Tuberville, Britt Use Bipartisanship as Wedge to Advance Alabama’s Needs

Greg Markley


Many have heard the quote by Benjamin Franklin, a Founding Father. But the setting for his saying, “Nothing is certain but death and taxes,” has seldom been noted. Franklin said that quote (in French) to a friend in a 1789 letter he sent to France. It indicated his concern that the nascent U.S. Constitution might someday falter, as all do except “death and taxes.”

U.S. Sens. Tommy Tuberville and Katie Britt have not signed on to the idea in the discouraging Franklin quote. They wish to use bipartisanship for both short-term and long-term purposes. Short-term is that Democrats have a majority of 51 seats (with the three independents). Republicans such as Tuberville and Britt know the math and adjust to it. Long-term, they hope bipartisanship leads to legislative victories.

Both senators are conservatives faithful to the Republican Party. But they have unique backgrounds that help them with legislative work. Tuberville knows a lot about teamwork and forming winning coalitions. He was a college football coach for 40 years. He had outstanding success at Auburn University (1999-2008).

Britt brings her two years of experience as chief of staff for Sen. Richard Shelby. Now 99th in seniority in the Senate, she already knows some senators via her position with Shelby. (She was briefly the 100th senator in seniority; John Peter Ricketts of Nebraska was appointed.) Britt also served as CEO of the Business Council of Alabama (2018-2021).

“I just don’t take it as a Republican bill or Democratic bill, I look for all bills that are going to be helpful for the people of the state of Alabama,” Tubberville said. “Joe Manchin (D-WV) and I are on the Armed Services Committee; we’ve discussed many bills. I worked with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ). There is some partisanship, but there are still a lot of things we can do in the Senate as a whole. This is still America.”

Tuberville recently introduced the Foreign Adversary Risk Management (FARM) Act along with two Republican congressmen, Ronny Jackson (TX-13) and Pete Sessions (TX-17). Making this bipartisan are Democrats Vicente Gonzales (TX-34) and Abigail Spanberger (VA-07). Tuberville designed such a bill “because we’ve seen an alarming increase in foreign purchases of farm land and food companies, particularly by China.”

Not all scholars of politics favor bipartisanship. Take Sam Haselby, an historian of the United States, who wrote “Divided we stand: The problem with bipartisanship” for the Boston Globe in 2009. He contrasts partisanship with bipartisanship and found that the former was preferable for a democracy.

“By contrast, bipartisanship can cloak corruption, obscure chasms between politicians and the people they are supposed to be serving, or simply show that the leadership of both parties has become a closed club. In principle and in practice, a serious partisanship — one that brings fresh reason to bear on orthodoxy — is fundamental to a healthy democracy.”

I disagree with Haselby in two ways. First, bills that lack bipartisan input can be seen as illegitimate. When no one from the opposition joins in developing a piece of legislation, the new law is valid but divisive. In the Senate, even one or two legislators chipping in with bipartisanship beats none; a veneer is better than no covering at all.

Second, in a state senate and state house of representatives, often one party has a greater number of legislators while the other has seemingly little power. Alabama’s Senate, for instance, has 27 Republicans and eight Democrats. Alabama’s House after the 2022 election has 105 members, but there are four vacancies. Meanwhile, the Republican majority increased to 77 to 28, more than 3 to 1.

For Democrats in the Alabama Senate and House, bipartisanship should be of a high order, to be able to contribute to the bill’s crafting. Republicans should not want to get labeled as “uncooperative.” Especially when a member of the Legislature runs for higher office, it helps to have a reputation as bipartisan.

The part of Tuberville’s and Britt’s bipartisan cooperation I am most impressed by is that both senators are popular and hew to the Republican orthodoxy — yet they reach out to Democrats anyway. It’s obvious they are doing so to add heft to the list of people who support the legislation they put forth.

These days, “bipartisanship” is out-of-fashion with people, except in situations such as now with the U.S. Senate and U.S. House closely divided. Each side sometimes needs help getting legislation passed. But our friend Benjamin Franklin has a quote in “Poor Richard’s Almanack” that still applies. Yes, he said, “Nothing is certain but death and taxes,” but he also said, “When you’re good to others, you’re best to yourself.” Enough said.

Greg Markley moved to Lee County in 1996. He has a master’s in education from AUM and a master’s in history from Auburn University. He taught politics as an adjunct in Georgia and Alabama. An award-winning writer in the Army and civilian life, he has contributed to The Observer since 2011. He writes on politics, education and books.


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