Progressive politics

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 25, 2006

I had a conversation this week with one of our elected officials and an issue we discussed was what it would take for someone to be elected to statewide office.

The fact is, I believe the voters of Alabama are ready for someone who is progressive, even aggressive, about moving our state into the future.

For as many years as I’ve been on the earth, Alabama has been considered last, or next to last, in just about every category. Even the areas where we have progressed often get overlooked. On a national scale, our state is often looked at as “backward” and “behind the times.”

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In some ways that’s a good thing. We certainly remain a friendly state – people still know their neighbors, take over a casserole or pie when a loved one dies and enjoy backyard barbecues together.

Why not make a decision now that we want to be the most progressive state in the country when it comes to issues like environmentalism and innovative industry?

Let’s legalize marijuana and give farmers a new cash crop.

Many people believe our government made marijuana illegal in an effort to protect us from something harmful, but let’s rethink this.

That being the case, fried chicken and bacon would probably be the first to go.

And certainly alcohol would be illegal – if the government were truly trying to protect its citizenry. More than 16,000 people died alcohol-related deaths in 2005 nationwide, according to statistics from Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.

Maybe legalizing marijuana is a little out there. But, here’s another idea. Our Department of Agriculture has done a good job with its Buy Local campaign. Why not expand that to encourage folks to buy organically-grown produce?

Environmentally friendly public transportation is another direction our state should take.

What about Disney-style monorails in a major metropolitan area like Birmingham?

Okay, so if that isn’t feasible, what about electric – or at least hybrid – bus service? (Some cities have already implemented fuel-efficient buses).

A light rail system in some of the urban areas would be helpful in transporting residents, reducing vehicle emissions and in attracting tourism.

And for smaller cities in the state – such as Selma – we should just work toward having public transportation.

I visited Missoula, Mont., and they have an organization that gives away free bicycles – folks donate the parts and volunteers help you build your own bike. Just to keep down the amount of vehicle traffic in town.

What about attracting innovative housing developments that are built to have a low-impact on the environment?

If the city of Austin, Texas, can produce enough solar and wind power to keep the lights on in its public buildings, surely a builder can develop a subdivision that is completely self-sustaining.

We already have the Rural Studio project working out of Auburn University. Why not expand that to plan entire communities and neighborhoods?

We have a beautiful state and we should encourage residents –

and visitors – to have a low-impact on our natural resources. We need to be pedestrian-friendly, have more open spaces in our cities, promote public art and reduce waste in our landfills.

There are thousands of ideas out there about how to do things better – not just fall into the trap of “that’s the way it’s always been done.”

For Alabama to truly move forward, we’ve got to think about more than just our future. We have to think about the future of our children’s children. And the ones who’ll come after that.

Tammy Leytham is editor of The Selma Times-Journal.