Bart Starr Jr.

What admirable qualities are held by historically accomplished leaders such as George Patton, Nick Saban, and Oprah Winfrey? It’s not just intelligence and work ethic. They all possess two key traits: (1) the ability to remain open minded and adapt to changing conditions, and (2) they bring out the best in those looking to their leadership. Let’s apply this standard to Alabama’s political leaders.

While we Alabamians are finally seeing significant progress in our state’s economic growth, we trail most of our fellow Southern states over the past 20 years. 

In order to finally match and surpass them, long-term, we must retain our hometown young talent and recruit skilled individuals from other states. Accomplishing this objective requires us to present a forward looking, welcoming image, especially at the highest levels. 

We have business leaders from Huntsville all the way south to Mobile who possess the innovative skills to succeed and to help us generate new sources of revenue for our state. We need more.

This growth, and resulting tax revenues, can support badly needed healthcare facilities in rural areas, which alone could save lives and allow thousands to get on a path toward better long-term health (leading to a virtuous rather than a vicious loop). 

Growth can also help level the educational playing field for students in underserved schools, allowing many more students to achieve their potential and reversing the cycle of poverty that plagues too many areas in Alabama.

Our current leadership, however, must rise to the occasion. Far too often, many of the accomplished students who attend our remarkable universities take their potential — and their tax dollars — to other states. Our own family has witnessed an exodus of children to Denver and Nashville. Why is this happening? The recent political season starkly illustrates part of the challenge we face.

Thank goodness we voters rejected messages from some Gubernatorial candidates filled with contempt toward gay and transgender individuals as well as Hispanic immigrants. On that last point, surely we can have productive discussions regarding the appropriate levels of immigration and ways we can reduce the flow of human and drug trafficking, while simultaneously expressing our deep gratitude for individuals of disparate backgrounds who have made Alabama their home.

Two of the most notable winners in the recent primary— Kay Ivey and Katie Britt, who will face off against Mo Books in a primary runoff — would be well served to engage in self-reflection regarding their messaging. My mom, who recently turned 88, cannot easily be shocked. Yet her reaction was visceral when we watched an ad from Governor Ivey that concluded with her whipping out a gun from her purse. Was she sending a subtle, or worse, message about how to resolve conflicts?

A few weeks ago our family was watching the local news when an ad from Ms. Britt’s campaign appeared. She spoke about the need to “build the wall” to restrict the flow of immigrants across the Mexican border. 

While that is part of an appropriate conversation, what happened next was not. In a nanosecond the ad shifted to a video of her firing a gun at clay pigeons. 

Our 10 year old grandson was startled and asked me, “Is she going to shoot those immigrants?” I told him of course not; she was now discussing a separate matter, the 2nd Amendment. Our grandson was still confused. “Papa, I have a friend in school who is an immigrant. Will she be safe?”

These are not the sorts of questions a 10-year-old should be posing, nor the ones a grandfather should have to answer. 

As was the case with Governor Ivey, we are left to wonder, exactly what was the intended message? 

Seasoned political experts tell me they are hesitant to place these ads but fear for their political future if they do not. That won’t cut it; these ads do not bring out the best in us, and they drive away many individuals who could help our state.

We Republicans need to take a stand. True leadership does not foment rage, does not play upon fear. Great leaders, be they in business, education, charities or sports teams, seek to inspire. They help mold us into a better team, better company, better society. 

Our Alabama leaders ask that we think the best of them. If we vote for and trust them, they in turn should avoid appeals to our worst instincts and instead demonstrate confidence in what Lincoln referred to as “the better angels of our nature.” Our future, especially for those most in need of progress, depends on it.

 

Bart Starr, Jr. grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and has called Birmingham home for nearly four decades. He is a small agricultural commodities business owner who supports a boys ranch founded by his parents, as well as other charities.  He and his wife Elaena cherish the values and unselfishness that make Alabama such a wonderful place to live.

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