Bad News Times Three, Alabama

In terms of bad news, we’ve been hit with the triple-whammy down here in Alabama.

On July 8, ran “Is Alabama the least democratic state in the Union?” Yes . . . according to the Health of State Democracies study by the Center for American Progress Action Fund:

Alabama is the least democratic state in the Union – ranking 51st out of a ranking of all 50 states plus the District of Columbia.

For “Accessibility of ballot,” Alabama got an F.  So what does that mean? According to the explanation on the Center’s website, they analyzed “whether citizens in a particular state have convenient, accessible ways to exercise their right to the ballot or whether unnecessary roadblocks are thrown in their path.” And Alabama ranked 48th out of 51.

For “Representation in state government,” we got a D-. This section examines whether the elected officials are truly representative of the populations they govern and whether the politicians are trusted by the people they govern. Alabama escaped a total failing grade here, but not by much.

Finally, for “Influence in the political system,” we got another F. The Center’s website asserts: “It is critical that states employ a robust set of measures to ensure that state officials cannot turn a government of, by, and for the people into a government of, by, and for their own interests and those of their financial backers.” Viewing Alabama in light of that principle, the Center says that we fail.

The article ends by stating,

In sum, CAPAF’s findings suggest that Alabama is a state run by the moneyed-elite. To turn the corner, we should expand access to voter registration and early voting; set appropriate campaign contribution limits and strengthen disclosure laws; and re-enfranchise ex-offenders after they have served their prison sentences.

If that weren’t enough, apparently we’re also not well-liked down here in Alabama. On the next day, July 9, the Montgomery Advertiser ran a story, “America’s opinion of Alabama: At least it’s not New Jersey,” which briefly touches on a new study concluding that Alabama is the second most-disliked state in the nation.

Since I’m not terribly interested in how people feel about New Jersey, I skipped over YouGov’s general assessment of their study and went to the data state-by-state. Looking at how these folks handled their polling tells a more sophisticated story about American’s supposed disdain for my home state. Yes, 31% of those polled responded with either “Very Unfavorable” (13%) or “Somewhat Unfavorable” (18%)— but an equal number, 31%, chose “Don’t Know” from among the five answer choices. Unfortunately, that means that 38% of the 989 people polled have a “unfavorable” view of Alabama . . . So I guess that means people don’t like us?

Not surprisingly, more people who consider themselves Republicans found Alabama “favorable” (57%), and Alabama’s highest “unfavorable” numbers came from the Northeast (38%). In another slightly predictable figure, given the state’s history, more black people viewed Alabama unfavorably (42%) and than favorably (28%)— but 30% of African Americans still responded “Don’t Know.”

This study may have found Alabama to be second lowest, but I’m not sure that means people don’t like Alabama. Just me, I can’t accept that blanket conclusion from this study.

Then, two days after that, on July 11, the Advertiser ran the equally dismal story, “Report: Ala. sixth poorest state in the country.” We can’t win for losing . . . The article explains,

This year, Alabama Possible reports that nearly 900,000 Alabamians (18.9 percent), including 300,000 children (27.4 percent) live below the poverty line.”


Among the report’s other findings was an increase in the number of children receiving free or reduced-price lunch in school, from 59.2 percent to 63.5 percent.

Nearly one in five Alabamians lives below the federal poverty line, and one in four children does. That’s terrible, absolutely terrible and shameful.

But surprise, surprise, surprise, there is an answer: “Education attainment is the key to pulling Alabama out of poverty.” Education lifts people up, especially when it is viewed as more than job training. Real learning that commingles practical knowledge and skills with lessons in the arts, sciences and humanities will change any person’s life for the better.

But there’s also a problem with that seemingly simple answer. Alabama’s education budget is collected, overseen and crafted by the same state government described in the CAPAF study— the one that ranked last in the nation at being “democratic,” the one that got two Fs and a D-.

I’ve said it once, I’ll say it a thousand times more: it all depends on voter turnout. People have got to make the time and put forth the effort to learn about the candidates, show up to the polls, and make good choices. It isn’t about having fewer Republicans or more Democrats, or having more blacks or more women— it is about having better leaders who care about reducing poverty and improving education.

Despite these negative findings, Alabama really is beautiful in so many ways. I hope that the rest of the nation won’t judge the people of Alabama based on their news-clip half-knowledge of our state’s political leaders, who the CAPAF study says clearly are not representative of the people anyway. These studies don’t say a word about our natural landscapes, our cultural traditions, our wonderful food, or our brilliant artists and writers. While we’ve got a ways to go politically, we’ve also got a lot going for us, too.

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