Alabama—fondly known as the Heart of Dixie—is located in the center of the Southeast. The state borders Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, and the Gulf of Mexico. Montgomery is the state capitol, but other cities such as Birmingham, Huntsville, and Mobile have played significant roles in the state’s history. Alabama’s present constitution is one of the longest in the United States with over 100,000 words and 700 amendments. What is the essence of Alabama’s state government? The answer lies in a study of Alabama’s demographics, branches of governments, and crime reports.
The demographics of Alabama vary based on the national demographics in racial composition, age breakdowns, population mobility, rural-urban percentages, and education levels. Alabama’s racial composition is 70.9% white, 26.3% black, 3.2% Hispanic, and 1% Asian compared to the national average of 79.6% white, 12.9% black, 15.8% Hispanic, and 4.6% Asian. The African-American population holds a strong minority-majority which is to be expected in a state that was heavily involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Alabama’s age breakdown, however, is almost identical to the national average: under the age of five is 6.7% to 6.9%, under the age of eighteen is 24% to 24.3%, and sixty-five and older is 13.8% to 12.9%. The median age is 37 which gives Alabama a ranking of 24th in the nation.
Alabama’s population has grown since 2005 and is extremely mobile with a net migration of 36,457. Alabama also ranks fifth in the nation due to the large influx of immigrants. Since the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) is relocating to Huntsville, even more people are migrating as well as immigrating to Alabama. The state rural-urban percentages are currently 55.4% urban and 44.6% rural, but these can be expected to change with the new military installments coming with the BRAC. Alabama is below the national average for education, ranking 43rd and 44th respectively with only 82.4% graduating with a high school degree and 22.3% graduating with a college degree.
Alabama’s form of a representative democracy is split into three branches of government which check and balance each other: the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. The legislative branch has four-year, part-time terms for both the house and the senate with no term limits. The minimum age for representatives is 21 and for senators is 25; residency in the state for three years is required, along with one year in the district represented. The overall size of the legislature is 140 members with 105 in the House and 35 in the Senate. The legislature ranks 27th in the nation. Legislators are paid $2,280 a month plus $50 a day during the time the legislature meets; since this is not a living wage, most legislators have other occupations when not in session. Alabama ranks 18th in the nation for the amount of full-time employees in the state government such as secretaries, assistants, research analysts, and pages. The turnover rate for the Alabama legislature is 25% for representatives and 15% for senators. Overall, the Alabama legislature is relatively professional based on size, staffing, term limits, and the turnover rate.
The executive branch headed by the governor of Alabama is very weak based on his limited powers. The governor serves four-year terms and is limited to two successive terms. He must be at least 30 years old, have been a U.S. citizen for ten years, and have resided in Alabama for seven years. The governor earns $101,432 a year as well as travel reimbursements and business expenses outside the state. While the governor has two key aspects of power, namely setting the agenda and calling for special sessions, the budget greatly limits his power—“earmarks give Alabama’s governor less discretion than any other state chief executive in setting budget priorities.” The governor is also limited in his veto power, because a simple majority of both houses can override the veto. The governor may appoint state offices, department heads, and boards; any official appointed by the governor may also be eliminated if that official’s position is not a protected post. The governor’s managerial power is one of the weakest in the nation because the executive branch is so decentralized. His combined powers—institutional powers, 47th and personal powers, 18th—tie for 40th in the nation with Oklahoma.
The judicial branch of Alabama is managed by the people and the governor. Most judges and justices are elected through partisan elections, but the governor does make appointments to fill vacancies. Every justice serves six-year terms regardless of what court he resides over. The Supreme Court has nine members and the lower courts are split into district courts, probate courts, and municipal courts. Every judge, except for probate justices, must be licensed to practice law in Alabama. He must also have lived in his district for a year, unless he is a Supreme Court judge. The salaries of the judges range from $130,379 to $196,183 a year which is more than the national average.
The crime rates in Alabama reveal a high crime rate. The state ranks 5th in the nation for mobility which means high crime. The national average is 19% less than Alabama’s crime rate, and 90% of those crimes are property-related. The majority of crimes are larceny-theft (121,610), followed by burglary (44,571), violent crimes (19,557), and car theft (14,840). Alabama ranks 11th for the national rate of total crimes per 100,000 people. Another surprising statistic is that Alabama is 3rd in the nation for the murder rate. Other factors affecting crime include urbanization, race, income, gambling, and age. The majority of crimes are committed by white males between the ages of 18 and 24. Alabama ranks 5th in the nation for the state prisoner imprisonment rate and also for death sentence prisoners. Approximately 1,645 prisoners are in local jails, and 244 prisoners are in private institutions. Because Alabama holds to the death penalty, 170 prisoners have been executed since 1930 and 193 prisoners currently sit on death row.
Demographics, branches of government, crime—all work together to explain the status of Alabama’s state government. States’ rights are granted in the American Constitution because the United States of America was founded on the basis of a democratic republic and the inalienable rights of the people to govern themselves. Ultimately, state government is made by the people, for the people, and consists of the people—the people of Alabama.
– Hannah S. Bowers
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