Some of my detractors swear I hate Alabama. I don’t. I love Alabama.
Because I criticize our state, week in and week out, I know, that doesn’t mean I don’t love our state. Maybe I just believe in tough love.
I came to Alabama in 1977. I was born in Texas, grew up in deep south Louisiana, but made my home in Alabama in 1977, coming to the state as a reporter for the Cullman Times. After the Times, and over a few short years, I worked at the St. Clair News-Aegis, The Anniston Star, and then The Birmingham News.
When I first got to The News, I couldn’t believe my luck. As a 25-year-old, I’d made the big time. I was working at Alabama’s largest newspaper. Shortly after, my wife joined me, and we both had long careers at The News, before it no longer was a newspaper. Before its owners destroyed its name. Destroyed its loyal readers. Destroyed its best employees.
I had a great career at The News, that included a Pulitzer Prize in 1991, shared with Harold Jackson and one of my mentors, Ron Casey. The News editorial board was a finalist for two more Pulitzer Prizes. I was the only common denominator on the editorial board in those top 3 finals. It was not a fluke.
But I’m a liberal. I don’t apologize for that. I’m not intimidated by those who threaten me or those who vandalize my home or car or who confront me in public. It comes with the territory, and I say, “bring it on.”
What those folks, and so many others, don’t seem to understand is that I love Alabama. I want to be here. I want to see us improve. To do better by our school children and our poor children. I want to see us help those who need health care and homes and food. I want those who have health care and homes and food to help those who don’t.
Alabama people are about the best anywhere. They are giving and forgiving. They will hug you, invite you in for a drink, debate Tide and Tiger football, share a wonderful story about the buck they killed last week, and give you the shirt off their back.
But as a group, they’re dysfunctional. They respond to the hot buttons: immigrants and queers and independent women and uppity blacks. They are smarter than that, but they don’t have the confidence to BE smarter than that.
We’re easy, laid-back in Alabama. And we often take the easy way out.
Why go down a whole list of candidates on a ballot when we can just fill in one oval and vote for everybody at once? Rather they be Republicans. Or Democrats.
We want to hunt a boar or throw a party on the Gulf or quilt with our circle. That one-party oval we find at the top of the ballot gives us more time to do what we want to do. That is, if we even vote. We might be a little lazy, sure, but not when it matters, right? Well, no. If we’re not voting for the person instead of the party, we’re worse than lazy. We’re complicit. We are the conspiracy.
We are not just part of the problem. We are THE problem.
I love Alabama. It’s a beautiful state, with mountains and rivers and beautiful, untamed forests. We have roaring rivers and the best hiking trails and state parks. We have a short Gulf coast, yes, but one of the best Gulf coasts. Our beaches are the best. Our white sand is the best. Turn purple with envy, Destin.
We have history. Native American history and Civil War history and Civil Rights history. The best Civil Rights history. The Civil Rights history that not only changed our country, but changed the world.
I’ll continue to criticize our self-serving politicians. I’ll put up with the threats, the vandalism, the misguided hate.
I’ll do it because I love. Because when I talk to individuals, I hear they want us to move forward, to not be last in everything, to just be damned good at something.
We can be good, and we should be good.
Better than good, even. Great.
We have the potential. What we need is the will.
Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]