Monday, February 29, 2016

I'm with her, and I hope you are, too

Each time we go to the polls to vote, I think about how meaningful the opportunity is to cast a ballot for a candidate I truly believe in. When I think back about how far we've come--from jelly beans in a jar to bubbles in a bar of soap to billy clubs on a bridge--I can't help but view the right to vote as an obligation, not just a privilege.

That's why I'm voting for a candidate who will continue to build on the economic progress of President Obama. When President Bush left office, he left behind a mess. We were hemorrhaging jobs and facing the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression. President Obama turned America's economic climate around and set the record for the longest streak of private sector job growth.

America needs a fighter who understands our delicate economic balance and will work hard to make sure people at every level of employment are treated fairly and given an opportunity to succeed.

We deserve a President who will stand strong and refuse to cave to opposition. We need someone who can make hard choices and understand the stakes in tough decisions--someone who will stand up for the people who make America great.

That's why I'm casting my vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Secretary Clinton understands that empty campaign promises are nothing if you don't have the ability to pass your policies in Congress. What sounds good on the campaign trail is going to be "dead on arrival" in Washington, and we deserve someone who will be honest about what she can accomplish and who will set reasonable, attainable goals for progress.

America understands there's no such thing as a free lunch, and I firmly believe Americans don't want hand outs--they want hand ups.

When it comes to putting someone in the White House, we're not just choosing the candidate with the best logo, the craftiest messaging, or the smartest soundbites. Celebrity endorsements and hashtags aside, we're choosing the next President of the United States of America. We're choosing the Commander in Chief of our military. We're choosing the person we trust to navigate our nation for four years of whatever the world deals us.

I'm choosing a candidate who has stood up for equality in education through her work with the Children's Defense Fund and as a co-founder of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.

I'm choosing a candidate who lead a UN delegation to Beijing and proudly proclaimed for the world to hear, "women's rights are human rights."

I'm choosing a candidate who has served in the United States Senate, who has seen the ins and outs of the Executive Branch, who has fought to secure health insurance for children across America, who has sat in the situation room and made the hard choices, and who is easily the most qualified candidate for President America has seen in a generation.

Shattering the glass ceiling is just a bonus.

I'm with her, and I hope you are too. See you at the polls!

Put the personal attacks aside for the primary: We're still one Party

March 1 is right around the corner, and Alabama's primary races are heating up. We've seen contentious rhetoric in the presidential elections, but the same tone is trickling down to our local primaries and communities.

The primary process has received a lot of negativity, especially with how closely Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders are performing in early states. It's easy to sit back and throw rocks at the super-delegates and talk about "party insiders" when both candidates are campaigning for a job that is, by definition, a "party insider."

What people might forget is that the Democratic primary is the most democratic that it's ever been, and that speaks volumes about our Party and the way that we choose the top of the ticket.

Some readers may remember one of the biggest shake-ups in Democratic National Committee history, when a lady from Mississippi addressed the Credentials Committee to challenge Mississippi's all-white, all-male, anti-Civil Rights delegation to the DNC Convention in 1964. Fannie Lou Hamer chastised Party leadership for failing to give African Americans a seat at the table, saying her now-famous line, "I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired." Four years later, the Democratic Party adopted a clause demanding equality of representation in state's delegations, which we still see in our delegate selection today.

Today, any Democrat can run to represent Alabama at the DNC, and many strong Democrats are on the ballot. The Alabama Democratic Party is encouraged to recruit delegates to make our delegation reflective of Alabama, especially so that young people and other under-represented groups are present in our delegation.

With only two candidates in the Democratic presidential race, it's easy to pull away into segments--to say "I'm with Her" or "I'm feelin' the Bern" and lose sight of the things that we all have in common and the values we all share. When we go to Philadelphia, we'll be going as one Democratic Party, and when we go to the polls in November, we'll be casting our votes for one Democratic candidate.

For eight years I have vehemently supported the President's policies in a deeply red state to little avail. But I'm fired up, and I'm ready to go four or eight more years in the White House with the next Democratic President, whoever he--or she--might be.

Monday, February 15, 2016

GOP Irony: Smaller government until we don't get our way

Chicken or Republican?
"More jobs. Less government." -Governor Robert Bentley

"Less regulation and a smaller government is better..." - Rep. David Faulkner

We've heard these lines before, time and time again, from Republican candidates promising smaller government and more local control when they're elected. Despite the campaign promises, the same Republicans whistle a different tune when they're the ones wielding the power in Montgomery. "Less regulation and a smaller government" quickly becomes "enough regulations and a big enough government to have it my way."

If you haven't been following the latest debate in Montgomery, Rep. David Faulkner (R-Mountain Brook) is sponsoring a bill to prevent cities from setting their own minimum wages and labor standards. Governor Bentley has promised to sign the bill into law when it reaches his desk.

Let me be clear: Rep. Faulkner is doing great work to reduce predatory lending and help lift communities out of poverty, but he is dead wrong on this issue.

While the City Council in Birmingham showed the leadership to take initiative and increase the minimum wage for Birmingham residents, our leadership in Montgomery is too chicken to even put the minimum wage up for a vote statewide.

They can offer any number of reasons as to why big government is better, but the truth is the GOP screams like they've been set on fire every time Washington strikes down an Alabama law, yet the same lawmakers have no problem striking down municipal ordinances. This bill contradicts every value the Republicans have ever run on, except one: profits over people.

Don't be mistaken. That's exactly what this is about: profits over people.

Alabama is one of only five states that doesn't have a minimum wage law on the books. There are some people who are perfectly happy with that, and some people who think we deserve better.

Regardless of where you stand, the higher governing authority should rest in one place: with the people, not Montgomery bureaucrats using government overreach. Let the people of Birmingham speak for themselves at the next city council elections, or let the people of Alabama speak for themselves in an an up or down vote on a statewide minimum wage. No matter how you slice it, Rep. Faulkner's bill is not what's best for Alabama families.

Monday, February 8, 2016

A Great State with the wrong funding

It's time to talk about how we fund the state of Alabama and get a few things straight. When we look to our state's funding mechanisms, money comes from three major areas and they're all three pretty dirty words: taxes, bonds, and the federal government.

Last week, Governor Bentley rolled out his "Great State 2019 Plan" proposing to take big steps towards pre-k for all children, offer free community college, expand broadband access, and do away with our old, worn-out prisons and build new, state of the art "super-prisons"

Now, if all of this sounds familiar, that's because these are policies the Democrats have been pushing for several years. The Governor agrees with Democrats that these issues need resolutions, but we have big differences in how we'll pay for it all.

That's why we need to talk about funding, and we need to look at the three places we get money to operate our state government.

Governor Bentley is proposing a bond initiative of $700-$800 million to put his prison plan into action, but it's important Alabamians know that a "bond initiative" is really just a fancy way of saying "put it on the credit card."

Now think back to last legislative session--and the two special sessions that followed--when Republicans couldn't agree on a method to pull the state out of a financial hole. We managed to patch part of the $700 million hole, but couldn't generate enough funding to fill it, causing the Governor to erroneously order Driver's License offices and state parks to close around the state.

Now that we're just below the limit on our credit card, Bentley is urging us to max it out again and raise the limit! This just doesn't seem fiscally responsible.

Regardless of the funding mechanism, Bentley is right that we have to address these problems--struggling schools, crowded prisons, and a depressed Black Belt must be on the table. So let's look at our other funding mechanisms, starting with Federal funding.

While Bentley is promising tax credits to rural doctors, we can push healthcare in rural areas forward with the stroke of a pen through Medicaid expansion. This would bring in $3.63 billion in federal funding, 15,100 jobs and $2.6 billion in increased economic activity through 2017 at no cost to Alabama, while the state is only obligated to pay 10 percent of the costs after 2020.

Somehow the Republicans expect us to believe this influx of federal tax dollars is off the table because we aren't sure how we'll pay our portion in a few years, yet a $700 million bond initiative won't be a problem to pay back.

We can't look at bonds until we accept the money already on the table, and we can't look at raising taxes until we exhaust our elective revenue streams.

That's why the Democrats have put forth a platform that can achieve all of the goals the Governor wants to achieve, but without borrowing from our future to fund our present. Shut down the bond initiatives. Accept Medicaid funding for expansion. Create a lottery to balance the budgets. That's your Great State 2019 Plan. Let's get to work.

Monday, February 1, 2016

The clock is running out to fight Obama

If you've turned on a TV lately, you might have caught Senator Richard Shelby's latest TV ads, the ones of him driving a Ford Explorer through the Alabama country roads and talking about how he fights Obama in Washington every day. Sound familiar?

Senator Shelby isn't the only Alabama politician who prioritizes fighting President Obama, and the sentiment is echoed loudly and frequently throughout the State Legislature. The sentiment also creates problems when it comes to fixing our budget woes and putting Alabama back on track for a successful future.

Take for example our funding crisis. Republicans are now looking at a state lottery and even full-fledged gaming to bring new revenue into our state. They're hoping you'll overlook the fact that Democrats have been bringing lottery bills for the past seven years. They're hoping you won't notice that their "fiscally Conservative" plans are just to rehash ideas Democrats have championed, probably since the polls show that a majority of Alabamians are ready to bring a lottery to Alabama.

The Alabama Republicans hope you won't notice that they're leaning left on the lottery, as long as they keep sticking it to Obama, who--by the way--won't be President this time next year.

By opting out of "Obamacare" and rejecting billions in Medicaid expansion dollars, we are putting our rural hospitals at risk and blocking care for 600,000 Alabamians. The impact reaches to all areas of our healthcare sector, even those families with private insurance policies.

It makes no sense. The logic completely escapes me as to how the GOP can embrace the Democrats' ideas on one hand while completely rejecting another simply because it's the Democrats' idea.

Oh yeah, Obama hasn't come out in support of an Alabama lottery.

Both of these solutions--Medicaid expansion and an education lottery, can help to shore up our budgets and put Alabama back on track for growth and expansion. Yet the partisan optics are allowing the Republicans to explore one option while completely rejecting another, simply because they want to be able to say they're "fighting Obama" when primary season rolls back around.

Let me be clear: neither party has a monopoly on good ideas, but it's our job as leaders to look at the options on the table and do what's best for the people we represent. We weren't elected to block out ideas and shut down debate to protect our credentials for our next election--we were elected to do a job for the people of Alabama for the term we've already earned.

If we expect to dig Alabama out of this budget hole, we can't pick and choose which ideas we embrace based on poll numbers and partisan bickering. After all, this is the last legislative session our friends in the GOP can "fight Obama" before it's time to come up with real reasons why they can't consider good policies like expanding Medicaid.