The five-day special legislative session that addressed the increase in the gas tax to fund an infrastructure rebuilding program for the state was a remarkable success.
I still marvel at the adroitness, efficiency and expediency in which Gov. Kay Ivey accomplished this monumental initiative. She called for a special session on the night of her State of the State address and within one week the legislation was signed, sealed and delivered.
I have seen some successful special sessions in my lifetime of watching Alabama politics but never anything like this. George Wallace used special sessions continuously and regularly during his 20-year reign as king of Alabama politics. He got things accomplished this way; it is a way to crystalize the importance of an issue.
Ivey’s success made Wallace’s hardball ploys look minor league. She got her mission accomplished in the minimum five days. It was an amazing success story that will be told in political circles for years.
She did her homework, dug in and made it clear infrastructure improvement was a must for Alabama. She had a plan, she worked it and she and the people of Alabama won.
She was not doing it for self-serving reasons nor was she doing it to secure her place in history. However, I am here to tell you as an Alabama political historian she earned a place in my book. She has earned her spurs and earned the title “governor.”
Gov. Ivey was astute to address the issue in a special session within the regular session for several reasons. In a special session, legislators have to address only the issue the governor calls them in for. Calling for the concentrated special session within the regular session did not cost taxpayers any more. It also got legislators around the 3/5th majority vote needed to bring a bill up before the budgets which is required in the regular session.
Ivey’s ability to reach across the aisle and garner Democratic support for passage of the program was noteworthy. She sat down with the Democratic legislative leaders and diligently worked to explain how important the agenda was to not only their constituents but to the entire state.
Reaching out to them was not only important for passage of this package but also built the foundation for a successful and harmonious working relationship with all the members of the legislature which has been missing for over a decade.
The relationships Ivey developed with state senators as presiding officer of the Alabama Senate for six years paid off with not only the Republican leadership but also with Democratic leaders such as Bobby Singleton. She forged new friendships with Republican and Democratic legislators in the House. She worked hard and developed a close working relationship with House Democratic leader Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville), who is a bright young star. This friendship will be good going forward for Ivey and the state.
Rep. Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa) was the leader in the House who worked closely with Ivey to align the stars for passage. Poole drafted the bill, helped devise the strategy and fought for passage and is probably the only House sponsor who could pull it off. Sen. Clyde Chambliss (R-Prattville) did a brilliant job in the Senate. Both Poole and Chambliss are young with bright paths ahead in Alabama politics.
Expanding access to broadband internet in rural Alabama has been one of the cornerstone issues for Ivey and the legislature the last few years. This access to broadband today is as important as getting electricity was 75 years ago. This initiative has moved to the forefront for passage as the session evolves. The magic formula for success is engrossed in House Bill 400. This legislation would logically and effectively allow electric utilities to use their existing infrastructure to run broadband to areas that do not have service today.
Opposition has arisen from big cable companies for obvious self-serving reasons. To allow these large out-of-state companies to thwart the passage of this important piece of legislation would be bad for the state. The need to run new fiber optic lines at great expense would make the initiative almost cost prohibitive.
Regardless, the cable companies and AT&T are working to kill this logical plan to extend broadband internet service to all Alabamians. They are also using some unsavory tactics in their attempt to kill Ivey’s initiative. Hopefully, their transparent efforts to derail this important legislation will be ignored by legislators who want what is best for Alabama.