Monday, October 27, 2014

Take charge at the polls next Tuesday

Four years ago, the Alabama Republicans stormed the state house and ended 136 years of the Democratic majority. They unveiled their plan, the handshake with Alabama, to reform what they felt was broken in this state.

Four years later, what do we have to show for it?

They campaigned on improving education for Alabama's children. In reality, they've improved education for a select number of students at the cost of $25 million each year to Alabama taxpayers. College tuition is skyrocketing, students have few opportunities for technical trainings and our teachers make less today than they did when the Republicans took office.

They campaigned on bringing jobs to the state, but failed to note that most new jobs are created by small businesses. They spent millions of our tax dollars to bring in huge corporations while mom and pop stores struggled to get by.  They halted our minimum wage bill in its tracks and doubled down on your employer's right to fire you for no reason.

They campaigned on fighting Obamacare, but have found that the state legislature has zero authority to fight federal law. All they've managed to do is protect the health care monopoly that keeps prices high and deny Medicaid to 300,000 Alabamians in order to try to prove a political point to the President.

They campaigned on ethics reform, promising to clean up the corruption in Montgomery, and they successfully passed an ethics law so strong that many of its own authors are struggling to comply. Allegations of inappropriate conduct have run rampant from Montgomery to Lee County and the judicial system will sort out whether or not inappropriate behavior has occurred under the GOP leadership.

There's a trend here: Republicans will say and do anything to get elected, but their actions in office speak for themselves. We have the option to choose a different path for Alabama on November 4. 

Amid voter ID laws and the overturning of the Voting Rights Act, the ballot box is still the sacred place where everyone's voice carries equal weight.  The millionaire company CEO and the night janitor who makes minimum wage each only get one vote on Election Day.

The only way to make your vote count is to cast the ballot. This is your shot. It's time to speak up for the kind of Alabama you want to live in.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Vote for your right to vote this November

In two short weeks, people across America will head to the polls to cast their ballots for the next generation of leadership. Here in Alabama, we have a US Senate seat and seven congressional seats on the ballot, plus our entire state legislature and all of our constitutional offices, like Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General.

Yet, with the tremendous amount of power on the line--the sheer number of seats on the ballot--voter apathy is at an all time low. People just aren't paying attention this cycle, and it's time to start.

As an Alabamian, voting is an integral part of our history and heritage.  In my own district of Selma, marchers faced State Troopers with billy clubs and police dogs as they marched for the right to vote.  Just up the road in Shelby County, opponents of the same Voting Rights Act they fought for on the Edmund Pettus Bridge was challenged and went to the US Supreme Court, where its most crucial components were overturned. 

Yes, Alabama brought you the Voting Rights Act, and Alabama killed the Voting Rights Act. No matter which side of the issue you're on, voting is part and parcel to our identity as Alabamians, yet only about 60 percent of Alabamians go to the polls.

And what do we have to show for it?  We have a supermajority of Republican legislators who shut down debate every time a bill comes to the floor for discussion.  In fact, they've shut down debate more times in the past four years than in all of Alabama history combined. 

When they silence debate, they silence our ability as representatives to represent you, the people. They ram through bills without hearing how those bills will affect our communities, our friends, our neighbors. 

The thing about voting is that it's the one right that protects all of our other rights.  When we vote to stop the shenanigans, we vote to protect our access to affordable health care, quality schools and safe communities. When we don't vote, we leave those decisions about our lives up to someone else.

The Republicans know that what they're doing is wrong--and that's why they're doing everything they can to make it harder for everyday, working Alabamians to go to the polls to speak out against them.

They've shortened the length of time available to register to vote and they've passed a restrictive photo ID bill, which has been shown to disproportionately disenfranchise poor, elderly and minority voters.

If they win this November, they won't stop there. They've said they'll be "bolder" with the way they assault the Democratic process.  

The only way to stop it is to stand up and vote against it. Your vote will make the difference--it will show the Republican supermajority that they can't win in a battle of will. We must refuse to let them steamroll over us and steal the state from the people.

We must get out to vote on November 4--and we must vote for the right to vote when we get there.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Vote for policy, not talking points, this November

With only three weeks until Election Day, the campaigns are in full swing and voters are hearing from candidates on both sides of the aisle. The Democrats are pointing out the failed policies of four years with a Republican supermajority. Meanwhile, the Republicans are promising to fight the liberal candidates and liberal special interests and liberal Obama policies and liberal, liberal, liberal.

A few weeks ago, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) sent out a mail piece to voters promising to fight "the Liberal special interests in Springfield." That's the capital of Illinois, not Alabama.

If you turn on the TV, you see commercials for Attorney General Luther Strange blasting Joe Hubbard for being a "liberal" like Obama.

Even in House and Senate races, the President's picture and the word "liberal" is plastered across all manner of campaign materials.

But there's a dirty little secret in all this: There are no liberal special interests in Alabama.

Our "Liberals" are moderates by everyone else's standards. Only in Alabama are 75 percent of the NRA "A+" rated candidates Democrats. That's not liberal. I would estimate that a majority of the Democrats running are pro-life and support traditional family values. That's not liberal.

The Republicans think the voters won't figure this out. They're playing a mean game of Wizard of Oz with the voters.

Just like the Wizard, they talk with a big voice and blow a lot of smoke. They think that by calling Democrats "liberals," voters will turn their heads and mark a Republican ballot, without asking what's so special about the "Conservatives" on the other side of the aisle.

When Dorothy and her friends finally come to greet the Wizard, he tells them to come back tomorrow, but Dorothy calls him out: "If you were really so great and powerful, you'd keep your promises," she tells him.

In the past four years, the "liberal Democrats" have been relegated to a back corner of the State House. We have had no power to pass legislation or to debate bills. The Republicans could do whatever they wanted and there was nobody to stop them.

Yet four years later, they're still running on "fighting Obamacare" and "growing our economy." If they could stop Obamacare, they would have done it already. Rather than creating jobs, Alabama is one of the fews states to suffer from a shrinking economy and to lose jobs last year.

Instead of being the Great and Powerful Oz, the Republicans just made a mess and hoped we won't notice.

Then comes Toto, who pulls back the curtain to reveal an old, grumpy man masquerading as the wizard. He's not really great and powerful at all--he just puts on a show and fools people into believing he's something he's not.

The Republicans want you to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain this November.

I'm asking you to pull the curtain back and look for yourself.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Vote for an education policy that works this November

We are less than a month out from Election Day, and the campaigns are in full-swing. "Jobs, jobs, jobs" and "stronger schools" are plastered all over campaign ads on the TVs and in the mailboxes.

But more important than campaign ad rhetoric are the records of the leaders who are asking for our votes. Last week, we discussed the failed jobs policies of the Republican supermajority--this week, I want to talk about the damage they have done to our schools.

The biggest blow to our schools under the GOP leadership was the Alabama Accountability Act. This law was passed using Washington-style tactics behind closed doors in the middle of the night. The way it was passed was deceptive and the policies it contained were disastrous. 

This law set aside $40 million its first year to give tax credits to families who wanted to move their children from a failing public school to a private school. This year and each year the law remains in effect, it will take $25 million from Alabama schools. The Republican leadership has said they will lift the $25 million cap if they are sent back to Montgomery.

The issue here is that every Alabama school loses funding for a few students to transfer to private schools. Receiving schools are not required to accept students from failing schools and there is no accountability to ensure that the private schools are any better than the public schools. Schools that are already struggling are now losing precious funding for all students so a few privileged children can transfer out to attend a different school.

Because of bad policy like the Accountability Act, our education budget is in shambles and our teachers are being asked to do more with less. Since the Republicans have taken over, our teachers make half a percent less in pay than four years ago.  After a 2.5 percent pay cut, the legislature tried to win their favor in an election year with a two percent pay raise--but our teachers aren't fooled. They are still paying out-of-pocket for supplies for the classrooms and receiving less pay than our surrounding states.

At the end of the day, money doesn't fix our schools--quality educators are the best way to ensure that our children are getting a first-rate education.  But to keep quality teachers in our classrooms, we have to pay them like professionals. 

We must make funding education a first priority in the next legislative session--and guarantee that our education dollars are protected. 

The Republican supermajority has shown us their plan, and I think Alabama can do better.  

We can pay our teachers and provide funding for consumable resources. We can make college more affordable and partner with small businesses to give our high school students career training. We can make sure every child has access to a good education--from quality pre-K to college or career.

We can do better, Alabama. We must vote for an education policy that works and demand better than more of the same.