I’m a child of the '80s, so it’s mandatory to have a healthy love and respect for all of the important things like putting family first, unapologetic patriotism, a healthy hatred of Communism leftover from the Iron Curtain era and the Amy Grant Christmas album.
In contrast to my love for Grant’s first and best entry into Christmas music in 1983, many discerning music lovers collectively cringe when they hear her later work, including “My Grownup Christmas List.” Though the song is admittedly whiny and somewhat annoying, the premise is solid: adults should have decidedly different and more sophisticated Christmas wishes than their small children.
In honor of that premise, please find my Grownup Christmas List for Alabama politics and politicians:
Wish One: For Republicans to govern like Republicans instead of Republicans in Name Only (RINOs)
The Alabama Republican Party has more RINOs than the Birmingham Zoo. In the last quadrennium, House and Senate caucuses repeatedly touted spending as much of our money as possible as evidence of their legislative success. Their first action was to raise our gas taxes in perpetuity. Legislators repeatedly tried to expand gambling, created new bureaucracies, spent our money like it was water, and grew government by 35%, all while wearing the Republican label and touting their conservative values. Party platform planks and resolutions were routinely disregarded by many of our “representatives.” In one of the most conservative states in the country, our elected officials are moderate at best. There has been a change in some leadership, but it will take ardent activists holding our elected officials accountable at every turn for there to be any measurable shift to the right.
Wish Two: For increased accountability from ALGOP and the party faithful
In an attempt to widen the proverbial tent, ALGOP completely eroded its foundation. Allowing noted Democrats to qualify as Republicans over the past ten years has created an untenable situation for Republicans who actually believe in the party platform (raises hand). There is certainly room for Democrats to have a change of heart and change parties, but allowing Democrats to commandeer the label and the leadership roles is flat wrong. Party faithful should not only push for party registration and closed primaries, but they should further demand bylaws changes that increase accountability measures for Republican elected officials to honor the platform, the party and the people they claim to represent.
Wish Three: For the reemergence of the Alabama Democratic Party
This might seem an unusual request for a conservative, but our representative republic thrives on methodical negotiation and transparent conflict. Government functions best when there is thorough discussion of opposing ideas and honest discourse amongst those who philosophically disagree. We need the return of balanced opposition to fuel substantive policy discussions again in Alabama. The quietly divided “Republican” supermajority is undergirded by dishonesty and intentional subversion; the enemy is operating from inside the camp. The resurgence of an opposition party would help bring balance where it is sorely lacking. Maybe a few of the Democrats wearing elephant masks could go back where they belong.
Wish Four: Increased transparency about who actually runs Montgomery
The power of the Montgomery bureaucracy is often overlooked as outsiders try to discern how state government functions. It is notable that our lives were ruled almost exclusively by the actions of one unelected and completely unaccountable bureaucrat that held the reins of the Public Health Department during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nothing has changed. In addition, the Legislative Service Agency and monoliths like ALDOT, ADECA and Commerce wield mighty pens and swords. That’s not to mention the fact that our legislative representatives have little to no staff and the vast majority of the levers are actually being manipulated behind the legislative curtain by contract lobbyists and association executives (who are also professional lobbyists). They’re the ones being paid to show up when the t-shirted activists in school buses don’t, and they all carry the weight of heavy PAC checks in their purses and briefcases.
Wish Five: Uptick in voter turnout, discernment & transparency (Santa, may I have three wishes in one?)
Seventy-two percent of Alabamians voted Republican in the midterms because they decided it was easier and less messy than engaging in the political process enough to figure out which circuit judge to vote for. The party logo at the top of the ballot was enough to convince them to darken that one bubble alone. Admittedly, most of Alabama’s electoral action was accomplished in the primary and voting by loyalty might be warranted if all Alabama Republicans were conservatives (or even Republicans), but they’re not (see wish one). Voter turnout was a paltry 38%; we need more people to care about government on a deeper level. In addition, despite the rhetoric ad nauseam to the contrary, our election system is flawed and rife with certified mistakes and questionable decision-making from our county registrars on up. Frankly, if Alabama is the gold standard for elections, the standards may need an upgrade.
Wish Six: Honesty about the Alabama Education Association (AEA) and other public sector unions
Alabama public sector unions are some of the most powerful in the country and it shows. Despite the AEA status as a state affiliate of one of the most liberal organizations in the nation (NEA), they claim to be a “conservative union.” That’s an oxymoron, and anyone who says it out loud is a liar or completely uninformed. The NEA says they are in the business of dismantling unjust systems and that the group “engages and mobilizes educators, allies, and activists in the fight for racial, social and economic justice in public education.”
The AEA says they had their best legislative year ever last year; that was before they started promoting the 1619 project, advocating for sex-ed for Kindergartners, calling parents who want developmentally appropriate materials in school libraries book banners, and demanding protection for themselves from parents who dare to ask for the opportunity to have their voices heard at principal and school board meetings. Maybe members of the Republican supermajority should contemplate how taking fists full of money from well-funded social justice warriors might be influencing them in negative ways before they blindly grant yet another historic pay raise to public sector employees as sincere parents are shamed into silence.
Wish Seven: Media truthiness
Many of the state’s “media outlets” are actually pay-to-print operations funded by corporations and public utilities. That’s fine as long as they’re honest about their business model and regular people understand that they’re reading propaganda and not news. Leftist-leaning and corporately funded media organizations aren’t objective because it’s not their goal to be objective. Check for funding sources (some are right in front of your face as daily sponsors or on banner ads) and be discerning about the slant of what you’re reading as “news.” Publishing agendas are the norm for groups that are paid to publish agendas. We are not all in this together.
Wish Eight: Increased interest from citizens moving the needle on issues
One silver lining of the governmental overreaction to the COVID-19 pandemic is that parents and average Alabamians are now paying more attention to schools and politics in general. Additionally, there are new technological tools at our disposal that enable us to keep in touch with what is going on in the State House and in our communities. Grassroots groups have cropped up across the state and though they weren’t particularly effective at shifting many races during the election cycle, they are starting to make major differences in how elected officials see local and state issues. More of that, please.
Wish Nine: Enforce the law
Governor Ivey unbelievably asserted that her greatest legislative regret was not passing gambling legislation. How incredible is it that a Republican governor promoting out-of-control government growth and spending, in the midst of managing literal hurricanes and figurative COVID storms, while serving as the de facto leader of a public school system ranked 52nd in math would lament that her biggest failure was that she would not be able to grow government even more by creating a state-run lottery or been able to reward a generational monopoly to gambling operators who flout our laws? Gambling is against the law in Alabama. Enforce the law.
Wish 10: That Alabamians and politicians would acknowledge that taxes are the people’s money, that state government is in surplus, and citizens have already given more than enough (OK, sorry, that’s another three wishes).
Government money doesn’t grow on trees and there are not stacks of cash in a safe in the back of the Treasurers Office. He may be Young Boozer, but he’s not a hoarder. Actually, there is no such thing as government money, there are only taxes that are collected from the people for the purpose of operating government. The good news is that the state is flush with your cash (that’s called a surplus). The bad news is that they don’t want to give any of the extra money that they have already taken from you back to you. That’s mostly because they’ve been busy growing state government by 35% and spending billions extra annually while pretending to be limited government conservatives (see wish one yet again).
I have to constantly remind my young children that they can put as many things as they want to on their Christmas lists, but that doesn’t guarantee that they will get them. Similarly, these political wishes will take the fruits of our labor to produce. It may be wishful thinking, but it’s Advent so I’m choosing to believe the improbable. With a smidgeon of sunlight and a healthy dose of honesty, the improbable may just become possible.
Stephanie Holden Smith is an experienced policy analyst, political commentator, and public speaker. Smith has worked and volunteered in Governmental Affairs in Alabama since 1997, including lobbying for a Fortune 500 company and serving as Deputy Director of Finance for the State of Alabama. She is currently the principal of Thatcher Coalition LLC. To contact Stephanie, please go to http://thatchercoalition.com.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information Commentary@1819News.com.
Don't miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.