To My Colleagues:
I want to start by thanking all the members of the House for your committed service to this state. I extend my sincere appreciation to the leadership for the days during this session when we were able to come together in the spirit of cooperation — and camaraderie prevailed. This cooperation allowed us to fulfill our duty to pass both budgets far earlier than usual practice.
Wednesday was a difficult day for many of us and an exhausting day for us all. Because my personal experience on the last day of the session was so visceral and humbling, I took a day to reflect before setting out to share these thoughts with you.
There are plenty of lines that divide the 105 members of our body. We often find ourselves of opposite mind and opinion on party, race, gender, ethnic, social and other issues. Still, our collective interests in serving and building this great state remain as the ties that bind us.
Each day, when we walk across the seal, we bring our personal triumphs and tragedies, our intellect and ignorance, our religious beliefs and professional experiences into the chamber with us. They are as much a part of us as our DNA. Sadly, on most days, we fail to take advantage of this treasure of diversity and fall like soldiers into convenient my-way-or-the-highway battle lines.
You see, in the state with the distinction of a painful, historic duality, our diversity is our greatest asset. It is a testament to the power of democracy and decency to push Alabama above and beyond its historic limits. As citizens elected to secure an even greater future for our state, we must resist the temptation to compel homogeneity of thought and belief. We must find a way to work together to ensure free, representative government. The voices, rights and interests of all Alabamians matter and that should be undeniably apparent in the laws we enact. Colleagues, I fear this is not currently the case.
I am afraid that we may have confused the role of government while hiding behind super majorities and outgunned minorities, using legislative rules and political tactics to get “our way.” We must stop and ask ourselves if this is the “right way.” Members, we should undertake these questions quickly, because, while we linger our state is suffering. Citizens can’t afford healthcare; those with insurance may soon lose access to quality physicians and hospitals; prisons are unsafe and overcrowded; roads and bridges are crumbling beneath us; communities devastated by disaster cannot recover; and, we can scarcely afford to fund state government.
As we ponder our forward path, the Constitution of Alabama, reminds us, “the sole object and only legitimate end of government is to protect the citizen in the enjoyment of life, liberty and property, and when the government assumes other functions it is usurpation and oppression.”
Though we may have fallen short during the 2016 Regular Session, the good news is that we have the opportunity to try again, another chance to get it right. I hope that after time cools tempers and clears heads, we will be inspired to start anew with open hearts and minds. Let’s agree to embrace the value of our diverse perspectives and experiences to ensure the greatest protection and benefits for the people we represent. They deserve nothing less. When next we meet, let’s focus on the ties that bind, rather than the lines that divide.
It is my great honor and pleasure to serve with each of you. The connections and relationships that have been built during my years in the Legislature are among the things that I value most. I look forward to our continued service as colleagues and friends. Know that you can count on my continued commitment to collegiality and the spirit of compromise.
John F. Knight, Jr.