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Opinion | Good government or obstructionist noise?

Alabama leaders have a choice. Embrace good government for all our state’s citizens or capitulate to the extremes.

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Many arguments that drive politics today are in opposition to good government.

Here in Alabama, often the biggest obstacle to practical policy solutions are those individuals who ignore state issues while focusing on the national politics of outrage and trumped-up problems that have little to do with running a state.

As a one-party state, Republicans are the ones who must ensure the state’s success and also bear responsibility for its failures.

Over time, state Republicans have become a divided camp. On one side are the problem-solvers who want to tackle the state’s systemic challenges with an eye on the future. The others see themselves as a band of holy warriors who use governing as an opportunity to champion social issues that look backward to a bygone era of government by exclusion. 

Perhaps the most fundamental question concerning the new legislative quadrennium is which wing of the Republican Party will control the legislative outcome.

Will those who favor battles over Critical Race Theory, treatment for transgender youth, so-called medical freedom, or whether Adam and Eve had belly buttons rule the session, or will thoughtful conservatives keep the focus on serious policy matters that affect the real lives of real Alabamians?

Effective and efficient governing requires reasonable individuals who can work together using evidence-based solutions that serve the public interest.

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At the recent orientation of new lawmakers, Gov. Kay Ivey spoke again of finding Alabama solutions to Alabama problems. Ivey has consistently employed a solution-based strategy to address long-ignored issues in the state.

During the meeting, Ivey also urged the members to understand that when trying to pass big, consequential legislation, it is essential to “block out a lot of noise.” The noise she referred to primarily comes from some in her own party who resist change and would happily roll back the calendar to the 1950s or 60s.

There is an obstructionist wing of the Republican Party that is well financed and entrenched in a dizzying orthodoxy that abhors thinking and mindlessly parrots the talking points of media consultants and the misinformation angertainment industry of so-called conservative media.

Recent interviews with incoming lawmakers found many admitting that their constituents are only concerned about national issues, not those facing the state.

In the 2022 general election, House members were elected by around 11,000 votes in a district representing some 47,000 people. In state Senate districts, approximately 30,000 voters out of a district of nearly 150,000 won the day. These figures show low voter engagement but also how few people lawmakers must reach to win elections. Lawmakers also do not spend enough time with individuals outside the Republican bubble. 

Far too many legislators find themselves faced with voters who lack interest or basic information about the purpose and limits of state government.

Further, few embrace the Enlightenment ideas of the nation’s founding generation, who adhered to the motto of “Dare to know! Have courage to use your own reason!”

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Today it seems to process accurate information or apply logic to governing is left in the wake of disinformation and partisan hyperbole. Take, for example, state Rep. Ed Oliver, a Republican from Dadeville, who wants to make sure CRT is banned from public schools.

Recently on a right-wing radio show, Oliver said eliminating CRT from educational institutions must be a top priority for the 2023 legislative session. The fact that CRT is not taught in Alabama public schools hasn’t deterred Oliver or other legislators from using it as a weapon against educators. Perhaps most troubling is that Oliver doesn’t even understand what he is battling against.

In brief, CRT is an academic and legal framework that denotes that systemic racism is part of American society.

But according to Oliver, it is about sexualizing school-age children.

“Ultimately, the reason that the left wants to push CRT amongst little kids is simply they want to sexualize them,” said Oliver.

“They want to racialize them at an early age to make them easy to manage, pure and simple,” he continued. “I hate to say a way to create more left-wingers that are woke and will do the things that the left wants them to do, but that’s exactly what it is, to divide people. To make groups fight each other, so they’re easier to manage.”

In any context of a rational conversation, Oliver’s observances would be dismissed as vain ravings. CRT has nothing to do with sexualizing children, except in a fevered brain. Yet, he was allowed to make these outrageous claims without the ratio host saying anything to correct him. Maligning CRT is propaganda as a pretext to interfere with and vilify teachers. But sadly, this is what passes as a reasoned discourse among some Alabama lawmakers.

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When the political class, from county Republican clubs to the ALGOP Executive committee, are more concerned about demonizing Democrats than encouraging the hard work of governing, it makes it difficult for the state’s governing officials to accomplish goals that actually help make the lives of real people in Alabama better.

Railing against President Joe Biden or woke corporations will not enhance the lives of one man, woman, child or family in our state, and it will not build a school or a highway or secure the state’s healthcare system. It might make some in the party feel good about their “stand,” but feeling good about anger of perceived superiority never lifted a single soul toward a more prosperous tomorrow.

These petty political fights have little to do with how to govern the state of Alabama but, unfortunately, go a long way toward getting attention from a “base” that would rather throw bricks than build a better state.

Alabama leaders have a choice. Embrace good government for all our state’s citizens or capitulate to the extremes. The choice is clear. The willingness to stand is not easy but worth the fight.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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