Education Matters


Alabama is on a political slippery slope. Our descent is being aided by millions of dollars of campaign contributions controlled by a handful of political operatives who obviously believe many Alabama citizens should be only seen, not heard. This attitude is hardly new to this country, or even to Alabama.

The Tidewater region of North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Delaware was created by a large re-location of English families who formed the region’s aristocracy. Estimates are that 80 to 90 percent of the people who emigrated here in the 17th century were indentured servants.

It was a society of a few haves and many have-nots. This is an apt description of Alabama for decades, where in 1860, nearly 30 percent of the state’s wealth was owned by one-third of one percent of the white population. 

And if one pays close attention to our current political landscape and digs through enough campaign financial information, it is impossible to come to any conclusion other than this is the Alabama some wish to have again.

The Republican takeover of the state legislature in 2010 has been well documented.  After a highly successful and well-planned effort, as documented in Speaker Mike Hubbard’s book, “Storming the Statehouse,” the GOP took over both the House of Representatives and State Senate in the fall of 2010.

When the new House was convened, there were 62 Republicans, just one vote shy of the magical 63 that constitutes a super majority that gives the ruling party absolute control.  They can stop debate, shut down filibusters and basically say to the minority, “If you don’t like it, tough luck.”

Politics is considered a game of give and take. There are offers by one side, then counter offers by the other until a position is reached that is agreeable to move legislation forward. But the super majority eliminates this negotiating process. Rather than seeking consensus, the majority party takes the position of, “it’s my way or the highway.”

And when shortly after the 2010 general election several Democrats switched to the GOP, the result was today’s super majority, where there are 66 Republicans, 37 Democrats and one Independent in the House.

You find this passage on page 288 of Hubbard’s book:

“In my comments to the membership afterward, I set as our goal maintaining the tradition of two words that are so important they appear in the seal of the Alabama House of Representatives – Vox Pupuli, Voice of the People.

“This phrase does not say voice of the special interests, voice of the powerful, or voice of the campaign contributors,” I said. “It means voice of all the people. Whether you are Republican or Democrat, black or white, rich or poor, I will work to ensure that your voice is heard in the Alabama House chamber.”

Unfortunately, one only has to look at how the Alabama Accountability Act was passed in 2013 to understand how hollow Hubbard’s words turned out to be.

The Accountability Act was the most radical education policy ever passed by the state legislature. It took $40 million away from the education trust fund, and for the first time in state history, set up a voucher program to give public school dollars to private schools.

Did the legislature ask for education’s input? Did the House work to ensure that education’s voice was heard?

Absolutely not. In fact, legislative leadership later boasted that it worked hard to make sure Alabama educators did not know what they were proposing.

This is what you get with a super majority – you can put yourself on a pedestal and thumb your nose at lowly people who work in schools and classrooms.

You can talk all day about listening to the people, but your actions betray you. Instead of a democracy, you have concentrated power in a very small number of people and created an oligarchy.

It’s hardly any wonder that former Governor Bob Riley has raised more than $1 million so far this year for his Alabama 2014 PAC. Or that he got 55 contributions of $10,000 or more to try and keep the GOP super majority in control.

After all, while Vox Pupuli may sound great, power is really not something to be shared with average men and women, especially those in education.

Larry Lee led the study “Lessons Learned from Rural Schools.” He is a long-time advocate for public education and frequently writes about education issues.  

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