Monday, March 31, 2014

The Republican supermajority has undermined the principles of Democracy

This week is the last week of the 2014 legislative session and the last legislative days before the 2014 election cycle.

Looking back on the past four years under the Republican supermajority's control, I'm struggling to think of many good things that have come out of this quadrennium. I'm hoping for a change in 2014.

Despite all of the broken promises, stalled legislative progress and assaults on public schools, health care and working families, I think the damage the supermajority has done runs much deeper than flawed policy positions.
The supermajority has undermined the cornerstone of our democracy and have ignored the fundamental principles on which we stand as a society.

When this nation was founded, it was done so people could be freed from tyranny. Those who settled America had seen the out-and-out corruption resulting from absolute power in the hands of a monarch.

They tasked themselves with forming a better government.

They created a new kind of government, one with checks and balances to make sure that one branch never wielded too much power. They gave the people representation--both directly and indirectly.

The people have the power to elect leadership to speak for them from national to local levels. The underlying result of this is a society that rules itself. There is no "us" and "them." The people can be elected to serve and the people can choose their representation.

There were clearly problems with our founding document. Women did not have the right to vote. African-Americans couldn't vote, counted as three-fifths of a person for purposes of apportionment and could be owned by other people.

Over the years, the American people raised their voices and progress was made. Congress established the 13th amendment to abolish slavery, the 15th amendment to guarantee the right to vote regardless of race, and the 19th amendment to guarantee the right to vote regardless of gender. And Alabama was drug, kicking and screaming, to modernity.

While it took our great state far too long to progress past the sins of those before us, we did in fact make progress. We desegregated our society. We created an affordable pathway to higher education for our students. We removed the Confederate Flag from our capitol and unshackled ourselves from the specter of the Civil War. We were well on our way to a more perfect union until the Alabama Republican Party took control of the reins.

The first thing the Alabama Republican supermajority did was redraw the district lines for the state legislature and Congress. By stacking and packing minority voters, they have reduced the ability for these communities to speak for themselves in elections.
Next, they reigned over the state legislature with an iron fist, shutting down debate on controversial legislation and pushing bills through without allowing amendments. By silencing the dissenting voices in the legislature, they have reduced the ability of threpresentatives to speak on behalf of the voters in the legislative process.

After the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, the Alabama Republican Party intensified their grip on Montgomery by enacting an oppressive voter ID law. By making it more difficult to vote, they have undermined the ability of the voters to participate in the legislative process. After finally making headway on the mountain of progress, the Alabama Republican Party has pulled our state back down.

This isn't about partisan politics--it's about what's right and wrong. The cornerstone of our government is the ability of the people to impact government.

Whether you're a doctor or an orderly, you have the same power at the polls. You're each one person and you each have one vote.
But reducing the impact of certain communities through redistricting is sending us back to one-person with three-fifths representation. Shutting down debate is sending us back to a time when the decisions were made by a group of old men in powdered wigs. Making it more difficult to vote is sending us back to jelly beans in a jar.

Alabama is better than this. We can do better. I'm working to change it, and I hope you all will too.

Monday, March 24, 2014

It's time for the Governor to quit breaking promises

Governor Bentley has gone back on another promise to the people of Alabama, proving once again that his interests are intimately intertwined with the Montgomery insiders--the group of well-off politicians who profit off the people.

On March 5, Bentley said that he would attach an executive amendment to any education budget that did not include a two-percent pay raise for educators and a funding increase for PEEHIP, the teachers' health insurance program.

On , March 20, the senate passed an Education Trust Fund budget that included no teacher pay raise and no increase in funding for PEEHIP. The General Fund Budget did include a one-time, one-percent increase for teachers of around $400 per person. 

All total, Alabama teachers could expect to make around $500 per year less under the Republican legislature's plan.

Why do I call it the Republican legislature's plan? When these bills were being debated in the House and the Senate, they shut down debate and refused to allow amendments to be added. Anyone who wanted to stand up for teachers was silenced by the supermajority.

Then, on March 21, Bentley announced that he had reached a compromise with the budget chairs to restore funding for PEEHIP, but the compromise would not include the teacher pay raise he promised he would attach in an executive amendment.

At a time when teachers are buying paper towels and toilet paper out of their own pockets, the Governor should not tease with idle threats and false promises.

But this isn't the first time Bentley has backed away from his promises on a critical issue. 

In Bentley's Veteran's Day remarks at a program in Tuscaloosa in 2012 he said, "America would not be free if it were not for our veterans. Everything that we enjoy as Americans and Alabamians, we need to thank our veterans. Because we would not be able to do that if it were not for the men and who sacrifice so much, who are willing to serve for our country."

That was less than a year after he signed a bill into law that would close 17 veterans services centers across Alabama, many in the most rural parts of the state where they are needed most.

Bentley has also backed away from his promises on Medicaid expansion, which would give more than 351,000 people access to healthcare at no cost to the state of Alabama for the first three years.

At first, Bentley said that he wouldn't expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. "I will not expand Medicaid as it exists under the current structure because it is broken," Bentley said.

But after four years of a Republican Supermajority, we have to ask: Why haven't they fixed it? The Republican leadership could pass any bill they wanted, and they pretty much have, over the past four years. So why haven't they brought the necessary legislation to fix a broken Medicaid?

The legislature has passed many changes for Medicaid operations, most notably going to Regional Care Organizations from a fee-for-service model. But it's not the structure of Medicaid that's stopping Bentley from expansion. 

In his State of the State address, Bentley says that he refuses to expand Medicaid, not because our system is broken, but because he doesn't want to accept federal dollars and contribute to the deficit.

But it's okay when we accept federal dollars for ATRIP (Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program). It's okay when we accept federal dollars for education and social services. 

But according to the Governor, it's not okay when we accept federal dollars to give 351,567 people health insurance by cooperating with a program endorsed by the President.

Governor Bentley,  it's time to quit playing politics with the people's pocketbooks. These issues may be your ticket to re-election, but the people you are affecting are in need of help. The problems are too personal to make political. 

You know what's right: Don't make promises to our teachers you don't intend to keep. Don't say one thing and do another to our Veterans. Don't play politics with people's healthcare.  

Keep your promises and do what's right. The people are counting on you.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Teacher pay raise should be legislative priority

Every year, the last legislative days are crowded with budget debates. This year is shaping up to be no different. The Education Trust Fund budget, the budget that funds public education, is always a delicate balance between the requests of the Governor, the Legislature and the Department of Education.

This year, the teachers are asking for a pay raise to replace the remaining 2.5 percent that was cut from their check from 2011--2013. Last year, the legislature replaced two percent, but teachers are still making less today than they were when the Republicans took charge of the legislature.

The Democrats are requesting a six percent pay increase, but the Governor has agreed to a two percent increase and promised to veto any budget that doesn't contain two percent for teachers. 

When the budget came to the Alabama Senate, they sent out a budget with only a one percent, one-time pay increase.

The Senate budget chair, Senator Trip Pittman, has said that he isn't sure if a raise is sustainable for teachers because of revenue uncertainty. I think the revenue is uncertain because the legislature refuses to tackle the tough issues to make sure the funding is available.

Democrats have provided multiple options to make sure that public education can be well-funded. By switching the tax structure through which we fund education, we can make the revenue more sustainable long-term. By repealing the Alabama Accountability Act, we can put public dollars back into public education where they belong. By increasing the minimum wage, we can increase consumer spending, which would yield higher sales tax returns for the Education Budget.

Regardless of how we find the money, we must treat our teachers and public employees with the respect and professionalism they deserve. The Republican supermajority made sure the legislative pay scale included an automatic cost of living increase, but they won't make sure that the people who make this state great are treated with the same respect.

It is unacceptable that teachers are paying for paper towels and pencils out of their pockets. It is unacceptable that they are asked to shoulder the burden for a budget the committees can't balance. It is unacceptable that professionals are being treated like a line-item.

Aside from parents, children spend more time with their teachers than any other adult. It's time we started treating them and paying them accordingly.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Bridge naming should be a community effort

In the past few weeks, a great conversation has started in our community about the naming of the Dallas Avenue bridge. I have received several suggestions from community members, and they are all wonderful options for this bridge.

Selma is home to many voting rights activists--those who paved the way for equality in this country for all Americans.  Selma is also home to many veterans and war heroes, who deserve our undying support and gratitude.  Selma is home to dedicated public servants and community leaders, who make sure your interests are well represented. There are so many great options to name this bridge, and I want a name that we can all be proud of.

I want to make sure that naming this bridge is a community process. After all, this isn't my bridge to name. This bridge doesn't belong to your legislators or City Council members. This bridge belongs to you. 

For that reason, I think it would be unfair to the residents of Selma if Senator Sanders and I picked a name for the bridge without giving all ideas equal weight and consideration in this process. 

The ability to vote is a core value for Selma. We are the cradle of the Voting Rights Movement and just finished remembering the 49th anniversary of Bloody Sunday last week. In the spirit of voting, I want to open up the bridge-naming process to the members of the community--I want to let you decide.

I have set up an online polling system that will allow you to submit ideas for the bridge name and vote for your favorite. I plan to work with local businesses, civic organizations and community leaders to help get the word out about naming the bridge and include as many voices as possible. Voting will be open until the June 3 primary election and I will submit a resolution to name the bridge for the 2015 legislative session.

I hope you will join me in this process to give the Dallas Avenue bridge a name that we can all be proud of. Selma has such a rich culture and heritage; narrowing the name down will be difficult, but I know you'll help.

You can cast a vote or submit a name by visiting my Facebook page or my website at

Monday, March 3, 2014

Republicans are wasting tax dollars and avoiding issues

This legislative session, we have watched the Alabama Republican supermajority waste tax payer money and avoid doing the jobs they were elected to do.

Each day the House has convened this legislative session, they have only worked for two to three hours before adjourning. This is an attempt to slow down the legislative process and avoid discussing any tough issues. This is the coward's way out and it's inexcusable. 

When we are elected to represent our districts, we are elected to stand for the needs and interests of our districts, not collect a paycheck and hide from the state's problems in an effort to appear more re-electable in November. 

The worst part? The legislators are doing less work with more pay and benefits than their staff or the average constituent.

The Alabama legislative calendar consists of 30 legislative days spread over three months. For each of those 30 days, legislators receive a $50 per diem, or daily pay. For the days when the legislature is not in session, legislators receive a $10 per diem. Legislators also receive an automatic cost of living increase every April 1.

This is cowardly and hypocritical in several ways. They run as "fiscal conservatives" but they're wasting your hard-earned tax dollars!

When they insist on adjourning after only two to three hours of work, they're getting paid between $16 and $25 per hour, yet they're adjourning to prevent discussing paying our workers better than starvation wages.

When they collect their annual cost of living increase each April, they are collecting a benefit that they repeatedly tell state employees and teachers we can't afford.

I say "they" because there are representatives in the Alabama House who are fighting for an increase to the minimum wage. There are legislators who are fighting for a pay raise for teachers and state employees and to link Alabama's workers to the cost of living index. There are legislators who aren't afraid of working a full day, facing the tough issues and standing up for their districts. 

And there are legislators who are most concerned about their own interests.. But as we know, the time is always right to do what is right and what is right is not always what is easy. 

Hold the Alabama Republican supermajority responsible in November. Remember that they chose their interests over their districts and vote them out.

The time is right to do what is right.