What Do We Do – Act or React?

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With all that has happened in the past few weeks a question must be on the minds of Alabamians all across the state. Consider for a moment the following:

  • The trial and subsequent conviction; of now Former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard has thrown the Leadership structure in the Alabama House of Representatives into a state of controlled confusion. Though there is a process in place that provides for the Speaker Pro Tempore to step up as Acting Speaker of the House, and Representative Victor Gaston will do an outstanding job in that role, the jockeying-for election as the Speaker has already begun. Should the House Majority leader call for an immediate meeting of the House Republican Caucus to informally settle on a nominee as the new Speaker or should he wait until the Legislature is back in Session and then meet? Should there be a thoughtful consideration of who is best suited to lead the entire Legislature when making that choice or should there be a reactive approach to totally disregard any Member who was “on Speaker Hubbard’s team”?
  • The House Judiciary Committee will, today, start the process that will lead to a decision on the possible impeachment of Governor Robert Bentley. Some in the House want a deliberate, thoughtful process for that consideration others want to rid the state of the current Governor. The question facing the House Judiciary
    Committee is do they act or do they react.
  • Chief Justice Roy Moore is now on suspension from his role as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. This is the second time that Chief Justice Moore has been suspended from the position. The Judicial Inquiry Commission has brought some serious charges against Chief Justice Moore. Their action, regardless of which side of the debate one might come down on, was a deliberate action. Reaction has been very strong on both sides of the issue. It was Moore’s actions in reaction to a United States Supreme Court Decision that landed him in this position.
  • Consider for a moment the tragedy in Orlando on June 11 resulting in the murder of 49 and the wounding of 53 more. Already there are calls for very strict gun control legislation to be enacted. Legislating in the heat of passion is virtually never productive. Law enforcement, needs to act and strictly enforce the laws on the books that currently regulate firearms before there is an emotional reaction that does not take into consideration the unintended consequences of hasty reaction.

It is time, in Alabama that we step back, take stock of the situation and plan a rational and reasonable plan of action and put it into place. Invariably when we react the thought process is generally not as complete as when we have planned of actions. Below is an essay that was first published in The Birmingham News on Sunday, June 20, 2010. When written no one in their right mind would have considered where we would be in Alabama today. I have coined the idea as being The First Law of Political Physics.

Political Physics and The Political System
Graham L. Champion
Sir Isaac Newton is well remembered for his Laws of Motion – the most notable being his third law that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. This is a premise that we all learned in elementary school. In principle it would seem that this basic law of motion would hold true in all cases. When you drop a ball it will bounce.

When you hit an object it will move away from the striking force. When a jet engine forces air out the back of the engine the airplane is thrust forward. Simple enough, in concept. The harder you hit something the faster it will retreat.

In the political world Newton’s Third Law is proven to be incomplete. In the world of politics there is no such thing as an opposite and equal reaction. The reaction is always an overreaction. Consider the following situations:

  • One political party has been in control of a legislative body for a period of time. The opposition party has felt as if it has not been given a fair hearing on the merits of issues before the body. As the result of an ensuing election the control changes from the party in power to the then minority party. What generally will happen – a smooth transition, an assumption of the current policies and staff or a cleaning of the house? Retribution and payback are what the most likely results of the change of control. Equal and opposite reaction or overreaction?
  • In a political world reaction, or overreaction, often become the response to a situation that direct action might have prevented. Government responses to problems seem to be the equivalent of driving a thumb tack with a sledge hammer. “Bigger is better”, “Let them know where the power really is”, “We will show them” all seem to be responses that are all too often heard rather than how can we work to resolve the problem together. Equal and opposite reaction or overreaction?
  • A political campaign proposes a new concept to address a problem facing the public – jobs, healthcare, education, retirement – that on its face seems to be reasonable. How does the opposition respond? Are they rational and thoughtful or is the response one that tears down the proposal and the opposition in a manner reminiscent of a third grader who responds that my dad can beat up your dad rather than rationally discussing proposal. A rational debate might take an idea from an opponent; explore other options and possibly come up with a better outcome. But that would require that there be an equal and opposite reaction. One that was measured and controlled. Equal and opposite reaction or overreaction?

Measured and controlled are the key words that we need to keep in mind in the world of politics. They are words that taken together seem to be nonexistent in the world of politics at all levels of  government. The media highlights the conflicts that we see at the national level every day. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader John Boehner at each other’s throats, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell battling over what the agenda is or what it “should be”, state legislatures embroiled in budget fights or control and allocation of appropriations in their respective states. Gone are the days of true bipartisan government. The days of give and take, of compromise and cooperation to achieve a greater good seem to be gone forever. The days of the equal and opposite reaction seem to have disappeared. Instead we are in a political world that has perverted the Golden Rule from “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and rewritten it to be “Do unto others before they do unto you”. What a shame it is that this is the legacy that we are leaving to our children and grandchildren. Today we see this premise once again in the reaction to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. This is a tragedy beyond comprehension and certainly BP should be held fully accountable and should face consequences commiserate with the damage and pain they are causing. That said, and I realize this might not be a popular sentiment, should the industry be punished for the actions of one company? That would be the equivalent of suspending an entire class of students in an ‘elementary school because “little Johnny” brought a gun to school: What needs to happen is that BP should be harshly punished and the regulatory system reviewed, improved and enforced – fairly but completely and without any exceptions. To punish those who have played by the rules before there is a
violation will only compound our energy problems.

BP is in the wrong and their actions, or inactions, are devastating our Gulf Coast. Government agencies that did not do their job should also bear some of the blame. We need a measured and tough response but an overreaction will do nothing but hurt everyone.

When Sir Isaac Newton offered his Third Law of Motion he certainly did not have today’s political world in mind.

The Alabama House will reconvene for the 2017 Regular Session at Noon on Tuesday, February 7, 2017
The Alabama Senate will reconvene for the 2017 Regular Session at Noon on Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The views and opinions contained in this report do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the clients of Public Strategies, LLC