The Alabama House Democratic Caucus unveiled its legislative agenda on Tuesday, and it's what many expected: a state lottery, Indian gaming compact, minimum wage increase, and removal of the state tax on groceries. Each proposal has been suggested during previous sessions, and all have been snubbed by Republican legislators.
In a surprise move, House Budget Committee Chair Steve Clouse announced that he will sign on as co-sponsor to House Minority Leader Craig Ford's proposal to use a state lottery to help fund Alabama's ailing Medicaid program. Ford also introduced a separate bill for an education lottery (HB-472). Note: as of this time, there's no available link to the Medicaid lottery bill. From the Alabama House Democratic Caucus Web page:
We are proposing two bills that allow the voters to vote on creating a state lottery. The first lottery bill would allocate the proceeds generated towards scholarships for students who make the A/B Honor Roll. The second lottery bill would allocate the proceeds to the state’s General Fund budget for the state’s Medicaid agency. Either lottery could generate up to $280 million annually.
“Before we even consider raising taxes we need to let the people vote on a lottery. For far too long Alabamians have been sending our hard-earned dollars to neighboring states. It’s time to let the voters decide on if we want a lottery and where we want those funds to go.”
Clouse explained his support for the Medicaid lotter bill in practical terms:
"We're just looking at anything to raise funds," Clouse said.
The 2015 legislative session is almost a third finished, so it seems a bit late for the Democrats to roll out an agenda. The Republicans publicized their priorities well in advance of this session, and it contained usual "bright shiny objects" consisting of "God, Guns, & Gays" legislation- they're for the first two and against the third. They always include that trio to deflect attention away from the real agenda - dismantling state government & selling it off to the highest bidder.
What took the Democrats so long to offer an alternate vision for the state? Well... the explanation is kind of lame. They were waiting for the GOP supermajority to act like grown-ups and offer some real solutions:
We are now more than one-third of the way through the legislative session and the Republican supermajorities have not passed a single bill to address our state’s most pressing issues, primarily our tremendous budget shortfall. By low estimates, we will need $265 million to stay solvent, but debt repayment obligations mean the state needs closer to $700 million.
We've said here for years - when our Democratic legislators didn't bother to show up for committee hearings or important votes - that "just because you'll probably lose, that's no reason not to take a stand."
Today, Ford offered this:
"Would You Rather Have A Democrat’s Lottery Or Republicans’ Taxes?"
This week is the legislature’s Spring Break, and we are now almost a third of the way through the legislative session. And as last week came to an end, legislative leaders were quick to congratulate themselves on passing their legislative agenda.
I’m sure the taxpayers will be relieved Republicans were able to pass their “Alabama First” agenda. I mean, sure, maternity wards across the state are closing and leaving thousands of mothers without nearby prenatal care and delivery services, but at least we brought back the electric chair.
And, sure, there are hundreds of children in Alabama waiting to be adopted by loving parents but can’t because of budget cuts to the Department of Human Resources. But at least judges won’t be forced to participate in gay weddings. Oh wait, nobody was making them do that anyway.
Well at least now we passed the “Truth in Salary Act” so all those educators and state employees will finally know how much they are getting paid! I mean, sure, there are counties in Alabama that don’t have a single state trooper to patrol them, and many of the state troopers we do have are driving vehicles with more than 200,000 miles on them. But all that has to take a backseat to more bureaucracy and paperwork so that we can make sure our bureaucrats know how much they are getting paid (because apparently they are smart enough to teach our children, but not smart enough to read their own paystubs).
Yes, the Republican leadership has passed their legislative agenda. But what they have not done is offer any real solutions to the very real problems Alabama is facing.
Take, for example, the charter school bill. Let’s assume that every charter school is wildly successful. Even then, there would still be thousands of children still stuck in failing schools. Charter schools and the Accountability Act are not solutions to failing schools. They are escape options from failing schools.
And that is the problem with the leadership in Montgomery: they don’t try to solve problems; they try to run away or hide from problems. But now Alabama is facing some problems that we can’t run away from anymore.
The General Fund budget is facing a hole of at least $265 million. And if we try to pay back all the debt we owe, the budget hole is really closer to $700 million.
After the last four years of gutting our state government, we simply cannot fill the budget hole with more cuts to government. We have “right-sized” to the point of budgetary anorexia. The only way to allow our government to continue to function is with more revenue.
Before the legislative session began, Gov. Bentley proposed a tax package that would raise about $541 million. And to his credit, he included certain proposals, such as increasing the tobacco tax and closing certain corporate tax loopholes that benefit out-of-state corporations and the expense of Alabama business owners, which have been part of the Democratic Party’s agenda for years.
It’s no surprise the Republican leadership in the legislature hasn’t supported the governor’s proposals. They don’t want to be seen supporting anything Democrats have been calling for, and that’s fine. But if they don’t want to consider our ideas, they should at least offer some of their own!
The legislature cannot run away and hide any more. The Republicans wanted to be in leadership, and now it’s time for them to step up and offer solutions.
Of course, if they won’t consider Democratic proposals, then that only leaves one option: raising taxes. Now they won’t call it tax increases. They will call it “enforcement of existing tax laws” or “eliminating deductions”, but the bottom line is that you will be paying more of your hard-earned money in taxes.
Before we start raising taxes, we should at least consider voluntary revenue raising measures like a lottery, a compact with the Poarch Creek Indians and raising the tobacco tax.
The legislative fiscal office estimates that a lottery could raise up to $280 million in new revenue, while raising the tobacco tax by a dollar could generate another $225 million. A compact with the Poarch Creek Indians could generate another $30-50 million.
All of these options are voluntary. People can choose to quit smoking or not to gamble. So why not vote on these measures first? Then, if more money is needed, we can look at other proposals.
If the Republican leadership in the legislature doesn’t offer a solution soon, then you know what their solution will be. The question is: would you rather have a Democrat’s lottery or Republicans’ taxes?
Another Alabama grassroots group is using new media outlets to talk about issues & highlight Democratic candidates. The Center for Progress in Alabama invites everyone to tune in on Sunday afternoon as they interview Rep. Craig Ford.
Join us this Sunday at 4 pm as we talk about the turning tide in our great state. The Republicans took over Montgomery just a few short years ago for the first time in over a century. They ran for office on the platform that " Government doesn't work," and with them in charge it does not.
Our special guest will be Representative Craig Ford (HD-28). Rep. Ford was elected House Minority Leader by his colleagues in 2010. He serves on the Rules Committee, Ways and Means Education Committee, and the Commerce and Small Business Committee.
We will also have progressive news you can use, and the most important thing- You.
This is another example (along with the Brite Blue Dot YouTube ads) of the health and enthusiasm of Alabama progressives. With the state leadership MIA, it's great to see the grassroots jumping in and using creative ways to engage & educate people on the issues.
Who would have thought that GOP pollster/icon Frank Luntz would have so much in common with Alabama House Minority Leader Craig Ford? Neither one of them, it seems, understands modern communication technology.
Rep. Ford, if you recall, was shocked, shocked that a video camera 10 feet from his face during a speech might possibly mean that the speech would be shared with others online.
Frank Luntz, the media-friendly Republican consultant and word wiz, told a group of college students this week that Rush Limbaugh and right-wing talk radio are "problematic" for the GOP and partly responsible for the stark polarization within the nation's political discourse. He only dared to speak so candidly about Limbaugh and other conservative hosts off the record. A secretly recorded video, though, captured Luntz's remark. [...] At one point, Luntz was asked about political polarization. He replied that he had something important to say on this matter but was apprehensive about speaking openly; doing so, he explained, could land him in trouble. Members of the audience groaned; some called out for Luntz to continue off the record. Luntz asked if anyone was recording the event, and Eric Kaplan, a reporter from the college paper, the Daily Pennsylvanian, indicated that he was. Luntz requested that he turn off his recording device. Kaplan did so and agreed that this part of Luntz's talk would remain off the record. But one of the students present, Aakash Abbi, a junior majoring in philosophy, politics, and economics, started to record Luntz on his iPhone (without letting Luntz know), and Abbi has provided that recording to Mother Jones.
The student journalist gave Luntz a pass and turned off his equipment, but ordinary students were under no such obligation. In fact, by requesting secrecy, Luntz probably guaranteed that at least one spectator would hit the "RECORD" button.
Actually, it was Luntz's loutish behavior that encouraged the student to do so:
Abbi, the student who recorded Luntz, says he switched on his iPhone video recorder because he was surprised that Luntz asked to go off the record: "His request rang with a sense of disingenuity." Abbi, who says he came to the lecture because he had previously been impressed by Luntz, explains:
This question came up after almost 40 minutes of Luntz's inane and obviously pandering presentation. He had already offended multiple audience members with his cavalier flippancy. At one point, he cut off a student who was saying that his family is one of immigrants and loudly asked, "From Chechnya?" Raucous laughter followed from the College Republicans in attendance, but uneasy looks were exchanged by most others. To me, a man whose career is built on being viewed as the "Master of Words" should be willing to always stand by what he says. If he can say it to a hundred-plus Penn students, the rest of America deserves to hear it.
Yep. As Mooncat put it so well:
When you say it in public, be prepared to own it.
Alternatively, both men could get one of these to use on those pesky audiences:
It was a sorry spectacle yesterday on the floor of the Alabama House. Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin's bill that is specifically designed to close every women's clinic in Alabama passed 73-23. Many Democrats led a valiant effort to inject some sanity into the debate, but since they were using actual... you know...facts, they were no match for the breathtaking ignorance of McClurkin.
During the debate on this and other bills, she asserted that there is "no medical reason" to use birth control bills except for contraception and said that she'd never heard of either the "Violence Against Women Act" or Lilly Ledbetter. When someone explained the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to McClurkin, she laughed: "Oh, I don't think I would support that!"
In the face of such abysmal ignorance and ineptitude, there was only one thing for 13 7 Democrats to do: vote in favor of McClurkin's bill.
Yesterday, Julie helpfully posted an Honor Roll of legislators who fought the bill. Today I bring you the Roll of Shame - those Democratic legislators who supported McClurkin. And the biggest shame of all is that this list includes the House Democratic Minority Leader (and possible candidate for governor) Craig Ford.
No doubt in 2014, this group will be touting their Democratic credentials and asking us to contribute our time and money to their campaigns. They better hope that a lot of us have short memories.
UPDATE! I've updated the post to note the party switchers. OpenBama, generally the go-to place for legislative info hasn't updated their database of legislators. For those former Democrats (who we don't miss a bit), who switched parties, I've included their bios from the Alabama legislature Web site.
Thank you, Captain America for catching that mistake!
Our GOP supermajority has been busy granting tax breaks this session, but as far as getting the state out of debt and perhaps even creating a better environment and better services for the people who live here - not so much.
We have on the state minus sheet a large tax break for corporations, a tax break for Big Coal, a law enforcement consolidation, ALEC-sponsored Education bills which will result in great rafts of public money floating OUT of Alabama and into the pockets of "distance learning" providers, a rebate for Hollywood, a three year carryover for capital losses, a new program for drug testing welfare applicants and at least three major pieces of legislation that will cost the State millions to defend.
On the plus side we have a rise in licensing fees, a new tax on boats and their trailers, and an increase in the tobacco tax. Even at the proposed 75 cents per pack, I hardly think it will make up for the shortfall if all these measures pass.
There have been two suggestions for raising some revenue: Arthur Orr (R-Madison) floated his idea to privatize liquor sales and do away with ABC stores which might net the state some additional income, but he hasn't introduced a bill to that effect yet. Craig Ford (D-Gadsden) is sponsoring HB 172, which would establish an Alabama lottery for the purpose of adding to the education budget.
Now the GOP will justify all their Big Business tax breaks by saying they "create jobs" and "make the state more attractive to business". I say malarky.
If your education system stinks, and your cultural offerings consist of Nascar, football and barbeque, and your state parks are being fracked, your roads are full of holes and your woods are full of Talibangelists, Teabillies and Tenthers - NOBODY WILL FREAKING MOVE HERE. Oh and lest we forget, there's an excellent probability that Alabama will become VATICAN SOUTH (HB57 and 'fetal personhood') in the near future, so THEY WILL STAY AWAY IN DROVES.
If the GOP is truly serious about making Alabama more attractive to business (as opposed to survivalists and the Religiously Challenged) they might look at Alabama's Business Climate Score from the Tax Foundation. We rank a respectable 17th on corporate tax rates and a positively electrifying 8th on property tax, but the number that keeps us out of top ten range is the sales tax. Alabama ranks 37th.
It would seem that the solution is not lower corporate tax rates, but more Democrats in the Legislature. Only the Democrats have a proposal to improve that terrible 37th, and it's HB 202. Sponsored by John Knight (D-77) and co-sponsored by almost every Dem. in the House, it repeals the sales tax on food and OTC medicines. Ain't life strange? Relieving the burden of the poor might actually result in more job creation than simply cutting taxes for the rich.
Alabama does make one Top Ten list: of the most regressive tax rates in the country. Alabama takes from the poor and gives to the rich. We've been doing it for a long time, but somehow we still remain a backwater. If these policies created a thriving economy, WE'D HAVE SEEN SOME THRIVE ALREADY.
Lest I be accused of yet another minus sign, let's consider this:
...personal incomes as low as $4,600 for a family of four were being taxed by the state, while timber owners holding 71% of the land of Alabama were paying less than $1 per acre in property taxes. ---Who Would Jesus Tax? by Alanna Hartzok
Get that? Less than a dollar an acre on 71% of the land means that these landowners have an excellent reason not to develop or create jobs.
Over the years several proposals to offset that food tax have been offered: Gerald Dial tried to do it by raising sales taxes on everything else - which was rightly defeated. Knight's bill offers a huge sop to the rich by allowing a married couple with income up to $800,000 to deduct all their Federal income tax. hm. Personally, I'd go after the timber land. If all that unused land becomes an inconvenience, it will be sold for development - and development means jobs.
With all the problems in Alabama government - Medicaid funding, GOP fantasy budgets, education cuts & ballooning college tuition, just to name a few - it's almost inconceivable that House Minority Leader Craig Ford and Senator Roger Bedford want to instead talk about guns in the workplace. (HB12 & SB24)
They're for it.
Ford wrote an op/ed for the Alabama Political Reporter discussing the issue. Alabama voters, he explains, shouldn't have to choose between their safety and their jobs. That's a perfectly valid statement but the rest of the piece is definitely a solution in search of a problem:
That is why Senate Minority Leader Roger Bedford and I have sponsored legislation to protect a gun owner’s right to keep a concealed firearm in their vehicle while on private property or property owned by a business.
Many people are licensed to carry firearms in their vehicles for personal protection. But some businesses have made rules prohibiting employees and other individuals from keeping firearms in their vehicles while on company property. That is why we need this legislation. [...]
One of the basic lessons taught in high school government classes is that one person’s rights end where another person’s rights begin. Businesses can set their own policies, but they do not have the right to create policies that take away their employees constitutional rights - especially when the employee is no longer on company time or property.
Um.... businesses interfere with their employees' constitutional rights all the time. A few examples:
Prohibiting religious proselytizing or political activities on company time.
Forcing employees to sign into their personal FB page so the interviewer can snoop.
But let's look at that second one since Ford specifically mentions that in the beginning of his op/ed:
When our founding fathers wrote the Bill of Rights, they made the “right to keep and bear arms: a priority. In fact, the right to own a firearm comes second only to the first amendment rights to free speech, freedom of religion, and the freedom of the press.
Does this mean that Ford and Bedford will next take on employers who restrict employees' ability to harangue their co-workers about "accepting Jesus," "celebrating Solstice" or "voting Republican?"
I can stand on a street corner and do that at will, so why not at work? And why are these two Democrats focusing on something that Ford acknowledges is "secondary" priority over gun rights?
Yeah, that second question is rhetorical.
We all know what's going on here. There's a lot of speculation that Ford hopes to run for governor and he's done nothing to tamp it down. So instead of working on real problems in this state, he's taking a page from the GOP playbook and focusing on a totally irrelevant issue that's sure to get people riled up.
Hey, look at me! I'm a Democrat and I love guns! Those business people want to take away your right to guns! Guns! Guns! Guns!
Because that's so much easier than focusing on Alabama's terrible safety net and severe budget problems caused in part by the stubborn refusal to reform the state tax code. Ford, remember, is one of only a few Democrats who signed Grover Norquist's no-tax pledge.
Ford has had some good things to say in the past, and on some economic issues, he talks sense. Like when he urged a NO vote on the AL GOP's "Great Trust Fund Raid of 2012" and called out the GOP:
Does the state have so much money that we can afford to cut a billion dollars in government spending? Or are we so financially strapped for cash that we have to raid the Trust Fund of $437 million dollars (almost half of what Republicans say they are going to cut from the budgets)?
Republican leaders like to claim that they are fiscally conservative, but raiding the state’s savings account to the tune of $437 million to bailout the prison system and Medicaid is not fiscally conservative
Still, I find it hard to believe there's any principle behind this political ploy. It's nothing but pandering and it's not going to work.If 2010 taught us anything at all it's that Democrats can't win by sounding like Republicans. It's doesn't win you new voters, guys! In fact it loses votes because you depress your base. Republican voters will choose authentic Republicans and Democrats aren't going to be enthusiastic about the candidacy of "Mr. Republican-Lite."
Crap like this isn't a path to electoral victory: it's a recipe for another 2010 election.
Representative Ford was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2000. He succeeded his father who served the district for 26 years. Representative Ford has been awarded the Darden Rehabilitation Person of the Year, the “golden axe,” the highest award given by firefighters and the Most Outstanding Legislator. The citizens in Etowah County recognized his dedication to seniors by inducting him into the Senior Citizens Hall of Fame and his efforts to improve employment opportunities and working conditions for all Alabamians earned him the Friend of Labor Award. He was elected House Minority Leader by his colleagues in 2010.
Please RSVP by emailing email@example.com or by calling Judy at 822-8416. Please do this as soon as possible because we are again expecting a large crowd and need an accurate count for lunch.
It's been frustrating for the past month or so to watch progressive groups like Alabama ARISE and Alabama Appleseed, not to mention several editorial pages around the state, first deplore the irresponsible behavior that set up the lose-lose choice facing voters on September 18th, point out that it is nothing more than a band-aid, virtually call it blackmail and then advise voters to go along with the blackmailers, pay the ransom to save essential programs like Medicaid and vote YES to let legislators use the Alabama Trust Fund to balance the state's operating budget. All the while knowing this will just kick the can down the road to some even worse budget crisis in a few years. Where is their backbone?
Well, State Rep. Craig Ford (D, Gadsden) must have listened to Deval Patrick's speech Wednesday night at the Democratic Convention ...
“if we want to earn the privilege to lead, it’s time for Democrats to grow a backbone and stand up for what we believe.”
I urge you to vote NO on September 18 and urge the Governor to call a special session to require the legislature to work TOGETHER to find a permanent solution to our state’s funding needs. You elected us to make the hard choices and decisions NOW, not to kick the can down the road three years.
First, this amendment will not solve Medicaid’s or the prison system’s financial problems; it only delays the problems for three years (funny how that happens to coincide with the 2014 elections). After three years, Alabamians will be right back where we are now with even higher costs. This amendment is a short-term fix to a long-term problem. It is a temporary bailout of Medicaid and the Alabama prison system.
Secondly, this amendment does not require the borrowed money to be paid back. The amendment allows the state to transfer, or borrow, $145.8 million dollars each year for the next three years from the Alabama Trust Fund to the General Fund. While the governor and some legislative leaders have said they will support legislation requiring the money be paid back to the Alabama Trust Fund, the amendment does not REQUIRE it. I believe we need more than just their assurances; we need the repayment to be a requirement. And if they are serious about paying the money back, then why was the repayment requirement not part of the original amendment? Do you trust your elected officials to pay the money back without it being required by law?
Thirdly, Alabama’s General Fund budget relies on money from the interest payments we receive on the Trust Fund. The Alabama Trust Fund was established to collect royalties from oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of Mexico. This amendment would take nearly one-fifth of the money out of the Trust Fund, which will drastically reduce the interest payments. Lower interest payments results in even less money for the General Fund budget in the coming years.
Republican leaders have been selling this amendment to the voters of Alabama by arguing that without it, the state will not have enough money for vital services like Medicaid. Yet, at the same time they have been making this argument, these same Republican leaders have been traveling the state telling us how they are going to cut a billion dollars from the state budgets (mostly from cuts to teachers and education support personnel, law enforcement, firefighters, and other public servants).
So which is it? Does the state have so much money that we can afford to cut a billion dollars in government spending? Or are we so financially strapped for cash that we have to raid the Trust Fund of $437 million dollars (almost half of what Republicans say they are going to cut from the budgets)?
Republican leaders like to claim that they are fiscally conservative, but raiding the state’s savings account to the tune of $437 million to bailout the prison system and Medicaid is not fiscally conservative.
Make no mistake, the choice on September 18th is a bad one. Either dip into the Trust Fund for a short term band-aid to Alabama's broken budget with no guarantee the money will ever be paid back, or trust Republicans to go back to the drawing board and actually solve the problem.
I say Ford is right, the Governor should call the Legislature into special session and challenge them to find the needed revenue and craft a permanent solution to the perennial problem of budget shortfalls. The Democratic proposal to "close corporate tax loopholes used by out of state companies to rob the people of Alabama from deserved revenue" is a very good place to start. Give Alabama Republicans a chance to put their money where their mouths are on bipartisanship, and put their constituents ahead of their pledge to Grover Norquist, and raise enough revenue to pay our bills.
Minority Leader Craig Ford of Gadsden, the leading Democrat in the House, said in a statement, “In my opinion, Alabama Democrats do not support the concept of gay marriage.
“While tolerance and protection of individual rights is central to what we believe, Alabama Democrats do not support the government sanction of same-sex unions.”
Well, Rep. Ford ... it sounds then like you're saying that you think "Alabama Democrats" do NOT support "tolerance and protection of individual rights," doesn't it? And if that's true, I don't think we should issue public statements bragging about it.
There is far more than a dime's worth of difference between the two parties, but it doesn't show when Democrats put forth spineless, accomodating candidates. In a race between Republican and Republican-lite, don't you think most people will just vote for the authentic Republican? Alabama needs a real choice in 2014 and we need to field a Democrat brave enough to stand up for working people vs. the Republican puppet we have now.
From what I've seen of Rep. Ford in the past, it's impossible for me to judge whether he's expressing his personal belief or saying what he thinks voters want to hear. And I don't really care because the effect is the same - he's supporting discrimination.
We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.
Lest there be any question on this topic, let me be clear. On this issue (and on immigration), Craig Ford speaks for himself. He does not speak for me and I'm an Alabama Democrat.
It may make me unpopular with some in my extended family, with some "leaders" in the Alabama Democratic Party, or within the state as a whole. Too damn bad. Wherever I stand on other issues, when it comes to this... I stand with my friends - in favor of marriage equality.
As predicted, the legislative redistricting plan that Gerald Dial & company cooked up is facing lawsuits. After the legislature accepted "tweaks" to the plans yesterday, Montgomery lawyer, Juilian McPhillips, Jr. filed suit asking for a temporary restraining order to prevent implementation on technical grounds:
The complaint, filed on behalf of Montgomery County residents Landis Sexton and Cubie Rae Hayes, noted that the state constitution requires the Legislature to undergo redistricting "at its first session after the taking of the decennial census."
The first legislative session after the census was the regular session that concluded Wednesday night, McPhillips said in a telephone interview.
"Any reapportionment must be done in the legislative session immediately after the census is done, and that did not happen," he said. "It would be unconstitutional to take it up in a subsequent legislative session."
So when has passing unconstitutional legislation bothered the Alabama Legislature?
In any case, Gov. Bentley was happy to blame the Legislature:
In a written statement, Jennifer Ardis, a spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Robert Bentley, said the governor didn’t have control over what lawmakers chose to act on in the just-completed regular session.
Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, said that Republicans behind the redistricting plans are trying "to make it: If you’re African-American, you’re a Democrat; if you’re Caucasian, you’re a Republican."
"It doesn’t pass the smell test. It’s going to fail in the Department of Justice," Ford said.
And Senator Gerald Dial showed once again that he never tells the truth when a couple of lies sound better:
Dial and McClendon said that the initial plans unintentionally drew some lawmakers out of the districts they currently represent, including Sen. Marc Keahey, D-Grove Hill; Sen. Jerry Fielding, D-Sylacauga; Rep. Barry Mask, R-Wetumpka; and Rep. A.J. McCampbell, D-Linden. Each would remain in his current district under the revised plans, they said. [...] Later in the day, McClendon and Dial discussed the proposed changes with lawmakers and citizens during a public hearing. The plan was met largely with skepticism and anger.
We wonder if some of those expressing "skepticism & anger" are the folks in Dial's own district who have been fighting him on his personal slush fund bill and his plan to split the district to avoid having to run against a strong Democratic challenger in 2014.
Oh, and it's also worth noting that - as part of their campaign to increase transparency, accountability, and citizen input - this "public hearing" was held with about 90 minutes' prior notice.
It's going to be interesting to watch this play out.
House Minority Leader Craig Ford (D), through his chief of staff, has asked this blog to remove the two posts and related video showing his remarks at the Democratic Men's Club breakfast on March 3rd.
The position of Ford and his chief of staff is that the event was an internal discussion and Rep. Ford's remarks were not intended for publication. Here is a statement from Rep. Ford:
"While I always appreciate the opportunity to express my views to a wider audience, some of what I spoke about at the Democratic Men's Club was meant to be a private discussion regarding Democratic strategy for the coming elections. Because I do not want to tip our hand to the Alabama Republican Party, I am requesting that you remove the posts covering my speech from your website. I hope that this request will not inconvenience you or your readers, and I thank you for your support and cooperation."
The event in question was open to the public, our camera was clearly visible, there was no request at the time to have the remarks treated as off the record and Left in Alabama has no moral or legal obligation to remove the content in question. We have done so purely as a ONE-TIME COURTESY to Rep. Ford after strongly advising that he would be better served by leaving the very favorable posts in place.
No public figure of any political party should assume we will ever repeat this courtesy, because we won't.
When you say it in public, be prepared to own it.
This is 2012. Any public figure who sees a camera (or a phone) in an audience knows he or she is more than likely going to end up on Youtube. Speak accordingly, preferably from the heart.
While we're all busy fighting the "bright shiny object" of all the anti-abortion legislation this term, some Alabama legislators are busy in other matters. Let's call it... "this week in corporate welfare" why don't we? GOP Representative Barry Mask successfully passed his bill HB159 - with Democratic support - in the House & it's now in the Senate. He has also been successful with its companion corporate giveaway economic development bill - HB160.
One key budget chairman said he wants to look at changes to the bill, possibly including a time limit on the credit and greater oversight of the process."We're basically subsidizing the elimination of jobs, and we set a precedent with people potentially incentivizing other companies to look at this mechanism going forward," said Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose, chairman of the Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee. "I think it deserves a lot of scrutiny, and I think it needs some modifications to the retention aspect to make sure we limit its applicability." [...] In most areas of the state, new and expansion projects would be able to withhold up to 90 percent of their employees' taxes to pay off capital costs of new or expanded projects if they employ more than 250 employees.
Who suffers the most? Those with the smallest amount of power and influence in the state - children.
Before addressing these severe budget issues, the AL GOP leaders quite naturally focused on their real priorities: cutting taxes because raising any new revenue is off the table. Heck, they're even willing take the taxes Alabama workers pay and hand them directly to businesses!
It appears that Alabama Governor Robert Bentley is working on his own version of an NCLB law: "No Corporation Left Behind." Because that sounds a marginally better than what's really happening:
North Alabama residents have a couple of opportunities to meet Rep. Craig Ford (D), get his take on what's happening in the Legislature and how Democrats can make a difference from a minority position. The first is a Meet and Greet tonight at 5:30 pm, hosted by the Rocket City Democrats:
FRIDAY, MARCH 2: MEET AND GREET WITH CRAIG FORD Friday, March 2, 2012: 5:30-7:00 p.m, Amendment XXI, 123 Northside Sq., Huntsville, AL
This Friday, The Rocket City Democrats are hosting a Meet and Greet with Alabama House Minority Leader Craig Ford. Rep. Ford is planning to discuss political issues facing both Alabama and the Nation, as well as voter organization and motivation for the upcoming 2012 elections.
On Saturday morning, March 3rd, Rep. Ford will be the featured speaker at the Democratic Men's Club breakfast at 8:30 am.
The DMC is holding a free breakfast this Saturday March 3rd at J's Special Occasion with Minority Leader of the Alabama House of Representatives, Rep. Craig Ford.
"Coffee and contacts" will begin at 8:30, giving everyone an opportunity to network and get to know one another. After this, our speaker will begin at 9:00.
Please RSVP via email to DMCmail@democraticmensclub.com with your name so that we can plan for the event.
I hope Rep. Ford will take this opportunity to discuss the outbreak of anti-women bills in the Alabama Legislature and also his recent decision to break with the Democratic caucus and support HB159, which would divert tax money from the Education Trust Fund to corporations as an incentive to expand or retain operations in Alabama.
If a way exists to get funding for Gadsden State, Ford said, that needs to done first.
“We don't need to take money from Gadsden State and then tell them a year from now they'll get money in return,” he said. “Go ahead and put that legislation in place. Then we'll look at something down the road.”
Yes, stealing from the education budget to pay for other things the state needs to do is insane and psychotic. The argument that you should find adequate money for education before you divert tax dollars earmarked for schools to industrial recruitment and other services like drug enforcement or prisons is one Democrats should be making every chance they get.
This is what House Minority Leader Craig Ford (D) says about the HB159 vote, via Facebook:
"On Tuesday, we put five amendments on House Bill 160 that will protect the Education Trust Fund. This bill is a double-edged sword. It is far from perfect, but with these amendments I had to vote in favor of this bill because it was in the best interest of my district. We have a large manufacturing plant in Gadsden. It is largest employer in my district, and I have to balance the needs of our schools with the needs of all those hard working families. We are having to compete with other states to keep this plant and all of those jobs in Gadsden. Furthermore, House Bill 159 is a constitutional amendment which has to be approved by the voters in a statewide election. We live in a democracy, and I can't justify denying the people of Alabama the right to vote. That is also why I am also advocating for a constitutional amendment to institute a state lottery. It is time to let the people decide this issue.
The teachers in my district know my reputation and my voting record. I have always supported our teachers and our schools, and I will continue to do so. This year, I have introduced legislation to give teachers a 4% pay raise and reinstitute the DROP program. I have also sponsored legislation to repeal the Rolling Reserve Act so that our schools can get access to the $110 million dollars that should be going to our schools but are instead sitting in the bank. I appreciate teachers and all that they do for our children. I will continue to support them, just as they have supported me."
“I think what happened last session was a lot of Republicans voted against working-class people and came back in their districts and got hammered,” he said.
Ford said minority Democrats will point out stumbles by the majority GOP, including the anti-illegal immigration law that Ford said should be repealed.
They also will try to remove the sales tax from food.
“We also have to make sure they don’t continue to balance the budgets on the backs of educators and state employees,” said Ford, who wants to repeal the new rolling reserve budgeting law and put the $108 million it would divert from education back into teacher pay raises and retirement.
Individual Democrats have already advocated repeal of HB56 -- both Sen. Billy Beasley and Rep. Pat Todd have actually prefiled bills to repeal it -- but it's important for the Democratic caucus leadership to get on board and push for repeal, not just limited "fixes," "changes," or "tweaks."
Why does it matter, since the Republican-controlled legislature is unlikely to actually repeal it?
Negotiation 101: Never go into a negotiation asking for just what you want, because you'll always have to settle for less than you ask for. Democrats at both the state and national level have been slow to figure this out, so it's a relief to see Rep. Ford come out and say we need to repeal this law. There will be no meaningful "tweaks" unless opponents of this law are united in calling for its repeal.
Religious and social justice groups who are involved in the HB56 pushback know how this works -- none of them are calling for limited "tweaks" of this law. They've called for repeal since day 1. And repeal is the moral high ground in this argument. Democrats should occupy that high ground and be the voice of reason, compassion and justice in the legislature.
Who knows, if the opposition to HB56 is tenacious enough, united enough, and persuasive enough, we might not have to settle for "tweaks" at all.
Ask Patricia Todd what party she belongs to and she answers quickly. “I’m an Obama Democrat,” she says. But ask her who she’s caucusing with this year in the Alabama House, and her answer takes more time. Beginning this year, she’s a party of one.
... [The Democratic Party] has moved away from its ideals, and quarantined itself from the president. As Todd describes them, Democratic caucus meetings have turned into strategy sessions for pushing the party further and further to the right.
... “You cannot out-Republican the Republicans,” Todd said in an interview last week. “We don’t have a message in this party in this state. We talk about middle class and jobs, but what have we done ...?”
Who are Democratic leaders pandering to by moving so far to the right that progressives like Pat Todd are literally forced out of the party?The Republican base? They'll never vote for a Democrat. Selling out your principles doesn't appeal to voters in the middle, either. Todd is right; there's no future in trying to out-Republican the Republicans, it just depresses your own voters.
We got beat because the Republicans had a single message throughout the state of Alabama ... but we never defined who we are as Democrats. ... We never told them who we are, we never talked about what we've accomplished. ... We did everything we could, and I'm talking collectively as Democrats, to stay away from being connected with President Obama. ...
That was 11 months ago, and Democrats in the legislature still don't have a message, they certainly aren't living up to the stated principles of the Alabama Democrats, they're scared to death of being associated with President Obama and too many of them are doing stupid things like voting for HB56 (Pat Todd predicted that, btw) because they're afraid to stand up for what's right and decent. That's a failure of leadership.
Message mangling is an ongoing problem and source of frustration for Democrats in the legislature. Rep. Chris England (D, HD70) lamented the lack of a coherent Democratic message back in February:
"The bottom line is we need a platform, we need to offer an alternative to Republicans in the state of Alabama. We don't do that currently."
England gets it. The function of the minority party is to offer a clear alternative!
If voters are asked to choose between the bowl of turds on their table and one that looks just like it, most will just keep what they have, however unappetizing. To succeed, you must offer voters a choice between the bowl of turds they have and something different and appealing ... like a loaf of bread or a party that stands up for PEOPLE.
Chris England put forth this statement as common ground for all Democrats:
"if you're a human you need to be treated as such. It doesn't matter where you were born or where you're from."
It's shorter and catchier, but captures the most important ingredients of the Democratic Principles ... and leaves plenty of room for dissenting views on everything except the basic rule that if you're human, you need to be treated as such, with the same rights, opportunity and dignity as anyone else. Unfortunately, even that concept is problematic for a few of the folks still calling themselves Democrats. Back to Kyle Whitmire's interview with Pat Todd:
... The final straw came during the last legislative session, when the House was debating a Republican bill to change teacher tenure. Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow, a Democrat from Red Bay, attempted to amend the bill to make teaching homosexuality a firing offense for teachers.
News flash for the Democratic leadership in the legislature: The coalition you're busting apart is your own.You set the wedge and the Republicans will happily pound it for you. Which is exactly what happened in the case of Pat Todd.
And it isn't just the needs of the LGBT community these so called Democrats have a problem with. Here's Merika Coleman again, 11 months ago.
... we have been dealing with some things in our own Democratic caucus in the Legislature we've had white members say that they would leave the party if an African-American were chair of the Democratic party in the Legislature.
Listen fellas, when you split off not only the LGBT part of your coalition, but the non-white and progressive parts as well, you will be left with nothing. When you kick all the progressives to the curb in a mad scramble to pick up the votes of a few bigots, racists and xenophobes, there won't be enough Democratic votes left in Alabama to elect a dogcatcher. The folks you pushed out of the party aren't likely to ever vote Republican, but they'll sure as hell sit home rather than vote for Republican-intolerance dressed up in Democratic election gear.
The function of leadership is to show all the diverse groups in the Democratic Big Tent they have common interests, common ground, intersecting needs, all of which are best served by throwing Republicans under the bus, instead of each other. We are not seeing that leadership in the Democratic caucus. If it doesn't materialize soon, 2014 could be worse than 2010.