MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - A look back at recent news events:
The Alabama Republican Party is working hard to distance itself from State Rep. Alan Harper's recent comments accusing owners of small stores of supporting foreign interests that want to harm Americans, but the damage is already done to the state GOP's image and to Alabama's national reputation.
Harper, R-Northport, posted on his Facebook page urging Alabamians not to shop at stores operated by non-Christians or foreigners because "in large part" they are owned "by folk that send their profits back to their homeland and then in turn use these funds against our country to create turmoil, fear and in some cases death and destruction."
That is so wrong on so many levels that it is hard to decide where to start disagreeing with it.
First, Harper's description of such small operations was so vague that he is essentially accusing virtually any small convenience store or gasoline station of anti-Americanism. Fittingly, his comments drew a rebuke from the National Association of Convenience Stores, with a spokesman questioning how anyone can determine someone's nationality or religion simply by looking at them.
Second, Harper's comments maligns Christians, who are urged by Christ to welcome strangers, not shun them.
Third, Harper seems to confuse Christianity and Americanism and race -- somehow implying that if you're not white and a U.S. citizen, you're not Christian. Americans comprise less than 10 percent of the world's Christians, and certainly even he should realize that many dark-skinned people -- including many dark-skinned convenience store clerks and owners -- are good "God-fearing Christians."
Here's state GOP Chairman Terry Lathan's response to Harper: "The comments recently made by State Representative Alan Harper on his Facebook page referencing the racial profiles of American business owners are very concerning. Mr. Harper is certainly welcome to his own personal opinion on any topic, but his statements absolutely do not represent the views of the Republican Party.
"His comments in no way, shape, or form reflect the values of the national or state party. Our nation has seen too much divisiveness on racial issues which only puts a wedge between our citizens."
Democrats shouldn't try to make too much political fodder out of Harper's comments, since he was a Democrat as recently as 2012.
Sadly, Harper is chairman of the House committee that is supposed to promote Alabama tourism. But it would take tens of millions of Alabama dollars invested in tourism promotion to begin to offset the damage done to the state's image by his comments, which have been reported and maligned widely around the nation and the world.
At the very least, the Alabama House should strip the tourism chairmanship from Harper before he does more harm to Alabama's image.
Too Few Children in Alabama's Pre-K Program
Gov. Robert Bentley said this week that he wants to double funding for the state's pre-kindergarten education program next year.
There is ample and unequivocal research that shows that children who attend an academically rigorous prekindergarten program will perform better in school and be less likely to drop out of school. There is even some research that shows they will earn more over their lifetimes.
But the key is on "academically rigorous." All pre-k programs are not created equally. Some are little more than babysitting services, including some in Alabama.
However, Alabama's First Class Pre-K program has been nationally recognized for its academic rigor. Alabama is one of only four states to meet all 10 quality benchmarks established at the national level for pre-kindergarten programs. Those standards include such things as teacher preparation and teacher-child ratios.
But the problem is that only about 13 percent of the state's 4-year-old children have access to a First Class voluntary pre-k program.
The state's goal is to have a quality pre-k program available on a voluntary basis to every child by 2023. While that might seem like a long time, it would be difficult for Alabama to do it faster without watering down the quality of the programs.
However, unless the Legislature better funds the program every year, it's unlikely the state will meet that target.
Bentley is right; this is good program that will show its worth over time. The Legislature should join Bentley in supporting enough growth in funding to meet the 2023 target.
Closed State Park Re-Opens
Dallas County's Paul M. Grist State Park didn't stay closed very long
The park closed in mid-October because of state budget shortfalls, but is re-opening after an agreement was worked out between the state and Dallas County officials.
The state is leasing the park to the county for $10 per year. Volunteers are supposed to replace state employees to keep trash picked up and trails open.
So far, this looks like a creative approach to addressing the closure of Grist State Park, one of five parks to close because of funding decisions by the Alabama Legislature. It remains to be seen if it will work long-term.
But without responsible funding decisions by legislators, it's likely that more parks will close in the coming years.
Ken Hare was a veteran newspaper editorial writer and editorial page editor who now writes a regular column for wsfa.com. Feedback appreciated at firstname.lastname@example.org.