Touches of gray
Things here tend to be classified, more so than in many other places, into simple dichotomies. It's good or bad, right or wrong, black or white, from the Lord or from the devil, Alabama or Auburn. (Pre-emptive strike for Auburn fans: No, I'm not saying your team is from the devil.) It's a view of the world that has the benefit of enabling quick judgments that lead to decisive actions. But it also has the drawback of those actions often not being the best choice available to solve the problem.
Once again, another complex issue will come before an Alabama decision-making body today, when the state school board will tackle "double dipping" by legislators who moonlight as two-year college employees, a practice that led to a seemingly never-ending series of troubling newspaper headlines and brought a Pulitzer Prize to downtown Birmingham this year.
Several proposals, or a combination of them, could address the concerns raised in the stories. The two-year system could seek to cut ties with the legislators to whom it no longer should be attached. The state could keep legislators from working in jobs where the duties include lobbying the government for funding. Alabama also could bar lawmakers from gaining employment with the state after their election or within a limited time beforehand.
Or in a systemic reform, the state could bar outside employment altogether and make legislative service a full-time job, which is the best solution for a host of reasons I addressed earlier. (To quote myself, "If all lawmakers have to surrender all other employment for the duration of their time on Goat Hill, no profession would face disincentives to serve that the others didn't. More importantly, we could alleviate concerns about conflicts of interest in both the public and private sectors.") And the options mentioned in the last two paragraphs are far from the only ones.
Instead, the state school board is likely today to impose a broad policy that, despite some last-minute modifications, effectively would bar anyone who works in the community college system from serving in the Legislature after 2010. And that move likely will prompt a barrage of lawsuits from the Alabama Education Association and other groups worried about losing influence, based on concerns over civil rights, separation of powers, and who knows what else.
A blanket ban and costly litigation? That is an Alabama tradition.