Sat11012014

Last updateFri, 31 Oct 2014 6am

Editorials

Bill Britt: Fates of reward and Punishment

The phrase “ Loose Cannon,” is believed to be coined by Victor Hugo, author of such renowned novels as The Hunchback of Notre-Dame and Les Miserables. In the short story, "A Fight with a Cannon," Hugo explores carelessness and courage, reward and punishment in the context of a loose cannon’s destructive effect n a 1900 century sail vessel.

“A frightful thing had just happened. One of the carronades of the battery, a twenty-four-pounder, had, broken loose. This is perhaps the most frightful of all accidents at sea. Nothing more terrible can happen to warship on the open sea and under full sail. A cannon that breaks its moorings suddenly becomes a kind of supernatural beast. It is a machine, which transforms itself into a monster. That mass speeds on its wheels, tilts when the ship rolls, plunges when it pitches, goes, comes, stops, seems to meditate, resumes its swift movement, goes from one end of the ship to the other with the speed of an arrow, spins around, slips to one side, dashes away, rear up, spins around, slips to one side, dashes away, rears up, collides smashes, kills, exterminates.”

In Hugo’s story the cannon breaks it mooring due to the negligence of one of the ship’s best sailors. As the story progresses, it is this very sailor who risk his life to capture and halt the destruction his carelessness has unleashed. In the final pages, it is this same sailor who through daring and courage captures the cannon and stops the destruction. Of course, this is not before several lives are lost and the ship is on the brink of sinking.

Today, many of us believe we are witnessing the destruction of the ship-of-state by the willful negligence of those by the willful negligence of those in national, state and local government.

In Washington, what could have been a short-term economic emergency has collided with the country’s long-term fundamental fiscal crisis. While ignoring the ever-growing and unsustainable effects of so-called entitlements, the D.C. cabal has added to our national debt the cost of universal healthcare, corporate bailouts and the ill-conceived stimulus.

“We the peoples’ are in need of leaders who will prepare a budget of, “beans n’ taters.” Not Kobe beef and arugula. In other words, in times of crisis we need soberness and conscientiousness not audacity and change. The country can little afford the ambitious (and expensive) proposals coming out of Washington.

The same is true of the State of Alabama, our leaders must craft a austere budget that cuts the budget while maintain the core responsibilities of government. Sadly, there are so many federally unfunded mandates that the state lawmakers find themselves between the devil and the deep blue sea. 

Everyone is going to have to shoulder the burden, if they legislature is to do what is right. 

The legislature has to look for real world solution to the bloated Montgomery bureaucracy. 

They also must craft bills that make a positive atmosphere for economic growth. it doesn’t matter how much money we spend on education, if many of our children’s parent, don’t have jobs. If a child does not have food and does not have a food on the table it matter little how much the state budgets for education. The now dead drug addict Whitney Houston sang, “The children are our future,” that is a lie, the parents are the children's future. 

We know that the Federal Government is not going to improve for the foreseeable future. Therefore Alabama’s leader must work doubly hard to find away for our state to win the future, through hard work, imagination and determination.

In the Victor Hugo tail of a Fight with a Cannon, the sailor who captured and secured the loose cannon was awarded a medal for his valor. This was immediately followed by his being sentenced to death and hanged for his negligence. In the words of the admiral who awarded the medal and pronounced execution, “ Carelessness has compromised this vessel. At this very hour it is perhaps lost. To be at sea is to be in front of the enemy. A ship making a voyage is an army waging war. The tempest is concealed, but it is at hand. The whole sea is an ambuscade. Death is a penalty of any misdemeanor committed in the face of the enemy. No fault is reparable. Courage should be rewarded, and negligence punished.”

Those in government would do well to realize that “we the people” place the same burden on them.

 

Bill Britt: Dems out of ideas, AEA out of touch

It is increasingly evident that the Democratic Party in Alabama is out of ideas and AEA head Mabry is out of touch.

At Wednesday's press conference, Minority Leader Craig Ford offered up tax increases and gambling as the best ideas for funding the state governments responsibilities.

While attending a jobs creation committee at the same time, AEA's boss almost had a stroke chastising Republican lawmakers saying he opposed the job retention incentive package, because it would take money away from the children. One representative in the meeting asked Mabry if he was going to oppose every economic development plan this session.

One has to wonder what year Mabry and Ford think they are living in. 

Ford thinks that a lottery is still a good idea? If the lottery did not fly under a democratic governor what makes him think it would have any chance under a republican one.

Of course, Ford is not really serious about such a thing happening, he is simply practicing his stump speech for the 2014 gubernatorial race. 

Mabry so bulldogged the Economic and Tourism Committee that those present where appalled, offended and outraged by his childish behavior. 

I am sure Mabry longs for the day when he, like his predecessor Paul Hubbert, would summon his legislative minions to the AEA offices and dictate his will for them to follow. Poor Mabry has to actually enter the statehouse and meet Republicans in a public forum. 

How humbling it must be for the heir to the throne to find himself so emasculated by mere representatives. 

Ford, who referred to the governor leadership still as "Sermons, ice-cream and cake" woefully misunderstands the Governor's grit and religious tenor. It would be a mistake for Ford to mistake Bentley’s kindness for weakness.

As for Mabry, if he is looking for a cage fight, I doubt he wants to tangle with Del Marsh or Mike Hubbard. These are men who have built businesses in the real world and have not lived their lives eating at the government trough.

A rotund bureaucrat is no match for the lean fighting machines that are Hubbard and Marsh.

They say there are more than a thousand uses for Duct Tape. Here are two suggestions for Missers Ford and Mabry. Ford needs some Duct Tape to wrap himself up in some new ideas or find that he needs it to seal the box that will send him back to Gadsden. Poor Mabry, he is going to need a case of Duct Tape to bind his head up to keep it from exploding as he stomps and yells like a girl who boyfriend dumped her on prom night.

Out of touch and out of time is no way to lead a state. 

Bill Britt: A question of ethics

The vagaries of Alabama's ethics laws has generated endless headlines as it pertained to teachers. But little has been written or discussed publicly on the effect it has had on local government officials. Of course, few things in our state will generate more press, wailing and gnashing of teeth than any law, comment or castigation of teachers.

Meanwhile, mayors, county commissioners and others are left to decide what is and what is not a violation of the new ethics law. This is especially true when it comes to gifts. There is of course a simple remedy to the question of gifts for all state employees and government officials. The answer is so simple it seems to elude even the most erudite attorneys and lawmakers.

The general idea of ethics laws are to keep those in government and those who deal with the government honest. On its face, this should be a uncomplicated task, but in practice it requires a very sophisticated set of rules. Government and its bureaucracy left to polices itself will over time become a complex organization of systematized corruption.

This is because men and women are immoral by nature. One of the reasons that humans take so long to reach adulthood is because time is required to socialize them into society as productive members. Children are not good by nature and only a child psychologist from a liberal institution of learning would promote such intellectual dishonesty. So, when dealing with ethics in government it is incumbent to think of the flawed beast and not the benevolent brother or sister. Ethics laws may wish to “preserve and promote the integrity of public officials and political institutions,” as Jimmy Carter said in praising the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, but the doing of it is a never-ending job.

For some politicians lying, insincerity, subterfuge and political self-interest are but coins of the realm.

So, it is that if the legislature wants to impose ethics laws then they must have specificity that can easily be understood. As for making laws for the long term, well, that is another thing altogether.

Let's think about specificity. Under the current law a pubic official (we will disregard public employees like teachers for now) may receive a gift of “de minimis” value. An opinion rendered by the Alabama Ethics Commission states, “Items such as plaques, certificates and other presentation items have no value to anyone other than the recipient of the award. Promotional items, such as coffee cups, ball caps, etc., have little or no monetary value and exist for the purpose of advertising, public relations, goodwill, etc. On the other hand, gifts such as turkeys and hams given as seasonal gifts, do have a monetary value. Due to the fact that the exception for seasonal gifts was removed from the Ethics Law during the Special Session, it is the Commission’s opinion that the practice of giving turkeys, hams, etc. to public officials during the holiday season is no longer permissible.”

Here the only quantifier the Commission will put on what is and what is not de minimis is whether or not the item has any resale or monetary value. The legality of a gift according to the commission seems to rest on the term de mininis with regards to an item’s value.

This is a extremely unclear message, is it ok to give a ball cap with 14 carat gold pipping?

Is it permissible to give a $ 300 dollar cashmere scarf as long as it has a company logo on it?

While this may seem extreme, it is well within reason for someone to think these may be acceptable.

Why is it that the law would even use a Latin phrase? Are there not plain English words that would convey the same meaning?

English is the defacto language of the world, why not use it?

Ethics can be a very complex issue because it deals with codes of conduct by a particular people, group or institution.

When it comes to ethic in government the public trust is a paramount issue. Gift giving to a government official or, for that matter, a government employee should be met with the question of why. Why should any government officer or public employee be given a gift?

Inherent in gift giving to public office holders is the question of motivation, why is the gift being bestowed on this individual? If company X wants to give Senator Y a gift what is the motivation? Even if charity Z wants to give Representative W a plaque is there not an element that suggest something has been exchanged.

Are public servants so in need of accolade that they must be swarmed with tributes and offerings of gratitude?

The simple answer to gifts in the public sphere is to do away with them all together.

The Apostle Paul cautioned to not give even the appearance of evil.

It is not extreme to say, “Being allowed to serve my state is gift enough for me.”

Of course this will not be the case because people would think such a statement was insincere, because we have lost faith in public service and public servants.

It is understandable that people want to say thank you by gift giving but if a company that has business with the government or a charity that relies on the good grace of the government give a gift or an award there is always a tinge of something amiss.

There are greater areas of ethical concern facing our state than gifts. I will refrain from comment on the unreasonable turmoil surrounding gifts for teachers.

While we are bogged down over something so simple, the bigger issues go unaddressed and are perhaps beyond our ability to legislate.

Such as why do officials still make the most important public decisions in secret meetings? Should a state legislator represent the wishes of the majority in their district even when the laws they enact are fundamentally wrong? Should office holder appoint a family member or church member to his or her cabinet if the appointee is the best person for the job? What if they are not the best person for the job?

Of course, most ethical issues are only addressed once a crisis occurs. It would be refreshing if ethical issues simple and complicated were given thoughtful consideration without a crisis mentality. We need for lawmakers to give reasoned consideration to the varying dilemmas. This is hardly above the pay grade of many in office, the larger issue is the will to make real reform rather than just making things different than they were under the other guys.

Bill Britt: School is in Session

The start of the 2012 Alabama Legislative session had an atmosphere similar to the first day of school. The halls were filled with animated bodies, smiling faces, hugs and greetings and a few jockeying for position as to who are the cool kids in the class. 

Yet, there was the serious undertone of men and women who had a job to do and realized that what was about to begin was important, fragile and yet, enduring. 

While the halls were filled with lawmakers, lobbyist and hordes of aids, outside a crowd of Alabama Tea Party activist gathered. From women and men in suits to American flag shirts and hats glittered red, white and blue they descended on the Statehouse.

“We are here to remind the lawmakers who they work for !” sounded from the podium as I approached the scene. Two men in dark suits with an air of purpose walked just a few feet ahead of me. One of the men said, “What is this a Scott Beason rally?” Sure enough signs proclaiming Scott Beason for Congress were the dominate decoration on the lawn outside the entrance to the Statehouse. “I think it’s a good thing,” said the man’s companion, to which his friend gave him a doubtful look. The man who replied,  “I support Beason, he is a good guy, I mean it, I think it is good he is running.” His friend seemed to shake his head and I lost them as we crossed into the Tea Party crowd. 

It was a small gathering of around two hundred Tea Partiers, much less than in years past. 

But what does the Tea Party really have to be excited about? This legislature is hardly going to stray far from the conservative agenda that brought them to power in 2010.

If anything this year’s legislative work will be more about cleaning up some details of last year and implementing other conservative reforms. 

At the Tea Party rally, Scott Beason did speak and after reminding the crowd that Alabama was a great state with a proud and determined people, he spoke proudly about the immigration bill he had championed and said, “The people of Alabama believe in the rule of law, and that is what that bill is about.” Not to put to fine a point on it but people actually cheered. They understood Beason, they believed his motivation. 

Others who spoke were Rep. Mike Ball (R-Madison) and Sen. Dick Brewbarker (R-Montgomery). One could not help noticing the handsome, well-dressed man surround by three small children, who kept circling his legs. Their mother conspicuously expecting a forth child smiled as the kids blew leaves from their hards, the magic awe of childhood in full view. When their father Ben DuPré head of Personhood Alabama took to the stage, his children didn’t seem to notice there where more interesting thing to explore, but their dad spoke with passion about the need to protect every unborn soul and the people present heard him.

The Tea Party crowd lingered on through the day but as night fell and small gathering took place of those opposing the state’s immigration law. 

The highlight of the day was Governor Bentley's State of the State Address. The capital was full to capacity as Lt. Governor Kay Ivey gaveled the session to order.

The tone and tenor set the stage for the business before the state’s lawmakers, Bentley said, “As we reflect on the first year of my administration and chart a course for the future, I want us all to remember, state government belongs to the people of this state. As public servants chosen to lead this state, we must begin every day with a commitment to give Alabamians every opportunity to make their lives better.”

Governor Bentley is a serious and empatethic man, perhaps years as a doctor has given him this pathos. Perhaps it is his piety, whatever the reason, when he speaks of being a public servant, only the most cynical among us would not be taken by its sincerity. 

As I looked from the Governor to the upper chairs behind him, I saw Sen. Del Marsh, Lt. Governor Kay Ivey and Speaker Mike Hubbard. All smart successful people, the men and a woman who have in their personal and private lives reached a level of success only dreamed of by most Alabamians. Wealth, power, prestige all something they had before entering public service. The Governor, Lt. Governor, the President Pro Tem and the Speaker do not need government jobs, they have already achieved the American dream, and yet, there they were, ready to serve the people of Alabama.

The first day back in the capital was at once great fun and consciously sobering, much faces or state and many will live and prosper or fade and fail because of what happens the next few months. In to these hands have the people of our state put their trust and hopes, let’s pray that these women and men have the courage and fortitude to live up to so great a responsibility. 

Bill Britt: Newspapers: State Sanctioned Monopolies

For years select newspapers in Alabama have enjoyed what many have referred to as state-sanctioned monopoly. This is because only certain newspaper are allowed to print “legal notices.” Meaning that only newspapers within a county that meet certain federal and state standards are permitted to print state and local public notices.

These notices included, but are not restricted to, foreclosures, local and state ordinances and laws, adoptions, probating of wills and more. Each public notice must be printed only in a newspaper that is published in that county. The newspapers that have such authority have enjoyed tremendous profits over the years because a flaw in the Alabama law.

City, county and the state government, by law, must advertise their legal notices in these newspapers. The government has no choice and the papers can make millions because they are a monopoly.

To meet the rigorous standards of this Alabama law a “start-up,” newspaper would have to spend tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollar just to acquire the second-class permit and publish for the required 51 weeks before ever having a chance to compete for the legal notice business.

Mayors, probate judges, county and state officials have pleaded with the legislators to end this state-sponsored robbery. It cost our state and local government tens of millions of dollars because they have to pay these newspapers whatever they demand of the government. Without competition, the newspaper can charge whatever they want to the government and they must pay because it’s the law.

Most news publication around the state have had their postal permits for 50 years or more, giving that newspaper a virtual monopoly of legal publications. Take one example in St. Clair County, ‘The St. Clair News-Aegis’ (which is owned by the Retirement Systems of Alabama) is just one of such papers in the 67 counties of Alabama. 

‘The St. Clair News Aegis’ is a newspaper that has had the right to publish legal notices for over 100 years. Perhaps as much as 60 percent of the publications revenue comes from its publication of legal notices.

By being the only newspaper in St. Clair County that has a state-given right to publish legal notifications this means that all city and county governments are force to purchase space in these papers by law. This also means that the newspaper can charge whatever it wants from the government for these publications because there is no competition. This is not to say that the St. Clair paper charges an unfair fee it just means it can charge whatever it wills.

However, it would be presumptuous and naive to think that there are not newspapers that do abuse their monopoly status.

For years the Alabama Legislature has seen one bill after another designed to put an end to such monopolies but these efforts have always met with failure.

With the rise on the Internet the case is being made that county and city governments as well as others who must run legal notices have an option to publish them on the Internet.

This has also been faced with tough opposition from the newspapers and the Alabama Press Association (APA).  While millions of dollars are made by newspapers with virtually no competition, the legislature has been held captive by cronyism on behalf of politicians with close ties to their local newspapers as well as editorial threats have been made toward politicians covertly and overtly.

It has been thought that the new Republican Majority in the government might put an end to this government-authorized monopoly.

Silly as it might seem, many newspapers have made the suggestion that putting the legal notices up for competition was simply retribution by Republicans against left-leaning news organizations.

In the past, very few politicians have had the courage to take on the editorial wrath of their local newspaper.

Sources within the next legislative agenda have emphatically stated that in this coming session there will be a bill passed that will allow legal notices to be published in local newspaper or on the Internet. However, the APA has said that this is not the case and that they have negotiated a better deal with powers within the government to maintain their state-sponsored monopoly.

The question arises, “ Is this good policy or convenient politics?

If this is true, the monopoly will continue punishing city and county governments while rewarding the publishers within these counties.

It is time for the Alabama Legislature to come into the 21st century. The Internet is everywhere and competition is the way our system works best.  It is known that at least one high-ranking legislator is co-owner of a prosperous newspaper that’s mainstay of income is legal notices.

It is known that the Retirement Systems of Alabama, RSA is heavily invested in small local papers in Alabama that live off legal notices. Is there a correlation or simply coincident?

Newspaper are a cherished and necessary part of insuring freedom and liberty in Alabama. Each newspaper is need as a voice within the community. It does not, however, mean it deserves to have a monopoly on government commerce. 

It is time to end the government sponsored monopolies of all kinds starting with newspapers.

Bill Britt: The Governor and Legislature must go big

It is not cliche to say elections have consequences and none more so than the super majority that the Alabama Republicans now enjoy in state government. In their first year in office potent changes have taken place under Republican leadership. From ethics reform to immigration law, many sweeping changes have taken place and the state is better for the accomplishments of the GOP. 

 

Still, more and perhaps even great challenges confront lawmakers in the upcoming session. In the last month the governor has made some bold suggestions and I applaud him for thinking big or as he said, “Shaking things up.” We need for our leaders to aim higher, to think bigger to take the occasional risk. Like many, I am not one that likes change but when things need to be corrected because of years of systematized corruption and institutional theft, change must come quickly and often with honorable vengeance. 

While there are needed fixes to the immigration and ethics laws, these are easily done with wise consul from the AG and the ethic commission. 

In all things I would encourage the governor and legislators to go big. In life, there is no guarantee golden opportunities will continue to shine. In fact, if life teaches us anything it is the temporal nature of good fortune. 

The people of Alabama elected this government to govern on conservative principles. To fashion our laws accordingly and do it with intellectual honesty and muscular will. 

So, it is that the trust of many have been placed in the hands of a few with the hope that they will do what is right and not what is convenient.

Alabama’s political leaders must not make their decisions on the popularity of a particular program or policy but on solid conservative principles. 

Recent my wife and I had a chance to visit with Governor Bentley. During our time together we talked about the difference between a popular politician and a principled statesman. I don’t think I would be overstating the governor’s comments by saying that he spoke with clarity about the statesman who places principle above popularity but also works wisely and tirelessly to build popularity out of what is principled.  

Our government faces a budget that stands as a clear and ominous warning that we must put our fiscal house in order. This will be a test of making good choices in hard times. It will require thoughtful decision making. Let’s hope that our lawmakers will bring foresight and wisdom to the process. Certainly Speaker Mike Hubbard and President Pro Tem Del Marsh have the business skills to look at this complex issue with cool-headed resolve. 

It has been said that President Pro Tem Del Marsh has identified the complex matrix of overlapping government entities within the state’s bureaucracy. Armed with this knowledge it is incumbent upon the Senate and House to begin the process of dismantling this complex institutional robbery.

While this will not fix the budget woes, it will at least slow the bleed caused by bureaucratic malpractice. 

This will also reduce the size of government fulfilling the promise that many freshman Republicans made to the voters of fighting for smaller government in Montgomery. 

Economic development is a key factor that will be address in the session. While a new and bright plan has been drafted for the ADO, there is a question as to whether there is enough money or staff to carry out all of the agenda, but it is a good start. However, the legislature must look at other means to spur growth. Small tax incentives are not enough. Here they must go big and offer the kinds of real incentives that bring money and ideas together. Business must be assured that the government will work toward fiscally responsibility and that government will get out of the way of capitalist enterprise.

While not a government function there needs to be a better mechanism for bringing entrepreneurs and investors together. Some investment capitalist and groups should be encouraged to look at ways to invest in small business innovations. I would suggest an investment summit be held to identify investors and bankers who would be willing to sponsor small business weekends were entrepreneurs could bring their business plans and give  “elevator pitches” to a room full of investors. The business weekends should also bring together consultants who would serve as advisors to these entrepreneurs. These investment weekends could be broken down into various markets, such as: tech, health, etc and held in regions where this innovation is best fostered. A high-tech summit in Huntsville would be a good start. 

Our leaders must remember that capitalism is what makes our system of government work, we can tinker and fret over how to fix Medicaid funding but without capitalism the whole system collapses.

The governor and legislature must aggressively face the failings of the Retirement Systems of Alabama, the people can no longer afford to hand over billions of dollars to a failed system. A full-scale audit must be performed by an outside independent agency. A committee should be appointed to oversee the audit and a review of practices by the RSA. The committee should hold public hearings and have subpoena power, there is more than smoke at the RSA.

There must be an end to the over-generous state pension system. When a worker only has to contribute 22 months of salary to draw a lifetime pension there is a problem. Only a fool would think that sustaining such a program is feasible. This financial albatross is beyond the states ability to pay, (see Wisconsin). 

Please don’t try to tell me we must have these benefits so we can attract the best people. The state should adopt a 401K-type plan for all new hires and anyone with less than ten years service. This would be a good start but we must end the unfunded, taxpayer supported pension program. If teachers and others wonder why they have not received a raise in 4 years, I suggest they call the RSA not the Governor. 

Education reform is also a big part of the Governor’s and legislative leadership’s agenda. Reform is badly needed and Charter Schools can be part of the fix. But our educational system is broken at its core. The larger problems have to be address--even over the obstructionist at AEA--and real school reform implemented. 

It is also important for the legislature to take a hard look at scaling back Montgomery’s education bureaucracy. We must find a better process for finding school leadership, firing teachers and rewarding good ones. (See my upcoming interviews with Bradley Byrne and Artur Davis.)

There is always inherent in government a want and need to raise taxes, pledges are constantly made, “No new taxes,” yet, taxes are raised anyway. Generally with Republicans they break their pledge on taxes with hidden ones, such as fees, licenses and the perennial favorite, sin taxes. Cut, don’t tax, but in cutting, cut wisely. 

Democrats please know that obstructionism is not the answer. A loyal option is needed in our state, we are best served by our two-party system. But it is ideas that you must tender. Dialogue that must be offered, Reps. Patricia Todd and Chris England are examples of smart, thoughtful Democrats. Democrats we need your voice and not your back. 

Turn around and embrace your new roll. The party out of power has to offer more than "No." The people who elected you deserve better.

So, these are few thing that come to mind as the new legislative session starts.

There are many decisions to be made, some will be good, some will be bad and some will never even happen.

It is important to remember that right and wrong still exist, good and evil also, choose the good, do what is right and go big. 

That the sole object and only legitimate end of government is to protect the citizen in the enjoyment of life, liberty, and property...” 

--Alabama Constitution

Bill Britt: AEA Interview, If I Were Henry Mabrey

In the past week Henry Mabry met with the ‘Gadsden Times’ in which he held for the status quo positions. I wanted to imagine what the interview might have been like if someone with a hint of the current realities were to answer the ‘Times’ questions.


So, I decided to cast myself as the new head of the AEA and reply to the ‘Times’ inquires as a man who understands what day and what time it is actually. I have taken the basic questions asked and provide what I believe are the best answers as a start to working with the Governor and the Legislator toward a solution to the education problem as well as the state’s other problems.



Times; The Governor has mentioned trying to divert funds from the state’s education fund to be used to bolster the shortfalls in the general fund?

Me: I understand that the state is in serious fiscal trouble and I can appreciated the Governor’s positions, however I am not convinced that un-earmarking items in the Education budget is the best path for the state to take.  


I am reluctant to go down that path because the General Fund has been mismanaged over the years. Can we trust that the state will prove fiscally wise with more funds?


I don’t know all the answer to this situation and demands a great deal of consideration both pro and con. For now I am in the con camp.


But I commend the governor for his willingness to look at alternatives.


There are some very smart men in the new leadership in Montgomery and I would think we could all set together and look for ways to meet this crisis in a bi-partisan manner.


Times: The 2012 legislative session set to begin Feb. 7 will be tough. The state already is looking at a fifth straight year of budget cuts for education.


Me: We have been in a hole for awhile now, but I would like to let the Governor and the Legislators know that the AEA is in this fight to do what is best for education but this is not the past. I understand the problem and want to see how we can better offer education without crippling the state in the process. It is a new day.


Times: There are some who recommend increasing class sizes as a cost savings measure.


Me:  I have to admit we have gone a little overboard with the class size reduction. Currently our K-3 have one teacher for every 16 students and 4-12 it is 18. This was a goal to offer more hands-on education to our children. I have looked at the situation and the truth is we have many assistants and teachers that are not doing what we have hoped with reduced class size. I am certainly willing to look at increasing the number of students in a classroom to help with this situation.


When I was a child in school we had as many as 30 students in a class, that was a bit high but you know I received a good education. Let me point out that we at the AEA know we have to do more and the teachers are going to have to do more for the sake of everyone.


Times: The Governor and the Speaker of the House have made Charter Schools one of their top legislative agendas for the 2012 session.


Me: It has been the past policy of the AEA to oppose Charter Schools, I think my predecessors had their reasons, but the new AEA is going to be more than a union, we are going to work for what’s best for education and if that means Charter Schools then that is one of the things we will work with the Governor and Speaker on.


We have to be honest about where we are today, we can’t keep our heads buried in the sand. Alabama has had failing schools for the last 40 years, and do you know how many we have closed? None. We can stay with the same failed policies and hope that things will change.


Times: There are calls for cuts in every direction how do you responded to that?


Me: I live on a budget, my family lives on a budget, the state lives on a budget. So, we are going to have to see how we can live within our means and still provide the best educational system we can.


I received a great deal of criticism for sending my children to private schools, that question came at me fast and hard and at the time I was not ready to answer it honestly, I think I should now. The fact is I have done well in my life, I can afford to send my children to private schools, this is America, where if you have the means you can choose to send your kids to whatever school you want. I would like to have a state where all children could have the type of education my kids do, but not every parent has been as blessed monetarily as I have, so, we need to look at a voucher program that gives parents more choice.  


Times: As former finance director under former Gov. Don Siegelman you understand the problems facing the state's general fund. Your thoughts.


Me: I was proud to have served the state during that time but this is a different era and the challenges are greater. The first thing most people want to do is bring in more revenue, this would be nice but the reality is no one is in the mood to raise taxes during this period, raising taxes is actually a killer in tough financial times.


What we need to do is find ways of cost saving, I frankly don’t know what they all are but if we put our heads together down in Montgomery rather than butting head.We are going to get more done.


But let me makes this clear the AEA will not be stream-rolled by anyone, that is why I am offering the hand of friendship and an olive branch toward the future.


We may have to increase class sizes, cut benefits and other things but we can do this together. I will want firm assurances of good faith on behalf of those who have in the past opposed us but for now we will trust first and verify later.


We have made great progress in education in our state, I don’t want to see that go backwards. But the AEA has not always been right on education it is time to admit that. But we will fight for our teachers and our children without hesitation. 


I don’t want to make the mistakes of the past but work toward a brighter future for our children and our children’s children so that they too will know the full measure of success that their families have worked to give them.


Alabama is a great state and we all must work to make it even better.

I wish Mr. Mabry would be so reasonable.

 

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