It’s the greed that bothers me most about the Alabama Legislature. I know that it sometimes seems tough to narrow down the most troubling aspect of our state lawmakers — to boil down the systemic failures and overwhelming corruption to a single topic.
But it’s not for me.
Because every bad decision made in that house, every stupid bill, every head-scratching statement, all of the oh-my-God embarrassing moments can almost always be traced back to one motivating factor: self-enrichment.
Let me give you an example from this past week.
The Senate Finance and Taxation Education committee was set to consider a bill — SB210 — that addressed an obvious and serious problem in this state: a shortage of rural doctors.
To address this issue, SB210, carried by Sen. Larry Stutts and co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of 13 other senators, would provide scholarships to a total of 100 medical students in the state.
In exchange for the scholarships, the students would agree to sign a contract that required them to practice for five years in some underserved part of the state.
Basically: we’ll help you pay for medical school if you’ll promise to stick around for five years and provide medical services to rural Alabamians.
A solid idea. Good for the state.
So, why am I talking about it in a column about greed in state government?
Because it is apparently impossible for some state lawmakers to do anything that is simply just good for the state. And it is particularly hard for Larry Stutts.
Shortly before Wednesday’s committee meeting, I received word from a few … let’s call them insiders, that Stutts’ bill was going to have trouble in the committee because lobbyists working on behalf of Alabama’s public colleges had discovered a personal conflict of interest.
During the meeting, Stutts’ conflict was broached, but in vague terms, and the bill was ultimately shot down by the committee.
According to multiple senators, including some on the Finance and Taxation Committee, Stutts’ conflict was this: His son recently started medical school at the college that stood to benefit the most from this scholarship program.
Whether his son would have received a scholarship, I don’t know.
But I do know this: Alabama has a few outstanding medical schools with long histories of churning out top-notch doctors and that place an emphasis on serving the state that supports the schools.
Stutts’ bill bypassed those schools, and the administrations that operate them, and instead landed on The Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine (ACOM), a private college located in Dothan.
If you’re unfamiliar with ACOM’s work, that’s likely because it’s only been in existence since 2013.
The college is a product of a partnership between the Southeast Alabama Medical Center in Dothan and a nonprofit group called the Alabama Medical Education Consortium (AMEC), which up until the opening of ACOM served as a sort of lobbying arm for eight osteopathic colleges around the Southeast.
By all accounts, ACOM is a perfectly good school and AMEC is a perfectly good nonprofit with good intentions.
But what no one in the State House could figure out was why a scholarship program that would eventually pay out medical school costs for up to 100 students would be placed in the control of a nonprofit operated by the owners of a private medical school.
Because that’s what Stutts’ bill did — it placed complete control of the scholarship program in the hands of AMEC.
And it reeked. So badly that some of Stutts’ fellow Republicans voted against it, and some others, after learning of his personal conflicts, were a bit ticked off.
“The worst thing is that the way it was handled killed a bill that addressed a serious problem,” said one Republican senator, who asked not to be named.
How many times has that been the case in this state — that greed, or at least the appearance of it, has upended attempts to do the right thing or address a serious issue?
The root of all evil and most bad decisions.