Sep
28
2014

The Importance of Voting

Now that the campaign season is entering the final five weeks, there will be a huge increase in the TV ads, mail pieces and other campaign activity—all meant to persuade voters to vote one way or another. It’s the homestretch and things are going to be ramping up.

However you may choose to vote, the most important thing you do go vote! Not just because so many men and women have given their lives for that very privilege, but also because, especially this year, at the state and local levels votes matter.

Those votes will ultimately decide whom we send to Montgomery to be our voice and look out for our best interests. Some people may think that one vote can’t change anything or that your particular vote won’t matter. But that’s just not true.

This year, statewide turnout in the primaries was the lowest it has been in decades. If turnout is anywhere near that low on Nov. 4th for the general election, then you can rest assured that every single vote will make an impact.

And this is an important election with so much at stake! Whether it’s creating jobs, supporting our schools, creating a state lottery or any number of other issues, there are some pretty bog differences and between the candidates. And the only way you can change things or make them better is if you vote.

Voting doesn’t guarantee that you can make a difference. But if you don’t vote then you definitely can’t make a difference. As any coach will tell you, you can’t win a football game if you never take the field. It’s the same with politics. You won’t be heard if you don’t vote.

And now is the time to make your voice heard!

Over the last four years, Alabama has led the nation in cuts to our public schools. Our schools have been under constant assault from Montgomery politicians who now say they want to take more money out of the Education Trust Fund and use it to pad the General Fund. In other words, they are basically balancing the state’s budgets on the backs of our children. We cannot afford to send more politicians to Montgomery who will treat our children’s education money as their get out of jail free card to avoid tough budget decisions.

And unfortunately, school budget cuts aren’t our only problem: Our job growth has been dismal. The campaign promises from four years ago about new jobs just haven’t materialized, so now state leaders are running away from their record. You won’t hear them talk much about what they’ve done over the past four years. Why would they? If I had their record I’d probably run away from it too!

There is so much at stake in this election. But we can make a change and get our state back on track. It all starts with your vote. Your vote can make the difference between more of the same or moving in a new direction. Your vote can mean the difference between bringing good-paying jobs to Alabama versus continuing to be stagnant. Your vote can mean the difference between giving our schools the support they deserve or continuing to make public education and educators enemy number one.

The only way to make a change is for you to go vote.

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

Sep
22
2014

We Need Real Solutions for the Budget Crisis

There are many things I believe a person in leadership should be: responsive to their constituents, strong in their core values, able to make tough decisions and most importantly, a good steward of the taxpayers’ money. And being a good steward of taxpayers’ money means finding real solutions to the budget problems of our state—not simply balancing the budgets on the backs of working families. Unfortunately, certain politicians are suggesting we do exactly that.

Some of our state leaders are quick to pat themselves on the back and make claims of saving the state all this money through something they call “right-sizing government.” In fact, in December of 2013, Gov. Bentley went as far as to say, “Today I am honored to announce that we have found over $1 billion in annual savings that will allow us to be better stewards of taxpayer money and operate state government as efficiently and effectively as possible.”

But what they are really doing is passing the buck on to working families across Alabama. These “savings” are coming in the form of merit-raise freezes, eliminating jobs and cutting pensions and benefits.

How exactly is freezing merit-raises for hard working state employees and eliminating jobs, buried in the press release as “agency streamlining and realignment,” being a good steward of taxpayer money? It’s not. Especially when the state has wasted millions of dollars either defending unconstitutional legislation like the Alabama Accountability Act or prosecuting legal businesses like those run by the Poarch Creek Indians.

We need real solutions for the current budget crisis. And yes, one of these solutions is tightening the belt and cutting out waste and duplication of government services. Every family knows when times are tough you have to watch your spending. The state has to do the same and tighten its belt where possible. But significant cuts have already been made, and prominent state leaders have conceded we can’t tighten the belt anymore. That’s why they have started talking about needing to be “bold” and talking about how “every option should be on the table.”

And I agree that we need to start looking at new options. We should be looking at creating a state lottery to help fund public education, and entering into a compact with the Poarch Creek Indians to bring in new revenue for the general fund.

But the one thing we should never consider is raiding the Education Trust Fund. That is why I proposed the Education Funding Protection Pledge that would commit legislators to opposing any effort to reallocate money earmarked for education and any attempt to combine the state’s two budgets. There’s only one reason legislators would want to combine the budgets: to take money in the bigger budget (the Education Trust Fund budget) and use it to finance underfunded programs in the General Fund Budget (such as prisons).

Unfortunately, none of our state leaders have signed it.

Money set aside for our children’s education should not be rerouted to other government agencies and programs, no matter how worthy those agencies and programs may be. There are better ways to meet our obligations than robbing one budget to pay the other.

Borrowing money from the state’s savings accounts is not a viable option either. That’s simply cashing a check that the next generation is going to have to pay. We need a real solution for the budget crisis. Not simply a short term fix that will create a larger crisis in the future. That’s not a legacy our children deserve.

We need leaders to make tough decisions and be good stewards of taxpayers’ money. We have options—a state lottery, a compact with the Poarch Creeks, tightening the belt where we can—but combining the budgets should not be on the table. It is not a real solution.
We don’t need more campaign rhetoric. We need real solutions!

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

Sep
14
2014

Leadership Means Listening

One of the biggest threats to our children’s education is when the politicians think they know better than the professional educators.

Last month, 30 of Alabama’s public school superintendents joined in a lawsuit challenging the legality of the so-called Accountability Act, and asking the Alabama Supreme Court to uphold a lower court’s decision that the Accountability Act is unconstitutional.

Among those 30 superintendents was Etowah County Superintendent Dr. Alan Cosby. My opponent in the race for House District 28, Doug Sherrod, serves under Dr. Cosby on the Etowah County Board of Education. Unfortunately, Doug Sherrod and too many other politicians think they know more than our superintendents.

Doug Sherrod is a part-time school board member, but he refuses to listen to Dr. Cosby, who has spent years in the classroom as a student, teacher and administrator and devoted his life to our children’s education.

When the Accountability Act was passed, I listened to our teachers and encouraged our local school boards to support a resolution opposing the Accountability Act. Every city school board in our Etowah County supported these resolutions. Only our county board failed to pass a resolution, making Doug Sherrod one of the only school board members in Etowah County to stand against our educators, superintendents and even the majority of other school board members.

But it isn’t just his refusal to support our educators, Dr. Cosby and other school board members. Doug has even taken thousands of dollars in campaign donations from a group in Virginia that supports legislation like the Accountability Act, and promotes legislation that is even more radical.

By taking campaign donations from a political action committee that supports laws like the Accountability Act and other anti-public education policies, Doug Sherrod has shown his true self. We simply cannot expect him to support our public schools, or to protect how our tax dollars are spent when it comes to education.

In the legal brief submitted to the state Supreme Court, the superintendents make note of the “negative financial impact of AAA [Alabama Accountability Act] on public schools and the potential devastating financial impact of this unconstitutional legislation.”

How can Doug Sherrod, or any other politician who supports the Accountability Act, claim to be a fiscal conservative when they support a law that wasted $40 million last year, and is obligated to waste a minimum of $25 million every year from now on?

In no way has the Accountability Act been anything close to a success! Last year, only 52 kids in the entire state transferred to a private school, which was the whole point of the Accountability Act! Even the number of students transferring to other public schools dropped by more than half. So much for school choice!

The politicians in Montgomery cut the education budget by $40 million the first year to pay for the tax credits for kids who transferred. But since so few kids actually transferred under the Accountability Act, well over 99% of the tax credits actually went to wealthy donors and corporations instead of kids transferring schools. And every dollar that went to a corporate or rich donor was a dollar that was taken out of our schools.

Every school system in the state of Alabama lost money because of the Accountability Act-even if that school system is highly successful. And that is why the superintendents have come out so strongly against the Accountability Act.

But Doug Sherrod and other politicians refuse to listen to those who know what they are talking about!

If these are the kinds of failed policies Doug supports when he’s campaigning, it scares me to think what he would support if he actually wins. We cannot afford to have a representative who refuses to listen to the professionals-whether it’s about education or any other topic. If we are going to pass laws regulating banks, I’m going to talk with a banker before I make my decision. If we are going to pass laws that impact Medicaid, I am going to talk to doctors and hospital administrators.

So it isn’t just about politicians like Doug Sherrod supporting an obviously failed policy. It’s about the arrogance to think you don’t need to listen to the professionals. In order to support public education, we must first and foremost listen to and support the people providing that education.

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

Sep
9
2014

Michael Gladden Proposes Bill Prohibiting Convicted Rapists From Claiming Parental Rights

For Immediate Release: September 9, 2014

Gadsden – Etowah County Coroner and candidate for the state House of Representatives in District 29, Michael Gladden, said today that, if elected to the State Legislature, the first bill he will introduce would prohibit a person convicted of first-degree rape from claiming custody and visitation rights.

Studies have shown that survivors of rape are the largest population in the nation to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Gladden said one goal of his proposed legislation is to protect victims and their children from being forced to live with a dangerous threat.

“No woman should be tethered to her attacker for the rest of her life,” said Gladden. “As coroner, too many times I have seen the result of violent crimes. No woman or child should be forced to live with that threat.”

A 2010 article in the Georgetown law review estimated that at least 25,000 women nationwide become pregnant every year as a result of rape. Yet, Alabama is one of more than thirty states that continues to allow a person convicted of sexual assault to claim the same custody and visitation rights that other fathers enjoy.

Gladden said his proposed legislation would change the law so that a person convicted of sexual assault would automatically lose custody and visitation rights if a child is conceived as a result of the sexual assault. However, the legislation would allow certain exceptions, such as cases of statutory rape.

“Our goal is to protect women and children who are the victims of a violent, sexual assault, not to go after seventeen-year-old kids who get their fifteen-year-old girlfriends pregnant,” said Gladden.

Gladden said the rights could also be restored under his legislation if the victim chooses to give those rights to her attacker or if a judge rules that the rights may be restored.

“An elected official’s first responsibility is to look out for the safety of the people they represent,” said Gladden. “More importantly, as a husband and father, I want to make sure that my wife and daughters and every other woman in the state of Alabama is protected under all circumstances. That is why I am making this legislation my priority if I get elected to the State Legislature.”

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