State lawmakers not acting like conservatives

Published 11:16 pm Wednesday, February 17, 2016

A fundamental principle of conservatism is that power should flow to that government which is closest to the people.

Under this theory, the federal government, being most remote from the people, should wield the least power. Indeed, many of our precious state tax dollars pay for litigation defending this principle. Our conservative lawmakers are determined that state government, being closer to the people, should trump federal government.

True conservatives, of course, do not limit this principle to differentiating between state and federal government. Local governmental entities are closer to the people than is state government.

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While this is true geographically — Decatur residents are closer to City Hall than they are to Montgomery — it also is true politically. Conservatives focus on the accountability of officials to the citizens they serve. State government is more directly accountable than federal government, and local government is more accountable than state government.

It therefore comes as a constant surprise that Alabama legislators consistently decline to honor this principle when it involves reducing their own power. They yell scream and sue over the federal government’s failure to defer to state government, but they refuse to defer to local government.

Lawmakers are pushing through legislation that would prevent cities from establishing a minimum wage, convinced they know better than local-elected officials what is best for local constituents.

On education matters, the break from conservatism is most profound. Montgomery lawmakers routinely run ramshod over both a state board elected by the people to supervise education and local school boards whose members live among their constituents and are directly accountable to them.

This was particularly apparent when it came to the Accountability Act, the law that placed Brookhaven Middle School on a failing schools list. Even as state lawmakers complained about the federal government’s intrusion into local education matters, they were quite happy to do the same.

Brookhaven is a good example both of the state’s power grab and of the problems it creates. The school already had turned its test scores around when the state — by defining schools as failing through scores that predated the Accountability Act — interfered both with the efforts of elected members of the state Board of Education and elected members of the Decatur City Schools board. The interference came with a reduction in the money the district had available to implement the changes it already was striving to make.

When local officials answerable to the elected City Council determined the safety of customers and employees of Decatur Utilities was best protected by banning guns in the DU building, state lawmakers in Montgomery reached the opposite conclusion and imposed their will.

The fact is, state lawmakers are trying to grab authority from both the federal government and from local governments. The consistent theme in their actions is not conservatism, but a desire for power.

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