Repealing HB56 is best course for AlabamaPublished 11:23pm Tuesday, May 8, 2012
The squeeze of reality. My Harvard Law School classmate, John Calmore, loved to employ the term, “The squeeze of reality.” When some of us would state categorically on principle what we would or would not do if this or that happened, he would say, “Just wait until the squeeze of reality closes in on you.” In other words, principles and theories are one thing, but reality is an entirely different matter. Well this was a week that the squeeze of reality closed in on me.
I committed to do everything in my power to kill the charter school bill. It was a matter of principle. I said what I meant and meant what I said. And I have been doing that with everything in my power. A few others stated similar positions and remained true to their words. But this week the squeeze of reality closed in on me (and some other Democratic senators).
Don’t get me wrong. I am still 100 percent against charter schools in Alabama because public education is so underfunded (47th out of 50 states) and race, poverty, mis-education and politics are such powerful factors. Yet, I agreed not to filibuster the bill after a number of critical changes were made. It was the squeeze of reality closing in on me.
Sen. Dick Brewbaker was the chief Senate sponsor of the charter school bill. Sen. Quinton Ross of Montgomery was leading our opposition to the bill. A compromise was reached between them that took the teeth out of the charter school bill. First, the number of potential schools involved was reduced to a handful, 20 to be exact. Second, private corporations cannot operate the charter schools. Third, the superintendent of the school district must recommend any charter school created. Fourth, each member of the local legislative delegation must agree for a charter school to be established in the school district. Fifth, other procedural safeguards were imbedded in the agreement.
I don’t know whether Senate leadership could have secured the three-fifth vote required to cut off debate in the Alabama Senate. I don’t think so, but I am not sure. We may have been able to debate (filibuster) the charter school bill to death. Sen. Ross was also holding up all local legislation, which put pressure on the process. It also put a lot of pressure on Ross. Legislators go really crazy when their local bills are held up. The compromise helped this situation as well. It was the squeeze of reality.
Sen. Ross felt certain that this compromise was the best course and we supported him. Still, we voted against every amendment except the one requiring local legislators to unanimously approve any charter school. We also voted against final passage of the bill. The only other thing we could have done was to filibuster to the end. If they did not secure the votes to cut off debate, the whole charter school bill would be dead for this session. If they secured cloture votes, we would probably have a charter school bill that was really bad for Alabama. It was the squeeze of reality.
Of course, this is not the end. The bill still has to be considered by the House of Representatives. House leaders seemed strongly opposed to this Senate version. We will see what happens. We may still fight another day, for the squeeze of reality continues.
Then there was the bill proposing some changes to Alabama’s infamous immigration law, HB56. I said I would only vote for a full repeal of this legislative monstrosity. I meant every word I said. However, as things are developing, I am in the throes of the squeeze of reality.
Some Republicans do not want anything to pass that would change one iota in Alabama’s terrible immigration law. They would rather wait on a very conservative U. S. Supreme Court to decide in a similar immigration case from Arizona. Some Democrats want to fight to the end to repeal the entire bill. They are also willing to take their chances with this same Supreme Court.
On the other hand, business leaders desperately want HB56 changed to ease the hardships placed on businesses. However, they do not appear to be concerned about the other oppressive provisions in the bill that place hardships on Alabama citizens. Some Hispanic and other community leaders want to pass the legislation providing two additional amendments are incorporated that: 1) prohibit gathering of information concerning the citizenship of school children; and 2) prohibit law enforcement from checking citizenship during routine traffic stops except in cases of custodial arrest. Otherwise, they would rather have no changes.
I have no doubt that repealing HB56 is the best course for all Alabamians. It hurts Alabama in so many ways that changing it will not solve the myriads of problems it created. I also have no doubt that HB56 will not be repealed during this legislative session. Therefore, the squeeze of reality asks: Do we work to make a terrible bill into a very bad bill; or do we stand on our announced principles voting only for repeal? With the latter position, we effectively join with the most conservative legislative forces to prevent any changes to H56, albeit in hopes of eventually repealing it. What do we do? That’s the squeeze. of reality.
Ultimately, we did not have to face the full force of the squeeze of reality from the immigration issue this week. The bill was not brought up as planned by Senate leadership. It appears that Republicans were too deeply divided to even put it on the Senate floor for consideration. Therefore, I don’t fully know what I would have done. However, I know that I (and others) will face the full squeeze of reality during these last four days of this session.