The order of things
Since I began my one-man campaign to raise some rabble about the hiring of Rep. Jo Bonner as the new University of Alabama System lobbyist, I’ve learned a lot about how Alabama’s power structure works.
Within the last few weeks I’ve had several friends reach out to me. They tell me they enjoy the articles, but can’t share, like or comment on them because they either work for – or in some cases are distant relatives of – the various parties involved.
There’s a social order in most places, but in Alabama the social order is gospel. You either agree with it or agree to stay out of its way. You question it at your own risk.
I don’t think I could even write about this stuff if I still lived in Alabama, to be honest. The politics and economic fortunes of the state are inextricably linked.
No one embodies this concept better than Alabama Public Service Commission President Twinkle Cavanaugh.
Cavanaugh recently opened a Public Service Commission meeting by turning the floor over to a pastor who shared a lengthy and controversial moment of prayer with the audience.
I’m not quite clear on the relationship between Jesus and the Public Service Commission’s mission to regulate state utilities. I am also pretty sure regulating gay marriage does not fall under the commission’s purview.
Neither of these things matter to Cavanaugh, who has been a conservative bomb-thrower since she chaired the state Republican Party. Cavanaugh, like other demagogues in state politics, exploits prejudices against gays and lesbians. She acts as though gays and lesbians don’t exist in Alabama and are a gathering menace.
I don’t think too highly of folks who bully others to enrich themselves. I’m a married heterosexual male, but I have dear friends and family members who are gay. Cavanaugh probably does too, which I’m sure makes for some entertaining Thanksgiving conversations.
If it weren’t gays, it would be something else. In the 50s it was blacks. As the nation has moved toward a broader acceptance of gays, the state’s leaders have pivoted. These days they focus most of their efforts on banishing immigrants and restricting access to reproductive health care for women.
When you start looking at the people running everything in Alabama, you get a pretty clear sense of who benefits from the bigotry promoted by the state’s public servants. The political elite of Alabama are old white men, or people affiliated with their companies. Many of them serve on the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees and on various other boards around the state. These boards are the intersection of money, politics and power. The UAS trustees alone employ a significant portion of Alabama’s workforce.
Their employees have little incentive to question a system that accepts and enriches them. The Alabama media’s reluctance to question the decision to hire Rep. Bonner likely stems from a similar fear.
Cavanaugh is enabling the powerful by working to maintain the order of things. No one asked her to do so, I am sure. It is an implicit understanding that her job is to evangelize and galvanize the state’s uninformed electorate. She’s chillingly effective.
Cavanaugh also is a symbol of that order, as is Rep. Jo Bonner and his sister, Judy. Whether they knowingly benefit from it is a subject to dispute, I suppose. Their good fortune is undeniable.
The state’s social order brings into the fold those who unquestioningly accept its uncompromising terms. It puts fear into those who even entertain the thought of ending a sentence with a question mark.
We know what the results are: unemployment, poverty and obesity, to name the three that immediately come to mind. Given the cliquish power structure, it’s a wonder the state has any economic success at all. Those successes come at a high cost, however, in the form of generous tax breaks (economic incentives). I’m not opposed to incentives, but they’re often the only tool in the state’s economic toolbox.
If the state would place more of an emphasis on education and opportunity for everyone, these problems would begin to rectify themselves.
That begins with rooting out the nepotism and cronyism in the state’s university system and government offices. It begins with condemning leaders who, for no apparent reason, launch an offensive attack against gays in a public meeting about utility rates.
It begins with a discussion, one that’s honest and transparent. Until the social order becomes a little bit more of a level playing field that discussion will happen privately among groups of people too afraid to take their talk beyond the dinner table.
Georgia has its fair share of good ole boy crap, but moving to Atlanta has been an eye opening experience. The powerful in Georgia aren’t strictly the white and wealthy. They share their financial turf with other races and nationalities. Christianity isn’t the only religion, and you’re just as likely to hear a rabbi praying before a public meeting as you are a minister. Inclusion is good for the state as a whole. It’s not perfect, but Georgia is light years ahead of Alabama in terms of economic opportunities.
Rep. Bonner shamelessly took a public job at an institution where his sister serves as president. That he felt comfortable doing so is a testament to the powerful gospel of Alabama’s ruling elite. You probably won’t ever be counted among them, but you certainly won’t be if you cross them.
Maybe one day Alabamians will get tired of being loyal subjects. I hope it’s before the greed and arrogance of Alabama’s ruling class ruins the kingdom.
Thanks are in order to Lagniappe in Mobile and to writer Jeff Poor, who also works for The Daily Caller as a media reporter. I’ll let it slide that Poor is an Auburn fan, because he and I apparently see eye to eye on one important topic: Rep. Jo Bonner’s hiring as the University of Alabama System lobbyist raises some intriguing questions.
Please give it a read. Poor also writes for Yellow Hammer, an excellent conservative blog with all kinds of useful information.