23 May 2022
By Quin Hillyer
This is not an “endorsement.” It’s just an explanation for why I am taking the rare step of making my vote on any race public. For all other races on the ballot in Alabama on Tuesday, I leave it up to everybody else’s good sense for everybody to decide for whom to vote. But the governor’s race in Alabama is really, really important this time around — and Lew Burdette is a lesser-known, quasi-long shot who is moving up fast, but still needs an introduction to many of you. So here’s why I believe this race is so crucial, and why, in the May 24 primary, I am voting for Lew Burdette.
First, though, some background not on Burdette, but on the condition of the state.
Kay Ivey has been an adequate governor. She is basically conservative, and hasn’t gotten in the way of a state economy that boasts a near-record=low unemployment rate. I do have some specific complaints about some of the things she has done and failed to do, but I will not belabor them here — except to say this: Ivey has shown no real energy or leadership in areas where Alabama is doing very, very badly. And she refuses to debate and rarely takes questions from the media or the public. I believe a governor should be willing to defend her own record in public, especially when her state is doing so badly in so many areas. Because she hasn’t defended her record and because the state of affairs is rather bad, I do not think she should win renomination without a runoff.
Among the state’s problems are these: Alabama ranks 52nd in the nation (trailing even Puerto Rico and D.C.) in math scores and in the high 40s in English. (Ivey tried to pass a constitutional amendment to take over the state school board, but it went down to screaming defeat, and she has been AWOL in using her chairmanship of the state school board to work within the board to take on educational problems.)
Alabama’s entire criminal justice system is in trouble. There are a hideously low number of troopers on state roads, so our accident records are way above average, so our insurance rates are way above average. Out state courts are woefully underfunded. Our state crime lab is running, last I checked, more than a year behind, which means that without forensics, trials get delayed way too long — which means the judges can’t keep the suspects incarcerated, so many of the violent ones go out on the street and commit more crimes. Our state mental health system is absolutely awful, and while the state Legislature just last month passed significantly more funding for it, it’s still underfunded, badly organized, and seriously lacking in regional facilities.
Overall, the state health delivery system is seriously lacking, especially in rural areas.
Ivey set back progress on a Mobile River Bridge by two years by taking her ball and going home, out of spite, when locals didn’t like her team’s first proposal for a hugely high toll. Even after the state got things back on track, it’s not a sure thing — and the cost of the project will keep going up.
On all these fronts, and more, Alabama needs better. A governor can provide leadership, energy, direction, and impetus on all of them. That’s why the race is crucial.
Until about six weeks ago, I knew nothing about Lew Burdette. When I saw him in person, it was the type of event in which he was expected less to make a direct pitch for his candidacy than to give a “faith” witness while telling his own story. When he did take questions on substance, he spoke in a digressive fashion, but always did end up returning to answer the question — and in ways that made sense. I got only about two minutes to speak to him.
But despite all those limitations, I found myself quite impressed.
It wasn’t just his amazing story from when he was kidnapped at 15 years old, stabbed four times, thrown in a well, shot in the head — and somehow survived. It is also that he was the Chief Operating Officer who took Books-a-Million public as a traded stock, and then has spent 19 years running a charity for women and children who are the victims of domestic abuse. His record indicates he knows how to serve as an executive, and he knows how to persevere.
I have since done some significant checking on him. I have spoken to multiple people who have known him since college. I have spoken to journalists who did spend more time with him than I did. I have checked his issue positions on his web site. I have read other reports of interviews with him. He regularly mentions his wise opposition to the miseducational Common Core. He regularly brings up the need for more attention to mental health care in the state. He believes the state should move forward with dispatch on the Mobile River Bridge, in part by bonding it out rather than imposing high tolls. He is right on all these issues.
Moreover, everyone attests to his bona fides and his sincerity and personal decency; he is talking about the real issues facing the state; and the substance he offers usually makes sense. And he is running a serious campaign, not feeding us the absolute garbage — national issues the governor has nothing to do with, folksy aphorisms, red-meat demagoguery — that the three other front-runners have been offering.
In sum, at a time when Alabama needs not just a placeholder as governor, not just someone who is merely adequate, but instead somebody with energy combined with the right, reformist-conservative values to tackle the problems I listed above, only one person in the race offers hope to fill that position the way it needs to be filled. Lew Burdette still should be vetted more during this campaign, but the only way he can be more vetted is if Ivey is forced into a runoff and if he is the one in there with her.
I will vote for Lew Burdette.