It is funny how history is repeating itself.
For the majority of Alabama’s history, it has been dominated by one-party rule. From post-Reconstruction until the latter parts of the last century, the Democratic Party owned the levers of power in Montgomery.
For a brief period, from the mid-1990s until 2010, there was two-party rule. However, it was more of a transition as old Southern Democrats jumped ship to be Republicans. Some of that was done purely for political survival. Being a candidate with a “D” next to your name was an obstacle much too challenging to overcome.
Others left the Democratic Party as it transformed to be a more liberal, left-of-center political party. As they would tell, they did not leave the Democratic Party. It left them.
Now in 2019, Alabama is led by a Republican supermajority. Given that political labels are defined by national politics, i.e., Republican is conservative and Democrat is socialist, that isn’t changing anytime soon.
Without partisan divisions, our state politics breaks down in other areas. Historically, it has been by geography.
Legislators and congresspeople from South Alabama have complained for the last 150 years about being neglected by Montgomery. The use of the Deepwater Horizon–BP settlement in 2016 to fund Medicaid and pay debt validated those gripes.
The latest I-10 toll bridge saga showed that remains a perceived fault line in state politics.
However, it was a grave miscalculation by Gov. Kay Ivey’s office to rely on those divisions and assume what happened in Mobile and Baldwin counties would be ignored by the rest of the state.
In this post-toll bridge debacle era, politicians in other parts of the state are seizing on the bridge plan’s failure to bolster their claim resources are needed in their districts.
Boldly and shamelessly, freshman State Sen. Andrew Jones, R-Centre, called on state officials to consider needs in his district. Recently in an appearance on Alabama Public Television, he took it a step further and announced he supported tolling and public-private partnerships, and called on his counterparts in Southwestern Alabama to do a better job working with Gov. Ivey and an unpopular Alabama Department of Transportation Director John Cooper.
In other words, it was not them. It was you guys who need to do better.
Jones wasn’t alone. Another state lawmaker at a public forum in Huntsville was asked about the tolling controversy and said it was a case of “those people down there not wanting to pay for their $2.1 billion bridge.”
He went on to say, “Where’s our $2.1 billion project?”
It goes both ways, of course. Our politicians in Mobile and Baldwin counties are quick to blame the power structure of Alabama favoring other parts of the state over us.
Who can blame them? A politician can demagogue Montgomery with just cause and probably win over some voters.
However, the South Alabama versus North Alabama conflict is in some ways serving as a convenient diversion.
While the drama of state tribalism is unfolding right before our eyes, what was once known as the Big Mules are making a comeback.
For most of the 20th century in Alabama, the term “Big Mule” referred to the industrialists of Alabama, who were mostly concentrated in Birmingham and to a lesser extent, Mobile.
Over time, enterprising politicians figured out that targeting these Big Mules for the sake of political strategy was a winner. Gov. “Big Jim” Folsom is perhaps the best example of that strategy being successful by winning two gubernatorial elections.
Consider how over the past several years we have heard “economic development” as a justification for almost every policy proposal.
Raising the gas tax? Economic development.
Using gas tax money to dredge the Mobile Bay to expand the port? Economic development.
Implementation of education standards like Common Core? Economic development.
As noble as the cause economic development may be — Alabamians certainly need jobs and a better standard of living — did it ever occur to anyone that there are often beneficiaries of these things done in the name of economic development?
We dare not question any of it. No, sir. How can you be against economic development?
Our modern-day Big Mules — the financial sector, automobile manufacturers, defense contractors, the healthcare industry — have discovered their rallying cry: “economic development.”
Meanwhile, those who are focused on the nature of the state of Alabama’s politics in Montgomery are engaged in the internecine geographic war questioning how one part of the state gets something but another part does not.
“Elect me, and I’ll make sure South Alabama gets its fair share!”
Some politicians even use it as a wedge: “Our legislative delegation should do a better job getting our fair share!”
Fair enough. It is the responsibility of a politician elected by the people of a given area to represent and fulfill the interests of his or her constituents.
However, did it ever occur to anyone that while South Alabama is focused on what North Alabama gets and North Alabama on what South Alabama gets, there is less attention paid to who exactly in North and South Alabama is getting whatever it is to be gotten?
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