Voters aren’t always taken seriously

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 20, 2006

Sometimes I think our legislators don’t take us very seriously.

Many of them think that if they give a nod to some of our hot button issues and dole out some of our own money to projects we’re interested in, we’ll keep sending them back to Montgomery.

We are barely into the current legislative session, and there’s already evidence to support that notion.

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The Legislature is working on new legislation to get around a state Supreme Court decision that stopped them from handing out millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money for “special projects” of their choosing in their districts.

The court ruled last fall that the Legislature can appropriate money to various agencies, but legislators can’t then bypass the executive branch and direct the money to their pet projects.

Legislators call the money “community service grants,” although a more familiar name would be pork. According to news reports, the new measure would enable each house member to request at least $51,200 in grants and senators could request at least $153,600. To get around the court ruling, the bill would create an executive branch commission, made up of the lieutenant governor, agriculture commissioner and state schools superintendent, which would have to approve or reject each grant proposed by lawmakers. It’s difficult to believe that any of those officers would buck legislators who have ample means of retaliating.

Being able to hand out checks for projects that they deem worthy lets legislators get their pictures in the newspapers and gets them pats on the back from groups that thank the senator or representative for “giving” them money.

While that is going on, the legislative session is also beginning to look like a board of deacons meeting.

One bill that’s been proposed would give citizens the option of having the phrase “God Bless America” on their license tags.

Another proposal would let teachers and principals display “In God We Trust” in public schools.

A third bill would have public schools offer a class based on the book “The Bible and Its Influence.” It would be the only school class that I can think of whose specific textbook was prescribed by the Legislature.

There’s also a bill that would let voters decide on an amendment to the state constitution to authorize display of the Ten Commandments at the Capitol.

Yet another measure would protect from disciplinary action teachers who give “scientific critiques” of prevailing theories (think evolution).

Some of these measures are authored by Democrats, which has led some Republicans to claim that the Democrats are just trying to hijack their issues. I’m not sure Republicans should be so proud to claim ownership of such transparently self-serving efforts.

They can call them “faith-related issues,” but they are easy, showy measures more aimed at currying the favor of a segment of the voters than on having a real impact on either the quality of life in the state or its moral climate.

I don’t know who has a greater claim at being offended, those who think the “faith-related” bills are just plain bad or those who like the ideas but who see the measures as shameless election-year pandering.

Pundits cite history and tell us to expect those kinds of things. Little of substance actually gets done in the last year of a legislature’s term. That raises the question of why we pay legislators the same amount for an election-year session as we do for the other three years.

I’ve seen a quotation attributed to H.L. Mencken that “nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” (Some sources use the word “taste” instead of “intelligence” in the quote.)

Perhaps our legislators think that nobody ever lost an election underestimating the intelligence of the Alabama voter.

Could they be right?

Bill Brown can be contacted at 377 Quail Hollow Drive, Dadeville AL 36853 or by e-mail at

(c)2006 William B. Brown