governor’s office he met them barefooted with a drink in his hand. He said to them, hit me with your best shot. What ya’ll got on old Big Jim? They said, Governor we have a list of 37 people that you have hired in the Highway Department and circumvented the merit system to put them on the state payroll. Big Jim laughed and glanced at their list and said you lying daily newspapers. Ya’ll are lying about Big Jim again. He picked up another list and held it in his hand. I got a new list right here, and I haven’t hired 37 people. I’ve hired 72 and the only merit they got is that they are Big Jim’s friends. The reporters looked at him incredulously. They timidly said Governor we are going to put what you said in the paper tomorrow. Big Jim smiled and said, “Boys I don’t care what you write about me, just spell my name right.”
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 75 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be contacted at

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