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Guest Columnists

I have your silver bullet, Governor

Darrio Melton

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By Rep. Darrio Melton

In politics and in life, there is seldom a “silver bullet” solution. Panaceas and cure-alls are typically the talk of snake oil salesmen, while public policy is frequently grounded in realms of give-and-take and cost-benefit analyses.

Alabama’s budget crisis has been no different. There have been a number of solutions on the table, each with a costly drawback in exchange for a budget cure–except one.

Governor Bentley has tried to raise taxes on working families and chose to close DMVs and state parks as punishment when legislators on both sides of the aisle failed to comply with his requests.

The Republican Supermajority has tried to cut our way out of the problem, putting Alabama precariously on the cusp of going from small government to no government.

If we look at why the Republican Supermajority’s plan won’t work, we see the closest thing to a silver bullet option Alabama has available.

See, the bulk of Alabama’s general fund budget goes two places: health care and prisons. Both of those services deal with more than dollars at the bottom line–they handily affect people’s lives.

Currently, the federal government is offering Alabama $1.24 billion in federal spending within our borders if we would opt-in to the Medicaid Expansion program.

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Reports show a single stroke of the Governor’s pen authorizing this program could save 210 lives in 2016 and save the state $190 million in money we’re currently spending to care for uninsured Alabamians.

To put this in perspective, Governor Bentley recently closed 31 Driver’s License offices across the state to save a mere $100,000.

This $190 million in savings could be used to rebuild our roads and bridges, recruit industry to the Black Belt and rural Alabama, keep open state parks, or create small-business loans, which would provide quality jobs for Alabamians who are in desperate need of an opportunity to work, even beyond the 30,000 jobs that would be created in the healthcare industry.

With improved jobs, we see impacts that can’t be effectively captured individually. We see families being lifted out of poverty and children performing better in school. We see recidivism rates decrease in our criminal justice system and we see an overall lower crime rate in our communities. We see a brighter future for Alabama shaping up quickly on the horizon, all with a single stroke of the Governor’s pen.

While we as a state can afford to spend $2.2 million and millions more in tax credits to bring 200 jobs to North Alabama, the Governor refuses to consider accepting federal money to create 30,000 jobs and, more importantly, to save 217 lives.

The argument from the right is that the state will be expected to cover a portion of the costs in the next 10 years–that amount could range from $188 million to $217 million.

Don’t let them fool you: we’re saving $190 million simply by implementing the program. This means that we will, in fact, save money for the first 10 years, at which time we’ll be budget neutral with the added benefits of the $1.24 billion from federal spending, 30,000 new jobs, 200 lives saved every year, economically advanced families, improved education, decreased crime rates, lowered prison and criminal justice costs, and a brighter future for all of Alabama.

No, Governor, it’s not quite a silver bullet, but it’s pretty close. It just takes one stroke of your pen to expand Medicaid. Let’s do it.

 

Rep. Darrio Melton is a Democrat from Selma. He was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2010 and currently serves as Chair of the House Democratic Caucus.

 

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | Remembering civil rights icon Rev. Joseph E. Lowery

Derryn Moten

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Co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, SCLC, Rev. Joseph E. Lowery died on March 27, 2020.  He and his clerical brother, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. envisaged SCLC as the national platform needed to inveigh segregation, materialism, and militarism in the South and nation. King became the first SCLC president in 1957, a position he held until his assassination in 1968.  Lowery headed SCLC from 1977 until 1997.

Born in Huntsville, Alabama, Lowery taught school in Birmingham before becoming a minister. He pastored his first church in the Magic City. He also led the Warren Street Methodist Church in Mobile, Alabama and became the leader of the Alabama Civic Affairs Association, the precursor of the Montgomery Improvement Association, MIA.

Perhaps less known is that Joseph Lowery was the last living co-defendant of the landmark Sullivan v. New York Times Company, a libel lawsuit filed by City of Montgomery and State of Alabama officials against the New York Times and Reverends Ralph D. Abernathy, Fred L. Shuttlesworth, Joseph E. Lowery, and Solomon S. Seay, Sr. Montgomery City Police Commissioner L. B. Sullivan, Public Affairs Commissioner Frank Parks, and Mayor Earl James filed $500,000,00 libel lawsuits each.  Gov. John Patterson sued the same defendants adding Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for $1 million dollars.

The City and State alleged that the March 29, 1960 New York Times advertisement paid for by The Committee to Defend Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Struggle for Freedom in the South, defamed and libeled the plaintiffs by knowingly publishing false statements.  A chief bone of contention was a paragraph, 39 words, describing actions of the City of Montgomery Police Department against Alabama State College students. On February 25, 1960, those same ASC students sat-in at the Montgomery County Courthouse Cafeteria.  This was Alabama’s first sit-in demonstration. The ad claimed “police armed with shotguns and tear gas ringed the campus and padlocked the dining hall.”

The New York Times ad sought to raise funds for a trial Dr. King faced in Alabama for tax fraud. The City and State targeted the ministers because they were signatories to the ad. LorraineHansbury, Eleanor Roosevelt, Langston Hughes, Nat King Cole, and Ruby Dee, among others, also signed the ad. Defense counsel argued the Black ministers were included because of their friendships with Dr. King.  The lawsuits sought to harass, harangue, and financially ruin these civil rights leaders.  Temporarily, that is exactly what the suits accomplished.  A collective judgment of $3 million dollars, and an inability to secure a surety bond, allowed the State to garnish the personal property of Abernathy, Seay, Shuttlesworth, and Lowery. Each saw their automobiles seized and sold.  The Marengo County Sheriff also sold 300 acres of land owned by the Rev. Abernathy and his extended family since Reconstruction.

The New York Times won its appeal to redress the State cases in the federal courts. Montgomery County Senior Circuit Judge Walter B. Jones heard the original five cases. A racial cyborg, Jones pronounced from the bench that the Fourteenth Amendment was irrelevant in Alabama and that the Sullivantrial would be conducted “in the belief and knowledge that the white man’s justice . . . brought over to this country by the Anglo-Saxon Race . . . will give the parties at the Bar of this Court, regardless of race or color, equal justice under law.” Four years after it all began, the Supreme Court of the United States reversed the judgments against the defendants.

As we pray for the repose of Rev. Joseph Echols Lowery, we should remember part of his prayer at President Barak Obama’s 2009 inauguration; “We ask you [Lord] to help us work for that day when Black will not be asked to get back . . . and when white will embrace what is right.”

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | A little effort can make a big difference in the fight against COVID-19

Will Ainsworth

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Will Ainsworth is Alabama’s lieutenant governor.

Every American was a bit disappointed when the White House announced this week that social distancing guidelines will remain in place at least until April 30, and some governors across the nation have mandated that statewide shelter-in-place orders may be enforced until the end of June.

Working from home, avoiding contact with others, and venturing into public only when absolutely necessary can make life seem much like the Bill Murray movie, “Groundhog Day.” Each day, the temptation to break a social distancing guideline becomes a little harder to resist and the desire to ignore protocols and immediately return to your normal routine becomes that much greater.

But facts, statistics, and simple, everyday hard truths demand that we not only hold the course in the fight against COVID-19, but also practice stricter self-discipline in how we act and what we do.

As this column is being written, Alabama is teetering on the edge of its 1,000th documented case of Coronavirus, and 19 of our fellow Alabama citizens have already succumbed to the deadly sickness.

Every indicator points to the situation getting significantly worse in our state before it begins to improve, and President Trump has ordered additional ventilators sent to Alabama from the national stockpile in order to prepare for what awaits us.

If current trends continue, Alabama’s healthcare resources will likely be pushed beyond capacity by the end of the month, and the number of hospital and ICU beds that are needed will exceed the total number we have in the state.

The good news is that Alabamians can prove all of these projections and possible doomsday scenarios wrong if we just use common sense, take self-responsibility, and follow the rules that health professionals suggest.

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Too many among us are still refusing to take the COVID-19 crisis seriously, and by doing that, they threaten their own lives along with the lives of everyone they love and everyone they meet.

Since Gov. Kay Ivey declared the state’s Gulf Coast beaches closed in order to enforce social distancing, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency has reported a dramatic surge in weekend traffic on Alabama’s lakes and rivers.

My family and I live by Lake Guntersville, and we have noticed the massive groups of people congregating together, jumping from party boat to party boat, and ignoring every rule about social distancing and self-isolation that the Center for Disease Control has asked us to follow.

It may come as a surprise to these weekend revelers, but sun, water, and cold beer are not effective vaccines against COVID-19.

For proof of this fact, just look toward the group of University of Wisconsin-Madison students who spent their Spring Break in Gulf Shores in mid-March. Upon their return north, several of the students have displayed symptoms and tested positive for COVID-19, and all of them are currently under quarantine.

Each time an individual or family decides to strictly follow CDC guidelines and do their part in the fight against Coronavirus, the numbers bend in our direction, and all of us get that much closer to safely resuming normalcy.

Assuming Alabama has a daily infection rate of 20 percent, trends show that we can expect to have more than 245,000 total cases of COVID-19 by May 1, but if through discipline and resolve we can reduce that daily growth to 10 percent, a little more than 9,000 cases will occur. At five percent growth, we have only 1,600.

via Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth

In other words, just a little effort and diligence from all of us can make a tremendous difference. Social distancing is recommended because the virus that causes COVID-19 can travel at least three feet when coughed or sneezed, and it can live on surfaces for days.

The rules for social distancing are easy to understand and follow, and they require you to remain at least six feet away from others, wash your hands frequently with soap, sanitize and wipe down surfaces, stay at home to stop the spread, and self-quarantine and contact your physician if you experience symptoms.

President Trump was wise to extend the social distancing requirements for at least another month, but all of us look forward to the day when future extensions will not be necessary. To accomplish that goal, we must each remember three simple things – stay smart, stay healthy, and, most importantly, stay home.

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | Finding the new normal

Kellie Hope

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I spent my professional career getting dressed, usually in business attire, leaving my house and driving to another location – office tower, free standing building, hospital – to begin my work day. All of that changed late last year, when I joined the Business Council of Alabama as Regional Director, a newly created role in the organization. One of the best perks (among many) of joining BCA is my ability to work from home. The past four months have been filled with transition and some trial and error. Making the shift from an “office” office to a home office environment can be seamless, but it takes effort, discipline and a healthy dose of humor.

Before the Coronavirus pandemic, remote work in the United States was already on the rise. According to the Federal Reserve, the share of the labor force that works from home has tripled in the past 15 years. Prior to the outbreak, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics noted 29 percent of the American workforce could and did work from home. This has only increased as “social distancing” has become the new normal. In our current coronavirus reality, hundreds of thousands of workers across multiple disciplines and industries are now joining me in my slippers in front of my computer first thing in the morning. Before I made my transition, I asked friends and colleagues for advice. The overwhelming response was “it’s great; you’ll love it”, quickly followed by “make sure you’re organized; it’s very different.”  That advice is 100 percent true – It’s great, AND it’s quite an adjustment. Their advice has never been more pertinent, and I thought it timely to share it with you. Here are my best suggestions for making the transition:

  • Have a defined workspace: An actual home office, the dining room table, a set up on the back porch – it’s critical to have a dedicated space where you work that isn’t your bedroom. (Although, an occasional conference call from your bed isn’t the end of the world).
  • Maintain a routine: Wake up at a consistent time, have breakfast, get dressed, spend some time preparing for your day just as you would if you were leaving the house. The same way you use your drive to make calls or ease into your day, do it at home. Same with the end of the day – download the day’s events and prepare for the next day, just as you would before you leave the office. In these very uncertain times, routine not only helps maintain productivity, but it provides a sense of normalcy.
  • Have defined work time: This was one of my biggest challenges. It’s so easy to jump into work as soon as you open your eyes and find you are still at it when the 9:00 news is on. Conversely, it’s tempting to do a few loads of laundry or run a quick errand, and the next thing you know, your day is off the rails.  It’s important to take breaks (just as you would if you were in an office) but work time is for work.  
  • Get out of the house: *Disclaimer: this was much easier before COVID-19 became a part of our daily vocabulary* Looking ahead to the day we return to some semblance of normalcy, set appointments outside your home – at a coffee shop, a colleague’s office, etc. For now, take a walk, go to Starbucks drive through – something to break the monotony of being inside all day, every day.
  • Be patient with yourself: Working from home requires a different type of discipline than going into the office, especially with kids and others likely in the house also. Be kind to yourself and others. Allow yourself time to adjust to the new routine.
  • Stay connected: Communicate with colleagues and peers through the multitude of available outlets – video conference, webinars, conference calls, group chats. This helps maintain the rapport and productive teamwork that exists in the office environment. Connection also benefits our mental and emotional well-being, which we should all pay attention to, especially now.
  • Enjoy the perks!: Jeans instead of a business suit – that’s great! If you aren’t going out, wear your cozy slippers or flip flops all day. If the weather is nice, make calls or handle emails from your backyard or patio and get your daily dose of vitamin D (Multitasking!). There is wonderful flexibility and creativity when working from home. Enjoy it!

Countless tips and strategies to make the work-from-home transition a success are readily accessible. A quick Google search will yield all sorts of articles and helpful hints. My transition to working from home was the right decision for me and my family.  Coronavirus made that decision for so many others in the last few weeks. It’s important that you find a strategy that works best for you and your family, and just do it! Good luck and best wishes.


Kellie Hope is the Business Council of Alabama’s regional director based out of Mobile.

 

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | Slush fund for congressmen included in coronavirus relief bill

Craig Ford

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Having served in the State House of Representatives, as opposed to the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., I usually limit my editorials to state politics rather than national politics. But I cannot stay silent about the most recent piece of legislation to come out of the national Congress.

Most of what’s in that bill is good. There’s a lot of help for families that are struggling to get by during these difficult times; help that is essential for those who get paid by the hour.

But hidden within that $2 trillion bill is a $25 million line item for Congress. No, it’s not a pay raise for congressman. But it’s almost just as bad.

The majority of that $25 million is so our congressmen can buy new laptops, technology for video town halls and tech support to help them with their new toys.

It’s deeply disturbing that our representatives in Washington, D.C., including our own congressman, Robert Aderholt, would include such a blatant slush fund in a piece of legislation that is otherwise a good and desperately needed bill.

First, I find it hard to believe that our congressmen don’t already have laptops provided by the taxpayers. And even if they don’t, congressmen get paid $174,000 a year for their service in Congress (and most also own their own businesses or make millions of dollars playing the stock market).

So if they need a new laptop so badly why can’t they just go buy one with the money we are already giving them? You can buy a laptop for $230 at Best Buy. But a congressman with a $174,000 a year salary can’t afford to order one on his or her taxpayer-funded salary?

As bad as that is, though, what’s worse is the money being spent for technology for video town halls.

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For one thing, a town hall is as much as political event as it is a public service event. It’s an opportunity for elected officials to talk with the voters, and therefore it as much a campaign expense as it is a public policy one.

And what about candidates running against sitting congressmen or candidates running for “open” seats where the current congressman is retiring? They aren’t getting the benefit of a taxpayer-funded video camera and computer software so that they can talk to voters during this time where people are staying home as much as possible.

At the very least, spending money for town hall equipment and software just doesn’t pass the smell test. At worst, it’s a taxpayer-funded campaign donation that won’t get reported and only helps those who are already in congress.

And at a time like this, our congressmen need to be talking to everyone, not just those who they choose to allow to participate in a video town hall (the benefit of a video town hall is that you can mute people and only allow those who are asking pre-approved questions to speak).

Any information our congressmen have to share with us regarding the coronavirus or anything else should be shared through the normal public channels so that everyone can hear it. And our tax dollars shouldn’t be going to technology that allows congressmen to dodge the tough questions.

I expect better than this from Congressman Aderholt and the other members of Congress. I encourage him to refuse to accept any new technology funded with this $25 million and, instead, insist that that money be donated to a hospital in our district to help fund medical supplies.

Congress should not use this national disaster as an excuse to buy themselves new laptops and free technology to benefit their political careers. Every dollar should go toward helping fight this virus and supporting hardworking families that are struggling to survive during this crisis.


Craig Ford is the owner of Hodges-Ford Insurance and the Gadsden Messenger. He represented Gadsden and Etowah County in the Alabama House of Representatives for 18 years.

 

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