Another Candidate For U.S. Senate

The Republican primary to replace Senator Richard Shelby picked up another candidate this past week.  Jessica Taylor, a failed candidate in 2020 for the state’s open Second Congressional District, has decided to join Mo Brooks, Lynda Blanchard and Katie Boyd Britt.

          Go here to see Taylor’s video announcement.

While Taylor may have the best of intentions. her video leaves you screaming, IS THIS THE BEST WE CAN DO?

It is hokey. amateurish and relies on a well-worn message of hate to sow division–not cohesion.   In a nutshell, it is a                       example of once again drawing a line in the sand to appeal to our most base instincts, instead of being uplifting and                         appealing to our better angels.

Taylor obviously wants to be a Trump clone and “drain the swamp.”   But didn’t Trump already do that?  Or maybe I’m                       confusing draining the swamp with the wall at the southern border that Mexico paid for.

She also tells us she will be Vice-President Kamala Harris’  “worst nightmare.”  Which no doubt sent a chill through the V-P’s           spine when she heard it.  Taylor also intends to send the Democratic liberal agenda into outer space which includes $2                     billion. earmarked for Alabama public schools from Covid relief.  I’m sure your local school superintendent will be excited to             know Taylor does not support public education.

When Martha Roby stepped down from Congress recently, Taylor ran for her seat, finishing third in the GOP primary.  At that           time, she said she lived in Prattville.  However, she now says she is a businesswoman in Birmingham

In a time when this country is more divided at any time in decades, candidates like Taylor are the last thing we need.

 

Remembering Jackie Meacham This 4th Of July

Twenty-seven members of the 1961 class of Theodore high school met for lunch on June 14.  We came from across the country and gave testimony that the passage of time spares no one.

Jackie Meacham was not there.  Just as he has never been able to attend any of our reunions over the years.

The reason he was not seems especially fitting as we once again salute the men and women who made the supreme sacrifice for their county on another 4th of July.

Army PFC Jack Bennie Meacham lost his life in Viet Nam on Sunday, March 3, 1967.  He was 22 years old and had been in Viet Nam less than two months.

Everyone called him Jackie.  Just another kid with a flat top haircut in high school on the outskirts of Mobile.. I don ‘t know if he smoked, but it would be easy to imagine a pack of cigarettes rolled in his T-shirt sleeve.  Jackie would have been a perfect extra for the movie, Grease.  He had a quirky little smile.  Just another product of middle America.  I have no idea what his ambitions were beyond graduation.. And like most his classmates, I doubt he had ever heard of a tiny country on the other side of the world called Viet Nam.

But when his country called, he didn’t shy away.

Like thousands  of others, his name is etched for eternity at the Viet Nam memorial in Washington.   Panel 16 E, line 113.  On a long ago trip to the nation’s capital I stood in silence before his name and remembered him.

As with any 4th of July, this one will be celebrated with flags and fireworks and parades and speeches by politicians.  I will remember Jackie and my daddy who was in WW 11 and his father who was in WW 1.  I will offer a prayer for each.

And whether you consider yourself a Republican, Democrat, Tory, Whig or Hotentot, at this point in our history. prayers are certainly needed.  When our national “leaders” are far more concerned about self glorification than meeting the needs of their constituents, earnest, heart-felt prayer is all that will save us.  They have shown us time and again that they are simply incapable or unconcerned–of meeting our challenges.

Jackie Meacham, and more than 58,000 names etched in that wall, showed us courage.

And so I remember him this Fourth of July.

Girl’s Ranch Follow Up

Nothing I recall in recent memory has impacted this state like the news of 10 people killed in a wreck on I-65 near Greenvill3 on Saturday, June 19.  Especially devastating is the fact that eight of the victims were affiliated with the Girls’ ranch in Tallapoosa County not far from Reeltown.

Joe Windle is the recently retired county school superintendent.  He went to school at Reeltown and was principal there before becoming superintendent.  He still lives in the community and told me how this little crossroads was hurting as four of the victims attended Reeltown high school.

Jnhn Wilcox is a faithful reader of this blog and teaches at the school,  He taught some of the girls and told me that everywhere he looks, he can see their faces.

A GoFundme page was quickly set up to raise money for the ranch.  Response has been amazing.  Last time I checked 6,500 people had given more than $500,000.

Which says to me that in spite of the constant barrage of craziness coming from Washington and being passed along as “news,” the hearts of our citizens are still open when a need arises..  .

This is the country we love,  Something the 535 members of Congress can not seem to understand.

 

 

Tragedy On I-65

There is no telling how many hundreds of thousands of miles I have traveled on interstate highways across the country.  From Maine to Florida to Utah and a zillion points in between

But without a doubt, the segment I have covered most often is I-65.south of Montgomery.  I was on it Monday, June 14 coming back from Mobile where I attended a high school class reunion luncheon. Which is why when I saw this article on AL.com, my heart sank.

About 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 19 near Greenville, a wreck involving 18 vehicles took the lives of 10 people, most of them girls from the Girl’s Ranch in Tallapoosa County.  They were headed home from a trip to Gulf Shores  Most of them were students at Reeltown, where my good friend Joe Windle was once principal…

At best, life is too short.  Events like this make that all too clear.

Today Tallapoosa County is filled with broken hearts.  All we can too is offer our prayers for each and everyone of them..

How The Pandemic Has Changed Our World

Editor’s note:  David Brooks, of The New York Times ,is one of the foremost journalists in the nation.  He has worked for The Times since 2003.  He has also worked for The Wall Street Journal, and been a contributing editor for Newsweek and The Atlantic Monthly.  In addition, he is a commentator for NPR and The PBS NewsHour.

Following is a very insightful article by Brooks about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the United States.. It has lots of food for thought, especially for those who thought 2020 was just a bump in the road and that we would simply go back to what we considered “normal” before we went into hibernation.  According to Brooks, those days are probably gone forever.  (I added the boldface.)

“In 1982, the economist Mancur Olson set out to explain a paradox. West Germany and Japan endured widespread devastation during World War II, yet in the years after the war both countries experienced miraculous economic growth. Britain, on the other hand, emerged victorious from the war, with its institutions more intact, and yet it immediately entered a period of slow economic growth that left it lagging other European democracies. What happened?

In his book “The Rise and Decline of Nations,” Olson concluded that Germany and Japan enjoyed explosive growth precisely because their old arrangements had been disrupted. The devastation itself, and the forces of American occupation and reconstruction, dislodged the interest groups that had held back innovation. The old patterns that stifled experimentation were swept away. The disruption opened space for something new.

Something similar may be happening today. Covid-19 has disrupted daily American life in a way few emergencies have before. But it has also shaken things up and cleared the way for an economic boom and social revival.

Millions of Americans endured grievous loss and anxiety during this pandemic, but many also used this time as a preparation period, so they could burst out of the gate when things opened up. After decades of slowing entrepreneurial dynamism, 4.4 million new businesses were started in 2020, by far a modern record. A report from Udemy, an online course provider, says that 38 percent of workers took some additional training during 2020, up from only 14 percent in 2019.

After decades in which consumption took preference over savings, Americans socked away trillions of dollars in 2020, reducing their debt burdens to lows not seen since 1980 and putting themselves in a position to spend lavishly as things open up.

The biggest shifts, though, may be mental. People have been reminded that life is short. For over a year, many experienced daily routines that were slower paced, more rooted, more domestic. Millions of Americans seem ready to change their lives to be more in touch with their values.

The economy has already taken off. Global economic growth is expected to be north of 6 percent this year, and strong growth is expected to last at least through 2022. In late April, Tom Gimbel, who runs the recruiting and staffing firm LaSalle Network, told The Times: “It’s the best job market I’ve seen in 25 years. We have 50 percent more openings now than we did pre-Covid.” Investors are pouring money into new ventures. During the first quarter of this year U.S. start-ups raised $69 billion, 41 percent more than the previous record, set in 2018.

Already, this era of new creation seems to be rebalancing society in at least three ways:

First, power has begun shifting from employers to workers. In March, U.S. manufacturing, for example, expanded at the fastest pace in nearly four decades. Companies are desperate for new workers. Between April 2020 and March 2021, the number of unemployed people per opening plummeted to 1.2 from 5.

Workers are in the driver’s seat, for now, and they know it. The “quit rate” — the number of workers who quit their jobs because they are confident they can get a better one — is at the highest in two decades. Employers are raising wages and benefits to try to lure workers back.

Second, there seems to be a rebalancing between cities and suburbs. Covid-19 accelerated trends that had been underway for a few years, with people moving out of big cities like New York and San Francisco to suburbs, and to rural places like Idaho and the Hudson Valley in New York. Many are moving to get work or because of economic distress, but others say they moved so they could have more space, lead slower-paced lives, be closer to family or interact more with their neighbors.

Finally, there seems to be a rebalancing between work and domestic life. Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom expects that even when the pandemic is over, the number of working days spent at home will increase to 20 percent from 5 percent in the prepandemic era.

While this has increased pressures on many women, millions of Americans who could work remotely found that they liked being home, dining every night with their kids, not hassling with the commute. We are apparently becoming a less work-obsessed and a more domestic society.

In 1910 the educator Henry Van Dyke wrote, “The Spirit of America is best known in Europe by one of its qualities — energy.” That energy seemed to be fading away in recent years, as Americans came to move less and start new businesses less frequently. But the challenge of Covid-19 has summoned forth great dynamism, movement and innovation. Labor productivity rates have surged upward recently.

Americans are searching for ways to make more money while living more connected lives. Joel Kotkin, a professor of urban studies at Chapman University, points out that as the U.S. population disperses, economic and cultural gaps between coastal cities and inland communities will most likely shrink. And, he says, as more and more immigrants settle in rural areas and small towns, their presence might reduce nativism and increase economic competitiveness.

People are shifting their personal lives to address common problems — loneliness and loss of community. Nobody knows where this national journey of discovery will take us, but the voyage has begun.”

Alabama Education Association (AEA) Is Back In The Game

Editor’s note:  Cameron Smith’s Republican credentials can not be questioned. including a stint as executive director of the Republican Policy Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives.  So when I saw his recent piece on AL.com about AEA rising from the ashes, so to speak, it got my attention.

When the GOP took control of the state legislature in 2010 one of their primary objectives was to gut AEA.  And they did an excellent job, especially in stopping payroll deductions to fund their political action committee.  This was a crippling blow, which, coupled with a total lack of decent leadership in Montgomery, had many calling for last rites.for the organization.

But as Smith points out below, AEA has slowly, but surely, been able to reload its PAC and how has nearly $4 million in hand.  And whereas at one time AEA almost exclusively supported Democrats alone, those days are gone and AEA now has no problem contributing to Republicans:

“Years ago, I remember watching Dr. Paul Hubbert in the gallery of the Alabama legislature. Folks huddled around him and awaited instructions like officers around a general. Even if you opposed him, it was hard not to be impressed by Hubbert’s political acumen.

As votes were called, legislators would turn around and look up to the gallery for guidance if they weren’t sure where he stood on the bill. That was the zenith of the Alabama Education Association’s (AEA) influence in Alabama politics. After a decade in the political wilderness, the AEA is back as a major political player in Alabama.

Just look at the tale of the tape for the AEA today. Campaign finance reports for the Alabama Voice of Teachers for Education (AVOTE) political action committee (PAC) show that the AEA is socking away over $100,000 per month in non-itemized cash contributions from education employees, 35,588 of them to be exact. As of June 7, 2021, AVOTE has more than $3.72 million cash on hand. I called Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill who confirmed that the AEA’s campaign finance compliance checks out and has since Republicans ended the dues checkoff program a decade ago.

“Dr. Hubbert’s lasting gift to the AEA was working tirelessly through Christmas in 2010 to convert our members’ political support into bank drafts after the legislature eliminated the dues checkoff,” said AEA Executive Director Amy Marlowe.

Almost $4 million may not sound like a lot of money for those of us accustomed to hearing about billions and trillions in government spending, but it’s a big deal in state politics. Most Alabama legislative races are won or lost over a few hundred thousand dollars or less. Because the state does not limit campaign contributions to candidates from PACs, the entire balance in AVOTE could be deployed against one candidate. That’s a massive political threat that gives legislators something to think about.

That wasn’t the case five years ago. Then-President Sheila Remington didn’t paint a pretty picture of the AEA’s condition. “We’re out of the business,” Remington told the Montgomery Advertiser. “We’re out of giving people money to run campaigns…as far as people calling and asking us for campaign contributions, I don’t see us getting involved with that anymore.”

Nobody paying attention to Alabama politics was surprised to hear that. The 2014 election cycle for the AEA was a masterclass in political failure. Executive Director Henry Mabry bet millions, including a $4 million loan, trying to replicate Hubbert’s political control of the Alabama legislature and came up radically short.

The AEA’s political Death Star that Hubbert has worked decades to perfect literally exploded.

Marlowe was there when it happened. Hubbert hired her as an AEA lobbyist in 2005, and she had enjoyed the heights of AEA’s success in the Alabama legislature. The decimation of the AEA’s influence was the bottom of the valley for her, but she learned from the experience.

“The AEA paid a political price for playing politics outside of education,” said Marlowe, “We’ve learned that we’re the most effective when we’re targeted and strategic about accomplishing our objectives on behalf of our members.”

Republicans rejoiced, and it wasn’t simply because they disagreed with the AEA over public school choice policies. The AEA was, before its political collapse, the single biggest weapon of the Democratic Party in Alabama. Even as the party fell into complete ineptitude, the AEA retained the ability to pack a political punch.

The AEA was so reviled by Republicans that the Alabama Republican Party adopted a rule banning the party from accepting funds from the National Education Association (NEA) and its affiliates including the AEA.

The AEA board effectively forced Mabry’s resignation, sought to stabilize its operations, and began to retire its political debt. It wasn’t a pretty process.

It’s also when people stopped paying attention to the AEA as a political force in Montgomery.

According to Marlowe, Dr. Hubbert’s response to Republicans who came after the AEA was clear, “Whatever rules you want to make, however you want to change the political game, we will adapt and overcome.”

Internalizing Hubbert’s mantra seems to have paid off for Marlowe.

Marlowe appears far more capable than others who have followed Hubbert. She’s laser focused on AEA being an organization that supports its 84,325 education employee members and also happens to engage in politics. “In the political arena, AEA’s focus is making sure Alabama’s education employees have a voice that’s heard in Montgomery,” said Marlowe.

Marlowe has Democratic bona fides and was part of the AEA when it aggressively went after Republicans, but she’s not afraid to support conservative candidates if she can wield influence when it matters.

“AEA doesn’t care whether you’re an ‘R’ or a ‘D,’” noted Marlowe, “as long as you vote ‘E’(ducation).”

More importantly, the AEA is strategically deploying capital. In the 2018 cycle, the AEA spread around hundreds of thousands of dollars to Alabama Republicans in spite of the party’s guidance to avoid AEA money. Since 2019, the top two recipients of AVOTE funds have been Republicans.

Not only is the AEA engaging politically, but it’s returning to form legislatively. In the last legislative session, Alabama enacted a $7.2 billion Education Trust Fund budget, the largest in the state’s history. Teachers received a pay raise in the pandemic. The AEA killed efforts to allow education funding to follow students to charter schools. But for Governor Kay Ivey’s veto, the AEA would have also secured a two year delay of the Alabama Literacy Act, a law which ensures third graders read at grade level before promoting them.

That’s not a bad session for a political shop that was out of business in 2016. While the AEA’s new political Death Star might not be fully operational just yet, the AEA is certainly striking back. The question is whether they’ll be a force to help pull Alabama’s children out of the educational basement or a hindrance in that effort. Will an “AEA Republican” label be a political weight or an asset? Only time will tell, but AEA is again a force to reckon with, and Alabama’s political class would be wise to start paying attention.

Smith is CEO of the Triptych Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit. The Triptych Foundation promotes a virtuous society through investments in socially impactful media and business. He was recently executive director of the Republican Policy Committee in the United States House of Representatives. You can reach him at csmith@al.com.”