The scene was "Rising Together: The Summit on the Rural South," sponsored by the Southern Growth Policy Board. The summit was held at a perfect spot to rub chins over the issue of rural poverty: the luxury Grand Hotel, an antebellum relic on Mobile Bay that dates to the 1820s and achieved Southern shrinehood for being a hospital during the War of Northern Aggression.
But where was Jeb?
The list of attendees was pretty impressive. Governors, ex-governors, lesser officials, economic development heavyweights, and academics galore. Heck, we even had dinner at the battleship USS Alabama, and when I asked one guru of luring business about Jeb, his response was to suggest cranking around the 'Bama's 16-inch guns to see if they'd reach Tallahassee.
It seems as if Jeb, after taking office, decided that Florida should secede from the South. Fie on cooperative efforts with other states. And while states as far flung as Ohio, Illinois and New Mexico sent sizable delegations, only one soul attended from Florida. As Alabama Gov. Bob Riley told me — a sentiment I heard more than once at the confab — the South's competition in building a strong economy is no longer regional rivals. No, suh, y'all, it's China and India, Korea and Thailand.
It's just so, well, Bushlike for Jeb to pursue economic development much like bro W wages diplomacy — to hell with the rest of the South (or world, depending on the sibling).
The guy who got my attention was Riley, who sounds more progressive than Republican. After all, he braved (and received) a drubbing when he tried to modernize Alabama's oh-so-regressive tax structure.
The South "has some of the richest soil in the world," Riley told the Research Triangle, NC-based group. "But in some areas it is also often dirt poor." Riley also made it clear that while education is a paramount concern, "opportunities for using a good education must be created."
Sounds like the beginning of a plan. Not that Jeb will notice.
Read the full Report on the South at www.southern.org. And, if you want a little excitement in your life, see John Sugg's blog at www.johnsugg.com.