- Associated Press - Thursday, February 2, 2017

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

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Jan. 28

The Montgomery Advertiser on redistricting:

It’s 2017, and Alabama is still trying to figure out its legislative district boundaries. It’s been five years since the Legislature started drawing the maps. It’s only three years until the next Census is released, and the state will need to redo the boundaries again, beginning what we expect to be a contentious political mess riddled with gerrymandering.



With our current process, one thing is clear: No matter which party has control, redistricting has been a self-serving process where the biggest winners are the politicians in power.

There’s something wrong here, and it’s the process.

Too long the people who have their jobs at stake based on where the lines are drawn have had too much control over redistricting efforts. They continually fail at being fair and too often look out for their own best interests, preferring districts that lead to noncompetitive elections and dampen the power of minorities.

A federal appellate court recently ruled 12 of Alabama’s legislative districts unconstitutional because race was improperly used in their composition. The battle over Alabama’s legislative district lines has gone all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. It ordered the federal panel of judges in 2015 to reconsider the maps because the Legislature focused too much on minority percentage balance instead of what percentage would be best to give minority voters the ability to select their preferred representatives, as Advertiser reporter Brian Lyman previously reported.

Look no further than Democratic Sen. Quinton Ross’ Montgomery-based district, which is more than 70 percent African-American - a fact which troubled the high court judges nearly two years ago after redistricting added 14,806 African-Americans and 36 whites to District 26 to replace voters who had moved away, according to a USA Today report.

“Some of what was done was political in nature to pack people in districts, which eliminated the opportunity for them to partner in other areas,” Ross told Lyman after the three-judge panel made its ruling Jan. 20 and found the district he represents unconstitutional.

In its ruling, the judges wrote they expect the Legislature to remedy its mistakes on its own in a “timely and effective manner” and without court intervention.

We’re glad to see the court has faith. We’ll remain guarded in our optimism.

A way to have a less partisan and racially divided election process is by taking as much of the politics out as possible. A start would be an independent redistricting commission to redraw the maps. In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the use of an appointed commission after a case challenged it in Arizona.

“Today’s ruling highlights the need to take the politics out of drawing legislative districts and instead, rely on an independent, non-partisan commission,” Alabama House Minority Leader Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, said in a statement after the judges’ ruling on Alabama’s maps.

We agree.

We recognize a commission wouldn’t be a purely nonpartisan redistricting process without influence. In an imperfect system, we believe it is a better option than our current system. It would limit political influence, which is sorely needed, and it’s a start at creating a more competitive and balanced election process.

Online: https://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/

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Feb. 1

The Dothan Eagle on how education leaders are responding to Trump’s immigration order:

President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration from several Middle East countries has spurred much discussion in recent days, and has brought to light circumstances that many people - including those in government positions from local to national office - may not have considered. The resulting unintended consequences can be unsettling, and has already led to some careful tip-toeing in the educational sector.

Take, for instance, Alabama’s colleges and universities, which have students from all corners of the world, including those nations named in the president’s executive order. This week, Troy University Chancellor Jack Hawkins urged the university system’s students to be mindful of the Trump Administration’s travel rules.

“While we honor and respect the Trump Administration’s commitment to national security and protection of this country and its citizens, we know the executive order of Friday has caused concern, especially among our international students,” Hawkins said in a statement.

Urging Troy’s international students to “avoid unnecessary risks” is good advice, particularly considering the Troy system’s strong position on international study.

The intersection of politics and education has long been unpredictable, particularly with regard to governmental mandates and funding challenges. Immigration challenges aren’t new in the U.S. educational realm, having risen to prominence throughout history, notably following the 1979 Iranian revolution and that nation’s subsequent “brain drain.”

We applaud our state’s educational leaders for taking a position that both respects the new administration’s executive order while counseling students to avoid putting their status at risk unnecessarily. Such clarity requires a deft hand.

Online: https://www.dothaneagle.com/

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Feb. 1

The TimesDaily on reaching out to state legislators:

The Alabama Legislature officially convenes for the 2017 regular session on Tuesday. The start of a new session is a great time to remind citizens of the importance of being involved in the legislative process.

For most citizens, involvement in the government process stops the moment they walk away from the ballot box. But the election of individuals to represent our interests in government is just one aspect of representative democracy.

What citizens do between those election years is the real gauge of how effective government is in meeting the general public’s needs. After all, how can lawmakers respond effectively if they don’t know how their constituents feel?

Citizens have plenty of opportunities to be active participants in state government, if they just take advantage of them. And being involved doesn’t mean you have to make the long drive to Montgomery, although seeing the legislative process in action is always an eye-opening experience.

Keeping tabs on your senators and representatives has never been easier, thanks to the internet.

House, Senate websites

Both the House and Senate maintain websites with information about chamber procedures, individual members, committees and committee activity, calendars and legislation currently being considered.

Member websites, social media

Most legislators have individual websites that provide insight into issues they are passionate about. And most state lawmakers are active on social media (Facebook, Twitter). Following your legislators on Facebook and Twitter can provide invaluable insight into their priorities and local activities.

Other news outlets

The TimesDaily and its website are great places to find daily coverage of activities of Shoals-area legislators while the state House and Senate are in session. You can also do a Google search for additional information about your legislators.

Contact your legislators

Communicating directly with your legislators about issues that are important to you and your community is a great way to learn more about their thinking. Sending a letter or an email lets them know what issues matter to you.

When writing a letter, make it personal. An individually written letter, rather than a form letter, will make a better impression on your legislator. Be sure to include your name and full address, including ZIP code. Be sure to state why you support or oppose a particular issue. Be courteous. Don’t make threats or demands. Ask for a response.

You can also call your legislator (telephone numbers listed below). Keep in mind that lawmakers will not always be available to take your call. Ask to speak to the legislator, or to the aide who handles the issue you would like to comment on. If he or she isn’t available, you can leave a message. Take down the name and title of the individual you speak with, and ask that the legislator send you a written response. Be courteous. Thank the person who took your phone call for his or her time and consideration.

It has been said, since the time of our Founding Fathers, that a well-informed electorate is the cornerstone of democracy. That continues to hold true. So do your part this legislative session to stay informed, and stay in contact with your state legislators.

Online: https://www.timesdaily.com/

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