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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Sep
7
2014

Bold? Or Dangerous?

Recently, our state leaders have been going around patting themselves on the back for how much they have changed things over the past four years. They say over the next four years they are going to “be bold” if not “bolder” than they were before. They plan to go even further than they have in the past. This should be a wake up call to everyone in the state, especially our educators and state employees.

The last four years have certainly seen changes. But they have not been successful ones. We are the only state in the nation that has an increasing unemployment rate. We are 49th in the country for job creation. We also lead the nation in funding cuts to public education.

This is not a record to run on. This is a record to run from! These aren’t things to be proud of. These are things to be ashamed of!

It isn’t just a matter of the current leadership’s policies failing. It’s the way they have done business in Montgomery—the culture they have created.

First, let’s look at the way in which they passed the Accountability Act. Our current leadership passed one version of the bill, then went behind closed doors and switched it out for another version-a version that had not been debated on the House floor and included new spending. They rammed this bill through in the dead of night so that this second version of the bill was never given a chance to be read by the public before it became law!

Because they chose to use these Washington-style tactics, the courts have ruled the Act unconstitutional, both for what it does, but primarily for the illegal way in which it was passed.

It is never acceptable for our state leaders to keep the public in the dark. Nor should it be the policy of our state leaders to intentionally choose to go around the law to force through bad legislation that they know will be unconstitutional. Especially when that legislation involves how our tax dollars are going to be spent!

Instead of wasting taxpayer money, we should be investing in highways and our infrastructure so we can create jobs. Instead of cutting even more funding from our schools, we need to look at raising revenue through a lottery and entering into a compact with the Poarch Creek Indians.

And we should be looking for ways to give our law enforcement officers, firefighters, educators and other public employees a pay raise. Despite what Senator Phil Williams and other legislators may say in their mail pieces, the legislature has NOT given educators a pay raise. Educators and state employees are making less today than they did four years ago.

So I agree that historians will definitely talk about our current legislature in the years to come. But I doubt what they have to say will be very positive.

The last four years have not been good for our state. From multiple failed policies to the way our legislature is doing business, it’s not pretty. Now legislative leaders are promising to come back and “be bolder,” by forcing through even more doomed-to-fail policies, and using questionable political tactics even more aggressively. That’s not bold. That’s just dangerous!

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

Sep
2
2014

Working for Working Families

This week, we celebrated Labor Day in honor of the working families throughout this country. And it is a fitting time to celebrate working families, since jobs are by far the number one issue on most peoples’ minds these days.

As we get closer to Election Day, you will see more and more political ads talking about “Jobs, jobs, jobs.” But job creation should be more than just a campaign slogan. These candidates should offer real solutions to our jobs shortage, and not just more talk.

I agree with Gov. Bentley that we need to look at tax incentives where we can to help bring in new jobs and protect existing ones. That’s why I was proud to support the Gadsden Goodyear bill a couple of years ago, and why Larry Means and I fought to create the Industrial Development Authority that helped save 1,400 jobs at Goodyear and create another 190.

When done right, we have seen tax incentives score huge wins for Alabama, like when we brought Mercedes to Tuscaloosa. But when we don’t do it right, we have lost heavily, as we did with ThyssenKrupp.

The state gave ThyssenKrupp over a billion dollars in tax incentives, but the company closed it’s doors and put it’s plant up for sale after only two years in operation, jeopardizing thousands of jobs.

And where I strongly disagree with the governor is on the possibility of paying for these tax incentives from money in the Education Trust Fund. When he proposed this idea, the governor said “you have to eat what you kill,” but cutting millions of dollars from our children’s education to pay for corporate tax incentives is more like “eating our young.”

And the truth is tax incentives will only get us so far. As some state leaders like to point out, Alabama is one of the most business friendly states in the country. Yet we are 49th for job creation and the only state in the country with a rising unemployment rate.

Clearly, continuing to do what we’ve been doing isn’t going to work.

But the good news is that job creation is a problem we know how to solve. Yes, we should continue to utilize tax incentives when appropriate (and when done the right way), but we need to look beyond that. We need to start investing more in our infrastructure.

Whether it’s improving roads and bridges or expanding wireless Internet access, investing in our infrastructure creates jobs today as well as in the future. In the short term, these government contracts and projects create jobs for the men and women who will do the work. In the long term, these projects make doing business more efficient, which in turn increases profits and allows businesses to hire more employees.

For example, smoother roads cause less damage to trucks. This means businesses can spend more on shipping their products and less on vehicle maintenance and medical bills for truck drivers, many of whom develop back problems driving on roads filled with potholes.

In addition to our infrastructure, we have to look at education – not just K-12, but vocational training and college opportunities, as well.

The reality is that over the next few years thousands of jobs will open up as the baby boom generation begins to retire. But the question is will today’s young people have the training to do these jobs?

And while we should work to make sure every child has the chance to pursue a college degree if that is what they want, we should also invest more in vocational training and workforce development opportunities. Because not everyone wants to go to college, but they can make a good living if they learn a trade. There are plenty of opportunities out there for our children to be successful-with or without a college degree. And we need to do everything we can to help them make those dreams become a reality.

But as the old saying goes: if you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got. We cannot keep doing what we have been doing and expect to get a better result. If we want to be serious about creating and protecting jobs, then we need leaders in Montgomery who understand what we have to do.

I hope your Labor Day was restful. I have always believed that nobody works harder or has a better work ethic than the people of Alabama. Now we need leaders in Montgomery who will work just as hard for our working families.

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