Alabama editorial roundup
Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:
Dothan Eagle on straight party voting:
The Alabama Secretary of State’s Office reported a startling statistic late about the balloting in our state on Election Day. About 1.7 million ballots were cast, representing about 50 percent of voting-age Alabamians. Of those, 1.1 million voters voted straight-party.
That means 2 out of 3 who went to the polls got a ballot and, instead of going race to race to determine which candidate might best serve the people of Alabama, simply marked “Alabama Democratic Party” or “Alabama Republican Party” at the top of the page. More to the point, 660,000 went for the GOP; 450,000 chose the Democratic Party.
While that tells us something we already knew — that there are at least half again as many Republicans as Democrats in our state — it strongly suggests that the majority of voters are so aligned with their particular party affiliation that they’re not willing to consider a candidate who’s not in their fold.
That mirrors the polarization in the national arena. However, it raises the question whether straight-party voting is good for the republic.
For instance, a voter in Houston County who chose a straight party ticket might have realized later that their choice meant they’d voted for someone in a particular race when they supported the other, as a Democrat voter who meant to support GOP Sheriff Donald Valenza might have discovered after the fact.
In recent years, several states have discontinued straight party balloting. Alabama is among the eight that still use it, although Texas will end the practice in 2020. There is also movement at the federal level to ban the practice.
That would not mean that a strongly partisan voter could not eschew every candidate who’s not in their favored party. It just means they’ll have to do it race by race. Hopefully, they’ll weigh each candidate on his or her own merits in the process.
The Decatur Daily on former Attorney General Jeff Sessions being pushed out:
Jeff Sessions’ tenure as attorney general has been anything but distinguished. In his 21 months on the job, Sessions stood in the way of meaningful criminal justice reform, stoked fears of rising crime in an era of historically low crime, threatened states that seek to apply a bit of federalism to their marijuana laws, and let local law enforcement agencies with histories of excessive force and racial discrimination know they’d have little to fear from his Justice Department.
But, ironically, Sessions was fired for doing the right thing. And there is no debate about his being fired. This was not a simple resignation. His letter begins, “Dear Mr. President, At your request, I am submitting my resignation.” It’s a passive-aggressive jab, far milder than the jabs President Donald Trump has lobbed his way, but it leaves no doubt Sessions did not leave of his own accord; Trump pushed him.
Thus ends arguably the most dysfunctional relationship between a president and a member of his administration since Andrew Jackson (Trump’s favorite predecessor) and Vice President John C. Calhoun.
The tension between Trump and Sessions has been present since almost Day 1 of Sessions taking office, stemming from Sessions recusing himself from overseeing Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s presidential campaign and what if any illegal ties it might have had to agents of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s kleptocratic regime.
It must be stressed that Sessions’ decision to recuse himself was not optional; it was legally required. As a member of Trump’s campaign team, Sessions was involved in or at least close to many of the events under investigation. It would be a blatant conflict of interest to investigate allegations that amount to investigating himself.
That hasn’t mattered at all to Trump, who seems to have expected Sessions to shield him from investigation and has never forgiven him for leaving the investigation outside Trump’s ability to control it.
So, Sessions is gone, for doing the right thing, while other members of the Trump administration accused of wrongdoing that once would have resulted in a swift dismissal remain. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, for example, continues to maintain investments he is legally required to divest, and has even increased his portfolio.
Meanwhile, Sessions’ temporary replacement, Matthew Whitaker — whose appointment as acting attorney general is arguably unconstitutional, especially if one agrees with Justice Clarence Thomas’ rulings in similar cases — is on the record as a critic of Mueller’s investigation.
The House, now in Democratic hands, can issue all of the subpoenas it likes, but the Senate confirms presidential appointments, and there the Republican majority has grown. What will the Senate do to see that the rule of law prevails?
“If Jeff Sessions is fired, there will be holy hell to pay,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., once said. But that was more than a year ago, when Graham was still playing Igor to the now late Sen. John McCain’s Dr. Frankenstein. Now Graham has a new master, and golfing buddy — President Trump.
“I look forward to working with President @realDonaldTrump to find a confirmable, worthy successor so that we can start a new chapter at the Department of Justice and deal with both the opportunities and challenges our nation faces,” Graham tweeted the day of Sessions’ firing.
A Senate that has turned a blind eye to date likely will not suddenly see the light now.
The Gadsden Times on an insurer cracking down on OxyContin prescriptions:
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama insures close to 3 million people, roughly two-thirds of them in the state where it’s located.
So the company’s announcement that effective Jan. 1, it no longer will cover standard formulations of the opioid painkiller OxyContin drew some attention.
One side probably saw it as an unfortunate but necessary new front in the war against opioid abuse, which has ensnared and killed thousands of Americans.
Another side probably saw it as a heartless move by a bean-counting insurer that will cause more suffering for people in chronic pain who legitimately need something to help them function in daily life.
Let’s dive into the middle, where the truth normally can be found.
First, Blue Cross isn’t completely dropping coverage for OxyContin (or oxycodone, its generic equivalent). It still will cover Xtampza ER, a new formulation of OxyContin that is much more difficult to abuse.
Basic OxyContin, an extended release drug, was reformulated eight years ago with that goal in mind, but users still can crush or liquefy it to facilitate snorting or injecting it. They can’t do that with Xtampza ER, however, or with Roxybond, a non-extended-release variety of OxyContin that Blue Cross also will cover. We don’t think requiring those formulations is an unfair hoop for patients to negotiate.
Blue Cross attempting to crack down on painkillers also didn’t just materialize out of a swamp. Its Florida division instituted a similar ban last year, as did its Tennessee division in September.
Earlier this year in Alabama, it set a one-week limit on initial fills of the painkillers Lortab, Vicodin and Percocet, and started requiring extra authorization for initial prescriptions of OxyContin and other long-acting drugs.
The company has launched other nationwide initiatives to curb opioid addiction while ensuring that chronic pain patients still receive adequate medication and care.
People can ascribe financial motives to those decisions — drugmakers who are just as focused on the bottom line and fear declining profits certainly are singing that tune. We’ll give Blue Cross the benefit of the doubt that it’s not good P.R. — certainly not good for business — to be associated with addiction and death.
Besides, we’re sympathetic to the notion of fewer opioid prescriptions being written, especially in this state and area, even if it helps Blue Cross’ bottom line.
Alabama, as we’ve noted more than once, leads the nation in the per capita rate of painkiller prescriptions. In May, AL.com reported that the Fourth Congressional District — which includes Etowah County — has the highest rate of opioid prescriptions of any congressional district in the U.S.
The number, based on 2016 data, is 166 prescriptions per 100 people. That’s 1.66 prescriptions for every man, woman and child in the district. We don’t presume to tell physicians how to do their jobs, and we’re sympathetic to the real-world needs of chronic pain sufferers, but to our layman’s brain and eyes, that is absurd. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 40 percent of the opioid overdose deaths — an average of 46 a day — are from prescribed medications.
We’re under no illusions that this will be a magic fix to the opioid epidemic. We’re aware that it likely will increase business for pushers. We’re aware that any real progress will take physicians, patients, law enforcement and the legal and mental health systems working together (and changing a few hearts and mind-sets).
However, sometimes doing nothing isn’t the best thing. We think that’s the case here with Blue Cross.