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20 July 2007
Glen Browder Stays Focused on Political Reform
and American Democracy in Retirement

Reprinted here in its entirety.

Glen Browder - JSU Emeritus Professor of American Democracy

Reprinted here in its entirety.

By Joey Kennedy

Opinion Columnist
The Birmingham News

Glen Browder Still Working in Background

Glen Browder has collected plenty of prestigious titles over his 64 years: professor, state representative, Alabama secretary of state, U.S. representative. Now, he can add another: retired.

Browder, longtime political scientist at Jacksonville State University, is now the Emeritus (retired from active service) Professor of American Democracy at the university. He taught his final class last fall, though he still maintains an office on campus.

"I'm officially retired," Browder says. "But they haven't thrown me out yet. They're still kind enough to give me a computer, printer and telephone. I do a lot of writing and a lot of research."

Emeritus, perhaps. But Browder stays busier than many "working" folks. Besides writing essays and researching politics, he has a couple of key book projects under development.

There's a biography on Browder in the works, due out in 2008 from New South Books.

"I'm excited about the biography not simply because it's the ego of having a biography," Browder says. "It's pretty important to me to get the message out to young people that if they get their heads on straight, they can do a lot of good work in politics and government."

That's Browder, all right. At whatever level of public service, Browder was a government reformer and an optimist. He didn't worry nearly as much about getting elected or re-elected as he did about changing the political landscape and traditional, entrenched attitudes. He won a spot in the state Legislature in 1982 as a reformer; he was elected secretary of state, the state's chief elections officer, in 1987 as a reformer; then Browder advanced as a reformer to Congress in 1989, after the death of U.S. Rep. Bill Nichols.

Browder's campaigns for political reform, especially campaign finance reform, eventually cost him his political career. He suffered his only election defeat in 1996 when he ran for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate.

"I hated raising money," Browder admits. "I never could raise money. I always got elected on things other than money. Then I really needed big money, and I couldn't raise it."

After Congress, Browder returned to the classroom, alternating between Jacksonville State and the Naval Postgraduate School in California. Even now, in "retirement," he stays focused on reform and American democracy.

The second book project Browder is working on this summer is tentatively titled "Stealth Reconstruction," also to be published in 2008. This book focuses on how black and white public officials and political leaders engaged in what Browder calls "the quiet, practical, biracial politics" of the 1970s, '80s and '90s.

"A lot of people, when they think or write or talk about the South, they talk about the heroic drama of the civil rights movement (of the 1950s and '60s)," Browder explains. "What they're missing is that the South underwent a tremendous change in the '70s, '80s and '90s that was under the radar. But it was these stealth leaders ... (who) changed everyday politics in government."

Browder, of course, was part of that movement, as a college professor, a political scientist and an elected official.

"This will be a controversial book," Browder predicts. "Some people will resent it because they think it detracts from the heroic drama of the civil rights movement."

There's not a lot of stealth in how Browder views government today.

"The more I've been out of politics, the less political I have become," Browder says. "I really think that the system is under such strain that it's hard for anybody to make it work right. We have tortured the system so much that we almost guarantee that whoever wins control of the system is going to have great difficulty governing."

Browder tells a joke about the third baseman who keeps making so many errors, the baseball coach sits him in the dugout and takes the field himself. The next ball hit bounces right between the coach's legs, well below his outstretched glove. The coach throws the glove down and sprints up to the player: "You've screwed up third base so much can't nobody play it."

That, says Browder, describes politics in America today.

Whether this great experiment in American democracy can continue, Browder says, is still "to be determined," but he is characteristically optimistic. "At critical junctures, America seems to make the right choice, whether it wants to or not," Browder says.

Let's hope the emeritus professor of American democracy at JSU is correct. Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, is an editorial writer and editor of the Sunday Commentary section for The News. E-mail:

See story at The Birmingham News Web site.

See Wikipedia entry on Glen Browder and also the Web site giving insights into his career and philosophy:

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