April 2011


As I pointed out, here, that the current members of the proposed Constitution Reform Commission are exclusively from the affluent, white suburbs like Auburn, St. Clair County, Homewood, Baldwin County, and Prattville.  The Anniston Star editorial board sees history repeating itself :

The commission’s membership should look more like Alabama in all its diversity and less like Montgomery’s political players. As proposed, commission members and their appointees will be almost exclusively Republican. The constitutional rewrite should not be conceived by this era’s fat cats; the commission should represent all of the state’s wide diversity, including race, gender, income level, ideology, region and background.

The document written by 1901’s powerbrokers put us in the mess we are currently in. It is a product of its time and values. Alabama’s powerful were looking to reassert themselves after the Civil War and Reconstruction. As a result, they rigged a system where their power and influence was secured. Alabamians without a seat at the table were cut out.

Let us not rig the system for another century.

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According to this article from the National Journal, political independence from political parties seems to be greatly waning

But as a purely political calculation, trying to demonstrate independence by breaking from the party on key votes doesn’t appear to be as effective an electoral strategy for House members as it once was. Today’s increasingly parliamentary politics is producing more wave elections in which voters shift between the parties en masse, almost regardless of a member’s individual record. Democrats last fall, for instance, lost 11 of the 17 seats held by McCain district representatives who opposed both the health care and climate-regulation bills. In that environment, it may make more sense for even vulnerable members to help build a party-wide record of accomplishment than to strategically dissent. “Increasingly, I think members see their fate as being tied to that of their party and less about their own individual relationship with their districts,” notes political scientist Alan Abramowitz of Emory
University.

This development does not bode well for our Republic. The health of the Republic greatly relies upon the moral legitimacy of our institutions.  If people believe things are controlled by anything other than the vote and activism such as corporations, or money, or parties, the foundation will be greatly compromised. In the words of the Psalmist: ” if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do.”

The founders saw his danger:

The watchword for all the founders was not “the people” but “the public,” which they understood to mean the collective interest of the citizenry, more enduring than the popular opinion of fleeting majorities. The great evil, they all agreed, was “faction,” which meant narrow-minded interest groups that abandoned the public in favor of their own sectarian agendas, or played demagogue politics with issues in order to confuse the electorate.

Take, for example, two of the classic texts of the founding era. Here is how Madison begins Federalist No. 10: “Among the numerous advantages promised by a well-constructed union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control faction,” which he goes on to describe as “this dangerous vice.”

And here is how Washington put it in his Farewell Address: The spirit of party “agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection.” Sound familiar?

Jefferson is somewhat tricky on this score, because he, along with Madison, did create the first political party, known initially as Republicans but — this is tricky too — soon to morph into Democrats. But Jefferson could never admit, even to himself, that he was a political partisan because it violated the core definition of republicanism (i.e. res publica, public things) and the central political legacy of the American founding.

In fact, Jefferson made two of the most eloquent statements against party politics. “If I must go to heaven in a party,” he claimed, “I prefer not to go at all.” And in his first inaugural address, he stunned his partisan supporters by observing that “we are all Federalists, we are all Republicans.”

We need Republicans and Democrats alike to break their utter allegiance to party and vote principle over partisanship.

James Madison penned this conclusion in Federalist Papers, #51:

This policy of supplying by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives, might be traced through the whole system of human affairs, private as well as public. We see it particularly displayed in all the subordinate distributions of power; where the constant aim is to divide and arrange the several offices in such a manner as that each may be a check on the other; that the private interest of every individual, may be a centinel over the public rights. These inventions of prudence cannot be less requisite in the distribution of the supreme powers of the state.

According to the founders, checks and balances were critically important in any organization and especially civil government. Evidently, the Republican leadership in the Alabama legislature do not exactly agree, even when the other office and check is occupied by someone in their own party.

Republican Speaker Mike Hubbard and Senate Pro Tem Sen. Del Marsh

In another snub toward Republican Governor Robert Bentley, the Republican leadership in the House and Senate has wrested power from and greatly diminished any influence the Governor may have in the rewrite of the state constitution. As I discussed earlier, Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh is pushing through a bill to “reform” the Alabama state constitution. The bill will create a commission with 16 members in include:

  • Republican Sen. Del Marsh and three persons he appoints. (25%)
  • Speaker Mike Hubbard and three persons he appoints. (25%)
  • 4 specified Republican House and Senate Committee Chairmen (all hand-selected by Marsh and Hubbard for their posts) (25%)
  • Lastly, Governor Bentley and his three appointees

Do you see balance there? The Legislative Branch (really two men: Speaker Hubbard and Sen. Marsh) controls 75% of the members of this Constitutional Reform Commission. The Executive, a co-equal branch of government, has only 25%. (Granted: Rep. DeMarco may be a Bentley man.) That, however,  is better than the Judicial branch which has no members, no influence, and no participation in this process at all. (In contradistinction, Florida, which has a commission process in place, fairly and equitably draws its commissioners from across every branch of government.)

The Riley/March/Hubbard/Byrne faction of the Republican Party must be still chapped at the Governor for beating their crony in the primary. This present chop-block follows a long series of other snubs and adverse power-plays.The R/M/H/B faction painted the Bradley Byrne’s race against Gov. Robert Bentley “as a showdown not between two Republicans, but a battle for the heart of the state GOP.”

  • In the primary, the R/M/H/B then undercut Gov. Bentley by rushing “ethics” legislation through a special session before Bentley went into office.
  • After he won, they continued to fight Bentley, implying he was a “RINO.”
  • Then, the R/M/H/B employed a “party power play aimed at providing the Riley-Hubbard-Marsh branch of the party with formidable resources” that will be outside the grasp of the party apparatus aligning with new Governor Bentley.
  • Speaker Hubbard formed his own Speaker’s Commission on Job Creation as a direct competitor to Bentley’s proposed cabinet-level Office of Small Business Creation and Development.
  • Byrne created of his own government watchdog group, Reform Alabama, an outlet to criticize and prod at the Bentley administration for the next 4 years.

Does anyone believe this faction would have granted former Governor Riley only 25%?

Will this now governor stand up for his co-equal power and veto the bill unless he is provided equal power to Marsh and Hubbard? Or will be continue to be run over by the Legislative leadership? Perhaps, Bentley will propose his own Commission proposal through an ally in the House which balances the power.

After years of having majorities sufficient to pass authentic constitutional reform in Alabama, but failing to address the issue at all, Alabama Democrats are to blame thank for whatever emerges as our new constitution. According to this article, the Alabama Republicans, seeing the strategic importance of constitutional reform, are quickly moving to seize control this issue:

The Senate passed a resolution on Tuesday that, if passed by the House of Representatives, would create a commission to begin overhauling large sections of the state’s constitution. The work would not include the section on taxes.

As critically important as this document will be, Democrats have lost for the people of Alabama any real involvement in the process of its creation and drafting.  Bipartisanship could have been an element of reform. If the Democrats had acted, while in power, the creative process could have been truly inclusive. For instance, even if Democrats had chosen a commission similar to Florida’s Constitutional Revision Commission, Democrats and Republicans could have been involved in the drafting process.  (In Florida’s process, the selection of members on the commission arise from a host of all branches and elected officials across government: 37 various members are appointed by the Florida Governor, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the Speaker of the House, and the Senate President.)

Instead, our process will now be pursued with no input from any elected Democrat.

The members of the commission would include the governor and three people he appoints, speaker of the House and three of his appointees, and the Senate president pro tem and three of his appointees. The chairs of the House and Senate committees on the judiciary, and on the constitution and elections would serve as ex-officio members of the commission.

Note: all Republicans. In addition, the proposed Commission not only excludes Democrats but also excludes an entire branch of government from participation: the judiciary. (Could it be because the Chief Justice, the representative of the judiciary, is a Democrat?)

We know this Commission will consist of the following officials:

The commission members will include Gov. Robert Bentley and three of his appointees; Marsh and three appointees; House Speaker Mike Hubbard and three appointees; Sen. Ben Brooks, R-Mobile, co-chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee; Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville, chairman of the Senate Constitution, Campaign Finance, Ethics and Elections Committee; Rep. Paul DeMarco, R-Homewood; and Rep. Randy Davis, R-Daphne, chairman of the House Constitution, Campaigns and Elections Committee

Whereas before, a broad spectrum of viewpoints and philosophies could have influenced the content of our new constitution; now, only one narrow worldview will be considered even if what the this article reports is true,

The Senate added a provision to the resolution to say that the commission shall be inclusive and reflect the racial, gender, economic and geographic diversity of Alabama.

Representatives and Senators from Prattville, Mobile, Auburn, Daphne, Homewood, and St.Clair County: now that is diversity of Alabama for you? Where is the black belt’s voice? Where is urban Alabama’s representative? For that matter: where is rural Alabama’s influence? These representatives will produce a constitution ideal for their respective constituents: affluent, white suburbia.

We can only hope that the internal backbiting, purity-tests, and power-jockeying within the Republican Party will cause some opening for reason.  Maybe Gov. Bentley, his puny three appointees, and Rep. DeMarco can, at least, be a temporary roadblock against he juggernaut of the super-majority, 11 appointees from the Riley/Hubbard/Marsh/ Bradley Byrne faction of the Party

As you might tell: I have no confidence in where this all leads. We will get a new constitution, but it will not be reform. As the saying goes: “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater;” well, I am afraid they will throw out the baby but keep the bathwater. They will want to continue to hoard power in Montgomery. They will not even address the disabling tax provisions built into our constitution. (“Marsh said keeping tax reform off the table was the only way to get things moving.”) Where will they begin “reforming”? Corporations and Banks:

Once established, the commission will start work this year on reviewing proposed changes on Article 12 – Private Corporations, and Article 13 – Banking.

Does the Business Council of Alabama already have model language prepared?  Will their millions in investment in 2010 Republican candidates pay off this soon, and so permanently? Has the banking industry’s lobbyist already been promised passage of their wish-lists.

So thank you to the Democratic legislators, governors, constitutional officeholders, consultants, strategists and leadership that failed to see the importance of this issue and provide leadership over this difficult process.

(Please note: I do not advocate particularly for a Commission form. As I suggested here, I believe we should further empower our locally-elected officials like our county commissions from across the state by including them within the nominating process.)

Based upon newly released data from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the Daily Yonder blog reports on the continuing divide between rural and urban communities access to broadband.

According to the article,

The first shows the percentage of census tracts with only one broadband provider. In urban areas, only 2.2% of census tracts had a single broadband provider.  As the communities grew more rural, however, the percentage of tracts with only one provider grew. In rural America, nearly one in four census tracts had only one broadband provider.

The same stair-step pattern can be seen with download speeds. In urban areas, less than 4% of census tracts had broadband download speeds of under 6 megabits per second. That rose steadily as the tracts grew more rural until, in the most rural areas, 17.2% of the communities had these slow download speeds.

And those were advertised download speeds. Some researchers believe that real download speeds in rural America are far slower than those advertised.

What the data tells us is that the broadband divide is much more than just who has a connection and who doesn’t. In fact, the rural-urban gap is much wider in terms of choice of providers and speed than it is for a simple connection.

Considering that Alabama is 49th in the United States in internet connectivity and 23 percent of people in the state who access the Internet [are] using antiquated dial-up services, we know these statistics to not only be true but probably exacerbated.

As I discussed here:

Good news: Average US broadband speed has now reached 4.7 Mbps, up from 3.9 Mbps last year, according to Akamai’s first quarter report.

Bad news: the rest of the world is nearing Gigabit speed according to this article. That is over 200 times faster than the US average.

In fact, Korea is on par to have universal Gigabit speed by 2012, according to this report.

Every home in Korea will have Gigabit speed, whereas we do not even have universal access to sub-par Mbps. There is no incentive for improvement where no competition exists in 25% of our rural communities. Our telecommunications policies are failing rural America.

While we cut investments, the rest of the world continues to develop its rural internet and broadband capabilties:

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