March 30, 1999
In January, Democrats in the Alabama Senate voted to strip the Lieutenant Governor of much of his power. Since Republican Steve Windom had just been elected and would soon take up the post, the Democrats' action sounded to some like a scorched-earth tactic. To others it made perfectly good sense. Why should a representative of the minority power in the Senate have the power to appoint committees and pick chairpersons?
Windom has a lot more at stake in this battle than his ego. The businessmen who supported him during his campaign expect tort reform legislation. It is impossible for Windom to deliver unless he can shape committees. Windom gave the Senate a hint of his desperation in early January by warning that if his powers were not restored, then the education lottery would become a hostage. On March 2, Windom became frantic. Ignoring demands for a voice-vote on a resolution to restore his powers, he deliberately misrecorded a majority “no” vote as unanimous support. The shouting that followed this unprecedented, and certainly unconstitutional, stunt was loud enough to trigger an automatic device that cuts off microphones when voice levels rise too high. It was loud enough to attract embarrassing national media attention.
Court challenges, a Democratic boycott, and negotiations have followed the pandemonium. More than 10 working days have been wasted from a session that, by law, cannot exceed 30.
The disgraceful scenes and the wasted hours in the Alabama Senate should make voters angry. But according to a recent poll conducted by the Mobile Register and University of South Alabama, fewer than half are familiar with the dispute. More than seventy percent of those questioned said that the quarrel would not play a role in their future voting. When they realize that costly special sessions will be needed to do the work that has not yet begun, it is likely that voters will get angry. It is certain that they will pay the bills.
-- by Daniel Silver
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