America is a global leader because of the talented and dedicated women and men who commit themselves to its service. We can wave flags on holidays to show our appreciation, but that isn’t enough. These brave women and men deserve more. They deserve excellent healthcare for body and mind. They deserve job training and supports for spouses and children left behind. It’s the least we can do to show our appreciation.
Healthcare for Veterans
In 2013, we got confirmation that the Department of Veterans Affairs was failing our veterans. But we’d known it was happening for much longer. The investigation uncovered long wait times for appointments, backlogs in disability claims, dishonest reporting, and high-level coverups. Some changes were made, including the invention of the Choice Program, but fundamental problems persist.
To give our veterans the very best care, I support proposals to increase the supply of highly qualified staff by increasing the number of medical residency slots available at VA facilities. I support reducing administrative barriers to collaboration, so that partnerships with Dept of Defense facilities and with community-based health care providers can flourish without a heavy administrative burden.
Security for Military Communities
Alabama’s Second District has more veterans per capita than any other district in Alabama, and is home to Fort Rucker and Maxwell Gunter Air Force Base. Because the military is such a big part of our district’s identity and economy, it is critical to protect those bases and ensure their ongoing operation. Currently, the Base Relocation and Closure (BRAC) process is conducted on an unpredictable schedule. Our military communities have no way of knowing when the next BRAC will happen.
To give our community peace of mind, I support establishing a standard process and timeline for BRAC so that communities know when they do – and don’t – need to worry about base closures. I’m confident that our military bases are here to stay, and I want our communities to know that they can rely on that from year to year.
America as Global Leader
America’s prominence is based on our ability to be the good guy, the one who protects the weak and knocks down the bullies. America’s prominence is also based on our demonstration of effective democracy. To maintain that reputation, we must ensure that our elections are fair and transparent, with protections for voters’ rights and protections against outside tampering.
To continue our global leadership, we must continue with our three-pronged approach to the world:
- Having the greatest military on earth.
- Having the greatest diplomatic service on earth.
- Demonstrating authentic democracy at home and supporting it abroad.
America is strong when families are strong. But in recent times, raising a family has gotten harder. Wages have fallen, housing is more expensive, and families are more spread out. To keep families at the center of our community life, we must support them with paid parental leave, affordable child care, and great public schools. And when families are at the breaking point, the community must step up and provide additional services like home visiting and foster care to bridge the gap from today’s crisis to tomorrow’s promise.
Foster Care & Adoption
I think of every child in the community as my own child. Each deserves a safe and loving home. Parents don’t always make the right decisions or have the necessary resources to give their children a proper home. In those cases, it’s critical that we first assist those adults to become the parents their children need. And if parents still can’t make it work, we have an obligation to find a new safe and loving home for those children.
That’s why I became a foster parent and why I adopted my son out of foster care. It’s also why I support policies that make it easier for responsible adults to become foster parents and stay foster parents. That includes ensuring Medicaid coverage for every foster child, including access to high-quality, trauma-informed mental health care. It also includes extending benefits past the point of adoption so that no child is left without a permanent family simply because of their healthcare needs.
Paid Parental Leave
Giving mothers and babies time to be together in the early weeks of a child’s life is critical. Too often, however, mothers are forced to return to work far too quickly, and infants are forced into unsuitable child care arrangements.
Republicans and Democrats agree that parental leave is needed, so now it’s time to get over our partisanship and get it done for working families across the nation. Whether financed through payroll taxes, tax credits for employers, or some other combination, this is a policy that is desperately needed and long overdue.
As a country, we have made promises to one another. We have promised our elders that they will not grow old in poverty. We have promised our children that they will be healthy, nourished, and prepared for the world ahead of them. We have promised our disabled sisters and brothers that we will make a place for them and support their wellbeing. If we are to keep our integrity, we must keep these promises. We must fully fund Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid. These things make us the great nation we are today.
Sustaining Our Seniors
We had a deal. The deal was that able-bodied Americans spend their whole lives working and paying into Social Security and then, upon their retirement, they would have a basic livable income to sustain them in their sunset years. Social security is not an “entitlement.” It’s a deal we made, and it’s a deal we should keep.
Social Security faces an uncertain future, however, because the elderly population is growing and the working-age population is shrinking. Finding a sustainable funding plan for Social Security and Medicare is critical for two reasons: 1) They did their part and deserve the benefits they were promised, and 2) We all want to see our elders living with dignity, safety, and care.
To ensure we keep this promise, I support eliminating the payroll tax cap and implementing a modest 1% increase to the social security tax rate. These small changes would make Social Security solvent for generations to come.
Healthcare for All
As I have traveled and listened to the residents of the 2nd District, time and again I have heard stories about how the inability to pay for health care has devastated families. I fear that too many of our families are one diagnosis away from disaster, one job loss away from a medical crisis. We must make and keep a promise that no one in this country should suffer because they were unable to afford healthcare.
Health insurance is one way to provide healthcare but not the only option. I’ll be open to considering all options from Medicare For All to subsidized employer-based insurance and open markets. I will measure health care policy proposals according to the extent to which they make it easier for people to access and afford quality care. I don’t care who proposes it or what it’s called, as long as it gets people the care they need.
Rural healthcare is of particular concern here. There is a significant shortage of providers in rural Alabama – nurses, doctors, specialist, lab technicians, etc. This shortage means that there simply isn’t enough healthcare to go around. There are already some programs in place to incentivize providers to live and practice in rural communities, but it’s not enough. We need to grow those incentive programs and also develop training programs in local areas for people who are already living in the community and willing to work in healthcare, but need career training.
We are all accountable for our actions and government is no exception. As taxpayers, we have the right to know exactly how our dollars are spent, and the right to demand a change when it’s needed. We are also entitled to the very best available research on what is causing our problems and which solutions have been most effective. Government agencies should not be allowed to hide relevant information just because it’s inconvenient or unflattering. We deserve the truth. After all, we’re paying for it.
Transparent Government Spending
Alabama has seen more than its fair share of corruption and backroom dealing. Just recently, we have learned of sheriffs pocketing tens of thousands of dollars that were intended to be used to feed inmates in county jails. This kind of self-dealing behavior is only possible when it can easily be hidden. We need to shine a bright light on all government spending, so that we know our money is being spent wisely.
That’s why I support strengthening the Freedom of Information Act and state-level laws on government transparency to empower journalists and citizen watchdogs to hold our government accountable for its actions and spending.
Transparent Government Policy
Government agencies have access to a great deal of data and often have the resources (internally or externally) to analyze that data to discover which policies work best. When we know what does and doesn’t work, we can stop wasting money on programs that don’t serve their purpose and direct our attention to programs that have been shown to be effective and efficient.
That’s why I support ending the political policing of publicly-funded research, particularly as it relates to the Environmental Protection Agency and National Institutes of Health. We deserve to know what’s really happening in our communities, our country, and our world.
Economic Development and Tax Incentives
Driving economic development is a top priority for nearly every civic leader. Few things are more satisfying that knowing that your constituents have jobs because of your good work. Yet not all jobs are equal. And new jobs rarely come for free. To entice new employers into a community, the community often offers the employer financial perks (tax abatements, tax credits, or even grants). The problem here is that the process of negotiating a deal is not transparent, nor is the cost-benefit ratio. Communities often don’t realize how much money they will end up paying the employer and companies often aren’t held responsible for delivering on their promise of good jobs. Moreoever, subsidies for new businesses put existing local businesses at a disadvantage because they aren’t getting the same advantages as their newly arriving competitor.
That’s why I support investing in entrepreneurship and local small businesses, rather than in subsidies for outside businesses to come in. If we are going to spend public dollars on job creation (and I think we should!), then those dollars should go to business owners that are already in our district. We can and should develop innovative business leaders and a skilled workforce, but we can do so from within our community. Let’s invest in us. After all, its our money!
American politics has grown more divisive, but the promise of America has always been – and continues to be – that despite our many differences, we are fundamentally one nation. That’s why I reject any attempt to dismiss one group of citizens as less American than another. We are all equally protected under the law, and we must fight together against the violation of any citizen’s rights.
How We Talk to and About One Another
Those in power have tried to turn us against one another, to convince us that we cannot be in real relationship, that we couldn’t possibly understand someone else’s hopes and fears. But we are not as divided as they want us to be, and I refuse to walk away from my neighbors simply because they identify with a different political party.
I pledge to speak with respect about all my constituents, to look for the good in people rather than the bad, and to listen with an open heart to opinions and perspectives that are not my own. I will interact with other representatives in the House in the same way. I will actively seek out solutions, insisting on bipartisan dialogue and action.
This great country of ours cannot succeed until all its citizens have equal opportunities and equal access to high-quality public education. Unfortunately, our school systems are plagued by persistent inequalities on the basis of race and socio-economic status. Children in impoverished areas are consistently given lower quality schools than children in more affluent areas.
I pledge to be dogged in my pursuit of policies that will level the playing field, such as establishing minimum standards for teacher-student ratios in classrooms and counselor-student ratios in school systems. I will sponsor legislation to prevent school systems from segregating children with disabilities (or other special needs) from their peers. I will support holding school districts accountable for using Title I funds for their intended purpose, rather than allowing school officials to shuffle funds to other uses.
Perhaps the most challenging part of living in community is recognizing that we are all sinners – bound to mess up and hurt one another – and yet we must find a way to live together. That means that we will both need a system of judgment and consequences and a system for reconciliation. While we have spent a lot of time developing the process of judgment and consequences, not nearly as much attention has been paid to the process of reconciliation. To make our communities strong, we must make them whole.
That’s why I support giving judges the freedom to impose sentences that address the needs of victims and restore damages whenever possible, options that make right rather than only options that punish. I support rehabilitating offenders to reduce recidivism and strengthen families and communities that are damaged by the absence of the offender. And most importantly, I support revising policies that unfairly target certain populations so that all citizens can feel confident that justice will be served.
Too often government is tasked with cleaning up messes rather than preventing them. As responsible adults, we understand that many problems can be avoided by planning ahead and intervening as soon as we see trouble on the horizon. This is true for so many aspects of our lives. We build levees before the storm so that we can weather it safely. We invest in the healthy development of our youngest children so that they will be ready to succeed in school. We seek diplomatic solutions so that we don’t have to put military lives at risk in armed conflict.
Early Childhood Education
For every $1 we invest in getting young children a high-quality child care experience, we save $7 to $17 in taxpayer expenses. Children who get a high-quality child care experience are less likely to need special education, less likely to end up in the juvenile justice system, and less likely to end up on public assistance as adults. That’s prevention at its best.
So I support investing in the Child Care Development Fund Block Grant to increase access to high-quality early learning. So every child can have a bright future. And every parent can go to work knowing their child is safe, healthy, and getting ready for Kindergarten.
Preparing for Emergencies
For every $1 we invest in preparing for emergencies like floods and tornadoes, we save $6 when the emergency arrives. Towns like Elba, Alabama have seen terrible destruction from flooding. There was a terrible flood in 1990, but the town was not able to afford the necessary infrastructure improvements, so additional floods devastated the town in 1994 and 1998. There’s no sense in letting the same disaster strike again and again.
That’s why I support expanding FEMA’s Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program and FEMA’s Flood Mitigation Assistance Program. These investments will pay for themselves while also preventing loss of life and property.
Reducing Maternal & Infant Mortality
Every life is sacred, and we must take seriously the moral obligation to protect every life. Unfortunately, Alabama has one of the nation’s highest infant mortality rates, and our maternal mortality rate has risen in recent years. The most effective way to prevent abortion is to provide women with easy and affordable contraception so they can control when they get pregnant. The most effective way to reduce the maternal and infant mortality rate is to make sure mothers have access to healthcare before, during, and after pregnancy.
That’s why I support health care policy (whether through the Affordable Care Act or Medicaid or some other innovative solution) that expands women’s access to healthcare and sexual education programs that give youth accurate information so they can understand the full consequences of the choices they face.