Alabama government: It’s not about you

Josh Moon

It’s probably worth remembering that Alabama’s legislators work for you. The men and women who roam the halls of the State House, crafting legislation (or, more likely, copying it verbatim from some lobbyist) and running Alabama are representatives of us. All of us.

That means they’re supposed to be in Montgomery doing what we want, taking care of our needs.

I’ll pause while you recover from laughing hysterically.

With the 2017 regular session now in the books, and as I looked down the list of bills that either did or didn’t pass, I was struck by how little of what passed actually mattered to the largest demographics and how much of what failed actually did.

This state is filled with lower-middle and middle class workers – regular folks who wake up every morning and trudge off to a job somewhere, dropping their 1.5 kids off on their way, and hoping like hell that the car holds up another year or the dog doesn’t need a vet anytime soon.

That’s 75 percent of Alabamians. Just some folks trying to stretch a paycheck, make it all work out every month.

So, why is the state’s biggest voting demographic so horribly represented in the Legislature?

Let’s break this down by looking at the legislation that failed and passed.

First off, let’s get all of the pandering/religious/racist/bigoted bills out of the way. That includes any version of bills that sought to “put Jesus back in our schools” or ridicule children who are a little different or illegally gerrymander voting districts (again) or prevent gay couples from adopting from agencies that never would have served them anyway.

Those bills are dumb. And they serve only to divide the state’s largest voting bloc.

We would never have to endure another of those idiotic bills if we could enjoy and respect America’s freedom of religion laws and simply treat others with the same dignity and respect we demand.

By eliminating those bills, we just cut the session by 80 percent.

Here’s what we’re left with: In addition to two budgets that were mostly set before the session started (with one being propped up AGAIN by one-time money), there was a bill to protect Confederate monuments, one to speed up executions, one to decriminalize midwifery, one to force autism therapy coverage for kids, one to ban judicial override and a “jobs” bill.

Now, credit where it’s due, covering autism therapy and banning judicial override do help the average Alabamian. We could certainly quibble over the autism therapy bill’s cap for coverage at 18-years-old, since the therapy aids autistic adults as much as kids, but baby steps.

On the other hand, speeding up executions – in a state where nine death row inmates have been exonerated well after their convictions – and protecting the same sort of racist monuments that are being removed in other states do little to aid the working Alabamian. In fact, they mostly hurt us.

And then there’s what didn’t pass: the church daycare bill, a lottery bill, ethics reform, a gas tax and prison reform.

Let me sum that up: Our representatives chose money over children, can’t figure out how to pay their bills, love being able to skim for their own pockets without anyone looking too hard, can’t afford to fic the potholes and are, as is so often the case in Alabama, awaiting a federal judge to tell them how to do the right thing.

But we did figure out a way – through the re-upping of the Alabama “jobs” act – to funnel more taxpayer money to highly profitable corporations so they’ll come here and attempt to exploit our workers. (Just a note: when a politician in this state talks about “cheap labor,” he or she is talking about you.)

Somehow, $4 more per month on health insurance plans was too much to fork over to properly care for 18-year-olds with autism, but we’re cool dishing out $300 million annually in incentives (often straight cash) to businesses.

That’s because it’s not about us. It never is.

If it was, that $300 million would already be funneled back into our public education system to ensure classrooms weren’t overcrowded and that kids were receiving the highest quality education around. Better schools producing a better-educated workforce would bring more companies than doling out legal bribes.

Or it could be going to pay for Medicaid expansion that would have brought thousands more jobs, kept hospitals open and created a healthier populace. Because you know what relocating companies love? A healthy workforce.

Or that $300 million could be going to daycare programs or to fund road projects or to better staff our courts. Because those things matter a lot to the regular Alabamian.

But it’s not about us.

It never is.

It’s not this even if it is

   It’s never racism. So, just stop it with that. You’re ruining racism for the people who really experience racism – the kind where someone burns a cross in your yard, makes you drink from a different water fountain, won’t let you sit in the front of the bus, makes your kids attend a different school.

You know, real racism.

Not an email. An email isn’t racist. Be serious. That was a joke – an innocent attempt at lightning the mood.

That’s all Rep. Lynn Greer’s email – the one about training monkeys that brought the House to a screeching halt last week — was about. A simple joke.

Hell, he didn’t even write it. It’s an old, well-known study about learned behavior and the pack mentality. And that’s why Greer was sending it around.

Because if there’s one thing the Alabama Legislature is famous for, it’s legislators passing around scientific studies in the hopes of better understanding the complex psychology of their fellow humans so as to make the most learned, compassionate decisions when deeply considering the pieces of legislation that pass before them.

OK, that’s a lie. Most of Alabama lawmakers don’t pass around scientific studies even when they’re voting on science-related issues. And in many cases, they willingly and ignorantly take positions exactly opposite those of the scientific community.

Still, that doesn’t mean Greer’s email about the training of monkeys was racist.

Sure, it was sent during a time when the Legislature was busy arguing over a redistricting issue that has bogged down both houses because lawmakers can’t agree on the split of predominantly white and predominantly black districts. There was a very heated exchange over the issue to start the day that Greer’s email dropped.

But still, that doesn’t mean it was racism.

OK, it’s true enough that the “study” referenced in the email never happened, despite the Alabama GOP sending out a sorry-if-you’re-offended non-apology press release that contained a number of links from various publications mentioning the “study.”

And yes, one of those links provided in the statement from Greer was to a psychologytoday.com post, which was written to specifically point out that the study never took place and other studies debunked it.

Still, it’s not racism.

Because it’s never, ever racism.

It’s not racism when black voters are stacked and packed into districts to ensure that they won’t influence white, Republican control of Alabama’s state government.

It’s not racism when lawmakers draw a white Republican into Jefferson County to ensure the party maintains control over the blacks.

It’s not racism when the Alabama GOP leadership makes every effort for years to close the legally-operating casinos in majority-black counties – shutting down the only real job-producing businesses in those counties and crippling schools and government services.

It’s not racism when lawmakers set up a system to legally embezzle public school money and hand it to private schools, allowing the wealthy a tax break and leaving poor, minority students stuck in the underperforming and even more poorly-funded schools.

It’s not racism when Alabama’s lawmakers refuse to change embarrassing, decades-old language in the state constitution that prevents wealthy land owners (read: plantation owners) from paying for the education of black children.

It’s not racism when a good chunk of this session – in 2017 – was devoted to preserving Confederate monuments – the country’s original participation trophies.

It’s not racism when bills sponsored for years by black lawmakers to reform criminal sentencing and end judicial override fail time and again, but identical bills sponsored by white Republicans sail through on the first try.

It’s not racism when a House member proclaims – out loud and during a committee meeting – that minorities’ poor decisions are the reason they’re three times more likely to be arrested for a crime that whites commit at a much higher rate.

None of that is racism.

Because in the Alabama Legislature, it’s never, ever racism.

Even when it clearly is.