In control of the Alabama legislature and governorship for the first time in 137 years, Republicans sent a clear message that they’re bent on delivering conservative change. In fact, the shock of the their passage of major fiscal and social legislation is still reverberating, especially on the issue of immigration.
The new immigration law is regarded as the toughest in the nation, and it has stirred protests and lawsuits from the Obama administration, civil rights groups, and churches. The law will go into effect on September 1, unless blocked or modified by federal judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn, who heard arguments in the case on Wednesday.
Business groups are also unhappy with the law because, as the Wall Street Journal wrote, it is “undermining Alabama’s economy.” Construction and agricultural interests are facing worker shortages as immigrants are leaving the state in droves. This shouldn’t be a surprise. The law was intended to drive illegal workers out of the state and open up jobs for unemployed Alabamians. We “cannot allow Alabama to become a sanctuary state,” Republican state representative Micky Hammon, a co-sponsor of the legislation, told me.
The law, modeled after the Arizona illegal immigration bill enacted in 2010, sets stringent restrictions. It requires schools and employers to verify an immigrant’s status in the United States, criminalizes the use of a fake ID, allows law enforcement to question suspected illegal aliens, and bars citizens from aiding unlawful immigrants in such ways as renting housing to them.
But it was only a small part of what the Republican legislature approved and was signed into law by GOP governor Robert Bentley. A sweeping ethics law went after unsavory lobbying and campaign financing practices. Both the Full Employment Act ($1,000 tax credit for hiring a new employee) and the Alabama Jobs Incentive Act (tax incentives to attract manufacturers) were designed to strengthen the economy.
Republican representative Blaine Galliher, co-sponsor of the tax credit bill, says it was necessary to spur small businesses to hire. “This bill will give those small businesses that are wavering on hiring a new employee the incentive to hire,” he says. “We are going to have to take some bigger steps to get the education system and economy back where we want it.” Alabama has a 10 percent unemployment rate.
The Republican takeover and passage of its bold agenda didn’t happen overnight. “The wave of conservatism in the state legislature started more than four years ago,” says house speaker Mike Hubbard. “Since February 2007, more than five and a half million dollars have been poured into assisting, advising, and helping candidates strengthen platforms and win elections.”
This, coupled with widespread disapproval of President Obama across the state, led to unprecedented Republican victories in last November’s election. In earlier elections, Hubbard admits there was no real coordinated effort by Republicans. And Democrats were able to avoid any potential political threats by redistricting.
So far, the immigration bill is the GOP’s most controversial action. Hammon says Republicans took special precautions in writing the bill. “We were very careful to include non-provocative, non- discriminatory language.” Even if parts of the bill are struck down, he says, it is written in a manner so that the whole bill will not be nullified.
What does the Republican ascendency and its agenda mean for Alabama politics? First, it establishes the GOP as a party of real change. Second, the legislation assures constituents the legislators it elected officials are following through on campaign promises. The agenda Republicans talked up in the 2010 campaign is almost identical to the legislation passed this year. Finally, the legislation shows the people of Alabama that Republicans are not scared to step up to the plate. They could not afford to squander their opportunity and let Democrats slip back into power. Republicans exceeded expectations and sent a clear message: If you elect us, we will follow through on our promises and bring change to Alabama.
William Patton was a summer intern at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.