Bob Davis: Fix your state!
Dec 01, 2013 | 3734 views |  0 comments | 38 38 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bailey Thomson. Photo: Special to The Star
Bailey Thomson. Photo: Special to The Star
Ten years ago today, I started working at The Anniston Star. I was following the advice of Bailey Thomson, an excellent editorial writer/educator and fellow son of the small west Alabama city of Aliceville.

Bailey, who died 10 years ago this weekend and who is featured on the cover of today’s Insight section, made a blunt case when I asked him if I should uproot my family from Texas and move to Alabama. Come home and fix your state, was his counsel.

Fix your state.

Fix your state!

Fix your state?

Ten years on, I better understand what Bailey meant. No one person, whether it’s a politician, a tireless advocate or a journalist, can fix a state like Alabama. If any journalist could come close, it was Thomson, whose writings about Alabama’s backward system of government were stellar.

Over the last five years of the 20th century, Thomson produced an amazing body of work. His series published in the Mobile Press-Register were recognized as some of the best opinion journalism of the time. I’m particularly fond of Dixie’s Broken Heart, which never fails to inspire while at the same time breaking my own heart at the squandered potential of so many Alabamians.

Nothing better describes the disheartening manner in which this state governs itself than this passage written by Thomson in 1998:

“Alabama has mostly elected men who lifted their fingers to test the wind rather than thrusting out their chins to lead.

“It’s hardly a surprise, then, that many public schools teeter on failure. Children of working families lack decent health care. Colleges resist rational governance. Ugly sprawl devours our countryside. The shameful list goes on. And still we do not learn. Too often, our political choices remain a lesser of two evils, rather than competing visions of greatness.”

If the practice of journalism alone were going to fix Alabama, Thomson’s passionate writing on the topic should have done the trick.

It’s going to take a movement of people, rich and poor, black and white, Republican and Democrat, deciding to work together.

Our common-sense coalition would get to the heart of Thomson’s writings about reforming the state: Alabama can do better. And we can do better by picking the best of the available options.

The wiser course, the saner course, the more efficient course is ever before us. It’s just that, more times than not, we’ve taken the wrong path. We are suckers for the politician who excels at pointing fingers. It’s THEIR fault. Those fancy-pants people outside of our beloved state, who mock us, ridicule us, laugh at us. A state confident in itself would never fall for these distractions.

While other states, even those where most voters oppose President Obama, are expanding Medicaid to working Americans without health insurance, Alabama is considering a bill to ensure that teachers can say “Merry Christmas.”

Yes, taking the right path might ask more from Alabamians who’ve grown comfortable.

Yes, it might enrage this constituency or that one.

Let’s be clear about the common-sense coalition. We can’t — and won’t — agree on everything. Better to boil it down to a few things. A good short list would include:

• Improving the quality of our high school graduates and controlling the costs of higher ed. Smart policies will very likely unsettle the Alabama Education Association, local school board members and superintendents. The goal is results.

• Reforming the great obstacle to efficient, 21st-century governing — the state Legislature, which because of the state Constitution has its fingers in the affairs of purely local matters better handled by cities and counties. The 140 legislators are in effect the world’s largest county commission, meddling into affairs that should be none of their business.

• Bolstering our court system, making sure we have enough police officers on the streets, facilities to examine evidence, courthouse staff for swift and efficient justice and a prison system that rehabilitates.

• Taking better care of those at the bottom of the economic ladder and smartly breaking the cycle of poverty.

Thomson’s wish for “competing visions of greatness” in the 1998 race for governor seems as distant now as it did 15 years ago.

In my 10 years here, The Star’s editorial page has urged, begged and pleaded with Montgomery to reform our state Constitution. The timid efforts discussed thus far have generally been underwhelming.

When is the time when we fix our state?

Bob Davis is associate publisher/editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at 256-235-3540 or Twitter: @EditorBobDavis.

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