By Rep. Darrio Melton
As a member of the clergy, “practice what you preach” has a very literal meaning in my life. When I deliver a sermon or lead a Bible study, I’m called not just to be a messenger, but a teacher and example of the lessons set forth on Sundays. That’s not to say I don’t fall short, because we all fall short. But it is to say that I have an obligation to my parishioners not to lead a Bible study on Wednesday then go out and act like a fool on Friday.
Being a lawmaker is very similar. When I hold a town hall or write one of these articles, I have an obligation to my constituents not to say one thing in a stump speech and turn around and go to Montgomery and do something completely different.
It’s called integrity. It’s about standing by your values.
Unfortunately, all Alabama lawmakers don’t feel compelled to stand by their values, leading me to wonder what their values actually are–are they the ones they plaster across campaign ads or the ones they vote in Montgomery? Are they the ones that condense down into nice talking points for voters, or are they bigger and more complex? Are they the values they practice, or the values they preach?
When the Republicans stormed the state house in 2010, they promised to pass sweeping ethics laws to bring an abrupt end to the corruption that entangled Montgomery for years. They were right- Montgomery was riddled with corruption and it needed to stop. But six short years later, we have a government that is gridlocked with corruption on a level we’ve never seen before. All three branches of government are actively being investigated for ethics violations, costing resources our government doesn’t have to spare.
They preached cleaning up the corruption. They practiced magnifying the corruption.
Then they promised open and accountable government–their “handshake with Alabama” to pass conservative reforms and fight Obama. Governor Bentley campaigned on a mantle of transparency, and he was right–as Governor Bentley once said, “you ought to be willing to release everything to the American people.” Yet we’re now finding out that Governor Bentley has been using a private email server to circumvent Freedom of Information Act requests and that he asked his staff to sign confidentiality agreements to keep them from discussing the goings-on in the Governor’s Office.
They preached increasing transparency. They practiced hiding their tracks.
The Republican supermajority promised us “smaller government” and freedom from the “overreaching federal government”–taglines that sold with Alabama voters. However, a new report by the Alabama Policy Institute shows that Alabama ranks number three most dependent on the Federal government, and that “dependency on the federal government has reached dangerously high levels” with Alabama being 50 percent more
dependent on the federal government than we were in 2004.
They preached freedom from Obama. They practiced cashing his checks.
Alabamians are smarter than these bait-and-switch tactics by GOP lawmakers. We know that doing the right thing means standing beside your word and that a handshake is more than just pleasantry. I believe we deserve men and women in Montgomery who understand that looking a voter in the eye and shaking hands means they have an obligation to practice what they preach.
Rep. 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.