This is no way to lead.
Government should be about the business of improving the lives of its citizens, particularly those on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder. To that end, Alabama needs better schools, a more secure safety net for those in need, a more equitable tax system, cleaner campaign finance/ethics laws and a new constitution.
None of this will be easy. But a sign of true leadership is the ability to align the masses behind an idea whose time has come.
Too many candidates would prefer to put the state on a course straight to mediocrity. Well, we’ve been there. We’ve bought the T-shirt. And we’ve run the snack bar for too long. It’s time we moved to someplace higher.
The state is stuck in the mud. Its budgets are shrinking along with revenue. The candidates know that our boom-and-bust budgeting rarely punishes the do-nothings. However, they need to understand this is a recipe for under-achievement.
Alabama’s politics are caught up in the passion of the moment. With red-faced, angry populism sweeping the nation through tea parties and red-hot protests, many of Alabama’s candidates have decided to fall in line. Sadly, Alabama has always had a sweet tooth for this sort of rhetoric.
A few examples:
THE “ILL” IN ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION: At least four candidates (Republicans Bradley Byrne, Robert Bentley, Kay Ivey and Roy Moore) address illegal immigration on their campaign Web sites. Not surprisingly, all four take a hard line.
The nonpartisan think tank Pew Hispanic Center estimates undocumented workers make up less than 4 percent of Alabama’s work force. While not a trivial matter, it’s important to remember that states don’t grant citizenship, nor are they the primary enforcers of federal immigration law. On the other hand, consider the damage done by lax payday loan regulation — something that is the state’s responsibility and something barely noticed by our get-tough candidates.
Until the immigration laws change, chalk this Juan Crow-bashing up as substance-free playing to the base by politicians.
NULLIFICATION NOISE: Byrne and Bill Johnson, a Republican and former member of the Riley cabinet, both explicitly cite the 10th Amendment in suggesting states can nullify actions of the federal government. If it sounds familiar, it should. The South’s nullifying forefathers used this logic to drag this region into Civil War, a disastrous outcome we’re still paying for. Others on the GOP side express similar distaste for the federal government and its programs, regardless of how much other states’ federal taxpayers contribute to Alabama.
What do these politicians wish to do with their animus? Send back the money that has made UAB a top-notch research facility? Shut the doors on NASA’s Huntsville facilities? Board up the Anniston Army Depot and Fort Rucker? Pay back the millions from Congress that developed the Tenn-Tom waterway? Turn away the millions that prop up Alabama’s schools and assistance programs?
Not likely from these states’ rights candidates, even those who want to pick and choose federal government dollars like they were at a cafeteria line.
TAXING CONVERSATIONS: The impression left by too many candidates is that Alabama’s taxpayers are under an oppressive boot heel. In truth, those at the bottom of the economic ladder are punished by the state’s tax system. In Alabama’s completely upside-down system, top earners in the state pay less while the less fortunate pay more. Yet, most candidates scarcely touch on our “Robin Hood in Reverse” system.
Byrne is distancing himself from Gov. Bob Riley’s unsuccessful 2003 attempt to reform taxes. “The people of this state decisively opposed those taxes, and I believe we should follow what the people want. I oppose any tax increases and have opposed tax increases since 2003,” Byrne recently wrote during an Anniston Star Web chat.
Ron Sparks, a Democrat, is among those who speak dismissively of annual property appraisals, a practice employed by Riley. Rarely are voters informed that the state’s property tax rates are among the lowest in the nation.
All of the above indicate the checklist-style campaign. Low taxes. Check. Cut spending. Check. Red meat for the angry populists. Check.
What a campaign. Might as well be 1962. Or 1986. Or even 1901.
We recently saw a quote from Kay Ivey in the Mobile Press-Register. Asked her views on electronic bingo and its legality, the state Treasurer and candidate for governor said, “The devil is in the details, and I say buyer beware, but I clearly support the right for the people to vote.”
What does that mean?
This is not to pick on Ivey or single her out; we’ve heard much of the same ambiguity from plenty in the 2010 field. It seems they fear the stirred-up electorate.
This race for governor should be about more than punching the right set of buttons that plug into the mood of the movement.
This is not Massachusetts or California, where a case against high taxes can be made with some legitimacy. David Bronner, CEO of the Retirement Systems of Alabama, recently wrote, “While the tea party people may be correct about spending in about 30 states, they are not correct in Alabama. When you’re already at the bottom, there is nowhere else to cut.”
Bronner rightly asks the gubernatorial candidates, “Are you really going to walk away ... and let this great state drop back into the hole of decades ago after more than 20 years of solid, positive progress?”
Make no mistake — that is where the prevailing campaign stances will take us.
Alabama was tea-partying before it came into vogue with the inauguration of Barack Obama. We could say it started with the racist 1901 Constitution that keeps the powerful in perpetual power. In fact, we’ve got a nasty hangover from all that tea.
It keeps our schools substandard.
It shackles the state with bad policies.
It limits higher education’s ability to advance.
It depresses our ability to grow the economy.
It locks the poor into a cycle of poverty.
It empowers a few and leaves the rest at the back door, hat in hand.
It keeps us at the bottom of rankings, where we should be at the top.
Credit Artur Davis, a Democratic U.S. congressman from Birmingham, as the sole candidate voicing a full-throated call to rewrite the state’s Constitution. Others say they would change it one amendment at a time, a timid method not unlike tearing down a rotten barn one splinter at a time.
Most candidates, including Byrne, Davis and others, deserve credit for highlighting the need to fix the state’s lax ethics laws. It’s hard to miss considering the many Alabama politicians either behind bars, on trial or under investigation. That’s reality the state needs to hear.
Our plea, candidates, is to not stop there. Despite its fine people and wonderful resources, the state is sick. Its foundation is weak and in need of repair. More of the same won’t work.
It’s no way to lead.