MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Two senators have resigned from the Senate Republican Caucus in the wake of last week's vote to approve a statewide lottery, citing policy differences and claiming senate leaders violated their own rules in an effort to muscle the bill through.
The bill, which was approved by a margin of 21-12, would send $100 million of lottery revenue each year to Medicaid, which is facing a $70 million shortfall this year, with the rest going to the General Fund.
The bill endured a filibuster on the senate floor, which requires a three-fifths vote (21 of 35 senators) to "cloture," or end.
Republicans have a long-standing agreement not to cloture each other, but as the caucus grew (there are currently 27 Republican senators), senate leaders knew it would become more difficult to avoid splintering on some divisive issues. As a result, the Senate Republican Caucus adopted a rule stipulating that Republicans could not cloture one of their own without 21 Republicans banding together to do it.
The rule had not been tested to this point, but as conservative lawmakers continued filibustering the lottery, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) moved to end the debate by circulating a "cloture petition." The petition received enough signatures to break the filibuster, but it did not have the 21 Republican signatures required under the GOP caucus rules.
However, since caucus rules are not binding for the full body — they are more akin to gentlemen's agreements — the decision was made to push forward to pass the lottery bill. Not all members of Senate leadership supported the move; Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper) did not sign the cloture petition.
But as a result of the way the vote was handled, Sen. Paul Bussman (R-Cullman) announced he is resigning from the Republican caucus effectively immediately, and released the following statement:
As a Republican, I have strongly support the Republican mission of fiscal responsibility, limited government and personal freedom. I am a proud member of the Republican Party and will remain a proud member of the GOP. However as of Monday, I will no longer affiliate with the Senate majority caucus. In order for the Alabama Senate to operate fairly, we have a set rules by which all members must abide. In both the Republican and Democrat caucuses, there are also rules that apply. This organized process is crucial to a fair and transparent government. It is when these rules are not followed that the breakdown of the system occurs.
The process broke down last week when these rules were violated. These rules cannot be used when convenient and discarded when it is inconvenient. This is not about me. This is not about a lottery. This is about who controls the government of Alabama. Do the people control the government or is it still the back room deals and special interest groups that continue to control the state? I can no longer sit back and ignore the actions of the Alabama Senate Republican Caucus leadership, which are misguided, unequally applied, punitive and divisive. As a result, the Caucus has made a significant shift in priorities since 2010. In order for us to be successful in Alabama, we cannot return to the old ways of doing business. We are expected to do better and we must do better.
This is not Sen. Bussman's first run-in with Senate leadership. He was stripped of his vice-chairmanship of the powerful Senate Rules Committee earlier this year for a previous dispute.
Senator Dick Brewbaker (R-Montgomery) also announced he is exiting the Senate Republican caucus, echoing Sen. Bussman's concern over the rules and telling the Montgomery Advertiser, "If you're going to be in a political group, you need to make sure you share political priorities."
Both senators have expressed concerns about the GOP-controlled legislature not being as committed to limited government reforms as it once was.
A request for comment from Sen. Del Marsh's was not immediately returned.