The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

    Excerpt:

    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

3 weeks ago

Why limited-government conservatives should participate in the Census

(United States Census Bureau/Facebook, YHN)

It’s September 5, 2020. You, like most of Alabama, have been waiting months for this day. As summer slowly faded into autumn, the cool evenings punctuating the still-stifling afternoons, you took heart knowing the long months of faint interest in the NBA and baseball were almost gone. Today, after all this time, the drought is finally over: the first Saturday of college football season has arrived.

Just as you’ve settled in, the doorbell rings. Wholeheartedly intending to ignore the unscheduled visitor, your heart sinks when one of your guests (a Tennessee fan) opens the door and calls for you.

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Confident you will not be inviting this particular friend over again next weekend, you begrudgingly make your way to the door to see a man with a clipboard and a bag with the words “United States Census Bureau” on both sides.

You politely ask if you could respond later, perhaps online or via the mail. He kindly answers that, yes, that was an option, and then points to a stack of unopened mail on your front table that also reads “Census Bureau.” Point taken.

Being the gracious Southerner you are, you answer his questions and are back watching the game in less than ten minutes.

The truth is that this scenario will likely occur repeatedly during the 2020 Census. While most will comply with the requests of the Census Bureau, there are always those who successfully skirt the eye of the federal government.

For limited-government conservatives, slamming your door on the person who says, “I’m with the federal government and I’d like to ask you a few questions” may indeed be a natural response. It is not, however, considerably helpful, especially to the conservative cause. In fact, Alabamians failing to be counted in the 2020 Census could fuel debilitating blows to the conservative movement, both in Alabama and across the nation.

That’s because the Census is more than an arbitrary headcount. The Census totals, in fact, shape how billions of federal dollars every year are allocated to states for Medicare, SNAP (food stamps), highway construction, and more. In addition, businesses rely heavily on Census data to determine where to build factories, restaurants, and stores. Inaccurate data here could cost jobs and create unnecessary economic hardship.

Perhaps most importantly, however, is that the Census determines how many seats in the U.S. House of Representatives each state gets and, with that number, how votes are allocated in the Electoral College.

Unfortunately, most projections suggest that Alabama will lose a seat in the U.S. House as a result of the 2020 Census. That’s because, although Alabama is growing, it is not growing as fast as other states. The 435 seats in the House, as directed in the Constitution, must be allocated to each state so that each member of Congress represents roughly the same number of people. Since the population is increasing quickly in places like Texas, Oregon and Florida, the reapportionment of congressional seats will likely benefit their interests over ours.

Since states are given votes in the Electoral College by their number of Congressmen (Senate and House), losing a House district would also mean Alabama loses power to determine the U.S. President. This would be, perhaps, the most discouraging byproduct of a low Census count.

Overall, the results of the 2020 Census could reduce Alabama to a state that has fewer voices in Congress, a lower rate of federal funding, and less power to choose the President. This version of Alabama is not good for the conservative cause.

As one of the most conservative states in the nation, the conservative movement needs a healthy Alabama that has strong, multilayered representation and power in the Electoral College to push a conservative candidate to 270.

The truth is that Alabama just might keep all seven of our congressional districts and all nine electoral college votes. To do so, however, we need a full count of everyone living in the state.

Conservatives (really everyone for that matter), therefore, should make sure they and every person they know are counted in the 2020 Census. Complete it online, mail it in, or risk a Census worker interrupting your football Saturday. If that happens, you’d best respond. You (probably) won’t miss another Kick Six.

Parker Snider is the Director of Policy Analysis at the Alabama Policy Institute.

5 months ago

What is abortion, really?

(PIxabay)

A battle over abortion is raging around us and more and more states are taking their stand.

Some states, like New York and Virginia, seem intent on abolishing any limitations to the practice. Others–red states like Kentucky, Mississippi, and now Alabama–appear resolved to end legalized abortion within their borders.

In the midst of this reality, it’s important to consider a simple question. What is abortion, really?

On the surface, abortion is a medical procedure in which a mother, in consultation with her doctor, makes a very private and difficult decision. The result of the procedure? A baby – a human child – is killed.

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For many of us, I think our perspective of abortion stops there–at the baby’s death. While we rightly lament the lives of lost children, I wonder if we earnestly understand the full scope of what happens, if we really get it.

Do we consider why early death is so despairing? Do we truly grasp that, when a young person dies, a lifetime’s worth of joys and sorrows are stolen from them?

What is abortion, really?

Abortion is not simply a medical procedure; it has a much larger, far less palatable, agenda.

Abortion sees the life of an infant, the memories they are bound to make if privileged with birth, and tells them, “No.”

Abortion steals the moment in which they finally meet their caretaker, the moment they take hold of another human’s hand.

Abortion erases the joys found in firsts­–their first steps, their first bike ride, their first time driving a car.

Abortion dictates that they will never experience the victory of a baseball game, nor a perfect score on a spelling test.

Abortion reminds them that they will never know what it’s like to first see the ocean, to feel as small as the grains of sand beneath their toes.

Abortion promises the aborted that the sunset is not really worth seeing, that Amazing Grace is not really worth singing.

Abortion whispers that they will never find a genuine friend, that they will never meet their long-awaited partner.

Abortion tells them that they don’t deserve to have children of their own, that the joys of parenthood aren’t on the table for them.

Abortion steals from them the strange sensation of growing older, the experience that is watching the world shift, bend, and evolve around you.

Abortion suggests that they don’t deserve to, in their later years, look back at all that has changed, the life they’ve lived, the memories they’ve made.

Abortion says “no” to all of this. Abortion, if it had its way, would tell you the same thing.

This, friends, is abortion, really.

Since Roe, abortion has stolen lifetimes-worth of experiences from over 60 million Americans. Today, almost one-fifth of all pregnancies in the U.S. end in abortion.

This issue deserves our attention, our passion, and our resolve. Thankfully, those in office in Alabama and the nation have the power to end this genocide, this belittlement of the human experience. We must call upon our state legislators, our governor, our congressional delegation, our justices, and President Trump to prioritize this issue over all others.

While we wait for our government to create laws recognizing the value of all human life, we have work to do ourselves. As people who identify as pro-life, we must address the circumstances that drive many to think abortion is the only option. This means giving cheerfully and generously to the relief of the poor and to the support of adoption agencies. It also means reaching out in love and compassion, not self-righteousness and judgment, to those who have had abortions or are in the midst of considering them. Forgiveness, we would do well to remember, does not discriminate.

Martin Luther King Jr. famously remarked that history “bends towards justice.” I am confident that, one day, abortion will be a relic of the past and not a reality of the present. The only question is whether or not we’ll see that day ourselves.

Let’s work towards that day.

Parker Snider is director of Policy Analysis for the Alabama Policy Institute.

and 10 months ago

Should the progressive movement become pro-life?

(YHN/Pixabay)

Blind spots. We’ve all got them. Some, for example, believe their singing voice to be a divine blessing although it might more accurately be described as a curse. Others assume their Facebook friends want to see their every meal. Still others ignore that they do, in reality, need deodorant.

Not all blind spots are this trite, however. History makes that much clear.

Alabama is, unfortunately, host to one of the most obvious and horrid of blind spots: the slavery of the Antebellum South. The fact that many slave-owners were faithful church-goers, Sunday school teachers, and reputable members of the community ought to remind us of how even the most evident evils can be hidden from our moral view.

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Historical blind spots aren’t limited to Alabama, of course. Worldwide aversion to women’s right to vote, German justification for the Holocaust, and even the Pharisaical rejection of Jesus are examples of blind spots in both recent and distant past.

The common thread of a moral blind spot, it seems, is this: generally decent people, earnestly desiring to know and act on what is right, completely missing it.

That’s the thing about blind spots. We miss them. By their nature we are ignorant of their existence. That means that, without someone pointing them out, I won’t know mine and you won’t know yours.

Illuminating these blind spots is a compassionate and worthwhile goal––as long as we are open to confronting our own blurs in vision.

Knowing this, we are obligated to point out a major blind spot in the progressive movement: the endorsement of abortion.

The progressive movement has prided itself on its support for the historically marginalized and voiceless: women, immigrants, African Americans, etc. There is a real care, a genuine passion, within their ranks to right wrongs that should be encouraging to us all. They desire justice and fairness and, although we may not agree when it comes to the raw policy, that desire should be applauded.

When it comes to the most voiceless population, the unborn, the progressive movement fails. Strangely enough, the very rhetoric they decry when levied against minorities is used to justify the killing of yet-to-be-born human beings.

In some ways, it makes sense that this blind spot exists within the progressive movement. The battle to ensure women’s voting rights was hard-fought and one that progressives have not forgotten. There is, unfortunately, a lingering suspicion that this battle continues––that men want to control women in whatever ways possible. This suspicion, it seems, has led to an overcorrection in which attempts to eliminate abortion are perceived as anti-women instead of pro-child.

Progressives, let’s be clear, this is not a rerun of the right for women to vote. This is about the lives of innumerable unborn children who cannot speak for themselves. This is, in many ways, right in your wheelhouse.

Fortunately enough, recent scientific progress makes it easier than ever for progressives to join the pro-life movement. New technologies and scientific studies are consistently showing how early on in development a fetus appears and acts as it is: human.

Colleen Malloy, a neonatologist at Northwestern University, stresses this in a recent Atlantic article. She argues that years of study made it “so obvious that these were just developing humans.” Dr. Farr Curlin, a professor of medicine and medical humanities at Duke University, likewise described science’s recent contribution to the debate by saying “ I don’t see any way it’s not an ally to the pro-life cause.”

It’s time for the progressive movement to become pro-life. For consistency’s sake, for the sake of unborn children, and for their own viability as a movement, this blind spot needs to be confronted. With compassion, we invite progressives to be true to their stated ideals and support those least able to speak for themselves.

Nikki Richardson is Executive Vice President of the Alabama Policy Institute and Parker Snider is Director of Policy Analysis. API is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to strengthening free enterprise, defending limited government, and championing strong families.

11 months ago

How to prepare for Russia’s October surprise

(YHN/Pixabay)

Russia is in the business of mind control.

They’re not doing it through sinister headgear, satellite interference, or dream invasion like in Inception, though.

Instead, Russia seeks to control the minds of Americans through something we all have and spend arguably too much time on: social media.

This isn’t news to many of us. For years we’ve heard how Russia infiltrated Facebook and Twitter in an effort to divide our nation during the 2016 election. It seems, however, that Russia’s interference in our last presidential election wasn’t a “one-and-done” deal.

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Russia, reports suggest, is coming back for more.

In a recent press conference at the White House, intelligence officers remarked that Russia is engaged in a “24/7, 365-days-a-year” campaign to influence the 2018 elections through various means, but especially though social media.

Recent headlines confirm this reality.

Just this summer, Facebook announced that it has shut down over thirty fake accounts that had over 300,000 followers each. Unfortunately, however, this may only be the tip of the iceberg.  According to experts, there is 25 to 30 times more fake information from automated political accounts than real interaction between people on their platform.

With the 2018 midterms only weeks away, current intelligence suggests that there will likely be an “October surprise” by the Russians in which they increase their misinformation campaigns to have the largest impact.

In a recent interview with NPR, Matt Bruen, a former staffer with the National Security Council within the White House, stated, “It is not a question, in my mind, of whether it’s going to happen. It is a question only of when and how large.”

Why, though, is Russia so intent on participating in our electoral process?

In the editor’s letter to a recent edition of The Week magazine, Mark Gimein–who was born in Russia and whose family found refuge in the states–argues that Russia is driven by “the[ir] overarching ambition of undermining the moral standing of the U.S.” “What the Kremlin’s hackers most want to break into,” he continues, “isn’t voting machine software; it’s the democratic principles of tolerance and the peaceful transition of power.”

Russia’s goal is not the election of a specific person or party to power. Instead, Russia wants to sow discord and anger in our ranks through misinformation. They hope to control how we think of our political opponents, with the goal that we will ultimately become our own worst enemy.

Russia is in the business of mind control, but there’s good news: we can prepare. The best way to do that is not to eliminate social media from our lives, but to adopt a healthy level of skepticism towards political posts we see on those platforms.

Before sharing anything, we each ought to do some basic research and see if any other news organizations are corroborating it. If not, it’s best to wait to see if the story is picked up by reputable news sources. Those inflammatory news stories that are not mentioned anywhere else are likely fake.

The Russians are betting that we continue to believe everything we see on social media that lines up with our political views. They’re also hoping that we share it to our friends, and that they share it to their friends. A little fact-checking–even a simple Google search–could severely hamper their efforts.

We can win this battle, and I am confident that we will. It may be a little less convenient, but it will ensure our democracy survives in the long-run.

11 months ago

Towards a less angry politics

“When angry, count to 10 before you speak; if very angry, count to one hundred.”

If only we followed the advice of the Founding Fathers.

Thomas Jefferson, who expressed this sentiment, knew first-hand how politics can lead to indignation. Today, one glance at cable news or Twitter affirms that we too are accustomed to an angry politics.

What Jefferson also understood, and what I am worried we too often forget, is that anger in politics is to be avoided and tempered, not embraced and weaponized.

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In most spheres, we attempt to tame this emotion. For some reason, however, we give anger in politics an out. We should not be so accommodating.

Why? For one, anger is inherently selfish. According to Aristotle, anger is “a desire, accompanied by pain, to take apparent revenge for apparent insult.” Anger arises when we feel personally wronged, and it seeks revenge, not resolution.

Since we are inherently selfish beings who regularly feel mistreated, anger is easy to provoke. It is no secret that human anger is incredibly fickle–simply being cut off in traffic (perhaps a three-second delay) elicits a bombastic reaction from many of us. Knowing our tendency towards irrational and unhelpful behavior when angry, we ought to reject our instinct to be led by anger in politics.

Another reason we should work towards a less angry politics is because we know history. We know that it is the anger of native Germans against Jewish success that drove the Holocaust. We witnessed the rage of jihadists against the United States in the attacks on September 11. The simple ability for anger to propel such evil, as demonstrated by these events and countless others in history, should give us pause before we let this emotion into our politics.

James, the brother of Jesus, seems to confirm the problems with human anger when he writes that “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” Many biblical authors, in fact, echo this sentiment. Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes that “anger lodges in the heart of fools,” and Paul, in his letter to the church at Colossae, implores believers to eliminate anger from their mouths.

One believer who took these demands seriously, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., describes his battle with anger in his autobiography. He writes that, after one particularly eventful day, “I went home with a heavy heart. I was weighed down by a terrible sense of guilt, remembering that on two or three occasions I had allowed myself to become angry and indignant. I had spoken hastily and resentfully. Yet I knew that this was no way to solve a problem.”

King, one of the greatest change-makers in history, knew perhaps the most important truth about anger–it isn’t effective. As evident by the current political atmosphere, anger creates bitterness and divides, making change of the whole impossible. Anger turns people off, makes ideas easier to reject, and does little more than rile up bitterness from those who think similarly.

King knew what I hope we soon learn – that anger has never changed a heart.

Even so, politics will always engender anger. What matters is what we do with it. Will we let what is meant to be a temporary emotion permanently consume us? Or will we transform that anger into action that is tempered, unifying and able to drive change in this mad world?

We’ll see.

Parker Snider is Policy Relations Manager for the Alabama Policy Institute, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to strengthening free enterprise, defending limited government, and championing strong families.

11 months ago

What you need to know about Alabama proposed constitutional amendments 3 & 4

(W.Miller/YHN)

On November 6, Alabamians will vote on four proposed statewide constitutional amendments. Although the first two amendments will likely receive the most attention (API’s analyses can be found on our website), amendments three and four deserve notice as well. They are, in fact, changes to the longest known constitution in the world.

We’ll start with Proposed Amendment Three, which addresses the University of Alabama’s Board of Trustees.

Currently, the Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama System – which governs UAB and UAH in addition to the Tuscaloosa campus – is composed of three members from the seventh congressional district (which includes Tuscaloosa), two members from each of the other six congressional districts, the governor and the state superintendent of education.

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If approved, this amendment would require that the Board continue to be made up of members of congressional districts as drawn on January 1, 2018. This means that, in the case that Alabama gains or, more likely, loses a congressional seat in 2020, the makeup of the board of trustees would not be affected nor thrown into disarray.

Additional stipulations include the removal of the state superintendent of education from automatic membership on the board and of the requirement that board members retire after their 70th birthday.

It is worth mentioning that the bill allowing this University of Alabama-specific amendment passed unanimously in both the State House and Senate.

Amendment Four, in contrast, will have a significantly wider impact if approved.

This amendment addresses something Alabamians have been hearing about for a while now–special elections. It is important to note on the front end, however, that it does not address special elections for the U.S. Congress like that of 2017. Instead, it impacts vacancies in the state legislature.

If accepted, legislative vacancies that occur on or after October 1 of the third year of a quadrennium (in other words, seats that become open only months before the final session of the legislature’s four-year term) would remain vacant until the next general election.

Currently, the governor is required to schedule a special election when state legislative vacancies occur. These elections cost the state money, create voter fatigue, and according to Senator Glover, the amendment’s sponsor, are “just bad government.”

In an interview with API, Senator Glover described one case where, thanks to a late special election, a legislator was sworn in on the last day of session. Cases like these, where relatively powerless legislators are added to the state payroll, will not occur if the amendment is approved.

The main purpose, according to Glover, is to “save some money and confusion.” He estimates that, if this language had been on the books earlier, the state would’ve saved “just under a million dollars” in 2018 alone. For example, this amendment would prohibit what will, come November, be four separate elections for Alabama’s 26 Senate seat in less than a year.

Additionally, the amendment received unanimous support when it passed the Senate and overwhelming support in the House earlier this year.

Although these two amendments are not as polarizing as amendments one and two, both are attempts to make the state better, and they should not be ignored.

Parker Snider is Manager of Policy Relations for the Alabama Policy Institute, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to strengthening free enterprise, defending limited government, and championing strong families.

and 11 months ago

Alabama must vote yes on Proposed Statewide Amendment Two

(YHN, Pixabay)

According to Pew Research, the only state that is more pro-life than Alabama is Mississippi.

Our status as one of the leading states in the pro-life movement is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing in that our state has successfully passed legislation curbing abortion. It is a curse, however, in the sense that a pro-life failure here could spell disaster for the cause at the national level. This is why, in November, Alabama must set the standard and show the world just how strong the pro-life movement is–by voting yes on Proposed Statewide Amendment 2.

The amendment, if approved, would add language to the state constitution acknowledging the sanctity of unborn life and stipulating that the state constitution provides no right to abortion.

That’s the technical explanation. In a recent call with the Alabama Policy Institute, however, Representative Matt Fridy, the sponsor of the amendment, described both its intention and impact.

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Fridy explained that the amendment is not meant to immediately eliminate abortion, but to prevent a problem faced by our northern neighbor.

The problem? In 2000, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that their state constitution provided higher protection for abortion than the federal constitution. As a result, an array of the state’s pro-life measures were struck down by the court, which argued that they were unconstitutional on the state level.

The Volunteer State later passed an amendment–similar to the one we will vote on in November–to specify that their constitution did not, in fact, guarantee any such right.

Fridy wants to eliminate any opportunity for what happened in Tennessee to happen here, and this amendment would be effective in that vein. Any further impact, however, would require change on the national level.

Alabamians should wholeheartedly support this amendment because we, as a state,  overwhelmingly believe in the sanctity of life. For many of us, this belief stems from our Christian values. King David reminds us in Psalm 139 that God knits each of us together in the womb. We are unable to ignore that reality. We also acknowledge the truth described in Genesis, that humans bear the imago dei–the image of God–and are worthy of dignity and respect.

Others of us are pro-life because of a non-religious understanding that each member of our species is due protection, including the least developed of us. We protect the lives of the unborn just as we do those recently born, children, and individuals with disabilities–because of their humanity.

Regardless of why, we at API are proud that most Alabamians are pro-life.

It’s not always easy to hold this opinion, however. Supporters of abortion often highlight the differences between the unborn and born based on physical appearance or mental capacity, suggesting that the unborn are not yet human. These arguments, at times, can seem convincing. Even so, we reject these appeals, recognizing a) the value of all human life and b) that the same dehumanization that euphemizes abortion today was employed in Nazi Germany and 1990s Rwanda to make mass murder seem tenable.

It is not unknown to Alabamians that the stakes are high, and we do not lazily adopt this position. Being pro-life leads us to action: I am a mother to four children, including an adopted child with special-needs. Other Alabamians are foster parents, volunteers at local crisis pregnancy centers, or benefactors of pro-life organizations that fight daily for the dignity of all.

We also, and this must not be ignored, vote as if unknown multitudes of lives hang in the balance–because they do.

Although Proposed Statewide Amendment 2 will not ban abortion within our borders, its unqualified passage will signal to the nation and the wider world that abortion is unacceptable, morally repugnant, and, as many like to say, on the wrong side of history.

We must not squander this moment.

Nikki Richardson is Executive Vice President of the Alabama Policy Institute and Parker Snider is Policy Relations Manager. API is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to strengthening free enterprise, defending limited government, and championing strong families.

11 months ago

Understanding constitutional Amendment One: The Ten Commandments and religious freedom

(G. Bannister/Flickr)

For years, discussion over the public display of the Ten Commandments has animated Alabama’s political landscape.

The issue is so energizing, it seems, that many politicians frame their own races through the lens of this battle––that support for their candidacy is a vote for the Ten Commandments.

Even so, Alabamians have never actually gotten a chance to vote directly on the issue.

This November, however, a constitutional amendment sponsored by Senator Gerald Dial provides that opportunity.

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Statewide Amendment 1, if successful, would enshrine in the state constitution language signifying two things, a) that the Ten Commandments is authorized to be displayed on public property, including public schools and b) that no person’s religion can affect his or her political or civil rights.

This amendment, as expected, has received its share of support and criticism.

Dean Young, Chairman of the Ten Commandments PAC, suggests this to be a vote where Alabama decides if we “want to acknowledge God.” He also remarks that we will be held accountable for our vote on judgment day.

Not all Christians agree with Young, however. The Baptist Joint Committee, for example, argues that “the government should represent all constituents regardless of religious belief” and not involve itself in “religious favoritism.”

The question, of course, is on the real impact of this amendment.

Essential to the discussion of impact is one provision within the amendment that will not be included on the ballot: the fact that any Ten Commandments display must comply with constitutional requirements.

This provision explicitly acknowledges that Ten Commandments displays in Alabama are subject to the U.S. Constitution, and therefore the U.S. Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court, it is important to note, has largely settled on an understanding of the constitutionality of this issue through three precedent-setting court rulings.

In McCreary County v. ACLU, the Supreme Court ruled that the display of the Ten Commandments in a Kentucky courthouse was unconstitutional. In Van Orden v. Perry, however, the Court allowed the Ten Commandments to be displayed, provided it was within a larger array of historical monuments and markers.

In regard to the display of the Ten Commandments in public schools, the Court ruled in Stone v. Graham that posting the Ten Commandments in every public school classroom, as required by a Kentucky law, served “no secular purpose” and was therefore unconstitutional.

As this amendment is subject to these precedents and already-existing First Amendment protections, the approval or rejection of this amendment will likely have limited immediate impact in Alabama.

What, then, is the purpose?

In a recent call with the Alabama Policy Institute, Senator Dial – the sponsor of the amendment – answered that question.

He acknowledged that, for the amendment to have greatest impact, the U.S. Supreme Court will have to rule differently in the future.

Senator Dial also offered another reason to support the amendment. He remarked that this amendment would shift liability from the individual or government office displaying the Ten Commandments to the state. The hope of this amendment is to embolden displays of the Ten Commandments under the legal protection of the state constitution, Dial suggests, and to let the state deal with any legal ramifications.

It is important to mention, however, that the amendment specifies that no public funds can be used to defend its constitutionality. If there are legal challenges, Senator Dial suggests that a third party will fund the defense.

To be sure, this amendment brings yet again to the public eye an issue that some consider settled. The Supreme Court precedent will –new rulings notwithstanding – supersede any constitutional amendments the people of Alabama pass or fail to pass on the subject. If the U.S. Supreme Court were to, however, overturn past precedent, the success or failure of this amendment could be consequential.

Parker Snider is Manager of Policy Relations for the Alabama Policy Institute, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to strengthening free enterprise, defending limited government, and championing strong families.

12 months ago

Prepare to vote on constitutional amendments, Alabama

(W.Miller/Pixabay)

The drought, as they say, is over. Football season is back in Alabama.

To no one’s surprise, the Alabama Crimson Tide was ranked number one in both the AP and Coaches preseason polls.

Almost simultaneously as the return of college football, however, is the beginning of another all-too-familiar season for Alabamians.

That season, of course, is election season. In this season, as in the college football season, Alabama earns a number one ranking. This ranking isn’t for being the state with the most elections, however. No, this additional number one ranking is for our massive state constitution, the longest constitution in America and, perhaps, the world.

Our constitution is well over 300,000 words–that’s forty times longer than the U.S. Constitution. The only governing document that rivals the size of Alabama’s is that of India, although it is still less than half as long.

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Our constitution’s depth, it seems, is due to the 928 amendments that have been added since the constitution’s inception in 1901.

Although some amendments are substantive and generally applicable to the entire state, a large portion of the amendments only deal with a singular county. This is because the Constitutional Convention of 1901, in an effort to regain control of the state after Reconstruction, concentrated power so heavily in Montgomery that many local decisions were, and still are, not legally permitted without an explicit change in the constitution, e.g. a constitutional amendment.

This means that anytime a county wants to, for example,  levy a minor tax, institute local term limits, or create a toll road, a constitutional amendment is required.

In November, Alabamians will have the opportunity to make the state constitution even longer. This year, residents will vote on four statewide constitutional amendments, a relatively small number in light of the fourteen voted on in 2016.

Included on the ballot will be constitutional amendments concerning the public display of the Ten Commandments, abortion, the University of Alabama’s Board of Trustees, and special elections for legislative vacancies.

Although it is easy to treat constitutional amendments as an afterthought (they are, in fact, at the end of the ballot), it is important to understand the potential impact of a change to the state’s most significant document.

Unfortunately, the language describing constitutional amendments on the ballot is often difficult to understand. Additionally, there is no description of the effects of a proposed amendment. This can be disheartening to voters taking their voice in the electoral process seriously while at the same time encouraging split-second decisions and absent-minded bubbling. Neither of these cases are desirable.

That’s why, in the upcoming weeks, the Alabama Policy Institute will release op-eds on the constitutional amendments in easy-to-understand language, including the possible effects, or lack thereof, on the state. We will also release a one-stop Guide to the Issues that will explain the amendments concisely and in a readable format that voters can take into the polling stations.

Stay tuned.

Parker Snider is Manager of Policy Relations for the Alabama Policy Institute, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to strengthening free enterprise, defending limited government, and championing strong families.

12 months ago

Limited government demands more, not less, of Alabama

(W.Miller/YHN)

In Alabama, politicians and residents alike proclaim the benefits of limited government.

Appropriately, our state’s motto is Audemus jura nostra defendere, which, when translated into the more popular language of English, reads “We dare defend our rights.” The phrase in original context – an 18th century poem by Sir William Jones – is followed by the potential thief of rights: “the tyrant while they wield the chain,” i.e. the government.

Promoting limited government, evidently, is woven into what it means to be ‘Alabama,’ and rightly so. Public office holders, candidates, and voters regularly point to the necessity of a limited government, as it is through limited government that our freedoms remain intact.

What is not as often discussed, unfortunately, is that smaller or limited government requires larger voluntary community engagement.

This is true because there will always be gaps where government could arguably be active. Limited government, by definition, means that there will be some spaces, some needs or hopes of the community or community members, that are not met by a central power.

In states that don’t deem limited government as a highly as Alabama, these gaps tend to be filled by government. In a state with truly limited government, however, these spaces are befittingly left to be filled by the private sector.

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The duty, therefore, of community members to selflessly and actively consider others is higher in a state that prioritizes limited government than in one that does not.

Alabama, regrettably, yields ample problems that need innovative, community-based solutions.

For example, metro Birmingham, the state’s primary economic powerhouse, is growing at a much more modest rate than peer cities like Nashville in terms of GDP and employment. A report by the “Building (It) Together” campaign also mentions that the metro area is losing workers while most peer cities are not.

Obviously, these are problems if the state wants to thrive economically in the future.

There, of course, are a variety of contributing causes to this economic underperformance, both in Birmingham and across the state.

In order to address some of these underlying issues–and in light of our understanding of the responsibility of the private sector–the Alabama Policy Institute is participating in a community initiative we call “Hiring Well, Doing Good.”

In short, “Hiring Well, Doing Good” takes aim at one of the systematic problems facing our state: chronic unemployment.

Through working with community organizations including non-profits, foundations, and employers in the state, API plans to connect the chronically unemployed with training opportunities, professional development, and–ultimately–long-term employers.

Our hope is to be a small part of solving the issues facing the Birmingham metro and Alabama as a whole.

Regardless of what API is doing, the principle stands. Stalwarts of limited government must remember that limited government demands more, not less, of Alabama.

Parker Snider is Manager of Policy Relations for the Alabama Policy Institute, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to strengthening free enterprise, defending limited government, and championing strong families.

12 months ago

Charter schools are keeping promises

(Pixabay)

On the campaign trail in 2012, Mitt Romney remarked that “charter schools are so successful that almost every politician can find something good to say about them.”

Romney was right.

President Bush told crowds he was a “big believer” in charter schools, President Obama proclaimed National Charter Schools Week year after year, and 2016 presidential candidates Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, and Hillary Clinton are all on record praising public charter schools.

From 2016 to 2017, however, support for charter schools dropped a startling 12 percent, from above 50 percent to below 40 percent, according to a 2017 EdNext poll. Interestingly enough, the decrease was equal for both Democrats and Republicans.

One reason for falling support is likely an increased public awareness of the failures of some charter schools and charter school executives.

In 2016, documented cases of charter school executives turned criminals hit the airwaves in multiple states. Additionally, reports of charter schools suddenly closing, leaving students to fend for themselves in the middle of the school year, have made headlines and been the subject of many op-eds in national newspapers.

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It’s easy to see why these public failures might quell support for charter schools. Truthfully, however, across the nation and in Alabama, many charter schools are fulfilling their promises.

For example, KIPP, the nation’s largest non-profit public charter school network with over two hundred schools, sees a majority of its students outpacing national growth averages.

Additionally, most KIPP schools are outperforming the traditional public schools in their districts.

Although there are no KIPP schools in Alabama, Sumter County’s new University Charter School opened its doors on Monday. As described in Trisha Powell Crain’s AL.com article, the mission of UCS is to integrate the community while providing a high-quality education.

UCS is on its way towards achieving that mission.

Contrary to county tradition, UCS boasts a student population that is about half black and half white. Before UCS, the schools in Alabama’s poorest county were still segregated, decades after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that separating white and black children in different schools was unconstitutional.

Although charter schools are few and far between in Alabama (only five have been approved since charter school legislation made them possible in 2015), the strides that University Charter School has made for its community should encourage more districts to pursue innovative ideas for their school systems.

Innovative ideas include charter schools, of course, but NBA superstar LeBron James’ I Promise School in Akron, OH, a public non-charter school that is a partnership between the I Promise Network, the LeBron James Family Foundation and Akron Public Schools – proves that solutions to education woes can come in many forms.

Regardless of the specifics, Alabamians should be thankful for the good that charter schools and other innovative education options have created for students across the country. We must not, however, neglect to learn from the failures of schools in other areas. Alabamians should work, therefore, to replicate those innovate schools that are successful, as University Charter School is doing, here in our state.

Parker Snider is Manager of Policy Relations for the Alabama Policy Institute, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to strengthening free enterprise, defending limited government, and championing strong families.

Learning Fiscal Responsibility from the fall of MoviePass

(Business Insider/YouTube)

One year ago, a relatively-unknown company announced that, for a monthly fee of $9.95, subscribers could see one movie a day without paying anything at the box office. That’s right – even though the average movie ticket in the U.S. is $9 – a $9.95 monthly subscription could get you into 31 movies.

Since last August, three million film-goers have subscribed to MoviePass, the company offering this seemingly too-good-to-be-true service.

Profitability aside, the service worked. Many subscribers did, in fact, see movies day after day. Blockbusters like the 8th Star Wars film were viewed repeatedly by fans and, as loyal subscribers became the most company’s most potent salesmen, MoviePass’ subscription rate skyrocketed.

Things didn’t stay rosy forever, though.

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The weekend before eventual $2 billion-earner Avengers: Infinity War hit theatres in late April, MoviePass conveniently announced that they would no longer allow repeat viewings of one movie.

This was the beginning of the end.

In the weeks following, MoviePass declared a slew of changes to their service, including blackouts of popular movies and surcharges to other films that, at times, were more expensive than buying a ticket without MoviePass (i.e. an $8 surcharge for a $5 movie).

In late July, MoviePass subscribers found the system unavailable and customer service unresponsive. The company, as expected, finally ran out of cash.

Although MoviePass was able to secure another loan to stay above water, the company’s future is in serious doubt. As of publication, the stock of MoviePass parent company Helios & Matheson Analytics is trading at a lowly $0.06.

The best way to learn, some say, is from failure. Alabama residents and lawmakers alike, therefore, should learn from the demise of MoviePass.

The lesson? The importance of fiscal responsibility.

Fiscal responsibility first demands a healthy sense of realism. MoviePass lacked realistic expectations and now needs another “another $1.2 billion,” according to CNN.

The truth is that our public policy discussions are full of MoviePass-like hopes: ideas that are well-intentioned but simply lack realistic expectations. A system of government-sponsored “basic income”, in which residents receive generous sums of money for living expenses, is one recent example of this type of idea.

Fiscal responsibility also requires honesty. Unlike MoviePass’ perhaps-knowingly deceptive relationship with its customers, policy-makers with accurate understandings of finance and revenue must be honest – off and on the campaign trail – about the financial viability of certain public policies. Lofty campaign promises made in full view of a different post-election reality do nothing but increase expectations and, when these expectations aren’t met, decrease trust in government.

The problem is that, like MoviePass, giveaway ideas like these become popular fast, and often for good reason. These proposals are hopeful, compassionate, and promoted by people who genuinely believe they will work. Often, however, the “how” gets ignored, those who understand the likelihood of failure stand silent, and the project collapses.

Instead of giving credence to unrealistic and unlikely proposals, Alabama residents and lawmakers should realistically and honestly engage public policy ideas that have the potential to succeed, not just for an official’s time in office, but in the long run. These ideas may not be as dramatic or fashionable as MoviePass, but they just might work.

Parker Snider is Manager of Policy Relations for the Alabama Policy Institute, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to strengthening free enterprise, defending limited government, and championing strong families.

1 year ago

Promoting dignity of work to poor: How a South American family influenced my view

(Pixabay)

Three years ago, I had the privilege of visiting South America for the first time. During my stay, I—along with the rest of my group—met a family whose story broke our hearts.

Led by a single mother, the family lived in an aluminum-roofed and mud-filled house in the middle of a village town square, right between two churches. Her adult children still lived with her in their home: one blind and two deaf, blind, and intellectually disabled. Their abusive father abandoned them long ago.

The government cared little about these rural people. The two churches, within spitting distance, never troubled themselves with the family. They were, by many standards, forgotten.

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Thankfully, however, our local partner became aware of this family and determined a way that we, temporary visitors, might make a lasting impact. Through some South American creativity and a lot of bamboo, we were able to make their lives easier, safer, and cleaner. We left feeling tired from work yet restless to know our effectiveness, discouraged by their past yet hopeful for their future.

This June we returned to the family’s home.

Our arrival was met not with the timid greetings of before but with a new and palpable joy. To my surprise, present at the home was not only the family, but a host of other community members. I was eager to see whether our work had been successful, and the locals were eager to show us that it had, in fact, not been in vain.

Just as exciting for me to see was that out of this home now grows a small business. Together with the community, members of the family weave and sell baskets (which we were more than happy to purchase).

A lot has changed since our first visit. I cannot be sure exactly why, but I have some ideas.

First, I trust that being shown God’s love, not only through our initial visit but through the presence of many others over the years, has reminded them of their worth.

Second, I am confident that having certain urgent physical needs met has instilled a hope that their future may be better than their past.

Third, I believe that working, for however long, has provided a sense of dignity.

This transformation in a South American village offers principles that we must remember as we seek community renewal in the United States.

First is the fact that struggling Americans need to be reminded of their value as much as this South American family. We often, intentionally or not, strip people of their God-given worth when we reduce them to whether they receive government support or not. The truth is that, regardless of wealth or status, all people are infinitely valuable. We ought to recognize and exemplify this reality regularly.

Only when our compassion is felt and truly experienced by those facing difficulties, specifically the unemployed, will our oft-heralded advice to pursue the dignity of work—the second principle the South American family’s transformation reveals—be received.

Work has always been part of God’s design for humanity. In the very beginning, even before the curse of sin, God placed Adam “in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15).

John Piper writes that “God made us to work. He formed our minds to think and our hands to make. He gave us strength—little or great—to be about the business of altering the way things are.”

Therefore, we must promote work not because we’re sick of supporting others, but because we trust that God’s plan for humanity’s good is for us to work, and to work hard.

Witnessing the change of this family is just one of many formative and equally (if not more) incredible experiences from my time in South America. Most of these were, of course, more personal. This family’s transformation, however, demonstrates general and essential truths that we would do well to remember—namely the power of compassion, hope, and work.

Parker Snider is Manager of Policy Relations for the Alabama Policy Institute, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to strengthening free enterprise, defending limited government, and championing strong families.

1 year ago

3 years after Obergefell same-sex marriage decision — Look to Europe for our future

(Pixabay)

In June of 2015, same-sex marriage became legal in all fifty states.

The Supreme Court ruled in the Obergefell v. Hodges case in favor of Jim Obergefell, whose marriage in Maryland was not recognized in Ohio. Unexpected to most, exciting to some and alarming to others, the Obergefell ruling was hailed as monumental, final, and as historic as Brown v. Board of Education or Roe v. Wade.

It’s been three years now. A lot hasn’t changed: Alabama is still good at football, Tom Cruise is still making Mission Impossible movies, and our state’s U.S. House of Representatives delegation is still legislating. Some things, however, have changed—including the public opinion of gay marriage.

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From 2015 to 2017, the percentage of Americans that favored same-sex marriage increased from 55 to 62 percent. What was in 2012 opposed by most Americans is now accepted by almost two-thirds of Americans.

That number won’t be going down any time soon. The approval rate of same-sex marriage by millennials is just shy of 75 percent and still increasing. Same-sex marriage faces most of its opposition in those born before 1946, and even that approval rate is nearing the 50 percent mark.

Clearly, same-sex marriage is approaching complete normalization in the United States. What is less clear, though, is the further impact—beyond the legalization of same-sex marriage—this normalization will have on the future.

Conservative pundits everywhere asked the “what’s next?” question concerning same-sex marriage before Obergefell, suggesting polygamy and the surely-to-be-legalized ability to “marry a turtle” (a direct quote from Sean Hannity).

Regardless of whether these suggestions are likely, I tend to look to Europe to see what social movement might come next to America instead of the musings of political personalities.

In Europe, polygamy and animal marriage is still illegal. What is happening in Europe, however, is a disturbing movement against religious liberty.

For example, the Council of Europe determined in 2007 that their definition of human rights must supersede “any religious principle”, creating clear problems for both Christians and Muslims who would refuse to officiate a same-sex marriage.

France’s burqa ban, a law disallowing Muslim women from wearing certain religious clothing, is still on the books, and the Court of Justice of the European Union recently ruled that many private employers can ban religious symbols from the workplace. Even more worrisome is the fact that Ireland’s prime minister recently promised that many Catholic hospitals will be forced to provide abortions.

Unfortunately, we already see shadows of the European reality within our borders. Attempts to force Christian bakers to create cakes for same-sex marriages, nuns to pay for birth control, and Christian colleges to approve of same-sex relationships demonstrate that Americans must be ready to protect religious liberty.

One year after the Obergefell ruling, in the summer of 2016, I stumbled upon Jim Obergefell. He, along with others, was a witness in a House Oversight Committee Hearing I was attending. I was, admittedly, surprised to be in the same room as the man largely responsible for the legalization of same-sex marriage and somewhat apprehensive to the idea of speaking with him.

In my interactions with him, however, Mr. Obergefell did not seem to be an anti-Christian warrior but instead a gracious and kind man. To my surprise and confusion, I saw no desire in him to eliminate Christianity or even any animosity towards Christians.

Meeting Jim Obergefell showed me something important: most people are not fighting against something, but for something. They’re not angry, they’re hopeful, and genuinely trying to make the world a better place. That reality is a gift for those of us who want a solution.

Three years after Obergefell, Americans should expect conflicts between religious liberty and the right to same-sex marriage created in 2015. When they come, we must work not towards a binary win-lose solution but for one that allows these two foundational American principles—religious liberty and individual freedom—to flourish together.

Parker Snider is Manager of Policy Relations for the Alabama Policy Institute, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to strengthening free enterprise, defending limited government, and championing strong families.

1 year ago

Why does this Alabama locksmith face gov’t red tape nonexistent in most states?

(API/YouTube)

I love the game of Monopoly. The hope that I will land on expensive properties first, the poker-esque bluffing, and the art of deal-making with unsuspecting friends makes for a great game night.

Even though I love Monopoly, I don’t always enjoy it. When I’ve missed out on important properties and am mortgaging the few I have left to pay the winner, I’m not having any fun. When it’s obvious I will not win and I slowly move from competitor to benefactor, I’m not thankful and neither are others facing a similar end.

I think this distaste says something obvious: Monopoly is great for the winner. Crowding out competition and increasing prices because you have the power to do so is good sport for the already-powerful, yet detrimental to the mobility of others.

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Monopoly is predicated on our tendency towards self-preservation and self-centeredness. This tendency, utilized for recreation in Monopoly, is manifested in Alabama through our occupational licensing laws (also known as permission-slip-to-work laws).

Take locksmiths, for example. Established in the late 1990s, the Alabama Electronic Security Board of Licensure regulates both security alarm installers and locksmiths.

Not a big deal, right?

Wrong. Wrong because Alabama is, as shown in a recent report, one of only 15 states that licenses locksmiths. Wrong because being in such a minority mandates we ask, “Why do we license locksmiths in the first place?”

Robert Burns describes his experience as a locksmith in a video recently published by the Alabama Policy Institute. In it, he suggests that the licensing of locksmiths was established in Alabama to protect the power of practitioners – not the safety of the public – and that it makes becoming a locksmith more difficult than necessary.

WATCH:

Before any Alabamian can work as a locksmith they must pay fees, pass tests, and wait to be approved by the government.

In most of the country, these hurdles are nonexistent and residents hoping to work as a locksmith can do so when the private sector (through employers and training), not the government, deems appropriate.

In Alabama, however, tendencies that should be reserved to a board game – tendencies to concentrate power towards ourselves and restrict competition – have been allowed into our occupational licensing structure. We must make every effort, therefore, to identify where licensing exists only to disincentivize entrance into a profession and to eliminate regulations where necessary.

Parker Snider is Manager of Policy Relations for the Alabama Policy Institute, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to strengthening free enterprise, defending limited government, and championing strong families.

1 year ago

Alabama’s elected officials are a mirror of ourselves

(WyoFile/Flickr)

“Who am I?”

We are all, at some point, faced with this question. Some, more than others, have a considerably difficult time determining an answer (see Hugh Jackman’s character struggle with this question in Les Misérables).

Although typically reserved for personal wrestling, this is a question Alabamians should be asking regularly, albeit in a different form, about ourselves as a state.

So, who are we, Alabama?

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There are many ways to tackle this question. We could look at how Alabamians spend their time and their money. We might watch what Alabamians get most excited about and analyze who we honor with monuments.

We could also look towards the people we elect, those we choose to represent us, as a response to our collective “who are we, Alabama?”

As Alabamians, we love to define ourselves by our football, our faith, and our white-sand beaches. Finding someone who defines Alabama by our elected officials is a tall task.

Perhaps, however, it is these elected officials, not our sports, faith, or vacation spots, that most accurately reflect who we truly are as a state.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who guided the U.S. through much of World War II, reminded an Ohio crowd in 1938 “that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us.”

His words are true in Alabama today.

We don’t want to admit that, though. Our government is ourselves? Perhaps we might agree on a philosophical level that we are “the ultimate rulers of our democracy” as FDR continued in that 1938 speech, but to say that our elected officials exemplify our true values, attitudes, and manner of living on a personal level can be a hard pill to swallow.

Montgomery and a few city halls, some say, are “swamps” that don’t reflect Alabama accurately. I’m confident, however, that these “swamps” and the elected officials that govern there are not outliers – that they are, in fact, a very real mirror of ourselves.

Much of what happens in these “swamps” is indeed positive and healthy reform. The Alabama Legislature, for example, passed a bill this session that eases the burdens of moving to our state for military members and their families. Here, we see a clear reflection of Alabamians’ patriotism and support for our military. We also saw a decrease in the income tax rate for many lower-income families pass this session, a reflection of Alabamians’ support of smaller government.

Many of our elected officials are honorable public servants, just as most Alabamians are genuinely kind, caring, and moral people. We all, however, (I am no exception) have some blind spots – some less positive attributes – that our elected officials publicly display.

For example, some elected officials say one thing and do another. Do we not regularly fail to keep our promises? Alabama is, in fact, the 9th most likely state for people to break their marriage vows.

Additionally, some elected officials have been caught misusing state funds and accepting bribes as they put morality on hold for their own purposes. Do Alabamians not sometimes also ignore immorality if the end is justified, especially if it is a political end?

Furthermore, some elected officials tout their Christianity, their love for God and his commands, in ads and stump speeches only to later be revealed a hypocritical nominal Christian banking on evangelical support. Are Alabamians not, at times, just as hypocritical? Are we not the 3rd most Christian state yet one of the first to reject refugee resettlement, even though the Bible clearly commands that we love our neighbors and foreigners as ourselves?

Our elected officials offer a rare opportunity for us to see ourselves as we are – our good and our bad. Every four years or so, we break the old mirror and put up a new one, wondering if it’ll show us something different. It hasn’t. We haven’t changed. We haven’t grown in the areas we should.

This election cycle, my hope is that we will choose the best of Alabama to represent us as our elected officials. Perhaps, when paired with intentionally naming and confronting of our blind spots, we will soon be proud of our reflection.

Parker Snider is Manager of Policy Relations for the Alabama Policy Institute, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to strengthening free enterprise, defending limited government, and championing strong families.

1 year ago

State elections matter more than most think

(W.Miller/YHN)

Washington, D.C. — one of the most visited cities in the world — oozes a sense of superiority and power. How could it not? Our nation’s Capitol building is truly enormous, the Secret Service and Capitol police carry rifles regularly, and the president of the most powerful country in the world lives within its borders.

Anyone, whether a visitor, summer intern, or permanent resident, feels that they are amongst the most formidable and important people in the world when in Washington.

This sentiment is mostly true. The president, Congress, and Supreme Court do yield great authority and power to influence our lives—if they choose to use it.

The truth, however, is that state governments are more likely than the federal government to create laws and policies that affect our day-to-day lives. This is, in fact, how our country was designed.

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James Madison, a founding father and our fourth president, wrote in Federalist No. 45 that “the operations of the federal government will be most extensive and important in times of war and danger; those of the State governments, in times of peace and security.”

In layman’s terms: the federal government will protect our national security and borders while the states dictate domestic policy.

Admittedly, Madison’s vision of federalism is not exactly what we see today, as the federal government often rules like it is “most extensive and important” in both peacetime and wartime.

Even so, the 10th amendment of the Constitution remains, and all powers not delegated to the federal government are constitutionally reserved to the states. Although the federal government finds itself at a standstill arguing about all types of domestic policy, state governments are productively creating them every day.

Take, for instance, the Alabama Legislature. In the first three months of 2018, the Alabama State House and Senate passed over 300 bills. The U.S. Congress, with all its power and superiority, has passed only 172 bills since the beginning of last year.

This gap is even more pronounced when examined nationally. In 2014 alone state legislatures passed over 24,000 bills. The 113th Congress, by contrast, passed only 296 bills in both 2013 and 2014.

This productivity gap is largely because, unlike in Washington, many states have supermajorities of a singular political party. This makes it immensely easier to pass legislation in the states.

These laws, although restricted to a single state, are not limited to minor issues. During the Obama administration, for example, states enacted over 200 restrictions on abortion. State governments are also in charge of public education, determine how to tax their residents, and decide infrastructure spending—spending that could easily impact your daily commute.

State governments also recruit businesses and jobs to the area, determine many welfare benefits and qualifications, regulate occupations (for better or for worse), and draw their own district lines.

The reality is that the actions of the state government can have immediate and consequential effects on our everyday lives. This makes it critically important to know the candidates we are voting for in state elections.

The days of the national media covering Alabama politics constantly are, for the moment, over. Fox News and CNN aren’t reporting on our governor’s race like they did last year’s race for U.S. Senate – and they certainly are not following our races for lieutenant governor, attorney general, or those of other down-ballot positions.

Alabamians, therefore, must intentionally learn about the candidates, their records, and their positions. Thankfully, there are ample opportunities to do so including recorded debates, coverage by local news organizations, and detailed policy questionnaires.

On June 5th, Alabamians will vote. When we do, we must not vote blindly based off name recognition or slick advertising. We should, instead, learn about candidates up and down the ballot because state elections matter more than most think.

Parker Snider is Manager of Policy Relations for the Alabama Policy Institute, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to strengthening free enterprise, defending limited government, and championing strong families.

1 year ago

Alabama gov’t is hindering the employment of its own skilled citizens

Dennis Gamble (API)

Sometimes the government tells us no.  

I’m not allowed to sit in the Oval Office and watch President Trump mull over Fox and Friends, ready to Tweet at a moment’s notice. I (begrudgingly) accept that. I also can’t read classified intelligence briefings or call a special session of the Alabama Legislature. I could ask, but I’m quite sure I’d be told no.

Even so, in the United States, especially when compared to other nations, the government tells us no relatively rarely.

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Sometimes, however, our government tells us no in a most sinister fashion, by disallowing us to use our skills, experience, and knowledge to work.

Thanks to current permit-to-work laws, also known as occupational licensing laws, this happens in Alabama.

Take the case of Dennis Gamble, for example.

Mr. Gamble hails from Gardendale and has, for decades, kept up his certified blasters license, regularly paying the renewal fee so that he would be allowed to work.

Mr. Gamble started his involvement in the mining, coring, and construction industry 40 years ago. As a certified blaster, he oversaw many demolition projects that involved dynamite and other explosives. Although he began working as a blaster before the state regulated the occupation, he is no stranger to the testing and certification required before being allowed to work.

In fact, Mr. Gamble, along with others in the industry, was one of the original backers of state regulation. He even helped write the tests and determine what the qualifications of a blaster should be in the state.

While Mr. Gamble wasn’t always earning a living as a blaster, he kept up his license year after year—paying $100 a year for twenty years—because he wanted to be able to work when an opportunity presented itself. He looked forward to working occasionally in retirement on an as-needed basis, supervising different projects from time to time.

Unfortunately, however, Mr. Gamble was recently denied his renewal, in his words, “not because of any problems they had with me, but just because I didn’t have a job.”

The problem is that, to be hired, a blaster needs the state’s approval, and to have the state’s approval, a blaster must be employed. Therefore, by revoking Mr. Gamble’s 21st renewal request, the state effectively removed any possibility of Mr. Gamble working as a blaster again.

That’s not all.

Mr. Gamble sent three blasters-to-be to the state-approved, weeklong training at Bevill State Community College in Walker County. After passing the tests and fulfilling all the requirements, they, unfortunately, were told they could not receive their license for the same reason that Mr. Gamble could not renew his—unemployment.

This situation and the reasoning behind these rejections are clearly illogical. Unfortunately, the very regulation that Mr. Gamble helped create warped into a ban on pursuing work in the industry he knows better than almost anyone.

Problems with occupational licensing laws are commonplace. As I have argued before, when both the Obama and Trump administrations agree on something, it’s time to get to work.

Alabama spends millions of dollars in tax incentives luring big business to the state, hoping for job creation and economic development as a result. Simultaneously, the state government is hindering the reasonable employment of its own skilled citizens, effectively choosing winners and losers.

Something is wrong with this picture.

Nevertheless, there are obviously occupations that need oversight, as Mr. Gamble argues himself about blasters.

Any discussion about reforming occupational licensing, therefore, must be holistic in nature, allowing both the existence of licensing and the actual, minute, details of the regulations to be questioned in light of two priorities—public safety and individual freedom to work.

Parker Snider is Manager of Policy Relations for the Alabama Policy Institute, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to strengthening free enterprise, defending limited government, and championing strong families.

1 year ago

A guide to ‘fake news’

(Pixabay/YHN)

More than once every day. That’s how often President Trump publicly calls something “fake”— be it a story, poll, or news organization.

Just this week, Facebook CEO and Founder Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress about, among other things, the proliferation of falsities on his social media platform, including in Alabama’s special election for U.S. Senate last year.

We see the term everywhere, hear it lobbied daily on cable news, and use it ourselves (although perhaps often in jest).  But what really is fake news and how do we spot it?

The term “fake news” is often used to describe three very distinct and separate entities.

First, the reporting of reputable national organizations (think press that have a seat in the White House briefing room, especially those in the first few rows) is often labeled as “fake news”. Although many would argue otherwise, the fact is that outright lies by the news divisions of these organizations are rare.

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When reporting failures do occur, news organizations hold their reporters accountable and publicly apologize and correct the story. The suspension of ABC’s Brian Ross after incorrectly reporting that Trump had directed Michael Flynn to contact Russian officials before the 2016 election is one example.

This doesn’t mean, however, that print or televised media are free from falsehoods. They’re not. That’s because newspapers and news channels aren’t just publishing journalism — no, their business requires something else — opinion and commentary, the second bearer of the “fake news” label.

Fox News’ Chief News Anchor Shephard Smith isn’t shy about rebutting the unsubstantiated claims of his primetime opinion counterparts. Why? In his words, “We serve different masters.” In his interview with Time, he goes on to say, “They don’t really have rules on the opinion side … some of our opinion programming is there strictly to be entertaining.”

Nevertheless, false news and misrepresentation is most onerous and rampant, not on television or in newspapers, but on social media, the third and most appropriately labeled agent of “fake news”.

Facebook and its competitors are places where claims, no matter how ridiculous, baseless, and unproven, spread like wildfire. It’s where we see a supposed ‘Friends’ reunion, that President Obama was a Black Panther, that Pope Francis canceled the Bible, and that Snopes, a useful fact-checking website, has ties to George Soros.

Even so, Facebook is a major source of news for many people. Thanks to this and increased cries of “fake news”, I’ve found a few practices helpful in maneuvering this volatile news environment.

As NPR’s Anya Kamenetz suggests, I begin with a gut check. Does what I’m reading affirm my biases, my hopes, and my expectations? If so, I should adopt a healthy level of suspicion.

Second, I automatically reject any news in the form of a meme or screenshot. These easily sharable images often have incendiary captions, outlandish claims, and lack sources. They are designed to go viral—like the emails of yesteryear that promise a free vacation if you simply forward to ten friends—and they are rarely factual. Political memes and screenshots are one way Russians fostered division in 2016, and they are genuinely worthless.

Third, I check the source. Does the website, newspaper, or cable news channel have a history of deceptive practices or falsehoods? Are they well-known and given access to government officials, or do they have a strange web address, an unknown name, or a homepage full of inflammatory headlines?

Fourth, I look to see if other sources are corroborating the report. If not and the news is a credible exclusive, I expect the reporting organization to include their sources in the article.

Fifth, I determine whether the author is a journalist or a commentator. As described earlier, commentators and journalists are very different, as are their standards.

Finally, before reposting or sharing, I consider my own credibility. Do I want to be someone who shares unsubstantiated news and memes, or do I want to ensure its accuracy, and therefore my own?

I’ve found these methods helpful, and I hope you do as well.

Parker Snider is Manager of Policy Relations for the Alabama Policy Institute, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to strengthening free enterprise, defending limited government, and championing strong families.

1 year ago

How Christ’s resurrection makes politics better

(Pixabay)

“He is not here; He has risen!”

These are perhaps the most consequential words ever spoken. A man who three days earlier had been violently beaten, hung upon a cross, and buried lifeless in a tomb, is alive again!

The reality behind these words – a risen Savior who had borne the sins of the world – prompted the disciples of Jesus to spend their lives spreading this news, Perpetua to die for her faith at the hand of the Romans and, more recently, Jim Elliot to take the still unknown Gospel to the Auca people of Ecuador.

Christian heroes from years gone by voluntarily endured suffering, persecution, and death because the Resurrection changed one essential aspect of their being: their hope. The death and resurrection of Jesus, along with His subsequent appearance to more than five hundred witnesses, instills a confidence among believers that there is more than just this world.

This confidence, this hope in Christ and the Resurrection, makes politics so much better.

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We can trust that, no matter who is in charge and what policies are being proposed in Washington or Montgomery, God will have His way. In times like these, this is a relief.

Now this doesn’t mean that we can’t fight – we can and we do. It just means that when we fight, we must do so without manipulating facts, exaggerating outcomes, or fear-mongering. The other way, the “by any means necessary” approach, simply doesn’t align with the eternal hope we have as Christians.

Since our hope is not in the government or political power, we are free to reject indefensible candidates on our own side, even if doing so might cost us political power. We are free to genuinely listen to those with different opinions, even if they challenge our own, and to praise goodness and truth, no matter the source. Furthermore, we can promote good policy honestly and in a way that is, as the Apostle Paul put it, “above reproach”.

When we defend indefensible candidates, reject the validity of those experiences different from our own, scream “Liar!” every time a specific politician opens his or her mouth, or manipulate facts to create a certain narrative, we indicate that our ultimate goal is worldly power.

Christians – we must do politics differently.

Our faith in the Resurrection gifts us with knowing the ending – that one day all will be made well and we will praise Him for eternity. This knowledge of the future, however, is a luxury that non-Christians do not enjoy. They fight, sometimes “by any means necessary”, as if this world is all there is because, as far as they know, it is.

As Christians, we can fight for policies we believe in – and we can fight hard – but, ultimately, our hope is not in politics. It is in the resurrection of Christ and the truth that death, the singular most worried about, written about, and fought against aspect of the human condition, is but a victory to us.

This Easter weekend remember, rest, and act confidently in a hope greater than political power in this world – the finished work of Christ.

Parker Snider is manager of policy relations at the Alabama Policy Institute. 

1 year ago

Alabama’s unrestrained ‘permission slip to work’ laws affect real Alabamians

(Pixabay)

Across the country, lawmakers are realizing the costs associated with the rampant overuse of occupational licensing laws.

Alabama Policy Institute’s recent report shows that over 21% of Alabama workers are licensed. This means that more than one in five Alabamians need a government permission slip to work.

Although the original impetus behind states’ licensing practices was the assurance of public safety, the current system of occupational licensing has become so burdensome that voices from left, right, and center have noticed.

The Trump and Obama administrations, The Institute for Justice, and the Brookings Institute, among others, are all in agreement: occupational licensing practices need to be changed.

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The fact is that these laws affect real people – real, everyday Alabamians.

Bruce Locke, a retired construction company owner and north Alabama native, is one of those people. A dedicated husband, father, grandpa, and Army veteran, Mr. Locke, after retiring, became an auctioneer.

Before he could work, however, Mr. Locke had to pay for state-approved education, apprentice for one year, and hand over hundreds of dollars in fees to the government.

He fulfilled the state’s licensure requirements but, after years of being a successful auctioneer, was suddenly fined $500 by the Alabama State Board of Auctioneers.

According to the board-hired investigator, Mr. Locke, who had a current license to work, was being fined for not filling out a specific form. The problem, however, is that Mr. Locke, after being a licensed auctioneer for years, had no knowledge of this form. When he asked, Mr. Locke learned that the form was created recently. Even so, he was not told about the form nor given any sort of warning. He was instead fined.

Mr. Locke, therefore, under the threat of losing his business, had no choice but to pay the $500 fine.

He later, out of frustration and disgust in the board’s apparent greed, gave up his license and sold his business.

This is just one example of occupational licensing gone awry. Thanks to occupational licensing, Alabama ran a profitable man out of business, forsaking revenue in both sales and income tax.

The truth is, as Mr. Locke put it, “There are a lot of states that do not have auctioneer licenses, and they’re doing just fine.”

He’s right. There are twenty states that do not license the occupation of auctioneers. In fact, the report found, more broadly, that Alabama licenses thirty-one occupations that are not widely licensed in other states, including locksmiths and sign language interpreters.

If it were truly a matter of public safety, one would think there would be relative conformity among the states. The report, however, found that licensing practices are widely varied, even among our neighboring and nearby states. One explanation of this may be economic protectionism – when members of an occupation, in a desire to limit competition, lobby the state legislature to establish licensure.

In Montgomery, lawmakers are reviewing legislation that addresses occupational licensing, specifically when it affects military families and veterans. Conservatives should applaud these attempts to curb big government’s grip on citizens while continuing to push for more comprehensive reforms.

You can view Mr. Locke telling his story here and API’s recent report on occupational licensing here.

Parker Snider is Manager of Policy Relations for the Alabama Policy Institute, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to strengthening free enterprise, defending limited government, and championing strong families.