Inside the Statehouse: The Story of the Decibel Level | Columns
Those of us who have served long in the Legislative Assembly have many stories. I served 16 years from 1982 to 1998 in my home county of Pike. I chose not to run again in 1998. However, I missed the camaraderie and friendships of other legislators who became lifelong friends.
It was obvious that those of us who came from small towns and rural counties knew our constituents better and were better known to our constituents than those from urban areas.
Our name identification was exponentially higher than that of our big city colleagues for obvious reasons. Our people generally knew us. They knew everything about us. They knew when you went to work, when you walked, when and where you ate, and what football game you attended. Basically, they knew how to find you. It was a full-time job for a small-town legislator. The big boys in town could just come to Montgomery and vote and go home anonymously. We small town legislators were expected to attend every fry, barbecue, field dinner, preacher birthday, homecoming and ball game in our county.
My availability was heightened by the fact that my mother’s and father’s families had long resided in my county. Many of my constituents had seen me grow up and many of them were from my family.
When I was elected at 30, my phone started ringing and it never stopped for 16 years. I still get calls from constituents today after being out of office for 20 years. We didn’t have a resident MP, so I got all his calls. If a pressing issue was being discussed on the national stage, people would call me because they couldn’t tell the difference between a state legislator and a national legislator. In fact, they saw me on the street and asked me why I was not in Washington. However, most of the congressional calls I received were about lost Social Security checks. In fact, most of the calls I received were unrelated to my work as a state legislator. There were calls that were about why someone’s trash hadn’t been picked up, a neighbor’s dog was barking all night, a road needed to be paved, roadside trash were not picked up or state employees were lazy and did not work. During my early years, one trend that took hold was particularly irritating – some people thought that since you were a state politician, you could get them out of jail.
As you know, Saturday night is a night of honkytonking and drinking. Every drunk who was put in jail for drunken behavior would invariably call my house and ask me to get him out. I finally refused to answer the phone on Saturday evening after 8 p.m. Years later, I was so happy to vote for legislation that required any drunk driver to be jailed for 24 hours.
However, before this decision, I received an interesting call on a Saturday evening around 7:00 p.m. It was from a gentleman my parents’ age who came from a large family in the northern part of my riding. I could tell he was in a bar because I could hear music playing in the background. I thought it was gone, he either wanted to be bailed out or his trash hadn’t been picked up in time. He started off slow, he wasn’t quite drunk, but he was on his way because he was slurring. He began: “You know Steve, I’ve known you all your life and we’ve all voted for you here, and I’ve known your mom and dad all my life, we all went to school together. .. well Steve, I’m here at the Holiday Inn bar trying to have a quiet drink and all these young people here are playing this music too loud … when you come back to Montgomery will you please pass a bill requiring bars to lower the decibel level for music in certain establishments?
God bless his heart, at least he was asking me something that had to do with my job.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in more than 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve can be reached at www.steveflowers.us.