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October 22, 2014

Phillip Tutor: Instead of one Alabama, how 'bout three?

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Posted: Thursday, July 17, 2014 6:03 pm | Updated: 6:07 pm, Thu Jul 17, 2014.

When you get right down to it, modern-day Alabamians aren’t templated out like Barbie dolls and GI Joes. There is no uniformity.

Snake handlers on Sand Mountain don’t relate to beach bums on Orange Beach.

NASA engineers in Huntsville (often imported from parts unknown) aren’t the same as farmers in the Wiregrass.

Snooty Hooverites and Vestavia Hills residents are dissimilar to people just a hop, skip and a jump away in Ensley and Hueytown.

And what in the world do you do with Mountain Brook?

We live under the same state flag, white with a crimson St. Andrews cross. We are served by the same governor and Legislature. But because the state is so different — beaches and mountains, plains and farmlands, counties of abject poverty and Southern wealth — our interests and needs aren’t wholly compatible.

We are, in effect, California.

Let that soak in.

And understand what’s going on out west, where a venture capitalist named Tim Draper — read: rich dude with too much money and free time — is maneuvering a proposal onto the 2016 ballot that would divide California into six states. As nutty as this sounds, and it clearly is, Draper’s efforts have moved from pure quirkiness to odd state politics.

Under his plan, the six Californias would be: Jefferson, North California, Central California, Silicon Valley, West California and South California. Jefferson would be the northernmost new state. North California would include Napa. Central California would be huge, land-wise, and include Stockton, Modesto and Fresno. San Francisco and San Jose would anchor Silicon Valley. West Cali would be the glitz, Hollywood and LA and Santa Barbara. South California would be San Diego and everything east to the Arizona border.

Draper says the goal isn’t nuttiness. It’s to create a better and more responsive government.

Alabama needs that.

We have no Tim Draper, but we do have smart people unafraid to tackle big problems. (Unfortunately, they’re not legislators.) One of them is author Wayne Flynt, the retired Auburn University history professor with legitimate Calhoun County credentials: Anniston High graduate (class of 1958), former Parker Memorial Baptist Church youth minister (1961). If anyone knows Alabama and its people, he does.

Flynt would divide Alabama into three states:

North Alabama: Essentially, everything from Birmingham to Tennessee, with Interstate 20 as the southern boundary. (This means us, Calhoun County.) Birmingham would be that state’s capital.

Flynt’s reasoning: It’s a geographic, though not totally natural, pairing of the I-20 industrial belt with the Appalachian slope (and the moonshine/marijuana belt in the east) and high-tech Huntsville, which, he says, would be a better partner (though not contiguous) with D.C., since Huntsville isn’t Huntsville without Washington’s money.

Central Alabama: Montgomery would retain its capital label of this state, which would begin at I-20 and head south.

Flynt’s reasoning: Montgomery (to the east) and the Black Belt (to the west) dominates this region. The delineation, in people, economy and landscape, between north and south, is clear. (For what it’s worth, The Star’s Harvey Jackson, professor emeritus of history at Jacksonville State University, suggests a four-state model, with U.S. 331 south of Montgomery dividing a West Alabama from an East Alabama. Mobile and Dothan would serve as capitals. )

South Alabama: Here’s where the fun begins. With Mobile as its capital, a true state of South Alabama would include most of the Florida Panhandle since, as Flynt put it, “Florida won’t care.” The Appalachicola River west of Tallahassee, Fla., would be the eastern boundary.

Flynt’s reasoning: It’s all history. Back in the day, Florida’s Panhandle farmers resented their state’s inattention to their interests. Today, those Floridians are practically Alabamians, regardless of what their driver’s licenses say. So bring ’em (and their Naval Air Station in Pensacola) into the fold.

Three Alabamas, North, Central and South.

Three state governments better equipped to serve residents’ needs.

Granted, this is a pipe dream, an exercise in, “What if?” Alabama and California have lots of farmland and businesses based in agriculture, but that’s where any comparison ends. We aren’t peas in a same pod.

But if Alabama needs more responsive state government (which it does), and if the one we have isn’t getting the job done (which it isn’t), and if someone has a radical idea worth a debate (just not the divide-the-state-into-more-states one), then shouldn’t it be considered?

Sometimes, even in Alabama, radical is the way to go.

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