By David Glenn Cox
It falls like the gentle rain from heaven almost unnoticed. Warning us of a deluge headed this way. Not a premonition or prognostication, but history. Garbage in, garbage out. Disney was planning to move 2,000 new jobs to Orlando. Those plans are now on hold.
When I was a kid, Selma, Alabama, was a bustling little city in West Alabama. A paper mill and air base and a railroad hub. Even geography was on its side as it was the only city of any consequence for fifty miles. If Selma was ten miles away, Montgomery was at least forty. So, Selma merchants sometimes added a premium. The small town tax. ”if you don’t like my prices, go to Montgomery.”
It was in the sixties within weeks of Bloody Sunday. Selma had Joe Smitherman for a mayor All the reactionary politicians in the South were trying to emulate George Wallace or Lester Maddox. Like Lynyrd Skynyrd followed the Allman Brothers. The more redneck the behavior and the more inflammatory the statement, the more the White racist audience bayed its approval and ate it up. Suddenly closing the voter registration office when Blacks would try to register to vote. All the usual junk and shenanigans you heard about or have seen in movies or on TV, It started here!
I doubt that Selma has a third of its 1960s population now. It’s near a ghost town and only geography keeps it alive at all. The airbase is long gone and the big 300 slot mobile home park where a lot of the airman lived gone too. The Mayor fought both the paper company and the railroad. He was a holy terror, a man on the make, climbing the ladder of success wrong by wrong. (Mae West) He liked hearing his name on the national news. Almost every week, something put Selma in the national spotlight. Every week framing Selma as the last God Damned place on earth, you’d ever move a business.
Flash forward to the 1970s. Montgomery had square jawed ex-marine developer as Mayor. He chewed on a big fat cigar and carried gun under his coat and made no bones about being a racist. Same song, next verse. His nickname among us peasantry was Moamar Folmar. He had no interest whatsoever in doing what was best for the people or the town. He did things his way. And was willing fight in court at the drop of the hat over whether it should be a coma or a semicolon. He did what he wanted and screw you if you don’t like it.
We had a brand-new Civic Center built at taxpayer expense that sat idle, because Moamar didn’t like rock concerts. He didn’t like long haired hippie music and didn’t think it should be encouraged. “It’s only money, right? And not his money.
In the movie, “The Long Walk Home” filmed in Montgomery. You can see the corner of the building where I worked, as the film about the Montgomery Bus Boycott opens. The movie company brought about a hundred people and put them up in one of the better hotels. They ate meals in the restaurants rented cars and hired caterers for the film shoots. They rented an empty shopping center to park their cars and store their equipment.
But there was a problem brewing. The Mayor, he didn’t all like those Hollywood types hanging around so much. Too Liberal and too California. He didn’t care much for those types, and besides. They left trash behind at a film shoot. Can you believe that? Come to town and spend tens of millions of dollars and left trash behind at a film shoot! We’ll Moamar became uncooperative and when you need the police to block the traffic for you, it escalated quickly.
The Producer and the Director swore a holy blood oath. That they were returning to Hollywood to etch the name of Montgomery, Alabama, in granite. That when they had finished there would NEVER be another movie shot in Montgomery, Alabama, as long as the grass grows and the river flows. I guess the Mayor really showed them liberals, what for!
Montgomery has many beautiful period locations. Pre-civil war train station and business district. Antebellum homes and congenial filming climate. It really had a lot going for it, except for the Mayor. I Don’t think there has ever been another film shot there in thirty years after the Mayor shot the town in the foot. There was talk of GM bringing a distribution center. Rumor was the Mayor and some of the towns larger employers didn’t like that idea. It might raise the wage scale in town being union and all. We don’t want to do that, now do we?
So, GM was politely told to go pound sand. And it wasn’t until the Mayor Moamar was long gone, that an auto factory landed in Montgomery. They were attracted by the tax give aways and the low wage scale. This is a good auto plant, it’s nonunion. But they have an open-door policy. They’re always glad talk to any employee and address any issue with the employee, as they walk them towards the open door.
The 2,000 Orlando jobs, that’s just the beginning. The damage is done and will live on as a memory and ring like a bell, long after the bad man’s departure. Decisions are being made in board rooms today, that will affect Florida for the next twenty-five years.
When a CEO from up North sees the power go out for days in Texas over a simple ice storm, like the ones they face once a month. They can’t fathom how that’s possible, what’s wrong with those people? They can’t even keep the lights on in inclement weather? Note to self, if we move the plant to Texas. We will need a $200,000 generator, plus a maintenance budget. But the wage scale is attractive unless you’re trying to sell consumer goods. Poor people make lousy customers. Ford’s five dollars a day plan was designed to sell more Fords.
The legacy of the big mouth politician out to earn his bacon on your buck. “We’re gonna show those bureaucrats down at the state Capitol what for! I’m gonna stand for prayer at a football game! And I don’t care it if takes every last nickel this poor berg has left in the bank. We’ll spend millions if need be! Cause I make the headlines and you pay the bills!”
The city council passed a property tax increase, but I think it was a gambit all along. The old bait and switch. The tax increase was going cost the average homeowner $30 to $50 dollars a year. There was a mighty hue and cry from the local talk radio. Eighty-two-year-old little old ladies wailed, “I’m going to be thrown out in the street and die a penniless old woman if I have to pay another thirty dollars. It’s not fair! Nobody had to pay property taxes when I went to school!”
But the Mayor quickly came up with a compromise because he was a compassionate conservative. Rather than a tax on property, which only affected the property-owning class. Let’s instead pass a one penny sales tax. And sure, you’ll end up paying double what you would have paid in property taxes. But sometimes it’s not easy getting government off your back and placing it on someone else’s. But the little old ladies were happy now, the Mayor helped them with their problem, what a nice man!
We even Mayor Moamar jokes. “Why doesn’t Mayor Moamar shower after playing Golf at the Montgomery Country Club?” Because silly, his pistol might rust and his cigar would go out!