May 27, 2007
[Alabama State] Senate Rules!
Recently, an essay written by State Senator Ben Brooks on the negative impact that the current senate rules are having on this year’s legislative session appeared in this newspaper. It was only a few days earlier that I had read another story on the same subject matter. This story mentioned how the Senate had spent the previous three weeks trying to get just one bill voted on by the full Senate. As written, the rules are also keeping many other bills from coming up for a similar vote while time is running out in this session, thus leaving local legislators frustrated. I ask, are the Senate rules the problem or just a symptom of one?
I was discussing with friends my consideration of a bid for State Senator Bradley Byrne’s vacated seat. My cousin, who served as George W. Bush’s 2004 state campaign chairman, advised me to figure out what the three to five hot button issues were in the district.
After some reflection, I concluded that I was not interested in chasing down and polling random citizens all over the district in this very cumbersome process for this data and running a campaign based on it. Having watched state and national campaigns over the past decade, I became conscious of the fact that most hot button issues were merely symptoms of larger problems. Whether it’s consciously or not, most politicians seem unable to correctly identify the root causes of these larger problems. Instead, politicians repeatedly make the mistake of fingering symptoms as the actual problems and taking their respective positions.
For example: A real crowd pleaser and repeated theme that surfaces each political season is fighting crime. Are the lack of jail space and/or a shortage of uniformed officers on the streets just symptoms or the problems that need solving to reduce crime once and for all? Does building more jails and prisons or putting more police officers in police cruisers reduce crime?
Murder, for instance, has occurred since the beginning of man’s time on Earth, so won’t there always be murder? Aren’t adding more jails and more cops knee-jerk reactions to this crime and not preventive measures against most future criminal behavior? Are these two solutions restoring a community’s “law and order” or peace when it really never existed? Are these just confirmations of the problem and not addressing its underlying issue? Aren’t politicians taking a Band-Aid approach in their campaigns and when their legislation is written and passed into law? Is it not just a short-term approach and a failed one at that?
Just for discussion’s sake, I will go along with my cousin’s suggestion and determine what the hot button issues (or symptoms) are and take the popular stance on each one. My reward by the voters is being elected into office. They want me to go to the state capital to solve all these problems. Once I get to Montgomery, consciously or unconsciously, I get in line with my political party or join a coalition whom I think best represents my constituents’ interests.
Should I be concerned with how well the elected members of the Senate function with one another? Does this dynamic even matter? Will it even impact how the rules get written and the legislative process takes places during the session? Do the members operate in the spirit of the law or just simply in the letter? Do the senators have faith in each other or fear of, do they trust one another or is there much distrust? The rules are written, debated and passed by this same legislative body. Are they written in the spirit of the law or in the letter? Are they written out of faith and trust in the legislative process and in each and every member or not?
Are the rules of the Senate flexible, alive and breathing, as though they are like an amoeba, ever expanding and contracting to meet the changing needs of this body and each of its members, or is it rigid, fixed, and unavailable in every sense of the word for the individual member. Do the members serve it like a master? Are the rules written in stone, inflexible just like a dead body in a state of Rigor mortis?
Is the chamber open and transparent for all to see or is it a secretive one with many buried bones and a tangled web of rules and awkward relationships? Is it an effective and efficient government at work or mostly a waste of everyone’s time, energy and emotions?
Is the real legislation even getting addressed during each session? How about all those hot button issues and legislative promises I made to voters along the way that led to me getting elected? How many of these bills or dreams simply die as another legislative session expires? Unable to get any legislation from my campaign platform passed, what treats, if any, do I bring home with me to show off to my constituents? If it is re-election time, do I campaign once more on those same old hot button issues, so that I can enjoy my newfound power and prestige from holding office and all the perks that go along with it?
Until the heart of the matter is openly and honestly addressed by the members of the Senate, this knotted process will continue unabated, causing more frustration for themselves and thus for all Alabamians. If the Senate can’t operate in a healthy and functional manner, how will we ever trust the process and the individuals involved in writing a new state constitution?
We must have an Alabama Renaissance based on the ideals of Thomas Jefferson. He states, “The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government.” Is this what the citizens and taxpayers of Alabama are getting from our state government?
The same thinking that got this legislative body into this crisis is not the same thinking that will lead it out. Only by understanding and accepting the organization’s dynamics (both the state’s and the chamber’s history, member personalities, internal and external forces, issues–both spoken and unspoken–and every damn secret handshake) stirring beneath the water’s surface can the Senate members begin to accept and openly communicate their honest thoughts with one another.
This is not about the members swallowing more tolerance for another one but, instead, a giant purging. There is a risk to taking this action, but I know it personally to be very freeing and rewarding. It’s called freedom to speak your personal truth for all to hear. Freedom has been lost along with truth in this so-called modern society.
Americans are suffering from an identity crisis; we don’t know who we are or what we stand for. I believe this includes almost every politician and explains why campaigns look the way they do each cycle – so negative, so fear driven, why everyone hates the electoral process and why so few eligible Americans vote (<50%).
As long as fear rules in many of our hearts and we have distrust for ourselves and for one another, we as a community and as a nation are in serious trouble. It is not al-Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden that is America’s greatest threat but instead an ailing and apathetic public. Show me which politician(s) is (are) talking about this truth and this subject matter, and I will show you whom I am voting for.
Where is our faith and trust in ourselves, in our fellow man and God? This Judo-Christian nation makes all sorts of claims about a belief in this God or that one, a Lord or Jesus. From where I stand, I no longer believe a single word of it. It seems mostly like nonsense to me because we are all to busy playing god, trying to outplay, outwit, and outlast each other. We are trying to survive rather than live in the NOW.
We appear to stand against, rather than with our fellow Americans and all of God’s children on this planet. We are constantly trying to control various outcomes, all the while presenting a false front to ourselves and to everyone else. Whom are we trying to convince, to fool? Just like me, many others are no longer buying it either.
When the members of the Alabama State Senate finally get honest about the chamber’s state of affairs, only then can they and will they come together to serve at the pleasure of the people of Alabama and not the other way around. So, I ask, are the current senate rules the problem or just another symptom of a larger one?
Copyright © 2007, 2010. All Rights Reserved. ““[Alabama State] Senate Rules” by Ted Burnett.
I am available for speaking, consulting and political advising. My other essays can be viewed at my blog – http://www.toxicnation.blogspot.com/. I can be contacted via email at – firstname.lastname@example.org. My biography can be viewed at http://www.tedburnettresume.blogspot.com.