The scene: Room 304 of the Alabama statehouse.
Time: 12:30 p.m. March 8, 2016
The reason: A senate hearing on SB 316, otherwise known by various names such as RAISE and PREP
Action: All nine members of the Senate Education & Youth Affairs Committee come together to hear opponents and supporters of this bill. After more than 60 minutes of testimony from nine opponents and seven supporters, the committee, comprised of six Republicans and three Democrats, votes. As is customary, all present expect the vote will split along party lines.
However, Republican Senator Paul Bussman from Cullman breaks rank and votes “nay” meaning the bill passes out of committee 5-4.
Then on Monday, March 14 news hits the statehouse that Bussman has been stripped of his position as Vice-Chair of the rules committee, one of the most powerful committees in the legislative process. Instantly everyone thinks that this action is retribution for Bussman’s vote against the bill discussed at the hearing, which is sponsored by President Pro Tem Del Marsh.
But the spin machine in Marsh’s office said, “Not true. This action was because Bussman embarrassed another senator.” This was about as believable as them declaring that Christmas this year will be observed on the 4th of July. I talked to Senator Bussman Monday afternoon. He confirmed that he was removed as Vice Chair, but still remained on the committee. Why did he lose his position? He wasn’t really sure. Nor did it really matter because what was done was done.
Tuesday reporter Bryan Lyman of The Montgomery Advertiser wrote that Senator Marsh said that the action was was taken because Senator Bussman would not return his phone calls prior to the committee meeting.
Every opponent of the bill at the hearing was an educator. Only two of the seven proponents were educators. So it is fair to say that those senators who voted “nay” voted to support educators, while the others did not.
As this whole episode has unfolded over the past months several things have become clear to longtime statehouse observers. 1. Senator Marsh had no clue he would get the pushback about this bundle of bad ideas he initially called the RAISE Act of 2016. But educators across the state have voiced their dislike about the bill to their local House and Senate members. A teacher in Saraland started an on-line petition against the bill that got more than 5,000 signatures.
2. The senator is now working feverishly to salvage something–anything–from this debacle. At this point, it is all about politics and certainly not education. It is about saving face for the leader of the Senate.
Unfortunately, Senator Bussman, a truly good guy and someone who thinks for himself, is nothing but collateral damage.