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Live in hope this Christmas

Bradley Byrne

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Bradley Byrne

By Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-1)

It’s that time of the year again. It’s the time we hurry from store to store looking for that perfect gift for our loved ones. It’s the time when many travel around the country to spend time with their families. It’s the time where we dust off the cookbooks to prepare the perfect dish for the Christmas lunch or dinner.

If you are like me, Christmas is a time when you can feel overwhelmed. There is so much to do and so little time to get everything done. Between balancing work, family, and the holidays, it seems like there is not enough time in the day.

In today’s day and age, it is very easy to grow discouraged. From the constant beat of divisive coverage from the national news media to the never-ending flow of information on social media to the very serious instability in countries around the globe, it seems like the world is in a very precarious place. I certainly understand why some studies show that stress and anxiety is at an all-time high.

So, this holiday season, I want to remind you that there is hope in this world, and the hope comes in many different shapes and forms.

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There is hope in the people who take time out of their busy holiday schedule to help those in need. Last week, I joined with the Salvation Army to ring their holiday bell outside the Bass Pro Shop in Spanish Fort. I was constantly impressed by the number of individuals from all ages and all walks of life who dropped money in the bucket.

I also recently visited the WKRG studios in Mobile to donate to their annual toy drive. When I walked into that warehouse full of toys, it put joy in my heart. There is something truly special about individuals giving their time, money, or talents to help make the holidays special for those in need.

There is hope in the sacrifice of our service members. Jesus put it best when he said that there is no greater love than a person who is willing to lay down their life for one’s friends. That is what our military men and women do each and every day. They put their life on the line to help protect the rights and values that we hold dear.

There is hope in the United States of America. If you ever doubt the greatness of America, just take a look back at our history and what all we have overcome. The greatness of our country is not based in our legal documents or our government institutions. The greatness of the United States comes from our people, and that is why I know our best days are still ahead.

Finally, there is hope in Christ. There is hope in that baby, born in a manger in Bethlehem. There is hope because that baby would grow up to conquer the world and give us the remarkable blessing of eternal life. It is the love of Jesus that gives us the greatest hope of all.

This Christmas, as I do each year, I want to remind you of the words written in John 1:5, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” No matter how busy you are, how worried you are, or how anxious you are, please take hope in the fact that the light will never be overcome by the darkness of this world.

So, from my family to yours, Merry Christmas, and may God bless you this holiday season.

Guest Columnists

Opinion | Survey says time for Accountability Act to go

Larry Lee

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More than 600 people have responded so far to a recent online survey about the Alabama Accountability Act.  They are loud and clear as to how they feel.  Seventy-six percent say it should be repealed.  Another 17 percent say it should be modified and only one percent say it should be left as is.

This is not surprising since 78 percent of respondents are either currently working in public education, or are retired educators.  They also have a vested interested as 58 percent either have children or grandchildren now in a public school.

More than 51 percent are in the age range of 46 to 65.  Sixty-eight percent of all respondents are female. And 46 percent identify themselves as Republicans, 32 percent are Independents and 23 percent are Democrats.

Editor’s note: SurveyMonkey was the instrument used to get responses.  This methodology is used by more than 4,000 companies worldwide In market research.  Unlike traditional political polling, SurveyMonkey does not control responses according to demographics.  However, the number of responses is so large that info is very valid in measuring attitudes and trend lines.

The survey probed a number of issues regarding AAA.

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For instance, while those supporting the accountability act imply that public schools should not miss the $100 million now diverted from the Education Trust Fund by this legislation, 95.5 percent of survey takers do not believe Alabama schools are adequately funded.

Only four percent say they know someone who has contributed to a Scholarship Granting Organization (SGO) and seven percent say they know a student who has received a scholarship with this program.

This law creates a double standard for charitable contributions.  While the state allows an income tax DEDUCTION for traditional contributions based on the contributor’s income tax bracket; donors to an SGO get a dollar for dollar TAX CREDIT on their taxes.  Say you are in the 35 percent tax bracket and give $1,000 to the Boy Scouts, you get a $350 (35 percent X $1,000) tax deduction.  However, if you give $1,000 to a SGO, the state allows you to take this amount off your tax liability owed the state.  In other words, you are reimbursed $1,000.

Some 56 percent of those who answered the survey say both regular charitable contributions and SGO contributions should be treated equally.

There is concern these scholarships are sometimes used to recruit athletes to private schools and 77 percent think a school getting AAA scholarships should not be allowed to compete in athletics with public schools.

They also have strong feelings about scholarships being given to non-accredited private schools as is presently allowed.  Eighty-three percent oppose this.

The survey shows intense feelings about the State Board of Education and their unwillingness to take a stand on AAA.  Some 88 percent say the board should take a public position on AAA and 90 percent say the board should be actively involved in making legislative changes to the law.

While this law requires that the state identify the bottom six percent of all public schools and label them as “failing,” 78 percent say the same bottom six percent standard should be applied to private schools.

AAA does not stipulate that any resources or help be given to “failing” schools to help them improve.  Eighty-three percent of responses say this is wrong.

So far, school boards in Baldwin, Mobile, Montgomery, Randolph and Tallapoosa counties have passed resolutions calling for the repeal of AAA.  Some 87 percent agree with school boards taking such action.

Respondents were asked how they feel about the overall state of public education in Alabama.  Unfortunately, 45 percent believe it will be worse in the future than it now is
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Might it be that after six years of the accountability act and little to show for it, plus the fact that the state school board is apparently content to give up $100 million in funding without saying a word, there is ample reason for pessimism?

I don’t know that answer.  But I do know the folks who took this survey have spoken loudly that they do not believe the accountably act works and are calling for action.

Larry Lee is a public-school advocate and co-author of the study, Lessons Learned From Rural Schools.  He is a former member of the Montgomery County school board. [email protected]

 

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | Alabama is O-KAY

John W. Giles

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At high noon today, Monday, January 14,  2019, Alabama will swear in the Honorable Kay Ellen Ivey as our 54th Governor. Governor Ivey has selflessly dedicated her entire life to public service. In this guest editorial, we will travel down memory lane of her resume; however it is my goal to talk about the Kay Ivey I have known for 30 years. For those looking under every rock for motivations of an article like this; you can relax; I am not looking for a job, a political appointment or running for any office. This is a good will piece for a very deserving lady.

After being appointed by Governor Guy Hunt in 1989 as Alabama’s Small Business Advocate for the State of Alabama; and being new to state government, I was making the rounds getting familiar with all functions of government. I was seeking resources and how we might work with other agencies to benefit small businesses. I was scheduled early one morning to meet with Dr. Sutton, Executive Director of the Alabama Commission of Higher Education. The moment I introduced myself to the receptionist; popping out in the hall from one of the back offices was this lady with a bright smile, a glowing personality and a strong southern Alabama accent. She reached out to shake my hand and said, “Hello John Giles, I am Kay Ivey, we have been looking forward to your visit, could I get you a cup of coffee?” As one can imagine; a first impression like this last for decades.

Kay Ellen Ivey was raised on a farm in Camden Alabama. After graduating from Auburn University, she began serving the public as a school teacher and then a local banker. She was Reading Clerk in the Alabama House of Representatives serving under the infamous Speaker of the House, Joe McCorquodale. She then learned to recruit industry as Assistant Director of the Alabama Development Office.

Her first election was in 2002 statewide as Alabama’s first Republican State Treasurer since reconstruction. She served there until 2010, when elected as Lieutenant Governor. On April 10, 2017, with a notice of three hours, she ascended as Governor of the state after Governor Bentley resigned. I recall her statement as if was yesterday, “We are going to steady the ship of state.” Her new public service assignment was on the heels of a turbulent ride with Bentley and steady the ship of state she did.

Working for two governors, I realized the inherent characteristics of the state’s Chief Executive Officer is to be a consistent coalition and consensus builder, have clear communicated priorities, maintain a high ethical and moral ground, stern, gracious, humble yet tough. Also, you are Alabama’s number one Ambassador and under her leadership we have had banner industrial investments and job creation. Like most, I am on the sidelines now observing the news on the internet, but I can tell you, Kay Ivey, even though she is 74 has all the right stuff for the job. She has more titanium steel in places I only wish some male public officials had in place; know what I mean Vern. Her leadership is admired by Alabamians because she was recently ranked the 3rd most popular governor in America.

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My dad always taught us; there is your side, their side, find what is right and don’t budge. Here are three recent examples when she was under tremendous pressure and did not budge. The Republic establishment in DC wanted her to abandoned the state GOP party nominee for U.S. Senate in the 2017 special election for U.S. Senate, Chief Justice Roy Moore, she did not waiver one click. She held fast to the notion that the Trump tariffs would hurt some Alabama industries; even though she loves Trump but did not budge. Then the Pardons and Parole Board got on a path of insanity and she wasted no time reeling them in and put them in checkmate.

I would be remiss in not mentioning three key men who are also my friends that have helped her immeasurably over the years. Will Sellers, who is now an Associate Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court has been with her from the get-go when running for State Treasurer. Steve Pelham has been with her since she was elected Lieutenant Governor and serves as her Chief of Staff. And last, but foremost is her long time pastor, Jay Wolf at First Baptist Church in Montgomery, who has been her spiritual pillar for years.

On a lighter note, she is always authentically friendly, easy going and fun. I love her signature Wilcox County Strong Alabama Southern accent. I have always loved hearing her talk. Listen next time when she says State Treasurer; you will count at least four of five syllables in Treasurer. I trust you are smiling with me on this one.

In conclusion, Alabama is O-KAY with Kay.

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | Get the show on the road

Bradley Byrne

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It is time for the Democrat leaders in Washington to stop posturing when it comes to border security and end the government shutdown.

The old expression “get the show on the road” is very apt in this situation. But, truth be told, the show is already on. There is no better way to describe the Democrat strategy right now than as a show, playing to their audience.

The Democrats have lost touch with what matters to Americans outside of their bubble. They continue to play to the far-left base of their party in order to placate the loudest voices. But the loudest voices don’t always have the best interests of the American people at heart.

President Trump has made many efforts to work with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on a deal, but those efforts have fallen on deaf ears.

Last Wednesday, the President asked Speaker Pelosi if she would be willing to negotiate for a deal to open the government quickly and provide funding for border security at a later date. Speaker Pelosi answered “no.” If Democrats aren’t willing to negotiate, then what is President Trump to do? He can’t negotiate with himself.

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I have heard from many folks in Alabama expressing their disbelief that Congress has not yet provided the necessary funds to secure our border, build a wall, and reopen the remaining 25 percent of the federal government.

I cannot help but echo the sentiment of my fellow Alabamians: why would a Member of Congress not support something as commonsense as border security to end the partial shutdown?

In the past, Democrats have supported these commonsense national security priorities such as fencing, barriers, and increased border funding, but there is something different going on here.

It appears that it is not enough for the Democrats to earn a win. Instead, it must be that President Trump gets a loss. And the sad part is, the people that lose the most in this situation are the hardworking American taxpayers contributing their time, efforts, and skills to the betterment of our communities.

Roughly 800,000 federal employees are currently on furlough, some continuing to work without pay. Last Friday, many of those people missed a paycheck. That is simply unacceptable, especially when the solution is one that both puts these people back to work and improves our national security.

More than this, Americans have been greatly affected already by illegal immigration and the crisis taking place on our southern border.

A big issue is the flow of illegal drugs. Hundreds of thousands of men and women in the United States have fallen victim to the evils and unbelievable effects of drug addiction and overdose. Many of those illegal drugs have their origins in Central and South America.

All throughout the country, we have heard horror stories of illegal immigrants committing horrendous crimes. We had an illegal immigrant in Shelby County, Alabama rape a young girl, and everyone has heard the story of the police officer in California who was murdered by an illegal immigrant. In many of these crimes, the illegal immigrant had even been deported before and managed to reenter the country illegally a second time.

Crimes happen every day, but these crimes were preventable.

We must act, we must enforce border security, and we must provide the funds necessary to get the job done. I call on Democrats to stop with the show, come to the table, negotiate with President Trump, and let’s get the government back open.

 

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | Leader or follower: The two sentence fig leaf test

John W. Giles

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After the 2018 election, constitutionally we seated newly elected and re-elected officials at the local, state and national level. You can always KNOW when a politician is dealing with a very hot political issue with two key sentences: Let the People Vote and I am personally opposed, But! This is a true litmus test for average citizens to identify authentic leadership versus followers who are shamelessly being led around with a ring in their nose by well-funded lobbyist. They are also covered with fig leaves. Let me explain.

In Genesis, one of the earliest bible stories we all remember, on the sixth day God created man and woman. God’s one and only restriction on Adam and Eve is that they not eat of the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge and good. After they had sinned against God, they felt naked and covered their private parts with fig leaves. I am hopeful in this article to remove the fig leaves to identify a follower and also admonish the signs of true leadership.

The first fig leaf sign of weakness, and a sure-fire way to know you are dealing with a follower is the sentence: “Let the People Vote.” People like the notion of voting, because they distrust double talk from politicians. Generally, this phrase is used over a constitutional amendment. This sentence coming from the mouth of an elected official is an immediate indication this is a very tough issue and the elected official does not want to get scorched by taking a clear position. Facts versus polling data can sometimes be polarizing. Legislators are often given hard facts on an issue during the public hearings and debates. Those who have much to gain economically will always showcase a snapshot of early polling data from a constituency who has not yet been well informed on the topic; but it just sounds good. Do you want your government run by polls or hard facts and historical data?

A legislator should not hide behind the fig leaf; “Let the People Vote,” but publicly declare with their position with procedural votes; is this Good Public Policy or Bad Public Policy? After vigorous debate, a house member or senator will vote yes or no. If 2/3’s of the house and senate bodies vote yes, the Alabama constitution guarantees citizens the right to vote on that issue, NOT A LEGISLATOR. For example, every year the legislature is tempted to take up the debate of legalizing a lottery and they make it sound as though it goes straight to the people for a vote; hang on a minute! A legislator can Vote Yes or No up to four times on any one given bill. The first vote is the Budget Isolation Resolution allowing it to come up ahead of the constitutional mandated budgets, which are supposed to be first. If they are in the committee, there is a vote, then if there is a debate a cloture vote and then final passage. Also, if there are amendments along the way here are some more votes. There are plenty of opportunities for a legislator to Vote Yes or No. Bottom line; they are voting yes or no on one simple question: Is this good or bad public policy?

During a gambling – lottery debate, the legislature will hear a lot of data that the lottery is Bad Public Policy. They will learn again that repealing the current lottery prohibition in the constitution will open the door to games of chance and casino style gambling will be unleashed on every corner of the state. They will learn the lottery preys on the poor, elderly and our young people. Hard data will be presented demonstrating that untaxed disposable income money going into the lottery cannibalizes our children’s Education Trust fund by $40 to $50 million annually. Data will demonstrate that legal and illegal gambling will soar further breaking up families; our children are the ones who suffer. Facts will be shown that our state will spend between $95 – $100 million in social programs, dealing with gambling additions commensurate with other states, which currently have a legalized lottery. Also, our legislators will learn public corruption ascends when mega million-dollar lottery companies like GTECH, Scientific Games, IGT, Westrex and the list goes on, retain highly paid lobbyist who have well-funded expense accounts, filling campaign coffers with millions, funding high toned legislative resort retreats and in some cases private jet trips to the Caribbean. My fellow Alabamians, a “Yes Vote” after all of these facts are presented translates a legislator is convinced this is “Good Public Policy.” When you hear the sentence: “Let the People Vote,” you should be saying, “run Forrest Gump run.”

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The other famous sentence of a follower is: “I am personally opposed BUT…. It is a crafty old trick in the playbook of the follower. Usually Democrats use this term, but some Republicans have borrowed that slogan. I am personally pro-life, but I think a woman has a right to choose. I am personally opposed to this Gas Tax increase…BUT my lobbyist who funded my campaign wants the tax. I am personally opposed to transgender bathrooms, but the people should choose what bathroom they use. This is not a sign of leadership, this is evidence you are dealing with a fainthearted DNA unable to take a position on an issue. I AM personally opposed, BUT!!! Actually this is a double talk position, which actually alienates the public official from both sides: take a position please.

My former boss, Governor Fob James told me one time; “Giles if you give the people ALL of the facts, they make right decisions”, and he is right. For example, early polling data in 1999, suggested the people that supported a lottery was north of 60%; but when given the facts like mentioned in the above paragraph; like Governor James profoundly spoke, 54% of the state voted against a lottery.

If you hear the phrase, “Let the people Vote,” then why do we need a legislature, then let the people vote on every single issue and you come on home. We have a republican form of government where one person represents their districts in the legislative process. Our forefathers knew a vote of the people on every issue would not work. If you hear an elected official use either of these two sentences, RUN, BABY RUN and find you someone else to represent you

True leadership on the other hand, gathers all the facts and takes a position even on the tough issues and the hell with the consequences. Leadership is often lonely, but true leaders understand that one is a majority. Anyone can pick up the talking points of CNN or other opinion leaders; but a true leader makes sound decisions even when unpopular based on a solid foundation of hard facts and data. A true leader will die for what they know is right; a follower will run and find a fig tree.

Listen closely; is your legislator standing with a fig leaf or are they facing Goliath alone with a sling and five stones.

 

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Live in hope this Christmas

by Bradley Byrne Read Time: 3 min
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