Not liking Sanders is not enough

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 2, 2007

For the sake of being open and honest, let me lay the cards out on the table about my political beliefs.

I&8217;m a liberal. There, I said it. It feels good, in a conservative area, to get that off my chest.

Now, before you go casting stones, let me just say that I was a Mississippi Liberal and am now an Alabama Liberal. That&8217;s to say that in Massachusetts or California I might be considered more of a moderate, per se.

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Furthermore, I believe political beliefs should be the last thing that weighs in a decision &8212; any decision. That goes for electing presidents and deciding which columnists you enjoy reading, which is the ultimate point of this column.

But before I get to the heart of the matter, let&8217;s travel down the &8220;I&8217;m a liberal&8221; road just a little bit further.

People are people. Good leaders in politics are rare. And finding widely appealing solutions to important issues is the most important thing &8212; outside protecting its people &8212; that a government can do.

When I was in Mississippi, I&8217;ll be the first to say that I did not like Gov. Haley Barbour, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee. He is an arrogant, partisan man who values politics over policy. That&8217;s not healthy.

Of course, he was elected by defeating a Democratic incumbent who I routinely took to the woodshed in my columns. Former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove was a disappointment.

My parents living in Birmingham, I started keeping up with politics here when I was in college. I remember when Fob James was elected as a Republican. I was intrigued by his story, a former Democratic governor turned Republican who was running for the office years later.

Gov. Bob Riley is a man I have grown to respect. He&8217;s a partisan Republican at times, no doubt. But he&8217;s a politician, and every politician is partisan. Even Mr. Maverick himself, Sen. John McCain, sold his soul and ran farther right than we all know he is.

But Riley has done some not-so-Republican things as governor, and he has paid the political price for it.

Newly elected, he dared to try and change the entire budgetary practices of the state with a gargantuan tax plan. Republicans could not believe that a beloved GOP congressman would do such a thing. Democrats were dazed because he had stolen their thunder. They liked the idea but were puzzled at the thought of supporting this man.

Riley has also done well in the Black Belt by forming an active group &8212; the Black Belt Action Committee &8212; that looks at issues facing this area, makes recommendations and pushes for change.

Granted, this organization came in handy during his re-election to help build up his support in heavily Democratic areas. And he has used various BBAC events to push other political agendas &8212; like bringing McCain to Demopolis in what should have been a celebration of bi-partisanship instead of a Republican rally.

Nonetheless, Riley is a politician who has proven he can walk the fine line between partisanship and bi-partisanship, knowing when to work across the aisle and when to seek comfort in partisan folds. (Very Bill Clinton-esque, in that respect.)

He proved that with his signing of the state&8217;s apology for slavery, a much debated measure that caused a lot of political turmoil.

This apology &8212; for better or for worse &8212; was the personal cause of Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma.

Now, I said this column was ultimately about a columnist, and we&8217;re almost there.

When I first arrived in town, I read a long, somewhat rambling column by Sanders. My memory fails me as to the column&8217;s subject, but I remember being impressed by the prose. For certain, Sanders can write.

The diary section, however, I remember thinking, &8220;That will be cut in short order.&8221; And it was. For the life of me, I cannot find the merit in the day-to-day events of Sanders, no offense.

In short time, I learned that Sanders was a powerful legislator. He was respected and feared and hated and loved. In his position, he controls education funds, which means he controls a lot of money.

Since my time here, the columnist who has drawn the most ire has been Sanders. It has not been because of his columns so much as it has been because of him and his reputation. A few people don&8217;t like his writing, but most don&8217;t like him.

I can understand that, but I don&8217;t see it as a compelling reason to stop running his columns. Truth be told, though, I&8217;m not his biggest fan either.

At times, I think his columns are a little grandiose. He gets a bit dramatic in detailing legislative battles. From a writer&8217;s standpoint, he&8217;d better served getting to the point a little quicker. Still, though, it&8217;s not enough for me to pull his column.

And neither is his politics, whether I like them or not. In fact, we run more conservative columnists than liberal. Why? Because this is a largely conservative area, and I believe in serving our readership while at the same time providing a diverse opinions section.

Still, Sanders&8217; politics is controversial. One cannot deny the fact that he and his wife have been agents of change &8212; needed change &8212; for our state. Odds are, they have collectively done more good than harm.

But Sanders himself, well, he&8217;s quite controversial. He&8217;s a hard-nosed politician, and while he can bridge racial lines he is not afraid to bring race squarely into focus when it benefits his political cause.

That&8217;s not to say every time he talks about race it is for a political purpose &8212; exampled by the apology signed by Riley. But this is a man several folks have told me does not hold Demopolis in high regards because of perceived class warfare. I&8217;ve never heard him say it, but I&8217;ve heard it from his allies as well as his adversaries. If true, it&8217;s a shame.

My point? My point is that I&8217;ve yet to hear convincing reasons to pull his column, but I&8217;d love for people to write in and tell me why they think as they do. To date, no one has been willing to do so.

Not liking him is not enough.

But if you feel his politics are truly bad for this area, say so. Likewise, if you think Sanders and his column offer vital insight into the issues facing our area, sound off.

Write us a letter, and let&8217;s start a debate. I&8217;d love to hear it. I can be swayed. Not easily, but I can be swayed

Sam R. Hall is editor and publisher of The Times. He can be reached by e-mail to