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Grabbing at straws

Will Thomas

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Last week, controversy erupted in the race to become Alabama’s Democratic nominee for governor.

The two men in the race, Congressman Artur Davis and Alabama Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks, have been campaigning for the nomination for almost a year, spending a large amount of money in the process. We all know that political campaigns in this era aren’t cheap.

So it can come as no surprise that a political campaign would happily accept a cash infusion of $500,000. Especially if it were a personal loan from the candidate himself, and if the campaign’s war chest had dwindled to such a low level that the candidate, at one point, considered dropping out of the race.

Sparks transferred precisely that amount—$500,000—into his race earlier this year, even though his personal assets only include his home in Montgomery and his income from being agriculture commissioner.

Of course, the Davis campaign leapt at the opportunity to attack Sparks while he was down last week, demanding that Sparks be more honest about where the money came from (since he had not reported any assets that would sum up to $500,000, much less ones that could be cashed out in such a large amount so quickly).

Davis demanded that the State Ethics Commission delve deeper into the money’s origins, taking the opportunity to highlight the fact that so many of Sparks’ donations have come from “grassroots” donors, who typically give $50 or less, and only donate a few times.

While Davis clearly has the moral high ground in this situation, the whole incident is just a case of grabbing at political straws.

This controversy is born out of both candidates’ need to find a political edge over the other. Sparks needed to combat Davis’s aggressive fundraising, and Davis wanted another opportunity to try and show that Sparks is just another cog in the machine of unethical Alabama politics. While all of their arguments have some degree of validity, most of it is just political theater.

The reason they’re so desperate is simple. Both of them have failed miserably in actually engaging the public around either of their candidacies. They have neglected to create any excitement or address the issues that affect Alabama families every day.

Both of these men, while honorable, have spent far too long in either Montgomery or Washington to understand that the elections game they are playing will surely lead to their own political demise.

In talking about issues like campaign finance and ethics, which are issues that a single mother with a job to keep and two kids to feed on her own doesn’t have time to care about, these two men have lost the public.

This is not to say that keeping campaign finance ethical isn’t important, but that it’s not the reason why the common man or woman goes to the polls and votes in November. If anything, this kind of political infighting disengages the public from the conversation. The public, being us, has to live with the decisions these men make if they do indeed make it into office in November.

So, Sparks and Davis, it’s time to get real. People don’t care about how much money you’ve raised, which famous crotchety politician endorses you or who your friends at Harvard (or at community college) were.

What we care about it making our lives better, and there are plenty of things that can be done in this state towards those ends. What about removing the oppressive grocery tax, or maybe working to fix the Constitution of 1901 in a responsible fashion or, better yet, reforming our tax structure so that the students and faculty at schools like Greensboro West High School can keep their lights and heat on five days a week?

Gentlemen, it’s time for you to stop grabbing at political straws and start grabbing at our heart strings so we can move forward and work for a better tomorrow in Alabama.

Will Thomas is a senior majoring in economics and finance. His column runs bi-weekly on Wednesdays.

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Grabbing at straws