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Political, Personal Interests Will Likely Decide Gaming Fate (But Should It?)

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—The future of gaming in Alabama will be a battle between competing businesses, personal and religious interests.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) has proposed legislation that would allow competition for gaming revenues between the Birmingham Racecourse, VictoryLand, Greenetrack, and locations owned by the Poarch Creek Indians (PCI). This will also include Mobile Greyhound Park, which is owned by PCI. Marsh’s legislation includes a lottery.

A competing plan reportedly favored by Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) would essentially grant PCI a monopoly over all gaming in the State and perhaps a lottery. Hubbard’s reasoning has not been articulated, but much speculation surrounds his motivation.

PCI’s Vice Chair Robbie McGhee has stated the tribe would be willing to advance the State as much as $250 million in exchange for an exclusive compact. This would give the tribe sole rights to table games and slots in the State, while giving the State a one-time windfall of needed cash.

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The tribe and their lobbyists have conducted extensive meetings with Hubbard, who has, in turn, reached out to Gov. Robert Bentley to press him on supporting the tribe’s position.

Hubbard, who has been charged by the State with 23 felony counts of public corruption which also includes lobbying the Governor on behalf of his clients, is fighting a very expensive legal battle. He has already used hundreds of thousands in campaign contributions to pay for his criminal defense, and some attorneys have suggested that he may need millions to actually see his day in court, with his current level of legal representation.

At odds with both plans are ALCAP, an interdenominational ministry whose mission, according the its website serves as, “Alabama’s moral compass,” and  the Alabama Policy Institute (API), a right-wing think thank.

According to Marsh, his plan, which, in part, is based on existing business and free-market competition, would not only generate revenue from taxing gaming, it would also create thousands of jobs.

An exclusive compact with PCI would not result in new, large-scale employment opportunities and would not amount to the reoccurring revenues that would be generated under Marsh’s plan.

Gov. Bentley has said, that gaming is not the answer to the State’s long-term fiscal health. He remains committed to putting the State on a path of stable growth through targeted tax increases.

However, those within the Governor’s inner-circle believe that the Hubbard plan might receive support, if he will deliver on Bentley’s tax plan. it has been said, a number of tax bills will soon be dropped in the House by members with close ties to Hubbard.

In part, the Hubbard/PCI scheme rests on the Governor’s legal authority to unilaterally sign a compact without the approval of the legislature. If the legislature must approve a compact, then Hubbard’s plan could be in jeopardy. It is widely believed that he cannot win over enough Senators to secure passage of a bill that grants a monopoly to the Poarch Creek Indians.

In compact negotiations states are expected to act in “good faith.” The text of Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) takes specific notice in not conferring upon a State or any of its political subdivisions the authority to impose any taxes, fee, charge, or other assessment upon an Indian tribe. So, it would be a delicate balance that would have to be reached between the Governor and the tribe.

There are numerous requirements to ensure tribes and states operate in good faith and to negotiate gaming compacts that will harm neither group and benefit, primarily, tribe members. The emphasis, of course, being on no harm to either and on benefitting the tribe not the State.

According to Florida House of Representatives v. Crist, the The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) clearly prohibits the conduct of Class III gaming activities on Indian lands in the absence of a tribal-state compact that is in effect.  The only exception to the compact requirement Congress envisioned was the promulgation of a gaming compact through administrative procedures after a bad-faith determination and in concert with a proposal selected by a court-appointed mediator.

In 2008, the Florida House of Representatives and its Speaker, Marco Rubio, filed in petition for a writ of quo warranto in the Florida Supreme Court disputing the Governor’s authority to bind the State to the compact that he had signed with the Seminole Indian Tribe of Florida. The Court held “that the Governor does not have the constitutional authority to bind the State to a gaming compact that clearly departs from the State’s public policy by legalizing types of gaming that are illegal everywhere else in the state.”

The same argument was made in North Carolina, where, in 2012, the North Carolina Institute for Constitutional Law found that Governor Bev Perdue “appear[ed] to have exceeded the scope of her authority when she signed the Gaming Compact that expanded current gaming options for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.” 

This was because live table games were not permitted by state law at the time the Governor entered into the compact. This issue was later resolved with by the State’s General assembly. 

Class III table gaming is currently not legal in Alabama and could take a constitutional amendment to make it so.

Case law undercuts the argument that Bentley or any Alabama Governor can act without consent of the legislature.

On the religious front, the idea of expanding gambling has met with fierce opposition in the past.

When gaming interests tried to pass legislation under the banner of Sweet Home Alabama, Citizens for Better Alabama (CBA) a Birmingham based, tax-exempt group was the public face of the opposition.

Led by Birmingham-based attorney A. Eric Johnston, who also works with ALCAP, hundreds of thousands of dollars were donated to the non-profit to fight gambling.

In a 2013 interview with the Alabama Political Reporter, Johnston explained how, then-Governor Bob Riley and Chairman of the ALGOP Mike Hubbard, routed almost a million dollars in contributions through the non-profit and back to a Hubbard owned company.

The non-profit’s Federal 990 report shows that with the aid of Riley and Hubbard, Citizens for a Better Alabama went from raising only around $40,000 in its best years, to almost a million when it came to fighting efforts to expand gambling.

Hubbard’s alliance with PCI seems to indicate that he will not be on the anti-gambling side on this occasion.

Former API policy wonk turned columnist for al.com has said that the State is not broke, “…just either too stupid or too unwilling to solve the real problems we face.” Smith says that raising tax or legalizing gambling is not the answer.

Smith seems to think that there is enough money in the Education Trust Fund to solve the State’s financial woes, even through the fund has suffered proration five out of the last ten years, and only recently obtaining a sizable surplus.

There is little doubt that organizations like ALCAP and API will press hard to stop in efforts to expand gambling.

Regardless of ideological beliefs or the State’s dire fiscal needs, the expansion of gambling will most than likely come down to political maneuvering and personal financial gain.

If past is prologue, the competing interests could likely destroy each other, before doing what is beneficial for the State. Most people would say it is time for the voters to decide gambling’s fate, but as in most things, the opportunists can’t make money if the voter’s have their say. Many are hoping for a mutually beneficial arrangement settled by the voters and not backroom, deals that line politicos’ pockets.

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Governor

Governor appoints two deputy chiefs of staff

Chip Brownlee

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Gov. Kay Ivey appointed two deputy chiefs of staff Wednesday as she prepares to begin her first full term as governor. In addition to naming two chiefs of staff, which is relatively uncommon, Ivey also made other changes to her top staff.

“As the governor moves forward in implementing her vision for the state, she believes these changes to her staff will be crucial to most effectively serve the people of Alabama,” the governor’s office said in a release.

Adam Thompson is being promoted to deputy chief of staff for policy, joining Liz Filmore, who is serving as deputy chief of staff for administration. The governor’s office said having two deputy chiefs of staff will help to improve organization, structure and focus among the staff.

Thompson is currently the governor’s appointments director, having managed her political and bureaucratic appointments. In Thompson’s new capacity, his experience will be beneficial to the governor in executing her policy and legislative agendas. Both deputies will report to chief of staff Steve Pelham.

“Alabama is experiencing great momentum, and in my full term as governor, I plan to be ambitious in growing on our successes and tackling our challenges. My recent appointment of Jo Bonner to Senior Advisor, in addition to these staff changes, will be instrumental to best execute my vision for Alabama,” Ivey said. “Everything we do in the Ivey Administration is a team effort, and I am very proud of that.”

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Catherine Gayle Thrash is being promoted to serve as director of appointments. Thrash is currently the governor’s confidential assistant. Thrash managed judicial appointments and will continue to do so along with managing all of the governor’s appointments.

William Filmore, who currently serves as legislative liaison, will now take the additional role of director of local government relations. In addition to his current responsibilities, Filmore will be the governor’s liaison to cities and counties.

“Adam, Liz, Catherine Gayle and William are valuable assets to my staff, and I look forward to continue working alongside them to better serve the state of Alabama,” Ivey said.

These appointments are effective Dec. 16, 2018.

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Can Alabama’s one-party system deliver for all the people?

Bill Britt

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Alabama is a one-party state.

For 136 years, the Democratic Party was the sole governing body which ruled the state under a one-party system. Voters switched sides in 2010, and now there is one-party control by Republicans.

Of the many problems created by a one-party system are the elimination of checks and balances, disregard for the minority population, a tendency for tolerating corruption within the controlling ranks and ignoring best practices because they may be ideas that come from the opposition.

Alabama is in dire need of men and women in positions of political power and influence who can see beyond the second ripple in the pond and who will do what is right, not based on party, but a deep abiding loyalty to our state.

Far too often policy items are ill-conceived, half-baked-by-products of some other state’s solutions or a national narrative that isn’t in the best interest of the people of our state.

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Best policy is written using fact-based information tailored to the needs of the state.

As lawmakers gear up for the 2019 Legislative Session, it might be fair to ask, “What do in-coming Republican lawmakers stand for today?”

One freshman legislator recently said that he is coming to Montgomery to help President Trump build the wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Far be it from me to question the gentleman’s motivation or IQ, but if I’m correct, the state Legislature does not have any say over a border wall, unless he thinks we need one in Mobile.

We have some excellent women and men at the State House, but there are a few who have no business deciding what’s for lunch, much less what is best for the people.

The state has many challenges which include weak income growth which is only improving because the national economy is rolling along, prisons that are a disgrace and under federal lawsuits, an infrastructure which is crumbling and self-dealing that is on the rise.

Republicans, like the Democrats before them, have not adequately addressed these systemic problems because with one-party rule, no one is pushing them to do better.

Perhaps the lack of real change is understandable given that for six of the last eight years, the Republican-led government was controlled by a delusional governor and a crooked Speaker of the House.

Former Speaker Mike Hubbard is going to prison, Gov. Robert Bentley is out of office and still out of his mind, so going forward, the state will know if Republicans can actually lead.

Republicans have a chance to lead; will they?

Without a strong opposition party, Republicans, like Democrats of the past, have no reason to compromise or build a coalition between the two parties. Therefore, in many instances, what is best for the state is hampered by groupthink or a slavish devotion to a national party orthodoxy that offers scant solutions to Alabama’s most pressing problems.

The state’s voting population is arguably at 60/40, with Republicans holding a commanding majority over Democrats as evident by the state’s last general election.

In his essay “Party dominance ‘theory’: Of what value?” Raymond Suttner notes, “The notion of a dominant party, usually described by those who deploy the concept, as a theory or a system, refers to a category of parties/political organizations that have successively won election victories and whose future defeat cannot be envisaged or is unlikely for the foreseeable future.”

Republicans occupy all 29 statewide offices and control more than two-thirds of both the House and the Senate; Alabama is a one-party state.

If the state succeeds, Republicans can take credit. If it continues near the bottom in every meaningful measure of success, then they should be held accountable.

One-party government is fraught with problems, not the less of which is a failure to deliver good government for all the people because they don’t have to worry about reelection.

Alabama should expect more, but do we?

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Crime

ACLU, NAACP make demands of authorities following Hoover police shooting

Brandon Moseley

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Thursday, the ACLU of Alabama and Alabama NAACP filed public records requests to police departments in Birmingham, Mobile, Montgomery, Hoover, Huntsville, and Saraland for their use-of-force policies, body camera policies, and racial bias training materials, following the Thanksgiving shooting of Emantic “E.J.” Fitzgerald Bradford Jr. and other incidents where excessive use of force has been accused in Alabama.

The civil rights groups said that they are calling for “transparency and accountability.”

“Far too often, the concept of ‘reasonable force’ has been distorted to justify police officers killing or seriously injuring people of color for indefensible reasons,” stated ACLU Alabama policy analyst Dillon Nettles. “The death of EJ Bradford by the Hoover Police Department is a reminder of the tragic loss a family and community faces when law enforcement utilizes lethal force.”

“Law enforcement must implement transformative reforms that build public trust and lead to humane, equitable, and constitutional policing in all communities,” Nettles said. “We plan to fight for that transparency by collecting policies, practices, and data for departments across the state in the hope that it leads to greater accountability for violations of law, policy, and community trust.”

“Too many of our young black males, in particular, are being shot and killed like animals and no one is held accountable,” said Alabama NAACP President Bernard Simelton. “These tragic scenes must stop. The people in our communities deserve to know the policies and procedures that Law Enforcement Agencies use when engaging individuals with weapons. The NAACP has advocated for use of body cameras by police officers so that the community could see really what happened, but when Law Enforcement refuses to release the video to the public, it does not help the situation. It is as if the video was never taken.”

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In addition to E. J. Bradford, they cited: Chikesia Clemons, a Black woman wrestled to the ground and exposed for making a complaint at a Waffle House in Saraland; Ulysses Wilkerson, a Black teenager, beaten and hospitalized in Troy; Sureshbhai Patel, an elderly Indian man, slammed to the ground in Madison; and Greg Gunn, a Black man shot and killed walking home in Montgomery.

Simelton and Nettles claim that incidents of excessive and oftentimes lethal force, particularly towards people of color, is an epidemic. The Washington Post reported that 987 people were shot and killed by police in 2017.

They did admit that police officers do not see a systemic issue. A Pew Research Center poll released in 2017 found that two-thirds of the nation’s police officers believe the deaths of Black Americans during encounters with police are isolated incidents and not an indication of broader problems between law enforcement and the Black community.

They claim in a statement that this, “Disconnect between law enforcement and Black people shows that culture shifts and internal reform of police policies are needed to prompt agents of the law to foster a positive, trusting relationship with the communities they serve. Given this recent tragedy, Alabama law enforcement must be held to the same principles of transparency and open decision-making that other government officials accept as a condition of operating in a democratic society.”

The public records request is available at:

https://www.aclualabama.org/sites/default/files/prrletter20181212-useofforce.pdf

On Wednesday night, protestors crowded the Target store in Hoover. Several groups are protesting Hoover because of their view that the slaying of E.J. Bradford by a uniformed off-duty Hoover police officer at Hoover’s Riverchase Galleria in the moments following a shoot over some shoes was unjustifiable. The Bradford shooting is still under investigation by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA).

Some individuals have called for a boycott of the city of Hoover.

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Governor

Alabama’s marks 199 years as a state on Friday

Brandon Moseley

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Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey will join the Alabama Bicentennial Commission on Friday to kick off Alabama’s bicentennial year countdown.

Alabama officially became the nation’s 22nd state on December 14, 1819. In one year, on December 14, 2019, Alabama will celebrate its 200th anniversary as a state.

Gov. Ivey will mark the occasion with an Alabama Bicentennial Year Announcement at 10:00 a.m. at the Old House Chamber of the Alabama State Capitol.

Economic developer and Alabama historian Nicole Jones told the Alabama Political Reporter, “What does it mean to have an unwavering commitment to our state? It is recognizing that every county in Alabama is a priceless treasure, encompassed with an abundance of history and heart.”

“The Alabama 200 initiative provides an opportunity to recognize the people, past and present, who have shaped our state,” Nicole Jones continued. “Talented folks across generations and from various walks of life have utilized their gifts to make Alabama a special place, the best state, to live. Each of our 67 counties has experienced significant events as they pertain to societal, cultural, economic, and technological history. The three—year Bicentennial celebration serves as an educational opportunity as well as a way to engage residents to participate in civic and community events and record historic accounts for future generations. It is almost as if we are creating a three-year time capsule that encompasses the past 200 years.”

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“Any person or company can participate in the bicentennial in a myriad of ways. Alabama Public Television, for example, has contributed by producing Alabama Legacy Moments – 30-90 second video segments that showcase Alabama people and places, which entice viewers to further explore our state,” Nicole Jones added. “APT made the video clips, which feature original music by Bobby Horton and content from the Encyclopedia of Alabama, available free of charge for all commercial radio and television stations. Alabama’s Federal Road, the US Space and Rocket Center, Bear Bryant, Freedom Rides, DeSoto Caverns, the Longleaf Pine, and Luther Leonidas Hill’s contributions to medicine are just a few topics highlighted.”

“Another special exhibit currently making its way through Alabama’s 67 counties is Making Alabama, A Bicentennial Traveling Exhibit presented by the Alabama Humanities Foundation with support from Alabama Bicentennial Commission and Alabama Department of Archives and History,” Nicole Jones continued. “The exhibit uses a combination of artifacts, storyboards, storytellers, festivals, photographs, and kiosks to highlight Alabama from 1819 through today.”

Nicole Jones concluded, “The study of history provides us an opportunity to bridge the past with the present, learn what works and learn from mistakes, formulate hypotheses, and make informed decisions that hopefully will allow us to gain confidence in the future. We all are part of Alabama. Let us each take a moment to participate in our own unique ways and share our history, our story, with others.”
Alabama became a Territory on March 3, 1817 following the defeat of hostile Creeks in the Creek Indian War.

The stated mission of ALABAMA 200: “Is to support, create, and execute events and activities that commemorate the stories of our people, place, and path to statehood. Between 2017 and 2019, ALABAMA 200 will engage residents and visitors in educational programs, community activities, and statewide initiatives that teach, inspire, and entertain.”

To learn more, click here.

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Political, Personal Interests Will Likely Decide Gaming Fate (But Should It?)

by Bill Britt Read Time: 6 min
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