Alabama Voters Approve Forever Wild, Vote Down Amendment 4

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But Corporate Republicans Slip One In Against Unions on Amendment 7

By Glynn Wilson

The same corporate Republican special interests who spent billions trying to elect Massachusetts Mormon Mitt Romney over President Barack Obama also failed to derail the popular and successful Forever Wild land conservation program in Alabama and to take away the “right” of a public education in the state, but they did manage to sneak in and pass a new law to at least temporarily hamstring union organizing in a way that is most likely totally unknown to most voters.

While the sneaky language of Amendment 7 on Alabama’s election ballot on Tuesday simply seemed to allow for the use of “secret ballots” in union votes, the bill was a corporate Republican move to weaken the political clout and organizing ability of unions.

Amendment 1: Forever Wild

With 42 of 67 counties reporting, according the Secretary of State Website, Alabama voters approved the renewal of Forever Wild for the next 20 years by 75 percent to 25 percent, an overwhelming rebuke to those who wanted to destroy the program, according to David Underhill with the Mobile Bay Sierra Club.

The Sierra Club of Alabama is one of the non-profit groups that helped fund the coalition of groups that went all out to fight for renewal of the program, which included some interesting political bedfellows like the National Rifle Association and Alabama Power as well as the Audubon Society, the Alabama Wildlife Federation and the Freshwater Land Trust.

So far, the results show that 1,137,401 voted for it, while only 373,400 voted against it.

“We had this amazing broad-based coalition of supporters, the hunters, the environmentalists, the business people,” said Wendy Jackson, executive director of Freshwater Land Trust in Birmingham. “The people of Alabama know a good thing when they see it. I think our grandchildren will thank us.”

Established in 1992, the fund buys and protects valuable state lands from 10 percent of the interest from the $2.2 billion Alabama Trust Fund, generated from royalties on oil and gas drilling, mostly in the Gulf of Mexico. The program got $7 million in 2011 and $10 in 2010, according to the Alabama State Treasurer’s office.

So far the program holds 227,000 acres of public land, an amount that is far low for a national or even a regional average. Even most states in the Deep South hold 7-9 percent of their land for conservation purposes, according to federal data cited by the Alabama Department of Conservation of Natural Resources. In Mississippi it is 5.95 percent. The total in Alabama is only 4.08 percent.

Amendment 4

Alabama voters also responded to the campaign to stop passage of Amendment 4, which also used tricky wording to try to not only remove some racist language from the outdated 1901 Constitution but to eliminate the basic right of a public education from state law.

With 42 of 67 counties reporting, almost 60 percent of the people, 881,362, voted NO to Amendment 4’s passage, while 40 percent, or 590,131, voted YES.

Experts agree there was no need for this attempt to change the constitution anyway, since Federal law long ago made it obsolete and unconstitutional to, among other things, levy a poll tax.

The opposition was led by the Alabama Education Association, one of the most powerful professional organizations in the state in spite of numerous Republican attempts to weaken it.

AEA executive secretary Henry Mabry said voters responded to the campaign to save the public’s right of access to a public education.

“The defeat of Amendment 4 should send a clear message to Montgomery that the rights of our school children to a public education should stand,” Mabry said in a statement. “Alabama spoke, and the state’s people said they value a public education for our children.”

Amendment 7

Perhaps not really understanding what the change in the constitution was all about, about 68 percent of voters approved Amendment 7, while only 32 percent voted NO on the union “secret ballot” measure. With 42 of 67 counties reporting, 919,988 voted YES, and 437,050 voted NO.

While disappointed with the Amendment’s passage, Alabama AFL-CIO President Al Henley was not surprised and said it would not stand up in the courts.

“We are not surprised that amendment number 7 passed. Like most of the amendments on this ballot number 7 used vague and misleading language,” he said. “Most people learn in junior high civics class that state law cannot be written to override federal law. This was absolutely political payback to the big business unions who funded the new legislatures campaigns. This political gift will not slow down union growth in Alabama one bit and unfortunately it will cost the taxpayers a lot of money in the legal process. It is obviously unconstitutional.”

House Democrats argued that it’s not government’s job to mandate how elections are done in a business, and the AFL-CIO of Alabama came out against it.

“The measure would give companies more control over an already corporate-dominated system in which workers who want to form unions are harassed, intimidated and threatened by corporations that want to deny them their rights,” Henley said. “It will not stand.”

Amendment 8

Voters must have seen something they liked in Amendment 8, approval of which will from now on set state legislators’ base pay at the state’s household median income, which was $41,415 in 2011. It prevents legislators from ever voting themselves a pay raise ever again, but critics say a “citizen” state legislator does not deserve that much pay.

The Amendment is passing by a margin of 69 percent to 31 percent, with 957,628 voting for it with 42 of 67 counties reporting, and only 428,840 voting against it.

The change is expected to reduce the average legislator’s pay by more than $7,000 a year when it takes effect in 2014, according to an estimate from the Legislative Fiscal Office, after adjusting for current legislative pay for mileage and per diem expenses.

Amendment 2

It also appears the governor got his way on Amendment 2 and the ability to levy bonds to recruit industry. Republican Governor Robert Bentley spent a fortune to produce public service advertisements in favor of this, and it appears to be paying off

With 42 of 67 counties reporting, 69 percent of voters, 981,740, approved Amendment 2, while only about 31 percent, 433,863, voted against it.

© 2012, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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