By Rep. Darrio Melton
This week is the last week of the 2014 legislative session and the last legislative days before the 2014 election cycle.
Looking back on the past four years under the Republican Supermajority’s control, I’m struggling to think of many good things that have come out of this quadrennium. I’m hoping for a change in 2014.
Despite all of the broken promises, stalled legislative progress and assaults on public schools, health care and working families, I think the damage the Supermajority has done runs much deeper than flawed policy positions.
The Supermajority has undermined the cornerstone of our democracy and have ignored the fundamental principles on which we stand as a society.
When this nation was founded, it was done so people could be freed from tyranny. Those who settled America had seen the out-and-out corruption resulting from absolute power in the hands of a monarch.
They tasked themselves with forming a better government.
They created a new kind of government, one with checks and balances to make sure that one branch never wielded too much power. They gave the people representation–both directly and indirectly.
The people have the power to elect leadership to speak for them from national to local levels. The underlying result of this is a society that rules itself. There is no “us” and “them.” The people can be elected to serve and the people can choose their representation.
There were clearly problems with our founding document. Women did not have the right to vote. African-Americans couldn’t vote, counted as three-fifths of a person for purposes of apportionment and could be owned by other people.
Over the years, the American people raised their voices and progress was made. Congress established the 13th amendment to abolish slavery, the 15th amendment to guarantee the right to vote regardless of race, and the 19th amendment to guarantee the right to vote regardless of gender. And Alabama was drug, kicking and screaming, to modernity.
While it took our great state far too long to progress past the sins of those before us, we did in fact make progress. We desegregated our society. We created an affordable pathway to higher education for our students. We removed the Confederate Flag from our capitol and unshackled ourselves from the specter of the Civil War. We were well on our way to a more perfect union until the Alabama Republican Party took control of the reins.
The first thing the Alabama Republican Supermajority did was redraw the district lines for the state legislature and Congress. By stacking and packing minority voters, they have reduced the ability for these communities to speak for themselves in elections.
Next, they reigned over the state legislature with an iron fist, shutting down debate on controversial legislation and pushing bills through without allowing amendments. By silencing the dissenting voices in the legislature, they have reduced the ability of the representatives to speak on behalf of the voters in the legislative process.
After the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, the Alabama Republican Party intensified their grip on Montgomery by enacting an oppressive voter ID law. By making it more difficult to vote, they have undermined the ability of the voters to participate in the legislative process. After finally making headway on the mountain of progress, the Alabama Republican Party has pulled our state back down.
This isn’t about partisan politics–it’s about what’s right and wrong. The cornerstone of our government is the ability of the people to impact government.
Whether you’re a doctor or an orderly, you have the same power at the polls. You’re each one person and you each have one vote.
But reducing the impact of certain communities through redistricting is sending us back to one-person with three-fifths representation. Shutting down debate is sending us back to a time when the decisions were made by a group of old men in powdered wigs. Making it more difficult to vote is sending us back to jelly beans in a jar.
Alabama is better than this. We can do better. I’m working to change it, and I hope you all will too.
Representative Darrio Melton is a Democrat from Selma. He was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2010.