Evidently, the Alabama Legislative District Maps have gone missing! Remember: they were supposed to be released to the public in early December.

All 35 Senate districts and 105 House districts will have to be redrawn because of population changes since districts were last redrawn in 2001.

The new districts will be based on the results of the 2010 federal census.

Dial said the plan is to meet before Thanksgiving and then have a proposed district plan ready by early December so that legislators on the committee can conduct hearings in their districts.

Dial and Rep. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, plan to introduce House and Senate redistricting bills in the 2012 legislative session, which begins in February. McClendon is the committee’s co-chairman in the House.

Oh no. Some bird must have taken the map to its nest in the dark cave. Let’s hope Dora can find the maps soon.  Let’s hope there is better transparency this time around than there was on the Congressional maps. Last time, the map stayed in the dark cave until the last minute.

[Sen. Gerald] Dial, R-Lineville, said after the original public hearing in Montgomery that there were not any maps. They were there to listen to the public and re­ceive input before beginning their work. Then, a week later, when the committee was con­sidering a plan similar to his, he said he had been working on a plan for weeks, had input from members of the state’s congressional delegation, and had spent hours on the phone with them.

So, while there allegedly was not a map in the works that people could comment on dur­ing the public hearings, there was at least apparently a plan he had been working on for weeks — not with public input, but with the input of seven members of Congress.

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The most common phrase used by ALGOP lawmakers these days is “unintended consequence.” Just Google “unintended consequences” with “alabama legislature” for a sampling. Here is another another “unintended consequence:”

When the Alabama legislature cut the pay required greater contribution of Alabama teachers and other school personnel, they were not thinking very broadly or deeply.  The Birmingham News reports:

Officials expect a mass retirement of educators come Dec. 1 because of new legislation that will slowly but significantly raise health care premiums under the Public Education Employees’ Health Insurance Plan beginning Jan. 1. Those who retire before then will not be subject to the increases.

“The largest impacted group are in their early to mid 50s, so therefore couldn’t get into the DROP program, but have 25 years in education,” said Sheila Jones, chief financial officer for Jefferson County schools. “What you could potentially have is a mass exodus in December, and it certainly doesn’t help the continuity of instruction to have a brand-new teacher second semester.” . .

Employees also are having to pay more toward their retirement at the same time they are seeing health care premiums increase, causing a double-whammy, Baker said.

Not only did the Legislature cut teachers’ pay, but they unthinkingly timed the pay-cuts to greatly disrupt the education of students.

While the GOP-controlled Legislature seems to comprehend the concept of carrots for Big Business, they never caught on to the fact that quality teachers and aspiring young teachers make decisions partially upon financial incentives as well. While the GOP wants the state to have a whole set of tools to incentivize Big Business to come to Alabama, they have done just the opposite for attracting great teachers.

Traditionally, educators’ benefits have been a recruiting tool into a line of work that doesn’t pay well unless an employee works his way up to an administrative position. That is slowly starting to change, Baker said.

But the real motive of the GOP is revealed by the article:

“This thing is so convoluted, when what they (legislators) really wanted was to make the retirement age 65,” said Marc Reynolds, deputy director of Retirement Systems of Alabama. “They simply didn’t want to tell people that they can’t retire until they’re 65, so they created this mess.”

The new law is hard to understand because there are several components and penalties, depending on age and years of service. For example, a retiree who is 55 years old who retires after Jan. 1 will have to pay an additional 1 percentage point penalty each year he is not eligible for Medicare. That means the retiree ultimately will pay a 10 percent penalty since he is 10 years from being eligible for Medicare.

As far as the impact of mid-year implementation:

Reynolds said he doesn’t believe legislators considered what the new law would mean for schools mid-year.

“I don’t think it even crossed their mind,” he said. “I think we are going to see an extraordinary amount of teachers retiring Dec. 1, probably more than in the history of retirements.”

If they call a special session, they are going to be very busy “tweaking.”

Since election night last November, many have suggested that I should have run on the Republican ticket. While I would do some things differently, running as a Democrat is not one of them. The course of my campaign only confirmed my decision that the Alabama Democratic Party is the right place for me, my family, and the people of Alabama.

Even now as many elected-Democrats expediently switch parties and others declare the death of the Democratic Party in Alabama,  I foresee just the opposite. November 2, 2010 can represent the hurtful, but necessary, opening salvo of the renaissance of the Alabama Democratic Party.  My hope rests, first, in the fact that the people of Alabama, themselves, harbor an independence of spirit and a vitality of moral conviction capable of transcending today’s stifling political environment and empty sloganeering. Secondly, the heritage of the Democratic Party includes the historic mission necessary to sustain and lead such an endeavor.

In recent decades, however,  instead of working out this  mission for modern times,  the Alabama Democratic Party rested on past accomplishments and entrenched power-sharing arrangements. It surrendered the intellectual and moral high ground and thereby failed to inspire this generation to claim the banner of the Democratic Party. Having “always been a Democrat” or, as some even bragged, being “born a Democrat” are unacceptable as a raison d’être.  My generation’s parents are now Republicans and the next generation has now been “conceived” as Republicans.

So where do we, as Alabama Democrats, go from here?  If we were honest, none of us have all the explanations.  Our current situation is well expressed by Wendell Berry’s poem, The Real Work

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.

We have a lot of real work to do: a lot of rebuilding and rediscovery.

The Alabama Democratic Party must offer the people a distinct vision and agenda of reform. To be successful, it will need be an enlivening third-way: an alternative to the stupefying labels of right/left, conservative/liberal. The people of Alabama yearn for something that is not on the table currently. Generally today, Alabamians do not fit well within either party or the stated platforms. Our people demand something unique and different.

This alternative path cannot be some triangulation strategy nor a Republican-lite gimmick.  Neither does it include an ideology of “completing the the New Deal.”  Only 21st century solutions which appeal to Alabamia’s deepest convictions,  morals, and spiritual heritage will suffice to satisfy this desire.

As I stated earlier, I have hope and not despair. Despite the biggest partisan wave in Alabama history, my campaign only lost by 357 votes out of 37,029 cast. So, I took great encouragement that my platform and ideas resonated with the people of District 13: mostly  rural, white voters. A clear, principled, and responsible platform, in deed, can create political impact.

Because of the political trade winds, Kelly and I sensed from the beginning that we had to provide the voters of District 13 a reason to vote Democrat.  Unfortunately today, when Alabamians think Democrat, they think “Gambling.” Or “Pro-Abortion.” Or “Homosexual Marriage.” Or ‘Socialist.” Along these same lines,  I was surprised at the number who questioned how one could be a Democrat and a Christian. These brands and perceptions cannot continue; if they do, Democrats will indeed cease to exist as a viable option for decades.

Alabama Democrats must work again to reclaim our historic role and re-identify our party with Alabamian’s deepest beliefs. Because Alabama is a religiously grounded society,  in my campaign, I always sought to frame, interpret, and  explain my platform and policies within a moral and even Christian context. I appealed to an older religiousness, rooted in piety, rather than political dogma. I refused to allow the other side to claim the exclusive mantle of morality.  I would often explain that although I am pro-life and pro-traditional marriage, I believe that our Christian principles have a much broader application than a few narrow social issues. For instance, as Christians we are called to advocate for the human dignity of workers in the workplace, environmental stewardship, restorative justice within the courtrooms, continued racial reconciliation, and a just immigration policy, to name a few. Even at “Republican” house-meetings, rarely would someone expressly disagree with these statements; instead, it was usually received with head-nodding approval.

For the future, I suggest the solutions that the Alabama Democratic Party offer for the current illnesses within our state and economy pass several criteria.  First, our issues must be expressly and overtly family- and community-centered.  Second, all efforts must be authentically a pursuit of the Christian concept of public justice and the common good. And, lastly, these efforts must be accompanied by an express commitment to Thomas Jefferson’s desire to break unhealthy concentrations of power: both political and economic.

When people think of the Alabama Democratic Party, they must begin to think family, community, civic responsibility, and the Christian notion of the God-given dignity of all people. In the coming weeks, I hope to detail some specifics here, but broadly our platform might include the following:

  • Relocalizing the Economy. From agriculture to manufacturing to energy-production to banking, we need to empower locally-owned businesses to meet our local needs, locally.
  • Rejecting Crony Corporatism. In a day when those who are positioned to “work the system” abuse the public coffers as a source of loot and use the arm of the government as a instrument of plunder, we need to return to Andrew Jackson’s slogan: “Opportunity for All, Special Privilege for None.”
  • Rebuilding Wealth-Producing Assets in the Poor and Working Classes.  Working people are far less economically secure than ever before in US history yet the upper-classes live in a Second Gilded Age.  We must intentionally return economic power to the working people by developing sustainable and wide private-ownership of assets and capital; build, to steal a phrase, “An Ownership Society.”
  • Re-humanizing the Economy: Alabama Democrats should purge our minds of the current idolatry of the market and develop policies which treat economics as if families, communities, and our posterity mattered. There are “weightier matters” and considerations than merely ballooning corporate profits-sheets.  There are ideals and institutions worthy of protection from modern inhumane market-forces.  The economic war which was unleashed against our families and communities over the past several decades must be turned back.
  • Revitalizing our Democracy. The greatest existential danger America faces is not al Quida but our own loss of trust in our government and accompanying failure of moral legitimacy of our democratic institutions. While Republicans will try to close the system against broad-based participation, Alabama Democrats need to lead the charge to enhance the legitimacy of elections,  encourage civic participation,  and invigorate every person’s vote to really mean something.
  • Republicanizing (little-r) the Democratic Party. On many of the hot-button issues, without compromising our individual principles, we need to demonstrate a vigorous fellowship (or in old times, civic republicanism). Engaging these deeply personal issues in a civil dialogue on the merits of  arguments without engaging in mortal combat will prove quite attractive to the electorate. It will go a long way towards eliminating the untrue perceptions which have been advertised so well by Republicans. Being a Democrat does not require unanimity nor uniformity nor union but neighborly-cooperation in our mission. An internal unity of togetherness can become a positive credibility factor in our campaigns and outreach.

Again, we have only ourselves to blame for our present position but, in the words of T.S.Eliot,

Where the bricks are fallen
We will build with new stone
Where the beams are rotten
We will build with new timbers
Where the word is unspoken
We will build with new speech
There is work together
A Church for all
And a job for each
Every man to his work.

As noted before, for the future of Alabama, Republican Governor Leutienent Kaye Ivey promised under the current leadership “more of the same” and more “budget cuts”

I hope not.

  •  Opelika-Auburn News article, “Bleak budgets will devastate courts across the state for fiscal year 2012. State courts received $152 million for fiscal year 2011, but will receive only $138.9 million for fiscal year 2012, according to Alabama’s Administrative Office of Courts. When costs must be cut, that means people will lose jobs. Hurst said her office must be trimmed from 18 staffers to 10 by Sept. 1. The case load, however, does not diminish.”
  • Tallassee City Schools lose their instructional aids for teachers due to budget cuts. Tallassee Tribune
  • Alabama Public Television shouts down Montgomery bureau and cuts shows “Capitol Journal” and “We Have Signal” due to budget cuts. Montgomery Advertiser
  • State forensic crime labs close due to budget cuts. WAFF

One impact of the budgets passed by the Legislature are summarized well by the Opelika-Auburn Editorial Board:

Whereas good people who have served the public will soon be unemployed, the public will really feel the brunt of it when their courthouse service time is slowed dramatically. The Lee County Circuit Clerk’s Office could lose up to eight of 18 staffers by Sept. 1. The amount of paperwork will not be trimmed accordingly. No, it will continue to pile up.

Who processes court dockets? The clerk’s office.

Who processes divorce papers? The clerk’s office.

Who processes traffic fines for the state, restitution for victims and paperwork filed for orders of protection? The clerk’s office.

And when the clerk’s office is running at half staff, what happens to this paperwork then? Courts move more slowly. Divorce cases linger. Spouses seeking protection may not get the official documentation when they need it.

All of this, courtesy of the Alabama state budget.

But money is tight, and we understand that. There is no magic wand to generate more revenue for state coffers. All we can do is continue to hope the economy turns despite the gloomy forecast. Medicaid continues to grow in dollars appropriated, while other important agencies shrink. What is the Legislature supposed to do about that, take away from the sick?

All we can do is hope the Legislature takes a harder look at priorities in Alabama and sends money to places that desperately need it most.

How does the Alabama Legislature value swift justice? Apparently $13 million less than it did a year ago.

Can this be said to be responsible budgeting?

According to this news report, Senator Paul Bussman intends to reintroduce legislation which mandates equal time between parents in child custody disputes

A Cullman state senator whose “shared parenting” bill drew criticism that led to its defeat in the 2011 legislative session said he will introduce similar legislation in 2012 with input from judges and attorneys. . . .

Remember this bill (here, here, here, here and here) As a sampling: the bill mandated judges to award absolute equal time of a child between parents irrespective where the parents lived no how absent a father had been during a marriage.  Another goody: it allowed a parent to deduct Christmas presents and other gifts to a child off the parent’s child support obligations. This radical piece of legislation might actually have caused more harm than the Anti-immigration legislation. This was no crank-piece of legislation either; it enjoyed the sponsorship of every Republican State Senator minus one and was actually voted out of committee.

Bussman’s bill died in the Senate, but how, and who, should make decisions about the time divorced parents spend with their children remains an issue, Bussman said. Alabama is one of a handful of states where judges generally give primary custody to one fit parent with limited visitation by the other fit parent.

Is Alabama a minority on this? I don’t think so. Every state, including Alabama, direct custody to be determined by the court’s finding of the “best interest of the child.” I challenge the Senator to cite one state wherein the courts do not award primary physical custody one parent or the other generally? As shown here, some states give a preference for joint custody unless such is not in the best interest of the child. No state mandates, as Bussman bill does,  joint custody.

“We will take out or modify the parts of the bill that caused such controversy this year,” Bussman said. “We may include some additional factors with child custody as well, including a parent’s participation in a drug court program. Drug court doesn’t show up on a person’s record, but may be a factor in custody arrangements.”

I look forward to these modifications; however, before it is worthy of passage, it need a complete rewrite.

Republican Lt.Gov. Kay Ivey

In an article entitled: Ivey: Legislative progress must continue“, Republican Lieutenant Governor Kay Ivey was reported as saying “the good work must continue.”

Ivey spent several minutes touting the accomplishments of the last legislative session, which ended two weeks ago, and she said people should expect “more of the same.

“The budgets have to be a high, high priority. We’re still living beyond our means,” she said, noting $300 million of federal stimulus money will not be available for the next budget. . .

When asked where the $300 million reduction will come from without the stimulus funds, Ivey said “budget cuts.”

“We have 11 funds in the government. I can’t tell you where,” she said. “It’ll be across the board.

Ivey noted slashing teaching positions would be the “last option.”

“Budget cuts” . . .

“More of the same”

Smells like progress to me.

If your recall, the re-authorization of Forever Wild barely made it past the State Senate earlier; however, it will now be on the ballot for a statewide vote on Nov. 6, 2012.

Forever Wild needs to be reauthorized.

Consider this conclusion of new report by the Conservative government in England:

The Government has published the UK’s first National Ecosystem Assessment today, a ground breaking report which attempts to put a cash price on the environmental services provided by nature.

Services like pollination by insects, water and air purification by soils and plants, the flood alleviation provided by woods and marshes upstream of towns and cities, and even the value of living close to a green space in terms of savings to the NHS – a service the Government’s bean counters put at £300 per person per year.

That $485 per person just for living near a greenspace. The report further determined, for example, that the benefits inland wetlands bring to water quality are worth up to £1.5 billion ($2.4billion) per year to the UK; for British Agriculture, pollinators such as bees are worth £430 million ($693 million) per year.

Listen to Conservative Cabinet Member Caroline Spearmen’s argument:

The natural world is vital to our existence, providing us with essentials such as food, water and clean air – but also cultural and health benefits not always fully appreciated because we get them for free. The UK NEA is a vital step forward in our ability to understand the true value of nature and how to sustain the benefits it gives us.

The economic benefits of nature are seen most clearly in food production, which depends on organisms such as soil microbes, earthworms and pollinating insects.

If their health declines – as is currently happening in the UK with bees – either farmers produce less food, or have to spend more to produce the same amount.

Either way there is an economic impact; and on average, the costs are growing over time.

She further expressed that society would pay a “terrible price” if it neglected to care for nature.

Nature belongs to us all, and we’ve all got a vested interest in protecting it. That’s why the true value of nature should be built into the decisions we make – as individuals, organisations, businesses and governments – so that we become the first generation to leave the environment in a better condition than we found it.

This is true conservatism.