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House candidates discuss issues

The campaign for the Alabama State House District 66 will soon come to an end as Election Day is nearing on Nov. 6, 2018.

The Brewton Standard and The Atmore Advance asked the two candidates — Alan Baker, a republican and the incumbent, and Susan Smith, a democrat — a set of questions relating to the seat.

Each candidate was given the same questions.

The questions and answers are the following:

 

1) What do you think are the most crucial issues facing Alabama and why?

AB: Improvements to the infrastructure across our state is much needed and critical to our existing businesses along with attracting new jobs to our state. Without properly maintained roads and bridges, the safety of the public as well as the movement of products and raw materials for existing businesses to thrive is compromised. In addition, our state must continue to explore ways to get the needed infrastructure of wired broadband into rural Alabama. Reliable connectivity in rural areas is critical for health care (telemedicine), education and economic development. Besides infrastructure, two other critical needs that must be addressed sooner than later would be improving access to mental health services and finding solutions to our overcrowded prisons before the federal government issues court ordered mandates.

SS: I propose to put students first, address programs that aren’t performing, like the Accountability Act; work with legislators to correct or put in place/expand programs that do perform, like K-4 and STEM. I want to give incentives to go into teaching. Since 2010, our teachers make more money; however draw less because of the increase cost of benefits. Increasing salaries will retain teachers and entice graduates to choose the teaching profession. We have positions today in our school systems throughout the state that cannot be filled. A large majority of our high school graduates do not go on to college. We must have dual enrollment programs that produce workforce ready/skilled workers for companies that are seeking to locate in our area. Providing them with workforce ready/skilled workers will save the companies time and money. I propose to set term limits on our elected officials, hold those we elect accountable, represent all the people and stay in touch with the communities in which you serve, and to hold town hall meetings to discuss issues that may arise and need to be addressed.

2) What do you think you bring to the table that is beneficial?

SS: Having worked closely throughout Alabama and counties in our area to promote and bring programs, gives me the values to lead us forward and the experience to get the job done. I will put party aside, people first and work hard with my constituents to make Alabama reach its highest potential. I want Alabama to be an example that other states will want to copy. It can be done.

AB: As a retired educator, I am able to devote my full time energies to actively serve the citizens across the broad two-county legislative district that I represent. In performing my many and assorted legislative duties, I have been blessed with the virtues of compassion, patience, a good listening ear and bold leadership. I prioritize being accessible and available to the people in my energized pursuit to be a servant leader.

 

3) With roughly a 25.2 percent poverty rate in our county, do you support Medicaid and other programs such as ALL Kids?

AB: I have and will continue to support fully funding Medicaid and the many services provided along with continuing my strong support of All Kids that provides insurance to many children across our State.

SS: I have worked in the public schools of Escambia County as the lead nurse and saw first hand the need for programs like Medicaid and All Kids. I’ve seen it work. I’ve seen students who needed medical attention receive it because of All Kids. Yes, keep it. I have seen elderly and uninsured unable to afford medication or insurance, many unable to get to a specialist because they could not pay. We need to expand Medicaid. We believe closing rural hospitals could be the worst thing to happen in our areas, but the fact is, the worst thing is people are going to die. I’m not being an alarmist, it is that simple. We also think this will never happen to us, however, reality is in any given place or time it could be one of us. As a nurse, I know how critical it is to get the needed help in a short time when having a heart attack, stroke, etc. Not having a nearby facility could be a matter of life and death. Expanding Medicaid would insure this would not happen. We have left nearly $2 million sitting on the table because of not expanding Medicaid.

 

4) It’s no secret mental health care has been cut drastically, prisons are overcrowded in part due to this. What do you plan to do to help in this situation?

SS: As a nurse having worked in the department of corrections and Southwest Alabama Mental Health, I know what the many mental health issues exist in both. There is an overwhelming amount of incarcerated due to mental health, poor choices resulting from the inability to separate right from wrong, or just being easily influenced by others who can often take advantage of their situation. I propose expanding mental health programs. We should and must provide mental health facilities that deal solely with these issues, and use those incarcerated in Alabama to clean up and renovate the old Searcy Hospital. I want to re-open it to provide divisions for the newly diagnosed, programs of rehabilitation, medication, an in house medical center to treat the disease. We rank first in opioid and drug addiction. We need to quit using the overcrowded prison system as a means of controlling or correcting mental health issues.

AB: Both mental health and overcrowded prisons are complex issues that will not have a single silver bullet fix. Multiple approaches will probably be part of the ultimate solutions towards improving mental health services provided across the state and in working to improve the status of our overcrowded and unsafe environment within our prisons. Additional funding will be a critical component towards advancing any solutions proposed.

 

5) Education is a big issue in our county and it’s no secret that there is always a need for money money in the classroom. How do you plan to work with other legislators to make that happen?

AB: With my public education career of 27 years as a classroom history teacher and in my current legislative role serving on the House Education Ways and Means Committee, I will continue to be that bold, strong voice advocating for public education and the multiple array of worthy funding needs of education including dollars directed into the classrooms. Elevating teacher and support staff pay will be an ever-present focus along with the constant watch of protecting the ETF (Education Trust Fund) while also fighting to preserve the long-term solvency of the RSA (Retirement Systems of Alabama) so that all of the current and future pension obligations of the State can be fulfilled.

SS: First, teachers and schools need money all year round, not just at election time. I propose eliminating programs that do not perform. I want to provide our classroom teachers with a resource budget, and ask local businesses, churches, organizations and people to adopt schools/classrooms. We must have our communities willing to invest in our schools. I plan to work with other legislators to visit schools, talk with teachers, administrators, community leaders and organizations to discuss and find out what their issues and needs are. Many haven’t ever been in a classroom except to read during set programs. Classrooms have changed, needs have changed and most of all, curriculums have changed. We must change with the times and recognize the needs of this day and time.

 

6) What will be your primary focus once in office?

SS: I propose to be the voice of my people — the people of Escambia County and east central Baldwin County. I am going to put party aside and work hard to make it better for District 66. I want to stay in touch with my people and work together to resolve the issues that affect them and are important to them. I want to help people understand that I can not do anything about what is happening in Washington, D.C. between democrats and republicans, but I can do something about Alabama and District 66.

AB: Whether in Montgomery or within the local district, my primary focus in office has been to be a servant leader in representing all the citizens across the legislative district I represent. In being an effective leader in serving the people, I prioritize being accessible and available to address the individual constituent needs, issues, and concerns that arise. In devoting my fulltime energies with active service across the two county legislative district, I am able to feel and know the pulse of the people I represent and to best reflect that voice in Montgomery. My top priority is serving the people. My strong areas of focus on legislative issues include Economic Development, Workforce Development, & Education as all three are intertwined for our State to be on a successful path.