MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - I recently returned from a driving vacation through Maine and along the coast of New Brunswick, Canada -- a vacation in which I purposefully tried NOT to keep up with political and governmental developments back home, hoping for some progress and change when I got back to the state.
So what did I return to? Stories about how the new state General Fund budget may not be a long-term solution, further developments in the governor's divorce saga, and more embarrassing allegations about the Alabama State University board of trustees. So much for change.
Let me ease back into column writing with a little of this and that -- the pope, the Legislature, the mayoral election, and a few observations from my trip.
POPE SAYS WHAT THE SILENT PLURALITY THINKS
I believe that when Pope Francis addressed Congress this week, his message to both sides of the political aisle to work together has to resonate with a huge segment of Americans -- those who are tired of politics at the extremes of both the left and the right dominating political rhetoric and stalling progress on issues.
"We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good," he said, noting that compromise is essential to accomplishing most things.
Sadly, both Democrats and Republicans in Congress probably will focus on the parts of the pope's speech that supports their preconceived ideas -- there was something in it to appeal to both the left and the right -- and gloss over that part about working together.
Still, the message is there, and if it doesn't seem to appeal to most members of Congress, perhaps it will energize the frustrated middle of American voters to support politicians who can work together for progress.
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, seemed to get the message: "He called on us to put aside rancor and polarization — which I think is really of absolute necessity — to work for the common good. If we could all be working on problems the way we sat there and welcomed the pope today, I think we'd have an even better nation."
She's right. Now if we could only get the pope to address the Alabama Legislature.
NEXT TIME, BUY THEM DINNER
Former Congressman Artur Davis spent so much on the race for Montgomery mayor -- most of it his own money -- and got so few votes for it that he could have used it to take every person who voted for him out to dinner at Central Restaurant or another posh eatery in town, and left a nice tip as well.
After getting spanked at the polls by incumbent Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange, Davis promised on election night that he would be back in four years to try again. Maybe he should do a little math before he heads to the bank to borrow more money for his next race.
The Davis campaign had more than $720,000 contributed to his campaign, but $643,000 of that was from Davis himself, not from contributors. But Davis only got 10,948 votes for all that effort and money. That works out to about $66 per vote.
Strange spent a lot campaigning as well; raising about $561,000. He received 22,654 votes, or a little less than $25 per vote. So if Strange had used his campaign money to take each of his voters out to dinner, he probably would have had to take them to Olive Garden.
But at least Strange would know he didn't have to use his own money.
All in all, the five candidates in the mayor's race raised about $1.35 million, or almost $34 per vote. That is a lot for a mayoral race.
Oh, by the way, taking them out to dinner would be campaign fraud, so I'm only kidding to make a point.
OBSERVATIONS FROM MY TRIP
Driving to and through Maine -- our route took us through parts of 11 states -- a few observations come to mind:
First and foremost, ours is a beautiful nation. The rugged coastline of Maine, the rolling hills of western Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley with the Appalachians in the background, the Blue Ridge Parkway in Tennessee and Virginia, the mountains and farmlands of Pennsylvania -- all are beautiful. But Alabama holds its own with them.
Second, the nation's interstate system is stressed. Population growth and increased trucking are putting greater and greater traffic loads on the highways, and Congress needs to look at not just better maintenances, but also significant upgrades. We love to vacation in Maine, and this is a trip we have made every third or fourth year for more than two decades. Each time traffic has been more of an issue and it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a route or time to minimize it. And for what it's worth, this is an issue that is as pressing in Alabama as it is in most of the states we passed through.
Third, we noted that several states are doing more to address the dangers of texting while driving than Alabama. New York State, for instance, couples a strong stick with a carrot -- signs pointing out that three texting while driving violations will lose you your license paired with "It Can Wait" signage pointing out that there is a place to pull over to text within a few minutes ahead. None of the pullovers we saw were created just for texting; they all appear to be pre-existing pullovers that were either full-scale rest areas or simply places a driver could stretch his legs. So the cost would be minimal. It's something Alabama should consider.
Finally, it's great to be back -- despite the antics of the Legislature and the angst at ASU. And just to make you jealous, I'm posting a few lighthouse photos along with the column.
Ken Hare is a veteran newspaper editorial page editor and editorial writer who now writes a regular column for wsfa.com. Feedback appreciate at firstname.lastname@example.org.