By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
Walt Maddox has faith in Alabama voters.
A lot of faith.
So much faith that the Democratic mayor of Tuscaloosa will officially qualify on Friday to run for the governor of the state, believing that the voters of the state will overlook that “D” beside his name and cast their votes for the best person for the job.
“I love this state, and I have faith in the people of this state to make the right decision and to see that what we’ve been doing isn’t working,” Maddox said during an interview with APR. “The people of this state, regardless of party affiliation, want the same thing — and it’s not big government or small government — it’s effective government. Good schools, good roads, good healthcare.”
To back up his beliefs, Maddox points to the recent election of Doug Jones to the U.S. Senate. While acknowledging the extreme circumstances — primarily the fact that Jones was matched up against possibly the worst Senate candidate in recent political history — Maddox also believes there are signs of change for the state, too.
Specifically, he points to the large African-American voter turnout, the millenial vote, and even more surprising, the large number of white, middle class and affluent women who broke from their husbands to vote for Jones. Even the most jaded person would have to admit that those numbers are evidence that large groups of voters in Alabama will at least consider a better option.
And to those people, Maddox has a very simple pitch: “The last seven years, all we’ve heard is rhetoric that has led us into the abyss,” he says. “Look at the corruption and dysfunction within our state right now. Can anyone really say that this is the effective government that they’re hoping for?”
The answer is an easy one.
Currently, Alabama ranks near the bottom in a whole host of quality-of-life measures, and in education. Our government was again rated the second-most corrupt in a national study, which, frankly, is better than expected for a state with its top four elected officers — Speaker of the House, House majority leader, Supreme Court Chief Justice and governor — all tossed out of office over some form of misdeeds.
Even the one thing that we seemingly do well — paying companies to relocate to Alabama — isn’t providing the return on the investment, because our undereducated workforce can’t fill some of the most lucrative jobs.
“We’re so focused on winning press conferences that we fail to ask some fairly simple questions,” Maddox said. “In the last 20 years, we’ve had Mercedes, Hyundai, Honda, Toyota-Mazda, Airbus, numerous defense industry contracts out of Huntsville, and yet, we’re still 47th, 48th, 49th and 50th.
“Here’s why: We’re willing to invest in economic development, but we’re not willing to make the same investments into our education system, infrastructure, health care. And what that means is we have an undereducated workforce that is not trained and ready to step into these high-paying jobs at these amazing industries. Right now, we import more than 100,000 workers to work in auto plants in this state, and if we don’t do a better job with our workforce development and educating our young people, it’s going to be the same thing at Toyota-Mazda. The people who are paying the incentives for that plant won’t be able to get a job at the plant.”
If you’re looking for evidence of this, look no further than Hyundai’s plant near Montgomery. Company officials guard specific employment numbers tightly, but sources within that plant have said Hyundai routinely imports workers from other states and even from South Korea to fill top jobs. Some of those jobs are filled by workers who commute from other states to work at the plant during the week and then return home on the weekends.
Maddox worries we’ll continue to see issues like that at other plants if we don’t do more to fix our education system.
“We have to align our K-12 system in a fashion so that we’re meeting the expectations of today’s companies who are hiring for these jobs,” Maddox said. “We have to expand our pre-K programs to ensure all of our children are on a level playing field.”
In the end, Maddox believes that it’s these obvious issues — and the persistent and obvious problems in this state — that will lead voters to overlook the usual R-versus-D simplicity in their voting.
He’s also counting on one other thing: voters’ instinct of self-preservation.
“When people feel the consequences of elections, that’s when they tend to think differently about who they’re going to elect,” Maddox said. “If you’re in Haleyville, Alabama, and your only hospital in the entire county just closed, you’re probably wondering if the policies of the past been the best for me. I think there’s a case to be made with voters that there are consequences to these policy decisions, and the decisions made over the past seven years have been made by a party with a super majority that could have done anything at any time for the good of the people. And they’ve done the opposite.”