Our Alabama Constitution is very antiquated. One of the flaws inherent in the document is that it does not allow local county governments very much authority or power. Therefore, county governments have to channel most changes or actions into local acts that have to be advertised in their local paper for four weeks and then taken to the state legislature to be enacted. As a result, the entire state legislature must act on a local bill for Fayette County that might only involve something as mundane as paving a road or buying a tractor.

As a legislator, I dreaded this procedure because it took most of the day everyday in the legislature. We would sit for hours every morning and vote on these local bills from all over the state, which had nothing to do with state government. In addition, these local acts were not always non controversial measures regardless of whether the act involved the rural counties or the urban areas of Jefferson, Mobile or Madison. In fact, the Jefferson County delegation would usually be embroiled for hours, if not days, on local issues that should have been determined back home in the Birmingham City Hall or among Jefferson County Commissioners.

Those of us from rural counties were not immune to controversial local acts. Many of us came from counties where we were the only resident legislator from our county. In essence if you wanted the power you could become the czar of your local county government. If you did not want some act to pass you simply could choose not sign it out of committee because you were the committee.

Legislators had an honor system that was known as local courtesy. The understood rule was you would defer from voting against another county’s local legislation. So in actuality a legislator from a rural county, who was the only resident legislator, could thwart a road paving project or any other local matter they objected to.

Invariably, a disgruntled county commissioner who was not getting his way would come to me and request that I kill his rival county commissioner’s bill to get a new road. However, early in my legislative career I made an ironclad policy that I would not be involved in local county business. I insisted that all local bills be voted on in public by all the county commissioners at their open meeting before being presented for passage. The recorded vote must be attached to the bill when I received it. Therefore, my only participation would be as a perfunctory messenger or conduit for the local issue.

One of the most legendary dirty tricks ever played on a legislator by a fellow legislator still reverberates today over fifty years later. It occurred during the second Folsom administration in the late 1950’s. Legislators Emmett Oden of Franklin County and Jack Huddleston of Colbert County despised each other. These two counties adjoin in northwest Alabama and these two men were constantly at odds.

One day Oden introduced a local bill for Franklin County that repealed another local bill passed in December of 1869. His brief explanation to the House of Representatives when the measure came up for a vote was that it was simply a “housekeeping bill.” He said that it was intended to correct an error made when the original bill was passed.

Through the custom of local courtesy the local bill passed unanimously. Even Rep. Jack Huddleston voted in favor of the bill. After the passage of the measure, Rep. Oden told the press what his bill actually did. The 1869 law which he was repealing was the law that created Colbert County out of a part of Franklin County. Rep. Jack Huddleston had just voted to abolish his own county. That one vote ended Huddleston’s political career. His constituents in Colbert County could not forget that he had voted to abolish his own county.

See you next week.