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.

Will Ainsworth: Common Core is a failed, Obama-era relic that must come to a quick and immediate end

(Alabama Forestry Association/Twitter)

Alabama took a strong step toward independence in its public schools this week when the State Senate approved legislation to repeal the Obama-era curriculum mandates known by most as Common Core.

Everyone agrees that Alabama needs strict academic standards that our children must meet. It is vital to economic development, it is vital to our workforce development and it is vital to our children’s future success.

Where we differ in the Common Core debate is who should set those standards.

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I believe Alabamians should determine the curriculum and standards for our state’s schoolchildren based upon our available resources, our needs and our first-hand knowledge of what makes Alabama great.

We should not rely upon some out-of-state entity or liberal, Washington, D.C. bureaucrats to determine our standards, and we certainly should not continue embracing this most damaging legacy of the disastrous Obama administration.

When Thomas Jefferson said, “The government closest to the people serves the people best,” he understood that a top-down approach and governing from afar denies the important knowledge and details that those on the local level possess.

Perhaps the most asinine theory behind Common Core mandates is the cookie cutter approach it takes to schools across our nation.

Rather than recognizing and accounting for the differences among the states, their workforce needs, and the public educations they should offer, Common Core demands an across-the-board, one-size-fits-all mandate that is typical of liberal policy pronouncements.

Moreover, the public schools in a politically conservative state like Alabama, where character education and allowing students to acknowledge God are important, are vastly different from the schools in ultra-liberal cities like San Francisco and New York City, where educators consider themselves enlightened and the groupthink doctrine of political correctness dominates.

But, in the end, the most effective argument for repealing Common Core is the fact that it has proven to be an unmitigated failure.

When Alabama first adopted Common Core roughly a decade ago, advocates labeled it as the cure-all for our public education system, but the magic elixir they promised has proven to be just a worthless bottle of snake oil.

Prior to the adoption of Common Core, Alabama’s students ranked at or near the bottom in almost every education metric that was tested, and, a decade later today, our state still ranks 49th in math and 46th in reading.

For these stated reasons and too many others to detail, it is time for Alabama to abandon this liberal social experiment and chart its own, independent path toward success in education – one that is rooted in conservative principles and one that embraces long-proven, fundamental teaching concepts.

Sen. Del Marsh (R-Anniston), who filed the legislation, and the co-sponsors of his bill should be commended for working to end this unnecessary Obama-era relic. Dropping the gavel when the repeal of Common Core passed the State Senate was one of the happiest and most satisfying moments of my time in public service.

Will Ainsworth is the Republican lieutenant governor of Alabama.

Byrne: Supporting state and local government

(B. Byrne/Facebook)

Last week, I was honored to host some of our local mayors, city council members and city officials from Southwest Alabama in Washington to hear about what they do every day for our communities.

I am a firm believer that the best people to run our towns and our communities are not the bureaucrats in Washington or the federal government. The best people to do that are the people who live, work, and play in the same place as the neighbors they represent. That is why I come home to Southwest Alabama every weekend, to be in touch with the people I serve in Washington.

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Everyone wants a great quality of life. Part of that comes down to having good roads and bridges, having high-quality schools, knowing that the fire department, police, EMS and other first responders will be there when we call, and countless other things that happen on a local level.

The federal government is not the best place to regulate those things. Heavy-handed government mandates and rules that impose “we know best” policies on our local communities don’t work. What works in Robertsdale, Brewton or Chatom might not work in Nashville, Boston or Anchorage.

One of the things that has always worked best is to have a strong partnership between our local, state and federal officials. My mission has always been to assist our local leaders on projects when they need our help, but it is not my place to tell our local mayors how to do their job or what will be best for their community. I want to be a part of their team.

This teamwork approach has worked incredibly well when it comes to bringing new jobs to our area. When a prospective business is looking at locating in a new place, they want to know that officials at every level of government are willing to work with them to support their business and their employees.

A good example of this is saving our rural hospitals. In most places, these hospitals are the bedrock of a community. No major business will locate in a town that doesn’t have a hospital. So, that’s why I have been working with our local and state officials to do everything in my power to save our rural hospitals from closing. But, this requires a total team approach from all levels of government.

Another prime example of giving more power back to the local level is Alabama’s Red Snapper recreational fishing season.

In years past, the federal government has put stringent regulations on Gulf Coast fishing that has ended up hurting local fishermen. Those of us in Alabama best understand Alabama issues, and after years of continuous advocating, this year we received great news that the 2019 Red Snapper season for recreational fishermen will take place on three-day weekends (Friday-Sunday) from June 1st through July 28th, including July 4th.

As I have said repeatedly, this issue is about more than just fishing. A full Red Snapper season helps boost our coastal economies due to everything from fuel sales to hotel and condo rentals. We must continue pushing for greater state control over our fisheries.

Fixing our Red Snapper season wasn’t done by just one person. From the city councils to the state Department of Conservation to the halls of Congress, it took a total team effort to make a positive impact for our residents.

As long as I have the honor of representing Alabama, I promise to always be a part of the team to make life better for people in our communities. I am dedicated to doing what is best for Alabama through policies that give back to, not take from, our communities.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

4 days ago

Taxes, roads and limited government

(Luke AF Base)

The Alabama legislature kicked off its new term with a special session to increase the gas tax, a result which seemed foreordained. Nonetheless, the gas tax raises interesting economic and political considerations.

Our gas tax is currently just under 21 cents a gallon, which ranks 41st nationally according to the Tax Foundation, or 36th if we adjust for state hourly wages. Pennsylvania has the highest gas tax at nearly 59 cents a gallon, and eight other states have taxes in excess of 40 cents. The proposed 10 cent increase over three years would put our tax 23rd, 17th when adjusted for income.

Over eighty percent of Alabama’s tax revenues are earmarked for specific purposes, the most of any state. The gas tax is dedicated for highways, so the new revenues should go to road improvements. Revenue sharing will allow counties to repair their roads as well.

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Alabama has many roads and bridges needing repairs. According to the Federal Highway Administration, we had 1,200 structurally deficient bridges at the end of 2017. I can’t say exactly what this means, but structurally deficient doesn’t sound like a compliment.

An earmarked gas tax functions as a user fee, which implements the “benefit principle” of taxation. Citizens who benefit the most from roads will pay a larger share of the cost of repairs. The Tax Foundation, which generally opposes taxes, likes gas taxes: “Because they adhere to the benefit principle, gas taxes … are the revenue tools most suitable for generating the funds needed to maintain and repair public roads over time.”

Unfortunately, lower-income families spend relatively more on gas, making the gas tax regressive. This means that lower-income households pay a higher percentage of income in taxes. The gas tax does poorly on the ability to pay principle of taxation. This would not be as problematic if Alabama did not rely on regressive sales taxes for so much state and local tax revenue.

The failure to invest adequately in roads costs our state and nation. Twenty one percent of highways nationally have poor pavement condition, which costs Americans $120 billion annually in added repair costs, or over $500 per driver. Traffic congestion costs Americans another $160 billion in lost time and wasted gas. Forty percent of urban interstate highways are congested. Congestion is arguably due to a failure to expand road capacity.

Despite our low gas tax, Alabama’s roads and bridges are not, relatively speaking, in poor shape. Seven percent of our bridges are structurally deficient, which ranks 30th among states, and only two percent of our highways have poor pavement condition.

Is a tax increase truly necessary to maintain our roads? The general wastefulness of government, like the Pentagon spending $4.6 million in lobster and crab in one month for military contractors, probably gives many Alabamians pause. If Washington, Montgomery, and our cities and counties spent our tax dollars wisely, they’d probably have enough money to fix our roads.

While we should never tolerate government waste, waste is unavoidable because costs are very hard to assess. We also place many legal requirements on government contractors, increasing costs. Government waste does not change the reality that road maintenance requires resources. If we wait to eliminate all government waste before approving new taxes, our bridges and roads will likely have crumbled.

Unwillingness to pay taxes can lead states to seek alternative revenues. You’ve probably seen signs along roads warning of damaged guardrails. Tennessee bills drivers who damage guardrails in accidents to avoid spending tax dollars. This policy led to the family of a teenage girl killed in 2016 when her car hit a median guardrail being billed $3,000 for repairs. We may not like taxes, but alternatives can be more offensive.

Alabama has some of the lowest state and local taxes, so perhaps we shouldn’t complain about the gas tax hike. I would suggest that fiscal conservatives must also ask government to do less for us. Limited government does not mean big government on the cheap.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and host of Econversations on TrojanVision. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Troy University.

Roby: Sharing agriculture community appreciation

(M. Roby/Facebook)

On Thursday, March 14, our country celebrated National Agriculture Day. Members of Congress from all corners of the nation took this opportunity to thank the farmers and producers in their respective states and districts, and President Trump issued a presidential proclamation acknowledging the immeasurable value farmers, ranchers, growers, producers and foresters contribute to our country and the world.

Agriculture has a significant impact on our economy. Our agriculture exports are valued at more than $141 billion and are critical to our country’s job market. It’s estimated that every $1 billion in agriculture exports supports roughly 8,400 American jobs. So, you see, agriculture and related industries are absolutely vital to this country’s economic success.

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Here in Alabama, agriculture continues to be our largest revenue-producing industry, contributing more than $70 billion in economic impact annually. With over 9 million acres of farmland and more than 48,500 farms, our state is a national leader in food production and a global competitor in many industries, including poultry, catfish, timber, cotton, peanuts, and livestock. In the Second District alone, agriculture is our largest employer, responsible for more than 93,000 jobs and $11 billion in economic impact.

At the end of last year, Congress passed and the President signed into law the new farm bill to provide certainty to the American families who work tirelessly to provide the food and fiber we all depend on. In Congress, my goal with agriculture policy is always to create a responsible framework of laws and programs that promote a sustainable and profitable agriculture industry in Alabama while enabling our farmers to do their important work. I was proud to vote in favor of this bill to accomplish just that.

During this time of celebrating our country’s agriculture industry, I feel it is also important to acknowledge the communities in the Wiregrass that are still trying to recover after Hurricane Michael devastated lands and crops during harvest last October. Earlier this month, our neighbors in Lee County experienced severe devastation when tornadoes ripped through the southern part of the county, taking innocent lives and destroying homes and property.

In the wake of this tragic devastation, I firmly believe Congress should make agriculture disaster recovery funds available for these people who were hit the hardest. I remain hopeful that we will get this done soon, and in the meantime, I encourage those who need assistance to contact my offices.

At the end of the day, life as we know it wouldn’t exist without the hard work of farmers and producers across this country. Our agriculture community provides the sustenance that feeds America and the world, and we owe it to these men and women to recognize the critical role they play in our daily lives.

So, to all the outstanding individuals in Alabama and across the country who work in agriculture, thank you. You feed us, clothe us, fuel our economy, and set a strong example of hard work and perseverance. I will always be a vocal advocate for you in Congress.

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby is a Republican from Montgomery.

6 days ago

The demonization of Dr. John Christy

(G. Smith/Contributed, M. Mercier/UAH)

John Archibald wrote on AL.com on February 5, 2019, that University of Alabama Huntsville Professor Dr. John Christy was recently appointed to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board, which advises the federal agency on issues of science and the environment.

The appointment was an opportunity for Alabama’s own Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, Archibald, to weigh in on Dr. Christy and his appointment.

Archibald wrote that Dr. Christy’s appointment was:

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“…a big win for those who favor a do-nothing approach for the changing planet.”
“…a huge triumph to those who hold humankind guiltless and powerless to affect the climate.”
“…a big political victory for those who believe all humanity need to do in the face of global scientific consensus and pressure to reduce greenhouse gases is to do what it has always done. Just say eff it and drive on.”
“… a smashing success for those who believe our best hope comes with our heads in the sands, listening to the 3 percent of climate scientists who say man is not to blame, instead of the 97 percent, as NASA points out, agree that climate-warming trends of the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.”
“Most Alabamians will call it a big ol’ win, because worrying about preserving life on the ball costs money and the super-rich from getting super richer.”

Archibald rebuts Dr. Christy’s work by citing a single study performed by the Brookings Institute, which finds that Alabama will suffer the fifth highest economic cost in the country from climate change, and Birmingham is projected to suffer the 15th worst climate-related loss of metro areas.

Archibald’s synopsis of the Brookings study is, “Alabama and much of the South is the red hot center of the resistance to action on climate change, and the molten core of the consequence in the U.S. The findings are just…Karmic.”

He further writes, “I know what you are saying. I can hear you. You’re saying these pointy heads at Brookings are just more of those lefty conspirators who passed through Berkley on their way to meet George Soros for a passionfruit daiquiri on his private yacht. The website MediaBiasfactcheck.com labels Brookings left center but its factual rating as very high.” So there you are.

I was surprised to find that I know one of the study authors, Dr. David Victor, who did pass through Stanford on his way to teach at UC – San Diego. David is a very bright, thoughtful professor who knows more about fossil fuels than I ever hope to. In discussions with David, we have agreed our opinions on climate change differ. He didn’t call me names, nor accuse me of ruining the world. I can’t think of a single reason to call him names.

But, Archibald indicts Dr. Christy as the leader of climate skeptics who believes that humanity should do nothing in the face of scientific consensus to reduce greenhouse gases, have their heads in the sand on climate issues, and just say forget it and drive on by. Archibald implies Dr. Christy doesn’t care about the human race or the environment and has sold his soul for sound bites. He is a demon. He is the devil.

That is not the John Christy I know and respect. He is the distinguished professor of Atmospheric Science and director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. He has been the Alabama State Climatologist since 2000. He was awarded the NASA Medal for Exceptional Achievement in 1991 for his team’s global temperature data set. He was awarded a Special Award by The American Meteorological Society for developing a global precise record of the earth’s temperature from operating polar satellites and was appointed a fellow of the American Meteorological Society in 2002. He served as lead author for the U.N. reports by the IPCC Panel on Climate Change. He holds M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Atmospheric Sciences from the University of Illinois and an M.A. in Mathematics from Cal State – Fresno. He was a missionary in Kenya and has shared stories with me about the suffering in third world countries because of the lack of access to affordable energy sources. He has served as mission-pastor in South Dakota where he taught college math. He is a loving father and grandfather.

Yes, Mr. Archibald, Dr. Christy knows a little about climate science, and he is a decent, caring and compassionate man. Do you know as much about climate science? Have you done as much for your fellow man? Yet, you feel empowered to demonize him solely because you hold a different opinion on climate change? Pulitzer Prize winners should be cut from better cloth.

I hope John Archibald and everyone else will have a good month.

Gary Smith is president and CEO of PowerSouth Energy Cooperative, which is headquartered in Andalusia, Ala. PowerSouth is a generation and transmission (G&T) electric cooperative that serves the wholesale power needs of 20 distribution members — 16 electric cooperatives and four municipal electric systems — in Alabama and northwest Florida.

6 days ago

Alabama Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell urges Congress to ratify USMCA trade agreement

(Alfa/Contributed)

Farming feeds Alabama, but our state’s farmers also help feed the world.

That’s why the Alabama Farmers Federation is urging Congress to ratify the U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) trade agreement.

Canada and Mexico are our first and third largest export markets. This agreement not only preserves our partnership with these neighbors, but it also shows the United States can get a better deal for American farmers, businesses and families through strong negotiations.

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Alabama already exports about $2.5 billion in agriculture and forest products worldwide, and there’s potential to greatly expand these markets. With plans underway to deepen the shipping channel at the Port of Mobile, customers around the world will have greater access to Alabama-grown food and fiber.

Currently, Alabama exports about $1.3 billion in forest products, $315 million a year in chicken, $158 million in cotton and $92 million in soybeans. Our North American trading partners make up a large portion of these totals and are a big reason agriculture is a bright spot in America’s trade balance.

According to the Alabama Commerce Department, state exports totaled $21.3 billion in 2018, just shy of the $21.8 billion record in 2017. During the last decade, the value of Alabama exports increased 34 percent.

That means more jobs for Alabama families, more investment by businesses and more tax revenue for public services.

Alabama’s business-friendly climate and hardworking people have led to tremendous economic growth and job creation. To sustain that growth, Alabama farmers and manufacturers must have access to world markets.

The Trump administration’s tough negotiating style is paying dividends with better trade deals. Still, we must act to finalize the USMCA. Last year, Alabama exports were down three percent to Canada and 12 percent to Mexico. When the USMCA is ratified, we can turn those numbers around.

The USMCA will provide new market access for dairy and poultry products. Canada also agreed to grade imports of U.S. wheat in a manner no less favorable than their own, and Mexico agreed all grading standards for agricultural products will be non-discriminatory.

Simply put, the USMCA preserves all the zero tariffs on agricultural products in the North American Free Trade Agreement while leveling the playing field for other farm products.

Alabama farmers have proven time and again their ability to grow healthy, abundant supplies of food and fiber. With access to global markets, there’s no doubt Alabama agriculture and forestry will expand to meet world demand.

Jimmy Parnell is a native of Stanton in Chilton County and a graduate of Auburn University in agricultural business and economics. Parnell was elected president of the Alabama Farmers Federation in 2012.

6 days ago

Gas tax: The good, the bad and the ugly

(Pixabay, YHN)

The increased gas tax became law this week amid much Goat Hill fanfare, reminding me of a Clint Eastwood line from an epic western: “I’ve never seen so many men wasted so badly.”

The Alabama Policy Institute has said for weeks that improved state infrastructure is important, but that conservative principles must guide the increase: taxes should be the last resort, reforms should maximize every tax penny we already have and offsets should come with any tax increase.

We weren’t alone – recent polling showed a majority of Alabamians agreed, and the Alabama Republican Party passed a resolution to not support the increase unless it came with offsets.

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What the state received instead was a mix of good, bad and ugly.

Let’s start with the ugly: a special session on day one that all but ensured that the tax would pass due to the lowered bar of votes required.

The tactic also ensured that a minimum amount of debate would occur and that the one-third of the legislature who are new would have little time to gather their momentum and deal with the landslide of pressure from tax supporters inside the Montgomery bubble.

The special session undermined true representative government.

Also ugly: the rhetoric and hyperbole used by tax increase advocates. After hearing death and destruction zombie apocalypse claims about Alabama’s infrastructure, it’s a surprise any of us would venture onto the highways and byways of Alabama.

Everyone agrees that infrastructure can always be improved, but please save the rhetoric next time.

Now for the “bad,” which is a little better than ugly.

API called for some easily attainable reforms, chiefly, that Alabama has to stop sending money from the current Road and Bridge Fund to other state departments. Each year, an average of $63 million dollars in existing road funds are diverted to non-road expenses.

Governor Kay Ivey announced in her State of the State address that, in the budget process, she will ask for $30 million of those funds to stop being drained. Her call is a good first step, but the legislature carries the power of the purse and API calls upon them to completely end this diversion.

Also bad: The gas tax was set on autopilot because of a never-ending indexation. Every two years into perpetuity, the gas tax could go up by another cent without the Legislature ever having to debate this issue again.

An indexed tax with no potential end creates something akin to taxation without representation because no elected official will ever vote on it – and be held responsible for it – again.

Never let it be said that API can’t find a diamond in the rough, so let’s call out the “good.”

The legislature will provide increased oversight of ALDOT, so now Alabama will have a representative means of holding ALDOT accountable for the use of road and bridge funds.

It was also good that the increased use of electric and hybrid vehicles was included in the debate.

And one amendment did make it onto the tax bill that allows for a more competitive bid process between asphalt and concrete. Too often Alabama has chosen one kind of road surface based only on the up-front construction costs as opposed to the price of long term sustainment. That changes for the better now.

Lastly, it was very good to see the “no” votes, which shows there was at least some debate, and the efforts made toward amending the legislation.

There were senators and representatives who should be applauded for trying to remove the perpetual indexing of the tax, to reform our current budgeting to stop draining the Road and Bridge Fund and to give the poor and middle class a tax offset to lessen the gas tax blow. All of those attempted amendments can and should be brought forward into the regular session as stand-alone bills and budget appropriations.

API knows well that there are many conservatives in the Alabama legislature and we see more opportunity ahead to let that show. It is API’s strongest hope that the legislature will not set this issue aside in the regular session and will show the people of Alabama more good, less bad and ugly.

Phil Williams is director of policy strategy for the Alabama Policy Institute and a former state senator from Rainbow City.

7 days ago

College admissions expert: Don’t be like Aunt Becky

(E! News/YouTube, Pixabay)

The admissions fixing case has been in the news lately because it involves Hollywood celebrities and a set of allegations so outrageous it sounds made for television. However, it also sheds light on a potential problem that may be more common than we think.

This incident shows the extent to which people will go to circumvent and manipulate the college admission process, especially regarding admission to highly-selective institutions. The college admission process is my business. What these people allegedly did does not represent our industry.

Let’s break it down.

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There are two “doors” generally regarded as part of college admissions. Most schools categorized as “elite” have a holistic admission process. It can involve the selection criteria that go beyond grades.

The front door is legal and involves meeting admission requirements. The front door includes GPA, test scores, community service, scholastic organizations, interviews, essays, letters of recommendation, athletic ability and special talents.

The back door is also legal and involves things that may be a little more difficult to measure. This is the door through which people travel when they are close to the admission requirements but need some assistance. The back door standards may include legacy policies, charitable donations, relationships, professional favors among peers and employee education benefits.

There is another door, though. This is the one around which the feds have alleged wrongdoing: the side door. The side door is used when none of the qualifications and standards above can be met. It includes admission bribes, cheating on standardized tests and fraudulent applications (such as saying you are an athlete when you are not).

What is alleged to have happened speaks to the boldness, shameless audacity and sense of entitlement these people had. They could have invested their money in quality prep programs to help their kids obtain the requisite test scores or nail the interview. At my company, we provide college planning services to prepare students for the rigors of the testing and admission process. We also provide guidance to help them understand their options if they do not get admitted to their desired school. The students with whom we work are seeking admission into colleges and universities the right way: they want to earn it.

While the headlines are all about the celebrities in this case, let’s not forget about the students who tried to do things the right way. In all likelihood, there were students rejected because that one and last slot was purchased.

A person on one of my social media timelines wrote, “America has had a long-standing love affair with (and the rewarding of white) affluent mediocrity and finding ways to be in its proximity. Why else would brands like Amazon Prime and Sephora develop a strategic partnership with a 19-year-old that has done nothing more than be born into money and glorify that her parents made her attend school because they didn’t attend? Why else would this same girl have NO problem saying she cares nothing for her spot at a very exclusive and prestigious university, save gamedays and parties while her less privileged peers slog and accrue massive debt just for a shot?”

This is probably a different column for a different day, but if you want transparency for the college admission process, then it must be admitted that the socio-economic classes are supposed to be self-sustained, and how affirmative action is really racial profiling. Controversy surrounding the availability of college opportunities for the elite will probably continue long past this case.

Hopefully, there is at least one immediate lesson learned from this scandal. As someone who is in the business of helping students legally gain admissions to the best-fit college of their choice, people need to understand that the best school in terms of ranking may not be the best school for you child. Think of your kids. Be smart with their time and your money.

Don’t be like Aunt Becky.

Jay Johnson is CEO of College Prep U which prepares students and parents for the college admission process.

Byrne: Giving our students the best education possible

(B. Byrne/Facebook)

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

This question is probably the single most-asked question of any child throughout the world. Here in the United States, many children are able to achieve their dreams through hard work, dedication and a quality education.

But, for some here in our own country, hard work and dedication are not enough when it comes to circumstances out of their control like where they live or how much their family makes. Too many students find themselves stuck in failing schools.

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Every child has boundless individual potential, and we must do everything we can to ensure they have the opportunity and freedom to realize that potential. To do that, we must ensure all children have access to choice in education.

Education has always been a passion of mine. In fact, concerns over public education first motivated me to run for office and work to make a difference. As a first-generation college graduate, I’ve seen firsthand the power a quality education can have on an individual’s life.

So, I have always been an advocate for public education and worked to make sure our schools have the resources they need to do help educate our students. I’ve also fought to limit the heavy hand of the federal government in our classrooms, in an effort to make sure decisions are made by local and state officials who best understand their students.

Whether it was serving on the Alabama State Board of Education or more recently as a member of the House Education and Labor Committee, I have made it a priority to put forward solutions to create a better future for our nation’s children.

Most recently, I worked with the Trump administration to introduce the Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act. This legislation will give students and parents in Alabama and around the country the freedom they deserve to make educational decisions that are right for them.

The Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act was developed in consultation with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Senator Ted Cruz as the Trump administration’s leading education proposal. Our bill responds to President Trump’s State of the Union call for greater school choice and builds upon the model that has already been successful in Alabama.

Every student in America should have the opportunity to receive a high-quality education, and we can help accomplish that goal through a new federal tax credit. Our bill will create a non-refundable federal tax credit for contributions from individuals and businesses to state-identified nonprofits called Scholarship Granting Organizations.

These scholarships can be used to expand students’ access to a variety of educational opportunities, from advanced or remedial courses to private and homeschooling to CTE opportunities.

It puts control in the hands of states and localities rather than the federal government when it comes to educational choice and scholarships.

Very important to me, the bill does not take a single penny away from public education. I know the vast majority of students in Alabama and in the United States attend public schools, like my children did, and I will remain steadfast in fighting for our traditional public schools, teachers, and students.

Through the Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act, we will increase opportunity for families to make informed decisions that work for them and their individual needs, rather than cookie cutter solutions that don’t work.

By providing greater freedom in education and continuing to fight for our nation’s children, we can help every student realize their goal of “what they want to be.” In doing so, we can make our state and our country even stronger.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

1 week ago

Sweet Home Alabama — Alabamians come together to get through tragedy of deadly tornadoes

(Twinkle Cavanaugh/Contributed)

Certain horrific events occurring during the course of our lives seem to leave etchings in our memory as a result of the emotional impact on us. Whether acts of terrorism, natural disasters or accidents such as the Challenger explosion, we remember vivid details about each day.

While serving as president of the Alabama Public Service Commission, my first-hand observations of the devastation from tornadoes and the aftermath of major gas explosions have left permanent imprints on my memory. While paling in comparison to the feeling of loss felt by loved ones of the victims, I still found myself emotionally drained after seeing the immense destruction while I was in Lee County last week.

This tornado that blew through a large swath of east Alabama was an F4 that packed 170 mph winds. Many did all they could to survive, but it was simply not enough. Seeing the aftermath left behind was tough, and I was humbled by how small and how helpless we can be in a severe weather event.

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I cannot emphasize enough how much we all need to take heed and take cover every time there are weather warnings issued. Know where your safe place is, go there and cover yourself with the right materials. Flying debris during a tornado becomes deadly shrapnel. Be prepared so you can protect your family.

The devastation in Lee County is real, it is heartbreaking, but as the governor said, Alabamians are resilient. However, we can never replace the 23 precious lives lost on March 3, 2019, so let us continue to pray for these grieving families.

Rebuilding the area’s hardest hit areas started almost immediately, and the dedication of the people involved deserves commendation.

Alabama’s first responders arrived on the scene quickly and prepared to do what they do best. First and foremost, they were tasked with the rescue and recovery of storm victims and caring for those that needed medical attention. At the same time, men and women worked tirelessly to clear debris to allow for safe travel. Utility teams completely rebuilt power lines and cell towers to allow for communication and reconstruction of demolished homes and buildings.

Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones and his department, working with ALEA, are doing an outstanding job. I am always in awe of law enforcement’s commitment to our state and our citizens.

These first responders have daunting tasks in the most difficult environment, and yet it is amazing to see these teams work. They are focused, determined and get their jobs done quickly. Within 36 hours, the roads were passable, cell phones were working and power had been restored to all that could receive power. I have been assured that Alabama Power will continue to have a presence in the area as cleanup work continues and homes are able to take power. That is their job, and my job is to ensure Alabamians have reliable utilities. Count me as impressed with the speed and efficiency with which they worked.

To understand the severity of the damage, let me share with you what this meant in terms of power outage and damaged structures: 11,700 homes in Lee County lost power, 140 power poles were snapped in half and 226 spans of power wire were on the ground. A large transmission structure in the middle of the small community of Marvyn was severely damaged. There were 669 Alabama Power personnel and contract crews on the ground in the county helping wherever they were needed.

The negative visuals after a catastrophe stay with you. However, there are also beautiful moments in the chaos that I like to remember. In Alabama, we can argue about politics, football and even religion, but there is one thing we all agree on: Alabamians are a close-knit family that helps one another get through the tough times. It has been heartening to watch the stories of kindness develop throughout this tragedy. It was touching to see the folks in Tuscaloosa reach out to those hurting in Lee County, the home of the Auburn Tigers.

Alabama is beautiful for many reasons, not just our mountains and beaches, it’s our caring people.

May God bless Lee County, Alabama.

Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh currently serves as president of the Alabama Public Service Commission. The opinions expressed in this article are those of Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh and are not intended to convey the official position of the Alabama Public Service Commission.

2 weeks ago

Is economic freedom killing people?

(Pixabay, AF Medical Service)

I frequently extol the virtues of economic freedom, which generally produces prosperity and rising standards of living. However, could economic freedom possibly be contributing to America’s opioid crisis and its tragic deaths?

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Fox News’ Tucker Carlson suggests so in his book Ship of Fools. The argument deserves a hearing, especially with proponents of free markets. The costs of today’s malaise are undeniable. As Mr. Carlson writes, “If you’re a middle-aged American man, you probably know at least one peer who has killed himself in recent years, and maybe more than one.” The statistics are grim: a 43 percent increase in suicides among middle-aged men, a quadrupling of opioid-related overdose deaths, ten percent of men between 25 and 54 out of the workforce. Suicides and overdoses are reducing life expectancy.

The loss of jobs in manufacturing and mining provides a plausible economic cause. Academic research links job loss with a loss of self-esteem, depression and family breakup. It is a short step to addiction, and the geographic concentration of job loss coincides with opioid addiction. The role of international trade, automation, and immigration specifically implicates economic freedom. Businesses have moved jobs overseas, automated jobs, and hired inexpensive immigrants, boosting profits while eliminating jobs supporting middle-class families.

Is economic freedom truly to blame? In one sense we must say no, because economic freedom enabled the factories which lifted families into the middle-class. The effect must be through interaction with other economic forces. As Mr. Carlson writes, “Someone needs to protect workers from the terrifying power of market forces, which tend to accelerate change to intolerable levels and crush the weak.” Globalization and automation may be occurring too fast for people to cope due to economic freedom.

Some economists would contend that displaced workers just need to learn new skills and find new jobs. Artificial intelligence will not end work and unemployment is at record lows. This may be the best time to ever have to switch careers. Yet I agree with Mr. Carlson that this response is lame. It’s like telling someone not to get depressed over the death of a family member. People inevitably have difficulty accepting that what they have done for years is no longer needed, and the new job almost surely won’t pay as much as the factory.

Something more fundamental seems to be happening. The failure of numerous manufacturers over the decades – like Studebaker, Packard and Pullman – never produced such dramatic consequences. What we are witnessing is the end of the need for thousands of jobs in steel or auto plants for decades. Smart robots will be doing any new job long before employers need to hire thousands of workers. Work will be fleeting.

This has, I think, broken down a long-standing informal deal. I’ve previously called this the “Allentown economy,” in honor of Billy Joel’s awesome and prescient 1982 song. One line went, “For the promises our teachers gave, If we worked hard, If we behaved.” Do as authority figures (teachers and later bosses) ask and life will be good. A middle-class standard of living was never gifted to workers; their work in factories helped make America prosperous.

The implicit deal’s breakdown explains the extent of today’s malaise and the inadequacy of retraining. People willing to follow direction and work hard are no longer so needed. The Allentown economy was not created as part of anyone’s grand design. The deal worked and so people went along.

Is there a solution to the breakdown of the deal? Unfortunately, the complex social problems rarely admit easy solutions. Our economy is much more complicated than, say, a derailed train. Any solution may excessively curtail market forces.

Economic freedom allows people to craft lives they want to live. America today almost surely has more prosperity and innovative ways to earn a living than ever. Yet millions of Americans cannot find a life worth living. This is a tragedy, whether attributable to economic freedom or not.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and host of Econversations on TrojanVision. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Troy University.

2 weeks ago

Congress should consider real solutions to health care reform, not buzzwords

(YHN/Pixabay)

Last week, members of the House unveiled their Medicare-for-All bill, legislation that would largely overhaul the nation’s health care system. You don’t have to look far to see that access to health care is a priority for many nationally and especially here in Alabama. Our country has made strides to improve the health care system and while there’s still work to be done, government-run health care is not the solution.

“Medicare for All” is a buzzword, a campaign talking point at best, but not a practical answer. When dealing with health care, we must look at commonsense solutions that align with the needs of Alabamians and all Americans, not just those vying for the 2020 Democratic presidential candidacy.

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The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that 150 million Americans get their coverage through their employer and 80 percent of people with these employer-sponsored plans are happy with their coverage. Additionally, 49 percent of Alabamians receive employer coverage.

However, the recent House bill calls for a one-size-fits-all approach to health care through a government-run system that would eliminate private health insurance as we know it. This plan would negatively impact consumer choice and control over their care. Today, 91 percent of Americans receive coverage under the current system. A single-payer system would disrupt the coverage millions of Americans depend on.

Like in many countries, health care costs continue to rise in the United States, and we need to focus on improving affordability. The Urban Institute estimates that a single payer system would be excessively expensive, with an estimated cost of $32 trillion. It would also raise taxes by billions of dollars every year, requiring American families to pay more and more. For Alabamians already struggling, this would be an added burden for them and an increased economic drain on our state.

On the surface, this plan may sound appealing, but it would harm those it’s intended to help the most: patients. The patient impact of this legislation is longer wait times in emergency rooms and doctors’ offices and lower quality of care. Despite most Americans being happy with their health insurance, everyone would have to give it up for a more limited plan, limiting their choice of healthcare provider and access to care.

America’s health care system needs improvement but a healthcare overhaul that would start completely from scratch and place decisions in the hands of government is not the solution. We must encourage lawmakers to make strides to improve the affordability of health care without enacting unrealistic policies that hurt all Americans.

As our leaders in Washington work to identify ways to improve the system, I encourage them to consider real solutions to health care reform, not ideas propped up by buzzwords and empty promises.

Sallie Bryant is executive director of the Alabama Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors.

2 weeks ago

Roby: Congress must continue to support the F-35 Program

(Martha Roby/Facebook)

In December of 2017, the U.S. Air Force announced that the Alabama National Guard’s 187th Fighter Wing at Dannelly Field in Montgomery was selected for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter mission. I was honored to participate in the efforts to bring this coveted mission to the River Region, and I am incredibly proud of the men and women of the 187th who demonstrated the professionalism and capability that ultimately made this happen.

The F-35 is the military’s most cutting-edge war machine that will eventually replace many Cold War-era fighters like the F-16 Falcons currently flown by the 187th. This mission will provide a tremendous boost to the Montgomery area, and it will significantly enhance Alabama’s already large military footprint.

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Throughout my time in Congress, I have worked alongside my colleagues to rebuild and properly support our military and its critical national security programs after many years of devastating cuts under the Obama Administration. Most recently, I was proud to vote in favor of legislation for Fiscal Year 2019 that provides strong support for the important defense missions that happen in Alabama’s Second District at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base and Fort Rucker. Specifically, this defense bill allocates funding for 93 additional F-35 aircraft as well as the largest pay raise for our troops in nine years.

This conversation about defense funding, especially for our missions in the Second District, is especially timely right now as discussions about Fiscal Year 2020 funding begin this month. Each year, the President maps out his Administration’s funding priorities and sends them over to the Legislative Branch for members of Congress to draft into legislation, debate, amend, and ultimately vote on. Throughout his presidency, President Trump has demonstrated a strong commitment to our military, and I expect we will see this dedication reflected in his Fiscal Year 2020 budget request as well.

In the House, I will continue to be a vocal advocate for proper defense funding, for the sake of our national security and the installations in our district. As Co-Chair of the Congressional Joint Strike Fighter Caucus, I recently joined some of my colleagues in cosponsoring H. Res. 177, which recognizes the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as a critical component of our country’s national security efforts.

As we work to replace some of our military’s more antiquated, outdated aircraft, and as we move forward with negotiations for our Fiscal Year 2020 budget priorities, it is critical that President Trump and Congress continue to provide adequate support for the development and procurement of this next-generation fighter. The F-35 program is very important to our national security and maintaining our military’s position as tip of the spear. I will continue to strongly support this mission in Congress, and I look forward to soon having this innovative fighter jet in Montgomery.

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby is a Republican from Montgomery.

2 weeks ago

Mike Rogers’ report from Washington: What’s going on in Washington

(M. Rogers/Facebook)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Washington has been a busy place since the 116th Congress convened in January. With the House of Representatives now under Nancy Pelosi’s leadership, every single day is an uphill battle to preserve our rights and values.

Border security, which used to be a bipartisan issue, has been a huge fight. With the national security and humanitarian crisis at our border you would think now would be the time to work together.

Instead of working to secure our border for the good of our country, whatever President Trump is for, the socialist Democrats are against.

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After President Trump’s Declaration of National Emergency at our Southwest border with Mexico, Democrats ignoring reality voted to block it.

I held a live tele-town hall call last week and polled those participating to see if they support President Trump’s Declaration of National Emergency. Overwhelmingly, over 90 percent of the participants do support it.

As if the fighting over America’s security is not enough, the left is coming after our guns. The House passed without my support, H.R. 8 and H.R. 1112. Luckily for those of us that support the Second Amendment, the bills aren’t going anywhere in the Senate, but it shows folks where this new majority stands on gun ownership. The bills would both make it tougher on law-abiding gun owners.

The Second Amendment is important to me and our right to bear arms is something I will continue to make sure is preserved.

Liberals are also making me sick with their stance on the most innocent. Republicans have repeatedly asked for unanimous consent to bring the Born Alive Abortion Survivor Protection Act to the Floor for a vote.

This legislation would keep the babies born after a botched abortion safe from being murdered after they have taken their first breath. Democrats have blocked this bill from coming to the Floor 13 times as of writing. It is unconscionable. If they are not willing to bring this bill to the floor, then Democrats are supporting infanticide.

I will continue to fight for our conservative values and our nation’s security here in Congress.

As always, I want to hear from you on this or any issue.

Please sign up for my e-Newsletter and the Rogers’ Roundup by visiting www.mikerogers.house.gov.

To stay up to date, you can also like me on Facebook at facebook.com/CongressmanMikeDRogers, follow me on Twitter and Instagram using the handle RepMikeRogersAL and subscribe to my YouTube page at youtube.com/MikeRogersAL03.

Byrne: Defending the Second Amendment

(B. Byrne/Facebook)

This past week, Democrats in Congress again launched an attack on our Constitution and the rights we cherish as Americans. This time, they came after the Second Amendment and our right to bear arms.

H.R. 8, the latest Democrat-led gun control bill does absolutely nothing to prevent criminals or violent persons from getting their hands on firearms.

What H.R. 8 does do is violate the Constitutional rights of millions of Americans, ignores the mental health crisis behind actions of mass violence and limits the Constitutional rights of millions of responsible gun owners.

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I’m a gun owner and hunter myself. I’ve talked to lots of folks from all around Alabama who proudly own guns for sport, work and protection. Congress should not and cannot limit the rights of the American people in the name of politics.

Under the Democrat bill, almost every time a lawful gun owner wants to transfer or sell a gun, he or she will have to go through a government-sanctioned middle-man. Under this bill, no longer could I sell my gun to my cousin or my neighbor in a private transaction.

If this bill were to become law, millions of law-abiding gun owners could suddenly be subject to federal prosecution. Of course, we all know that criminals are going to do what they already do: make illegal transfers of firearms. So, this won’t make any difference in cutting down on crime.

I have a long track record of supporting commonsense bills to provide Alabamians a way to protect themselves while offering smart background check programs and mental health services to those in need. My grandfather was shot and killed by someone suffering from mental illness. I know the importance of providing important resources for those in need without infringing on the rights guaranteed by our Founding Fathers.

The so-called solutions in the Democrat gun control bill do nothing to prevent mass violence. We should not punish law-abiding citizens. Instead, we should listen to responsible gun owners and work on solutions that protect our Second Amendment rights.

I have news for the out-of-touch Democrats: Gun owners of America are watching this debate. They know what H.R. 8 is all about, and they know that this bill is just a sham to chip away at the Second Amendment and our Constitution.

Instead of trying to attack the Second Amendment, we should be trying to protect it. During the debate last week, Speaker Pelosi blocked my amendment to strip out this anti-gun legislation and replace it with nationwide concealed carry reciprocity. Instead of trampling on our Constitution, Democrats could have accepted my amendment and allowed a vote on a bill that would have actually made our country safer.

Our Founding Fathers enshrined the right to keep and bear arms in our nation’s Constitution. Throughout our history, we have seen the importance of the Second Amendment for people to make a living, to provide for their families, and to protect their life and liberty.

It is clear that this bill was nothing more than yet another sham show vote from the Democratic leadership. The gun control bill promises much but delivers very little.

I opposed this bill, and I will oppose any bill that goes against the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans. It is my duty as a citizen of the United States and representative of the people of Alabama to defend our Constitution against any effort to roll back the important protections enshrined within it.

One thing is for sure: I will always stand up for our Constitution, the Second Amendment, and the rights of law-abiding gun owners in Alabama and around the United States.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

3 weeks ago

Amazon is not the king of Queens

(NBC News/YouTube)

Amazon announced last year that it would build part of its new second headquarters facility, dubbed HQ2, in Queens, New York. In February, Amazon abandoned these plans. The episode offers insights on government-business relations in America today.

The saga began in September 2017 when Amazon requested proposals from cities to host HQ2 and its expected 50,000 jobs. The 238 proposals were cut to twenty finalists in January 2018. In November Amazon announced a split of HQ2 between Long Island City and Arlington, Virginia.

Opposition in New York arose in part from the estimated $3 billion package of tax exemptions and targeted spending offered to Amazon. HQ2, for instance, would get its own heliport. Handing $3 billion in incentives to one of the world’s biggest companies and the world’s richest person, Jeff Bezos, understandably provoked anger.

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Targeted incentives for select businesses are commonplace in America today, even though I prefer lower taxes and regulation for all businesses. The New York tax exemptions, $2 billion of the $3 billion deal, must be viewed relative to the $27 billion in taxes the city and state were projected to collect from Amazon. This makes the exemptions look more like a loyal customer discount than a straight giveaway.

Neither the city nor state had approved the incentives as of November’s announcement. For that matter, Virginia lawmakers also still had to approve their incentive package, which they did. The appointment of State Senator Michael Gianario, an ardent foe of the deal whose district includes Long Island City, to New York’s Public Authorities Control Board, which could block the deal, signaled a potential roadblock.

HQ2 suggests that incentive packages may not be vital in business location decisions. Newark, New Jersey, offered Amazon a more generous deal ($7 billion) than New York. And Maryland also outbid Northern Virginia. Academic research fails to find clear links between incentives and location choices. Businesses might be playing cities to get a better deal where they plan to locate.

Amazon’s pullout also illustrates the consequences of secretly negotiated incentive deals. HQ2 was relatively public, as the media reported both the 20 finalist cities and many details of the incentive packages. Often, deal-making remains more hidden. Alabama cities use code names for businesses being recruited, like in a spy novel.

I understand businesses’ desire for secrecy, but incentives still rightfully require political approval. From a strategic point of view, secrecy likely forces the hand of politicians not participating in negotiations. The deal announcement creates perceptions of a fait accompli and gives opponents little time or opportunity to rally support.

That Amazon desires an HQ2 outside of Seattle also makes sense, given the city’s recent anti-business measures. Most notable was 2018’s (eventually repealed) “Amazon tax,” a $275 annual tax per employee on large businesses to fund low-income housing. Seattle has also enacted a special income tax on individuals earning over $250,000 a year and a $15 per hour minimum wage.

These policies could readily reflect West Coast liberal politics. Or politicians may be taking advantage of Amazon’s considerable costs of relocating. Amazon has 45,000 employees in Seattle, with families and lives making them reluctant to move. Businesses often bear burdensome taxes and regulation before moving, allowing politicians space to do things which they think will improve their city.

New York behaves similarly. The financial, banking, fashion, and art industries are unlikely to relocate, and the Big Apple offers a unique lifestyle. People accept the nation’s highest state and local taxes, laws preventing building which keeps apartments almost unaffordable, and burdens like their taxi regulations to live in New York. Why did Amazon think that life would be different in New York than Seattle?

After competing vigorously for HQ2, some in New York decided that the prize was not worth having. The bidding for businesses has been called an economic war between the states. Perhaps it is time to negotiate peace.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and host of Econversations on TrojanVision. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Troy University.

3 weeks ago

Roby: Fighting for those who fought for us

(Rep. Martha Roby/Facebook)

Here in Alabama’s Second District, we are fortunate to share our portion of the state with two of our nation’s finest military installations: Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base in Montgomery and Fort Rucker down in the Wiregrass. I’m honored to serve our district that is home to these installations, thousands of active duty and reserve personnel, and more than sixteen thousand military retirees.

In fact, according to last year’s federal statistics, our district has the thirteenth largest population of military retirees in the entire country, and many of these men and women were active duty servicemembers. We owe these individuals who have put on the uniform a great debt of gratitude, but unfortunately, our heroes often do not receive proper care.

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I’m sure you recall that just a few years ago, the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System (CAVHCS) was involved in a scandal of epic proportion. Some changes were made and new local leadership was installed, but CAVHCS still ranks as one of the nation’s worst VA medical centers.

To be clear, some veterans have told me that they have had positive experiences receiving care at CAVHCS, and I’m grateful for that, but isn’t this how the standard should be across the board, for every single veteran? Failure to properly treat even one veteran is still failure, and right now, the VA is failing far more than succeeding.

With my position on the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee, I recently had the opportunity to speak to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie during a hearing. I was grateful to have a direct conversation with him about my concerns with failing VA medical facilities, including our system in Central Alabama.

During the hearing, I introduced myself to Secretary Wilkie and explained the severity of the problems our veterans face in Southeast Alabama. According to the VA’s own data, CAVHCS continues to be a terrible VA health care system, and I am sick and tired of getting status quo answers as to why. The VA’s goal should be for every single system in this country to be the very best it can be for our veterans. But, at CAVHCS, we’re seemingly unable to get even the simple things right, like just saying “hello” and greeting a veteran when they come in for their appointment so they feel valued and like someone cares.

As I told Secretary Wilkie, I am eager to cultivate a strong relationship with him and with his Department so that we can work together to make badly needed improvements at CAVHCS and other health care systems across the country. I also invited him to Southeast Alabama to visit our VA so he can see firsthand what is happening. It’s not working, and it is not the way it should be, so I hope to host him in the Second District soon so that he can see the state of affairs for himself and work with us to make changes.

At the end of the day, my priority is simple. I want to be in public places at home in our district, like church, the grocery store, or restaurants, and have veterans approach me and tell me how wonderful their experiences at the VA are. Instead, I usually speak with men and women, sometimes with tears in their eyes, who have flat out given up hope of ever receiving proper treatment, or in some cases, receiving care at all.

We should be giving veterans the absolute best care available in a timely fashion, and it just is not happening. This is a huge disservice to the men and women who have served us all, and I will not stop making the case to Secretary Wilkie until we get this right. In the meantime, if you are a veteran who needs any kind of assistance with the Department of Veterans Affairs, please contact one of my offices immediately. My staff and I work for you, we are grateful for your service, and we will fight for you.

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby is a Republican from Montgomery.

3 weeks ago

Let’s rethink career technical education

(AlabamaWorks/Contributed)

What do you think of when you hear the words career technical education (CTE)? Auto mechanic? Welder? Air-conditioner technician? Something else? Well, let’s look at what it really is and what it actually means.

In today’s job market, CTE equals long-lasting, in-demand skills in a booming economy. According to the Alabama Department of Labor, the vast majority of the 28,000 job openings in our state require less than a four-year degree. These jobs can be found in practically every business sector—from healthcare and hospitality to construction, automotive and manufacturing.

Although the specific requirements for these positions can vary, they have something in common—basic CTE that can and should start at the high school level. CTE courses are found in every school system and are available to all students.

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Students who take CTE courses have a solid outcome post-high school. For example, 93 percent of high school CTE graduates either enroll in college, join our military or begin a job within six months after graduation.

While courses do encompass what you would traditionally think of when technical education is mentioned, CTE has advanced in scope as times have changed. Today, we also include revamped science, technology, engineering, math, law, public service and agriculture sciences courses.

Of course, the K-12 system is not isolating itself on CTE. Through the Alabama Workforce Council’s seven regions, we are working with industry and business partners to formulate the coursework that will continue to align with real-world needs. In particular, businesses are providing valuable input to rethinking pre-apprenticeships and youth apprenticeships. In both cases, students are able to work at a selected business in a capacity where they can get exposure to a potential career.

The seven regions also play a huge role in exposing our career coaches, counselors, superintendents and other education professionals to local workforce needs. Most of the regions have implemented an Educators’ Academy, where school representatives learn about the careers available within their own communities. The regional directors plan tours, host seminars and provide the educators with valuable work, wage and other information that they, in turn, can take back to their respective schools to share with colleagues, students and parents.

Last year, Governor Ivey launched the AlabamaWorks! Success Plus initiative, which set a goal of an additional 500,000 Alabamians to have achieved at high school-plus credential by 2025. This was determined by extensive surveys, focus groups, interviews and other critical means.

If we are to achieve—and exceed—this goal, then we must show our students, parents and others that not everyone needs (or wants) a four-year degree. There are other options, many of which are based in CTE, that provide meaningful, long-term careers.

CTE is a proved strategy that expands options for learners and allows them to make informed choices about their future. Through hands-on learning, engagement with industry experts and rigorous career-focused coursework, CTE is learning what works for Alabama’s student and its economy.

Tommy Glasscock is the assistant state superintendent Career and Technical Education/Workforce Development Counseling and Guidance Supervisor Alabama State Department of Education Member, Alabama Workforce Council

 

Byrne: The nation is at a crossroads on immigration

(CBP/Flickr, B. Byrne/Facebook)

Growing up, my parents taught me the basic values of fairness and following the rules. I think these values were common in households all across our state and country.

In today’s society, those two basic values need to be applied to the ongoing debate about illegal immigration.

In terms of fairness, we have people who are going through the legal process to enter our country, which takes time and effort, only to have people skip that entire process and just walk across our border illegally. That goes against the basic value of fairness.

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Also, we are a nation built on laws, but currently illegal immigrants openly disregard the rules and laws of our country. By not holding them accountable, we are further encouraging a culture where the rule of law does not matter.

Currently, we find ourselves at a crossroads as a nation.

Down one path is the status quo of broken immigration policy, porous borders, and a steady flow of drugs, violence and human trafficking across the southern border.

Down another path is what Democrats advocate for: open borders, limited funding for national security measures at the border, and disregard for the rule of law.

But, down the final path is strong border security, including increased funding for a border wall, cracking down on criminal aliens in the United States, and reforming our broken immigration system in a way that works for American citizens, not for foreign interests.

Unfortunately, the Democrat leadership in Washington is pulling the nation down the path to the left, the path that threatens our national security.

Because of this, the president was recently left with no choice but to declare a national emergency to secure the funds necessary to adequately secure our border. As much as I wish that it had not come to this point, I stand with President Trump on this action to get a handle on our immigration crisis.

If the Democrats in control in Congress will not act in the best interest of the American people, then it is up to the president to take the necessary steps to keep our nation safe.

I have heard from countless people throughout Alabama that they are worried about the influx of drugs and violent crime across our Southern border due to illegal immigration.

We see story after story each week of criminals arrested by the dozen trying to enter our country illegally, murders committed by illegal immigrants who are members of violent gangs and the myriad of deaths caused by overdose from drugs originating in Central and South America.

This must stop.

Once we can get a handle on the countless illegal crossings each week, we can move to reforming our broken system, combatting sanctuary cities, and encouraging people down legal paths to citizenship.

For the officer killed in California at the hands of an illegal immigrant, I will fight this fight. For the three Americas killed in Missouri by an illegal immigrant released without the knowledge of ICE, I will fight this fight. For the young woman raped by a previously-deported illegal immigrant in Shelby County, I will fight this fight.

For the people of Alabama, and for the people of the United States, I will remain committed to seeing this fight through to the end to secure our borders.

We need to return the commonsense, family values of fairness and following the rules to the immigration debate. By doing that, we can take our nation down the path toward secured borders, safer communities and a more prosperous nation.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

4 weeks ago

Roby: Productive discussions in Alabama’s Second District

(M. Roby/Facebook)

During the recent week-long February district work period, I had the opportunity to travel around Alabama’s Second District to spend time on the ground meeting with constituents and local leaders, visiting schools and businesses, and ultimately listening to the views and concerns of the people I represent. Having this time to hear firsthand from the people who live and work in Alabama’s Second District is vitally important, and my goal is always that these interactions enable me to be a better representative of our priorities in Washington.

In our state’s capital city, I had the opportunity to speak to the Montgomery Kiwanis Club during their weekly lunch meeting. I was glad to share with the group updates about the 116th Congress, including my new responsibilities on the Appropriations and Judiciary Committees. Of course, Democrats recently took control of the House, so this year will bring new challenges, but as I told the Kiwanis Club, I remain committed to fighting for our shared conservative priorities, including properly funding our military, caring for our veterans, securing the border, supporting the agriculture community and defending the unborn. Now, more than ever, it is important that conservative leaders speak out for these important causes.

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In Montgomery, I also participated in a roundtable meeting with members of the Alabama Restaurant and Hospitality Association. This was a valuable opportunity for me to hear firsthand what they are experiencing in the industry, and I appreciate everyone who took the time to be there and join the discussion. Our historic tax reform overhaul has resulted in hardworking Americans keeping more of their own money. It’s no secret that when families have more money in the budget, they are able to more easily dine out at restaurants and take trips. I believe that our state’s hospitality network is feeling the benefits of tax reform, and I’m eager to see the momentum continue.

Last, but not least, while in Montgomery, I stopped by Four Star Freightliner to meet with management and employees. I was given a fantastic site tour and really enjoyed learning more about their business. The company has several locations in Alabama and Georgia, and we are very fortunate to have them here in the Second District.

In Geneva, I spent time on campus at Geneva High School where I participated in a proclamation signing recognizing February as Career and Technical Education Month. Our state is fortunate to have a strong network of two-year colleges and high schools that offer CTE programs to thousands of students, ensuring that today’s young people are well-equipped for tomorrow’s job opportunities.

While in Geneva, I also had the opportunity to catch up with my friend, state Senator Donnie Chesteen. While the news has left the headlines, several areas in the Wiregrass are still trying to recover after Hurricane Michael devastated lands and crops during harvest last October. I assured Senator Chesteen that I firmly believe Congress should make agriculture disaster recovery funds available for the people who were hit hardest. I’m hopeful that we will get this done soon, and in the meantime, I encourage anyone who needs assistance to contact my offices.

In Hartford, I paid my first visit to Air Performance. I was glad to meet the company’s leadership, tour the impressive facility, and speak to their hardworking employees about the work I’m honored to do on their behalf in Congress.

I finished my week on the road in New Brockton where I toured their Town Hall building. I also visited with Mayor Kathryn Holley and Town Clerk Debra Andrews. I was excited to see New Brockton’s Town Hall for myself – this facility is truly something residents of the town should be proud of.

My week traveling the district was very productive, and I really appreciate the many individuals who took time out of their busy schedules to talk with me. My priority is always to be the very strongest representative of our shared beliefs that I possibly can, and hearing directly from my constituents is the best way for me to accomplish that goal. I’m grateful for the conversations we shared and am looking forward to many more opportunities to learn from the people I represent.

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby is a Republican from Montgomery.

4 weeks ago

Gas tax increase should be ‘Even Steven’ — raise one tax, lower another

(YHN, Pixabay)

Can Alabamians support raising our gas tax for better roads while remaining true to our belief in limited government and protecting a beneficial, low-tax environment for our businesses, our families and our future?

Yes … if taxes are lowered elsewhere so that the overall amount of money taken from the people doesn’t increase.

The concept is called “revenue neutral tax reform.” It essentially means that if Alabama raises one tax by $100 million next year, then it should have a comparable decrease in something else.

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So, if you’re going to pay an extra $400 at the gas station, you should save an extra $400 at the grocery store.

Even Steven.

A solid majority of Alabamians support the revenue-neutral approach, as well.

Nearly 62 percent of respondents said they’d support raising gas taxes if grocery taxes were decreased by the same amount, according to a statewide poll commissioned earlier this month by the Alabama Forestry Association.

But why shuffle taxes around if it doesn’t ultimately change the government’s total haul?

Because taxes change behavior, encouraging some actions while discouraging others, and they also impact people differently.

Everyone who pays taxes on a gallon of gas uses roads and bridges. Fair enough.

But the rich man and the poor widow pay the same tax on a gallon of milk. That may not be entirely fair, or at least not kind, especially if that tax is relatively high.

Shuffling things around can also simplify things, making taxes predictable and sustainable for both the citizen and the state. And lowering those that discourage economic growth may actually produce more revenue in the long term.

In our nation’s great laboratory of democracy, Alabamians can look near and far to find examples of how raising the gas tax has worked well in other states.

In 2017, Tennessee raised its gas tax by 6 cents, its natural and liquefied gas tax by 8 cents, and its diesel fuel tax by 10 cents. To balance the scale, it cut the sales tax on food from 5 to 4 percent, decreased certain taxes on its state’s manufacturers, and eliminated taxes on some income from bonds, notes, and stocks.

In one swoop, Tennessee improved its roads, lowered the cost of food, and removed obstacles to job growth and investment.

And in the end, they were Even Steven.

Americans for Tax Reform, the watchdog group known for its fierce opposition to tax increases, didn’t oppose Tennessee’s plan. Its president, Grover Norquist, found it didn’t violate their popular Taxpayer Protection Pledge that many candidates sign during election season.

Tennessee’s voters were pleased with the result and reelected the Republican majority to the legislature the following year.

Americans for Tax Reform also supported former Gov. Chris Christie’s efforts to raise the gas tax in New Jersey in 2016. His plan raised gas taxes there from 14.5 cents to 23 cents per gallon, but eliminated the state’s death tax, lowered its sales tax from 7 percent to 6.6 percent, and increased the earned income tax credit.

Even Steven.

Same goes for South Carolina. Americans for Tax Reform supported then Gov. Nikki Haley’s plan to combine an increase in gas taxes with a significant decrease in the state’s income taxes on individuals, families and small businesses.

Again, Even Steven.

Unfortunately, there are other examples of how gas taxes were raised without the benefit of lowering anything else. They either failed to pass or, ultimately, harmed the communities they sought to help. We must remember that high taxes are one of the chief reasons why people and businesses are fleeing places like New York for places like Alabama.

And there are also other reform measures that Alabamians should consider during this debate that were raised in a recent report issued by the Alabama Policy Institute.

Meanwhile, our lawmakers should remember another lesson from Tennessee’s experience raising their gas tax – the need for open debate about the details.

The chairman of the transportation committee in the Tennessee House of Representatives, State Rep. Barry “Boss” Doss, was accused by some of breaking the chamber’s rules so he could “ram” through the gas tax increase. He ended up drawing a challenger in the Republican Primary and ultimately lost his seat, and some say his parliamentary maneuvers were partly to blame.

They say history doesn’t repeat, but it does rhyme.

If that’s the case, let’s hope Alabama’s lawmakers will be less like Boss Doss by being transparent in the process and more like Even Steven by balancing any increase in the gas tax with decreases elsewhere.

J. Pepper Bryars is a senior fellow at the Alabama Policy Institute. Follow him on Twitter at @jpepperbryars.

4 weeks ago

Your Alabama delta vacation

(Alabama Delta Alliance/Contributed)

SPANISH FORT, Alabama — With spring break, Easter break and then summer break on the horizon, you may already be thinking about where you’ll spend your time off. Let’s say that you’ve heard a lot about the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta and that you’ve decided to take your next vacation there. Maybe you’ll be bringing your spouse and children with you.

Problem is, you don’t quite know where to start making your plans.

Shonda Borden would suggest that you begin at the beginning — literally. She is the manager of Five Rivers Delta Resource Center in Spanish Fort, situated at the lower end of the delta (The center is known as the “Gateway to the Delta”). Borden and her staff, under the umbrella of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, oversee an array of camping sites and shelters, canoeing and hiking trails, hundreds of species of wildlife, Indian mounds, tour boats, exhibition halls, meeting spaces and more.

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First off, you’ll want to find a convenient place to stay. The Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce and North Baldwin Chamber of Commerce list numerous hotels and campgrounds in Spanish Fort, Mobile, Daphne and other nearby communities. Check out their websites at www.eschamber.com and www.northbaldwinchamber.com, respectively. Also call up www.mobile.org, which is Mobile’s official site for visitor information. You also can do an Internet search for privately rented houses and cottages in the delta.

Once you’ve arrived, Borden suggests taking a guided boat tour to learn about this diverse network of rivers, bayous, wetlands and hiking trails. Call Five Rivers (251-625-9814) for information on the companies and individuals who lead delta tours via large-group boats, airboats, kayaks and canoes. Tour boats are also based at Historic Blakeley State Park (251-626-0798).

Then, Borden says, try exploring the delta yourself by kayak or canoe — either by renting one at Five Rivers or bringing your own. Five Rivers offers free launching; for other boat launches in the delta, consult the Alabama Delta Alliance’s interactive map (https://alabamadelta.com/map) for information about facilities throughout the delta.

A trip to the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta wouldn’t be complete — or at least wouldn’t be as much fun — without camping under the stars, Borden says.

“Whether you use one of our shelters, camping platforms or land-based sites, there’s nothing like camping in the delta,” she says. “You can fall asleep to the sound of bullfrogs and wake up to the sound of a solitary warbler.”

Not everybody likes camping under the stars, however, and for those who don’t, there’s Meaher State Park, located across from Five Rivers on U.S. Highway 90. A 1,300-acre wonderland nestled in the woods on the shore of Mobile Bay, the park features 61 RV camping spots plus four cabins and 10 tent sites. (Call 251-626-5529 to make a reservation.)

Meaher is also loaded with hiking trails, fishing spots, picnicking facilities and a fabulous boardwalk that lets visitors get an authentic feel for the delta.

“This is a great area for bird watching,” Meaher Park superintendent Anna Bryant points out. “You can often see osprey, bald eagles, laughing gulls, mourning doves, killdeer, American robins, mockingbirds and others.”

If you’re beginning to sense that there’s even more to do in the delta, you’re right — and the Alabama Delta Alliance’s map offers many suggestions, including hunting, fishing, hiking and just plain relaxing.

“That’s the beauty of the delta,” Borden says. “You can get out in it and experience a real sense of peace. And that’s priceless these days.”

Wiley Blankenship is executive director of Coastal Area Partnership. The Mobile-Tensaw River Delta is home to more than 600 species of fish, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and birds. Its 260,000 acres include swamps, marshes and wetlands as well as a maze of tributary creeks, rivers, streams and bayous. It is America’s second-largest delta. Visit alabamadelta.com for more information.

4 weeks ago

The case for state control of alcoholic beverages

(Pixabay, Contributed/J. Godfrey)

It’s that time of year again. The Alabama Legislature is only days from its opening session, and lawmakers across the state are drafting bills they say will make Alabama better.

As in years past, some special interest groups – big-box retailers and liquor distributors – are pushing again to privatize liquor sales in Alabama. By privatize, they mean closing state-operated liquor stores and handing over the sale of all liquor in the state to private businesses.

On the surface, that might sound sensible. Why should the state even be in the liquor business?

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Look closer, though, and you will see that privatizing hurts state budgets, public safety and health, and even Alabama consumers. I like to tell people that Alabama is not in the “liquor business”; the state is in the “control business” – controlling the sale of alcohol and protecting the people of the state from the harmful effects of alcohol.

Last year, the Alabama Alcohol Beverage Control Board’s operations provided $262 million to state and local governments. Most of that went to the habitually challenged General Fund and agencies such as the departments of Human Resources, Mental Health and Public Health and law enforcement.

The argument from those pushing for privatization is that the state will come out ahead financially because it no longer would incur the costs of operating stores. That argument is false. Every state in recent memory that has privatized elements of alcohol sales it once controlled has lost revenue or had to raise taxes.

The most recent example is the state of Washington. After Costco pushed through the state legislature a referendum to privatize liquor sales and spent $22 million to make sure the referendum went the way Costco wanted, Washington voters in 2011 approved closing state stores in favor of opening private stores. The result? Stores selling liquor went from 328 to more than 1,400, two large distributors grabbed 93 percent of the wholesale market while big-box stores dominated retail sales, and the state raised liquor taxes by 27 percent to make up for lost state revenue. Today, Washington has, by far, the highest liquor prices in the country.

As someone deeply concerned about the harm alcohol inflicts on families and society in general, I have no problem with higher liquor prices. I do, however, worry about already struggling state agencies that assist families and protect public safety and health taking a financial hit due to lost revenue.

I am also concerned about the ABC Board’s ability to adequately “police” the sale of what is a destructive substance. Remember, one of the agencies the ABC Board funds with dollars from its stores is itself. Take away that revenue, and the ABC Board would not be able to inspect, license and investigate stores and restaurants that sell any form of alcoholic beverages to ensure their compliance with state laws.

Just like prisons and Medicaid, the ABC Board would be dependent on funds from the General Fund. We all know the struggles the Legislature has had patching together the General Fund budget.

Let’s be frank about alcohol. It is not just any commodity, and we shouldn’t treat it like buying bread, milk or eggs. Alcohol is a mind-altering, addictive drug. It kills more people each year – 88,000, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – than all illicit drugs combined, including opioids. Excessive drinking costs the U.S. economy $249 billion each year, the CDC says. It costs Alabama more than $3.7 billion.

Alcohol is a factor in a majority of violent crimes, including rape and murder. About half the suicides in our country are linked to alcohol. Most of the people in our prisons had alcohol in their system when they committed their crimes.

I am especially alarmed by the great harm alcohol inflicts on families. Alcohol is a major cause of domestic violence, child neglect, unwanted pregnancies and divorce.

My question to lawmakers is this: Why would you want to make all of those problems worse? Make no mistake about it, that’s exactly what privatization would do. It would multiply the number of stores selling liquor, hamstring enforcement and take money away from critical state agencies that assist and protect our most vulnerable citizens.

Who benefits from privatization? It’s not Alabama citizens. The only winners are those who sell liquor, particularly corporate-owned superstores and other chain retailers – based out of state – that see liquor as a way to further increase their profits. But, at your expense.

It is that time of year again. Spring is getting nearer, and so is the arrival of lawmakers gathering in Montgomery. It is also a good time for us to get smarter and put to rest for good the notion that we can make it easier to sell liquor without all of us paying a higher cost.

Joe Godfrey is the executive director of the Alabama Citizens Action Program (ALCAP)

Byrne: Staying focused in a crazy Washington

(Rep. Bradley Byrne/Facebook)

Before the new Congress began at the start of this year, I made a prediction: With the new Democrat majority, we could expect crazy season from the left, with Democrat members taking every chance they could to undermine President Trump.

I don’t claim to have a crystal ball, but I think I hit the nail on the head in this case.

So far in just the first month and a half of the 116th Congress, the Democrat Party has become the Obstructionist Party: They have stood in the way of strong national security measures, our American values, and President Trump.

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We saw a prime example of this just last week when the president was left with no other option to secure our borders and get a handle on the national security crisis there than to declare a national emergency.

Ensuring the safety of the American people is a fight worth fighting, and while I wish it hadn’t come to this point, the Democrats have left President Trump with no choice. We must secure the border and build the wall.

But it seems that Democrat craziness is totally unbounded this year, not just when it comes to border security but on issues of abortion, the environment, and the Second Amendment. They have completely lost sight of our core American values and are not listening to the millions of Americans who still hold fast to those values.

As long as I am in Congress, I will continue to do everything in my power to keep focus in a crazy Washington. I remain dedicated to the issues that matter most to Alabamians, and I will continue to fight for you.

The crisis at the southern border is real, yet Democrats seem intent on doing everything they can to push their open border policies. They want to put a cap on the number of people ICE can detain, but they don’t want to do anything to secure the border. In other words, it seems they just want to let criminals get away without any consequences. We are a nation of laws, and they need to be enforced.

A few weeks ago, House Democrats blocked Representative Steve Scalise (R-LA) from testifying during a committee hearing on gun violence. Democrats are pushing new gun laws that would restrict the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans without doing anything to actually prevent crime.

As a victim of gun violence himself, it only seemed appropriate that Congressman Scalise should share his views. The issue, however, was that he still believes in supporting the Second Amendment, as do I, but this was not what the Democrats wanted to hear.

Then we have the “Green New Deal,” which is nothing more than unserious, unfocused political messaging, proposed at the expense of the American people. This plan is poorly thought out, horribly expensive, and puts partisan politics over the American people. Let’s call it out for what it is.

And far too many Democrats in Congress have made it clear they support infanticide, either with outright statements of support for radical abortion measures or through their silence in not condemning late-term and live-birth abortion. In fact, we have attempted to pass a bill to ensure a baby born alive after an attempted abortion receives appropriate medical care, but Democrats even object to that bill.

On every one of these issues, it seems common sense has lost out and Democrats are most interested in pandering to the far left than solving problems.

No matter how out-of-touch, crazy, and disconnected Washington, D.C., and the Democrats get, I will remain steadfast in fighting for the values we hold dear in Alabama.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.