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Opinion | Red or blue, we work for you

We can discover the things that unite us and build something new and far better together. 

House District 56 state Rep. Ontario Tillman.

Being elected by the people of District 56 is truly an honor. As a freshman legislator in the Alabama House of Representatives, I wanted to share a few thoughts and observations about what I have learned so far as a public servant. 

First, a little about my background. Prior to becoming an attorney and now a state legislator, I taught special education at Westhills Elementary School and Bessemer City High School; also I served as the head boys basketball coach at the high school. Back then, the people of District 56 were always my priority. From the classroom to the basketball court, I made sure to teach my students how powerful their voice was and the importance of their vote. 

When I began my journey as a legislator, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that far more collaboration and bipartisanship occurs in Montgomery than most people might imagine. As I listened to voters in my district and throughout Alabama, most people were concerned about “kitchen table” issues, not arguing over “red or blue” political ideology. 

As legislators, our responsibilities are to meet the needs of all Alabamians, regardless of their political leanings. To put it bluntly, whether red or blue, we work for you. It’s worth noting that good legislation is often “purple”, meaning both sides had meaningful debate and input into the final product. In my opinion, that’s what good governance is about. 

I’m pleased to say that I witnessed some “purple” good governance in action. It happened right before my eyes with bipartisan efforts that culminated in ending the state’s overtime tax, reducing the grocery tax, investments in innovative entrepreneurship, and expanding broadband internet technology. 

These were all critical issues facing our state and it was amazing to watch Democrats and Republicans put partisanship aside and listen to their constituents and maybe, more importantly, to each other. Both sides put aside their ideological differences and earnestly rolled up their sleeves and worked together to solve problems that affected hard-working Alabama families. 

Collaborative bipartisanship occurs when both sides have a sincere and genuine interest in solving a common problem, although they may offer dramatically different or opposing solutions. Rather than casting aspersions or denigrating the other side, both sides fervently commit to finding a solution that best meets collective, opposing, and individual interests.

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It’s based on building trust through active listening and finding commonality. It rejects fear-based and fact-free bias and does not look to automatically assign ill-intent to different or opposing views. 

The reason I’m bringing this concept up is because we have so many historic and unique opportunities to work together right now to improve and grow in Alabama. Together, we can find ways to ensure more Alabamians have access to affordable healthcare. We can find common ground on voting rights to protect the integrity of our elections while simultaneously removing unnecessary obstacles to casting a ballot. 

It will take active listening to all sides to find workable, practical solutions to solve our gun violence crisis and our challenging drug epidemic. It’s the only way we’ll solve our prison issues dealing with overcrowding. It’s how we can bolster and improve public education and build a better future for our children and our state. Let’s construct the win-win-win scenario. 

We have a choice in Alabama. We can continue on a path of red versus blue tribalism and continue to focus on what divides us, or we can discover the things that unite us and build something new and far better together. 

Either way, we are all in this together, yet I think the answer may lie in the hope of what we can build united as a team, instead of focusing on what damage we might do to each other by acting as perpetual opponents. 

It’s time for us to remember who we are here to serve and let’s see what we can create when we commit to purposefully working together. I think we may all be happily surprised by the result. 

In the end, red or blue – we work for you, Alabama.

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