It has been a telling year in the Alabama legislature. The taxpayers have learned a lot about their representatives in Montgomery from what has taken place over the past few months.
Of course, the most notable event was the Republican supermajority’s decision to deceive the people of Alabama (and even their own education advisors) by ramming through the Accountability Act with bait-and-switch tactics, cutting of debate and public scrutiny.
And the Accountability Act has certainly received a lot of attention because of its impact on our schools – both public and private – and the recent flip-flopping from several Republicans who are now calling for repeal or delay of the new voucher program.
But the Accountability Act is also a symptom of a larger issue that has revealed itself during this legislative session: the internal divide among Republicans in Montgomery.
This divide first showed itself when the early versions of the gun bills began to be debated.
I have always been a supporter of the second amendment and was prepared to bring an amendment to the Republicans’ signature gun bill that would have protected an employees’ right to keep their firearm stored safely in their vehicle while parked at work.
But Republicans did not want to vote on this amendment. Doing so would have put them in between the Business Council of Alabama, which opposed the amendment, and the NRA, which supports the amendment.
In the end, the Republican Supermajority passed a heavily watered-down version of the amendment in a different gun bill. This legislation was a part of the Republicans’ legislative agenda for this year, and they almost couldn’t pass it because of the divide between the business interests that fund their campaigns and many of the grassroots voters that elected them in the first place.
The gun bill was just the first of the issues that divided Republicans this year.
Next came the Common Core Standards. The Common Core Standards are a national set of academic standards that states have the option of adopting. States that do adopt the Common Core could potentially get more federal funding for public education.
Again, Republicans were divided between the Business Council that supported the common core and some grassroots Republicans who strongly opposed the Common Core.
And, once again, the Republican Supermajority chose to wait until the very end of the session and then take sides with their supporters in the business community over their grassroots supporters.
Republicans would split again over whether or not to allow home-schooled students to participate in public school activities – also known as the “Tim Tebow Bill.” Grassroots Republicans believed this bill would be a shoe-in, but the bill was voted down in the state Senate with eleven Republicans voted against it and ten Republicans voting for it.
And that brings us back to the most controversial of all the bills that have come up this session: the Accountability Act.
When it was first brought up for a vote, the Accountability Act was supported almost unanimously by House and Senate Republicans – only seven Republicans in the House and not a single Republican in the Senate voted against it!
But after public outcry over what the Accountability Act will do to our schools and the deceitful way in which it was passed, some Republicans, including Senators Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) and Bill Holtzclaw (R-Madison), began to join with Democrats in calling for repeal of the Act.
Other Republicans began to look for “fixes” that could stop the political “bleeding” they had incurred from the Accountability Act. And last week, Governor Bentley proposed delaying the new voucher program for two years.
But many Republicans are still holding fast to the Accountability Act as it was passed on February 28. Senator Paul Sanford (R-Huntsville) even wrote a letter to Bentley saying, “I personally cannot accept waiting another two years to see if these children [in my district] might be offered a better education.”
Republicans also disagreed over whether kids already enrolled in private schools would be eligible for the tax credits and whether the definition of a failing school should be a school that tests in the bottom ten percent or the bottom six percent.
But whether it’s the Accountability Act, the Common Core, the Tim Tebow bill or the gun bill, it is clear that Republicans are dividing amongst themselves on some key issues. And most of this divide seems to be between the business interests that fund the Republicans campaigns and the grassroots groups that turn out the vote on Election Day.
Representative Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden. He has served in the Alabama House of Representatives since 2000. In 2010, Representative Ford was elected House Minority Leader by the House Democratic Caucus. He was re-elected Minority Leader in 2012.