Remembering Our Educators This Thanksgiving

In our house at Thanksgiving, our family likes to sit around the table and name the things we are thankful for in our life. Of course, everyone always names the big things like family, our freedom and so on. But the things that I’m most thankful for are the people in my life who have made a difference: the people I work with, those serving in the church and the military just to name a few. But this year, I am especially thankful for our educators.

It’s not just how teachers have shaped my own life, or how I’ve watched them shape the lives of my children. It’s that they do this job year after year, each year with more expectations, fewer resources and less in their pockets. But they don’t complain because, for them, teaching isn’t just a job, it’s a calling.

From teaching our children how to read, to helping them fall in love with math and science, teachers are a vital part of our community.

I am truly grateful for these people who give so much of their time, their personal money and their talents to our children. And I think it’s time for our state leaders to show them how much we appreciate them.

The state legislative budget chairmen have said they don’t think there is enough money to give our educators and retirees a raise this year. But these are the same Republican legislators who have gone throughout the state claiming they have saved us over a billion dollars by eliminating waste and increasing classroom sizes. Then they raised over $180 million in new taxes. So what happened to all that money?

These same Republican legislators talk about how we have an education budget surplus, then turn around and tell us we can’t afford to give our educators a small raise? I just don’t understand that math.

State Superintendent Tommy Bice has said a raise needs to be a priority. He’s right! Our educators and retirees haven’t seen a raise since 2007. In 2011, Republican legislators voted to cut their pay 2.5 percent to cover increases in healthcare costs. A couple of years ago, they gave 2 percent back, so educators are still operating under a half a percent pay cut from what they were making eight years ago! And that doesn’t factor in the higher cost of living these days.

Alabama is behind the times when it comes to paying our educators, and it cannot continue. We will continue to lose our best and brightest teachers to other states and other professions if we do not implement an across the board raise while we have the money.

If things stay the way they are, then we continue to hear more and more stories like Ann Marie Corgill, a finalist for the 2015 National Teacher Of The Year, and Alabama’s statewide winner, who resigned from the Birmingham City Schools in part because the finance department did not pay her for two months!

I don’t think there are many people who would continue to work a very demanding job, clocking in well over 40 hours per week, without getting paid for two months.

Her story got attention because she was a finalist for National Teacher Of The Year. But we lose great teachers every year because they can make more money doing something else. Nurses, accountants, computer programmers and other college graduates start out making between $10,000-$15,000 more per year than a first year teacher. That’s a significant difference! And the gap only gets wider the more years they put into their profession.

So this year, as we all gather with our loved ones and remember what we are thankful for, let’s remember our educators, as well. Without their time, their money and their talents, the future of our state would look quite different. Our educators have one of the most important jobs in our community: caring for our children, helping them to grow and teaching them the things they need to be successful in life. It’s time our state leaders showed them our gratitude by paying them what they are worth.


Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.


Progress Has Been Made, But There Is More Work To Be Done!

Congratulations to Gov. Bentley and Secretary of State, John Merrill, on their work to fully enact the “motor voter” law! It’s refreshing to see a news article about voting in Alabama that isn’t negative. And while it did take more than twenty years and the threat of a costly lawsuit, Alabama is finally moving toward compliance with the federal voting law.

If you are unfamiliar with the law, the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, more commonly referred to as the “motor voter” law, is a federal law that, among other things, requires state governments to offer voter registration opportunities to any eligible person who applies for or renews their driver’s license or public assistance.

In many parts of our state, people have not been able to register to vote in the same place where they applied for or renewed their driver’s license, and that change of address submissions for driver licenses did not serve as notification of a change of address for voter registration. This led the U.S. Department of Justice to threaten to sue the state if we did not comply.

Thankfully, Gov. Bentley and Sec. Merrill acted quickly to cooperate with the Justice Department and reach an agreement that will resolve these issues and avoid an expensive lawsuit.

And while I am thankful to see these changes, the truth is that there is a lot more we can do to address voting issues in this state without sacrificing the integrity of the vote.

We can begin by building on the motor voter act. It’s good that people applying for or renewing their driver’s license will now be asked if they’d like to register to vote. But why not just automatically register them? If they are renewing their license, then it should automatically update their voter registration, as well. And for those 16 and 17 year olds who are getting their license for the first time, they can still be put into the system and registered, but not allowed to actually vote until they are 18 years old.

Automatic voter registration also removes the chance of voter fraud through fraudulent voter registration and voter fraud as a result of inaccurate and incomplete voter rolls.

Automatic registration would also eliminate the problems our voting registrars have with the large numbers of registration applications that come in during the final weeks before an election. Each election year, the registrars offices are flooded with registration forms, which often overwhelm registrars who are trying to finalize the list of registered voters and get voting cards in the mail to these voters telling them where they need to go to vote. If we had automatic registration, those problems would cease to exist.

There have also been instances where registrars have either intentionally or accidently left a voter off the rolls or failed to register someone to vote. Automatic voter registration would also solve this problem and allow plenty of time for errors to be caught and corrected.

Automatic registration would also save the state money by eliminating all that paperwork that goes with registering to vote (or changing your voting address) by having it all done with the same paperwork needed to apply for or renew your driver’s license.

Automatic registration also addresses another issue: same-day voter registration. A study conducted in 2013 found that Election Day registration (meaning a person who isn’t registered to vote can show up at the polls on Election Day, register and then cast their ballot) is proven to boost the probability of voting by three to four percentage points. Now, Election Day registration would cause serious problems for our registrars, not to mention the potential for fraud. But if this type of voter were already registered and in the system, then there wouldn’t be a problem. That person could simply show up and cast their ballot legally.

I’m very encouraged to see the progress that is being made, now that the state is finally complying with the motor voter act. Gov. Bentley and Sec. Merrill deserve credit for acting quickly to bring us into compliance. But there is more work to be done. We need to have a serious conversation about automatic voter registration. Automatic voter registration can save the state money, cut down on bureaucracy and red tape, and protect every American citizen’s God-given right to cast their vote and let their voice be heard!

Progress has been made. But there is still work to be done.


Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.



This week, our hearts went out to the victims of tragedies in Paris and Beirut. Americans stood in solidarity with the victims of these horrific attacks and committed ourselves to continue working to prevent these attacks at home and abroad.

At the heart of the conversation about dealing with terrorism, extremism, and ISIS has been a conversation about Syrian refugees and their role in our nation.

Many have argued it’s time to shut down our borders to prevent bad people from coming in with those looking for safety, while others have quoted the lines etched onto the Statue of Liberty: “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Regardless of how you personally feel about Syrian refugees or immigrants in general, we can all agree that we don’t want to see an attack occur on American soil, particularly here in Alabama.

In this effort, Governor Bentley has vowed to close Alabama’s borders to Syrian refugees and block any attempts to relocate refugees into Alabama through the federal placement programs.

Unfortunately, it seems to me the Governor’s attempt to keep our state safe is merely a half-hearted, knee-jerk reaction to a hot button political issue.

The truth is that the federal placement program isn’t bringing Syrian refugees into Alabama en masse, and it never will. A processing center in Mobile was approved by the State Department, yet they have not placed a single refugee within Alabama borders. A similar facility in Louisiana has only processed 14 refugees.

Typically, the state has a system in place to respond to large-scale disasters: the National Guard. They are at the discretion of the Governor and can be used to secure any situation from natural disasters to riots.

While our Governor is saying he wants to keep us safe, he’s allowing our National Guard Armories to close or consolidate, meaning our first-responders are less capable of managing a large-scale disaster on Alabama soil.

Six of Alabama’s armories are scheduled to close due to funding shortfalls, and another 15 are scheduled to be closed and consolidated.

While these armories usually require a 50/50 funding split between federal and state dollars, Alabama has only been willing to fund $16 million to match the $126 million in federal funds to support our National Guard.

I’ve said it before, and I will continue to say it: our budgets are signs of our priorities.

If our priority is to keep our state and our people safe from harm, we have to put our money where our mouths are. Whether it’s a hurricane or a security threat, our National Guard is critical to our safety, and I would urge the Governor to work towards providing the state with this critical funding.


Rep. Darrio Melton is a Democrat from Selma. He was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2010 and currently serves as Chair of the House Democratic Caucus.


Appreciating Our Veterans on Veterans Day

November is a time to be thankful. Of course, we celebrate Thanksgiving later on in the month. But November is also the time when we celebrate Veterans Day, and give thanks to all those who have served our Country.

Veterans Day began as a day to remember those who served in World War I. That war ended at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month, so Veterans Day has always been celebrated on November 11th. But now the day is meant to remember those who have served in the military at any time, not just during World War I.

Veterans Day is also different from Memorial Day because Memorial Day is set aside to remember those who have died in service to our country, whereas Veterans Day honors all those who have served during peace time or war.

Veterans Day allows us to take time away from work and other obligations so that we can reflect on the sacrifices that have been made for our freedom and security, and so that we can honor all those who have sworn to defend our country.

Growing up, I can’t count the number of times I heard the saying, “Freedom is not free.” Those are words that are easy to say, but sometimes hard to truly appreciate. But those words inspired me to serve in the Army Reserve and the Alabama National Guard, just as they did my dad.

It was during my time in the military that I began to truly realize the meaning of those words, and just how much our freedom has cost. The sheer sacrifice our veterans and their families have made for this country humbles me every time I think about it. Simply saying thank you doesn’t seem to be enough, and yet, that’s all many that veterans have ever asked. They deserve so much more!

It breaks my heart when I read about some of the problems our VA system has had over the years, or about VA centers closing throughout Alabama (the state closed 17 of them in 2012!).

These problems show the difficulties our veterans face when they come home, and the challenge that our elected leaders face. But it is a challenge that we must face.

In the meantime, we should all pause and take time to thank our nation’s heroes for their service. Veterans Day is more than just a day off work or a day out of school; it is more than a time to grill out and watch reruns of war movies. Veterans Day is a time to remember that freedom isn’t free. It has cost us dearly.

Since 1775, more than 2.8 million Americans have died or been wounded in service to our country. More than 6,500 have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, while nearly 51,000 have been wounded.

Our heroes-those who came home alive and those who didn’t-deserve our thanks each and every single day, and I am so proud we have a day dedicated to them.

I shudder at the thought of what our country would look like without the brave men and women of our Armed Forces. We are truly blessed by God that mothers and fathers have raised such great Americans. To these families I say we are blessed that your son or daughter has chosen to serve our country, and I am thankful not only for them, but for you as well. They walk the path, but you helped lead them there.

President John F. Kennedy once said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

This year I encourage each and every person to not only celebrate Veterans Day by saying thank you and praying for the safety of those serving, but to take some sort of action to show your appreciation.

Please consider making a donation-no matter how small-to the Wounded Warrior Project; say a prayer for those not able to make it home for Thanksgiving with their loved ones, because they are fighting to insure your dinner won’t be interrupted. Take a moment to say the Pledge of Allegiance, and let the words wash over you.

We must be grateful always for our veterans. But we need to show them our gratitude by living each day as proud Americans, worthy of their sacrifice, proving President Kennedy correct, that the highest appreciation we can show our nation’s heroes is not by uttering words, but by living them.


Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.