Alabama at a tipping point
In our opinion
03-07-2006 Anniston Star

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Gov. Bob Riley, speaking before members of the Alabama Press Association in Montgomery on Saturday, launched into his familiar refrain. Just because he says it often, though, doesn't mean it's not important.

Gov. Bob Riley, speaking before members of the Alabama Press Association in Montgomery on Saturday, launched into his familiar refrain. Just because he says it often, though, doesn't mean it's not important.

First, the governor points to our vast natural resources. He brags on the keen work ethic of our residents. He talks about our growing auto industry.

Alabama, the governor concludes, is poised at a "tipping point." Go forward and all our economic development will yield a bounty of improvements. Go backward and ... well, we know how that story plays out - more suffering for the least of our citizens and a deeper hole from which to climb out of.

Our undemocratic form of state government makes the case for why we should fight like crazy to keep from tipping backward.

The scarcity of actual power in the hands of local government in Alabama largely explains why we find ourselves looking up from a deep hole. Under the current state Constitution, Montgomery's statehouse stands between the county commissioner and the dead mule in the farmer's creek. All the power flows to Goat Hill. To move the deceased beast, the farmer has to get his state lawmaker to pass a bill that then enables his county commissioner to keep the creek water fresh.

As the governor reminded his audience last weekend, state lawmakers are not, as our Constitution implies they are, divinely blessed with exclusive wisdom to decide what's best for all the little places that make up Alabama.

The landscape - sprawled out with barely a hint of planning - between here and Montgomery proves the point. Development around central Alabama's beautiful lake region appears to have been mapped out by a 5-year-old on a sugar jag. Next to lovely six-figure homes stand junkyards filled with trashed cars. Signs to direct tourists are largely absent. Hardly a thought has gone into zoning and planning. You could blame negligent local officials, if only they had the power to do something about it.

But no, the authors of the 1901 Constitution get the blame. They, white males with the taint of the plantation mentality still fresh in their heads, wrote a document that said the underlings had to come to the big house, hat in hand, to beg for a few scraps.

Can I have the power to move the dead mule from the creek? Can I carefully develop my lakefront community in a way that grows my economy and preserves its beauty?

The answer today is: No, not without the OK of the master Montgomery.

If we are to tip forward, this plantation must be cut back to size.

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