Alabama editorial roundup
Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:
Tuscaloosa News on low voter turnout and voter suppression:
Have you heard? Turnout for the November general election is expected to be so high that election officials have decided to add a second day of voting. They’re asking Democrats to vote on Tuesday, Nov. 6, and Republicans to vote on Wednesday, Nov. 7.
We’ve heard various iterations of this joke over the years. Depending on who’s telling it, sometimes the joke is on Democrats, sometimes it’s on Republicans. We’re reasonably sure we even smiled the first time. We’re quite sure we knew it wasn’t serious.
So should it be a crime? It could be under the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2018. Proponents of this proposed federal legislation — one of the bill’s sponsors is Alabama Sen. Doug Jones — likely would say that it’s not intended to apply to such instances. This latest version of a bill that has been introduced at least four other times over the last dozen years cites numerous instances of organized, intentional attempts to dissuade particular groups of voters from going to the polls by using “deceptive practices.”
The bill would make these practices illegal within 60 days of an election with a federal office on the ballot, and defines them as involving “the dissemination of false or misleading information intended to prevent voters from casting their ballots, prevent voters from voting for the candidate of their choice, intimidate the electorate, and undermine the integrity of the electoral process.”
Sounds serious, and indeed the penalties for a violation would be relatively stiff — up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. Clearly, this would stop some bad actors. But crafting a law that would fairly distinguish innocent or protected political speech from electoral sabotage is not that simple, and this one raises questions about unintended consequences.
What about someone who tells the above joke? What about a flier that shows up in mailboxes on the Saturday before an election that denigrates a candidate with ambiguous allegations? Who decides what someone’s intent was or when some “practice” rises to the level of a violation? Might an overzealous, partisan prosecutor try to make an example of someone in the hyper-polarized political environment we’re living in now? We’d rather not leave it to chance.
Anyone who meets the legal criteria for voting — and the purpose of those criteria should be to ensure free and fair elections — should not face any other impediments to casting a ballot. Lost in all this wailing and gnashing of teeth over voter suppression, however, is the notion of voter responsibility. Exercising the franchise should entail some buy-in on the part of the prospective voter, some effort to be aware of and understand election laws and current events.
Without a doubt, efforts to undermine elections are increasingly a serious concern — today’s technology makes even the most sophisticated among us susceptible to deceit. Yet we are more troubled by voter apathy than by the prospect of nefarious attempts to keep voters from the polls. When turnout for many elections falls below 50 percent of registered voters, and often is far lower for run-offs and special measures, who needs suppression?
The Gadsden Times on Alabama being ranked 42nd among the 50 states in the annual statistical atlas that is compiled by the Annie E. Casey Federation:
Absent provocation, we generally try to keep an optimistic and positive outlook on things — which often means celebrating incremental progress.
So we’ll do just that over the fact that Alabama showed improvement in the 2018 Kids Count Data Book, which measures child well-being among U.S. states.
At the same time, we’re not going to sing choruses of Lesley Gore’s 1965 single “Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows” when a situation remains unacceptable — as this one does.
Alabama ranked 42nd among the 50 states in the annual statistical atlas compiled by the Annie E. Casey Federation, ahead of Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, Alaska, Nevada, Mississippi, Louisiana and New Mexico. (We’ll even send out a salute to our neighbors to the west for not bringing up the rear.)
Breaking it down into categories, Alabama is 37th in child health, 38th in economic well-being, 42nd in education and 43rd in family and community. It showed improvement in 11 of 16 indicators in the survey.
This is Alabama’s highest overall placement since the data book debuted in 1990, and is up from 46th in 2016 and 44th in 2017. Those steps upward should be acknowledged — as should the fact that we remain in the bottom 18 percent of the rankings.
The good: Compared to the start of the present decade, fewer Alabama children are living in overall poverty, in high-poverty areas or lack health insurance, and the number of high school students who fail to graduate on time has been reduced by more than half. The child and teen death rates have declined, and more preschool-age children are in school, getting the learning process started early.
The bad: Although there’s been progress over the decade, too many Alabama fourth-graders remain non-proficient in reading and math. That age is considered a benchmark because it’s when more advanced concepts are introduced into curricula, and a child who gets behind could be headed for academic failure or becoming a dropout.
Some folks will say the way to fix the problems is to spend more money. We won’t deny that such investments are needed, whether from government (a challenge in this state where, as we’ve observed repeatedly, “tax” is a four-letter epithet) or private entities.
We think it’s more a question of will than cash, however. People whose mind-sets haven’t left Alabama’s agrarian past or the bygone days of smokestack industries must see the value in educating the next generation, and keeping them healthy, for a world in which the knowledge in their brains will matter much more than the strength in their backs.
“We’re No. 42” should cause chronic indigestion in a state where so many people are focused on being No. 1 in things like sports. Those successes draw acclaim and attention and certainly should be celebrated. They just pale in real-world significance to providing for Alabama’s future.
Opelika-Auburn News on Todd Shackett being named as the president of Southern Union State Community College:
It was a long time coming - too long - but one of the prize institutions in Alabama’s community college system finally has a new leader.
The to-do list is long, timely and important, but so are the rewards if the anticipated progress is made under this new leadership.
Todd Shackett most previously worked as director of operational excellence at Baxter International’s Opelika campus, where the past eight years he has filled a major leadership role for that company, which serves a global market with healthcare products and services.
Several local political and business leaders successfully championed Shackett for the president’s job at Southern Union, and he will be starting those new duties in early August.
Southern Union, meanwhile, has not had a president without the interim title for more than a decade.
The lack of stability was overcome somewhat by a quality staff, faculty and student enrollment that continues to show evidence of success and accomplishment. Yet, Southern Union clearly needs a strong leader dedicated to the mission, marketing and mannerisms that are all things Southern Union.
An earlier effort in recent years to merge the school with the college in Alexander City was avoided, and previous scandals involving the college system are, we hope, in the rearview mirror. A strong president representing Southern Union’s interests would be the leader in such fights to protect the college.
More important than looking back, however, is the look ahead.
State officials prodded by industrial and economic leaders have made no secret of their desire to see Alabama’s community college system be a chief provider of an ever-improved and more skillful, qualified workforce.
They want to see more students certified and ready to fill the jobs being recruited to Alabama.
The idea is that with such job creation, everyone is a winner, from the workers holding steady employment with good salaries, to the corporations that find the labor conditions in Alabama profitable, to the state’s tax coffers filled with new revenue.
And then there is the education mission, itself, at Southern Union, as many students attend with the goal of moving onward toward a four-year degree, including most notably at neighboring Auburn University.
Southern Union needs a good leader who can help market and administer all of these offerings, as well as create strong relationships and build partnerships with other institutions and the local community itself.
Todd Shackett has strong support and backing as he enters the job.
That’s a good start. Winning the confidence of Southern Union’s faculty and staff will be an important next step.
Beyond that, the list is long, but it also is exciting to consider the possibilities.
Southern Union is a good college that could be about to get better.