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Opinion | Supporting Alabama’s number one industry

Bradley Byrne

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Agriculture is our country’s oldest industry. Since the beginning, America’s farmers have worked the land and sustained our communities. Today, agriculture is the top industry in rural America, and it remains the number one industry in Alabama.

As our manufacturing industry continues to grow, I have made a commitment to never forget about the backbone of Alabama’s economy: our hardworking farmers who help feed America. Farming, forestry, livestock and crop production represent more than $70 billion in annual economic output, so it remains imperative that we reinforce programs that sustain and support the agriculture industry.

Since being elected to Congress, I have always worked to be a steadfast advocate for agriculture and forestry. In fact, one of the first major votes I took in office was in favor of the 2014 Farm Bill.

Four years later, I am proud that we could pass H.R. 2, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act, also known as the 2018 Farm Bill. The Farm Bill supports our nation’s farmers and foresters by reauthorizing farm programs and directing the nation’s agricultural policy for the next five years.

Among the many important provisions, the bill includes support for Alabama’s cotton and peanut farmers and maintains access to crop insurance. This legislation also improves existing programs to maximize efficiency, reduces waste, and maintains fiscally responsible stewardship of taxpayer dollars.

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Very important to me, the Farm Bill establishes substantive work requirements for work-capable adults in order to receive SNAP benefits, commonly known as food stamps. It is important to note that the 2018 Farm Bill does not cut SNAP benefits. Rather, this provision puts more resources toward helping able-bodied adults find jobs and get back to work.

In this economy, there is no excuse for capable Americans to not seek out employment. By encouraging Americans to find and retain jobs, we ultimately lift people out of poverty, strengthen the overall economy, and help save taxpayer money.

Another significant issue facing our rural communities is a lack of broadband access. The Farm Bill authorizes substantial annual funding for rural broadband and requires the Department of Agriculture to establish forward-looking broadband standards.

Finally, this bill helps equip and train the next generation of farmers. The bill enhances access to crop insurance and establishes a scholarship program at 1890 Land Grant Institutions designed to assist students interested in agriculture careers. Many family farms transcend generations, and it is critical that we provide support for up-and-coming farmers to ensure they have the resources they need.

Each year, I travel across Southwest Alabama on my annual “Ag Matters” tour. This tour gives me the chance to visit family farms and forest land throughout Southwest Alabama and learn more about our state’s top industry.

Ultimately, the “Ag Matters” Tour helps me better understand and appreciate the unique challenges facing our local farmers and foresters. Farming is unlike most other industries and dependent on so many external factors, like weather, that are outside the control of the farmers. It is important farmers have the certainty they need to provide the American people with a safe and reliable food source.

As I travel to these family farms and speak with those who work the land, it never fails that the Farm Bill is one of the most talked about issues. This legislation truly has a huge impact on our family farms.

Our farmers and foresters are good stewards of the land, and I am pleased the House could pass this important legislation to ensure that our family farms and rural communities have the resources they need to keep up with the challenges of today.

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Opinion | A week of good news

Bradley Byrne

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There was much to celebrate this past week in Washington.

That sentence may surprise you if you just go off what you hear from the national news media, but the reality is we continue to get work done here in the People’s House.

To be clear, there is still work to be done, and that starts with passing funding necessary to secure the border and protect the American people. That said, I think it is worth pausing for a moment and reviewing the wins from this past week.

One of the biggest wins last week was passage of the 2018 Farm Bill.

As I have said before, our farmers and foresters are our future. I am pleased to have voted for this bipartisan legislation to better support our farmers in Alabama and throughout the country.

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The 2018 Farm Bill will allow for improved crop protections and loan options for farmers, incentivize rural development, support animal disease prevention and management, and will continue our nation’s commitment to agriculture and farmers.

I am especially pleased to see the substantial resources provided to improve rural broadband access to communities. Providing Internet access to people in rural Alabama is absolutely critical to economic development and the success of these communities in the 21st Century.

A few of the other provisions in the bill will greatly benefit the cotton and peanut growers here in Alabama; help maintain access to crop insurance through reduced premiums and waived fees; boost critical funding for feral swine control; and restore funding for trade promotion efforts in an attempt to keep pace with trading competitors around the world.

Most importantly, the 2018 Farm Bill will help equip and train the next generation of farmers both here in Alabama and throughout the United States. I was proud to support this bill, and I look forward to President Trump signing it into law.

Another piece of good news we received this week was the passage of a bill to help drain the Washington swamp.

The American people are sick of Congress being able to play under different rules than the rest of the country, and that must change.

That is why I am proud to be one of the leaders on the effort to reform the way sexual harassment claims are handled on Capitol Hill to increase transparency and accountability.

No longer will members of Congress be able to use taxpayer dollars to pay settlements for their own misconduct when it comes to sexual harassment. No longer will members of Congress be able to cover up their personal wrongdoings at the expense of the American people.

It was important for Congress to make this statement. With this legislation, we did the right thing. By doing the right thing, we not only do right by the people who work around us and for us, but we do right by the American people.

This has been a tough fight, but with these reforms we will make the Washington swamp a little less swampy and shine light on what is happening in the halls of Congress.

With this week of good news, it is also important to remember that the best news of all will be celebrated next week: a small baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.

This good news is the birth of our Savior, bringing God’s light directly into the world through His son.

It is easy to lose sight of the meaning of Christmas with all the bustle of daily life and routine. But this week, I challenge you to stop and remember what this season is about in preparation for the good news yet to come.

 

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Opinion | What the next mayor needs

Artur Davis

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The coming mayoral race in Montgomery matters whether you live in city limits, or whether it is simply important to you or your business that Alabama’s capital thrives.  The conversation on the ground is that the outcome could be the next historic milestone for the city that launched civil rights.

Former U.S. Magistrate Judge Vanzetta McPherson caused a stir with a recent Montgomery Advertiser column that argues “it is time for the occupant of the mayor’s office to reflect the predominant (African American) citizenry.” She further suggests that there is a burden on black voters and leaders to “filter black candidates early”, so that the ranks be purged of those who by some test fail, in her words, to “serve the best interests of the African American community.”

I know the Judge’s sentiments are well intentioned but as one of the seven or eight folks who will be running for Mayor, as the only contender who has officially registered a campaign committee, I view this election through a different lens. Montgomery has challenges at every turn. The test is not the mayor’s color or gender but whether the city’s next leader is visionary and substantial enough to unlock those opportunities disguised as challenges.

Mayor is not an entry level job, as the Judge correctly observed. The mayor-to-be will have to learn and master the details of making urban policy work for ordinary people. The job demands persistence and a clear eye about the questions that threaten Montgomery’s future.

Can our schools be rescued? For a while now, the leadership of our school system has resembled its population demographically: that by itself has meant nothing to the children in our eleven failing schools, or the 37% of children who graduate high school without core reading and math skills.

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The next mayor must join forces with the new school board to extricate the schools from the state takeover, a mismanaged event that creates the kind of uncertain chain of command that makes it impossible to attract a national caliber superintendent.

The next mayor will have to sell the neighborhoods whose children are in magnets or private schools on the imperative of financing traditional schools adequately. He or she will also need to overcome forces who resist innovative reforms or stricter accountability.

Can we make a real dent in Montgomery’s poverty problem? West and North Montgomery are statistically identical to the chronically poor Black Belt. The southern boulevard is one long patch of neglect and collapsed businesses. Too many of our working people are still poor and trapped in dead end jobs. For decades, the struggling parts of our city have had representation that “looks like them”. That fact has not yet stopped the decline.

Can we roll back crime and the root causes of crime? An overwhelming majority of criminal defendants are drop-outs. Our city has yet to fashion a comprehensive plan to identify and engage students who have encounters with the law or are chronic disciplinary problems. At the same time, if a city as complex as New York can reduce its rates of gun violence and murder, the next mayor of Montgomery should be expected to devise an anti-crime plan more robust than empathy and short- term anger management courses.

I could go on. We have reached new heights in corporate investment in the city but more of that newly infused wealth must be targeted toward creating jobs that pay high wages. Promoting minority investment is an urgent, consistently unmet need that takes more than conferences at the Renaissance to solve.  Our municipal government structure has not been reorganized since the time when smartphones had not been invented and the internet in this city was limited to government offices.

The record of the mayor who is leaving, Todd Strange, will loom over this election. I ran against him but will grant him this: in an era when national politics has degenerated into all or nothing partisanship and what the experts call tribalism, Mayor Strange has kept the volume temperate and moderate in Montgomery. The next mayor should emulate that decency. He or she must match it with a boldness and a capacity to challenge old assumptions and challenge 21st Century problems.

I do agree that this city is on the edge of making history. But the test for candidates is not how well we represent one community or satisfy that community’s insiders and gatekeepers. It is whether any of us has what it takes to make Montgomery a trendsetter in repairing failing schools and blighted neighborhoods and in forging a more prosperous, more equitable future.

If you live in Montgomery, vote for the guy or lady you think just might know how to get us there.

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Opinion | Alabama’s native son: E Pluribus Unum

John W. Giles

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All of us are called upon to lend our name for a job referral, political appointment or the endorsement of a candidate. Over time, my engagement for this kind of request is limited and almost extinct. I can count on two or three fingers those I would fall on the sword for because of their indisputable character, dignity, integrity, humility, sense of duty and honor. I only hope I can do justice in this article about one of Alabama’s great native sons who carried our economic, social, moral and constitutional values to Washington, D.C.

For approximately forty three years, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III (Jeff Sessions) has served our state and nation in many capacities. I believe history will be very kind to this great statesman who served our state and nation flawlessly. In the public square, we may call him Senator or Attorney General, but back home, we all know him as Jeff.

Jeff’s noble track record dates back when earning the Distinguished Eagle Scout recognition. Jeff went to high school at Wilcox County High School, earned a B.A. at Huntington College and then earned a Juris Doctor from the University of Alabama Law School in 1973. He also served in the Army Reserve in the 1970’s; with the rank of captain. His public service began as Assistant U.S. Attorney in the southern district of Alabama in 1975. In 1981, President Reagan tapped Jeff to be U.S. Attorney for the same district, he was Senate confirmed and served in that capacity for twelve years until President Clinton was elected and appointed one of his own. Reagan also appointed Jeff for the Federal bench in 1986, but that nomination failed due to the mounting resistance from liberal groups like the NAACP, ACLU and People for the American Way. Their logic of resistance was incomprehensible and certainly not worth noting.

I met Jeff in 1993, over twenty five years ago, when I was running for Lt. Governor and he was running for Alabama Attorney General against incumbent Jimmy Evans. You get to know someone pretty well after spending a year on the road together at events and forums. I did not make it through the primary, but enjoyed being a surrogate speaker for Jeff and Governor James during the summer. Jeff defeated Evans and asked me and a dozen or so folks to serve on his 1994 AG Transition Team. In 1996, many of us supported the idea of Jeff running for U.S. Senate. He was elected and served until February 8, 2017, when confirmed to be U.S. Attorney General appointed by President Trump. He served until November 7, 2018.

I firmly believe Trump was wrong about Jeff, and while I support his reelection in 2020, I took issue with his treatment of Jeff in an editorial I wrote: “Trump, Sessions and the woodshed.” Jeff did call me one night this past August to catch up. In our conversation, Jeff, in his unrehearsed, professional and gentlemanly manner; never mentioned one whiff about the public attacks from Trump and mockery in the media, nor did I push him. He was a complete southern gentleman as we all know him to be. Trump does not know Jeff like we all do back home; and it hurt deep to see our warrior and friend’s unmerited public lashing and maligned by Trump. Jeff was swimming in shark infested waters at the DOJ and given time, he would have delivered.

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Trump made it as a billionaire so he does not need my advice, but the exhaustive list of turnovers of high level professionals in the Trump administration is setting a pace competitive with the Talladega 500. The West Wing door of the White House might need the same revolving door installed at Trump Towers in New York. It appears Trump does listen at times and takes all counsel under advisement before making decisions on big issues; personally I do not think he does well unless you are a 100 percent, “Yes Man.” I have been in business, industry and government over the years and a high turnover within any organization is a systemic problem that is historically derived from a hand full of reasons.

There are several in the pit stop revving up their engines to run for the coveted post of U.S. Senate against ole one-third-term Jones. By the way, Doug needs to come back home and head up the George Soros Alabama get out the vote effort, become a lawyer for the ACLU or maybe raise money for the Southern Poverty Law Center. In the name of full disclosure; when Governor Ivey called the Special Election, I enthusiastically served as chairman of Proven Conservative Super – PAC that endorsed Chief Justice Roy Moore for U.S. Senate. Jeff sacrificially gave up his seat to be the U.S. Attorney General and in my view, if he wants it back, the eager GOP contenders for this seat should unanimously step aside and roll out the red carpet path back to the Potomac River for Jeff.

Embedded in the Great Seal of the U.S. Senate is E Pluribus Unum. In 1782, congress adopted the Latin phrase, E Pluribus Unum, meaning “out of many, one” for our Great Seal. Think about the power of unity in that slogan. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, III if you choose to re-engage for your old seat back, in my view, you would consummate in the flesh, “out of many, one.”

Alabama Loves Jeff Sessions.

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Opinion | More fake news from Alabama Policy Institute

Larry Lee

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The Montgomery County board of education passed a resolution in October calling for the repeal of the Alabama Accountability Act.

I was on the board that did this, I wrote much of the resolution and I voted for it.

So, I was more than a little surprised when I read a recent article by Rachel Bryars of the Alabama Policy Institute telling me why I did what I did and how I was intent on hurting needy children.

The article was titled: School boards are choosing systems over students by calling for scholarship repeal.

This title is totally inaccurate, as is most of her following article.

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To be correct, it should have said something like: Schools boards are looking out for students in their system instead those in private schools.

Every school board member takes an oath that they will do all they can to help their system and its students. But apparently Ms. Bryars thinks oaths are to be forgotten.

API is a huge supporter of the accountability act. The one that diverts money from the state Education Trust Fund to give scholarships so students can attend private schools.

Montgomery is one of four systems to pass such a resolution. The others are Mobile, Baldwin and Tallapoosa counties.

Ms. Bryars would have you believe that these four systems have all the funding they need and are being cold-hearted by calling for money to stop being diverted.

That is laughable.

So immediately after reading her article I sent Ms. Bryars an email inviting her to come visit some public schools in Montgomery and see for herself. Told her I would be glad to arrange her visit.

Got no response.

I would take her to visit some science teachers who can’t remember the last time they got new textbooks, would take her to the present home of our magnet performing arts high school that is crammed into an abandoned elementary school because their school burned down a few months ago.

Would take her to another magnet school that is housed in a building constructed in 1910, and would take her to see Curtis Black, the principal at Goodwyn Middle School who got 300 new students back in August and has them crammed into every nook and cranny he can find.

Would also suggest she take a look at the national website, DonorsChoose, where teachers around the country show projects they need funding for. There are presently 38 projects listed by Montgomery teachers. Guess they don’t know their system has more money than it can use.

As to the contention that this system is not looking out for children, figures from the state department of education show there are now 16,202 students in this system on free or reduced lunches.

Anyone who knows anything about education know these are our most at-risk students.
Ms. Bryars must think we have zero obligation to these children. That we should say it is OK to take money that might be used to boost their education and give it to private schools instead?

And how did API determine MPS is flush with cash? Because we have had an increase in funding since 2008. However, they fail to point out that 2008 was the high-water mark for education funding in Alabama and funding today is less than it was ten years ago.

Schools in Alabama need all the help they can get. We certainly don’t need the kind of falsehoods and half-truths the Alabama Policy Institute insists on peddling.

 

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Opinion | Supporting Alabama’s number one industry

by Bradley Byrne Read Time: 3 min
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