As the 2009 Regular Legislative Session approaches, hopefully it will not be a three-peat. The last two years have been horrendous. The partisan acrimony in the State Senate is so pronounced that they do not even speak to each other, much less pass any legislation. They have basically done nothing for two years. However, they did manage to put their partisanship aside long enough to pas a 62% pay increase for themselves even though they failed to pass the education budget last year.

On the last night of the session as I watched in the waning hours of the night as the clock approached midnight and it became apparent that the budget would die, a veteran observer of the Senate looked at me and commented that if one of the senators came forward with a proposal declaring he had found an absolute cure for cancer the opposing political party would automatically filibuster and kill the bill out of pure partisanship. This open hostility among the senators has produced two of the least productive back-to-back sessions in history. It has also resulted in a fist fight, constant bickering and filibustering over mundane issues. The debate on the Senate floor has been so caustic and bitter that Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom, who presides over the Senate, has quietly chided the senators to subdue their diatribe because schoolchildren were observing from the gallery.

The gridlock in the Senate stems from the 2007 battle for control of the Senate. It was a narrow one vote loss that the Republican minority thought they would win. However, the Democrats retained control and the Republicans remain bitter. This partisan divide in the Senate has created an atmosphere that does not bode well for much progress on long-term state problems.

If they ever move past the petty partisanship there are several young and new Senators who are poised to become stars. Democratic Senator Myron Penn, although only 35 years old, is in his seventh year in the Senate and appears to have the potential to be a superstar. On the Republican side, newly elected Senator Trip Pittman from Baldwin County has caught the eye of most Goat Hill observers. Pittman is affable and very popular. He has the potential to be a moderate peacemaker and mediator in the jungle of animosity and bitterness.

In the House, two members who are worth watching and have tremendous leadership potential are Republican Representative Cam Ward from Shelby County and Democratic Representative Jeff McLaughlin from Guntersville. McLaughlin has earned a stellar reputation for seven years and has shown astute legislative acumen. The press loves him for his steadfast commitment to passing legislation to stop PAC to PAC money transfers.

The current law renders our campaign finance laws meaningless and openly allows money laundering of campaign contributions in our state campaigns. For seven straight years, McLaughlin has sponsored the campaign finance reform bill to stop the PAC to PAC money laundering. The bill passes the House every year but is killed in the Senate. Last year there was so much editorial pressure that the Senate felt the heat, so they devised a devious plot to pass a bogus bill. They took the clean House bill, which would have ended the commingling and money laundering and amended it with a version that would have only exacerbated the problem. The Senate seized the opportunity for a little chicanery and substituted the clean House bill with a Senate bill that was a total ruse. The amended version would have made the practice of transfers more pervasive under the guise of ending the PAC to PAC deception and would have allowed the money laundering to proliferate through political parties, legislative caucuses and personal campaign accounts.

The senators took a page from congress. In Washington, congressmen create their own PACs and give to each other and other candidates. In turn, they endear themselves with the recipient. The senators were craftily hoping to create a system that would allow themselves to become conduits of money and become the purveyors and beneficiaries of the political shell game. There will be another effort to revisit the issue in this year’s session, but my guess is they will not stop hiding the campaign money in state campaigns.