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We have a lot to be thankful for in Alabama

Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh



By Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh

This is always one of my favorite weeks of the year.  As we gather to give thanks for and with our loved ones, 396 years since the first Thanksgiving, this week also marks the 62nd annual National Farm-City Week.

It is only fitting that we celebrate both of these occasions at the same time.  After all, the early settlers came together to rejoice over a successful harvest that would sustain their colony.  The Thanksgiving experience certainly has changed over the years, but Farm-City week gets us back to our traditional roots.  We can sometimes lose sight of this in modern times, but farmers work diligently year-round to put food on our tables.  We owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude.  Without them, we could not enjoy our American way of life.


For some context, my brother and I were “the city cousins” growing up.  Our grandparents on both sides of the family were farmers; my dad’s parents were poultry farmers (really they called themselves “chicken farmers” back then) in Crenshaw County, and my mom’s parents grew soybeans, cotton, and peanuts and had a small herd of cattle near the line between Pike County and Bullock County.  We would spend our time at one of the two farms during the summer, on weekends, and for holidays.  However, unlike our cousins, we lived in the city because my parents moved to town so they could both teach school.  While we were fortunate enough to experience life both on and off the farm, most families only know one of the two lifestyles.

That’s why since 1955, this week has been designated as National Farm-City Week.  It is the time of year when we focus on increasing understanding between people on and off the farm.  You really do not know what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes until you have walked in them.  To that end, the Alabama Farm-City Committee does a tremendous job throughout the year providing educational programs and first-hand experiences to bridge the gap and increase understanding.

Even with these differences between farm and city life, rural and urban communities rely heavily on each other for their livelihood.  On one hand, farmers work diligently to produce high-quality food, fiber, and forest products for everyone to enjoy.  Getting these products from farms to homes across the state, country, and world requires cooperation with people across many industries and walks of life.  There are manufacturing and distribution aspects of agriculture, too.  Grocers, truck drivers, factory workers, computer scientists, bankers, veterinarians, chemists, salesmen, and various others all play vital roles in getting agriculture products from the farm into households worldwide.

The increased understanding that stems from Farm-City programs leads to better cooperation and a stronger economy.  This is a boon for families across our great state.  Overall, the positive effect that agriculture has on Alabama year-round is truly unparalleled.  While the most direct impact is reflected in this year’s Farm-City Week theme, ‘Agriculture: Food for Life,’ there are many lesser known “ag facts” that I would like to share.

For instance, farmland covers approximately a quarter of our state and forestland covers two-thirds.  This provides a significant benefit when it comes to ecosystem services.  Second, Alabama is home to around 43,000 farms, most of which are family owned and operated.  The influence goes way beyond these families, as nearly 600,000 Alabama jobs are dependent on agriculture.  Between agriculture, forestry, and related industries in Alabama, the annual economic impact is over seventy billion dollars.

This does not even include the social benefits of agriculture in our state.  Alabama farmers are pillars of their local communities who are giving of their time, talent, and resources.  They practice a core belief of mine in all of their work: doing more with less.  From my personal experience, life on the farm builds character.  The scorching-hot summers I spent working in my grandparents’ chicken houses, my shoes caked with chicken litter as I bustled about trying to keep the chickens from killing each other, helped teach me the virtues of hard-work.  This has stuck with me throughout my life, and I am forever grateful for my time on the farm.

Which brings us back to Thanksgiving.  Let’s challenge ourselves this year.  We have so many things to be thankful for in Alabama.  But all we see in the news is negative.  Let’s count God’s blessings and highlight the things that we love about our state.

Most importantly, we still live in a state of God-fearing people.  We are also blessed to have an abundance of natural resources in Alabama.  We have the most navigable waterways in the country, allowing goods to flow in and out of the state.  We have a huge supply of coal that provides jobs for so many families and helps keep electricity rates low for everyone.  Our beautiful land and bodies of water make our state a premier destination for hunting and fishing.  Alabama is also blessed to have tremendous farmland, ranging from the dark fertile soil in the Black Belt to the bountiful Tennessee Valley.  The unemployment rate just hit an all-time low, and we are moving in the right direction with workforce development.  Our manufacturing sector is thriving, with new companies making Alabama home left and right.  And so, so much more.

We are truly blessed, and I am proud to call Alabama home.  Happy Thanksgiving and happy Farm-City Week!  Our state’s great farmers work hard so that we can focus on our families and enjoy cherished traditions this Thanksgiving Day.  So, if you see a farmer during the holiday season, be sure to thank them.  This week and throughout the year, we should be grateful for everything they do.  When you are saying your prayers, please ask God to continue blessing our farmers and our great state.

The above is the opinion of Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, the President of the Alabama Public Service Commission. Opinions expressed do not represent the position of the Public Service Commission or its other commissioners. 

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | Battling the death penalty with Baldwin

Stephen Cooper



If you’re thirsting to understand our increasingly cold, jaundiced, at times carcinogenic society, James Baldwin’s singular insight about America and his dizzying, divine command of the English language are as refreshing as an icy elixir on the hottest day in hell.

Moreover, for death penalty abolitionists, Baldwin’s writing is particularly poignant in the wake of: (1) the Supreme Court’srecent refusal to reconsider the constitutionality of the death penalty, and, “wipe the stain of capital punishment clean” (In the aftermath, Reuter’s Andrew Chung soberly observed that “[t]he Supreme Court has not seriously debated the constitutionality of the death penalty since the 1970s”); (2) the Trump administration’s doubling down on a harebrained,ass-backward plan to put drug dealers to death; (3) the abominable push by legislators in several states to kill death row inmates by electrocution or even nitrogen gas—an unconscionable, ungodly, untested method (harkening back to atrocities like the gassing of the Jews, including my great-grandmother, during the Holocaust)—a method so gruesome and likely to cause pain and suffering, it’s not even accepted by the World Society for the Protection of Animals as a form of euthanasia; and last, but certainly not least, (4), the ignominious fact that Alabama has been consistently torturing poor death row inmates for a very long time, and currently, is primed to pump its nasty chemical cocktail into a long-incarcerated octogenarian (on April 19th).

In his magnificent essay, “The Artist’s Struggle for Integrity,” Baldwin made sense of such dastardly developments, writing: “There is such a thing as integrity. Some people are noble. There is such a thing as courage. The terrible thing is that the reality behind these words depends ultimately on what the human being (meaning every single one of us) believes to be real. The terrible thing is that the reality behind all these words depends on choices one has got to make, for ever and ever and ever, every day.”


Of course, Baldwin’s right (was he ever wrong?). Noble, courageous people exist in America—people with integrity who know it’s morally wrong to gas or electrocute other human beings to death. Yes, noble, courageous people exist in America, people with integrity, people who’re willing to call lethal injection the vile torture it is; good people exist in America, people who know killing is wrong under any circumstance, no matter how it’s done, or, most critically, who’s doing it.

It is these and all good people whom Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was addressing in his 1954 sermon on “Rediscovering Lost Values,” when he proclaimed: “The thing that we need in the world today is a group of men and women who will stand up for right and be opposed to wrong, wherever it is.” But almost as if issuing a direct rejoinder to King, here again comes Baldwin with his blistering, bare-knuckled truth, its percipient glare so white-hot that it threatens—if we do not learn from it—to burn down all we claim makes America great, if it has not already.

In “The Uses of the Blues,” Baldwin explained that “[p]eople who’ve had no experience suppose that if a man is a thief, he is a thief; but . . . . [t]he most important thing about him is that he is a man and . . . if he’s a thief or a murderer or whatever he is, you could also be and you would know this, anyone would know this who had really dared to live.”

And so, if we who have dared to live—and while less blameworthy, even those who have not—continue to deny this truth, if we continue to deny our collective identity, and that this means that each and every one of us, no matter how damaged, how defective, how depraved, how guilty, are nevertheless human, if we don’t reverse course on this damnable death penalty and fast, not in some meandering, interminably slow, plodding fashion, Baldwin’s diagnosis of America will be as incurable as it is inescapable: “The failure on our part to accept the reality of pain, of anguish, of ambiguity, of death has turned us into a very peculiar and sometimes monstrous people.”

Reinforcing this sentiment in a brilliant piece included in last year’s blockbuster collection of criminal justice reform essays called “Policing the Black Man,” Marc Mauer, executive director of the sentencing project, wrote: “The United States is one of the only industrialized nations that still maintains the death penalty; this both casts a stain on our moral standing and exerts an upward pressure on the severity of punishment across the board.” Only we, fellow citizens, through our mighty electoral power, can change this. No longer can we rely on our feckless Supreme Court to do it for us. And, as it has from time immemorial, history will judge.

Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California. Follow him on Twitter @SteveCooperEsq


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Guest Columnists

Opinion | Checking in on the Alabama Accountability Act

Larry Lee



By and large, the Legislature passes laws and seldom looks back to see what impact they are having.  Which seems a HUGE mistake to me.  The Alabama Accountability Act passed in 2013 being a prime example.

So from time to time I visit the Alabama Department of Revenue web site where they post info about AAA.  It’s always an interesting read.

For instance, you find a list current through Feb. 22, 2018 that shows there are now 204 private schools which have signed up to participate in this program that gives vouchers to students to attend private schools.  (This does not mean 204 schools have gotten scholarships, just that many have said they would take them.)


The state indicates if these schools are accredited or not.  Of the 204, 69 of them are NOT accredited.  That’s 33.8 percent.  AAA started in 2013 and 12 of the non-accredited schools have been that way since 2013.  One has to ask why we allow this to happen?  Why are we diverting money from the Education Trust Fund that may go to a school that has had five years to become accredited, but hasn’t?   Is this really looking out for the best interest of the young folks of this state?

For instance, the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund, one of the state’s scholarship granting organizations (SGO), reported that at the end of 2017, they had students at 114 private schools.  By my count, 166 of these scholarships are at 27 non-accredited schools.

The Department of Revenue keeps track of how much money is given to SGOs each year.  From 2013 through 2017, the total amount is $116,617,919.

Remember that each one of these dollars gets a one for one tax credit from the state.  Which means we have now diverted $116 million from the Education Trust Fund for private school scholarships.

Today there are 396,711 elementary students (K-6) in Alabama.  So over the past five years we have diverted $294 from ETF for each one of these students.  That is $7,000 per elementary classroom.

I visit a lot of elementary schools.  I see a lot of classrooms.  I don’t know a single elementary teacher who would not have jumped at the chance to have an extra $7,000 for her classroom since 2013.

In this legislative election year, we need to let every candidate, incumbents and challengers alike, know what is going on.

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | Protecting our children

Bradley Byrne



For much of the year, the safety of our students rests in the hands of the faculty, staff, and resource officers at our schools.  Without a shadow of a doubt, the people who know best how to protect our schools are the teachers, parents, administrators, police officers, and students in their own communities.

In February, the tragic shooting in Parkland, Florida resonated throughout our communities, highlighting a disturbing trend of individuals who clearly show signs of grave mental instability falling through the cracks.

Sadly, this incident likely could have been avoided had there been better oversight at every level of law enforcement.  From the top down, we failed these students by not heeding the warning signs and working together as a team to ensure our students’ safety.


In response to this incident, the House recently passed the Student, Teacher’s Officer’s Prevention (STOP) School Violence Act, which provides grant funding for evidence-based training for our local law enforcement, school faculty and staff, and students to help identify and prevent school violence before these tragic events occur.

First, the STOP School Violence Act provides funding for training to prevent student violence, including training for local law enforcement officers, school personnel, and students in the event of an emergency.  This training would be designed to give students and school personnel the ability to recognize and respond quickly to warning signs of violent behavior and would include active shooter training.

Second, the bill provides funding for technology and equipment to improve school security.  This includes the development and operation of anonymous reporting systems, as well as the installation of metal detectors, locks, and other preventative technologies to keep schools secure.

The legislation also authorizes funding for school threat assessment and crisis intervention teams for school personnel to respond to threats before they become real-time incidents.  Recognizing the warning signs of violent, threatening behavior and having the proper resources to address it on the front end can prevent these tragedies from ever occurring.

Finally, the STOP School Violence Act provides funding to support law enforcement coordination efforts, particularly the officers who already staff schools.  From the federal level all the way down to our local law enforcement, we need to ensure there is accountability and communication when handling violent behavior.

Many of our local schools are already reevaluating their security measures and taking additional steps to promote a safe learning environment for our students.  Our students’ safety and security should always remain a top priority, and I believe it is imperative that our local schools have the most appropriate resources in place in the event of an emergency.

As we look for ways to prevent these terrible tragedies, I am open to additional solutions to address the underlying issues that cause these events to occur.  That said, I remain steadfastly committed to upholding the individual right of all law-abiding Americans to keep and bear arms.  Millions of Americans should not have their Second Amendment rights infringed upon due to the bad actions of a few individuals.

Rather, I believe we should focus on addressing mental health issues and combatting the role of violence in our modern culture, such as the prevalence of violent video games that normalize this behavior for our young students, and promoting commonsense solutions that will address the larger issues of mental health so that those with mental illness do not fall through the cracks.

There is still work to be done to ensure each child’s safety and well-being while attending classes. However, I am proud that we have taken this action in the House to promote a safe, secure learning environment for our children.

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We have a lot to be thankful for in Alabama

by Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh Read Time: 5 min