Some of us who were former legislators, who served our counties in the Legislature a long time, were considered by many to always be their legislator. A good many of my former constituents still call me with questions or problems. Some ask me how to get in touch with their congressman or senator about a certain issue so that they can express their opinion. They invariably ask if their letter or email makes a difference. My response is, “Yes, it will.”
All legislators or members of Congress want to know what their constituents are thinking. They generally want to vote their district’s feelings and needs. When I was a legislator, I would cherish this input and actually solicit it.
One year, I received a nice note from one of my favorite retired teachers. I loved her. She had not only taught me but also taught my mom and dad. She was as fine a lady as I have ever known. Her note simply asked me to vote for some issue. I was not even cognizant of the issue until she made me aware of it. She even referred to it by a bill number. It did not pertain to education, and I did not perceive it to have much opposition or controversy. I do not even remember now what the issue was. However, I revered this lady, and she was asking me to vote yes on a matter I had no position on anyway. So I called her and told her that due to her interest, I would vote for the measure. I kept her note on my desk with the bill number referenced. Lo and behold, about halfway through the legislative session, I saw the bill on the special-order calendar for the day. I got primed for the vote. I voted for the bill simply because that lady had asked me to. To my amazement, I looked up at the large electronic vote tally machine, and the bill passed by one vote.
One vote can make a difference.
Having told you that story, it reminds me of my first year in the Legislature. I was a young 30-year-old representative representing Pike and Barbour counties. Like today, Wallace was passing a gas tax for roads and bridges. This was a common occurrence and expected during the Wallace era. He knew the people of Alabama didn’t even notice that their gasoline tax had been raised. However, they knew that Wallace had built them a four-lane highway in their county. He knew Alabama politics better than anybody in state history.
Another political legend, Big Jim Folsom, left an indelible legacy as governor with his legendary and necessary Farm-to-Market road program. Recently while making a speech in Dothan, I told the group this Big Jim story about their region. Big Jim was a native of the Wiregrass. As a young man, Big Jim was making a futile run for Congress in the Wiregrass. One day, he was campaigning down a dirt country road in Geneva County. He met and befriended an old farmer and his wife at the end of the road. The couple gave Big Jim cold buttermilk to drink. Big Jim bonded with those folks on their front porch as he drank a gallon or two of buttermilk. As he was leaving, the old farmer shouted out to his new friend, Big Jim, “Boy, if you get elected to anything, will you pave my road?” Big Jim smiled and said, “Sure I will.” Ten years later, Big Jim got elected governor and guess which county road in the state got paved first? You are right, it was that road in Geneva County. They named it the Buttermilk Road.
For folks in Wiregrass, guess who built the Ross Clark Circle around Dothan? You got it, Big Jim Folsom.
For any of you legislators that are reading, my advice to you is that your average constituent isn’t gonna know whether or not you voted for the state tax on gasoline. But, they are going to remember that highway or bridge you brought home to your county. If you play your cards right, you might even get it named after you.
Speaking of legislators, legendary Black Belt legislator Rick Manley passed away in January. He represented Marengo County and the Black Belt for over 25 years in the House and Senate. He was one of the most able and effective legislative leaders in state history. He served as Chairman of both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. He was also Speaker Pro Tem of the House.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state Legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.