But there's one more reason the plan is behind in the polls: National civil rights groups have barely lifted a finger for it. Riley's plan would arguably do more for black and poor Alabamians than anything since the civil rights era. And yet, as far as I can tell, it received not a single mention at last week's anniversary March on Washington. You won't find any reference to it on the naacp's website. In fact, the only prominent African American who has publically announced a trip to Alabama to support the initiative is "American Idol" winner Ruben Studdard.
Capitalizing on that indifference, Norquist and company have turned many black Alabamians against Riley's plan. An ad on black radio features a man warning, "Our property taxes could go up as much as fo' hundred percent" (400 percent sounds like a lot, but Alabama's property taxes are so low that the average homeowner would pay only $94 more per year, a sum that Riley's plan more than counteracts with state income tax cuts and increased federal income tax deductions). Some have suggested that Alabama's black leaders are sitting on their hands because Riley vetoed a bill to restore voting rights to ex-felons. A recent Birmingham News poll found black voters split on the plan and voters earning less than $30,000 strongly against it.
A national effort by civil rights organizations could change that. The NAACP and the Urban League, not to mention the Democratic Party, should be sending college students to Montgomery and Birmingham by the busloads. Al Sharpton, Jackson, and Mfume should be taking up residence in the state. Alabama GOP Chairman Marty Connors recently told The Washington Post that, "If this can pass in Alabama, it could be a precedent to attempt it elsewhere." And he's absolutely right. Riley, who couches his reforms in biblical language about the obligation to "take care of the least among us," is one of the few white politicians in recent history to try to use religion on behalf of social justice. He's won significant white evangelical backing, and, if his plan passes, it could upend conventional wisdom about what is politically, and morally, possible in the South. A conservative white Republican has thrown down the gauntlet to the supposed custodians of Dr. King's dream: Speak now or forever hold your peace.
emphasis mine. For shame. Democrats need to be wedded to their ideals and principles, not their party. Riley deserves support and then he deserves re-election! But as long as you have (D) after your name, you're blinded to your self-interest.
UPDATE: Informative chart detailing how the tax plan would affect income groups.