Tag Archives: state politics

Alabama Accountability Act

At the end of the legislative session of 2013, congratulations are due to the Alabama Legislature on its passage of the Accountability Act, which provides a fundamental restructuring of K-12 education in our state.


Alabama Teachers: The Past as Prologue

We were strolling around our neighborhood and walked past the house we called “The House of the Standing Man.” We called it that because when we moved here, this old guy was always standing in the driveway next to his car like he was about to go somewhere, or had just arrived from somewhere. He never moved. He just stood there by the car, never returning our friendly “hellos.” He was in perpetual transition, frozen next to his car, never fully arrived or departed.

This went on for a few years, until we stopped seeing him. We wondered if he had some sort of dementia and had finally been whisked away to some assisted living facility by some son or daughter or grandchild. Shortly thereafter, piles of stuff started appearing on the curb — massive, heaping piles of boxes and bags. There were pieces of furniture, but also the accumulated debris that must be cleaned out at the end of someone’s life. For weeks now, new piles have appeared and vanished. They are rained on, get moldy, and are picked over by various roving trash pickers. We never stop to examine the piles. Until today. A newspaper caught our eye, peeking out from one of the unsightly mounds.

It is part of the February 5, 1969, edition of the Montgomery Advertiser. As we read the editorial page out loud on the way home, we came across a letter to the editor under the section, “Tell It To Old Grandma.” We have noted before how hilarious we think it is that people once called our newspaper Grandma Advertiser. Anyway, the letter merits sharing with you in full because it reads like it could have been written today. And although it was written over 40 years ago, it needs to have also been written today. Here’s hoping that teachers across the state are writing similar letters today.

Dear Editor,

I am one of those controversial, intimidated creatures who serve as whipping boys for frustrated parents, fearful politicians, and self-serving private-interest groups. I am a teacher.

At least, I once believed that I was a teacher. I have even had the unmitigated gall, on occasion, to think that I might perhaps be a “dedicated” teacher.

Why do I now wonder if I am really a teacher? The answer lies not only in the impossible demands that are made upon teachers, but also the coals of fire that are repeatedly heaped upon their heads. I, like many other teachers, am demoralized.

For example, I find it intolerable that teachers should be expected to genuflect, hat-in-hand, and beg, “Please Mr. Legislator, throw me a crumb! See what a great job I’m doing.” Yes, we teachers must “sell the public” (I’ve heard that expression quite often lately) on the needs of education.

Why must we “sell the public?” Are the members of the Legislature incapable of rising (just once) above the politically expedient course of action?

If they, the legislators, are awaiting a consensus (a great word among politicians — consensus), I have news for them. The rank and file of their public couldn’t care less! I would delight in a deluge of letters proving my disillusionment to be wrong, but I simply don’t expect those letters; nor do I expect any great shift of public opinion on behalf of education — for Coffee County, my home county, only a few months ago, for the third time in the last ten years, defeated a proposed five-mill tax for the Coffee County school system.

A shift in opinion, therefore, will not occur because the public wants a good educational system only if this system costs no additional money, an impossible condition.

I can understand the public’s aversion to additional taxes. I, too, am a victim of taxation and inflation — inflation of everything except my paycheck. I, too, can understand the feeling that is prevalent today: “If the federal government is going to run our schools, let the federal government pay for them.” Granted that the federal government is running them, but it is not paying for them.

These bitter facts notwithstanding, one additional fact must be faced: that the future of our schools and of our state is at stake. If our legislators fail to act, they must face the resulting alternatives — not only face them, but also bear the responsibility for them.

These alternatives are quite obvious: disruptive, heart-breaking teacher strikes or increased exodus of teachers to neighboring, higher-paying states, both alternatives being destructive for our children and our state.

I call upon our Governor and our Legislature to forget political expediency; upon our rural and urban areas to forgo rural-urban bickering; upon our universities, colleges, junior colleges, and State Department of Education to cease their sickening wrangling over who gets the biggest slice of the meager pie.

Remember the forgotten member of the team, the overworked, overloaded, underpaid elementary-secondary teacher, who, after all, is the great heart of any education system. Could the universities and colleges, the State Department of Education, and yes, even the Legislature itself, exist without this much-ignored, often-scorned, always-maligned creature!

Mrs. Bryant Steele,
New Brockton, Alabama

Alabama History Internet Trail

“If you know your history, you will know where you’re coming from.”
— Bob Marley, “Buffalo Soldier”

Recent political reports had me looking at Alabama’s 7th Congressional district, which is about to be redrawn, as is the requirement each time new census data is released. You see, they want the districts to have balanced population numbers, taking into consideration demographics so that racial minorities are given one token seat in Congress fair representation in the political process. But people keep moving around, dying, being born, and so forth, meaning that everytime they do a head count, they also redraw the political lines. And since most people don’t vote, nobody really cares all that much about whether they live in district X or district Y.

But like some sort of sadist, I decided to look at the 7th Congressional district anyway. It’s an especially interesting one since our state is represented in the House of Representatives by all white dudes except for in the 7th, where there’s an African-American lady (who replaced an African-American dude). And if you don’t know the racial political coding that has been in place in Alabama for the last few decades, the black district is repped by a Democrat and the rest of Alabama’s Congressional delegation (the white dudes) is made up of Republicans. [In case you were wondering, our city, Montgomery, is represented currently in Congress by a former member of our city council, Martha Roby, who defeated our former mayor, Bobby Bright, and has gone on to become a surprisingly extreme fringe far right-wing member of the Tea Party freshman class].

Anyhoo, I was scrolling through the Wikipedia entry for ye olde 7th Congressional, looking down the list of folks who had repped the district up there in the Congress.

The district has only once been repped by Republican (from 1965-1967) and is notable for having recently been repped by now-Senator Richard Shelby, who is from Tuscaloosa and can be seen on billboards across the state, sternly glowering his evil waxy Grinch-like face at terrified Alabama motorists.

Anyway, scroll back through the list of D7 reps, long before the time of Shelby, and discover that the district was once repped by the absurdly-named Zadoc L. Weatherford. The good people of D7 were only represented by Dr. Zadoc for a few months in 1940. Sidebar: Is Dr. Zadoc not an amazing comic book name? Sounds like someone that Captain America would fight.

Why did the nefarious Dr. Zadoc only go to Congress for a few months? Turns out he was just filling out the term of William Bankhead, who had died in 1940 while in office. Bankhead was the father of Montgomery’s own, the amazing and immortal Tallulah Bankhead. Bankhead was also the Speaker of the House, making him the highest ranking member of the national political scene from Alabama other than Vice-President William R. King (more on him in a moment).

So Bankhead dies and Dr. Zadoc leaves his medical practice in Red Bay, Alabama, (where he was also president of the bank) to go to D.C. and serve in Congress. He came back and was the mayor of Red Bay for a few years, probably quite a step down from the halls of Congress. Curious about what’s in Red Bay, I looked at the city’s Wikipedia entry, which contains (as of this writing) a strange amount of information about a fire that destroyed the city hall and jail. To wit:

In the summer of 2006, the Red Bay city hall caught fire. Local residents have speculated that the fire started when a squirrel suffered an untimely end at the hands of an electrical transformer. The transformer exploded shortly there after, setting fire to city hall and the city jail. The structure’s ceiling caught fire which then spread to roof above it as well as the more recently added secondary roof structure above the original. City Hall burned to the ground. Construction on a new city hall building has recently begun. The contractor bid for the new city hall by Burton Construction of Belmont, Mississippi was supposedly $750,000 dollars. Bids were also let for a new police department and the lowest bid was $500,000 dollars.

God, I love Wikipedia.

But back to Bankhead, who was the highest ranking national official since our Vice-President. What? Alabama had a Vice President?

Yes. William R. King. Sure, he was VP for only a few months (under Franklin Pierce) before dying of TB, took his inaugural oath in Cuba (which required a special act of Congress), and was thought by historians to have been gay (noted murdering douche Andrew Jackson referred to King and his lover, James Buchanan, as “Miss Nancy and Aunt Fancy.”) Oh, and King founded Selma and came up with the name for the city based on a set of poems that are fiercely contested as to their authenticity.

I took Alabama history multiple times as a child growing up in Alabama public schools. I, for one, am outraged that I didn’t get this kind of information from my education and instead had to gather this from the Internet in between sessions shopping at www.greatbigstuff.com.

People of Montgomery, rise up. Demand more from your educations. Let us embrace the total weirdness of our history. It is the only hope for moving forward in these dark days that surround us.

About Your Taxes

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the statehouse here in Montgomery, where Alabama’s Legislature hurts our state does its business. Among the various points made in my post were some barbed comments about how the building is a run-down piece of crap that wasn’t even designed to be a statehouse and has, over the years, been allowed to deteriorate, with repairs being done as a series of patchwork and half-assed efforts. In short, it is a dump that limits citizen access to the workings of democracy.

The reason why there are plastic tarps hanging from the ceilings of the halls of the statehouse, collecting vile-colored drippings, is that the state is broke. We have reached the point, as a state, where the reactionary hatred for taxes (and corresponding distrust of all government) has struck bone. By that I mean that we, as citizens, also mostly enjoy having a government to provide services to us. And those services cost money. And the taxes are how the government gets the money to pay for the services. And if I weren’t fatally depressed about the overwhelming stupidity of the populace, I wouldn’t have to be talking in such an elementary way to what is obviously an enlightened and educated blog readership. Paternalistic and condescending? No way!

Anyway, it’s not just the influence of the childish “guv’mint is bad” tea party folks that has caused this failure to comprehend the merits of a government that, say, inspects our food and provides roads for us to drive on. It’s also an instinct that pre-dates the rise of the Taxes Enough Already crowd. It’s the “Git Off My Land” suspicion of outsiders, a resentment of federal courts that used force to end institutional racial segregation, and it’s the naive belief that it’s good social policy to let rich people do whatever the hell they want because you might one day be rich too (even though you won’t).

People also don’t seem to understand that the services they like come from taxes. Nevermind the tiny fraction of simpletons who add Libertarian gloss to their lockstep Republican party ideology, grasping for some sort of intellectual aplomb to accompany their basic desire to be a selfish asshole. No, I’m talking about people who believe that “the market,” will not, in fact, keep poison out of the river or ensure that child laborers aren’t mangled by industrial machines. I’m talking about people who like Medicare, but still hate the idea of Government-Run Health Careā„¢.

All of which is a didactic way of introducing the fact that I went to get my driver’s license renewed the other day and left work a good two hours before the DMV was scheduled to close. I took time off from my paying job to drive across town because, not only do I not want to get a ticket for having an expired license (fear of law enforcement), but also because I actually think there should be minimum standards of competence for people authorized to operate super-dangerous motor vehicles on the highways that we all use while drunkenly texting. Public safety? Yes, a compelling governmental interest. Anarcho-libertarians beware.

And what did I find upon arriving at the DMV, some two hours before they were scheduled to close their doors? An official standing out front sticking a sign on the door saying that they weren’t letting anyone else in because the line was already so long. They were done taking new customers for the day.

Photo taken around 3 p.m.

So this is the kind of thing that we get in a state where we refuse to tax property at a reasonable rate. Alabama could double property taxes and still be the lowest in the nation. We could not possibly bend over far enough for giant corporations, handing out tax breaks as if they were party favors. We allow LLC companies to deduct all of their federal income tax paid from the state income tax they owe. We brag about the fact that we pay the lowest taxes in the nation.

And what do we get for it? We get failing services. We get courts that are shutting down for entire days out of the week because they aren’t sufficiently funded. We get education budgets slashed, a process we call “proration.” We get fewer State Troopers, fewer restaurant inspections, immorally overcrowded prisons, worse health care for poor people, worse child care for poor people, worse everything for poor people. And we get a DMV that isn’t sufficiently staffed to take customers, administer driving tests, and renew driver’s licenses during normal business hours. We get a backwards collective celebration of “fend for yourself” futility, a nationally-embarrassing gutting of public structures, and a total disregard for the common good.

Go get your driver’s license renewed. Get turned away. Return to sit in line for hours, killing your day. Wait for the cops to come when you have a car wreck. Get sick from a rarely-inspected restaurant. Witness a forest fire caused by a crippled forestry service. Wish for a functioning system of public transportation. Bemoan the admissions costs and status of the facilities at our state parks.

And when you do, think about our tax system.