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Opinion | Millions of dollars’ worth of bluster

We Dare to Spend Millions of Taxpayer Dollars Unsuccessfully Defending Our Rights.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, a Republican, in his official state portrait.

If it weren’t so damaging to Alabama’s reputation and treasury, I’d just laugh at Attorney General Steve Marshall’s bold claim about the federal mandate for COVID-19 vaccinations by Dec. 8.

Alabama’s research universities, including Auburn University and those in the University of Alabama system have to comply because they are federal contractors or subcontractors. Noncompliance means millions of dollars in lost federal revenue.

UAB is an international research university; it’s not going ditch the federal dime. Most big universities in all states benefit from federal money. But if they don’t vaccinate their employees, well, the checks stop there.

When that federal vaccine mandate was announced Friday, Marshall couldn’t help himself:

“I want to assure the people of Alabama that my office will fight this contemptable (sic) infringement on individual liberty, federalism, and the separation of powers”


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OK, I’ve got to have a little chuckle here. I’ve been covering Alabama politics (college sports, of course, and state government) for nearly 45 years. I can’t remember all the lost causes that the state of Alabama has fought because of federal “contempt of infringement on individual liberty.” And lost.

Let’s see, there’s the state’s mental health system, and the Department of Human Resources, and the state’s Department of Corrections (many times). There’s the awful anti-immigration law (HB56) and so many others, only since I’ve been in Alabama.

Before that, there were cases supporting segregation, against school integration, over poll taxes, and many over voting rights.

Little Stevie Marshall, 6 or 7 years old, was likely dragged into a room, kicking and screaming, to be given vaccines for measles, mumps, and rubella, along with lots of others. Mandatory vaccines. To protect his schoolmates.

But see, politics for Republicans like Steve Marshall don’t include reason. It’s not “popular” to Republicans for the government to mandate stuff today. Mandates, though, are the cost of being a good citizen. 

When the government mandated military service through the draft for young men, they had to go willingly, or go to Canada. When local, state, and federal governments mandate we pay taxes, we pay (except, that is, for huge corporations). When the state mandates that we have driver licenses and register our vehicles, we do it, because we want to drive.

Did Steve Marshal ever have his tighty-whities in a twist over all of that?

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We vaccinate because the diseases we can get affect other people as well. COVID is highly contagious, so we vaccinate so that we don’t give this deadly virus to others around us. Like measles. Like smallpox. Like mumps.

Some people are stubborn or are, well, dumb. We have to force them to vaccinate because if we don’t, they won’t. It’s for their own good and ours.

All I see Marshall doing is what he’s done before: Waste the public dollars of a poor state fighting another losing battle for strictly political reasons. Doesn’t matter if he wins or loses; he gets the credit from his base anyway.

When visitors cross into Alabama, they likely stop at one of our lovely Welcome Centers. There they will see a big block of stone with this motto: “We Dare Defend Our Rights.” As they say these days, that’s misinformation. Fake news. The stone block should read: We Dare to Spend Millions of Taxpayer Dollars Unsuccessfully Defending Our Rights.” But the boulders at our Welcome Centers just aren’t that large.

So, I have an edit. Let those sculptures read: “We Dare Defend Our Wrongs.” 

As one of my wonderful Facebook friends tells me often when she’s “editing” one of my columns on the morning it is published:

“There. I fixed it.”

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Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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