Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:
Dothan Eagle on the report released by Alabama’s secretary of state on candidates and PACs:
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill may find himself marked off the Christmas card list of a handful of candidates and political action committee operators since the release of his latest report. Residents should cheer him, however; by calling out a number of candidates and PACs for failing to comply with the Alabama Fair Campaign Practices Act, he’s taking a bold step toward transparency.
Of course, that’s how government should operate, but usually doesn’t.
That’s not surprising, given the culture. For instance, the FCPA requires that state and local candidates and PACs submit an annual report detailing contributions to and expenditures from accounts. These reports, required from more than 1,000 candidates and PACs, are then reviewed by the Secretary of State’s office to ensure the law is followed.
That’s serious business, or so it would seem - before one learns that there are no administrative penalties for failing to comply. Those to whom the law applies are expected to follow it, but there is no penalty for failing to do so.
Surprisingly, only 92 candidates and PACs among more than 1,000 failed to submit a report. Beginning in the 2018 election cycle, there will be penalties associated with failure to comply - $300 (or 10 percent of contributions or expenditures not reported) for first time offenders, $600 (or 15 percent of contributions or expenditures not reported) for second time offenders, and $1,200 (or 20 percent of contributions or expenditures not reported) for third and subsequent offenses respectively, according to Merrill’s office.
Until then, the best strategy toward accountability is transparency, and that’s a hallmark of Merrill’s office.
Decatur Daily on the handling of data by Alabama’s education superintendent:
Reacting to the latest mishandling of graduation information, State Superintendent of Education Michael Sentance last week promised to implement changes to ensure sensitive data would be better handled in the future.
Sentance told members of the State Board of Education the erroneous graduation rate information had not been properly vetted before being released April 21.
“I made the mistake of assuming people would follow common sense and past protocol,” Sentance said of the latest embarrassing moment for the state agency. “I did not think I had to ask the questions I had to ask.”
That “hands-off” thinking is puzzling considering the education department’s recent history of mishandling data and communications snafus.
Sentance was just weeks into his new job when the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General confirmed it would conduct a review of Alabama’s graduation rates, which had increased 17 percentage points from 2011 to 2015.
Ultimately, it was determined those graduation numbers were artificially inflated by the inclusion of occupational diplomas, and by the awarding of credits not actually earned.
At the time, Sentance took a hard-line approach to the problem, acknowledging the agency had not provided enough oversight.
“This is a black eye for the department,” Sentance said, “and it makes the education system here look bad.”
He promised at the time to reorganize the department to improve the oversight weaknesses.
Wouldn’t improving those weaknesses necessitate the review of existing procedures, and the issuance of new protocols designed to prevent future problems?
And yet Sentance’s admission last week he assumed his people would use common sense and follow “past protocol” would seem to indicate no changes in procedures were enacted after the findings of the federal audit were made public.
In hindsight, that seems to be an egregious mistake that parallels the poor judgment of staff members whose jobs are now in jeopardy.
In his remarks to state board members, Sentance emphasized that given all the attention the graduation rate information has brought to the state, “one would have thought there would have been a dedication to an exceptional standard of performance and accountability that wasn’t there.”
Bluntly speaking, the dedication to an exceptional standard applies to Sentance just as much as it applies to his employees.
Going forward, the department will have a new two-phase written protocol for the release of information that includes a review period for local school systems before data is made public.
It’s the right step to take, but it took too long to make the change.
The Tuscaloosa News on Republicans’ mandate in Alabama’s legislature:
We’re sure there are some, but no instance comes immediately to mind of a party in power squandering its mandate as spectacularly as the Republicans in Alabama have squandered theirs.
Given the opportunity — control of every branch of government, including supermajorities in the Legislature for the past six-plus years — to institute the principles of limited government associated with their supposedly conservative philosophy, and beyond that, after decades of corruption in state government, to behave with the rectitude that should prevail regardless of political affiliation, the GOP has not been just incompetent, it has been pathetic.
Instead of selflessness, we get self-dealing and self-aggrandizement; instead of a serious approach to making government more efficient, of attempting to effect systemic change with an eye toward addressing the state’s age-old budget problems, we get the same old logrolling and wheeling and dealing, the same old scrounging around for Band-Aids to hold the can together long enough to kick it down the road yet again.
Year in and year out, the state does not have enough money — if one assumes that the money being spent now is being spent wisely and efficiently — to adequately fund its prison system, Medicaid, education, public safety, infrastructure improvements and other services that government should reasonably be expected to provide. We happen to think government could be more efficient, and should make every effort to be before asking for more revenue. Republicans have been in position to take this approach, to prove a conservative philosophy would work, and they’re blowing it.
After 136 years of solidly Democratic rule in Alabama, voters finally decided to give the GOP the reins of state government in 2010. No, it didn’t happen overnight. This sea change in Alabama politics was a long time coming, for a variety of reasons. It manifested itself thoroughly at the ballot box over the past two quadrennial election cycles, but, incredibly, the Republicans weren’t ready. Despite having more than a century to prepare for the moment, after waiting in the wings since Reconstruction for the opportunity to bring their ideas to fruition, they have accomplished very little.
Will this failure be enough for voters to turn back to the Democratic Party, whose own shortcomings led to the rise of the GOP in the first place? Don’t think it won’t. Those who believe this “deeply red” state will always remain so just might be in for a rude awakening. This state just might have enough voters, independent or not, who believe they’ve been sold a bill of goods to at least erode the stranglehold the GOP has on the House and Senate, if not statewide offices.
Or perhaps not, but voters have a way of sending a message to incumbents, even when they have to hold their collective nose to do it, and even when the politicians and pundits least expect it.
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