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Lawmakers hear from constituents about pay raise

By Bob Johnson
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — Alabama legislators often talk about staying in touch with "the folks back home."

Many of them got a chance to do just that over the weekend, as their constituents called, sent e-mails and stopped them at church to complain about the unrecorded voice vote last week giving lawmakers a 60 percent pay raise.

The receptionists at the Alabama House said they received at least 100 calls Friday and 50 or more Monday from Alabama residents wanting them to tell their legislators that they are unhappy about the pay raise vote.

"One woman said she was going to cut out the newspaper article and stick it on her refrigerator so she would remember not to vote for him," House receptionist Ernestine Crowell said.

Members of the Alabama House and Senate approved a resolution Thursday by unrecorded voice votes raising the annual compensation for lawmakers from $30,710 to $49,500. Gov. Bob Riley said he plans to veto the pay raise, which would force lawmakers to take a recorded vote on overriding the governor's veto.

Riley said he expects to wait until March 20 before he vetoes the raise.

"I just want all legislators to have ample opportunity to consider their vote," Riley said Monday.

Home phone numbers

Legislators contacted Monday reported receiving at least a few phone calls over the weekend, and for legislators in southeast Alabama the calls came by the dozens after a Dothan talk radio host gave out legislators' home phone numbers on the air.

Larry McKee, the owner of Dothan radio station WWNT (1450 AM) and host of two talk shows, said Monday his talk shows have received a steady stream of calls about the pay raise since Thursday. He said he has no qualms about giving out the home phone numbers of legislators on the radio.

"They're supposed to be public servants. How else are we supposed to talk to them and express our opinion?" McKee said.

State Sen. Harri Anne Smith, R-Slocumb, who opposes the pay raise, said her phone started ringing steadily once her number was released on McKee's show.

"Most people wanted to tell me to continue the fight against the raise," Smith said. "All of them were upset by the way it was handled."

She said callers in her Southeast Alabama district were also upset that the Senate adjourned shortly after voting on the raise and before taking the procedural steps necessary to be able to vote Tuesday on a bill to provide funds to rebuild tornado ravished Enterprise High School.

Smith said the callers were saying that senators "care more about a pay raise than they do about the people in our area."

A bill to fund the rebuilding of Enterprise High School will be on the agenda in the House Tuesday.

Rep. Randy Hinshaw, D-Meridianville, said he supports the raise mostly because the compensation for lawmakers has not been adjusted since 1990. But he said he was not surprised by the public reaction.

"I think a lot of people would rather give a dead cat a pay raise than a legislator," Hinshaw said. "I think the adjustment is not out of line when you consider it's been two decades. In the public's mind, there's never going to be a good time for a pay raise."

Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, said he received "three or four phone calls" over the weekend and ran into a few people who wanted to talk about the pay hike. He said he tried to explain to them why he voted in favor of the measure.

"They asked me to explain it. I told them the cost of gas, lodging and food had all gone up since 1990. My opinion is you can't ask someone to serve in public office and lose money," Ford said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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