A pair of skilled politicians — Republican Bradley Byrne and Democrat Artur Davis — appeared to be the frontrunners. However, both were tripped on the way to the General Election.
Out of the murky field of hopefuls emerged Robert Bentley, a two-term Republican legislator and physician from Tuscaloosa who was largely unknown outside of west Alabama.
Bentley, a non-polished and amiable man in his late 60s, was a perfect fit for the spirit of the times in 2010. His pledge to not accept a salary if elected governor until the state reached full employment struck a perfect chord with voters.
In 2010, distrust, if not outright anger, at government and/or President Barack Obama ran high in deep-red states like Alabama.
Slow recovery from a deep and devastating economic recession was straining Alabamians’ budgets, and leading many to the sorts of political extremism brought on bad times.
Conservatives coalesced under a Tea Party banner that assumed all government is full of waste and over-regulation, spends too much money and over-taxes citizens.
Perhaps those arguments were valid in more liberal states, but they were and are laughable in Alabama, where taxes, regulations and education funding are extremely low. We’ve got the Big Mules, polluted water and bad schools to prove it.
Yet, as governor Robert Bentley has acted as if he was running California, Massachusetts or some other state that taxes and spends at a far higher rate than Alabama.
So it is that Bentley bragged last month at having cut state expenses by $1 billion.
This week, we heard from representatives of state agencies overseeing schools, health care and prisons. All agreed they are in desperate need for more money. This is hardly a new development. The state has traditionally run its business on the cheap. As much as we might hope for drastic changes to brighten the state’s future, it’s quite likely funding levels won’t be where they are needed by the end of the legislative session that began this week.
Leaders like Bentley would have us believe they are good stewards of the public’s money. Yet, today’s cost-savings come at a high price tomorrow.
If overcrowded prisons mean spending more money — in legal fees to fight a possible federal takeover of our prisons and in rising crime rates as law enforcers run out of room to lock up bad guys — then how wise is that?
If bargain-basement spending on schools reduces our state’s chances of a well-educated population that’s attractive to high-tech and consequently stifles our economy, then how much has been saved in the long run?
If denying expansion of Medicaid leaves hundreds of thousands without coverage and in the process drives up costs borne by Alabama hospitals, insurance companies and residents, then where are the savings?
The general response to this bleak future from Bentley and his allies in the Legislature has mostly been a shrug of indifference.
The test of whether the Big Shrug continues wasn’t the Tuesday night speech by Bentley. It will come at the end of the 2014 session and as a spending plan for 2015 emerges.