By Rep. Craig Ford
The legislative session began this week and, by all accounts, it’s expected to be an uneventful year. The only goal lawmakers seem to have is to pass the budgets and go home.
But there is a lot of work that can and ought to be done instead of just kicking the can down the road for the next legislature.
Beyond the typical budget issues, there’s a lot of unfinished business involving our infrastructure, healthcare, education and jobs that we need to address – and all of these issues go hand-in-hand.
If we want to create jobs, we have to have a healthy and educated workforce. At the same time, we have to have the infrastructure that can meet the needs of the businesses we want to recruit.
Traffic congestion and roads and bridges that are in bad condition make it harder for us to recruit industry. Traffic congestion makes it difficult for employees and customers to even get in and out of the parking lots and shopping centers, while damaged roads and bridges cost businesses gas money and vehicle maintenance costs. These problems turn business leaders off and can cost us opportunities to bring new industry to our area.
That’s why I have pushed so hard – and secured a commitment from the governor – for the I-759 extension. It’s also why I continue to fight for funding to finish widening Hwy 411 connecting Etowah and Cherokee counties, and for other projects like the Southside Bridge and widening Hwy 77 in Attalla.
Education is another critical part of job creation and industrial recruitment. Businesses need to know that the local workforce has the skills needed to do the jobs they want to bring, and more and more that means workers with computer and trade skills.
There is a major deficit in our state between the need for workers who can weld or work with electrical and plumbing systems and those who actually have the skill set to do those jobs. That deficit also exists with technological and computer skills that are becoming increasingly important in today’s work environment. That’s why increasing funding for pre-k, computer and career technical programs should be one of our highest priorities in this legislative session.
Healthcare is another issue that might play a bigger role this year because of the uncertainty coming out of Washington, D.C. Even if you have private health insurance or don’t have kids, you should still care about Medicaid and the national Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Let me explain why.
It’s not just about the 83,000 kids who get their healthcare directly from the CHIP program, or the additional 70,000 who have healthcare through Medicaid but funded by CHIP. What it’s really about is their doctors and local hospitals.
If CHIP doesn’t pay for those kids, then doctors and hospitals don’t get paid. And if they don’t get paid, they can’t stay in business. That’s why we have lost 10 hospitals (mostly in rural Alabama) since 2010, and nearly lost an 11th hospital last year in the governor’s own hometown.
Doctors and hospitals going out of business affects everyone, including the majority of us who have private health insurance. And the loss of – or risk of losing – local doctors and hospitals can obviously make a community less attractive to the industries we are trying to recruit.
Similarly, addressing the opioid crisis is also important because businesses don’t want to hire people who can’t pass a drug test.
So bringing jobs and industry to Etowah, Cherokee and DeKalb Counties will require more than just tax incentives and land development. Those things are obviously important, and we do need to be smarter about the way we do them – especially the land development (What we don’t want is to waste millions upon millions of dollars on developing land and then not bringing any businesses to that location).
But we can’t rely just on tax breaks and land development. We have to offer the whole package if we want to be competitive. That means improving education and making sure our curriculum is meeting the actual needs of the businesses we are trying to bring here. It also means making sure our roads and bridges are safe, and that traffic flows smoothly. And it means that we have to have a workforce that is not only trained and motivated, but also healthy enough to do the jobs that business want to bring.
It’s tempting for legislators to simply pass the budgets and go home. But if that’s all we do this year then we won’t be doing our jobs.
Rep. Craig Ford represents Gadsden and Etowah County in the Alabama House of Representatives. He served as the House Minority Leader from 2010-2016.
Opinion | State senators should remove Del Marsh from leadership
“Del Marsh has left the governor and the members of the Alabama Senate with no choice but to remove him from his positions on the COVID-19 task force and as leader of the Alabama Senate,” former State Rep. Craig Ford writes.
I couldn’t believe it when I saw State Senator Del Marsh, R-Anniston, the leader of the Alabama Senate, say he wants to see more people get the coronavirus!
During an interview with CBS42 News, Sen. Marsh was asked if he was concerned about the growing number of confirmed cases of people infected with COVID-19 in Alabama. His response was, and these are his exact words, “I’m not as concerned so much as the number of cases, in fact, quite honestly, I want to see more people because we start reaching an immunity as more people have it and get through it.”
The next day Sen. Marsh made a weak attempt to walk back his comments by saying he “chose his words poorly.” But he didn’t apologize, and he stood by his claim that he wants to see us get to herd immunity.
First, we don’t know if herd immunity is even possible with COVID-19. Doctors, medical researchers and public health experts have all contested the idea of herd immunity and say that even if it is possible it will be a long way off (medical professionals at Johns Hopkins University say it’s not possible for it to happen in 2020).
To reach herd immunity, somewhere between 60 percent and 90 percent of the population will have to be infected with the disease. Right now in Alabama, we are only around 1 percent.
For us to reach a 60 percent infection rate and potentially get to herd immunity, a minimum of 2,941,911 people in Alabama will have to contract COVID-19. Assuming the death rate stays the same as it is now (roughly 2 percent), it would mean that 58, 838 people would have to die for us to get to herd immunity, and that’s assuming it’s even possible.
But even if herd immunity is possible, our elected leaders should never wish for people to get sick with any disease, let alone one that is killing people!
And for Sen. Marsh to attempt to justify his cruel and ignorant comments as merely choosing his words poorly is almost as offensive and disrespectful as the comments themselves!
Any decent human being with a conscience or sense of moral values would apologize and offer their resignation immediately. But Del Marsh’s pride won’t allow him to admit he is wrong or apologize for anything, even for wishing illness and death on the people of Alabama.
Sen. Marsh’s words show what is in his heart and in his head. And what is in his heart and in his head is clearly not in line with the thinking of medical professionals or the values and best interests of the people of Alabama.
For ten years, Sen. Marsh has run the Alabama Senate as the Senate pro tempore. And because he holds that position he also sits on the governor’s COVID-19 task force. Clearly he has no business being in either position, and I encourage Gov. Ivey to remove him from the COVID-19 task force immediately.
It is also time for the members of the Alabama Senate to demand Sen. Marsh’s resignation. If he refuses then senators must call for a vote of no confidence and remove him by force.
Senators cannot stay silent on this. Staying silent is the same as condoning what he said.
As a resident of Etowah County, I specifically call on our state senator, Andrew Jones, R-Centre, to step up and demand Del Marsh’s resignation. He is the only voice we have in the State Senate, and it is his responsibility now to use that voice. I would also encourage him to sponsor a resolution in the State Senate censoring Sen. Marsh for his thoughtless and heartless comments.
I never thought I would live to see the day when an elected official would openly express his or her desire to see the people of our state and our country get sick with a virus, especially one that could kill them! Worse is that Sen. Marsh won’t admit he is wrong or apologize for what he said.
Del Marsh’s words are a disgrace and a potential death wish for every single person in Alabama, not to mention a slap in the face of those who already have died from COVID-19 and their families.
Del Marsh has left the governor and the members of the Alabama Senate with no choice but to remove him from his positions on the COVID-19 task force and as leader of the Alabama Senate.
Opinion | Sessions’ anti-animal protection record
Jeff Sessions has had a long career in politics and countless opportunities to demonstrate opposition to cruelty to animals. Yet, in 20 years in the Senate, it’s hard to put your arms around a single positive thing he did. Sure, Alabama is an agricultural state, with a rich tradition of hunting, but we’re not talking about those things. We’re talking basic decency when it comes to treating the least among us and showing mercy for God’s creation.
The first political campaign I ever volunteered to work on was Sessions’ first bid for the U.S. Senate in 1996. I liked so much about him and his pledges, but boy, did I learn that caring for animals was not part of his worldview. I grew up in the horse industry, showing horses and competing, and I understood from a very young age that most Alabamians are connected to animals, especially those of us who grew up in rural areas.
One type of cruelty that Republicans and Democrats took on during the two decades that Sessions served in the Senate was dogfighting and cockfighting. But, surprisingly, they didn’t find an ally in Sessions. During the 107th Congress, Republican Senator and large-animal veterinarian Wayne Allard attracted nearly two thirds of the Senate on his bill (S. 345) to close the loophole in the Animal Welfare Act that allowed interstate shipment of fighting birds, but Sessions was an opponent. And in the 108th Congress, he failed to cosponsor the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act (S. 736) to establish felony-level penalties for dogfighting and cockfighting. In the 109th and 110th Congresses, Sessions failed to support animal fighting legislation (S. 382 and S. 261) to establish federal level penalties for dog and cockfighting. And in the 112thCongress, Sessions was among a handful of Senators who voted against efforts to make it a crime to attend a dogfight or cockfight or to bring a child to such a spectacle (Roll Call Vote # 154).
U.S. Senator Richard Shelby supported the prohibition on attending animal fights, and later, Sessions’ successor, Doug Jones, co-sponsored legislation to ban animal fighting everywhere in the U.S. – the Parity in Animal Cruelty Enforcement (PACE) Act – a provision included in the 2018 Farm bill, with six of seven of Alabama’s U.S. Representatives favoring the anti-animal fighting language. President Trump signed that provision into law, and it took effect in December 2019.
Sessions has been hostile to other reforms, opposing an amendment to the 2005 Farm Bill to stop horse slaughter by prohibiting the use of tax dollars to fund USDA inspection of horse slaughterhouses.
Sessions voted to table an amendment to the 2000 Interior Appropriations bill to prohibit the use of funds to authorize, permit, administer, or promote the use of any jawed leghold trap or neck snare in any unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System. Animals trapped by these devices, which sometimes ensnare family pets or endangered species, suffer crushed bones, gangrene, and starvation.
Sessions failed to support reforms to stop the abuse of cows too sick or injured to walk and then dragged into slaughterhouses, putting consumers at risk of consuming diseased animals. Just months after Congress failed to address the matter, the USDA determined a cow slaughtered in Washington state had Mad Cow Disease. That cow was a “downer,” and if the ban on slaughtering “downers” had been in place, it would have never been dragged into the slaughterhouse and created a global food safety panic. This was the first finding of a cow with this disease in the U.S., and in response, more than 80 nations closed their markets to U.S. beef imports, causing a loss to the cattle industry in excess of $10 billion.
And in the 113th, 114th, and 115th Congresses, Sessions failed to support the Republican-led Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, an amendment to the Horse Protection Act of 1970 that would ensure the protection of the Alabama’s official state Racking Horse whose world grand champion is crowned in Priceville each year.
As a native Alabamian, and a life-long Republican who cares about animals, I got turned off to my political hero when he showed such a hard heart toward animals. Whether hunters or non-hunters, farmers or just consumers, most every Alabamian I know cares about animals. It’s a shame that Jeff Sessions didn’t figure that out about Alabamians in his long tenure in Washington. Alabamians should step up against animal abuse and send an electoral verdict that cruelty is never acceptable.
Opinion | Solving Alabama’s unemployment crisis is a matter of patriotism
Patriotism is at the top of my mind these days as we prepare for this weekend’s Fourth of July celebrations. I feel a great sense of pride in our nation, even though I often disagree with political leaders at various levels of government.
You can love your country and love many things about your country but still see problems and areas where we can do better as a city, state or nation. And one of the areas where we seem to be struggling here in Alabama is with our unemployment situation.
No one in leadership could have predicted that the coronavirus would hit us the way that it has, and our leaders have struggled to balance the need to keep our people healthy with the need to keep our economy running.
It’s a difficult balance, and while the numbers of new infections of the coronavirus keep going up and keep getting media attention, we are also seeing our unemployment benefits being stretched to the max.
The Alabama Department of Labor is understaffed and overwhelmed by the flood of people filing for unemployment benefits. The Department’s employees are making a heroic effort to make sure that those with legitimate needs are getting the help they need to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. But even so, the unemployed have to wait for hours just to get a ticket that would allow them to speak with an employee and file a claim for their benefits.
But what’s even more concerning is the fact that the state’s unemployment fund is on track to become financially insolvent by the end of the summer. If that happens, then the state will have no choice but to borrow more money from the federal government.
Of course, everyone’s hope is that this coronavirus will begin to slow down, a vaccine will be invented, and business will be able to return to normal. Most people don’t want to rely on government checks to survive and would much rather get back to work as soon as possible.
But for now, at least, the economy is recovering slowly and our unemployment rate, while improving, is still over 6 percent. And that means that, even with borrowed federal money and the recently announced federal extended benefits program, Alabama is still in trouble and our unemployment funds are still in a dangerous situation.
As bad as the situation is, there is a possible solution that our state leaders can and should be considering, if they can get past their current bickering.
The federal government has already sent funding through the CARES Act to help the state battle the coronavirus. Most of that money should be going to providing healthcare services, such as testing for COVID-19, and personal protection equipment like masks and gloves for healthcare workers and employees in essential industries.
However, there’s no reason why some of that money can’t also go towards our unemployment program to help those who are out of work because of the coronavirus.
If some state leaders think they can use up to $200 million of that money to build a new State House, then why can’t they use that money to keep Alabama families fed and housed for a few more weeks?
As the legislative session came to an end a few weeks ago, lawmakers and the governor went to war with each other over how to spend that money. Instead of fighting over pet projects, they should be putting that money into Alabama’s families to help them survive this crisis.
The Fourth of July is all about patriotism, and there’s nothing more patriotic that solving our unemployment crisis and helping Alabama families get back on their feet.
Craig Ford is the owner of Ford Insurance Agency and the Gadsden Messenger. He represented Gadsden and Etowah County in the Alabama House of Representatives for 18 years.
Opinion | Gov. Ivey: This is our time, Alabama
In a few days, America will celebrate her 244th birthday. Traditionally, many towns and cities around the country light up the night with fireworks and music festivals. In 1776, John Adams predicted that Independence Day would be “celebrated by succeeding generations” with “pomp and circumstance…bonfires and illuminations.”
However, largely because of COVID-19, this year’s observance of our country’s birth will likely be a bit more subdued than previous years. While unfortunate, this is certainly understandable.
Today – and very likely in the days that will follow – instead of talking about what unites us as one nation – other conversations will occur that are, quite frankly, a bit more difficult and challenging.
My personal hope – and prayer – for this year’s 4th of July is that the marvel of our great country – how we started, what we’ve had to overcome, what we’ve accomplished and where we are going – isn’t lost on any of us.
We are all searching for “a more perfect union” during these trying and demanding days.
Over the past several weeks, our nation has been having one of those painful, yet overdue, discussions about the subject of race.
The mere mention of race often makes some people uncomfortable, even though it is a topic that has been around since the beginning of time.
Nationally, a conversation about race brings with it the opportunity where even friends can disagree on solutions; it also can be a catalyst to help total strangers find common ground and see things eye-to-eye with someone they previously did not even know.
Here in Alabama, conversations about race are often set against a backdrop of our state’s long – and at times – ugly history on the subject.
No one can say that America’s history hasn’t had its own share of darkness, pain and suffering.
But with challenge always comes opportunity.
For instance, Montgomery is both the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement, as well as the cradle of the Confederacy. What a contrast for our Capital City.
The fact is our entire state has, in many ways, played a central role in the ever-evolving story of America and how our wonderful country has, itself, changed and progressed through the years.
Ever since the senseless death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, thousands of Alabamians – of all races, young and old – have taken to the streets of our largest cities and smallest towns in protest to demand change and to seek justice.
These frustrations are understandable.
Change often comes too slowly for some and too quickly for others. As only the second female to be elected governor of our state in more than 200 years, I can attest to this.
Most of us recognize that our views on issues such as race relations tend to grow out of our own background and experiences. But, fortunately, our views can change and broaden as we talk and learn from each other.
As a nation, we believe that all people are created equal in their own rights as citizens, but we also know that making this ideal a reality is still a challenge for us.
Even with the election of America’s first African American president 12 years ago, racial, economic and social barriers continue to exist throughout our country. This just happens to be our time in history to ensure we are building on the progress of the past, as we take steps forward on what has proven to be a long, difficult journey.
Folks, the fact is we need to have real discussions – as an Alabama family. No one should be under the false illusion that simply renaming a building or pulling a monument down, in and of itself, will completely fix systemic discrimination.
Back in January, I invited a group of 65 prominent African American leaders – from all throughout Alabama – to meet with me in Montgomery to begin having a dialogue on issues that truly matter to our African American community in this state. This dedicated group – known as Alabama United – is helping to bring some very legitimate concerns and issues to the table for both conversation and action.
As an example, Alabama will continue to support law enforcement that is sensitive to the communities in which they serve. We have thousands of dedicated men and women who put their lives on the line to protect our state every single day. But we can – and must – make certain that our state’s policies and procedures reflect the legitimate concerns that many citizens have about these important issues.
I am confident all these conversations – and hopefully many more – will lead to a host of inspirational ideas that will lead to a more informed debate and enactment of sound public policy.
We must develop ways to advance all communities that lack access to good schools, jobs, and other opportunities. As governor, I will continue to make education and achieving a good job a priority – it distresses me that some of our rural areas and inner cities face some of the greatest challenges in education.
There are other critical issues that must be addressed, and I will continue to look for solutions along with you.
Everyone knows government cannot solve these problems alone. Some of the greatest solutions will come from private citizens as well as businesses, higher education, churches and foundations. Together, we can all be a part of supporting and building more inclusive communities.
In other words, solving these problems comes from leaning on the principles that make us who we are – our faith – which is embodied in the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
My beliefs on how to treat people were shaped in Wilcox County and my faith was developed at the Camden Baptist Church.
The bible tells us over and over that our number one goal is to love God with all of one’s heart and then to love our neighbor as we love our self. That is what I strive to do every day.
When anyone feels forgotten and marginalized, compassion compels us to embrace, assist and share in their suffering. We must not let race divide us. We must grow and advance together.
Being informed by our past, let us now carefully examine our future and work towards positive change. Together, we can envision an Alabama where all her people truly live up to the greatness within our grasp. We cannot change the past or erase our history… But we can build a future that values the worth of each and every citizen.
So, in closing, my hope and prayer for our country as we pause to celebrate America’s 244th birthday, is that we make the most of this moment.
As for our state, let’s make this a time to heal, to commit ourselves to finding consensus, not conflict, and to show the rest of the nation how far we have come, even as we have further to go.
These first steps – just as we are beginning our third century as a state – may be our most important steps yet.
This is our time, Alabama. May God continue to bless each of you and the great state of Alabama.