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Opinion | Alabama remains an international leader in the aerospace industry

Will Ainsworth

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(VIA AIRBUS)

Allow me to open this column by sharing some words from the governor of Alabama. “Huntsville, Alabama is to the Space Age as Detroit, Michigan is to the Automobile Age. We are living in the Space Age. We must think big and do big tasks. We must let the rest of the world know that Alabama is the same friendly state it has always been, and that Alabama welcomes new industry, tourists, and retired people. This can only be done through an administration that recognizes our problems and is determined to tackle these problems with a realistic approach that makes Alabama truly the leader of the Space Age.”

Now, that message is not from Gov. Kay Ivey. It is from former Gov. James E. “Big Jim” Folsom, who gave the remarks back in 1962.

I shared those words to demonstrate just how very long Alabama has played an important and vital role in the nation’s aerospace program.

In 1910, the Wright brothers opened the nation’s first flying school on the outskirts of Montgomery, where the present-day Maxwell Air Force Base is located.

Roughly 40 years later, the development of the Mercury Redstone rocket, which would propel our nation’s first astronauts into the heavens, began in Huntsville and gave birth to the manned space program.

And Marshall Space Flight Center is where Dr. Wernher Von Braun and his committed team of scientists and engineers developed the Saturn V rocket that took men to the moon and allowed them to place a U.S. flag on its surface.

The aerospace manufacturing and development that is still being done in Alabama today continues to bring the stars and planets closer to the earth and ensures that future generations are privy to the same dreams and inspirations that the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, Shuttle, and International Space Station eras provided to those who came before them.

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Aerospace remains a significant contributor to Alabama’s economy with more than 60,000 jobs within the state relying directly upon the industry and its associated defense components.  Additionally, its economic impact is estimated to be in the billions of dollars.

The Marshall SFC, for example, is spearheading development of the Space Launch System rocket that will take astronauts back to the moon and the lunar lander that will return them to its surface as part of the Artemis program.

Several Alabama-based companies and hundreds of suppliers are also deeply involved with space transportation and cargo missions to the International Space Station.

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Companies such as United Launch Alliance (ULA), who build Atlas 5, Delta 4 and Vulcan-Centaur rockets, continue to lead our nation in space development. Their recent Pentagon award, cements Alabama’s significance in aerospace development and exploration for many years to come. Aerospace leaders rely on the state’s strong workforce, and encourage suppliers such as Blue Origin and RUAG, to call Alabama home and further grow the Alabama economy.

And when President Trump signed the $738 billion defense appropriations bill last December, he officially created the United States Space Force, which is now the sixth branch of the U.S. Armed Services and the first new one since the Air Force was originated in 1947.

“Space is the world’s newest war-fighting domain,” President Trump said during the signing ceremony. “Amid grave threats to our national security, American superiority in space is absolutely vital.”

Given the prominent role that Alabama companies have played in our nation’s past and present aerospace dominance, the creation of the Space Force holds much promise for future economic opportunities, as well.

In addition to being significant employers and economic drivers within the state, Alabama’s aerospace partners are also proving to be committed and generous corporate citizens.

A staggering revenue shortfall prompted by the Coronavirus pandemic recently threatened to close the U.S. Space and Rocket Center’s world-famous U.S. Space Camp.  The Rocket Center is consistently ranked as Alabama’s most popular paid tourist attraction, and last year alone, about 44,000 children and adults graduated from the Space Camp program.  Vice President Mike Pence visited and toured the hands-on learning facility last year, as well.

When a public plea for donations to avoid closure was broadcast, our state’s aerospace industry helped raise more than $1.5 million in less than a week, to keep the center open.  Boeing, which employs roughly 3,000 Alabamians, donated $500,000 in response, and Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), a federal government information services contractor with significant infrastructure in Huntsville, contributed $250,000.

Combined with another 8,000 financial contributions from individuals and businesses in all 50 states and 36 countries around the world, the generous giving was able to rescue the Space Center from shuttering and ensure that thousands more attendees will be able to learn about and experience the science of flight.

As the national chairman of the Aerospace States Association, a group of public officials, academics, and private sector entities from areas with ties to the aviation and spaceflight industries, I often bear firsthand witness to the important role this sector plays in our state, our nation, and the world.

Alabama is fortunate to have such a significant aerospace influence within its borders, and with our strong support, the industry can continue to provide high-paying jobs, long-term investment, and positive impact to our state for decades to come.

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Opinion | On the Nov. 3 ballot, vote “no” on proposed Amendment 1

Chris Christie

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(STOCK PHOTO)

On Nov. 3, 2020, all Alabama voters should vote “no” on proposed Amendment 1. Vote no on Amendment 1 because it could allow state law changes to disenfranchise citizens whom the Legislature does not want to vote. Because Amendment 1 has no practical purpose and because it opens the door to mischief, all voters are urged to vote no.

Currently, the Alabama Constitution provides that “Every citizen of the United States…” has the right to vote in the county where the voter resides. Amendment 1 would delete the word “every” before citizen and replace it with “only a” citizen.

In Alabama, the only United States citizens who cannot vote today are most citizens who have been convicted of a felony of moral turpitude. These felonies are specifically identified in Ala. Code 17-3-30.1.

Without Amendment 1, the Alabama Constitution now says who can vote: every citizen. If voters approve Amendment 1, the Alabama Constitution would only identify a group who cannot vote. With Amendment 1, we, the citizens of the United States in Alabama, thus would lose the state constitutional protection of our voting rights.

In Alabama, no individual who is not a United States citizens can vote in a governmental election. So, Amendment 1 has no impact on non-citizens in Alabama.

Perhaps the purpose of Amendment 1 could be to drive voter turnout of those who mistakenly fear non-citizens can vote. The only other purpose for Amendment 1 would be allowing future Alabama state legislation to disenfranchise groups of Alabama citizens whom a majority of the legislature does not want to vote.

In 2020, the ballots in Florida and Colorado have similar amendments on the ballots. As in Alabama, Citizens Voters, Inc., claims it is responsible for putting these amendments on the ballots in those states. While Citizens Voters’ name sounds like it is a good nonprofit, as a 501(c)(4), it has secret political donors. One cannot know who funds Citizen Voters and thus who is behind pushing these amendments with more than $8 million in dark money.

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According to Citizen Voter’s website, the stated reason for Amendment 1 is that some cities in several other states allow non-citizens to vote. My understanding is that such measures are rare and only apply to voting for local school boards.

And why would a local government’s deciding that non-citizens can vote for local school boards be a state constitutional problem? Isn’t the good government practice to allow local control of local issues? And again, this issue does not even exist in Alabama.

The bigger question, which makes Amendment 1’s danger plain to see, is why eliminate the language protectingevery citizen’s right to vote? For example, Amendment 1 could have proposed “Every citizen and only a citizen” instead of deleting “every” when adding “only a” citizen. Why not leave the every citizen language in the Alabama Constitution?

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Amendment 1 could allow Alabama new state legislation to disenfranchise some Alabama citizens. Such a change would probably violate federal law. But Alabama has often had voting laws that violated federal law until a lawsuit forced the state of Alabama not to enforce the illegal state voting law.  

The most recent similar law in Alabama might be 2011’s HB56, the anti-immigrant law. Both HB56 and Amendment 1 are Alabama state laws that out-of-state interests pushed on us. And HB56 has been largely blocked by federal courts after expensive lawsuits.

Alabama’s Nov. 3, 2020, ballot will have six constitutional amendments. On almost all ballots, Amendment 1 will be at the bottom right on the first page (front) of the ballot or will be at the top left on the second page (back) of the ballot.

Let’s keep in our state constitution our protection of every voters’ right to vote.

Based on Amendment 1’s having no practical benefit and its opening many opportunities for mischief, all Alabama voters are strongly urged to vote “no” on Amendment 1.

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Opinion | Amendment 4 is an opportunity to clean up the Alabama Constitution

Gerald Johnson and John Cochran

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The 1901 but current Alabama Constitution has been amended about 950 times, making it by far the world’s longest constitution. The amendments have riddled the Constitution with redundancies while maintaining language and provisions — for example, poll taxes — that reflect the racist intent of those who originally wrote it.

A recompilation will bring order to the amendments and remove obsolete language. While much of this language is no longer valid, the language is still in the document and has been noted and used by other states when competing with Alabama for economic growth opportunities.

The need for recompilation and cleaning of Alabama’s Constitution has been long recognized.

In 2019, the Legislature unanimously adopted legislation, Amendment 4, to provide for its recompilation. Amendment 4 on the Nov. 3 general election ballot will allow the non-partisan Legislative Reference Service to draft a recompiled and cleaned version of the Constitution for submission to the Legislature.

While Amendment 4 prohibits any substantive changes in the Constitution, the LRS will remove duplication, delete no longer legal provisions and racist language, thereby making our Constitution far more easily understood by all Alabama citizens.

Upon approval by the Legislature, the recompiled Constitution will be presented to Alabama voters in November 2022 for ratification.

Amendment 4 authorizes a non-partisan, broadly supported, non-controversial recompilation and much-needed, overdue cleaning up of our Constitution.

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On Nov. 3, 2020, vote “Yes” on Amendment 4 so the work can begin.

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Opinion | Auburn Student Center named for Harold Melton, first Auburn SGA president of color

Elizabeth Huntley and James Pratt

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Auburn University's Student Center (VIA AUBURN UNIVERSITY)

The year 1987 was a quiet one for elections across America but not at Auburn. That was the year Harold Melton, a student in international studies and Spanish, launched and won a campaign to become the first African American president of the Auburn Student Government Association, winning with more than 65 percent of the vote.

This was just the first of many important roles Harold Melton would play at Auburn and in an extraordinarily successful legal career in his home state of Georgia, where his colleagues on the Georgia Supreme Court elected him as chief justice.

Last week, the Auburn Board of Trustees unanimously named the Auburn student center for Justice Melton, the first building on campus that honors a person of color. The decision was reached as part of a larger effort to demonstrate Auburn’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

In June, Auburn named two task forces to study diversity and inclusion issues. We co-chair the task force for the Auburn Board with our work taking place concurrently with that of a campus-based task force organized by President Jay Gogue. Other members of the Board task force are retired Army general Lloyd Austin, bank president Bob Dumas, former principal and educator Sarah B. Newton and Alabama Power executive Quentin P. Riggins.

These groups are embarking on a process that offers all Auburn stakeholders a voice, seeking input from students, faculty, staff, alumni, elected officials and more. It will include a fact-based review of Auburn’s past and present, and we will provide specific recommendations for the future.

We are committed to making real progress based on solid facts. Unlike other universities in the state, Auburn has a presence in all 67 counties through the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. Our review has included not only our campuses in Auburn and Montgomery but all properties across our state. To date, we have found no monuments or statues recognizing the history that has divided our country. We will continue our fact-finding mission with input from the academic and research community.

Our university and leadership are committed to doing the right thing, for the right reasons, at the right time. We believe now is the right time, and we are already seeing results.

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In addition to naming the student center for the Honorable Harold Melton, we have taken steps to highlight the significant role played by Harold Franklin, the student who integrated Auburn. We are working to enhance the historical marker that pays tribute to Mr. Franklin, and we are raising its visibility in campus tours as we pay homage to his contributions as our first African American student. Last month, we awarded Mr. Franklin, now 86 and with a Ph.D., a long-overdue master’s degree for the studies he completed at Auburn so many years ago.

We likewise endorsed a student-led initiative creating the National Pan-Hellenic Council Legacy Plaza, which will recognize the contributions of Black Greek organizations and African American culture on our campus.

In the coming months, Auburn men and women will work together to promote inclusion to further enhance our student experience and build on our strength through diversity. The results of this work will be seen and felt throughout the institution in how we recruit our students, provide scholarships and other financial support and ensure a culture of inclusion in all walks of university life.

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Our goal is to identify and implement substantive steps that will make a real difference at Auburn, impact our communities and stand the test of time.

Naming the student center for Justice Melton is but one example. In response to this decision, he said, “Auburn University has already given me everything I ever could have hoped for in a university and more. This honor is beyond my furthest imagination.”

Our job as leaders at Auburn is more than honoring the Harold Meltons and Harold Franklins who played a significant role in the history of our university. It is also to create an inclusive environment that serves our student body and to establish a lasting legacy where all members of the Auburn Family reach their fullest potential in their careers and in life.

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Opinion | Alabama lags behind the nation in Census participation with deadline nearing

Paul DeMarco

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The United States Census is starting to wind down around the country with a Sept. 30 deadline for the national population to be completed. However, a United States District Court has recently ruled that the date may be extended another 30 days to allow more time for the census to take place.

Regardless of the deadline, Alabama has work to do when it comes to the census.

To date, the national average for participation around the country has been almost 65 percent for the census.

Unfortunately, Alabama residents are providing data to the census at a lower percentage, around some 61 percent of the state population.

There is already concern among state leaders that if that number does not reach above 70 percent, then the state will lose a seat in Congress, a vote in the electoral college and millions of federal dollars that come to the state every year.

The percentage of participation has varied widely around the state, from a high of 76 percent in Shelby County to a low of 36 percent in neighboring Coosa County.

State leaders are making a final push to request Alabama residents fill out the census in the last month before it is closed.

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We will find out later this fall if Alabama passes the national average of participation in the census compared to other states to retain both its future representation and share of federal dollars.

In the meantime, Alabamians need to fill out their census forms.

The state is depending on it.

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