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Opinion | Alabama’s crossroads: Business growth and political extremism in the balance

What the state is experiencing can be termed a “soft dictatorship” where one-party rule gradually becomes dominated by its radical wing.

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Across the nation, and here in Alabama, there is an ever-growing fear within corporate boardrooms that extreme elements of the Republican Party pose a threat to business growth and opportunity.

For years, we’ve issued warnings on these pages about the rise of lawmakers who promote dangerously regressive ideologies, compromising sensible governance. We’ve also cautioned on numerous occasions that someday these cultural extremists would launch an assault on corporate business practices.

These predictions, in part, materialized during Alabama’s 2023 Legislative Session. Right-wing hard-liners persuaded their colleagues to pass legislation outlawing ESG investments and sought to compel businesses to abandon diversity, equity and inclusion policies.

Now is the time for those who value competent government to heed the old saying, “put your money where your mouth is,” to stave off a complete takeover by the extreme factions. There’s no other word for those who aim to drag Alabama back to the 19th Century — or at least the 1960s.

What the state is experiencing can be termed a “soft dictatorship,” where one-party rule gradually becomes dominated by its radical wing.

The days of appeasing these extremists by giving them a little win here or there to move forward on bigger issues are coming to a close. You can’t throw a bone to a rabid dog and not expect it to come back for the whole cow. Appeasement of fools and tyrants is a losing gamble.

In 2010, with support from the business community, the state elected a Republican supermajority, pledging to root out corruption in Montgomery and promote a pro-business, pro-growth agenda. For a while, this seemed achievable, until the then-Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard was revealed as corrupt, and the pro-business Republicans started to be overshadowed by a narrow faction of cultural warriors.

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In the last election cycle, voters from heavily gerrymandered districts sent even more radical lawmakers to the Statehouse – legislators whose knowledge about governance seems derived mainly from Fox News. This has occurred because elections are now decided in the primaries, where the most partisan believers of the ALGOP dominate. The extremists don’t represent the majority because, in most Alabama districts, the majority of voters don’t elect their representatives.

Today, it’s not the most competent lawmaker or the most thoughtful committee that receives accolades, but those who express the loudest partisan indignation.

Gov. Kay Ivey’s administration and many legislative leaders have focused on economic development and job growth. Still, a faction has been undermining these efforts with restrictive and illiberal laws that deter companies — companies led by individuals and skilled workers who value inclusive environments, both within their businesses and in the community at large. Regressive legislation leads to missed opportunities, a kind of economic ailment not noticed until it’s too late.

Radical-right legislators aren’t the only ones tarnishing the state’s image. Attorney General Steve Marshall appears to be embracing the racist politics once championed by Gov. George Wallace. Marshall spends millions of Alabama citizens’ hard-earned money battling “woke culture” and the Biden administration. His recent attempt to overturn Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act was particularly alarming. When his effort failed, he accused the U.S. Supreme Court of racial gerrymandering, comparing their ruling to the notorious “Separate but equal” doctrine from Plessy v. Ferguson (1896).

Men like Marshall and ALGOP extremists disdain the bedrock of justice and equality. Under their influence, basic freedoms are at risk as radicals posing as conservatives threaten the foundations of democracy.

Where are Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America,” George H.W. Bush’s “Thousand Points of Light,” and George W. Bush’s “Compassionate Conservative”? Are these ideals lost, or simply overshadowed by fearmongers? For the far-right extremist, it is always one minute after midnight, and they alone must bring the light, no matter the cost.

Anne Applebaum, in her book “Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism,” wrote: “To some, the precariousness of the current moment seems frightening, and yet this uncertainty has always been there. The liberalism of John Stuart Mill, Thomas Jefferson, or Václav Havel never promised anything permanent. The checks and balances of Western constitutional democracies never guaranteed stability. Liberal democracies always demanded things from citizens: participation, argument, effort, struggle. They always required some tolerance for cacophony and chaos, as well as some willingness to push back at the people who create cacophony and chaos.”

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The business community must ally with earnest, stable lawmakers to counteract the agents of chaos, determined to control not just the lives of the state’s citizens but also the enterprises that bring stability, jobs and economic progress to the state.

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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