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Monday, March 13, 2006
PoliColumn: Alabama Tax Politics
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 8:22 am

(I forgot to check to see if this ran yesterday)

From Sunday’s Mobile Register:

Tax cut is shrewd and good
Sunday, March 12, 2006
By STEVEN L. TAYLOR
Special to the Register

The tax-cut compromise pending in the Alabama Legislature is both just and politically shrewd, and here’s why:

The state of Alabama starts collecting income taxes from a family of four at an income level $4,600 a year. As a new study published last month notes, this is the lowest level at which income taxes are levied on the poor in the country.

The next state on the list is West Virginia, and it starts taxing at the $10,000 level.

In January, Gov. Bob Riley issued a proposal to rectify this situation, and counter-proposals subsequently grew out of the legislative session.

Now, the governor and Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery, have come to a compromise that has a good chance of being approved by the House.

The plan, which would be phased in over five years, would move the beginning of income tax collection for a family of four to $12,400. It would do so by increasing the standard deduction from $4,000 to $7,000, the personal exemption from $1,500 to $1,700, and the dependent exemption from $300 to $1,000.

The changes to the personal exemption would stop for individuals making over $100,000 and for joint filers making over $200,000.

The Riley-Knight compromise lowers the overall increases to the exemptions originally proposed by Riley, and creates the caps for high-income earners — whose taxes would not change under this plan.

Not only would this plan be a just move in regard to taxing the poor, but it is also a shrewd political move by the governor for a variety of reasons.

First, the governor’s primary opponent, Roy Moore, has one main line of attack to level at Riley in terms of public policy: that Riley attempted the largest tax increase in the state’s history when he backed Amendment One in 2003. If Riley is now championing tax cuts, that blunts Moore’s line of attack.

Yes, Moore can claim that this is an election-year conversion, but that will not obviate the fact that Riley will be in office working for tax cuts, while Moore will be on the outside trying to get in, only able to criticize.

Such are the powers of incumbency in elections.

Second, the rationale as proffered by the governor helps to reinforce his conservative “bona fides,” which Moore will also attempt to attack. Riley specifically noted in January: “If we don’t offer tax relief when we have a record surplus and will put more money into education than ever before, then when will we ever?”

Such a statement underscores a basic conservative principle that tax dollars ultimately belong to the taxpayers, not the state, and that at times of surplus, some of those dollars should be returned to the people.

And, the fact that Riley correctly notes that education spending will be at a record high helps dull the ability of critics to attack the proposal.

He also is making a favorite conservative argument that more money in the pockets of taxpayers means more economic activity in the state, which in turn ultimately means more tax revenue for the state.

If Moore cannot successfully assail Riley’s fiscal conservatism, then it is doubtful that the moral values line of attack (as exemplified by the Ten Commandments issue) will be sufficient to unseat Riley as the GOP’s nominee.

Third, these are not just run-of-the-mill tax cuts. By framing the proposal around the issue of exemptions, and thus the level at which a person starts paying income taxes in Alabama, the governor has inserted a significant element of social justice into the mix, which could appeal to moderate voters (and legislators).

As it stands, a family of four starts paying state income taxes at a remarkably low level. That this is an undue burden on those in poverty is incontrovertible, and is one of the key criticisms of our state’s tax structure.

Indeed, by the 2004 poverty standards used by the federal government, a family of four is considered at the poverty line with an annual income of $19,157 — a far cry from $4,600.

Fourth, while the plan does target low-income citizens, it still has the politically attractive element of benefiting not just the poor, but middle-and upper-middle-class taxpayers as well.

There will be criticisms of the plan, insofar as while this year may be a fat one in terms of state revenues, there is no guarantee that such a trend will continue.

Indeed, given our state’s history of budget shortfalls and painful prorations, there is a legitimate concern that the money needed to fund this cut (estimated at $200 million per annum once fully implemented, as based on a state Finance Department analysis) will not be available in the future.

The nature of fiscal policy in Alabama is that state revenues are highly dependent on the health of the state’s economy. At the moment, we are in an exceptionally healthy phase, and as a result the state’s coffers are overflowing.

However, when revenues depend on income and sales taxes, a moderate dip in economic strength could severely curtail state revenues.

Also, because the money to fund Riley’s proposed cuts come from funds earmarked for teacher salaries, Paul Hubbert of the AEA is far from impressed. However, one suspects that since Riley can hardly count on AEA’s support in the first place, that making Hubbert mad is the least of his concerns.

Apart from the potential political gain for Riley, this proposal has the more important feature of aiding the neediest of Alabama’s income-earners.

Filed under: My Columns, Alabama Politics | Comments (2) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
Sunday, February 5, 2006
PoliColumn: Crossover Voting in Primaries
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 8:01 am

From today’s Mobile Register

Note: I originally wrote this about a month ago when there was a debate with the Alabama GOP on cross-over voting and it appeared that there would be at least three candidates in the GOP gubernatorial primary. At the moment, it may end up being only Riley and Moore.

Crossover voting has pundits pondering
Sunday, February 05, 2006
By STEVEN L. TAYLOR
Special to the Register

Last month, the executive committee of the Alabama Republican Party reversed itself on a plan to ban “crossover voting” in the second round of the Alabama Republican primary.

Alabama Democrats have long banned crossover voting, and even used the presence of crossover voting to overturn the primary results in 1986.

A question emerges: What is “crossover voting” and why does it exist?

It’s interesting, too, to contemplate what effect the decision would have had if there had been a runoff scenario in the GOP’s gubernatorial primary.

First, though, let’s look at primaries and see how the structure of the Alabama primary system can lead to this situation. There are two key elements: the basic structure of the primary process, and whether there is a majority requirement to win the nomination.

There are, for practical purposes, two categories of primary used in the United States: the open primary and the closed primary.

In simple terms, open primary states allow for voters to decide on primary election day which party they wish to adhere to, by engaging in the selection process for that party’s candidates. A voter goes to the polls and, in the case of Alabama, asks for either the Republican or Democratic ballot.

Other states actually have separate polling locations for each party during the primaries.

Open systems afford voters a great deal of leeway in terms of accessing the nomination process of the major parties, and can be deemed more democratic than closed primaries. The knock on open primaries is that they allow those who might not take a given party seriously a chance to vote in their nomination process.

Party leaders often fear, for example, a scenario in which Party A has no serious primary contest, so its voters choose to vote in Party B’s primary in order to try to select the weakest of Party B’s candidates.

In closed-primary states, voters register their party preference in advance of the elections, and are therefore bound to vote only in their party’s primary. There are variations as to precisely how it works state-to-state, but that’s the basic idea.

Some favor this structure because it requires some reflection on the part of voters before they choose their partisan affiliation, and also it excludes those who might not really consider themselves “members” of the party in question.

There is also the question of what threshold is required for victory: a mere plurality (i.e., the most votes wins) or an absolute majority (i.e., 50 percent plus one). Alabama requires a majority, meaning that if no one gets a majority on primary day, there is a runoff between the top two voter-getters a month later.

When an open primary system meets a majority requirement, the question emerges as to whether the second round should be open to all comers, or just to adherents of that party. In other words, a voter might vote in the Democratic primary on primary day, but then “cross over” to vote in the Republican runoff.

This brings us the political implications of crossover voting. What if there is no runoff in the Democratic Party, yet there is one in the Republican Party? What happens when all those Democratic voters with nothing to vote for on their side cross over and vote in the GOP runoff?

Consider the potential for crossover voting if state Sen. Harri Anne Smith had stayed in the gubernatorial race. (She announced last month that she had decided not to, and instead threw her support to incumbent Gov. Bob Riley.)

If Smith had gotten enough votes to cause a runoff between Riley and Roy Moore, the conventional wisdom was that Democrats who support Moore’s position on the Ten Commandments might have crossed over to vote for Moore over Riley.

Other Democrats, figuring Moore would be the weaker candidate, might have crossed over to vote for Moore in hopes of dethroning Riley via the primary process, rather than have their candidate face him in the general election.

Complicating the scenario, however, is the fact that there’s a contingent of Democratic voters who view Moore as an undesirable governor. They might have crossed over to the GOP primary for the purpose of ensuring that Moore was defeated.

Usually, though, the likelihood that such crossover voting sways the outcome of a runoff is small (barring a massive mobilization effort), given that it is traditionally difficult to get even hard-core partisans to vote in primaries and especially runoffs.

Now, all of this is moot, of course. Either Riley or Moore will secure the nomination outright.

At this point, it appears that the incumbent has the upper hand. Back in October, a Mobile Register/University of South Alabama poll gave Riley a 44-25 lead over Moore. Since that time, the news has been nothing but good for Riley, as state revenue figures and employment numbers have been quite positive.

The governor will be able to run on economic prosperity — and that’s a powerful tool for any incumbent.

Further, the situation is shaping up that the Alabama GOP is going to be fully behind Riley, with Moore running as something of an outcast.

Still, we’ve barely kicked off the campaign season; and the guesses of political scientists are irrelevant once the voters cast their ballots.

Let the games begin.

Filed under: My Columns, Alabama Politics | Comments (3) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
Sunday, January 1, 2006
PoliColumn: Alabama Politics Preview, 2006
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 10:50 am

From the Mobile Register:

Election year 2006
Saturday, December 31, 2005
By STEVEN L. TAYLOR
Special to the Register

Today we begin the long journey to the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November: Election Day, 2006.

While campaigns and elections irritate many people, I have to confess that I love elections. There is something magical about the idea that the citizens of a community can come together, and one by one their views are compiled until winners are declared and a new version of the government is constituted.

We take it so for granted, this idea that the people of this country get to choose those who govern — even though the vast preponderance of human history has been a tale of rulers coming to power by the sword or by inheritance.

It is true that the results of elections are often not as magical as we might like them to be. Indeed, sometimes the results disappoint or frustrate us.

But part of the true magic of democracy is that no matter how much one dislikes the president, governor or state legislators, politicians eventually will have to submit themselves to the voters again.

We are ultimately governed by the ballot box — and that is a remarkable achievement in human history.

Plus, in addition to all the philosophical and historical musings, elections are fun because they are full of human drama. And no state in the country is likely to have more drama, at least in the primary season, than Alabama.

As a headline on an Associated Press wire story correctly proclaimed just the other day: “Alabama gubernatorial primary season sure to be a must-see.”

If we look at the cast of characters, we have four principal players: the incumbent governor, Bob Riley; the ousted chief justice of Alabama, Roy Moore; the former governor, Don Siegelman (currently under multiple federal indictments); and the current lieutenant governor, Lucy Baxley.

And, as a side note, George C. Wallace Jr. is going to be running for lieutenant governor, which should allow reflection on the infamous political career of his father.

To be honest, Riley is not Mr. Excitement, but as the sitting governor whose term in office has some interesting story lines (think: Amendment One), his fortunes will be interesting to watch — especially because his task is to fend off Moore.

Baxley, despite long service in state office, is not really all that well known in terms of her views. However, she comes to the Democratic side of the race with a catchy slogan (”I Love Lucy”) and the lucky situation of having her major competitor under the cloud of indictment.

The drama, as we build to the June primaries, will be supplied primarily by Moore and Siegelman.

Moore brings his religious populism to the Republican primary and his hope that between the Ten Commandments and the fact that Riley tried to raise taxes via Amendment One, he can create enough of a schism within the party to win the nomination.

While there is no doubt that Moore has a core of fervent followers, recent polling has indicated that it is not as large as one might have thought.

Further, Moore will have to face the fact that his defiance of a federal court order does not sit well with many religious conservatives (his natural constituency), who may like Ten Commandment monuments but also believe in law and order. This is not 1960s Alabama, where defiance of the federal government translated directly into political popularity.

We have to remember that Moore not only got into trouble with the federal courts, but that his fellow Republican Supreme Court justices defied him and saw to it that the federal order was honored.

Further, Moore was ousted under the administration of a Republican governor and a Republican attorney general.

Meanwhile, Don Siegelman has to find a way to convince the voters that the indictments against him are politically driven and are therefore to be ignored. He is also going to try to resurrect his lottery plan, which failed in spectacular fashion at the polls in 1999.

A main storyline this year will be the economy of the state, which is humming along. A report in the Birmingham News last week noted that the unemployment rate hit 3.6 percent in November.

Also, because the state’s revenues are derived primarily from sales and incomes taxes, a good economy means that both the General Fund and the Education Trust Fund will be in good shape this year.

While there are long-term structural problems with fiscal policy in our state, this is not the year to convince voters of that fact.

As such, Siegelman’s lottery proposal is not going to have legs. Combine that with his legal problems, and one would expect, at least at this point, for Baxley to have the advantage in the Democratic primary.

However, the former governor is an excellent campaigner and no doubt will put up a heck of a fight.

On the GOP side, the incumbent governor is in excellent shape — far better than one might have imagined possible a few years back, when it seemed that his political capital had been irrevocably spent after his support of Amendment One in 2003.

But memories are short in politics. Since then, Bob Riley scored public points with his handling of Katrina relief. And more important than anything, in terms of his re-election bid, is the surging economy.

Add to all of this legislative elections, and the fact that the U.S. House and one-third of the Senate will stand for re-election, and you have a plate full of political intrigue on Alabamians’ table for 2006.

It should be fun indeed.

Filed under: US Politics, My Columns, Alabama Politics, 2006 Elections | Comments (1) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
Sunday, November 27, 2005
PoliColumn II: On a Border Fence
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 8:57 am

A two-fer Sunday.

From today’s Birmingham News: Fence won’t fix illegal immigration

Fence won’t fix illegal immigration
Sunday, November 27, 2005
STEVEN L. TAYLOR

Not long ago, U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions was one of three principle sponsors of the Border Security and Interior Enforcement Improvement Act of 2005, which seeks to fortify our borders. Among a number of orthodox proposals to fortify the U.S.-Mexican border was the idea of a security fence from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean. Such a fence would have to cover almost 2,000 miles and would cost $5 billion to $7 billion.

Clearly, the inspiration of this type of proposal is the security fences that have been constructed in Israel (as well as a nine-mile fence the United States already has constructed near San Diego). It is worth noting that the Israeli fence, which is concrete in portions but mainly chain link (two layers, combined with ditches, barbed wire and other such measures), was proposed to cross a total of 480 miles, according to Israeli government documents. It currently is about 365 miles long.

Not only is the Israeli fence a far smaller structure than would be required for the U.S.-Mexican border, it is constructed in an area with far more population density, making it easier to patrol the perimeter.

All of this calls into question whether it serves as an adequate model for the United States.

Of course, how effective would such a fence even be? There is no doubt a fence would slow illegals from crossing. However, building a wall is not, in and of itself, sufficient to achieve the goals being discussed. A barrier would still have to be patrolled, as there will be those who breach it in some fashion. It is worth recalling that there have already been examples of tunnels being dug under the border - a practice that would no doubt proliferate if a wall were constructed.

Concern over illegal immigration often ignores the economics of the situation. There are clear supply-and-demand forces at work that create a pull across the border. Millions of people clearly want work, and there are jobs beckoning them. The forces of a natural market are difficult to combat, as it requires striking directly at human nature.

These incentives are so strong that people are willing to die to cross into the United States to find jobs. They walk across the desert or come packed into trucks, and many do not make it. These are people who face death so they can work the night shift cleaning up the local McDonald’s. That should at least partially put into perspective the difficulties involved in controlling the border.

There also is ugly imagery associated with a wall. Don’t forget the wall constructed to separate east and west Berlin. The very possibility of a Mexican president some day standing at the Laredo Gate calling out “Mr. President, tear down this wall” should concern anyone with historical perspective.

Granted, the Berlin Wall was built to keep people in, and a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border would be designed to keep people out, but should the country that President Reagan described as a “shining city on a hill” be building walls to keep people out? What would the Statue of Liberty say?

The fact that the immigration laws of the United States are being broken en masse, not to mention drug smuggling and the possibility that terrorists could cross the border, is a worry. However, the fantasy that we can actually control the border ignores not only the vastness of the territory, but also the remarkable amount of legitimate traffic that crosses the border daily.

Laredo, Texas, alone has more than 9,000 daily crossings of vehicles, and it is impossible to adequately inspect every truck. Even if a fence substantially slowed border crossings on the frontier, there still would be opportunities to illegally enter the country.

If this appears to be a pessimistic viewpoint, so be it. Asserting total control of such a vast amount of territory against the forces that draw tens of thousands of people northward is probably impossible. As such, we have to ask ourselves if spending billions of dollars on a 2,000-mile fence is wise or desirable - especially since it is highly unlikely that a fence will do away with illegal immigration.

Filed under: US Politics, My Columns, Immigration | Comments (4) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here

Pererro linked with Illegal Immigration
A Knight’s Blog » Topic For The Day (Week? Month?): Immigration linked with [...] to be formost in the minds of many. The Sultan of Brunei (Poliblogger Steven Taylor) has posted a column he wrote for the Birmingham News about Senator Jeff Sessions’ sponsorship of a fence spa [...]
PoliColumn I: Wishes for Alabama
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 8:53 am

From today’s Mobile Register:

Listing holiday wishes for changes in Alabama’s goverment
Sunday, November 27, 2005
By STEVEN L. TAYLOR
Special to the Register

T his morning, we are in the waning hours of the Thanksgiving season. The turkey is mostly bones and the long weekend is winding down.

Still, it’s not too late to engage in some giving of thanks. In this case, I would like to think out loud about what I would like to some day have the chance to be thankful for.

Let’s start with something I am not thankful for: the constitution of the state of Alabama. It is a bloated, archaic, dysfunctional document that desperately needs to be replaced. It would fill my heart with thanks to have a new constitution — preferably one written by an elected convention of citizens of our state.

Other specific measures that would fill me with joy, and would cause thanksgiving across the state should they ever be enacted, are:

Home rule. Under the current state constitution, if a city or county wants to engage in self-governance, it often is blocked by the constitution. Permission has to be granted by the state Legislature.

Because the Legislature is busy, or a certain legislator may not support what the local government wants to do, such requests frequently are not approved.

As a result, democracy is thwarted and those closest to given issues aren’t allowed to enact public policies that they believe would be to their advantage.

Why should a city have to ask permission, like a child asking an adult, to engage in public policy for its citizens? Given the general opinion that we in the state tend to have of the Legislature, why are we content to allow legislators to make decisions that ought to be the domain of local governments?

A pro-growth constitution.
The current constitution forbids the government from directly engaging in activities that would promote business in Alabama. This is why we get silly-sounding constitutional amendments about promoting goat and sheep farmers (the 715th amendment) or the shrimp and seafood industry (the 766th amendment).

It would be really nice if our state government was able to promote the economy of our state without asking special permission per industry.

Certainly, it is hard to defend a constitution that has the words “goats,” “sheep” and “shrimp” in it. They are all fine creatures, of course, but when it comes to constitutions, detailing the domain of livestock isn’t exactly the stuff of James Madison.

As a side note, the fact that I just mentioned the 715th and 766th amendments ought to be a huge red flag that something is wrong with our constitution. What kind of documents needs that many additions in 104 years? Such numbers lead to my next wish.

Shorter ballots.
It would be nice if the list of proposed constitutional amendments that is given to the voters on a regular basis were shorter than my leg.

And while I may be exaggerating some, I would say that I am not overstating my case by much. The constitution of our state was promulgated in 1901 and we have amended it now 772 times. That’s an average of 7.4 amendments a year.

The need for that many changes bespeaks of a deeply flawed constitution. By comparison, the U.S. Constitution has been amended all of 27 times since 1789.

A framework.
A constitution is supposed to be a framework for government. The Alabama state constitution, however, is far more than that. It functions like a law book — i.e., a set of what should be statutes.

A constitution should establish the basis of the state government, and then allow the Legislature, as the elected representatives of the people, to then make the laws.

The greatest constitution ever written is that of the United States of America, and it is essentially a pamphlet. The Alabama Constitution is a tome that, in a pinch, you could use to crack the pecans for the holiday pie.

Anyone who would like to compare the two can go to the Internet and find the U.S. Constitution at www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/constitution.overview.html. The Alabama Constitution of 1901 can be viewed at www.legislature.state.al.us/CodeOfAlabama/Constitution/1901/Constitution1901)toc.htm.

Just a casual look through the two documents should underscore the radical differences between them.

A constitution that isn’t embarrassing. Forget the length issue; the fact of the matter is, our constitution should be considered an embarrassment to the state.

It still contains segregation-era language (such as the statement that blacks and whites should not attend the same schools), which is to the shame of the state. It is bad enough that such clauses were written in the first place, and doubly so that we have been too complacent to remove them.

I could go on, but will leave it there for now. I could sum up my wishes by saying that I would like to see a constitution for our state that facilitates good government and democracy, rather than hindering it and one that we could all be proud of. Hopefully, in my lifetime I will have the chance to write a Thanksgiving column that allows me to state my gratitude for constitutional change, rather than simply penning a piece that consists of wishful thinking.

Filed under: My Columns, Alabama Politics | Comments (3) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
Sunday, October 23, 2005
PoliColumn: Selecting Judges in AL
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 7:04 am

From today’s Mobile Register

To eliminate election politics, there’s a better way to pick judges
Sunday, October 23, 2005
By STEVEN L. TAYLOR
Special to the Register

A plan has been floated by the Alabama Bar Association that could lead to a proposed amendment to the state constitution, altering the way appeals court judges are chosen in Alabama.

Under the proposal, voters would no longer elect the state’s appeals courts. Rather, a nine-member panel would suggest a list of three candidates per vacancy, and the governor would choose from this list. There would be no requirement for legislative approval of the nominations.

Each judge would be evaluated by an 11-member panel on a regular basis, and a report issued to the public. The judge would then be placed on the ballot in an uncontested re-affirmation vote.

The fundamental argument of the state ABA is that this will “take politics” out of the system.

This proposal has caused a substantial reaction from the Republican Party of Alabama, which opposes the idea. Twinkle Cavanaugh, chairwoman of the state GOP, has strenuously objected, stating that the proposal is anti-democratic.

On the surface, this would appear to be a quarrel between one group championing judicial independence and another that is fighting for electoral democracy.

Noble causes, both. However, there is a clear subtext that ought to be taken into consideration: The Alabama Bar Association tends to lean Democratic, and the judiciary is currently heavily Republican.

Therefore, it is hardly a surprise that the ABA isn’t happy with the current system, nor is it a shock that the Republicans would oppose reforming it, meaning that the debate is thick with party politics.

Placing that factor on the table, let’s evaluate the core of the institutional reforms being considered, focusing on the democracy angle.

On one level, it would seem that using electoral means to select judges is the best option. After all, shouldn’t the people decide matters of importance in a democracy?

However, there is nothing inherently anti-democratic about having key officials appointed to government. No one demands, for example, that the chief of police or the fire marshal be elected.

Indeed, there is a fundamental problem with the election of judges that we don’t always own up to: that even if one agrees that elections are best, the bottom line is that we, as citizens, don’t pay that much attention to who runs.

Most citizens who vote in judicial elections cast their ballots based on party affiliation alone, and that hardly qualifies as making a truly informed decision. This, of course, assumes that they vote at all.

Back in June of last year during the party primaries, in which voters selected nominees for Alabama Supreme Court races, turnout was abysmal. In fact, we set record lows in both the first and second rounds of the primary.

More mass evidence of the apathy we have toward these elections can be found in a poll conducted by the University of South Alabama in 2000, in which 80 percent to 85 percent of voters could not identify 11 of the 12 candidates for the state’s Supreme Court.

The truth of the matter is that most citizens will say they want the power to elect judges, but don’t really want to bother with actually exercising it.

Whenever the topic of judicial elections emerges and the cry for democracy rings out, I am always reminded of the time I was living in Texas and looking for information on an appeals court judge running for re-election. I called his office and requested campaign literature.

I was told that he didn’t have any, but if I called back later he would be happy to talk to me.

That experience has long resonated in my mind. If the candidate had no literature, and had the time to talk to one lone voter, it certainly must have been the case that his office was hardly being inundated with voters hungry for information about why he should be re-elected.

Granted, one anecdote does not prove anything in and of itself. But if we think about how little these candidates advertise, how little press they get and how little we, as voters, really attempt to make informed decisions as to their election, it is not hard to extrapolate that my story is representative.

Having said all of that, the ABA plan has some substantial problems. First, there is no such thing as “taking the politics” out of something so political as who sits on the bench. At the federal level, we have appointed judges; and one need look no further than the nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court to know that the idea that no elections means no politics doesn’t pass the laugh test.

Second, taking away the role of the Legislature to confirm executive appointments of significance would diminish the democratic dimensions of the process beyond that of removing the electoral component.

If the only elected official involved in the process is the governor, then the influence of the views of voters is radically reduced. Indeed, the views of roughly half the electorate at any given moment in time would have no influence on the process whatsoever.

I would propose a system wherein governors appoint the members of the state judiciary to fixed terms, and the appointments would have to be confirmed by the state Senate. From there, a review would be conducted at the end of judges’ terms (perhaps six years) and a report issued to the public, after which a retention election would be held.

Such a plan would allow voters to influence the process via the governor and their state senators, and would also allow any egregiously problematic judge to be removed by the direct vote of the people.

Such a plan, used in one form or another in a large number of states, would strike the balance between our general apathy toward judicial elections and our need to have input into that process.

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Sunday, October 9, 2005
PoliColumn: Moore II
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 7:00 am

From today’s Mobile Register

M-Day starts race
Sunday, October 09, 2005
By STEVEN L. TAYLOR
Special to the Register

And so it begins: The 2006 electoral season started in earnest on Oct. 3, when the former chief justice of Alabama, Roy Moore, formally proclaimed his intention to run for the office of governor.

This was a long-anticipated announcement. Indeed, almost from the moment of his ouster from the bench due to his refusal to obey a federal court order, it has been assumed that Moore would seek further elective office, and that that office would be the governorship of our state.

So, last Monday was M-Day, so to speak.

And while the news may have partially been drowned out by President Bush’s nomination of Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court, there can be little doubt that we ultimately will hear quite a bit from and about Roy Moore.

The start of his campaign featured a five-part pledge that Moore dubbed “Return Alabama to the People,” built on the planks of legislative reform, education, taxation, illegal immigration and morality.

Aside from begging the question of when in the past the people of Alabama have had more power over their state than they do now, it is clear that the purpose of the plan is to demonstrate that Moore has more to say than simply asserting his right to use governmental office to “acknowledge God.”

Not surprisingly, his list details messages standard in Alabama politics: stopping “special interests,” promising low taxes and eliminating educational bureaucracy.

He also appears to be running against the Legislature (and, by extension, against Montgomery).

This is also standard fare for state (and, indeed, national) politics. The goal is to try to establish the concept that somehow a specific candidate has the ability to fix endemic problems because of the mythic powers that supposedly adhere to “outsiders.”

For example, Moore noted in his press confer ence that he “feels safer when the Legislature is not in session.” No doubt that is a sentiment shared by many across Alabama, but it raises the question of whether simply booting the Legislature from session is the way to fix our state’s problems.

One of Moore’s proposals is that the Legislature meet only once every other year.

On a visceral level, that sounds good. However, seeing as how the Legislature did not have time in this year’s regular session to finish the state’s budget, one has to wonder if it would be wise to limit legislators’ time.

This is the kind of solution that one dreamed up in college while chatting with friends, back when the world was a simple place with simple solutions.

Heck, if halving the amount of time that the Legislature meets would be a boon to the state, why stop there? How about every four years, or once a decade? That would limit the mischief those rascals could foment, that’s for sure.

Do we really need attention to issues like education, law enforcement and infrastructure?

Clearly, Moore is satisfied with public policy in these areas, given that he wishes to cut by 50 percent the amount of time our government addresses these issues.

His suggestion for term limits is more intriguing, as there is no doubt that there is a great deal of entrenched power in the Legislature, where we see legislators being far more concerned about pork for their districts than they are with the overall well-being of the citizens of Alabama.

Of course, the odds that the Roger Bedfords of the Legislature would allow term limits are quite low — in fact, probably zero.

If Moore wants substantial legislative reform, he should promote constitutional reform, but that apparently is not part of his plan.

Of course, the power of his candidacy is not going to be based on a series of promises/ideas that cannot possibly come to pass. It will come from the morality plank of his platform.

Roy Moore is first and foremost the “Ten Commandments Judge,” and while he did not make any promises about returning his Commandments monument to a governmental building, he did pledge, quite forcefully, the following: “I will defend the right of every citizen of this state — including judges, coaches, teachers and city, county and state officials — to acknowledge God as the sovereign source of law, liberty and government.”

All well and good. But that isn’t the job of the governor of Alabama.

(And in case Moore hasn’t noticed, there are a lot of churches in Alabama. I am certain that our religious liberties, and our rights to acknowledge God as we see fit, are wholly protected.)

The problem with Moore’s contention — that somehow, U.S. citizens are being stopped from acknowledging God — is that the only prohibition that exists in this realm in the United States is that government officials cannot use their offices to promote their religions.

However, that hasn’t stopped elected officials from acknowledging God in terms of their personal religious views. One need look no further than President Bush, who has repeatedly acknowledged not just a generic God, but Jesus Christ, during his tenure.

As such, Moore’s signature issue is a chimera, and the rest of his platform is nothing more than political padding. If what we want is better governance in our state, this all seems to be very little.

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PoliColumn: Moore I
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 6:57 am

From today’s Birmingham News:

Roy Moore should try solutions, not emotions
Sunday, October 09, 2005
STEVEN L. TAYLOR

As a political scientist, part-time columnist and blogger, I suppose that I should be thrilled that former Chief Justice Roy Moore has declared his candidacy for the governorship of Alabama. Certainly, a Moore candidacy provides much to talk about. However, his announcement last Monday leads to a great deal of apprehension.

First, Moore seems to be looking backward. The whole idea that we need to “Return Alabama to the People” (as he calls his plan) suggests that at some point in the past the people were empowered, but the state government was stolen from us. This is hardly the case. Where precisely is this mythical past to be found? What era is it in our state’s past do we wish to return to? Not to open old wounds, but ours is not a past filled with freedom and control of the government by the people.

There is no past era to which we could return where the people of Alabama had more power than they do now. Indeed, if empowerment of the people of this state is the goal, then Moore should be advocating for a new state constitution.

Second, and most significant, Moore is a populist. By populist, I mean a politician who appeals to the idea that “the people” are somehow being oppressed by the elite and the politician in question can solve that problem. Populists typically appeal to emotions more than reason and target popular ideas, usually in a vague way, to generate political support. George Wallace was the commensurate populist.

Usually, populists base their appeals on economic matters by connecting with the poor and building off resentment of the rich. Moore’s populism is based on his religious views, which are clearly consonant with the vast majority of Alabamians.

However, it is rather difficult to take seriously the proposition that people of faith are being oppressed in Alabama. There are churches aplenty, and there is no doubt we all have the right to acknowledge God as we see fit in our daily lives. Still, Moore’s appeal to the religious does have a great deal of potential power in our state.

To some degree, all politicians engage in populist rhetoric from time to time. However, Moore’s entire appeal is almost wholly based on this method of politicking.

Still, what’s wrong with all of this? For one thing, politics based on emotion is vacuous. Emotion is ephemeral - once the good feeling from a given speech wears off, what’s left? For another, populists make promises that are especially hard to keep and, hence, ultimately contribute to general cynicism about government. Over the long term, that makes real solutions more difficult to construct and implement.

For example, who could not want “special interests” out of government? But, think a second: What are “special interests,” and how, precisely, are we going to get rid of them?

Politicians who promise what cannot be delivered simply contribute to the lack of confidence in the system.

We already have a damaged system of governance in Alabama with a political class that isn’t trusted (with good cause). However, instead of simply tossing slogans around and making promises that can’t be fulfilled, it would be more useful if politicians would work for rational, concrete solutions, rather than appealing to our emotions.

Steven L. Taylor, Ph.D., is an associate professor of political science at Troy University. He writes daily on politics at www.poliblogger.com. E-mail: sltaylor @ troy.edu.

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Sunday, September 18, 2005
PoliColumn: School Fundraising
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 10:20 am

Via today’s Mobile Register.

Our students should be learning, not selling junk
Sunday, September 18, 2005
By STEVEN L. TAYLOR
Special to the Register

So, have your children come home yet with glossy catalogs full of over-priced junk that they’re supposed to sell to your relatives and neighbors?

Perhaps it was pictures of wrapping paper and greetings cards that they are supposed to hawk, or maybe cookie dough or some other item that you could purchase more cheaply down the street at Wal-Mart.

Further, were your children prom ised lavish prizes (at least in their eyes) and made to feel guilty if they didn’t help out their school?

My third-grader was simultaneously hypnotized by the potential prizes, wracked with guilt over possibly letting his classmates down over group prizes, and motivated by the potential to help replace the “old wrinkly carpet” in the music room.

I will be honest. All of this makes me angry. I don’t send my children to school to be manipulated or turned into part of a sales force.

Life is sufficiently busy and parenting sufficiently complicated that I don’t appreciate the school system creating new problems for me to have to deal with.

Such fund-raising techniques are hardly new or limited to Alabama. Indeed, I remember selling canned peanut brittle in first grade when I lived in Texas.

My grandmother bought a few cans, as I recall. No doubt the school earned a few cents per sale, as is in the case now when our superintendents and principals allow our children to become door-to-door salesman to help make money for junk peddlers.

Why, then, do we find schools engaged in these activities? The answer is quite simple: the lack of adequate funding in our schools — a syndrome especially pronounced in numerous parts of our state where the citizens are loathe to agree to even minuscule property tax increases.

In practically even corner of our state, if we ask the citizens to raise property taxes even a handful of dollars, the answer is almost always quite clear: “No!” we cry. “We’ll give the schools more money once they show us how efficient they can be!”

Meanwhile, Little Timmy is going door-to-door like the Fuller Brush Man.

And it isn’t like it is just one fund-raiser a year. It is typically multiple attempts at using our children to squeeze a few more pennies out of Aunt Helen.

Am I suggesting that schools should never engage in fund raising outside of taxes? Not at all. However, I am suggesting that turning 8-year-olds into door-to-door salesmen is problematic in and of itself, and that the tactic is compounded by two factors.

First, these are blatantly manipulative processes. The schools prey on the naiveté of young children as to how easy it will be to sell these items.

Further, they appeal to greed by promising them rewards that range from dollar store-level junk to fabulous prizes that they will never be able to earn.

Is this really what we want our schools to be doing? What lessons are being inculcated here?

Along the same theme, the bottom line is that the ability of the children to sell this stuff is predicated on the idea that the adults to whom the children (or their parents) will hawk these products will feel guilty and therefore buy something.

How many grandmas or aunts will turn down the kindergartners in the family who are selling wrapping paper? Who wants to disappoint the neighbor’s child when he comes around trying to sell you a tub of cookie dough?

Given that most of the products in question can be purchased at local retailers for far less money, one has to assume that the catalog-makers and the administrators who seek out these methods of fund raising at least partially know that guilt will help drive sales.

Second, these types of fund-raisers do not net the schools substantial returns; the catalog companies are looking to make a profit. It isn’t as if, when you pay $8 for wrapping paper, the school is getting $8.

There are more efficient ways for schools to raise funds than turning our elementary aged children into sales reps.

The prevalence of these types of activities simply underscores the poor funding of our public schools. Why we are willing to allow our children to be manipulated into selling cookie dough, but aren’t willing to vote a few dollars more a month in property taxes to support the school, is wholly beyond my comprehension.

There isn’t a public or private school system in the land that can’t use more money. Indeed, one would guess that there isn’t a person reading these words right now who couldn’t use a little more cash.

The question becomes, would you be willing to exploit small children and play on their emotions to get that extra cash?

If one is a school administrator, the answer to that question appears to be “yes.” And if you are unwilling to raise property taxes a scintilla to help fund our schools, then you are complicit as well.

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» Back in the pocket » Arguing with signposts… » Blog Archive linked with [...] help but point you to this excellent opinion piece by Dr. Taylor about school fundraisers: Our students should be learning, not selling junk The impulse to turn every child into a Fuller Brush Salesma [...]
Sunday, August 14, 2005
PoliColumn: Alabama and Kelo
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 7:18 am

From today’s Mobile Register:

State leads way on property rights
Sunday, August 14, 2005
By STEVEN L. TAYLOR
Special to the Register

When lists are made concerning various actions, achievements or failures of the 50 states, more often than not we find that our state of Alabama ranks low on the good lists and high on the bad lists.

As such, it is with great pleasure that I highlight something very positive that Alabama’s state government did first: work to protect property rights in the face of the Supreme Court decision of Kelo vs. City of New London that was issued in June.

The majority opinion in Kelo (the court was split 5-4) dealt with an expansion of the power of eminent domain. The power of eminent domain derives from the Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution, which states (among other things) that private property shall not “be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

This is known as the “Taking Clause” and allows governments to take private land for public use so long as the owner of that land is justly paid for the land.

For example, if it is ever actually decided that Interstate 85 will be extended westward from Montgomery to Meridian, Miss., and it becomes necessary to put part of it through Granddad’s farm out in western Alabama, Granddad will receive just compensation for the land and the government will get the land upon which to build the road.

Granted, Granddad may not much like the whole thing, but the point is that there are circumstances in which it may be necessary to obtain private lands for the overall public good. Further, the Constitution guarantees that one will be compensated (unlike the way kings often took land in the old days).

The basic principle is sound: It would be impossible to engage in substantial public works, like the interstate highway system, without some power of eminent domain. Or, at a minimum, sans such a power, the government (and, by extension, taxpayers) would have remarkably higher costs as it diverted the construction of roads and such to land that it could acquire.

This principle is well established, even if it is sometimes considered no better than a necessary evil. However, the Kelo decision took the notion a step (indeed, several steps) further by allowing governments to seize property not for obvious public use, like roads, but to be turned over to private developers who will improve the property in such as a way as to enhance the economic development of the region.

In this case, the city of New London, described in the Supreme Court ruling as a “distressed municipality,” sought to use its eminent domain powers to condemn and purchase a number of private homes (including one belonging to a woman who had lived her entire life in the home, having been born there in 1918) to turn over to the private, nonprofit New London Development Corp. for the purposes of economic revitalization.

A number of persons fought the city’s right to evoke eminent domain in this case, on the argument that the “taking” did not constitute a legitimate public use.

The Supreme Court disagreed, and in a 5-4 ruling decided that the ability of the city to potentially create jobs and tax revenue outweighed the right of private property owners.

This didn’t sit well with a good many people, including the legislatures of 28 states where legislation has been introduced to curb the Kelo decision. Alabama was the first to pass actual legislation.

On Aug. 3, Gov. Bob Riley signed a bill passed on the last day of the spe cial legislative session. It bans the use of eminent domain powers in the state if the purpose of the taking is for the construction of “industrial, commercial, office, retail or residential” property.

This bill at a minimum blunts the Kelo ruling, at least in terms of the actions of state and local governments in Alabama.

As such, the law helps to protect the property rights of Alabamians from overzealous mayors, city councils and county governments, and therefore helps protect a fundamental right of Americans: the acquisition and retention of private property.

The right of the state to utilize eminent domain powers for the construction of true public needs, such as roads, public building and utilities, and for the elimination of blighted areas, remains in force.

I should conclude by pointing out that in this very newspaper on July 31, I criticized the Legislature for wasting time in the special session by passing a resolution about Alabamians traveling to Aruba. I stand by my critique, but wish to give direct credit to the Legislature and governor for taking the opportunity presented to them in passing this eminent domain law during the special session.

Sunday, July 31, 2005
PoliColumn II: Stupid Legislature Tricks
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 7:40 am

Yes, it’s a twofer Sunday!

From the Mobile Register:

Wasting time a Goat Hill art form
Sunday, July 31, 2005
By STEVEN L. TAYLOR
Special to the Register

On July 19, the Alabama Legislature went into a special session that lasted until last Tuesday, spending an estimated $108,000 to do so. The reason that they were called into special session was because they ran out of time in the regular session to get one of their most fundamental tasks finished: the completion of the state’s budget.

We do now have a completed budget (the Legislature having completed the General Fund budget in a little over a week) and a raise for the state’s non-education workers. Why it was impossible to complete this work in the regular session has not been adequately explained.

Indeed, in the special session, politicians reaffirmed the fact that they are careless with the people’s time and money. Consider the fact that the House passed a resolution, sponsored by Rep. Leslie Vance, D-Phenix City, calling on the citizens of Alabama to boycott Aruba because no conclusion has been reached in the Natalee Holloway case.

Clearly, the Legislature would rather spend time on nonsense than on the business of the state. (Remember 2004, when the Legislature had the time to name Conecuh Ridge Whiskey the state spirit, and had time to override the governor’s veto of that resolution, instead of dealing with the governor’s accountability proposals?)

By the logic of the Natalee Holloway resolution, no one should travel anywhere that a serious crime remains unsolved. Indeed, perhaps the citizens of Alabama should not travel at all; serious crimes remain unresolved around the globe.

My wife asked me if the Legislature was going to pass a resolution about which parts of Montgomery have unsolved crimes, so that we know not to travel there as well.

Not only are these thing vacuous wastes of time, but they are insulting and/or egotistical as well.

They are insulting because part of the reason that legislatures pass them is because the politicians think/hope that the public at large will interpret them as real action. Legislators want us to think that empty statements from legislatures actually matter.

For them to think that, they have to assume that the public isn’t too bright.

If the Legislature collectively thinks that its words requesting a boycott of Aruba will actually affect Aruban authorities, then legislators think rather highly of themselves. Resolutions such as this highlight that fact.

It should be noted that the resolution itself is simply a communication, and has no legal authority. Indeed, it can basically be considered grandstanding by the House.

I understand that there is often a need to “do something” in these cases, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that something should, in fact, be done.

If they have to hold special sessions to deal with their basic responsibilities, perhaps Alabama legislators should re-evaluate what they do in the regular session.

And here’s a suggestion: “Devolve” power over local issues to local government. If the Legislature didn’t have to spend time considering a slate of local bills each session, perhaps it could get the work of the state done in a timely manner.

For example, Montgomery County wanted to hold a referendum to raise property taxes for the school system, but had to ask the Legislature for permission.

Not only is the process an affront to democracy itself — why shouldn’t the voters in Montgomery have the chance to make decisions about their own affairs? — but it also underscores one of many problems with the Alabama Constitution of 1901: the need for the centralized state Legislature to have to deal with a plethora of local issues each term.

Clearly legislators do not have enough time to deal with everything on their plate as it stands, so why not give us power over the issues which directly affect us as citizens of cities and counties?

Is it really too much to ask them to use their time (i.e., our time) wisely? Or, at the very least, is it too much to ask that they not insult our intelligence when they are engaged in wasting our time?

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PoliColumn I: Moore Politics
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 7:35 am

From today’s Birmingham News:

High court rulings give Moore exposure
Sunday, July 31, 2005
STEVEN L. TAYLOR

As the Supreme Court finished this year’s session, it issued two rulings on a topic quite familiar to the politics of the state of Alabama: the public display of the Ten Commandments.

In two 5-4 decisions, the court ruled on the ability of state governments to have public displays of the Ten Commandments on public land. In Van Orden vs. Perry, the court ruled that a display on the grounds of the state capitol in Texas could remain, because it served a primarily historical/nonreligious function. In McCreary County vs. ACLU, the court ruled the displays in Kentucky were not constitutional because their primary purpose was the promotion of religion.

As such, the court maintained what has become an established, if somewhat muddy, standard: that the use of religious words and symbols by government is only permissible when such usages are largely devoid of religious meaning. Analysts of the opinions have noted that the court continues to fail to provide a consistent standard on these matters.

Among those analysts is former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who, not surprisingly, was asked to respond in print to the court’s rulings, including in an essay published in The News earlier this month. In that defense, Moore correctly noted that the justices didn’t exactly provide clarity on the question of when and where governmental units in the United States may display religious symbols and/or texts.

However, Moore’s views on this topic are not any surprise, especially to Alabamians. Of interest in the essay, aside from Moore’s re-statements of his view of the role of government in acknowledging God, are his more general views on the Supreme Court and his prescriptions for solving the problem of the courts and religion.

In the essay, Moore notes not only the issue of acknowledging God, but also abortion, the Schiavo case, and the ruling this session of eminent domain powers (which the court expanded in the Kelo vs. New London case).

He further argues for the usage by the Congress of its powers to dictate the jurisdiction of the federal court with the “Constitution Restoration Act of 2005,” a bill unlikely to pass the Congress.

Nonetheless, all of these topics together help give us at least a partial idea of a Moore candidacy for governor of Alabama, should he seek to run against Gov. Bob Riley for the GOP nomination. If Moore runs, at least two major prongs of attack will be government promotion of religion and actions of the courts. If Moore tosses in steadfast opposition to tax increases of any kind, he will have hit on a trifecta of Alabama politics: All three topics are quite popular with many voters.

That we are a religious state is certainly true, and that Moore has a gift for appealing to that religious nature is similarly uncontestable. Indeed, Moore engages in a particular brand of populism that attempts to combine seemingly complex legal arguments with common-sense appeals.

For example, Moore notes something he has asserted for some time in his arguments for display of the Ten Commandments: that the First Amendment says “Congress shall make no law establishing religion” and that a monument obviously isn’t a “law.” This is, of course, true, but misses the rather obvious point that many things that are produced by government aren’t laws, either, like aircraft carriers. However, just as any concrete manifestation of government goals, laws did have to be passed to have that aircraft carrier built. So, too, did some governmental agent somewhere have to decide that a Ten Commandments monument was to be erected.

Alabamians also have a great deal of distrust of the courts. Whether it was the removal of prayer from schools or the legalization of abortion, there are a number of issues which are of profound significance that the court has decided in a way that does not comport with the predominate views held in our state. There is further the fact that a couple of generations back, desegregation and busing orders given by federal courts were viewed as outside interference. Despite more enlightened view of race relations in the minds of most Alabamians today, there still is a vague recollection of interference by courts in the minds of many, even if they don’t fully recall why.

Certainly the idea that the courts in general are “out of control” is strong among many conservatives. As such, there is a well from which Moore can draw. Resentment well tapped can be a powerful tool for a gifted politician.

Precisely what Moore could actually do about these issues as governor is a wholly different question. Indeed, if he wants to affect the composition, and thereby, the behavior of the federal bench, he should run for the U.S. Senate or the presidency. Still, just because a politician can’t change something doesn’t mean that he can’t score political points by raising the issue.

At a minimum, the Supreme Court’s recent foray into the Ten Commandments issue allowed Moore to yet again obtain exposure which will help propel him to the next level should he decide to seek elective office once again.

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Sunday, July 17, 2005
PoliColumn: Moore, the SC and the Ten
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 7:04 am

From today’s Mobile Register:

Supreme Court brings Roy Moore back to the front
Sunday, July 17, 2005
By STEVEN L. TAYLOR
Special to the Register

Predictably, the recent rulings by the Supreme Court regarding the display of the Ten Commandments have brought Roy Moore to the fore once again. Indeed, Moore was given space in The Wall Street Journal wherein he revisited some of his basic arguments for the display of the commandments — his signature issue.

In his piece in the Journal, Moore raises a familiar issue from his own argument for such displays: the question of the meaning of some key words in the Establishment Clause of the Ten Commandments [sic-that should be “The First Amendment”-Ed.]

He states: “We need to restore the original definitions of ‘law,’ ‘establishment’ and ‘religion’ in the First Amendment. A monument or display could never be a ‘law,’ the mere posting or installation of it is not an ‘establishment,’ and the recognition of God by the public display of the Ten Commandments is not ‘religion.’”

I would concur that the mere display of a religious symbol or text does not constitute establishment of religion. Here, there is legitimate room for debate; however, Moore well knows that the court has ruled in the past that the endorsement of a particular religious view by government is considered tantamount to establishment.

The question legitimately arises as to whether the government should, or should not, be supporting a particular theological view.

I will grant that the history of our nation is one in which Christianity has been the prevalent religious view, and, indeed, remains such. Still, we are quite diverse in our views even within Christianity; and, further, there are many who do not hold to Christianity or to any religion at all. Certainly the issue of minority protections is worth considering.

The issue of what purpose the display of a religious text has is a legitimate question to ask, and one that the Supreme Court took into consideration in both of the rulings under discussion here. In short: If the display is done primarily to advance a specific religion, it isn’t legal.

Certainly for Moore, the goal of the display of the Ten Commandments is clear: He wishes to acknowledge God. While I personally have no trouble acknowledging God, the question still remains as to whether it is the proper job for the government to be so doing.

By definition, if government as a collective entity is seen to have the responsibility and right to acknowledge God, then the task of determining which God, and by what method, would fall to whomever it was who was in charge of that government at a given point in time.

And while a monument itself may not be “religion,” it is certainly the case that the goal of such displays such as Moore’s own monument is to promote a specific religion. By Moore’s own admission, this was the case.

As I am wont to point out, the only way to get everything one wants from government is to be the absolute dictator, and those jobs are hard to come by. As such, I suspect I could be happy with a government that espoused religion, so long as it was my view of the religious.

However, any government that I do not fully control, but is granted the authority to espouse religion, has the potential to espouse a religious view that I do not support.

Yes, Alabamians — who are quite religious and predominantly Southern Baptist in their orientations — may well have no trouble allowing the state to “acknowledge” God. However, their zeal for allowing the state a prominent role in religious acknowledgment might fade if they found themselves transferred to Salt Lake City, Utah.

Having a government composed by Baptists is one thing, but what about one composed of Mormons? Or, what if one’s mayor or governor were an agnostic or an atheist? At that point, would we be content with assigning government the role of religious arbiter?

And, by the way, Roy Moore is correct: we do have an unalienable right to acknowledge God, and it is enshrined in the free exercise clause of the First Amendment, which forbids any prohibitions by government on the free exercise of religion. This is, however, the right of individuals which allows us all — without interference from the state — to decide whether we will acknowledge God or not, and what that means to us. It does not give the state the right to determine that acknowledgment for us.

Moore’s problem is that he wishes to take his personal view of God and use the state as the mechanism of acknowledgment.

Filed under: US Politics, My Columns, Alabama Politics, Courts/the Judiciary, Religion | Comments (3) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here

Politics In Alabama linked with Dr. Taylor: Well Spoken My Friend
Sunday, June 26, 2005
PoliColumn: Redistricting Politics
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 7:37 am

From today’s Mobile Register:

Disputes over legislative redistricting can send politicos to court
Sunday, June 26, 2005
By STEVEN L. TAYLOR
Special to the Register

Every time I teach my American government students about elections and electoral districts, I tell them that one of the things that they can count on is that with districting comes lawsuits.

There aren’t many hard laws of social science, but the relationship between the drawing of legislative districts and lawsuits may well be one.

The entire piece is here

Filed under: US Politics, My Columns, Alabama Politics | Comments (1) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
Sunday, June 12, 2005
PoliColumn: Abortion and the Judicial Wars
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 7:36 am

From today’s Mobile Register:

What’s driving the judicial battles?
Sunday, June 12, 2005
By STEVEN L. TAYLOR
Special to the Register

Believe it or not, the fight over President Bush’s appeals court nominees, although it has abated somewhat with the confirmation of three judges, including Alabama’s Bill Pryor, is now more than four years old. During that time we have experienced the attacks of 9/11, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a presidential election.

The whole piece is here.

Filed under: My Columns, Abortion, Courts/the Judiciary | Comments (5) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
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