By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Recently, we had a conversation with former U.S. Representative Artur Davis about the Alabama legislative session. In the interview he shares some of his thoughts on the challenges and opportunities facing our state.
APR: The big issues facing us aside from the budget which is the 800 pound gorilla in the room, with little where to go. Last month the Governor presented a proposal of combining the two state budgets together but that was certainly killed before it was born.
DAVIS: It is an old proposal as you know very well. I want to say it was something that Governor Brewer proposed at one point. It has been something that has been talked about in policy circles within the state for a long time. It has some surface appeal–the idea of combining the Education Fund and the General Fund. People who are strong transparency advocates believe there is a value to it. We all know why it’s not going to happen because the Education Trust Fund has all kinds of formal and informal protections that are built into it, all kinds of formal understandings that are built into it in terms of how much money is going to go for K through 12 or how much is going to go to colleges. I think that there is a feeling that if you mix all that into one fund there may be too much transparency for some people’s tastes, too much accountability for some people’s tastes.
Obviously the underlying challenge that we have is that although the numbers have got substantially better in the last several months as you know Alabama’s recovery has lagged behind in recovery as opposed to the rest of the country. Thankfully, we are not South Carolina which still has a 10 percent unemployment rate but a few months ago our numbers were pretty high in the state of Alabama. So, as long as the economy is in a condition that looks like a recession, regardless of what the national GDP says, it’s going to mean that tax revenues are low. It’s going to mean that our social services structure is stretched a little bit. It’s going to mean that we are going to have a little trouble meeting our needs.
I am certainly sympathetic to that problem and I think that frankly the Legislature doesn’t have a lot of choice other than to make dramatic, serious reductions in things that the state doesn’t need or things that the state is not getting what it pays for–where it is not getting its bang for its buck.
APR: I think they will make some hard choices. Let’s just hope they are good choices. There are always sacred cows that do not get put on the chopping block and that is an unfortunate thing.
DAVIS: You can always have penny-wise and pound-foolish decisions. Sometimes it seems very easy to cut programs like breast cancer screening for poor women. Sometimes it is relatively easy to cut those programs, and then when you look at the cost of paying for those women later on when they are pushed into the public health system then the lack of wisdom of those decisions becomes very clear.
It is very easy to cut service programs that don’t have a huge constituency around them, that don’t serve populations that are political decisive around them in the state but sometimes you end up paying for them on the backend of those cuts and that is no better.
APR: Those unwise choices are made often because it is politically safe. One of the big issues is going to be education. I think that is going to be front and center and it is going to get a lot of press. The Governor announced his initiative and several other things but the big issue is school choice. The big thing is does that happen and how does that happen. I know DC has had success or at least it has been publicized that there is success. Any thoughts on that?
DAVIS: Well I don’t see Alabama rushing to imitate Washington, DC, laws in too many ways. I don’t think that we want to be like Washington, DC, is going to catch on in Alabama.
My sense is that I am sympathetic to people who want to give families other than a public school system that is substandard. I have never been one that believes that the choice issue, in this context of vouchers or whatever you want to call it that was any more than a very thin bandaid on a much bigger problem and a much more festering sore.I happen to believe that we need dramatic substantial reforms in education. I am someone that thinks that we need to do a much better job of filtering out teachers and getting the right teachers into the classroom and make it a lot easier to get rid of bad teachers. I think we need to do a much better job of getting leaders into the profession of being principals as opposed to career teachers who may or may not be leaders.
I am someone that thinks that we need to be open to all kinds of experiments and innovations when it comes to the public school systems which is not nearly good enough right now. My fear is that the political energy is spent fighting for a voucher program or choice program. Frankly that burns off a lot of the energy that you need to do more comprehensive things. And that is always my fear with the education debate, doing one thing that is an important symbol and may be important for some families ends up taking the place of dramatic reform that could make the whole system better. Ultimately, if you put a voucher system in place tomorrow in the state of Alabama, that is not going to change the quality of schools in Alabama. I understand theoretically it will put pressure on schools to make changes and reforms more competitive. We all know that is something that will take a while. But if you are serious about that you had better get serious about what the identity and the makeup of the reforms are going to be and not just the abstract idea of reforms. If we want to compete in a modern economy that means a better public school system. Letting some parents in the state have an easier time opting out of the public school system is not going to draw jobs to the state. I don’t know of any industry that sits around thinking, “Gee, we are willing to go to a state with weak public schools as long as we have got a choice program so that our executives’ children don’t have to go there.” That is not how industry thinks. You know, industry is thinking, “How good are your schools?” Not how good are your alternatives to your schools because they know if the people working on the assembly line are properly educated then they have a viable workforce.
When a foreign car company decides to come to Alabama or domestic manufacturing companies decides to come to Alabama, they understand that most of there employees are going to public schools. They want to make sure that those public schools are producing workers with the right skills as opposed to alternatives to public schools. That is just my mind set.
APR: When you say principals and not career teachers, one of the things that comes to mind is that there was a joke that said, “How do you become a school superintendent?” And then it said, “Well, first become a coach.”
I know far too many heads of school districts that really that is exactly what they did. They were very popular and they got their PhD in education. They are really not innovators, not forward thinkers. It’s just they have been there and have worked their way through the system. We spend a lot of money on these individuals and the selection process has gotten harder but we are not necessarily getting better quality. Then once we get them, this is a two part, they don’t many options anyway due to the system where it is mainly legislated from Montgomery.
DAVIS: I think that is certainly is something where you need national leadership in the equation but I happen to believe that it would be a much better system and a much better process if smart, talented, young professionals could be trained to become principals and school superintendents without necessarily without having to go through the normal process of becoming principals and school superintendents.
We have something called officer candidate school in the military. Officer candidate school identifies very bright young people who are serving in the military who have an obvious potential to lead and it is something that no one criticizes and it works very well.
Certainly you need principals who understand the curriculum, who understand the class role, who understand how federal regulations and statutes work. I am not suggesting that you can take someone who is coming off a nice stint in the private sector and stick them tomorrow in charge of leading a school without putting them through a lot of coaching on what that means to lead a school process.
I think there ought to be a procedure and a capacity to take leaders, people who have the ability to lead and to motivate and to allow them to become school principals without having to go through the normal process of teaching for so many years and getting this kind of degree teaching education. I just think we can do better in that regard.
There is plenty of data that says that the most important factor in a school’s success is the quality of teachers. The second most important thing is the quality of the principal. The most important part of the principal is leadership skills. So I think there ought to be a process for moving people with very strong leadership skills into the role of being principals and I am not sure that the system we have today is as laser-focused on that problem. So, that is the kind of dramatic change I think we need.
Next the next part Davis speaks more about education and also immigration and the work of Attorney General Luther Strange.
Governor announces auto supplier IAC plans Alabama expansion
IAC is committing $34.3 million in new capital investment to expand its new manufacturing facility located in Tuscaloosa County.
Gov. Kay Ivey announced Monday that International Automotive Components Group North America Inc. plans to invest over $55.9 million in expansion projects that will create 182 jobs at two Alabama facilities.
“International Automotive Components is a leading global auto supplier, and I am pleased that this world-class company is growing significantly in Alabama and creating good jobs in Cottondale and Anniston,” Ivey said. “IAC’s growth plans show that Alabama’s dynamic auto industry continues to expand despite today’s challenging environment.”
Nick Skwiat is the executive vice president and president of IAC North America.
“Alabama was the logical choice due to its skilled workforce and proximity to the customer,” Skwiat said. “We are excited to see the continued growth of the automotive industry in Alabama and we plan to grow right along with it. We thank the Governor and Secretary Canfield for their leadership in this sector.”
IAC is committing $34.3 million in new capital investment to expand its new manufacturing facility located in Tuscaloosa County. This facility will produce door panels and overhead systems for original equipment manufacturers. That project will create 119 jobs at the production site in Cottondale.
IAC also plans to invest $21.6 million at its manufacturing facility located in the former Fort McClellan in Anniston. That East Alabama project will create another 63 jobs.
This project builds on a milestone 2014 expansion that doubled the size of the Calhoun County facility. There IAC manufactures automotive interior components and systems. Key components produced at the Anniston plant include door panels, trim systems and instrument panels for original equipment manufacturers.
IAC Group is a leading global supplier of innovative and sustainable instrument panels, consoles, door panels, overhead systems, bumper fascias and exterior ornamentation for original equipment manufacturers.
IAC is headquartered in Luxembourg and has more than 18,000 employees at 67 locations in 17 countries. The company operates manufacturing facilities in eight U.S. states.
“With operations around the globe, IAC is the kind of high-performance company that we want in Alabama’s auto supply chain to help fuel sustainable growth,” said Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield. “We look forward to working with IAC and facilitating its future growth in this strategic industrial sector.”
Danielle Winningham is the executive director of the Tuscaloosa County Industrial Development Authority.
“International Automotive Components is a valued part of Tuscaloosa County’s automotive sector,” Winningham said. “We are grateful for IAC’s investment in our community and the career opportunities available to our area workforce as a result of their investment.”
“The City of Anniston is excited that IAC has made the decision to expand here. I have enjoyed working with the leadership at IAC, the Calhoun County EDC, and the state of Alabama to get this project finalized,” said Anniston Mayor Jack Draper. “This is even further evidence that Anniston is indeed open for business.”
Only Michigan has more automobile manufacturing jobs than the state of Alabama. Honda, Mercedes, Hyundai, Polaris, Toyota and soon Mazda all have major automobile assembly plants in the state of Alabama.
AUM poll suggests Alabamians divided on prison reform proposals
90 percent of Alabamians favor some type of reform to the state’s prison systems, but there is little agreement on what efforts should be pursued.
Last week, a poll by Auburn University at Montgomery’s Department of Political Science and Public Administration found that approximately 90 percent of Alabamians favor some type of reform to the state’s prison systems, but there is little agreement on which reform efforts should be pursued.
- 36.6 percent: “Reduce or eliminate criminal sentences for non-violent crimes.”
- 30.3 percent: “Parole inmates convicted of non-violent crimes.”
- 25.9 percent: “Increase funding to improve existing prison facilities.”
- 21.4 percent: “Construct new prisons to be operated by the state.”
- 14.5 percent: “Contract with private firms to construct new prisons the state would then lease to operate.”
- 27.5 percent: “Increase funding for prison staff such as correctional officers, healthcare providers, educators, etc.”
- 15.2 percent: “Increase funding for probation officers.”
- 9.9 percent: “I support none of these options.”
The totals do not add up to 100 because it was a “select all that apply” poll.
Gov. Kay Ivey’s plan of signing a decades-long lease with private prison contractors was the least popular idea. Repairing the existing prisons 25.9 percent support while constructing new prisons had just 21.4 percent support.
The most popular prison reform measures, according to AUM poll director David Hughes, address prison overcrowding through criminal sentencing reforms.
“Approximately 37 percent of respondents support policies to reduce or eliminate sentences for non-violent offenders, and another 30 percent support paroling inmates convicted of non-violent crimes,” Hughes said.
The governor has included justice reform proposals in her all-encompassing plan. Those proposals were going to be considered by the Legislature in the 2020 legislative session but because of the coronavirus, the 2020 legislative session was cut short and the Legislature went home without addressing that or many other issues.
Much less popular is Ivey’s plan to build three new mega-prisons in Escambia, Elmore and Bibb counties.
“Only 21 percent of respondents supported a proposal to build new prisons the state would then directly operate,” Hughes said. “The least popular proposal we polled involved the state contracting with private firms to construct new prisons the state would then lease. Only 14 percent of respondents approved of this reform measure.”
The state has grossly underfunded its prison system for decades and the Alabama Department of Corrections is still dangerously overcrowded and understaffed, despite recent efforts by the Legislature to deal with its chronic underfunding of the system.
A U.S. Justice Department investigation begun by the Obama administration and concluded by the Trump administration declared that the state has the most dangerous prison system in the country. The prisons are plagued by rampant drug use, extreme violence, and the prisons have not done a good job at preparing prisoners to return to society.
The poor track record of rehabilitating prisoners means that inmates are released without job skills, education and still battling mental health issues and drug dependency. Too many inevitably reoffend and get sent back to prison exacerbating the overcrowding situation.
The U.S. Department of Justice warned the state in July that it was violating prisoners’ constitutional rights and that the attorney general may file or join lawsuits to intervene. A federal court has already found that the prisons were understaffed by a thousand guards and that inmates were not receiving necessary mental health care.
The AUM Poll was conducted between Sept. 30 and Oct. 3. It solicited online participation from 1,072 registered voters in Alabama. Respondents were weighted according demographic factors such as age, gender, race, education and income to produce a more representative sample of Alabama’s voting age population.
The survey has a 4-point margin of error.
Federal assistance following Sally tops $100 million, one month remains to apply
The deadline to register for assistance from FEMA and the SBA is Nov. 19, 2020.
About a month after the federal disaster declaration for Hurricane Sally, over $100 million in federal disaster assistance has been approved for survivors.
The funds include grants from FEMA, the National Flood Insurance Program and low-interest disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration to help with uninsured or underinsured losses.
“Alabamians, particularly in our coastal communities are still working to get back on their feet following the impacts from Hurricane Sally. I remain grateful to the Trump Administration and the team at FEMA for helping provide this immediate relief for Alabamians,” Gov. Kay Ivey said. “I encourage folks in the eligible counties to take advantage of any of this assistance as we work to recover from Hurricane Sally.”
FEMA disaster assistance can help you start on your road to recovery. Alabama homeowners, renters and businesses who had property damage or loss related to Hurricane Sally have one month left to register and apply for federal disaster assistance.
The deadline to register for assistance from FEMA and the SBA is Nov. 19, 2020.
“FEMA is here with our state and federal partners to help Alabama communities and survivors recover from the devastating storm and flooding,” said Allan Jarvis, federal coordinating officer for the Hurricane Sally disaster in Alabama. “Register for assistance if you have uninsured disaster losses.”
Survivors should register even if they have insurance. FEMA cannot duplicate insurance payments, but eligible homeowners and renters may be able to receive FEMA grants or SBA low interest loans for losses not covered by insurance to help pay for basic home repairs, temporary rental assistance and other needs such as replacing personal property.
Survivors in Baldwin, Escambia and Mobile counties have until Thursday, Nov. 19, to apply for federal disaster help.
Register for assistance in one of three ways:
- Online by logging onto DisasterAssistance.gov
- The FEMA app: Visit fema.gov/mobile-app or your phone’s app store
- Call 800-621-3362 or TTY 800-462-7585. Language translators also are available. Toll-free numbers are open daily from 6 a.m. to midnight CST, seven days a week. Multilingual operators are available.
Survivors who have questions about SBA low-interest disaster loans may contact the Disaster Assistance Customer Service Center by calling 800-659-2955 (TTY 800-877-8339), email at [email protected] or visit SBA’s website at DisasterLoanAssistance.sba.gov.
Aderholt fully supports Barrett’s confirmation process
Confirmation hearings began last week and a vote on her confirmation is expected in the next week just days before the general election.
Congressman Robert Aderholt, R-Alabama, updated his constituents on the confirmation process for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. Aderholt said, “I do support her fully and I know she will defend life, protect the Constitution, and uphold our freedoms.”
Confirmation hearings began last week and a vote on her confirmation is expected in the next week just days before the general election.
“Senate Democrats are not seriously questioning Judge Barrett on her credentials, instead they have decided to attack her character and her beliefs,” Aderholt said. “I am disappointed to see this unfold on the national stage, but I think Judge Barrett stood strong and did well during this first week of hearings.”
“While I do not have a vote in her confirmation process, I do support her fully and I know she will defend life, protect the Constitution, and uphold our freedoms when she is officially sworn in as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court,” Aderholt said.
Barrett is a Notre Dame graduate, has served on the U.S. Seventh Court of Appeals and is a former clerk for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
“I clerked for Justice Scalia more than 20 years ago, but the lessons I learned still resonate,” Barrett said. “His judicial philosophy is mine, too: A judge must apply the law as written. Judges are not policymakers, and they must be resolute in setting aside any policy views they might hold.”
Barrett vowed to keep an open mind on any matter that comes before the court, though Democrats fear she is prepared to overturn Supreme Court precedent on abortion rights and the Affordable Care Act.
That the Republican controlled committee will recommend that Barrett be confirmed appears certain. A vote to confirm Barrett to the nation’s highest court by the full Senate could occur just days ahead of the Nov. 3 election.
President Donald Trump has been the president of the United States for less than four years but if Barrett is confirmed, then he will have selected one third of the U.S. Supreme Court. Barrett fills a place created by the death of the late Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died in September.
Aderholt is in his 12th term representing Alabama’s 4th Congressional District. He faces Democratic nominee Rick Neighbors in the Nov. 3 general election.