By Rep. Darrio Melton
“Walk softly and carry a big stick.”
President Teddy Roosevelt’s nutshell-theory on foreign policy has become a common political expression, heard in historical context more often than seen used by political leadership. The theory, of course, refers to the use of soft-power in difficult political situations–using words, strategic planning and diplomacy over hard-power tactics of military intervention, embargoes and sanctions.
While Roosevelt wasn’t afraid to use military tactics, his diplomacy earned him a Nobel Peace Prize and respect among his peers in Washington.
Governor Bentley, however, seems to be preoccupied with his “big stick” strategies and they’re backfiring left and right across Montgomery. During the budget battle, it was no secret that Bentley was heavily invested in tax increases for the state, but lawmakers disagreed with his position and he refused to consider diplomatic solutions for compromise.
Democrats refused to support Bentley’s tax package, not because we didn’t believe the state needed new revenue, but because we refused to tax working families when there is free money on the table through expanding Medicaid and elective money on the table through an education lottery.
Republicans refused to support Bentley’s tax package for a variety of reasons–some because they believed budget cuts would solve the problem and some because they promised their constituents no new taxes.
Regardless of the Party or reason, Bentley’s plan to raise taxes went over Goat Hill like a lead balloon, and a large part of the blame rests on Bentley’s failure to walk softly and carry a big stick.
Instead of working to find common ground and compromises on both sides of the aisle, he hardly allowed Democrats a seat at the table. Instead of circumventing leadership and working with rank-and-file lawmakers to find solutions, he went to lobbyists for help. Instead of considering the alternate solutions, he dug in his heels in support of bad policy with no support.
And now? Now he’s threatening to pull project funding from districts with representatives who didn’t support his tax package.
I’ve made my position on this matter clear all along: I’ve made it clear to Governor Bentley and clear to the people of my district. I would never support tax increases on working families as long as there was Medicaid money on the table we refused to accept, large cooperation were not paying their fair share, and we weren’t putting a band-aid on deeply cut artery.
Rather than understanding that I’m voting for what’s best for my district and working families across Alabama, Bentley is now trying to beat areas that did not support his regressive tax package with his big stick, punishing, in some cases, districts that are already suffering economically because the needs of this districts didn’t line up with the needs of the Montgomery elite.
Governor Bentley, you are the governor of everyone who lives in this state–Christian or non-christian, Black or white, wealthy or working–and it’s time you started acting like it.
Walk softly. Treat the people of Alabama with the dignity and respect they deserve. Bring people to the table and encourage creative, diverse viewpoints and solutions to problems. Keep your stick put away. We aren’t the enemy, Governor.
Representative Darrio Melton is a Democrat from Selma. He was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2010 and currently serves as Chair of the House Democratic Caucus.