Month: June 2014

J. Pepper Bryars: Why immigration reform has lost my support

Undocumented children sleep at a holding center after crossing the border from Mexico. (AP) There was a time when I would have listened to the arguments from the Alabama Coalition for Immigration Justice, the group behind a hunger strike in Birmingham to bring attention to what it calls a "broken immigration system." That time began after I spent a few weeks at a ranch in Kenedy County, Texas, not too far from our border with Mexico. I had a great time there -- hikes through the mesquite woodlands, star-gazing far away from city lights, and butchering my first nilgai, an antelope-like beast imported from India for sport but that has become a nuisance. The most memorable experience, however, was seeing the blue border patrol vans packed with illegal aliens heading south on U.S. Highway 77 towards Matamoros. I'd see several every day. The looks on their faces, staring at me through the shaded windows of the van, have stayed with me. They looked defeated, sad and hopeless. It made me heart-sick. In my mind, America's collective DNA needs the type of people courageous enough to leave their homes to come to a strange land and sweat-out a living amid unfamiliar customs, a foreign language and an ever-present danger of deportation. That takes guts, and we need more of that. It's what my ancestor, Thomas Briaus, had when he left France in 1700. It's what built our country, and it's what makes it so different – and better – than every…

Alabama’s Republican Party continues tapping a well of conservatism

The disparity between the number of Alabamians voting in the Republican and Democrat primaries earlier this month was almost as remarkable as the relative yawn such news evoked. Nearly five voters asked for Republican ballots across the state for every two who requested the Democrat sheet. Five to two, in a state where not too long ago the Democrat nominee was considered a shoo-in for the general election. This is significant because voter participation in primaries is often a good indicator of a party's health -- how it's connecting to and growing its base -- and whether it'll be able to get-out-the-vote in the general election. In the primary for governor, for instance, the Republican race drew more than 433,000 voters while the Democrats only had slightly more than 180,000. Compare that to the primaries for governor in 1988, which drew about 940,000 Democrat votes to only slightly more than 29,000 Republicans – a whopping 32-to-1 margin in favor of the Democrats. Admittedly, that was a hotly contested primary for the Democrats, and a sleeper for the Republicans, but it still tells us a great deal about party affiliation. Back then being a Democrat in the American South didn't require you to agree with the national agenda of the far left. A conservative-minded Alabamian didn't see anything contradictory about voting for Charlie Graddick in the 1986 Democrat Primary for governor and then two-years later voting for George H.W. Bush for President. Locally, the Democrats were still familiar, and nationally the…

Dark money is here to stay in Alabama’s Republican primary: What else can the AEA do?

"Did I vote for the right people?" I asked my four-year old daughter that question last week as we sat inside a sanctuary-turned-polling station in Madison County. I showed her the ballot as her two-year old sister ran around the room impatiently waiting on us to finish "coloring" the paper. I pointed out the headliners – governor, lieutenant governor, etc. – and explained who I was voting for, and why. Then we looked at the down ballot races, full of unfamiliar candidates and barely recognizable districts. I usually vote for a challenger if I don't know the incumbent. It's not a very sophisticated way of picking a candidate, but it's my personal term-limit measure for inactive officeholders who aren't very visible. But I wasn't so sure this time. "Don't you know?" asked my daughter. Normally, I would, or at least a mistake wouldn't matter much. The Republican Primary used to be full of conservatives, of varying degrees. But this year's primary was different. So-called "dark money" from liberal organizations like the Alabama Education Association, it was said, had seeped into the Republican Primary. Liberal candidates were masquerading as conservatives across the state. "There're a few sneaky people on this paper, trying to trick your papa," I told her. She smiled, and the boring piece of paper suddenly became a little more interesting and mysterious. The whole election season was a bit mysterious, in fact. Charges were made that liberals had funneled money to an organization called the Alabama Foundation for…

VA’s problems are endemic to all government-run healthcare systems

My experience with the medical care provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs was brief, minor and quite positive, but the system should still be completely overhauled. I learned about the VA first-hand after a car accident in my early 20s. I had just finished my afternoon shift as an editorial clerk at the Mobile Register and was driving down Government Street on my way to an evening class at Spring Hill College. At the same time, a kid who had stolen his grandmother's car was being chased down Water Street by several Prichard police cruisers. I pulled into the intersection and unwittingly did my good deed for the day by stopping the suspect in his tracks: the kid plowed straight into my Dodge Dakota and the chase ended abruptly. The pain lingered, though, and after a few days I started thinking about seeing a doctor. There was just one problem: As with most healthy men in their early 20s, I didn't have health insurance. Thankfully, I was a veteran and eligible for VA medical care. I was skeptical, though. I had always heard horror stories about VA hospitals and I only called for an appointment after the pain became unbearable. I didn't know what to expect when I arrived at the outpatient clinic on Spring Hill Avenue, but I recall blocking-off an entire day for the visit, expecting dozens of forms, long lines, and waits and hassles of every bureaucratic sort. I was in-and-out in a flash. The clinic…