Guest Column By Steve Flowers
While the Roaring ‘20s brought celebration and excess in American cities, the nation’s farmers were facing all-time low prices. So, with a survival instinct known only by the tillers of the soil who were the soul and backbone of the nation, farmers in America organized.
In 1921, Alabama Farm Bureau was among the first groups to give farmers a voice in the political process. A century later, that organization, the Alabama Farmers Federation, stands as one of the premier farm organizations in America. It is also the preeminent political power in the State of Alabama.
By the 1930s, however, industry had propelled Birmingham into a major economic force in the state. U.S. Steel had essentially made the Magic City the big boy on the block, politically speaking. Urban interests made an attempt in the Alabama Legislature in 1931 to weaken the farmers’ organization. Ten thousand farmers descended on the State Capitol in a legislative hearing that had to be moved to Cramton Bowl to accommodate the crowd. That moment was the shot heard around the state.
Alabama Farmers Federation emerged as an influential player in Montgomery, and I am here to tell you — throughout the past century, that has not changed. Alfa has not relinquished that power and has become even more consequential. For the past 90 years, the Alabama Farmers Federation has been one of the most powerful forces in Alabama politics.
One of the first major legislative issues the organization accomplished occurred in the 1930s when the farmers endorsed Gov. Bibb Graves’ plan for a state income tax that allowed for a homestead exemption on the state property tax. This exemption has been protected diligently by the Federation for nearly a century. During that time, the organization has thwarted any efforts to increase property taxes in Alabama. This political prowess has not only benefited farmers but also every homeowner in the state.
Two of the crowning political coups garnered by the Federation were accomplished in the 1970s. The first came in 1972, when the “lid” bill was passed. This bill established that farmland would be classified at 15% — a lower percentage than other properties. Then, in 1978, the classification rate was reduced to 10% in conjunction with the passage of the monumental “current use” law. This legislation set in statutory language that farmland would be taxed on the property’s use instead of some higher, speculative value. These two measures have meant hundreds of millions of dollars in tax savings for farmers and homeowners in Alabama.
Today, the Federation is a beacon of conservative political philosophy in one of America’s most conservative states. When the Federation talks, people and, more importantly, politicians listen. This influence has been earned by outstanding leaders like Ed O’Neal, Walter Randolph, J.D. “Jimmy” Hays, Ed Lowder, John Dorrill, Goodwyn Myrick, Jerry Newby and Jimmy Parnell.
However, the Federation’s real power is in its local leaders. County Federation board members are leaders in their communities. They are deacons in their churches, leaders of the chamber of commerce, PTA presidents and local bank board members. In short, they are among the most respected people in their counties. Their endorsement means something. It is the first endorsement sought by most major candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, Supreme Court, Congress and the Legislature.
Many times, conservative Alabamians who are not farmers also follow the Federation endorsement sheet because they know these candidates have been fully vetted.
The Federation epitomizes these cardinal political maxims, “walk softly and carry a big stick,” “you do not leave old friends to make new friends,” and “your word is your bond.” Their leaders are people who make America a great nation and Alabama a great state.
The Alabama Farmers Federation has a proven past and a strong future. With a leader like Jimmy Parnell at the helm, that future is bright. This Chilton County farmer was born to be president of this heralded organization. He has the Federation poised to build upon its outstanding heritage and legacy and lead Alabama politically for the next decade and decades to come.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the Legislature. He may be reached at steveflowers.us.