Phillip Tutor: A message for the South’s governors
Aug 12, 2011 | 2546 views |  0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
If Southern pride were a tonic, it’d be part whiskey (a hair-on-your-chest drink), part tequila (liquid fire) and part Pabst (ubiquitous and cheap). Merlot would be saved for later.

That’s not the case, of course, so Southern pride is what it is: T-shirt makers make a fortune hawking XL tees dipped in it; historians write tomes on its causes and effects, as if it’s a misty entity that sweeps across the valleys; and those who have no experience in it constantly misunderstand and mischaracterize it.

Whiskey, tequila and Pabst would be easier to explain.

Nevertheless, there’s no doubt that an ample supply of Southern pride will be on full display later this month when the Southern Governors’ Association holds its annual convention in the rarified mountains of Asheville, N.C. There, the elected leaders of 16 Southern states and U.S. territories — yes, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are considered part of this South — will join hands, Kumbaya-style, to sing the virtues of our uniquely American region.

If everyone shows up, imagine this scene from the hotel’s hospitality suite:

Rick Perry, Texas governor, Evangelical leader, occasional secessionist, the nation’s media-crowned job-creator, holding court at the main table.

Haley Barbour, Mississippi governor, Republican mainstay, entertaining convention newcomers in his well-known Southern style.

Bobby Jindal, Louisiana governor, one-time GOP rising star, wondering why Perry has passed him by as the Next Big Southern Thing.

Nikki Haley (South Carolina), Bev Perdue (North Carolina) and Mary Fallin (Oklahoma), female executives in a historically all-male fraternity that, thankfully, is no longer all-male. (Look where that’s taken us.)

And somewhere in the suite are others, Alabama’s Robert Bentley and Georgia’s Nathan Deal and Florida’s Rick Scott and the rest.

Oh, to be a fly on that hotel-suite wall.

When assembled, the governors will hear from a collection of panelists and experts on subjects ranging from closing the “middle-skill gap,” to creating jobs through innovation, to — here’s my favorite — “ building a regional strategy for economic growth in the American South.” Not to be catty, but hasn’t that topic been addressed by Southern governors ever since the evil part of the region’s antebellum economy was outlawed by the 13th Amendment?

Guess they still have to try.

As the Southern Governors’ Association proudly explains, the American South equals the world’s fourth largest economy behind China, the United States and its territories, and Japan. Nevertheless, this coming gathering of the South’s governors will focus heavily on jobs: creating them, sustaining them, retaining them.

No fault there. It’s a microcosm of what’s happening locally here in northeast Alabama, where mayors and Chamber of Commerce types are preaching a repetitive sermon — jobs, jobs, jobs — but are getting nowhere for their efforts. Stagnant unemployment numbers provide the truth.

Where these Southern governors are erring — unintentionally, I would hope — is that the elephant in the room isn’t prominent enough in their discussions. A safe assumption is that these governors value educated workforces and understand that highly skilled, highly educated and highly intelligent employees are job-creation magnets, particularly for employers who pay top wages, offer strong benefits and embrace the best parts of human capital. (That an educated populace also brings a cascade of meaningful societal gains shouldn’t be overlooked, either.)

So, governors of today’s South, focus on education.

It’s embedded in everything.

Want to create jobs?

Want to raise the average wage of your state’s residents?

Want to reduce long-term crime? Want to bring middle-class prosperity to rural areas? Want to uplift minorities? Want to give hope to those who survive on food stamps and live in subsidized housing?

Focus on education.

Oh, and don’t give us the song-and-dance about how the recession has torpedoed your budgets and voters won’t embrace any idea that includes tax increases, even if they’re for schools. It’s true, terribly, but we’re tired of hearing it.

In 1995, historian Numan V. Bartley at the University of Georgia penned a heralded work, The New South: The Story of the South’s Modernization, that, if anything, laid bare four decades of facts about the post-war South. As he wrote, “The national image of the long-scorned region improved steadily through the first half of the 1970s. By the second half of the decade, it had become a superior South filled with promise and progress … (But) there was also truth in the observation by (former Georgia Gov.) Lester Maddox that ‘in our zeal to fulfill our material needs we have neglected to put proper emphasis on human and spiritual needs.’ ”

Hear that, Southern governors?

Put proper emphasis on our human needs.

And enjoy the late-summer weather in Asheville. Think about us while you’re there.

Phillip Tutor — — is The Star’s commentary editor.
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