Steve Raby Luncheon Recap
Posted on Thu Dec 01, 2022
Every month Warren & Simpson holds a luncheon and hosts a speaker to have a conversation important to the Bar Association in North Alabama. They have hosted lawyers who moonlight as bestselling authors, former Governors of Alabama, and next month they will host Mayor Battle. In November, they invited Steve Raby to lead a conversation about the way politics have changed in his lifetime. Steve Raby has been a politician in Alabama for more than 40 years. He is a moderate who has worked for both the Democratic and Republican parties. He was, in no small part, involved with the creation of the Redstone Arsenal. In 2010, he ran against Mo Brooks for the House of Representatives. He has a unique position and insight into the way politics have changed.
He made incredibly important points and had a story ready as an example for each one. He focused on four main issues: the polarization of politics, the role of the media in polarization, money in politics, and where the biggest decisions happen. When Raby started out in politics, it wasn' t abnormal or shocking for a politician to switch between parties. The parties were closer together ideologically and there wasn’t such an intense rivalry between them.
Back then, the media was just starting to test out debates on TV. He remembers witnessing two politicians on CNN back then. They were diametrically opposed to each other debating in extremely calm and civil tones. Politicians made fewer claims that their way was the moral way, and focused on the pros and cons of each issue. When the debate was over, the two politicians shook hands and went for a drink after. He said one of the politicians asked how the debate went after it was over, and he was told that the debate went well, but they wouldn’t be invited back to CNN because it was too calm. It wasn’t exciting enough and CNN couldn’t sell it as well as a more explosive debate. Either way, the two politicians shook hands and went for a drink afterwards.
This is a stark difference from the debates often on TV today. Some of that is just the polarization of politics, and some of it might be that politicians know they won't get airtime being calm. The media has to make money before it does anything else. The two situations feed into themselves. This leaves us with very exciting politics that don’t always hold the substance they used to in Raby's opinion.
The other huge change in politics is money. Citizens United drastically changed our politics because it took the limit off how much a corporation could donate to politicians and made it impossible to track where money was in politics. Of course, this raises questions around who our politicians are beholden to, but Raby focused on another change.
It changed the most pivotal decision makers from the individual Representatives in Congress to the party leaders and leaders within the House and the Senate. When Raby started out, individual representatives would vote along the interests of their constituents, and that is still true; However, now politicians will face consequences if they vote against their party or the politician who has the most money and power in relation to them. So if a Representative in the House votes against their party or the politician in power immediately above them in their party (the Speaker of the House, etc.), they know their issue won't receive the attention it needs. Politics runs on money more than it used to, but it also runs on favors more than it used to. This makes a dramatic shift in power from individual representatives to the same big issues the parties decide are important.
He stopped short of giving advice about politics. He had his own opinions but presented the facts of how things have changed from a bipartisan stance. It was fascinating to sit in on it and hear. The value of knowing how things have changed in big ways and small and hearing the examples in concrete stories cannot be understated.
Warren & Simpson facilitates these important conversations every month. They have had Former Governor Don Seigelman come talk about the death penalty. They’ve had Author Robert Bailey come talk about creativity and his new book. Next month, they have Mayor Battle coming in to speak. Join this group of intellectuals. Visit Warren and Simpson to find out more.