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Opinion | Much to be thankful for

Bradley Byrne

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As the year draws to a close and we enter another holiday season, I’m reminded we have much to be thankful for.

First, I’m thankful for those who answer the call to service at home and abroad.

It’s easy to get bogged down in the never-ending news coverage of political squabbles, but the men and women of our military are doing extraordinary things to keep global threats at bay.

Our country remains the freest nation in the world because of their sacrifices.

Imagine for a moment living in the volatile Middle East, or in Hong Kong in an escalating battle against China for basic rights, or under an oppressive regime like North Korea. Think of how fortunate we are not only for our military but our system of government!

Just recently, our military scored a major victory by taking out the top ISIS commander. The American people are safer as a result of their courage and incredible work and planning.

Earlier this year I visited our Southern border with Mexico. During this eye-opening visit, I gained a new appreciation for the work our law enforcement agencies and military are doing to stem the tide of drugs, human traffickers and other criminals crossing into our country.

And in a world full of danger, our law enforcement keeps our communities safe. Last week, we were tragically reminded of the very real danger our law enforcement officers face every day when Lowndes County Sheriff “Big John” Williams was killed in the line of duty.

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We should thank God each day for our military, veterans and law enforcement officers. This great American experiment could not proceed without the daily sacrifices of those like Sheriff Williams. The remembrances and kind words pouring in from across the state have been incredibly moving.

I’m thankful for my brother Dale. My brother retired from the Alabama National Guard as a command sergeant major. I think of Dale and his selflessness in serving our nation every day.

This Spring I was afforded the opportunity to speak at a naturalization ceremony for new citizens. In a speech titled “what does it mean to be an American?” I discussed the great gifts, and responsibilities, of our representative democracy. It was a treasured experience and poignant reminder of how thankful we should be for this nation.

I’m thankful for the state of Alabama, its wonderful people, and the opportunity to serve you in Washington. It is a blessing and an honor to represent you in our nation’s capital, and I do not take it lightly.

I could not serve without my dedicated staff who care deeply for our country and the people we serve. I’m thankful for their commitment to the people of Southwest Alabama.

Little is more important than family, and I have been blessed beyond measure by mine. My wife Rebecca is an amazing woman, and we are so proud of our children. I’m thankful for the opportunity Rebecca and I have gained in recent years to spoil our grandchildren!

I’m thankful for the fall season, the changing leaves in Alabama, and football. This time of year reminds me of some of my happiest memories hunting with my boys and spending time with family at the farm.

Most of all, I’m thankful for my God. I would not be able to accomplish anything without His constant encouragement and blessings.

Through the seemingly nonstop bustle of the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons, it’s important to keep the big things big and the little things little. As Philippians 4:6 instructs us, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

I pray you have a blessed Thanksgiving.

 

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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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Guest Columnists

Opinion | Hope in the time of the Coronavirus

Bradley Byrne

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In Genesis 2, God says “It is not good that the man should be alone.”  He made us for Himself, but he also made us for one another.  Separation is painful for us all.

This fight against the coronavirus called COVID-19 is hard.  We are forced to separate from one another.  Our economy is sorely wounded.  Worse, our neighbors are infected with this disease, some fighting for their lives, some tragically losing that fight.

We are better, stronger than this disease.  All of us have a role to play, to responsibly social distance from one another, to practice proper hygiene and to know when it’s time to be tested and/or to quarantine ourselves.

Meanwhile, all levels of government play an important role.  Our governors and mayors, as well as public health officers, must issue the appropriate orders to protect us.  Closing restaurants and bars, beaches and parks, small retailers and large group meetings, are each hard decisions.   They must start and end based upon sound medical and professional advice, and plain common sense.  We at the Federal government must work with state and local leaders to inform their difficult decisions and help them, where appropriate, carry out these tough decisions.

When last week’s unemployment insurance filings were reported at over 3 million, the highest ever by far in our history, and when the number of cases and deaths dramatically expanded, it was clear we had entered truly extraordinary times, calling for extraordinary government action.

So, with broad and deep bipartisan support, we passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Security Act (CARES Act), providing over $2 trillion in support for individual citizens, workers who have lost their jobs, small businesses so that they will not close or lay off their workers, larger businesses in the way of loans and not bailouts, healthcare, education, transit, and more.  Unprecedented resources have been quickly directed for more tests, more personal protective equipment, research and development for treatments and even a cure, and ultimately a vaccine.

I don’t like everything in the bill.  But, our people are hurting, our way of life threatened, and this is no time to let these issues slow down the effort to get the job done.

My staff and I are working from home and maintaining social distance.  We have helped repatriate a number of citizens from our district who have found themselves stuck in a foreign country closing its borders.  We are answering many calls on the laws we have passed to respond to this disease and with questions about the disease itself.

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Last week I was on several conference calls with groups in the district and a telephone town hall with nearly 4,000 constituents.  In one, a person asked me to give them hope.

So, here goes.

We are a great and powerful nation.  We were born in an uncertain and dangerous revolution, invaded even in our Capitol by the greatest power in the world just 40 years after our founding, suffered a civil war costing 600,000 of our lives, fought two desperate world wars, watched our economy nearly disappear in a Great Depression, tore ourselves apart in the social upheavals of the 60s, and endured an attack by terrorists on our largest city and the center of our national defense.  And yet, after each one, we Americans not only survived but learned how to make our country greater.

 Isaiah, writing during the Babylonian captivity, put it in beautiful language:

But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

As we approach Passover and Easter, let us remember the hope expressed in the miraculous delivery of the Jewish people from slavery and the resurrection of Christ who defeated death itself.  And as we continue this difficult fight, let us be confident in the ultimate result, using our own strength and leaning on God’s.

 

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