A strange thing happened Tuesday: Gov. Kay Ivey appointed a new director of the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles and no one complained.
Republicans, Democrats, liberals, conservatives, independents. No one had a bad word to say about Cam Ward.
The state senator from Alabaster is generally considered one of the most level-headed, respected members of Alabama’s Legislature, which is sort of famous for being anything but level-headed and respected. Unfortunately — or, I suspect, fortunately, in his opinion — he’ll be forced to give up that Senate seat to take on this new role.
There’s little chance that someone as thoughtful and well-meaning as Ward will get his seat.
And that’s a problem that I’ve never understood. A problem that is growing by the hour, it seems in today’s hyper-partisan, confrontational, social media-driven, image-only landscape of 2020 politics.
Truth, decency, common sense and working for the greater good have taken a backseat to raw ambition and personal favorability polls.
Why be a decent servant of the people and work to make meaningful changes that positively affect thousands of your fellow citizens when you can instead send out press releases and letters saying off-the-wall insane things that drive up your name ID?
We’re to the point now that good politicians are actively hiding the good deeds they’re doing or their true thoughts about important, helpful legislation because they fear they’ll be demonized by more partisan primary challengers and punished by a voting bloc that increasingly sees elections as a means of confirming their commitment to their favorite R or D team.
Ward is a perfect example of this.
Several years ago, not long into his mission to overhaul Alabama’s criminal justice system through complicated legislation that was lost on the average voter and that essentially tricked other lawmakers into voting for good bills, I sat on a couch in the capitol building with Ward and talked about the reform he was pursuing. He asked me, point blank, to tone down anything I would write about it. I assume that was because he was fearful that a story explaining his criminal justice work, combined with my byline, would be attacked by the more conservative lobbyist groups and special interests.
He was right. And I toned it way down.
In fact, over the years, much of what Ward has accomplished in reforms has remained unreported. Partly because it’s complicated and boring and involves endless details of legislative committee hearings and backroom negotiations, but also because so many people were fearful of just what it would mean if certain people and groups learned that Alabama had over the last several years participated in one of the largest mass releases of incarcerated individuals in the entire world.
That’s not hyperbole.
Thousands upon thousands of young men have been legally processed out of Alabama prisons through the criminal justice reforms pursued by Ward and others.
It was accomplished by eliminating petty mandatory sentence mandates and streamlining probation protocols and dozens of other necessary and worthy changes. Changing things that were supposed to keep Alabamians safe but were actually just useless, punitive add-ons that sounded good on campaign websites while unfairly punishing people for petty crimes.
Despite all of those releases, Alabama’s violent crime rate is at its lowest point in decades, and pretty much all crime is at all-time lows. And the state’s recidivism rate is below the national average.
One day in the future — hopefully, when Alabama’s prison issues have been addressed — the full story of what Ward and others accomplished can be told.
But in 2020, that is impossible.
Hell, it’s almost impossible that a guy like Ward exists, especially in the Alabama Republican Party.
And that’s not a partisan shot. It’s reality.
When you have a one-party state, as Alabama so firmly is, you squeeze out the middle. The only way to get elected in that party is to keep pushing further and further to the extremes and vilifying anyone who dares to compromise or play nice with “the enemy” on the other side of the aisle.
Even while representing one of the reddest districts in this state, Ward has resisted such a push. And on more than one occasion, he’s pushed himself and his party back towards the middle on important issues. He’s even gone to war with his party and powerful conservative special interest groups over causes that were important to him and his constituents.
All of that is exceedingly rare these days.
Politically, Ward and I agree on probably a handful of things and disagree on a truckload more. But his beliefs are grounded in principles that he can identify and verbalize, and they come from a place of honesty.
You can reason and compromise with a person like that.
But most importantly, for the job he’s about to take, Ward actually seems to care about his fellow man. You simply can’t take on the tasks and criticisms that he has over the last several years — all with so little political upside for him in this state — without there being high levels of compassion and empathy in him somewhere.
And it’s nice to see such a guy finally get this job.