Sweet Home Politics

Wednesday, December 13th, 2017   |   Español

Author Archives: Darrio Melton

  1. We Must Stand Up for Alabama at the Ballot Box (Darrio Melton)

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    Today, the polls are open for Alabama’s primary elections and voters around the state are heading to cast their ballots in the party primary elections.

    Despite the millions of dollars that candidates and political organizations have spent trying to persuade you to head to the polls to support a particular candidate, many voters will stay home today.

    I’ve heard a range of reasons why voters won’t be voting on Election Day, but I don’t think there’s any excuse not to go cast your ballot.

    People say they are tired of the Red versus Blue hyper-partisan nature of politics. They’re ready for compromise and collaboration, not fighting and finger pointing.

    Voters don’t think any of the candidates running actually want to help Alabama, just fight President Obama. They’re ready for candidates to stand up and say what they want to do to fix our state.

    People are tired of hearing about the corruption in Montgomery and the grand jury investigations. They’re ready to elect good, honest leadership and just don’t feel like anyone will look out for the public’s best interests anymore.

    But the truth is, there are good candidates on both ballots who will work together, conduct government with integrity, and fight to make Alabama better for all of us. Those people will not have the opportunity to serve if you don’t go to the polls and exercise your right to vote.

    If we sit at home on Election Day, we will continue to elect more of the same. We will continue to elect leadership that dismantles public education in back-room deals in the middle of the night.  They will continue to shut down dissenting voices in the legislature and waste millions of state dollars defending unconstitutional legislation like the Accountability Act.

    If we don’t vote, we will have four more years of tax breaks to big business and poverty wages for their employees.  We will continue to live in a state with 600,000 uninsured citizens, half of which could be covered if the state’s leadership would choose to expand Medicaid.  Alabama will continue to be last in everything that is good and first in everything that is bad.

    It’s up to you. That’s the beauty of Democracy–we create the government we want on Election Day.  Today, we choose the future of Alabama.

    We can go to the polls and choose to stand up against the corrupt, Montgomery elite or we can choose to stay home and let others decide for us.

    As for me, I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. I’m ready for change in Montgomery. And I’m ready for you to stand with me to create it.

    Do your research. Go vote. Bring a photo ID. Make your mark on Alabama.

  2. Obama Isn’t Running in an Alabama Primary (Darrio Melton)

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    We will go to the polls to choose our governor and lieutenant governor. We will choose our secretary of state, who will handle our elections. But most importantly, we will choose our representatives to the state house and the state senate.

    I’ve seen the ads across the state showing Republican hopefuls are running against President Obama. They say they will fight Obamacare and the “liberal special interests.”

    I hate to break it to them, but Obama and the “liberal special interests” gave up on Alabama a long time ago.

    These campaigns are using the President as a symbol of everything they think is wrong with America. But to me, the President stands for what is right about America. He stands for equal opportunity and the American Dream. He stands for a new generation that is removed from the oppressive ways of the past. He stands for the hope of a nation that works for all Americans, not just a privileged few.

    So while these candidates are running against President Obama, ask them what they are running for.  Are they running to secure a brighter future for children across the state? Are they running to improve education for all children, not just the ones who can use tax dollars to go to private schools? Are they running for well-paying, safe jobs or are they selling us out to big business?

    When we go to the polls on June 3, we will choose the nominees to face off in the election in November. We must choose wisely. We must be smarter than they think we are.

    Look at the candidates and what they value. Vote for the person who will represent your family’s best interests.

    Decisions are made by those who show up. You can go to the polls and cast your ballot or you can stay home and allow someone else to speak for you.

    The deadline to register to vote in the primary election is Friday, May 23. If you need to vote absentee, the deadline to request a ballot is May 29. Be sure to double check your registration status and polling location before Election Day.

    Choose the Alabama your family deserves. Vote on June 3.

  3. Entrepreneurs are the Heart of the American Dream (Darrio Melton)

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    The American Dream is built on the principles of hard work and ingenuity.  In today’s economy, though, these virtues are paying off less and less as more people are unable or unwilling to pursue their dreams.

    The ability to create your own path–to start a business, to develop an idea, to capitalize on an invention–is a key part of what it means to be an American. We have the freedom to forge our own paths and create our own outcomes.

    We tell our children to work hard, get an education and they will surely succeed. Yet we live in a nation where the odds are stacked against small business owners and entrepreneurs.

    Let’s look at the example of a small-town pharmacy owner. The pharmacist worked his way through pharmacy school and returned home to open a small business. Opening a pharmacy meant that he would have to take out a huge loan for start-up, so he used his own home as collateral. He worked hard for years, taking on a huge risk for the opportunity to build a successful business and offer a valuable service for our community.

    Then a large, corporate pharmacy wants to come to town. They promise new jobs, so the government rolls out the red carpet, offering tax incentives and infrastructure development.

    So the community builds a new, large corporate pharmacy. Nobody puts their house on the line. The company has to pay very little for start-up. And they’re able to offer the same products at a lower price, making life much harder for our small-town pharmacist.

    This pharmacist played by the rules. He worked hard and built a life, but the cards were stacked against him. So we have to shuffle the deck.

    If we want our children to still have the opportunity to pursue the American Dream, we must shuffle the deck that makes competition difficult for small business. We must give them the ability to turn their dreams into reality and pursue their goals. We must give everyone a fair shot. We must make it worth the risk.

    Everyone deserves the right to charter his or her own path. Everyone has an unlimited amount of untapped potential, which we must allow them to pursue through ingenuity and innovation. We must make the American Dream more than just a dream.

    We must reward our entrepreneurs for taking the risk–for stepping out and reaching for their goals. Nobody likes to play a rigged game–We must unstack the deck and shuffle the cards to revive our small businesses and rebuild the American Dream.

  4. We Must Find a Solution for Our Broken Prison System (Darrio Melton)

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    The United States incarcerates its citizens at a higher rate than any other nation in the world.

    As a percent of the total population, there are more Americans in prison than in Russia, North Korea, Syria or Iran.

    These tough on crime” policies that began with the War on Drugs have led to a higher prison population than we ever planned for, which has caused prison overcrowding, budget strains and a growing segment of the population with a criminal record, rendering them unable to get a job or find housing.

    Here in Alabama, our prisons hold 28,000 people, when they were built to only hold 14,000. As a result of this overcrowding, our prison budget is strained and stretched–we spend only $26 per day per inmate, whereas the national average is $62 per day.

    As a state, we have some tough decisions to make. We can’t keep operating under the status quo.

    Option one is that we continue at the current rate of incarceration and find an additional source of revenue to adequately fund our prison systems.

    Option two is to find a way to reduce the prison population so that the Department of Corrections can operate under the ideal budget.

    Now, I will not ever advocate for murderers, rapists, child abusers, or other violent offenders to be allowed back into our communities until they have served their time, but there are a lot of non-violent offenders in our prisons who could benefit from the opportunity to make a change for the better.

    Many of our neighbors who are locked in prisons come from underprivileged communities, broken homes and poor schools. Rather than incarcerate them and make it more difficult to rehabilitate when they are released, why don’t we begin the rehabilitation process as soon as possible?

    Not only should we work to educate those who are starting down the road to a life of crime, but we should work to give them the tools and skills necessary to escape the vicious cycle.

    And this shouldn’t start after they’re already in the system.

    Our children need the opportunity to learn in a five-star classroom. They need the resources to pursue a college degree or technical training. They need to know they are worth more and deserve better than an orange jumpsuit and an inmate number.

    It’s time we stop determining the number of beds we will need in our prisons by third-grade literacy rates.

    When we invest in the future for the next generation by treating all children like they have an unlimited amount of God-given potential, we will reduce the incarceration rates for the next generation.

    When we offer opportunities for young men and women to break the cycle of poverty, drugs and violence, we will reduce the incarceration rates for this generation.

    And when we fund our prisons as centers for rehabilitation, not just holding cells, we will see the recidivism rates decline and prison population decrease.

    However we address it, we must make this change. We must tip the funding from prisons to education. We must break this cycle.

  5. Alabama Must Embrace a Spirit of New Energy to Tackle Tough Issues (Darrio Melton)

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    Easter is a special type of holiday because it comes with a sense of new energy, new beginnings and new growth. Easter is a chance to challenge ourselves to find things in that are broken and dead that need rebirth. It is our chance to find those things in our life that need new life, to find things in our communities that need revitalization and in our state that need renewal.

    We all wrestle with our personal fears, anxieties, concerns and unrest. But we as a community also wrestle with these same issues.
    We, as a state, have problems and concerns that need to be addressed through a renewal process. We have old issues that need new solutions, and we have new problems that need creative, innovative solutions.
    Alabama is one of the least developed states in the nation. One-third of Alabamians have no Internet access. There are roads and bridges that have fallen into disrepair. Alabama has no comprehensive public transportation system like in our neighboring states and no plans to restructure the tax code to be able to build one. These issues are not our state’s top priority.
    Alabama has the second highest incarceration rate in the nation. The list of abuses at Tutwiler Prison grows longer each day, running the risk of a federal takeover. Yet we still refuse to adequately fund our prison system or reform the criminal code because the prisoners are not our state’s top priority either.
    Alabama is one of the most unhealthy states in the nation, ranking 47th in overall health. Half of Alabama’s babies are born on Medicaid and hundreds of thousands of people remain ineligible for health care because the Governor is refusing to expand Medicaid or set up a state exchange under the Affordable Care Act. Access to health care is still not a top priority for Alabama lawmakers.
    Alabama’s education system consistently ranks near the bottom of the barrel. Access to pre-k education is minimal, merit-based scholarships are few and our teachers are leaving the profession or going to work in other states.  Meanwhile, we’re taking $40 million out of public education to send a handful of students to private schools and denying teachers the cost of living increase they were promised. These issues still are not priorities for Alabama.
    These issues barely scratch the surface of those concerns that our government should choose to improve. It’s time for Alabama to become the best in the nation at something other than football. It’s time for Alabama to dream big. We need to take on these issues head first and develop comprehensive solutions to leave Alabama better and brighter than we inherited it.
    We’ve left these issues on the table because of fears, anxieties and concerns from lawmakers, businessmen, lobbyists and voters. But we cannot continue to kick the can down the road. I have faith in Alabama.  I have faith in our ability to dream big and move forward without fear. It’s time to demand the Governor and the Alabama Legislature do the same.
  6. We Can Learn From Holy Week – Love One Another (Darrio Melton)

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    On Sunday, we gathered together at church to celebrate Palm Sunday, marking the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem and began his journey to the cross. Holy Week, the week from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, is one of the more symbolic and important weeks of our Christian faith, giving us several lessons we should take forward into the rest of the year.
     
    The first day of Holy Week, Palm Sunday, is when Jesus came into Jerusalem, but he rode in humbly, on a donkey.
     
    Thursday marks the Last Supper, the day when Jesus brought his disciples together, gave them the first Holy Eucharist, and washed their feet, knowing he would be crucified the next day. 
     
    On Good Friday, we remember His death. We remember his walk to Calvary, the abuse and the pain, and we mourn the loss of Jesus.  
     
    Then on Saturday, we wait. We wait because we know the best is yet to come, and on Easter Sunday, the stone is rolled back and the tomb is empty. The Lord has Risen. 
     
    Holy Week is an emotional week, but we should take a few lessons away as we move forward.
     
    Jesus rode into town on a donkey. He humbled himself to wash the feet of his disciples. You see, Jesus had no respect for the material wealth of this world–his calling was to bring light and love to the least of these. It was on MaundyThursday that Jesus gave the disciples the last commandment–to “love one another as I have loved you.”
     
    Jesus didn’t say “love those who come from privilege,” or “love those who have never made mistakes.” Jesus said to “love one another as I have loved you.” Definitively, and without question, Jesus commands us to love one another.
     
    And we carry that commandment forward into Good Friday as we watch the physical manifestation of that love.  They beat Him, ridiculed Him, and they hung Him from the cross, where he died for you.
     
    Yet on Saturday, we can wake up with a new hope–with a hope that what is died will return to life and what is broken will be fixed. We can wait in faith that Jesus will return.
     
    And as Easter Sunday arrives, our sins are forgiven and we embrace the promise of new life.
     
    Not one of us is without sin or without wrongdoing, but Easter reminds us of the promise of new life–the promise of change, the promise of renewal. 
     
    As we move forward into Holy Week, think about the things in your life, in your community and in this state and nation that are broken but will be fixed. Will faith alone fix them, or must we act in the way Jesus has commanded us–by first loving one another as He has loved us?
  7. Gov. Bentley Needs to Send the Legislature to Summer School (Darrio Melton)

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    The Legislature has officially adjourned for 2014, leaving the Governor with a tough decision to make by April 13.
    On March 5, Governor Bentley came out strong in support of teachers, saying that he would veto an education budget that did not include a two-percent teacher pay raise and full funding for PEEHIP, the teacher’s health insurance program.
    But Representative Bill Poole and Senator Trip Pittman, the chairs of the Education budget committees, maintained that the money was simply not available to fund PEEHIP and offer the teachers a raise.
    This budget debate is not unfamiliar to the Alabama Legislature. From 2011 to 2013, the Republicans in the legislature cut teachers’ pay by 2.5 percent, before putting two percent back last year and calling it a “raise.”
    I don’t know who taught them math, but my teachers taught me that taking away 2.5 percent, then adding two percent is still a loss of one-half percent.
    A two percent raise this year would have amounted to a 1.5 percent raise over the last four years.
    Now, we fast forward to April 8, 2014 when Governor Bentley has an education budget on his desk that does not include a teacher pay raise or full funding for PEEHIP.
    If the Governor chooses to fight for the pay raise, he will have to call a special session of the legislature and bring everyone back to Montgomery at a time when many have primary races they are concerned about winning.  Furthermore, a special session would cost the taxpayers a tremendous amount of money. Because it only requires a simple majority vote to override the Governor’s veto, Bentley is sure to be silenced by the Hubbard-Marsh faction.
    But does that mean he shouldn’t stand up to do what he promised our educators?
    When Governor Bentley threatened to veto the budget, it was like a school teacher threatening a student with detention if they broke the rules again. As soon as the teacher makes that threat, he or she is obligated to uphold it or the students will realize they can get away with anything.  On the other hand, when the students know you mean business they won’t challenge your rules.
    Too many times, Bentley has let the legislature ignore his threats and break the rules. Speaker Hubbard and Senate President Marsh have no respect for the Governor. If they did, they wouldn’t have challenged him on his budget requests.
    By sending him a budget with nothing he asked for, they have turned their noses up at his office and told him that what he wants doesn’t matter. And that’s not right.
    If Bentley wants another term as Governor, he must learn now to stand up for both the office of Governor and his policies as Governor. He must hold himself to the authority that his title commands, instead of shrinking away at signs of conflict.
    Governor Bentley must give the budget back with a failing grade. He must send  the legislature to Summer School until they get it right. If he doesn’t do it now, he’s asking for another term with no respect and no authority in the legislative process.
  8. The Republican Supermajority Has Undermined the Principles of Democracy (Darrio Melton)

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    This week is the last week of the 2014 legislative session and the last legislative days before the 2014 election cycle. Looking back on the past four years under the Republican supermajority’s control, I’m struggling to think of many good things that have come out of this quadrennium. I’m hoping for a change in 2014.Despite all of the broken promises, stalled legislative progress and assaults on public schools, health care and working families, I think the damage the supermajority has done runs much deeper than flawed policy positions.

    The supermajority has undermined the cornerstone of our democracy and have ignored the fundamental principles on which we stand as a society.

    When this nation was founded, it was done so people could be freed from tyranny. Those who settled America had seen the out-and-out corruption resulting from absolute power in the hands of a monarch.

    They tasked themselves with forming a better government.

    They created a new kind of government, one with checks and balances to make sure that one branch never wielded too much power. They gave the people representation–both directly and indirectly.

    The people have the power to elect leadership to speak for them from national to local levels. The underlying result of this is a society that rules itself. There is no “us” and “them.” The people can be elected to serve and the people can choose their representation.

    There were clearly problems with our founding document. Women did not have the right to vote. African-Americans couldn’t vote, counted as three-fifths of a person for purposes of apportionment and could be owned by other people.

    Over the years, the American people raised their voices and progress was made. Congress established the 13th amendment to abolish slavery, the 15th amendment to guarantee the right to vote regardless of race, and the 19th amendment to guarantee the right to vote regardless of gender. And Alabama was drug, kicking and screaming, to modernity.

    While it took our great state far too long to progress past the sins of those before us, we did in fact make progress. We desegregated our society. We created an affordable pathway to higher education for our students. We removed the Confederate Flag from our capitol and unshackled ourselves from the specter of the Civil War. We were well on our way to a more perfect union until the Alabama Republican Party took control of the reins.

    The first thing the Alabama Republican supermajority did was redraw the district lines for the state legislature and Congress. By stacking and packing minority voters, they have reduced the ability for these communities to speak for themselves in elections.

    Next, they reigned over the state legislature with an iron fist, shutting down debate on controversial legislation and pushing bills through without allowing amendments. By silencing the dissenting voices in the legislature, they have reduced the ability of the representatives to speak on behalf of the voters in the legislative process.

    After the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, the Alabama Republican Party intensified their grip on Montgomery by enacting an oppressive voter ID law. By making it more difficult to vote, they have undermined the ability of the voters to participate in the legislative process. After finally making headway on the mountain of progress, the Alabama Republican Party has pulled our state back down.

    This isn’t about partisan politics–it’s about what’s right and wrong. The cornerstone of our government is the ability of the people to impact government.Whether you’re a doctor or an orderly, you have the same power at the polls. You’re each one person and you each have one vote.

    But reducing the impact of certain communities through redistricting is sending us back to one-person with three-fifths representation. Shutting down debate is sending us back to a time when the decisions were made by a group of old men in powdered wigs. Making it more difficult to vote is sending us back to jelly beans in a jar.

    Alabama is better than this. We can do better. I’m working to change it, and I hope you all will too.

  9. It’s Time for the Governor to Quit Breaking Promises (Darrio Melton)

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    Governor Bentley has gone back on another promise to the people of Alabama, proving once again that his interests are intimately intertwined with the Montgomery insiders–the group of well-off politicians who profit off the people.
    On March 5, Bentley said that he would attach an executive amendment to any education budget that did not include a two-percent pay raise for educators and a funding increase for PEEHIP, the teachers’ health insurance program.
    On , March 20, the senate passed an Education Trust Fund budget that included no teacher pay raise and no increase in funding for PEEHIP. The General Fund Budget did include a one-time, one-percent increase for teachers of around $400 per person.
    All total, Alabama teachers could expect to make around $500 per year less under the Republican legislature’s plan.
    Why do I call it the Republican legislature’s plan? When these bills were being debated in the House and the Senate, they shut down debate and refused to allow amendments to be added. Anyone who wanted to stand up for teachers was silenced by the supermajority.
    Then, on March 21, Bentley announced that he had reached a compromise with the budget chairs to restore funding for PEEHIP, but the compromise would not include the teacher pay raise he promised he would attach in an executive amendment.
    At a time when teachers are buying paper towels and toilet paper out of their own pockets, the Governor should not tease with idle threats and false promises.
    But this isn’t the first time Bentley has backed away from his promises on a critical issue.
    In Bentley’s Veteran’s Day remarks at a program in Tuscaloosa in 2012 he said, “America would not be free if it were not for our veterans. Everything that we enjoy as Americans and Alabamians, we need to thank our veterans. Because we would not be able to do that if it were not for the men and who sacrifice so much, who are willing to serve for our country.”
    That was less than a year after he signed a bill into law that would close 17 veterans services centers across Alabama, many in the most rural parts of the state where they are needed most.
    Bentley has also backed away from his promises on Medicaid expansion, which would give more than 351,000 people access to healthcare at no cost to the state of Alabama for the first three years.

    At first, Bentley said that he wouldn’t expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. “I will not expand Medicaid as it exists under the current structure because it is broken,” Bentley said.But after four years of a Republican Supermajority, we have to ask: Why haven’t they fixed it? The Republican leadership could pass any bill they wanted, and they pretty much have, over the past four years. So why haven’t they brought the necessary legislation to fix a broken Medicaid?

    The legislature has passed many changes for Medicaid operations, most notably going to Regional Care Organizations from a fee-for-service model. But it’s not the structure of Medicaid that’s stopping Bentley from expansion.
    In his State of the State address, Bentley says that he refuses to expand Medicaid, not because our system is broken, but because he doesn’t want to accept federal dollars and contribute to the deficit.
    But it’s okay when we accept federal dollars for ATRIP (Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program). It’s okay when we accept federal dollars for education and social services.
    But according to the Governor, it’s not okay when we accept federal dollars to give 351,567 people health insurance by cooperating with a program endorsed by the President.
    Governor Bentley,  it’s time to quit playing politics with the people’s pocketbooks. These issues may be your ticket to re-election, but the people you are affecting are in need of help. The problems are too personal to make political.
    You know what’s right: Don’t make promises to our teachers you don’t intend to keep. Don’t say one thing and do another to our Veterans. Don’t play politics with people’s healthcare.
    Keep your promises and do what’s right. The people are counting on you.
  10. Teacher Pay Raise Should Be Legislative Priority (Darrio Melton)

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    Every year, the last legislative days are crowded with budget debates. This year is shaping up to be no different. The Education Trust Fund budget, the budget that funds public education, is always a delicate balance between the requests of the Governor, the Legislature and the Department of Education.
    This year, the teachers are asking for a pay raise to replace the remaining 2.5 percent that was cut from their check from 2011-2013. Last year, the legislature replaced two percent, but teachers are still making less today than they were when the Republicans took charge of the legislature.
    The Democrats are requesting a six percent pay increase, but the Governor has agreed to a two percent increase and promised to veto any budget that doesn’t contain two percent for teachers.
    When the budget came to the Alabama Senate, they sent out a budget with only a one percent, one-time pay increase.
    The Senate budget chair, Senator Trip Pittman, has said that he isn’t sure if a raise is sustainable for teachers because of revenue uncertainty. I think the revenue is uncertain because the legislature refuses to tackle the tough issues to make sure the funding is available.
    Democrats have provided multiple options to make sure that public education can be well-funded. By switching the tax structure through which we fund education, we can make the revenue more sustainable long-term. By repealing the Alabama Accountability Act, we can put public dollars back into public education where they belong. By increasing the minimum wage, we can increase consumer spending, which would yield higher sales tax returns for the Education Budget.
    Regardless of how we find the money, we must treat our teachers and public employees with the respect and professionalism they deserve. The Republican supermajority made sure the legislative pay scale included an automatic cost of living increase, but they won’t make sure that the people who make this state great are treated with the same respect.
    It is unacceptable that teachers are paying for paper towels and pencils out of their pockets. It is unacceptable that they are asked to shoulder the burden for a budget the committees can’t balance. It is unacceptable that professionals are being treated like a line-item.
    Aside from parents, children spend more time with their teachers than any other adult. It’s time we started treating them and paying them accordingly.