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A simple thanks

The 2024 regular session of the Alabama Legislature is over. It was a doozy. There were bills that got all the attention and ones that flew under the radar. There were debates and committees, speeches and resolutions. There were times we cheered, times we complained, times we cajoled, and times we just watched in confusion.

Now I’m going to ask each of you to do something. Let me suggest that you thank one of your State House or Senate members.

I’m inspired to write this after coming across a video showing the three surviving members of the iconic rock band Led Zeppelin sitting on a balcony. This was not the youthful Zeppelin. It was the much older Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, and John Paul Jones looking down at the stage as a younger man waved to the Zeppelin veterans with drumsticks in his hand. That younger man was Jason Bonham, the son of Zeppelin’s original drummer John Bonham. I was hooked.

The video was filmed in 2012 as Zeppelin was honored at the Kennedy Center by then-President Obama and members of the arts for their contribution to the world of music. Few bands have made the indelible impact they have.

Formed in 1968, Led Zeppelin blended hard rock, blues, and folk, becoming one of the best-selling recording artists of all time. Total record sales measure in the hundreds of millions worldwide, multiple albums hit number one, with five of them certified Diamond. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, Rolling Stone magazine described Led Zeppelin as "unquestionably one of the most enduring bands in rock history."

But this night was different. It was about them, but also for them. Ann and Nancy Wilson of the band Heart took the stage. The younger Bonham was on the drums. A full string section and a gospel choir provided background. The ensemble musicians that night at the Kennedy Center performed “Stairway to Heaven” like never before. The original band members sat amazed, tears in their eyes, occasionally glancing at each other in wonder. It was music like music was meant to be. When the last note ended there were tears, smiles, and a standing ovation.

What got me most was the post that I saw the video attached to on social media. “Look at their faces,” it said. “This is why we should honor people while they are still with us.”

So true. It’s easy to watch public figures do whatever it is they do and just believe they are doing their job and don’t need thanks. Not true. Most folks don’t work for thanks, but everyone appreciates receiving gratitude.

My own time as a legislator in Montgomery was both maddening and rewarding. None of us did it for attention, to be thanked, or to get kudos. But every once in a while, someone would say, “Hey, thank you for doing that thing that most folks didn’t know you even did,” literally making my day. Those were rare moments.

I was amazed at people who wouldn’t look you in the eye but could summon their keyboard courage to shame you on Facebook. Folks would walk up and tell you how corrupt you were, then ask you to give a grant to their favorite cause. Teachers would email threats and demands because the union told them to, then smile at the children in their classrooms. I had to open a file at the sheriff’s department for threatening letters sent to the house. But then a smile, a handshake, a thank you, and it was all worth it again.

This past legislative session was frustrating at times. But taken in its totality, it was actually a very conservative session, partly for what they passed, partly for what they didn’t pass.

This session saw the Alabama House and Senate pass some of the strongest school choice legislation in the nation. We saw major incentives to help workers find their way back into the workforce. We finally got accountability for the state health officer. We now have a cap on property taxes. We saw gambling bills shot down, and new measures to address mental health for veterans. We even saw a few rare instances of bipartisanship on things the press probably didn’t bother to tell you about.

Whether or not your personal cares and concerns were all met, some met, or none met, there was something in the past several months for which you can thank a legislator.

The job of a legislator is generally thankless, and while some of them need to move on, there are many who are good, solid, conservative, salt-of-the-earth, home folks who put on a tie and drive to Montgomery for very little pay, even though they’ve got other jobs. They do what they do because the 10th Amendment to the Constitution says they should.

If you can do better, then you should run for office yourself. But in the meantime, find one of them … just one … and pick that one thing … just one … and tell them “thank you” and leave it at that.

Don’t say “thank you, but” — adding a “but” to your thanks doesn’t really make it thanks. It shows it was just an excuse to get to your complaint.

Just say thank you for that thing, thanks for what you do, and leave them with a moment that makes all the rest worthwhile.

Thank you means something. Look at the faces of the old men from Zeppelin and remember that it is important to say thank you while they are still among us.

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