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SUNDAY, JULY 1, 2007
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OP-ED

Democratic majority responsible for inaction

By Arthur Orr

In the 2006 campaign, both Democratic and Republican parties pledged various items to the people of Alabama. These included reverting to four-year property tax reappraisals, banning transfers between political action committees, passing stricter ethics laws and strengthening illegal immigration measures.

As a new member of the Alabama Senate, I looked forward to passing these agreed upon measures that had been promised by the candidates of both parties. I was soon to be disappointed.

The session began in January with the majority Democrats, on an 18-17 vote, changing the rules used for many years in the Senate. These new rules empowered the Democratic majority to gavel through a 62 percent pay raise on a voice vote despite several colleagues and me shouting for a recorded vote. Only after Gov. Bob Riley vetoed the raise was a recorded vote taken, which forced those wanting to give themselves a raise to publicly acknowledge their position. I voted against the raise. I have refused to accept it and have set up a separate account to contribute the raise to worthwhile organizations and charities within the third district.

Soon after the pay-raise vote, legislation began to slow to a crawl in the Senate. The Bi-partisan Coalition comprised of five Democrats and 12 Republicans (of which I am part as was Sen. Tommy Ed Roberts before me) used one of the few options available to us and intentionally slowed the process in an attempt to change the punitive operating rules passed by the majority. Soon thereafter, the one-vote Democratic majority informed us that no rules changes would be negotiated.

On local matters, the Morgan County delegation worked hard to get all legislation, both local and general, passed for the establishment of the new I-65 industrial park. Funding was approved for a delegation office that will open in several months to help legislators better serve the people of this county.

With the 2007 session behind us, I ask myself where Alabama goes until the 2010 election? Two words repeatedly come to mind: leadership and accountability.

In the Legislature, those who make up the majority control the process. They hold all the committee chairs and can determine what matters are even brought before a committee — and quietly defeat bills through inaction. They determine what matters are brought to the floor for consideration by the body — and kill bills by never placing them on the agenda. In Montgomery, as one of my colleagues expressed, “It is a numbers game, and the group that has the numbers controls the Legislature.”

With the power that comes from being in the majority, I saw little Democratic leadership in the Senate attempting to make good on the campaign promises made to voters in 2006. Such bills were discreetly left off the agenda. Those of us in the minority tried, on several occasions, to bring up the four-year reappraisal bill and the PAC-to-PAC transfer ban only to be voted down by the majority. A good ethics bill with broad support was killed in the final minutes of the session by a Democratic senator and his Democratic allies angry that Gov. Riley had line-item vetoed a $1 million pork project for roads in his Tuscaloosa County district.

This brings me to accountability. The voting public must force their elected officials to honor their promises. If politicians are not held accountable by the voters, they will continue to say one thing and do another once they are safely in office. I trust the voters will scrutinize the various pledges made by their elected officials and hold those in control of the Senate responsible. The integrity of our political process depends on it.

Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, is serving his first term in the Alabama Legislature.

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