Monday, February 24, 2014

Selective Christianity is not the answer

In the past few weeks of the Alabama Legislature, we have heard debate on everything from reciting a government-written prayer to posting the Ten Commandments in public schools and on government property. The bills' sponsors are calling it religious freedom. I'm calling it selective Christianity.

You see, we have debated school prayer and the Ten Commandments, but we have spent very little time discussing how we can make health care more accessible to all Alabamians.  We have spent even less time discussing how to make sure that our neighbors are not going without food or shelter. We have spent hardly any time discussing how to bring new, better jobs to Alabama.

Many state legislators are willing to come to the microphone to support legislation that sounds good in a newspaper clipping, but they are seldom willing to come forward and support legislation that does the work we were instructed to do as Christians.

At the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned us to "beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven."

But that's not the only guidance Jesus gave us for how to live our lives as Christians. Jesus healed the sick and cured the lame without asking for their Blue Cross Card. Jesus fed the 5,000 without asking for a drug test or community service hours. 

If our state legislators were truly Christians, they would follow Christ's teachings. In John 14:12, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do."

Late night comedian Stephen Colbert can even see the hypocrisy. “If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn't help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we've got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don't want to do it,” he said.

Legislators in Montgomery want you to know they are Christians by their resounding displays of religion, but you would never know their faith by the works they perform or the votes they cast. 

In 1 John 3, we are warned against just this: "But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth."

Jesus called us to love the Lord your God with all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself. He told us whatever we do for the least among us, we have done for Him. He instructed us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. 

He never said anything about putting the Ten Commandments up at the DMV.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The trouble with a supermajority

The trouble with a supermajority is that it overpowers the democratic nature of our republic. Some voices are silenced while others are given a microphone and a small group in leadership is allowed to set the tone and direction of the entire state. 

This legislative session, the Republican supermajority has promised not to let any controversial legislation onto the floor. It's an election year and they don't want to be forced to vote on high-profile issues.

But what happens when there are controversial issues that we need to discuss on behalf of our districts? What happens when our constituents' needs conflict with those of the Republican leadership? 

The people lose.

People from across the state have been calling for Medicaid expansion, but there has been no action to move this forward.  Alabamians are asking for a discussion about raising the minimum wage, but the committee chair has turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to multiple requests for a public hearing.

When two-thirds of the legislative body come to the table with an absolute "no," one-third of the state's interests are ignored from the start. We can't build good legislation when one side refuses to budge from rigid extremes to consider the needs of the minority group. 

We are here to do the people's work, not pacify lobbyists and get reelected. We are here to represent the needs of our constituents, whether their requests are controversial or agreeable. 

Other states are able to do this without any issues, and Congress was able to do it in the past. 

Just last week, West Virginia's House of Delegates passed a minimum wage bill 89--5, despite their nearly-even partisan breakdown. Furthermore, 65 current Republican Congressmen voted to increase the minimum wage in 2007, including the entire Alabama delegation.

We are not unfamiliar with cooperation and collaboration on these important issues. It has been done successfully in the past.

It's time to return the Alabama legislature back to the people. Demand the legislature work together for the constituents, not pander to a base and vote based on polling numbers. It's time to do what's right, hold leadership accountable, and bring all voices back to the table.

It's time to end the troubles with a supermajority.

Monday, February 10, 2014

We must close the revolving door in Montgomery

In the past three years since the Republican Supermajority took over the state house, we have seen an unprecedented number of resignations and even more "one and done" legislators.

Many of the legislators who have resigned their public office, costing the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in special elections, have done so to take high-paid lobbying positions with companies like Alfa, the Business Education Alliance or Barton & Kinney. 

Others plan to serve out their term before going to work for a lobbying firm, following in the footsteps of former Governor Bob Riley.

The problem has gotten so bad that even the Republican leadership is trying to put a stop to it.

Senator Del Marsh has proposed a new bill that would prevent members of the legislature from lobbying either chamber for two years. If a legislator resigns mid term, he or she cannot work as a lobbyist until after that term would have expired.

The current law is that an individual may only lobby the opposite chamber and must wait two years before lobbying the chamber in which he or she served.

When Marsh's bill got to the Senate, Democrats were able to modify the bill to include the Governor and the Governor's family. Lieutenant Governor Kay Ivey attempted to block the amendment, but the Democrats won a procedural motion to allow the amendment, and the amendment passed unanimously.

When the bill gets to the House, I plan to support it.

Public service should be just that- a service you provide to the public. It should not be a stepping stone to a better job or a way to use tax dollars for personal benefit. 

If you are elected, it's because the people trust you to represent their families and their needs in Montgomery, not because you were sent to rub elbows and network so you can personally profit.

The Republicans who have resigned to become lobbyists have shown a complete lack of regard for the commitment they made to serve their districts and the tax dollars it costs to fill their seats.

It's time to return the government to the people and kick the money changers out of the temple. It's time to close the revolving door.

Monday, February 3, 2014

We must say thank you to our educators and first responders

Last week, winter weather took our state by storm. Parents were stranded at work, motorists stranded on the roadways and children stranded at school.  Across the south, people walked miles in the snow to get home while others slept in the aisles of stores or on the floors of their offices.

Despite terrible weather conditions, friends and neighbors went above and beyond to help make sure everyone was home safely--people with four-wheel drive drove neighbors home and pulled vehicles out of ditches. Others offered food, beverages and a place to stay well into the night.

But amidst all of this chaos, 11,000 students spent the night at school Tuesday night. Hundreds more were still at school on Wednesday afternoon. Teachers and support staff stayed with our children and kept them safe, warm and fed while their parents were unable to get to them. Teachers, administrators and support staff sacrificed time with their own families to protect ours.

Amidst all of this chaos, first responders worked around the clock to get people home safely and mitigate the storm damage. Police, fire fighters, paramedics and nurses took on double and triple shifts to take care of our loved ones during a time of crisis. A doctor walked miles in the snow to perform a life-saving surgery, a 911 operator talked a husband through delivering his baby in a traffic jam, and hundreds of police officers and fire fighters saved stranded motorists from walking home in the snow and ice.

The Republican supermajority was quick to pass a resolution thanking educators and first responders for their service, but I think we can do more than put words on a page.

Teachers and state employees are making less today than they were two years ago, yet they're being asked to do so much more with fewer resources. 

The two percent pay raise teachers received last year wasn't much of a raise- it merely put back some of the 2.5 percent we cut from their pay in 2011 and 2012. 

The Republicans know it's an election year, so they're not going to speak out against a pay raise. They're promising two percent for educators and four percent for state employees if they can find the money. 

I think we can do better. Our educators and state employees deserve a six percent cost-of-living pay increase. They deserve to be paid like the dedicated professionals they are, not treated like a discretionary line item in the state budgets.

They have proven that they are committed to our safety and wellbeing- it's time we commit to theirs.