For the last six years, it has been my privilege to serve as Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives. On Wednesday, I will step down and a new leader will be elected.
While I will continue to serve in the legislature and represent the great people of Etowah County, I would like to share my outgoing thoughts on our state and the Democratic Party.
One thing that seems to be clear after six years of the current supermajority is that their policies aren’t working for regular people in Alabama.
Alabama’s unemployment rate continues to be well above the national average, and our public school system has lost millions of dollars to charter schools and the Accountability Act since the Republican supermajority took over in 2010.
Our state infrastructure is in terrible condition, with nearly a quarter of our roads and bridges listed as unsafe.
Budget crises are now an annual tradition in the legislature, and we never seem to find a long-term solution. Instead, Republicans are living off of borrow and spend policies – essentially paying off one credit card with another. Sooner or later we won’t have any more oil spills or tobacco lawsuit settlements to bail the legislature out.
Our prison system is also a disaster waiting to happen. If we don’t fix the problem, the federal government may come in and begin releasing prisoners.
Very few people in Alabama can say that their lives are any better today than they were six years ago, and many people will probably tell you they are worse off.
But anyone can point fingers and blame others. Democrats have a responsibility to offer an alternative, and we have several policies that do just that!
On education, Democrats need to continue to call for a state lottery and the repeal of the Accountability Act. We need to demand an education system that works for all kids and that prepares every student to enter the workforce as soon as they graduate. We can do this without sacrificing college preparation or weakening our standards.
Making these changes in education will also help lower our unemployment rate and grow the middle class. We can incorporate internships and apprenticeships as well as vocational training, so that kids who don’t go to college can have the skills and experience employers require.
Our infrastructure also needs significant improvements. Democrats should not rest until state leaders have secured our fair share of the president’s infrastructure spending package. Democrats should also work with state leaders and the business community to help bring high-speed Internet to people living in rural areas of Alabama.
Democrats must also demand a comprehensive plan for prisons and not just settle for a construction project that will cost the taxpayers as much as $1.5 billion. New facilities are certainly needed but by themselves will not solve the problems. If we incorporate more mental health and drug treatment programs and invest more in vocational training programs, we can significantly reduce the number of people who go back to prison after getting released. That means less crime and it saves the taxpayers money, too!
On budgeting, Democrats should call for a new approach that uses multi-year forecasting instead of only looking at one year at a time. This approach can save us money by anticipating problems before they happen. Democrats should also continue to resist any effort to raid education funding, combine the budgets or remove earmarks from education revenue.
But it isn’t just state government that needs to be fixed. The Democratic Party – both nationally and in the state – needs to get its house in order if we hope to earn the support of voters.
Every Democrat needs to understand that, in the swing states (and certainly in Alabama), most people don’t see Democrats as being concerned with the issues that impact their lives.
Democrats have got to get away from identity politics and get back to focusing on the policies that make a difference in everybody’s life. We are the party that created Medicare and Social Security. We created the TVA and brought public education to those who couldn’t afford a private school. We are supposed to be the party of the people, and we need to get back to that.
I am proud to have served as House Minority Leader, and I will continue to fight for policies that make life better for every Alabamian. I wish the next Minority Leader the best of luck and look forward to the energy and new ideas that person can bring to the office!
Alabama House of Representatives.