By Sean Strickler
In Alabama it is widely accepted that the infamous 1901 Constitution, the largest state constitution, was created to protect the most influential people in the state –large landowners and agricultural interests. However, that influence in politics wanes with the shifting of our population from the rural to the urban areas.
In 2011, the Alabama Legislature drew new district lines as mandated, ensuring that all Alabamians are represented equally. The theory is that if lines are drawn that meet statistical requirements, all citizens will have the same voice in government. One man, one vote, so to speak.
However, does a number decide whether or not you are represented? There are many factors that go into drawing new districts, and since the very people who are elected to represent them draw those districts, the biggest factor is inevitably incumbent protection.
Incumbent protection may sound self-serving or, in today’s cynical society, evil, but in many ways it ensures that like-minded people will be gathered into the same districts. An incumbent legislator, in many cases, will try to bring as many people into his or her district who are like them. They will bring together people identified by political party, socio-economic status, and even race, to name a few factors. This method of drawing lines is good for the majority, but it can lead to a group who once had a large influence to now having less. Such is the case with rural Alabama.
When primary elections are held in June many rural Alabamians will see new names on the ballot. These names will be unfamiliar not because they have never been elected, but because the candidates have not represented rural areas in the past. Take for instance AREA’s 2014 Senator of the Year Dick Brewbaker. Before the upcoming election, his district was centered in the city of Montgomery. Now with redistricting, he represents only the eastern part of the city and sprawls into rural Elmore, Covington and Crenshaw counties. Furthermore, if you look at the shift in Senate District 1 that currently serves Lauderdale and Colbert counties under the new maps, the district now covers from rural northwest Alabama to the suburbs of Huntsville. With these shifts, will these senators’ voting interests shift as well?
Ultimately, there is nothing that we can do to solve the problem because the districts do have to be apportioned to represent the same amount of people, so the lines must go where the people are. Because of this, it is imperative that residents of rural Alabama remain tireless in their political activity. They must be the loudest voice standing up for the little old lady at the end of the line, and make sure that voice is heard from often and in an effective manner.
Sean Strickler is vice president of public affairs for the Alabama Rural Electric Association.