By Don Cooley
Former Director, Alabama State Parks Division Department of Conservation & Natural Resources
As a former State Parks director, nothing would have pleased me more than being able to vote for a constitutional amendment to protect State Park revenues from being raided by the politicians.
But I will vote “No” on Amendment 2 because it would do more harm than good. Under the guise of protecting State Park revenues, the politicians have embedded language in Amendment 2 that would allow privatization of Alabama’s most popular and profitable State Parks.
After studying both the amendment and Act #2016-145 that authorized it, it is clear to me that if passed, Amendment 2 would allow privatization of both the land and facilities at all State Parks that have sleeping accommodations, or sleeping and eating accommodations, or a golf course.
I am opposing Amendment 2 because the lessons of history show that privatization would be devastating for the Alabama State Parks system.
I served in the State Parks Division for 22 years, the last of which were as State Parks Director. In the 1980s the State experimented with the concept of State Park privatization by allowing private corporations to manage the lodges at Joe Wheeler, Lakepoint, DeSoto, Cheaha and Gulf State Park.
The privatization experiment was a disaster. The corporations initially made millions, but they did not properly maintain the facilities. The facilities ultimately deteriorated to the point where the corporations abandoned them and dumped them back in the people’s lap.
To address the privatization disaster, in 1998 the people of Alabama approved Amendment 617 to the Constitution of Alabama that provided a $110 million bond issue to renovate a park system that had been decimated by privatization. In doing so, the people agreed they would renovate the State Parks, but with one very important condition: The parks would never be privatized again.
The people of Alabama spoke loudly and clearly against privatization by passing Amendment 617 with one of the largest positive votes for a constitutional amendment in State history.
But here the politicians go again by asking us in Amendment 2 to lift the ban on privatization and allow parks to be run by private corporations. If Amendment 2 is approved, history will repeat itself because the companies will make millions, the park facilities will deteriorate, and the people of Alabama will once again be left holding the bag.
Albert Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Hopefully on November 7, the voters of Alabama will stop the insanity of State Park privatization once and for all by voting “No” on Amendment 2.
Opinion | Humane Alabama prisons would be a real surprise
Just some Christlike compassion and decent management. Getting either in Alabama’s prisons would be a huge surprise.
Nearly every day, there is a notification on my phone announcing that APR reporter Eddie Burkhalter has submitted yet another story on some new horror that has occurred within Alabama’s God-awful prison system.
A beating. A death. A suicide. Guards arrested. Guards accused of essentially murder. The Alabama Department of Corrections offering a lame-ass excuse for this death or that “suicide” or this drug overdose or that outright murder.
Every single day.
How he deals with it — listening to the pain and anguish of the prisoners and their family members — is simply unimaginable to me.
But because of his stories, and the work done by the ACLU’s Beth Shelburne, I know — and the readers of APR know — all too well of the violence and all around horrors that exist daily within Alabama’s prison system.
So, it was quite absurd to hear a few days ago that both the Alabama Department of Corrections and Attorney General Steve Marshall were “surprised” by a Department of Justice report that found the state’s prisons to be an absolute horror show, where beatings, suicides, murders and drug use are rampant.
The only people in those positions who would be “surprised” by such a report are idiots and liars. Marshall and Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn can decide where they fall.
The report from the Donald Trump DOJ, which is led by Bill Barr, was produced following a near-four year investigation into the prison system in the state, and it came on the heels of other federal reports that found similar issues.
The state is currently tied up in federal litigation over ADOC’s lack of health care and mental health care for prisoners. Testimony in that trial, highlighted by media, has brought damning details of the state’s prisons and the cruel and unusual punishment doled out within their walls.
At this point, the only people who don’t know that Alabama’s prisons are dark holes where violence, death and disease run rampant are those who don’t want to know.
You would think that such despicable stories of death and misery, in a state where Christian values reign and we profess a deep and unbreakable respect for the sanctity of life, would prompt public outrage. You would think our prisons would be governed by the Christian ideals of forgiveness and salvation.
You would be wrong.
Now, we could get into the many reasons — or, really, the one reason — why that is, but let’s not get bogged down in race or in why Christian repentance seems far less available the darker your skin.
Just know the prisons are awful and that their awfulness has never been a secret to anyone with a working brain and the ability to read.
That didn’t stop Marshall from grandstanding, however.
In a ridiculous press release, he declared that the state would not “be bullied” by the federal government into entering into a consent decree.
(I’d like to take a moment here to give proper respect to the federal bullying of Alabama over the years. Without it, we’d still have slavery, Jim Crow and Roy Moore-approved same-sex marriage laws.)
Marshall also, for some weird reason, tied the release of the report to the 2020 election, saying the state won’t be pressured into an agreement “conspicuously, 53 days before a presidential election.”
Yes, how dare the feds force us to treat humans like humans just 53 days before … other humans … go vote?
Hard to believe these guys aren’t getting the job done, isn’t it?
And they’re not. It doesn’t matter what happens — bad press, lawsuits, DOJ reports, threats from federal agencies — Alabama officials are NOT going to clean up our prisons. They’re not going to reduce overcrowding or provide proper care or hire and properly train enough corrections officers.
Not unless Alabama citizens hold them accountable.
And you should. Because the environment of any prison or detention center is set by the people who run it, not the inmates within it.
Instead of cesspools of violence and death, the prisons could be models of reform and humanity — where men and women are rehabilitated and provided life skills that reduce recidivism rates.
Isn’t it weird how such goals are not part of a $2 billion plan to build new prisons?
Over the weekend, a group of activists rallied in front of the governor’s mansion in Montgomery to protest that new prison plan. The Alabamians Who Care group wants massive reforms and a plan for better prisons that treat people more humanely.
That’s not impossible. Other countries and other states have done it. And it didn’t cost them $2 billion and federal intervention.
Just some Christlike compassion and decent management.
Getting either in Alabama’s prisons would be a huge surprise.
ALGOP rejects change that would have stripped voters of power to elect convention delegates
The 435-member Alabama Republican Executive Committee on Saturday voted to reject a proposed bylaws change that would have taken away the ability of Alabama Republican primary voters to elect the delegates to the Republican National Convention every four years. Under the proposal, the Executive Committee themselves would have picked all of the delegates.
The controversial measure was voted down 51 percent to 49 percent. This was a bylaws change so it required a two-thirds majority to pass. The vote was not even close.
The full Alabama Republican Executive Committee was holding its summer meeting at the Trussville Civic Center. Executive Committee members from every county in the state travel to the two Executive Committee meetings each year.
Claire Austin, who represents the Bullock County GOP, said that the committee would be taking away the people’s right to vote.
Joseph Fuller, who chairs the Bylaws Committee and represents the 3rd Congressional District on the ALGOP Steering Committee, argued for the change saying that having all of those delegate races on the ballot confuses primary voters and that 34 other states do not elect their convention delegates.
Fuller said the change was proposed by Elbert Peters of Madison County, who could not attend because of his health. One delegate from Jefferson County accused proponents of the change of trying to take away democracy. This same bylaw change was proposed at last year’s summer meeting and rejected by the Executive Committee then as well.
Republican primary voters on March 3 elected 47 delegates to the Republican National Convention in Charlotte. The Alabama Republican Executive Committee elected 47 alternate delegates in May. This year’s GOP convention has been canceled by President Donald Trump because of the growing danger of contracting COVID-19 by mixing so many people across the country into a packed convention hall.
The Executive Committee did approve a bylaws change allowing that in a declared state of emergency that a meeting of the Executive Committee could be done online.
Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan said that she had talked to some members who were afraid to attend Saturday’s meeting because of the coronavirus threat.
There was a live feed so that members who did not attend the summer meeting in person could watch online, but because there was no provision in the bylaws for remote participation, they did not count toward achieving a quorum and could not vote on the proposed bylaws changes, resolutions or on selecting delegates to the electoral college.
Due to so many members fearing exposing themselves to the coronavirus and wrecks on I-65 slowing traffic, it was over 30 minutes into the event before the Executive Committee had a quorum and could conduct business. The traditional fundraising luncheon was canceled this year due to COVID-19 fears. Lathan said that there may be a virtual fundraiser later in the year to address the shortfall.
The Alabama Republican Executive Committee meets two times a year. The 21-member Republican Steering Committee conducts regular business for the party and meets much more frequently.
Jones calls for McConnell to bring the Senate back to work on bipartisan aid package
Alabama Sen. Doug Jones and two of his Democratic Senate colleagues — Nevada Sen. Jacky Rosen and New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan — led 10 other senators in a letter asking Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to bring the Senate back into session and work through the weekend until Congress reaches a bipartisan deal to address the public health and economic crises caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. has been relentless, bringing about a public health crisis and an economy teetering on the edge of catastrophe,” Jones and the other senators wrote. “Across the country, Americans are fearful and anxious as loved ones get sick, families go hungry, small businesses go under, and workers continue to go without pay. State and local coffers have run dry, tenants can’t afford the rent, state unemployment systems are overwhelmed, and over 150,000 Americans have died. Despite this, it has been over four months since the Senate passed a comprehensive relief package, and the relief we provided is running out.”
“In the circumstances we find ourselves, it is imperative that the Senate be in session through the remainder of this weekend and all of next week — working not on partisan nominations, but on bipartisan coronavirus relief for the American people,” the letter continues.
“With this in mind and with federal unemployment benefits having expired last night, we implore you to bring the Senate back into session this weekend and pass bipartisan legislation to help working Americans and families,” concluded the letter.
The House passed their Heroes Act in early May with little Republican input. Senate Republicans have proposed a $1 trillion coronavirus aid bill on top of the CARES Act and the other relief packages. Senate Democrats have criticized the Republican plan for not going far enough. Their proposal was for a $3 trillion aid bill.
Jones has been a vocal critic of McConnell’s delays in bringing a strong, bipartisan relief bill up for a vote. The original CARES Act had a costly provision that increased the amount of money that the unemployed could collect during the coronavirus economic shutdown. That bump up in benefits expired on Friday.
Millions of Americans, however, are still unemployed and are having to make mortgage and rent payments with dramatically less to spend. Senator Jones has called for a renewal of emergency unemployment benefits, as well as more relief for health care providers, small businesses and workers, schools, state departments of labor, and incentives for states to expand Medicaid.
He has also called for an extension of the federal eviction moratorium, and for the state of Alabama to renew its own eviction moratorium, which was lifted on June 1.
The federal government has enacted four pieces of legislation that provide relief to individuals, state and local governments and corporations that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic meltdown. These cost more than $2 trillion. To pay for all of this, the Treasury Department has ramped up borrowing.
According to a report by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, since March 1, the United States Treasury has borrowed more than $3 trillion. Most of that increase has occurred since March 30, when the CARES Act was enacted.
Most of the new debt has been issued in the form of Treasury bills. T-bills mature in one year or less and account for 80 percent of the increase in debt since March 1. Treasury notes, which mature in 2 to 10 years, are 15 percent of the increase. Treasury bonds, which mature after more than 10 years, Treasury inflation-protected securities, and floating-rate notes, combine for the remaining five percent of the increase.
Fortunately, the government is paying very little interest on those new Treasury bills because interest rates dropped when the extent of the pandemic became clear and money fled risky investments like stocks and real estate trusts for security. For the 4-week bills that were issued on July 21, the government paid investors an interest rate of 0.11 percent. That is a considerable drop from the 1.60 percent interest rate that the government paid on the 4-week bills that were issued on Feb. 25 before the pandemic hit the U.S.
Treasury projects that they will borrow $677 billion in the third quarter.
The U.S. national debt is nearly $26.6 trillion — an all-time high — and the budget deficit is $3.8 trillion. Interest on the debt is costing taxpayers $337 billion annually, the fourth costliest federal program trailing Medicare and Medicaid at $1.3 trillion, Social Security at $1.08 trillion and national defense at $695 billion.
Jones is in a difficult re-election race with former Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville.
Sheriff Samaniego endorses Russell Bedsole in House District 49
Shelby County Sheriff John Samaniego has endorsed Russell Bedsole for Alabama House of Representatives District 49. The election is Tuesday. Bedsole, who has 21 years of experience with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, announced his candidacy for the vacant District 49 seat on June 2, 2020.
“As a longtime member of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, Bedsole knows firsthand how crucial law and order are to our nation,” said Shelby County Sheriff John Samaniego. “Bedsole will be a powerful voice in the Alabama House of Representatives. He will fight for the hardworking law enforcement officers and first responders serving our communities.”
The special primary election will be held Tuesday, Aug. 4, to fill the seat left vacant when Rep. April Weaver, R-Briarfield, joined President Donald Trump’s administration as a regional director of the Department of Health and Human Services. House District 49 includes portions of Bibb, Chilton and Shelby Counties.
Bedsole’s campaign said that during his time of service, Alabaster has benefited from positive economic growth, a first-class school system and a high quality of life.
Bedsole describes himself as a conservative Christian candidate, who “believes that life starts at conception, that the 2nd amendment should be protected, that our taxes need to be low and fair, and that our cities and counties need their fair share of infrastructure support.”
Bedsole says that he is dedicated to the service of the citizens of District 49 and standing up for conservative values and promised to make District 49 a great place to live for all of its citizens by working to improve District 49’s infrastructure and traffic flow, increased economic development and advancing school systems.
“I humbly ask for your vote on August 4th to allow me to serve District 49,” said Bedsole.
Bedsole has also been endorsed by Conservation Alabama.
In addition to Bedsole, Donna Strong, James Dean, Chuck Martin, Jackson McNeely and Mimi Penhale are all running in the special Republican primary on Tuesday, Aug. 4. If a runoff election is needed, it will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020.
The eventual Republican nominee will face Cheryl Patton in the special general election on Tuesday, Nov. 17. There is no Democratic primary on Tuesday because Patton did not have a primary opponent. The winner will serve the remainder of April Weaver’s term, which ends in late 2022.
Polls open at 7 a.m. on Tuesday and close at 7 p.m. You must be a registered voter in HD49 in order to participate. You may only vote at the polling place you are assigned, and you must have a valid photo ID to participate in any Alabama election.