Fiddling While Rome Burns

Even though they’re not in session, members of Alabama’s legislature are busy these days. Some are trying to impeach Governor Bentley because they believe that he was having an extramarital affair on the company dime, and others are trying to pick up the pieces after the short-term “fix” for our Medicaid system. Still others, like Cam Ward, are busy staring down a federal investigation of our prisons, since the construction bill didn’t pass. And former speaker Mike Hubbard is busy appealing his conviction to avoid spending time in those prisons.

Yet they aren’t the only busy folks in state government. Robert Bentley is very busy: defending himself against the impeachment committee and against attacks from state auditor Jim Zeigler, and setting up a commission to study gaming in the state. Education bigwig Craig Pouncey is busy combating accusations made against him in an anonymous letter circulated during the search for a new state superintendent, which he believes may have cost him the job. Former ALEA secretary Spencer Collier has been busy working to clear his name after the governor fired him. AG Luther Strange is busy going after Victoryland. The state’s top Democrats are busy arguing over who ought to be in charge of their party. Chief Justice Roy Moore should have been busy cleaning out his office, since a panel of judges suspended him without pay, but as with most of his public positions on issues of consequence— he refused!

They’re all very busy—fighting with each other. Bickering, wasting time and money and energy, paying lawyers, each declaring himself to be the righteous one in a den of thieves. And the state’s problems are no closer to being solved.

These major news stories in our state have one thing in common: none of them have anything to do with moving Alabama forward. Solution after solution is proposed – an ethics bill, an immigration law, a lottery, a bond issue for prison construction – and one by one, they either fall on their faces or don’t accomplish much. Some are dismantled by the courts for being unconstitutional; others never make it out of the State House. Our so-called leaders are fiddling while Rome burns.

Running for elected office is a choice. Making that decision, to put one’s name on the ballot, implies that the candidate is ready to participate (or even lead) in solving the problems of public administration, no matter how great or how small. Anyone running for the office of governor, senator, or representative in the state of Alabama must be well aware of the manifest problems facing our state: high poverty rates, a lagging education system, crumbling infrastructure, overcrowded prisons, a weak tax base, a faltering Medicaid system, high unemployment, and a whole plethora of social ills. If a person does not have a viable idea for solving at least one of those problems, he or she should not even run for office.

To anyone thinking of running for public office in Alabama: if you can’t create a plan, lead the effort, and coalesce the votes to solve at least one of our problems, the people of Alabama don’t need you. Stay home. Don’t come to Montgomery. Run your business or do your job, spend time with your family, watch some football, go deer hunting or bass fishing, coach little league, find a hobby. Just don’t run for office.

When we go vote next week, the people of Alabama need to help ourselves by refusing to support do-nothing politicians who gum up the works. The state legislature has a transparent online system that allows anyone to learn about and track bills in both the House and Senate. Alabamians need to stop complaining and use it to educate ourselves, and then we can ask real questions about the votes, the bills, and the everyday results for our people. When measures are proposed to solve a major state problem, we need to ask our local representatives and senators how they voted and why. Until we do that, we’re no better than the politicians that we criticize so freely.

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