MONTGOMERY — Don't even bother and do as you are told.
That was the message for freshman House Republican lawmakers entering the Alabama Legislature this year on the heels of a record-setting 2022 election that resulted in 31 new members, who either ousted incumbents or replaced retiring members.
For some, the perception of the Alabama House of Representatives is that it lives up to its often-cited moniker, "the people's house."
The reality is that it is a top-heavy institution that rules over its junior members, expecting them to be obedient high school students.
House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) enlisted former State Rep. Connie Rowe (R-Jasper), currently a senior advisor to Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth, to deliver that message at a meeting of freshmen lawmakers on March 15 as the legislature was in the middle of a special session to allocated American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.
Several lawmakers told 1819 News that Rowe's presentation was explicitly designed to inform the new members of how things are done and to coerce new members into following the unwritten rules of Alabama politics.
The most common term used by lawmakers to describe the presentation was "bullying."
One described the event saying, "It was communicated to us in no uncertain terms that we were just wheels in a machine."
Others also explained that Rowe overtly expressed that new members would have to "go along to get along" and that success was contingent on following Ledbetter's lead without dissent.
In other words, regardless of your bill's merit, do what you are told, or it will not see the light of day in the Alabama House of Representatives.
Although some said they did not personally take the presentation as bullying or intimidation, they could see how some could have received that impression.
Others also explained that the general tenor of the presentation was merely to encourage a united GOP caucus.
Under supermajority Republican rule, the majority party can pass legislation with little input from the minority party House Democrats.
Such a disparity gives House Republican lawmakers the luxury of settling much of the "people's house" business in closed-door Republican caucus meetings, making the committee and floor processes nothing more than a formality.
Rule changes at the beginning of the new quadrennium partly enabled that process.
The Rowe meeting reportedly contained appeals to refrain from public debate on issues. Instead, members were encouraged to relegate the discussion to closed-door caucus meetings.
They also say they were encouraged not to detail why they may or may not vote against any particular legislation. A common theme among lawmakers who spoke to 1819 News was feeling pressured to follow and support Ledbetter and his legislative priorities and that a failure to do so would lead to retribution by killing or stalling their bills.
Others described the threat of ostracization by not receiving committee assignments or being allowed to progress in the state house.
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