LBWCC hosts state senator, representatives for annual Constitution Day

Published 9:15 am Tuesday, September 19, 2023

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LBW Community College welcomed three elected officials for its annual Constitution Day program at the Martha & Solon Dixon Center for the Performing Arts on Monday, Sept. 18.

State Sen. Josh Carnley, Dist. 92 State Rep. Matthew Hammett, and Dist. 54 State Rep. Neil Rafferty spoke on the U.S. Constitution and answered questions submitted by students.

“This is an important event in the yearly life of the college in which we take a moment to recognize and reflect upon the momentous achievement of the United States Constitution,” said LBWCC Dean of Student Affairs Jason Jessie in opening the program.

LBWCC Social Science Instructor Joseph Fernandez introduced the three guest speakers and each spoke on what the Constitution means to them.

“The Constitution provides the common person protection from being abused and forgotten. It set in motion what is the greatest form of government witnessed by man. It has endured change and struggles but is still the guide for the free people around the world. The Constitution and Bill of Rights stated our principles, set our personal freedoms to speak and worship, and live the way we wish. We are a better nation for having an established source of law and common understanding, which we use in our daily lives,” Hammett said.

“I didn’t grow up in a political family and everyone should know that’s not a prerequisite to be a servant in your community. One thing that is a blessing in our Constitution and our country is the ability for any person to serve their community and be a part of change. I want to encourage everybody to be involved whether it’s through an elected position or being involved in your community through service. To me, the Constitution is a reference of what the document is and where it came from. You have to look at the hearts and lives of the people who were involved in drafting this document. These people took the initiative to get up and be a part of something,” Carnley said.

“[The Constitution] establishes a central government that can effectively manage and govern national trade treaties and protect individual liberties and civil rights. Although our union isn’t perfect, all human endeavors are — and will be — a work in progress. The Preamble is clear in stating that it was to establish a more perfect union. Most importantly, I think the Constitution enshrines the ideals of America: justice, liberty, equality, and freedom. These ideals bind us to one another as individuals in one nation. As we celebrate Constitution Day and where it comes from, there is a prerogative not just for us as your elected officials but for all of us in attendance to reflect on the work yet to be done,” Rafferty said.

Each elected official was asked about the importance of state constitutions along with the U.S. Constitution.

“The people within the states know more about what is going on directly and are seeing what is needed within their own states,” Rafferty said.

“The Founding Fathers observed the rights for the states to have control over themselves to keep government from having all authority over the states,” Hammett said.

“The fear at the state and even at the local level is when that government believes it knows best. With different resources, beliefs, and ideas, I believe the state government is something we always should do our best to maintain,” Carnley said.

The next question involved how the U.S. Constitution can impact our local laws.

“As a county commissioner, I was always a little resistant to state laws and then pushing them down to what they call ‘unfunded mandates.’ I felt like it was not fair that locals could not decide what was best for them. As administrations and elected leaders change, ideas change,” Carnley said.

“I’m a big advocate for counties and municipalities to be able to make some of the decisions on how they run. They have a better idea as far as what is going on and what needs to be done,” Rafferty said.

Officials were asked if they take the whole state into account or focus on their respective areas when making decisions.

“I think you have to do both. At the same time, what may be good for something in Birmingham may not be the right answer for us because it’s two different places. All in all, we try to do what’s best for the whole state,” Hammett said.

“Birmingham tried to raise the minimum wage because the cost of living is higher. It may not be appropriate in other parts of the state,” Rafferty said.

“One of the benefits of representing an area is that you have the opportunity to have conversations and amend policy that somebody from another area feels is best. We push for ideas important to [our constituents]. Our job as representatives is to say I understand what is good for you, but for my area this will be detrimental,” Carnley said.

Each official was asked to describe both the federal government and the state government in three words.

“I would say bloated, overreaching, and inefficient. At the state level, we push back on a lot. I believe government should be limited with very specific things the Constitution was intended for. More and more, people look to the government to solve issues that, in my opinion, the government was never set up to solve. I would say lean for the state government. It’s a very difficult issue to predict growing population and a lot of things that are dynamic you could take into consideration,” Carnley said.

“I think it’s polarized, formative, and needs to get back to what it is supposed to be doing, which is providing representation for folks. Getting back to what Sen. Carnley was talking about, it is inefficient because not everyone has the truth of how democracy is supposed to work. If we’re not going to be addressing certain issues, it puts a big damper on our ability to handle the issues in front of us,” Rafferty said.

“I would say the biggest word is frustrating. We need to work together for this country. This is my first term with the state government, so I would say the word slow. It’s a slow process and that’s frustrating to me,” Hammett said.

The penultimate question dealt with the impact that re-drawing the congressional map will have on the state.

“Too many times, people get caught up in what they read in headlines and what they want people to say or hear. It’s very important to listen and work together on issues. I think whatever comes of this will set precedent for the future. I hope we do a better job of working together and representing our people. I want everybody to feel like they are represented,” Carnley said.

“That was the most stressful week I’ve had in Montgomery when we were re-drawing the districts. We have to work with who we have and go on,” Hammett said.

“It’s very important that we give equal protection for all citizens. We have to make sure everyone has equal representation and the ability to make a choice or decision in their communities,” Rafferty said.

The officials were also asked what they would tell younger people about voting in local and federal elections.

“Your vote matters. If you don’t vote, somebody else is going to make the decision on who represents you. I would encourage everybody here to get involved and run for city council or county commission,” Hammett said.

“It’s incredibly important with most folks focusing on national elections, and we see a pretty huge drop-off with city and state elections. It’s important for [young people] to have a voice and see how it’s done,” Rafferty said.

Fernandez closed the program by presenting each elected official with a mock-up of the U.S. Constitution, containing the first line of the Constitution as well as the signatures of LBW students and faculty in attendance.