Howard ready to work for change

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 5, 2005

His election may only have been Tuesday, but for Ralph Howard that doesn’t mean the reality of his new role as representative in the state House hasn’t hit him already.

“Well, it has sunk in,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “I have to be in Montgomery tomorrow morning to meet with officials. I won’t have a vote yet, but I will be able to vote on the last day of the session, which I’m very excited about. For the first time this session, the people of District 72 will have a voice in the House. It’s very important that they have that voice.”

The last day of the session, on May 16, is shaping up to be a critical one as well. If Governor Riley vetoes the Senate’s education budget, the session’s final day will be the legislature’s only chance to override the veto. Howard says he’s glad to be able to give his District a voice in that important decision and any others that could arise.

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“Education is the key to so many things,” he says. “It’s our key to mobility in this life. I’m going to get all the bills, all the particulars of the legislative situation tomorrow, look at it, and make a decision.”

Although his vote on the 16th will be important, Howard will have plenty to do once the legislature adjourns as well. Howard criticized the Governor’s office for their delay in establishing dates for the District 72 special election, since there’s plenty of work a legislator can do “on the ground,” away from Montgomery. He plans on backing up that criticism with action, working hard towards, among other things, funding for community youth centers.

“Our youth are being shortchanged. We need to have community development for the young kids in our district,” he says. “Education is vital, but their social life and having things to do are important issues, too. We can’t continue to just let them walk the streets with nothing to do.”

That drive to improve the recreational opportunities for the district’s youth explains Howard’s motivation in pointing out conditions at the Greensboro city ball field. During an interview Tuesday afternoon, Howard took time from his campaigning to tour the decaying facility.

Trash littered the ground. A nearby swingset sat without swings.

Most distressingly, the restrooms were without doors, gave off a rank odor, and appeared to be completely unusable.

“This is ridiculous. It should never have gotten into this shape,” he says. “Something needs to be done…my little girl plays ball here and she can’t even go to the bathroom.”

The blame lies, Howard says, with the Greensboro City Council’s inability to keep the facilities maintained. According to Howard, it’s just one example of the failure of Black Belt leadership that he expects to turn around.

“It’s a lack of leadership,” he says. “This field is a small thing. If you can’t take care of the small thins, how are you going to handle the big things, like attracting industry?”

To handle the big things in his new job, Howard knows he’ll need help and cooperation from the region’s other leaders. One of them is Congressman Artur Davis, who Howard said he would be speaking with personally Wednesday night.

“I’m very much looking forward to being able to work with him,” Howard said. “There are a lot more resources in Washington than there are in Alabama. A positive relationship with Congressman Davis will be a big asset to this District.”

Howard will be working more closely, however, with the three State Senators–Hank Sanders, Phil Poole, and Bobby Singleton–that represent part of District 72. Howard plans on working particularly closely with Singleton, who like Howard hails from Greensboro.

“Even though Senator Singleton supported my opponent,” Howard says, “he called to offer his congratulations, and we talked about working together in Montgomery. I’m looking forward to working with Senator Singleton. We have to work together, no doubt. He’s been down there for a while now and knows what’s going on. He’ll be able to shed light on some of the things that are going on, and share information for my votes on the 16th.

“All three are sincere in their efforts to make our area better,” Howard added. “Working with the three of them, I’m sure I’ll be caught up to speed quickly.”

By having to hit the ground running, Howard’s victory has become a reality in a hurry. He says that maybe it’s not the case with his team of overjoyed supporters, though.

“I think it maybe hasn’t sunk in with my supporters. I talked to some of them this morning,” he said. “We started off with a small budget, and we were up against an opponent with his name recognition already out there. But we got out there and talked about the issues, how we would respect the people’s desires and their wishes. And we won.”