Old legislators just become lobbyists
Bob Ingram, Capitol Scene
MONTGOMERY — "Old soldiers never die, they just fade away." So said an old World War I British Army song later quoted by Gen. Douglas McArthur in a memorable speech to Congress in 1951.
It would seem those words could be paraphrased on Capitol Hill in Montgomery: "Old legislators never die, they just become lobbyists."
David White, the first-rate Capitol reporter for The Birmingham News, reported last week that an uncommonly large number of former Alabama legislators have become lobbyists. The Center for Public Integrity in Washington has reported that 31 former Alabama legislators are now registered as lobbyists.
That former legislators should become lobbyists makes sense; having served in the House or Senate they know how the system works, how the game is played. And, having served alongside some of the incumbent members, they have established relationships which are beneficial in their lobbying.
Jim Sumner, the director of the Alabama Ethics Commission, says there is another reason why so many legislators become lobbyists — money.
"I think they see it as a lucrative way to make a living," Sumner said.
That some former legislators who have become lobbyists have done well is no secret, but just how much money they make is not known.
While most states require lobbyists to disclose their fees or salaries, there is no such law in Alabama.
If it was known how well many lobbyists do financially, there would probably be a lot more of them.
The only restriction placed on legislators-turned-lobbyists is that they cannot lobby in the house in which they served for two years after leaving office. Another restriction: these legislator-lobbyists do not have the right to sit in the House or Senate chambers while the Legislature is in session. All other former members who are not lobbyists have what is called "privileges of the floor."
Speaking to the new Legislature at an orientation session in Tuscaloosa a few days ago, Riley got less than an enthusiastic reaction when he challenged them to put the people's interest ahead of the special interests.
"There will come a time in your careers where you'll have to make a decision whether or not to alienate a special interest or do what's right for the people of this state," he said. "I challenge you to do what's right for the people."
That challenge was not drowned out by applause from the legislators in the audience.
And while Riley didn't identify the special interest he was referring to, there was no doubt he was talking about the Alabama Education Association.
Riley is particularly interested in raising the threshold for when Alabamians begin paying state income taxes. He successfully raised this threshold from $4,600 to $12,500 in 2006 but he says he wants it raised to $15,000 in 2007.
This has provoked strong AEA opposition because all of the money generated by the income tax is earmarked for education.
Bell, a native of Mobile, is the first Alabamian ever elected to this position. He was appointed to the cabinet-level office of insurance commissioner by Gov. Bob Riley in 2003 and will continue in that position for the next four years.
He will take over the head of the national organization at a crucial juncture as an effort is now being made to shift regulatory control of life insurance companies from the various states to the federal government.
Bell strongly opposes this effort as does most other state commissioners.
There was good news and bad news in a survey done recently by Site Selection magazine. The publication said its survey indicated that Alabama ranked ninth in the nation for its business climate (the good news) but trailed three of its neighboring states (the bad news).
North Carolina was ranked No. 1 while next door neighbors Georgia and Tennessee were ranked fourth and fifth.
The magazine said North Carolina's high ranking was due to its outstanding network of universities, a trained work force and a responsive government.