Monday, January 26, 2015

Alabama is missing the mark on Christian values

Last week, a federal judge in Mobile struck down Alabama's ban on same-sex marriages, generating a statewide conversation about family values.

For many couples across the state, this meant that they are able to have their families validated by the state, allowing them to share benefits and adopt children.

For others, this meant a deterioration of traditional family values in Alabama.  Speaker Mike Hubbard blasted the ruling, saying, ""The Legislature will encourage a vigorous appeals process, and we will continue defending the Christian conservative values that make Alabama a special place to live."

I'm glad the Speaker is willing to defend Christian values--and I hope that he puts all of those Christian values to work in the Alabama Legislature.

Jesus said to feed the poor and heal the sick, yet hard-working Alabamians die every day due to insufficient and inaccessible health care. Nearly a quarter of a million children in Alabama regularly struggle with hunger.  Too many parents can't find job opportunities to provide for their families, and too many children are being denied the ability to reach their full potential because of our struggling education system in this state.

And the same politicians in Montgomery who are committed to "defending the Christian conservative values" support this status quo that doesn't work for too many families. 

It's our job as legislators to tackle the big issues facing our state and to relieve the pressure from our hardest working Alabamians--Alabamians who don't know if they'll be able to make rent or when they'll be able to put a meal on the table again or how they'll pay for a flat tire. 

By expanding Medicaid, we can make health care available to 300,000 working men and women. Healthy individuals creates healthy families--it reduces the number of sick days that children have to take from school and keeps elderly relatives safe from potentially devastating sicknesses.

By increasing the minimum wage, guaranteeing equal pay for equal work and offering paid family leave, we can make hard work pay off for those who are doing everything they can to provide for their families. This gives kids a secure home and allows them to focus better in school, which yields better grades and a solid future.

There are so many things we can be doing to promote Christian, family values in Alabama. In the words of Jesus, "Let's not just strain at a gnat and swallow a camel."

I hope my fellow legislators don't get bogged down on this one issue, and that we are able to put the other Christian values to work in Montgomery, too.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Beyond Selma: The next phase of the Civil Rights Movement

At the end of the Selma-to-Montgomery March, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps of the Alabama Capitol and delivered a speech with a quote that is now etched on his memorial in Washington, D.C.: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."

Dr. King was transitioning from the first phase of the Civil Rights Movement, the battle for political and social equality, to the second phase--the fight for economic opportunity for all Americans.

After 1965, Dr. King turned his focus to a mission still fought across the nation today. He said that his dream had become a nightmare as he traveled the nation and saw his brothers unable to find jobs or unable to earn a fair wage when they worked. Dr. King knew what is so real to Americans today: being able to sit together at the lunch counter isn't something to celebrate if you can't afford anything on the menu. Without economic opportunity, the road to prosperity is long--and the voting booth is a slow means to change.

Poverty is a vicious animal that ensnares without regard for race or gender--it's a cycle not easily broken and hardly understood from those who have never experienced it firsthand. Dr. King knew this. Poor men and women across America know this.

Yet 50 years after the Selma March, we still have a minimum wage that pays poverty level. Social safety net programs are the first on the cutting block during budget talks and the first to be demonized and shunned as a cop-out for lazy people who don't want to work. Social security is in danger, health care is broken for millions, and our tax structure here in Alabama is one of the most regressive in the nation.

The truth is that the deck is stacked against working men and women today just as it was when Dr. King was preaching in 1965.

Because Dr. King knew, as he said on the steps of the Alabama Capitol in that same speech in March, 1965, that class divisions "can be as vicious and evil as a system based on racial injustice."

In the 1965, your school, job and future was determined by your race. If you were a Black child, you grew up in a Black neighborhood and went to a Black school and played with Black children and grew up to work in a Black job. In 2015, you can easily replace "Black" with "poor" in the above illustration, and it's all still true today.

We must find a solution. There is no excuse for denying Medicaid expansion and failing to consider raising the minimum wage. We have no choice but to revamp our public schools to give every child an opportunity to succeed. It's time to revisit our tax structure to take the burden off of the neediest families.

As long as we turn a blind and hateful eye towards our neediest and hardest working citizens, Dr. King's dream will remain a nightmare. We have to finish what we started in Selma 50 years ago, because the arc is long but it bends towards justice.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Today's leaders take note: We have a lot to learn from the movie "Selma"

Last week, the movie "Selma" opened in theaters across the country, sharing an important part of America's history born right here in Alabama.

While it's been 50 years since the Selma-to-Montgomery March that eventually gave way to the Voting Rights Act, we're still fighting many of the same battles in 2015.

Governor Bentley and several Alabama lawmakers attended the premier, and I hope the message of the film didn't fall on deaf ears.

Because Selma is about more than Bloody Sunday and a march to Montgomery. Selma is bigger and stronger--Selma is the power of people coming together and demanding a better future for this nation.

When then-Senator Barack Obama was running for President  in 2008, he made a bold statement: "Nothing can stand in the way of the power of millions of voices calling for change."

From Governor Wallace literally standing in the schoolhouse door to the National Guard standing on the Edmund Pettus bridge, we have had plenty of obstacles stand in the way of progress.

We're still facing many of those obstacles today: Governor Bentley is standing in the hospital door denying Medicaid to hard working Alabamians, legislatures are passing voting laws that disenfranchise poor and minority voters, women still don't earn equal pay for equal work, and the list goes on.

But we'll never change these issues by sitting idly on the sidelines. We have to take change into our own hands. We have to take the lessons we learned from Selma to repair our communities and rebuild our nation:

  • We have to be organized and focused on our goals. We have to be willing to accept marginal progress instead of an all-or-nothing mentality, and we have to have a team of people who are all clearly focused on these same goals.
  • We have to be willing to work and sacrifice to achieve these goals. The Civil Rights Movement never died because people were willing to sacrifice everything to see the dream fulfilled. People were beaten and killed, homes were bombed and families were destroyed, but the movement pushed forward because it was bigger than the sum of its parts.
  • Lastly, Selma taught us to pray and keep God at the center of our work. This faith in equality and justice for Gods people guided their hands 50 years ago, and it should guide our hands today.
Fifty years past the culmination of the events in Selma, we still have so much we can learn and put to work to fight 21st century battles. With organized people, hard work and faith in God, we can accomplish anything together.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Take your own advice, Governor. Show leadership by expanding Medicaid

When the governor met with newly-elected legislators last month, he called on us to offer leadership to do the right thing for the state of Alabama. After all, we're staring down the barrel at some pretty tough issues in the next four years--we're going to have to make some tough decisions that may not always be politically expedient.

Prison over crowding, an unassailable budget shortfall and rising public distrust of elected officials will add an extra dimension of complexity to every issue brought to the table during this legislative session.

One of these issues is the growing need to address health care shortfalls within our state. We've all heard the data about hospital closings, people dying due to lack of care, the number of working men and women who fall into the coverage gap--I don't need to repeat it.

But I will repeat this: Governor, it's time to expand Medicaid in the state of Alabama.

Many Republican governors across the country are taking steps towards expansion. Governor Bill Haslam (R-Tenn.) told the papers that Medicaid expansion is “morally and fiscally the right thing to do.” Governor Matt Mead (R-Wyo.) agrees. Alaska, Indiana, Montana, Utah and Virginia are also discussing expansion, which would add them to the list of 27 states that have already accepted the program.

We're on the short list of states who are still saying "no" to federal money that will keep our hospitals open and provide care for our working men and women.

Clearly this isn't about federal overreach, Governor, because we've had no issue with accepting money for a list of programs, including education and infrastructure development.

Clearly this isn't about keeping the Conservative base happy for reelection, because you said yourself that you would likely never run for office again.

Clearly this isn't about reforming Medicaid, because you've had four years with a supermajority to make all the changes to the program--and we've drastically reformed the program.

Clearly this isn't about the Christian thing to do, because Jesus healed the sick and cured the lame and never once asked for a Blue Cross card.

So what gives, Governor?

We have enough issues to face in the upcoming session without making this more difficult for ourselves. It's time to expand Medicaid--it's time to take this burden off the shoulders of the Alabama legislature and, most importantly, off the backs of hard working Alabamians.