“To the outside, Vladimir Putin says he is in favor of democracy and reform but in his heart he longs for the Soviet Days.”
– KGB Gen. Oleg Kalugin (Ret.) in an 2001 unclassified speech to NSA employees

I was listening intently to General Kalugin’s speech at NSA’s Friendship Annex (FANEX) facility in early 2001. When he uttered those words, there was a noticeable groan from the audience that had assembled to hear the General’s thoughts on modern Russia.

President Bush had only recently been inaugurated and while Putin had been in office since the surprise resignation of Boris Yeltsin on the eve of the millennia, the U.S. was still trying to figure out who Vladimir Putin was, how he would govern Russia, and how he would act on the world stage. The General’s speech was not reassuring and time has shown that Kalugin was right.

More recently, I have noticed a disconcerting level of what I would almost call hero worship around Vladimir Putin on social media. At a recent GOP debate, a few participants seemed to battle over who had had the most meaningful interaction with the thuggish “President” of Russia.

While recent events may have shown that the United States and Russia have a common interest in defeating ISIS, Russia has zero interest in seeing it replaced by a stable, democratically elected government. Nor does Russia want the United States to succeed in any endeavor on the international stage. Putin, quite simply, wants to rebuild the empire of the Soviet Union on the back of a Russian-flavored version of capitalism, capitalism that would look to us like something crossed between crony-capitalism and the mafia.

If we want to look for heroes, let’s not look too far from our own shores. There are plenty of people doing the right thing here at home.

Like being doused with cold water…

Today, I had an opportunity to reflect upon three events that transpired within the last few weeks. Collectively, they have served to remind me just how much being a County Commissioner matters.

A few weeks ago, our community lost a long-time resident in an accident at the intersection of Highway 84 and Bay Springs Road. That intersection is something that has been atop my mind since before I even took office. When I was campaigning for this seat, I kept hearing complaints about the traffic and hazards of that intersection. It is also one that I travel at least twice per day, having almost been involved in an accident myself twice within the past year. When I was campaigning for office, I would often say that I hoped to be able to do something about the problem “before someone lost their life.”

Before a few weeks ago, they were just words. They were words I meant, don’t get me wrong, but all the same they were still just words. A few weeks ago, someone did lose their life. Those words suddenly took on much more meaning than before. Like being doused with cold water, I realized that this job as a Commissioner is more than just about the ideas I brought into this office. It affects people, their property, and even their lives. The decisions we make and the things we work towards have consequences.

Last week, I spoke with a relative of the gentleman that lost his life. While the person I spoke with was very pleasant, the call was the most difficult one, by far, that I have taken as a Commissioner. They had just lost a loved one – in an accident – at an intersection that I had tried to make safer – “before someone lost their life.”

Another issue which needs attention is the volunteer fire and rescue system that we use to provide emergency services to the rural parts of the County. Our current system grows increasingly underfunded each year. And while the system has a good number of volunteers, those volunteers are finding it increasingly difficult to get away from work during the day to make emergency runs.

I have always had a great appreciation for what our volunteers do. In my aging grandfather’s final years, the volunteers in Wicksburg took him to the hospital several times. Within the past 10 days, they have had to rush two more family members to the ER. To every volunteer fire and rescue person, I say “thank you.”

If you live within the city limits of Dothan and you think the volunteer system doesn’t affect you, you couldn’t be more mistaken. If you drive towards Enterprise and get into an accident in Bay Springs or Wicksburg, suddenly the volunteer fire and rescue system will be very important to you.

At the end of the day, we must have a viable volunteer system or we must have a professional system. Personally, I’m a fan of less taxes and less fees, so I’m going to do everything I can to sustain and strengthen the volunteer system. And I’m also going to keep on ALDOT about that intersection!

The Road

Over the course of my door-to-door campaign, whenever I thought about it, I would take out my phone and snap a photo of the area I was walking. It was great getting to better know the people that live in Houston County. While the cold, and later on the heat, did get old after a while, I never tired of speaking to people about my campaign and ideas. On the night of the primaries, all the work paid off. I am forever grateful for the support I received and I look forward to serving the people of District Four.

My ride-along with the Sherrif’s Department

I rode with a Sherif’s Deputy a few weeks ago on a Friday night. As a result, I got to know some of the people that help keep protect our lives and property while we all sleeping. My primary goal, however, was to get a better idea about the current shape of our Sheriff’s Department.

I came away from the experience very impressed with the people in the Sheriff’s department. We made one stop on Montgomery Highway for a vehicle whose tag was out of date. When the driver produced the tag (he had forgot to affix it to his vehicle) he was allowed to go about his business without a ticket. This humored me because the same thing happened to me a few years ago in a neighboring county. When I produced my tag I was told that wasn’t good enough and was ticketed.

On this particular night, several deputies and a few police from other municipalities met up for a late dinner at one of the establishments on Restaurant Row. I especially valued this opportunity because it was an opportunity to meet and interact with so many law enforcement personnel at once. One of the Deputies there was a Reserve Deputy. Reserve Deputies have a car, carry a badge, a gun, and have the same authority as any other Deputy. They only difference are that they are completely un-paid. They usually work a full-time job and when needed, they fill-in to help out the Sheriff’s Department.

The experience wasn’t all wine and roses, however. The particular car we patrolled in had a minor but noticeable transmission problem, was without radar, and was not equipped with a computer. With the economy seemingly in a never-ending malaise, meeting the Department’s funding needs is going to be a major challenge.

My naive view of “being on patrol” was that of a Deputy wandering randomly around the county, making a few traffic stops, and responding to calls as they come in. What I learned is that most of the activities are carefully planned out. The Deputy I was with has several locations he has to check on several times per night. The process of checking on these places is very thorough, they aren’t just slow drive-byes and glances.

What most impressed me was something that happened when we were responding to a domestic call just before midnight. Shortly after we arrived on the scene a black SUV rolled up and out stepped Sheriff Andy Hughes. This was the last Friday before he moved on to his new position on the following Monday. Even in the twilight of his career as Sheriff, he was far from being mentally checked-out; he was still out there responding to calls.

All in all, I greatly valued this experience and I plan to do this again with the Sheriff’s Department and with other County Departments. I tip my hat to all the law enforcement officers and dispatchers in our area. They have a big responsibility and a limited amount of resources. And I think they are doing a fine job.