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Bill Britt

Opinion | A forgotten 40 percent

Bill Britt

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In an age of hyper-partisan politics, a wide swath of the population feels disenfranchised.

Because of straight-ticket voting in Alabama, some 40 percent of its citizens feel the government does not represent their interests or even acknowledge they have an opinion on how the state is run.

There was a time when candidates for public office ran to either the left or right to secure the nomination and then pivoted to the center to win a general election and govern.

Republicans and Democrats needed base-voters to secure a primary but sought a broad consensus to win a general election.

Since the 2010 General Election, republicans have won approximately 60 percent of the vote. The state’s republican supermajority controls the House and Senate and only rarely does the majority even acknowledge the meekest wishes of the minority. Every constitutional office is held by a republican, which means Alabama is a one-party state leaving some 40 percent of the public feeling the government doesn’t care about their lives.

Imagine for a moment if you will that 40 percent of your family thinks you dislike them, are working against their interest and have no intentions of hearing their voices.

Likewise, picture a business where 40 percent of the workforce believes that the boss is working against them, holds them in disdain and is harming not only their lives but those of nearly 40 percent of their customers.

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If a family or business acted like our politicians do it would be beyond dysfunctional.

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To legislate as if yours is the only opinion that matters ignores history and threatens the future.

Majority rule is foundational to our form of governing but dismissing a large portion of the voting public will over time prove ruinous.

Author of the Bill of Rights James Madison in a 1785 address to the Virginia General Assembly said, “True it is, that no other rule exists, by which any question which may divide a Society, can be ultimately determined, but the will of the majority; but it is also true that the majority may trespass on the rights of the minority.”

When Republicans came to power in 2010, they moved the state in a conservative-pro-business direction, focusing on cutting waste, creating jobs and ending corruption.

Over the last three years, the House and Senate have pushed its pro-business agenda further to the back burner concentrating more on social issues.

This is not to say that social matters are irrelevant, but again the march toward the hard-right is alienating businesses and a large segment of the public.

Recently, Regions Bank, a Fortune 500 company based in Birmingham, announced it had joined the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion, a “coalition of corporations and universities that pledge to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace,” as reported by APR’s Eddie Burkhalter.

Regions joins group focused on diversity and inclusion

Regions Bank is one of the state’s premier corporations and its leadership has long been an advocate of education and workforce development to make Alabama even better. Its pledged to diversity in the workplace is another example how businesses are far ahead of many of the state’s political leaders,

“The best teams are diverse and inclusive teams. Signing the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion pledge is another way to show Regions is committed to its strategy to build the best team,” Regions President and CEO John Turner said. “Diversity and inclusion are not only fundamental to our corporate strategy; Regions truly values and benefits from the diversity of its associates, customers and the communities we serve.”

On its corporate website Regions states, “We all benefit from the diversity of our associates, and at Regions, we have a broad view of diversity. We believe that diversity encompasses race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, age, culture, education, religion and other factors that make each of us unique.”

Regions is not only looking at what’s best for the company but how it benefits the communities it serves.

“Our approach to diversity and inclusion supports our mission and values as we incorporate it into who we are and how we work, and our diversity efforts help make life better for our associates, customers and communities.”

If Regions’ business model evaluated the needs of only 40 percent of its associates and 40 percent of its customers, it would be a failure and not the engine for growth it is today.

Alabama’s republican supermajority should take a page from Regions’ playbook and realize that governing with all the people in mind produces the best outcome.

Continually pandering to the base may win an election, but it is a poor governing strategy.

When any individual or institution refuses to address the needs of 40 percent of the people that depend on their judgment, it fails.

It is also perhaps worth remembering that no political party holds power forever — demographics, winds of change and a host of other factors  causes an ebb and flow in politics not always immediately recognizable. But change will come, and those who now govern without regard for the electorate as a whole will one day pay the price for arrogance.

Our lawmakers should turn off cable news, put down their cellphones and look around at the people of the state. The basic needs of our citizens are so similar that our leaders are foolish to concentrate solely on the differences.

Elected officials have an obligation to all citizens, not simply the majority.

We cannot succeed together when our political leaders refuse to recognize 40 percent of the people.

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