Allen Tullos, a professor of American Studies at Emory University, is Bama-born and writes with great passion about the state on which he focuses here. Tullos finds little good in the Heart of Dixie and his chapter titles reflect this. Examples include “The Sez-You State,” “In the Ditch with Wallace,” “Oafs of Office,” and “Invasions of Normalcy.” The book contains some catchy phrases (the origins of which the author unfailingly cites when they are not of his own creation). When Roy Moore was re-nominated as Alabama chief justice in March 2012 (a position from which he had been removed nine years earlier) the voters were clearly adopting a “sez you!” stance toward federal Judge Myron Thompson as well Moore’s own colleagues who had removed his offending Ten Commandments monument from the state judicial building. Surveys showed overwhelming support for public commandments displays and voters, although rejecting him in two runs for governor, were looking for just the right opportunity to say “sez you!” when Moore made the bid to get his old job back.
Tullos devotes more space to deplorable conditions in Alabama’s lockups than any other policy arena. He wrote his undergraduate honors thesis on this subject at the University of Alabama in 1972. Alabama has been fined for the overcrowding of its jails—a problem that persists in a chronic way. Deaths in Alabama prisons are significantly higher than they would be if inmates had adequate medical care. Assaults also occur with intolerable regularity because of the large number of prisoners that each guard must supervise (a lower warden-to-inmate ratio than in any other state). When and if cons become ex-cons—Alabama is shown to be number one in the nation in meting out life sentences—their reintegration into society has been limited by many restrictions, including massive denials of the right to vote. Candidates as [End Page 157] well as those who already hold office in Alabama, due to a fear of being labeled “soft on crime,” fear to endorse sentencing reforms that would both reduce overcrowding and have the promise of lowering recidivism.
Because of the dread of the “T-word” (taxes), limited funds are continually having to be shifted from one crisis area to another (insofar as the nation’s highest earmarking percentage allows) depending on which problem is judged to be most in a crisis state. Tullos commends former Governor Bob Riley for trying to change things with his modest tax increase/tax reform plan a decade ago (which went down to resounding defeat). The author notes progress the state has made in atoning (not always in a merely symbolic way) for injustices committed in the past against African Americans. In this area as in others in the past Alabama has had the “help” offered by federal judges (most notably Frank Johnson, Jr., on the district court in Montgomery from 1955–1979), but not much lately. When writing Alabama Getaway, Tullos would probably have predicted that Alabama’s regressive tax laws would survive a recent challenge in federal district court in Huntsville.
“Bare-bones,” no-frills government is what Alabama has always been best at. And, as a result of across-the-board Republican gains in all venues, the state now is even more strongly committed to the application of conservative business values to public policies. The book would have benefited from a little more detachment and more gleanings from state comparative literature so that the reader could judge for her- or himself whether Alabama truly is, as the author apparently believes, head and shoulders above all others as far as “worst state” rankings are concerned.