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Us or Them?

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

The government has a role in the lives of its citizens, but it should be a government of the people, by the people, for the people, as Abraham Lincoln memorialized at Gettysburg.

Of the many lessons learned from Mike Hubbard’s time as Speaker, the failure of his strict mode of divisive leadership, is the most important one for us to remember. Hubbard embodied and advanced the paranoid politics of “us” against “them,” a foreboding trend growing stronger throughout our nation.

Alabama, like most of the country, is a house divided. In a recent conversation, an elected official said, “Alabamians are a proud people, good people, yet, we put up with crooked politicians… We can do better.”

The operative word here is “We.”

We are proud…we are good…but we put up with crooks…we can do better.

As the State learned at his trial, Hubbard’s actions were more about profiting from power, than policies that mattered to the people. Under Hubbard, there was never a debate about policy that would lead to prosperity for all or constructive consideration of anything that wasn’t a cut and paste solution from the Business Council of Alabama (BCA) or Alabama Policy Instituted (API) or The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The only exceptions were when a bill would profit him, or a favored lobbyist, or be used to punish those who dared defy his will.

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Our State’s economy has languished in the backwaters of financial growth because of corruption and incompetence at the highest levels of government. Healthcare for children, infirm and aged teeters on the brink of collapse year after year, and funding education, which for years was a political carrot and stick, has now fallen under those who would profit from privatization. Real solutions to the State’s most pressing problems were shuttled to the rear, not only because of partisan politics or intra-party squabbles, but because, to some, compromise is weakness.

The shadow government of former Gov. Bob Riley has hobbled our State.

Even now, he wants to place one of his own as superintendent of education, to not only grab more school funds for the private sector, but to gain another seat on the RSA board. A deciding vote on the board can give Riley and his cronies control of State’s multi-billion-dollar pension fund.

But we have a window of opportunity to decide how we move forward. How long that window remains open depends largely in part, on who is elected the next Speaker of the House. The next House leader can either set our State on the road to a better tomorrow, or continue the failed policies that have plagued us for generations.

The next Speaker, unlike Hubbard, must see the role as a noun, not a verb, in other words, listen. We have two ears and one tongue for a reason.

Beyond the obvious hurdles of addressing education, healthcare and underemployment, the legislature must take the problems with ethics laws and their enforcement seriously.

The laws hurriedly passed in 2010 where a starting point, but far too many of them were designed to provide loopholes for Riley Inc., as well as the BCA.

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The “event” language was written to favor association conventions i.e. BCA Governmental Affairs and the economic development exemption was for Riley. There is also the attorney exception and others that require sober consideration. And enforcement by the Ethics Commission has been dismal at best.

Any committee appointed to undersee ethics reform should include members of the Attorney General’s staff, retired lawmakers, journalists, political scientists, ethics specialists and moral leaders, not former governors or BCA.

The people of our State have lost confidence in public office holders, and the legislature should seek to restore trust, not with platitudes, but with action. We hear a lot about the evils of government, but as Theodore Roosevelt said, “The government is us; we are the government, you and I.”

There is also much talk about fear these days, one of the most abiding themes of scripture is “Fear not.” Far too often politicians ferment fear to control the masses; this is governing by deception.

Another enduring message from scripture and our nation’s Declaration of Independence is, we are all in this together. We, the people, should be the beating heart of government policy. In an honest government, there is no them or us, only We.

Hubbard’s tenure as Speaker serves as a stunning example of failed leadership. Neither his character or temperament was suited for such a powerful office.

We are a good and a proud people, and if the legislature works with all of us in mind, we may have a chance to offer a better tomorrow for everyone. A State that protects the weakest among it, that doesn’t respect one life greater than another, or a separate justice or opportunity for a few. We have an opening, but it is fragile and small. The question is, are there leaders who have the will to seize to moment for the good of all? Let us heed Theodore Roosevelt’s advice: “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do, is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”

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The future depends on alliance, not division, as the tide of history demands, everything must change.

Fear, for them, is the blanket that small minds wrap themselves in when times are challenged by change. But for us, tomorrow’s bright future will always appear on the horizon, as we walk toward it, together.


Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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