During the first two weeks of the 2021 Legislative Session, lawmakers will pass a series of economic development incentive packages to persuade businesses to locate to Alabama and encourage those already doing business here to increase their footprint, further creating good-paying jobs for Alabamians.
While the state’s business posture is in line with 21st Century progress, some legislators and their political stances are more circa 1860. And some of its most visible politicians more closely resemble the fiery characters of the 1960s segregationist South than business-friendly lawmakers of today.
Gov. Kay Ivey, Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield and Alabama’s corporate leaders are committed to diversity, inclusion and a modern state, open for business but some legislators and party partisans are not.
On the state’s commerce website “Made in Alabama,” it says: “Here in Alabama, we boast a long list of advantages—a strong supplier network, a robust infrastructure, and competitive business incentives, just to name a few.”
The state offers many benefits and inducements for a company to come and do business here, but most companies are looking for more than just the nuts and bolts of building a successful enterprise. They also consider quality of life issues. Businesses are built not only on products and services. People power industry, and some companies’ top executives are reluctant to move their families to a state whose Republican congressional members — except one — tried to overturn the 2020 presidential election or believe that rocks falling into the ocean cause sea levels to rise while fostering racial and cultural differences that fracture communities and fulminate hate.
But it is not just the conspiracy-addled, lie-mongers like Congressmen Mo Brooks and Barry Moore that are endangering the state’s future. A growing number of elected state officials would be comfortable among the old Dixiecrats or QAnon believers.
Once a bulwark of business-centric policies and pro-growth ideas, Alabama’s Republican Party is now suffering from a form of cognitive dissonance that holds it can be pro-business and disdainful of anyone who dares to think and live differently.
It’s absurd to imagine that a state can embrace its separatist pasts and embrace a modern future both at the same time. Oh, the language is different, but the underlying attitude is the same.
Recently, Republican state Rep. Mike Holmes announced legislation that would strengthen the current Alabama Memorial Preservation Act, a law widely seen as racist and an insult to Alabama’s Black citizens. Under Holmes’ bill, a historical monument or memorial located on public property can’t even be “dishonored, disparaged.” According to the Cambridge Dictionary to dishonor means to “cause someone or something to lose respect.” Disparage means to “criticize someone or something in a way that shows you do not respect or value him, her, or it.”
So in Holmes’s Alabama, we all must show honor and respect to symbols of the Confederacy or face dire consequences.
In a press release, Holmes citing his bill, said, “The only way we can determine where we are going as a state or nation is to remember where we have been, and preserving our history is fundamental to that process.” So, Holmes would believe that Alabama’s future is tied to honoring its racist past where white elites owned Black people.
Perhaps the irony of proposing such legislation during Black History Month is lost on Holmes.
Not to be outdone, Republican Rep. Chip Brown is offering legislation that seems aimed at Black Lives Matter protesters, which would make soliciting, inciting, urging, funding, or otherwise aiding and abetting a riot a Class A misdemeanor — on par with domestic violence. An offender would be imprisoned for 48 hours without bail and face a minimum of 30 days in jail. He also proposes a felony charge for “aggravated riot,” say if someone damaged a Confederate statue during a protest.
There are many more bills harkening back to the old days of slavery and Jim Crowe, but to round out the unhinged sect of the Republican Party is Rep. Mike Ball, a perennial conspiratorialist who thinks that rouge prosecutors are out to get him. Ball has introduced an ethics bill that would create a different justice system for lawmakers and public officials and ensure that every crooked politician would get away with their crimes as long as they belong to the ruling party. Under Ball’s legislation, pay-to-play and other forms of graft would be somehow magically swept under the carpet, and businesses would have to figure out who to bribe next.
Incentivizing businesses to come to the state or expand their offerings takes more than money and infrastructure. It requires a quality of life that’s free from prejudice, inequity and hate.
Regions Bank is a heroic example of an Alabama business committed to the future. In a message from Regions President and CEO John Turner, he expressed the company’s commitment to diversity and racial equity:
“It is heartbreaking to see the persistent, devastating consequences of systemic prejudice and social injustice. We cannot continue to tolerate the racism, bias, and violence that people of color face daily. It is also clear that there must be reforms in the way law enforcement and the justice system operate.
“I want you to know that I am personally committed to being part of the solution, and our company is too. Working together, we have made great strides at Regions by strengthening our focus on diversity and inclusion.”
Recently, Regions announced after meeting with Birmingham’s Black Lives Matter group that the bank would end its dealings with a company that builds private prisons.
Turner and his company are leading in the right direction. Wouldn’t it be inspirational if our lawmakers followed that example?
In her 2021 State of the State Address, Gov. Kay Ivey evoked the legendary civil rights leader’s memory, the late Congressman John Lewis, who called himself “the boy from Troy.” She quoted Lewis near the end of her address to the state to remind our citizens of the importance of our actions today.
“To quote John Lewis, ‘Every generation leaves behind a legacy. What that legacy will be is determined by the people of that generation,’” Ivey said. “I hope that as Alabama continues to make progress, we remember the lessons of history.”
Alabama may well offer excellent incentives to draw industry to our state. Still, if it continues to pass legislation and promote ideas founded in racial injustice, radical politics of lies, and hatred, Alabama will not achieve its potential, leaving another generation to deal with its failed legacy.
Ivey is committed to a fair, just and equitable state as are the state’s business leaders, but they must act to temper the poisonous ideology of those who would destroy Alabama’s future.