Monday, August 25, 2003
Heart of Dixie
Greetings folks. Back from another weekend in Birmingham where I got to witness two big issues in state politics: the infamous Chief Justice Roy Moore and his ten commandments, and the probable next governor to be recalled, Bob Riley.
Roy Moore seems to enjoy the level of popular support reserved for a man in a houndstooth hat, possibly greater since he doesn't lose the Auburn vote. It was fun to see the local coverage of the issue. We got to hear excerpts from the various prayer vigils, such comments as, "We pray for victory over those people across the street." Real high-powered motivational speakers there.
The pro-commandments folks have taken to labeling anyone who professes support for separation of church and state sodomites. These folks have a real thing for Sodom, don't they? Apparently there is nothing worse one can be in the Bible, though I find that hard to believe. Weren't the Samaritans awful people? I mean, that's what made The Good Samaritan so interesting, that he was good. I think this reveals the reactionary tendency in that group: they sound like kids in grade school who label anything that's different "gay" or refer to anyone different as a "fag." Not that the weird things they do indicate a willingness to sleep with people of the same sex, but it's as if you're so awful and so Wrong that you would consider such things. I'm curious how David Sedaris' appearance in Birmingham in October will be received.
Actually, we know the answer to that. It turns out that Birmingham has a thriving cosmopolitan population, some of whom are gay. It's much more of a "recent immigrants" versus "long-time residents" divide. These outsiders have come for the interesting job opportunities (yes, they do exist) and have come face to face with the American Third World. They're the people who listen to NPR or are too busy working in big city-esque jobs but who enjoy reading as a pastime.
In fact, they are the people who are likely to vote Yes on Tues. Sept. 9 in the vote for tax reform in the state (i.e., raising the tax floor for poor people and raising taxes on upper income folks and businesses), the very plan promoted by the Republican governor against whom most of them fought because he would be a crazy conservative Republican. The same Republican governor who has no support among Republicans in his legislature or in the national party. If it weren't for his expressing support for Justice Moore, he'd probably already face recall.
It's not like he couldn't have seen this coming. In Tennessee, the former Gov. Don Sundquist broke with the party and pushed quite hard to get an income tax in Tennessee to help pay the budget and provide revenue stability since Tennessee's main source of revenue is sales tax (with county rates, the sales tax is as much as 9.35% in some areas, 9.25% in Nashville). And he had a lot going for him: few negative numbers, he had just been re-elected virtually unopposed, and he had reduced the Dem-Rep deficit in the legislature. Unfortunately for him, he could not figure out a way to beat Talk Radio and the state delegates and senators who milked it for what they could.
Riley, on the other hand, won a bitterly divided contest just last year and within a year saw the budget was in such bad shape that he vowed to raise taxes on the wealthy and lower them on the poor. Sheer blasphemy in the Republican South. He certainly tried by catering to the Christian community on old-fashioned virtues like charity and kindness to the poor, but those dogs don't hunt in these parts anymore. In fact, even the groups who stand to benefit financially from the tax relief seem to be opposing the plan. I guess he can count on the fact that they may not be likely to vote. Those cosmopolitan/transplant voters with their "Yes for a Change" yard signs are doing their best (they even have significant radio ads), but it's not a good sign when the other side is so confident of its lead that they don't even have signs in the most populous city in the state. (I counted 3 No signs on I-65 between Birmingham and the TN state line.)
But, whether he wins or loses, Riley will likely be a candidate for the 2004 edition of "Profiles in Courage," if that becomes an annualized series after its most recent update. (Certainly a cash cow for Caroline and the estate if it were issued periodically.) If they don't have a recall procedure in Alabama, you can anticipate that it may be a ballot issue this spring and Alabama can show that it has the capacity to be as progressive as even California. Then we can count on a race between Alabama's favorite progeny, Charles Barkley and Sela Ward. A classic Auburn v. Alabama match-up. Beauty and the Beast. Every cliche imaginable. Pretty bleepin' sad.
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