Thursday, March 20, 2014

Cameron Smith: Five questions to ask Alabama’s state candidates for elected office

  Although Alabama’s primary elections are held in June, the political season is well underway. Positions on religious liberty, gun rights and abortion remain a virtual litmus test for Alabama’s more-conservative voters, but most state politicians are well versed at navigating them every four years.

  Even the clearest answers on those issues leave unanswered questions about critical issues facing the State of Alabama. Here are five additional questions that Alabama’s voters should ask candidates for state office this year:

1. What are your ideas for creating a climate that supports job creation and economic growth?

  "Jobs, jobs, jobs," has become a slogan for virtually every politician in America. While most understand the issue’s importance, few have any concrete ideas. Ask for specifics! What taxes should be lowered to encourage business activity? What training programs do we need? Have existing "jobs" programs been effective?

2. How would you improve educational outcomes for students in Alabama’s public education system?

  While politicians will continue to argue about funding for education, Alabamians need to hear candidates’ ideas that change structure and process to improve student outcomes. The enactment of the Alabama Accountability Act introduced alternative paths for public education, but not without controversy. Ask politicians about their stance on the Accountability Act, charter schools, and even Alabama’s system for teacher pay and tenure. If the candidate never actually mentions students in their response, they may be part of the problem with public education in Alabama.

3. How will you respond to overcrowding and allegations of abuse in Alabama’s prisons?

  Almost all Alabama politicians want the reputation of being tough on crime, but many have not been particularly smart about it. The overcrowding situation is so grave that Alabama could face the same fate as California and have a federal judge release inmates. Even worse, the United States Department of Justice has threatened suit against Alabama for the conditions at Tutwiler Prison for Women. Rather than creating more criminal laws in Alabama, Alabama’s politicians need to show actual solutions for the criminal justice problems they already have.

  Posing tough questions and insisting on reasonable solutions is an important first step for all Alabama voters.

4. How will you address Alabama’s state employee pension plans in a way that keeps promises to current state employees and retirees while creating a more stable pension system in the future?

  Alabama’s state pension system was built on a model that has largely been abandoned by the private sector as economically unsustainable. Even the federal government, not known as a beacon of financial responsibility, moved away from the traditional defined benefit pension model in the 1980s. Promises to retirees must be kept, but states across the country are waking up to the significant cost of providing top-flight pensions to public employees that are not enjoyed by the vast majority of the taxpayers on the hook to guarantee them. Alabama’s political leaders need to have a position on the issue, even if it is simply to cut other priorities to maintain the current system.

5. Do you support or oppose the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion? Why?

  Not a single member of Alabama’s federal delegation voted for the Affordable Care Act, including the two Democrats in the delegation at the time. After the Supreme Court gave Alabama the option to expand Medicaid, Alabama’s conservative politicians led by Governor Bentley have rejected the expansion to cover able-bodied adults up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line. While the issue falls largely along partisan lines, Alabama’s voters should know where the candidates are on this controversial issue and why they take that position.

  Alabama’s voters need to step up their accountability for their elected officials, and posing tough questions and insisting on real solutions is an important first step.

  About the author: Cameron Smith writes a regular column for Alabama Media Group. He is vice president and general counsel for the Alabama Policy Institute, an independent, non-profit research and education organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government and strong families. He may be reached at camerons[at] or on Twitter @DCameronSmith.

  This article was published by the Alabama Policy Institute.

No comments:

Post a Comment