Alabama editorial roundup

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

Nov. 19

The Times Daily, Florence, Ala., on NAACP in states’ corner:

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is backing H.R. 1523, the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2013. Uncharacteristically for legislation before Congress, the law’s name means exactly what it says. If enacted, the law would allow state marijuana laws to take precedence over federal laws. That means medical marijuana laws enacted in 20 states and laws allowing recreational use passed by voters recently in Colorado and Washington would carry the day in those states, not federal prohibition.

The bill has bipartisan support. Most of its 20 co-sponsors are Democrats, but the bill’s author is California Republican Dana Rohrabacher, a Reagan-era conservative in good standing, and the bill’s Republican co-sponsors include not only libertarian-leaning Rep. Justin Amash but traditional conservatives Duncan Hunter, of California, and Steve Stockman, of Texas.

The bill’s GOP backers, to their credit, do more than talk about federalism. They actually support it, even when it comes to a “culture war” issue such as marijuana. They say let the states have their way, and in so doing they are more consistent than many of their Republican colleagues, who abandon federalism when it becomes politically inconvenient.

It’s actually the Democrats and the NAACP that are diverging from their normal pro-federal supremacy views.

States’ rights has a checkered history, to put it mildly, given its historical associations first with slavery and later with Jim Crow. When it comes to states’ rights, the NAACP usually has been on the other side, and with good reason.

Now the NAACP has good reason to back states’ rights. Marijuana prohibition, like drug prohibition in general, disproportionately affects African-Americans.

In its resolution endorsing H.R. 1523, the NAACP states, “even though numerous studies demonstrate that whites and African-Americans use and sell marijuana at relatively the same rates, studies also demonstrate that African-Americans are, on average, almost four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, and in some jurisdictions Blacks are 30 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites.”

The impact of marijuana laws always has been disproportionate, and that is no surprise given that racism was a major motivation for its prohibition in 1937, when marijuana was associated with black culture, the Harlem Renaissance and jazz musician Cab Calloway’s invocation of “that funny Reefer Man.”

Given the diverse coalition backing H.R. 1523, it appears this time there is little harm in giving states leeway to experiment with their marijuana laws without federal interference. When the NAACP backs states’ rights, everyone should take notice.



Nov. 21

Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser on open access to state ballots:

Alabamians who have been voting for some years likely have noticed that they seldom see independent or minor party candidates on the ballot. It’s almost always just Republicans or Democrats.

There’s a reason for that: Alabama has one of the most restrictive ballot access laws in the country. That may be good for the two major parties, but it’s certainly not good for the political process or the infusion of new ideas and issues into campaigns.

That’s why we continue to support the commendable efforts of state Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, to reform Alabama’s ballot access law to give other candidates and other parties a reasonable shot at putting themselves and their positions before the voters. Ward has been pushing the legislation for several years and said last week that he will once again introduce his ballot access bill when the Legislature convenes in January.

Under the current law, in order to appear on the general election ballot, an independent or third-party candidate must circulate petitions and gather signatures of registered voters that total at least 3 percent of the votes cast in the previous governor’s election in the district, or statewide if seeking a statewide office.

To get an idea of the barrier that erects to ballot access, consider this: In the 2010 general election, there were 1,485,324 votes cast in the governor’s race. To get on the ballot for a statewide office, an independent or third-party candidate would need to gather 44,559 signatures. That’s daunting enough, but in reality, to get that many, he or she would need considerably more than that, as invariably some signatures are not verifiable.

The 3 percent requirement is too high a threshold. Ward proposes cutting it to 1.5 percent, a much fairer, more reasonable requirement.



Nov. 22

The Anniston (Ala.) Star on health care for rural state leaves a lot to be desired:

The availability of health care in rural Alabama offers little to celebrate.

Fifty-five of Alabama’s 67 counties are considered rural. Two million residents, 43.6 percent of the state’s population, live there. In those counties, shortages of primary health care facilities are the norm.

Only three of our rural counties are not classified in some way as primary care shortage areas. It would take 156 primary-care physicians — doctors who offer basic, not specialized, care — strategically placed in these counties, to eliminate the shortages. It would take 434 to provide optimal care for residents there.

In almost every category — from obstetrics to dental care — Alabama’s rural counties fall short, according to data from the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Yet, earlier this week, the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health joined with state and local and national rural health-care providers to celebrate National Rural Health Day. The Alabama Department of Public Health had the state join right in. The irony is unmistakable.

National Rural Health Day came into being two years ago to increase awareness of the health-care issues that face rural Americans. In Alabama, those health-care issues are painfully obvious.

The day is also designed to highlight what states are doing to address those issues. In Alabama, the lack of effort is also obvious.

Like every other state agency that works with the poor, the Alabama Department of Public Health is under-funded. Although the department does a lot with a little, it can only do so much.

Meanwhile, our legislative leaders, many of them from rural counties, are saying no to Obamacare and oppose any expansion of Medicaid. To add to the irony, our physician-governor is out front leading them.

No, there is not much to celebrate.


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