Craig Ford - When ideology becomes idolatry

February 12, 2016 chris
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There’s a fine line between standing up for your principles and political extremism. These days, unfortunately, political extremism seems to be the standard. There’s no clearer example of this than the reaction Alabama House Majority Leader Micky Hammon (R-Decatur) to House Democrats’ legislative agenda last week.

House Democrats’ agenda includes a lottery, an educator pay raise, warning labels on e-cigarettes and pay equality for women.

Rep. Hammon’s reaction to this legislative agenda was to say, “I am sure that Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton would be proud to endorse the Alabama House Democrats’ liberal agenda.”

My first thought when I saw that quote was: Is this the best they can come up with? An educator pay raise is a part of the Republicans’ legislative agenda! What about the lottery? Democrats and Republicans have two very different lottery proposals, but we both support letting the people vote on a lottery.

So is Rep. Hammon calling his own legislative agenda too liberal? Is he calling Republican primary voters who support teacher pay raises and a lottery too liberal?

Perhaps Rep. Hammon can explain to me how putting warning labels on e-cigarettes is too liberal. E-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is addictive and causes health problems. Their advertisements are targeted to children, with 69 percent of children in middle and high school having been exposed to their advertisements. Putting warning labels on their products and advertisements is the least we can do to protect our children, and I don’t see what’s so liberal about that.

Maybe Rep. Hammon can explain to me how it’s too liberal to pay women the same amount as men who do the exact same job? Women in Alabama who work full time make 76 cents for every dollar a man working full time makes. As a father, how can I look my daughter in the eye if I stand by and allow this kind of discrimination to continue? Pay women fairly for the work they do isn’t about liberal or conservative. It’s about right and wrong.

Unfortunately, Rep. Hammon isn’t alone in his extremism. Alabama Republican Party chairwoman Terry Lathan recently told AL.com that Republicans don’t need, or want, Democrats opinions or votes. She claims that in the 136 years Democrats were in control, Republicans were not brought in on discussions about policies and leadership choices.

First, that is just simply not true. There have been many times when Democrats were in control that we could not pass legislation without Republican support, so we made compromises and worked with Republican leaders to find a solution that worked for everyone.

Secondly, I would point out that, without Democrats support, the House and Senate Republican leadership would have raised taxes even higher than they did. While they managed to raise taxes on medication, hospital and nursing home beds, and tobacco products, they failed to raise taxes on car tags and titles, soft drinks and lube oil used in machinery and the gasoline you put in your car.

The majority of Republicans voted last year to raise all these taxes. But because Democrats voted with some Republicans to kill those taxes, several of them failed. Mrs. Lathan should be thanking Democrats for saving her from having to explain why her party raised taxes even more than the $86 million they already raised.

What Mrs. Lathan, Rep. Hammon and other Republican leaders fail to realize is that extremism isn’t good for our state. Our country was founded on compromise – that’s why our government is set up the way it is. We have separation of powers, a Senate and House of Representatives, and other compromises to prevent our government from being taken over by extremism.

But many of our political leaders in this country and state have embraced extremism in their politics. Their political ideology has become idolatry, and they put ideological purity ahead of statesmanship.

When you come out one week and say you support teacher pay raises and the lottery, and then the next week call teacher pay raises and the lottery too liberal, you lose your credibility. When you say, “Alabama House Republicans will stand on their own votes and decisions. They do not need counsel from Alabama Democrats,” but you can’t stop taxes without Democrats support, you just look foolish.

It’s time to abandon this extremism and get back to working together to govern our state and country. We need to leave behind the idolatry of ideology and get back to what our country was founded on: putting aside differences and coming together for a compromise that benefits everyone.

Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.