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Changing times require a commitment to Alabamians

Dr. Jim Purcell

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By Dr. Jim Purcell

It wasn’t so long ago that a young person in Alabama could stake their claim as a middle-class citizen based upon a strong back, perseverance and the intensity of their work ethic. However, technology, automation and complex machinery have eliminated many of the jobs that required repetitious activity and pure human muscle.

Overall, this change in the nature of the workplace has yielded many positive things, such as less workplace injuries, greater quality products, and lower prices for consumers. Consequently, it does force us, as a society, to rethink how we educate our youth and how we retrain our existing workforce for the modern economy. The workplace for our children will be vastly different than previous generations.

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In 1970, 74 percent of the middle class had a high school diploma or less education. A generation later, 61 percent of middle class workers have some level of postsecondary education. This shift has been more profoundly felt in Alabama for those that work, or had worked, in jobs connected to agriculture, natural resources, and manufacturing. A generation ago 80 percent of these industries employed persons without any educational requirements beyond high school. Today, nearly 60 percent of the employees in these industries are persons credentialed with an associate degree or higher. A 2017 report by the Center on Education and the Workforce found that the current recovery has further eroded job opportunities for individuals with only a high school diploma.

If we educate and credential Alabamians for the modern economy, Alabama will prosper. If not, the jobs and our grandkids will be migrating elsewhere. While Alabama’s current unemployment rate is the lowest it has been in more than a decade, there are many more jobs available that require postsecondary credentialed workers. Alabama employers are having to recruit outside the state for these high-paying jobs. The latest census data show that Alabama has more credentialed persons coming into the state to work than are leaving. That is a positive sign for Alabama’s overall economy, but if we want Alabamians to have the American Dream, we need to provide them access to the college majors that lead to 21st century careers.

In many ways, Alabama has unilaterally disengaged and disarmed its ability to build a modern workforce. Since 2007 state support for K-12 has been reduced by 13% and higher education by 33%. Those reductions compare to a 28% increase in college tuition. The state need-based aid program is the fourth lowest in the nation. A strategic state plan for education is essential in addressing these funding issues – restore funding to pre-2007 levels and increase state financial aid to students.

Surrounding states not only have higher need-based aid, but they have established merit-based scholarships for high school graduates ready to enter college. Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Tennessee and Georgia all have robust scholarship programs.

But, Alabama has another task at hand – dealing with an aging population and geographic concentrations of unskilled workers in specific communities. Gallaway’s study of the United States economy (The Impact of Transfer Payments on Economic Growth, 2002) revealed a significantly negative effect of income transfer payments on per capita economic growth.

As more and more of the citizenry of a community receives their income from social security, pensions, and governmental transfer payments, the community becomes more vulnerable to dramatic economic decline. Rural development advocates stress that when 40% of a community’s income is from these non-work sources, aggressive action must be taken to adjust the fundamentals of their economy or we risk falling into an economic and social abyss. More than half of Alabama counties meet this 40% threshold.

This leads to a two-fold challenge. One is to optimize the success of communities that already are engaged in the modern economy with sustainable results. The other is to assist economically-challenged counties and communities in establishing a workable plan for new economic realities.

There are plenty of successful regional/community economies across the country. The key to their success is the continued willingness to invest in human capital by developing the talents of its citizenry.
You must only look at the history of our country to see how education helped returning WWII veterans get back into the workforce. An annual $1.9 billion investment in education was made at the end of WWII to help establish the “greatest generation.”

Contact your lawmakers and encourage them to show their support for education in next year’s legislative session, and make it one of your own 2018 resolutions to get engaged with building your community.
Alabama’s future is dependent on the involvement of every citizen. Possibly, Alabama’s greatest generation is at the schoolhouse door waiting for the opportunity to propel Alabama into the global economy.

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Opinion | Preserving our history to protect our future

Gerald Allen

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Doing the right thing isn’t always politically expedient, but a strong leader does what’s necessary regardless of her critics. Governor Kay Ivey exemplifies this kind of no-nonsense leadership.

Last year, our state faced a difficult decision: should we listen to the politically-correct, out-of-state pundits or do what’s best for the future of Alabama?

All across Alabama, we have monuments and statues that tell our storied past. Many of these moments have affected our entire nation and shaped us to be who we are today. History doesn’t just tell us where we’ve been, it often provides signals and warnings for how to avoid repeating past errors. As George Santayana once wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

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Nearly one year ago, I sponsored the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act, a law that protects historic monuments and memorials in Alabama from thoughtless destruction.

More specifically, the Memorial Preservation Act prohibits the destruction or alteration of public monuments older than forty years, and established a standing committee to hear waiver requests from cities and counties, while historic artifacts under the control of museums, archives, libraries, and universities were specifically exempted from the prohibition against removal or alteration.

This law is the result of countless discussions with other legislators, historians, and interested citizens, and the intent is to preserve memorials to all of Alabama’s history – including the Civil War, the World Wars, and the Civil Rights movement – for generations to come.

We’ve seen a wave of political correctness sweep the nation, and too often, these attempts have resulted in re-writing of the American story. This politically-correct movement to strike whole periods of the past from our collective memory is divisive and unnecessary. In order to understand our complete history and where we are today, we have to tell it as it happened.

As a lawmaker, I believe it is incumbent upon us to preserve our state’s history, and I am grateful that Governor Ivey, in the face of criticism, stood up for the thoughtful preservation of Alabama’s history – the good and the bad. As father and grandfather, I am especially grateful she understood the importance of our children and grandchildren learning from the past, so they can create a better future.

Sen. Gerald Allen serves Senate District 21 which includes: Lamar County, Pickens County,and Tuscaloosa County.

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Opinion | The push for a balanced budget

Bradley Byrne

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When the 115th Congress kicked off last January, I immediately introduced a bill that I believe is fundamental to the future of our country: a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The premise of a Balanced Budget Amendment is pretty straightforward. The federal government should not be allowed to spend more than we take in, except in extraordinary circumstances like a time of war.

This isn’t some sort of far flung idea. When I served in the Alabama State Legislature, we were required to pass a balanced budget each year. It was not always easy, but it was the law. The vast majority of states have the same requirement.

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Balancing a budget is also a common occurrence for families in Alabama and across the United States. Every month, people sit around their kitchen table to figure out how to make ends meet and live within their means. Small businesses must do the same.

The federal government should have to play by the same rules.

To truly enact a Balanced Budget Amendment, we would need to add an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. As a reminder, in order to amend the Constitution, the Balanced Budget Amendment must pass both the House and the Senate by a two-thirds majority and then be ratified by three-fourths of the states, which is 38 out of the 50 states. The only other way to amend the Constitution would be through a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the states.

Recently, the House voted on House Joint Resolution 2, proposing a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution. Despite receiving the support of a majority of us in the House, the bill did not receive the two-thirds majority necessary under the Constitution.

I was deeply disappointed that most Democrats in the House opposed the Balanced Budget Amendment. Despite talking a lot about our debt, they rejected one of the best opportunities to actually restore fiscal sanity in Washington.

Throughout the course of the debate, two important topics were raised, and I wanted to briefly address each of them.

First, despite what my colleagues on the other side of the aisle believe, the answer to our debt issues is not to tax the American people more. We do not have a tax problem; we have a spending problem.

To be clear, the recently passed tax cuts are not to blame for our nation’s debt issues. As the Heritage Foundation recently pointed out, “tax revenue is expected to fall by only 0.7 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) this year and spending is expected to climb by 3 percent of GDP.” Again, we have a spending problem, not a taxing problem.

Second, the most serious drivers of the national debt are on autopilot. For example, if you eliminated every penny Congress appropriated for defense spending next year, the federal government would still be projected to operate in a deficit.   So-called mandatory spending programs must be reined in, and a balanced budget amendment would finally require Congress to tackle those programs head on.

Now, I know passing a balanced budget would be hard, but I did not run for Congress because I thought the job would be easy. We were elected by our neighbors to make difficult choices and decisions.

So, while our recent effort to pass a Balanced Budget Amendment came up short, I will not let it stop me from continuing to push for a balanced budget that requires the federal government to live within our means, just like the American people.

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Opinion | Vengeful Alabama to kill 83-year-old man

Stephen Cooper

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Barring intervention by courts or its governor, Alabama will kill an 83-year-old man on April 19; long-incarcerated for the 1989 mail-bomb killings of United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit Judge Robert S. Vance and civil rights attorney Robert E. Robinson, Walter Moody, Jr.’s wizened, withered body, will, three decades after his crimes, be strapped to a gurney, pricked with a sharp needle (possibly many, many times), and pumped full of chemicals until he is dead.

Why? Other than the reactionary, regressive idea of “retribution” – whose flawed moral underpinning is interchangeable with bloodthirsty, wild, wild West revenge – how will justice be served? And, for whom?

The premeditated, state-sponsored senicide of the most senior of senior citizens on Alabama’s death row won’t make anyone – not anyone in Alabama, and not anyone anywhere in the United States or the world – safer. As I have written elsewhere, the myth that capital punishment – in this instance for an old man at the tail-end of a tortured existence in “hell-on-earth” Holman prison – provides deterrence, is an outmoded shibboleth. No mentally disturbed person intent on a bombing rampage will be dissuaded by Alabama prosecutors’ tri-decade pursuit of Moody’s execution. (As the Tuscaloosa News editorialized in a piece titled “Attempts to carry out the death penalty have gone from bad to worse”: “Thirty years is a long time to wait to die, but the State is persistent. Alabama has spent a lot of money and a lot of energy to usher out these old and infirm inmates before nature takes its course.”)

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Additionally, and arguably most important, Alabama’s unrelenting desire to exact violent vengeance for the deaths of Judge Vance and Attorney Robinson is improper because of: (1) who these champions of justice were, their respective legacies of honor, and the principles of equality their lifework embodied; and (2), because it is undesired by the people whose opinion should matter the most – the family members of the victims – who have spoken publicly about this.

A crusader for civil rights in the segregated South, Robert Robinson served on the executive board and as general counsel of the NAACP, and so it seems certain he would not favor the death penalty – for Moody, or for anybody – the practice having been hewn from the hell of slavery, subjugation and the suffering of black people. Interviewed for a 2016 essay called “Celebrating Black History: Remembering Robbie Robinson,” Robinson’s widow, Ann, “says she may never know the reason why her husband lost his life to such a heinous crime but she harbors no ill feelings towards Moody. Instead, she’s focused on keeping [her husband’s] memory alive.”

By the same token, Judge Vance’s wife Helen, who was seriously injured as a result of the bombing that killed her husband, told reporters after Moody’s 1991 conviction in federal court that, “she wouldn’t press for a state death-penalty case” (Helen Vance died in 2010). And recently, in March, Robert Vance, Jr., Judge Vance’s son and a circuit judge in Alabama, told a news reporter: “We achieved peace when [Moody] was convicted,” later saying “he’s not sure what can be gained from the execution of his father’s killer.” This ambivalence and distaste for executing an impotent, likely soon-to-die-anyway old man, would undoubtedly have been shared by his father. For as now-deceased former acclaimed death penalty attorney and law professor Michael Mello wrote about Judge Vance, for whom he clerked, in his book “Dead Wrong: A Death Row Lawyer Speaks Out Against Capital Punishment”: “Judge Vance personally did not believe in capital punishment; if he were a legislator he would vote against it; if he were an executive he would commute death sentences; and if he were a Supreme Court Justice, he might well hold it unconstitutional. Robert Vance’s personal opposition to capital punishment was genuine and heartfelt . . . . He did not believe that the death penalty was a proper form of punishment[.]”

Which brings us full-circle to the questions I posed earlier: Why is Alabama intent on killing an octogenarian who can no longer hurt anyone? And, who on God’s good earth will benefit from such ghastliness?

For as renowned Christian author, ethicist, and theologian Lewis Smedes once powerfully observed: “The problem with revenge is that it never evens the score. It ties both the injured and the injurer to an escalator of pain. Both are stuck on the escalator as long as parity is demanded, and the escalator never stops.” This is why Sir Francis Bacon once counseled that “[i]n taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy; but in passing it over, he is superior.”

If Alabama does not spare Mr. Moody, this time-tested wisdom, together with whatever honor and capacity for human dignity that exists within the office of Alabama’s governor, its Department of Corrections, and its Office of the Attorney General, will be lost.                  

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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Changing times require a commitment to Alabamians

by Dr. Jim Purcell Read Time: 4 min
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