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Bill Britt

The shape of things to come?

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

Several decisions over the next few weeks and months could significantly affect Alabama’s future for generations. Among these are, the appointment of Senator Jeff Sessions’ replacement, the Special Supreme Court’s ruling in Chief Justice Roy Moore’s appeal and the findings of the Montgomery Grand Jury concerning Governor Robert Bentley.

Bentley is publicly holding casting-calls to find Sessions’ replacement upon his confirmation as US Attorney General. From a novice State representative to Chief Justice Moore himself, Bentley is parading potential candidates around like beauty pageant contestants. Each day the press publishes an ever-expanding list of hopeful nominees. It seems more like a charade than a selection process. Identifying the next junior Senator from Alabama is serious business, with little in common with the spectacle it now seems to have become. Perhaps, Bentley is using the Senate interviews to line up support for the billion dollar prison bill he plans to push in a special legislative session. Perhaps it is simply to hide his real intentions. With this Governor, the only thing you know for sure is that you don’t know.

The State Constitution says the Governor shall call a special election to fill the vacancy “forthwith.”

Speculation has ranged from Bentley calling for the election 120 days after appointing Sessions’ successor, to holding the election in 2018, two years before the end of that Senate term. The 2018 option would have the appointee running for election in 2020. If Bentley calls the election within 120 days of appointment, then the advantage goes to Attorney General Luther Strange, who has filed papers declaring his intentions to seek the positions in the next election, whenever that may be held. If Bentley opts to wait until 2018, the appointee holds the advantage because special national interest will have already staked ground with the appointed incumbent. This would mean Bentley and outside interests would narrow the people’s choice of their next Senator.

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Sessions’ replacement should be an individual who will go to Washington for the citizens of Alabama. Senior Sen. Richard Shelby is a reliable advocate on behalf of the State, who has protected the State’s interest and sought advantage for the State at every turn. The next Senator must take up that mantel to ensure the State is not ignored in the Halls of Congress.

With the Republicans holding a slim majority in the upper chamber, the next Senator from Alabama must not come from the Party’s far-right Freedom Caucus or a stalemate will ensue. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will need flexible to negotiate, and in these matters, good ole Alabama pragmatism would be useful as well. Compromise will become especially needful with President Donald Trump at the helm. Look for The Art of the Deal to be a primer on negotiations for the next four years.

When the Senate reconvenes, Sen. Shelby will serve as the powerful Chair of Appropriation, a position never before held by an Alabamian. In the House, Rep. Roger Aderholt from Alabama’s 4th will be third in line on House Appropriations. It is worth considering the loss of House seniority should Bentley appoint Aderholt as Sessions’ replacement.

Perhaps there is a better way for Bentley to handle the appointment, a way that gives the people more say and opens up the field of candidates. Bentley could appoint a placeholder who, while representing the State wisely for the next two years, would also agree not to run in 2018.

Lt. Governor Kay Ivey is a public servant who could fill that bill with ease. Her agreeing to serve only two years would cap a long political career and allow for younger aspirants to cast their hats into the ring in 2018.

It is important to remember that Sessions’ replacement has a cascading effect on Judges, Marshalls, and other appointed positions.
Perhaps the greatest unknown are the desires of Bentley’s alleged mistress Rebekah Caldwell Mason? Anyone foolish enough to discount Mason’s influence in this matter is sorely out of touch with the realities of the Bentley Administration.

Another question which hangs like “the Sword of Damocles” over the prospects of an honest and proper due process of law in our State, is the fate of Chief Justice Moore. Currently, seven appointed judges are reviewing Moore’s suspension from the court. This panel of seven judges constitutes a Special Supreme Court that may uphold or dismiss the ruling of the Court of the Judiciary, suspending Justice Moore without pay for the remainder of his term.

Last week the Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC) which found probable cause to indict Moore on unethical conduct, refused to release the records that led to Moore’s conviction and removal. Citing a Constitutional right to keep the records confidential, the JIC is hiding behind an argument as thin as their collective skin and as unmoored from reality as their legal reasoning.

This past Sunday on The Voice of Alabama Politics, we revealed that two Supreme Court justices called for an investigation of the JIC after information about Moore’s indictment was leaked to certain media outlets. According to reliable sources, this is one reason the JIC is claiming confidentiality; but there may be more to the story.

At issue: Did Justice Moore receive a fair hearing? Was he afforded equal protection and due process? If he did, then what is the JIC hiding, if not the only course of action is for the Special Supreme Court to dismiss the case against Moore. Only by releasing the court records will the people be assured that Moore was not a victim of a political prosecution.

Finally, the Montgomery Special Grand Jury and it’s investigation into actions taken by Gov. Bentley to defame former Alabama Law Enforcement Secretary Spencer Collier and the use of State resources to facilitate his alleged affair with Mason.

This past week, Attorney General Luther Strange told a member of the press that he was meeting with Bentley about the Sessions appointment. When asked about an investigation into Bentley, the Attorney General gave a very “lawyerly” answer saying something to the effect of, “You didn’t heard that from me.” Some have taken this to mean there is no investigation or not enough to indict.

So, perhaps Special Prosecution Chief Matt Hart just wanted to visit with the Governor for a couple of hours, or wanted a little face to face with current and former Bentley staffers for a few days, who knows? If the Governor is not the subject of a Grand Jury investigation the Attorney General’s Office should say so publicly. Bentley’s administration is in shambles with rumors of Mason and Chief of Staff Jon Barganier holding budget meetings at the Blount Mansion.

Bentley will soon make the most significant appointment of his tenure, belief in the justice system is under suspicion in the Moore trial and the Governor is reportedly a suspect in a criminal investigation, and it’s not yet New Year’s Day.

With a 2016 that saw the felony conviction of Mike Hubbard the first Republican Speaker of the House since Reconstruction, it would be difficult to imagine what is next. But this is Alabama, where every plan is someone’s plot, every good deed has a price tag, and a good lie justifies what comes next.

Business as usual is no longer acceptable and the shape of things to come must be about the people of our State and not just those who serve themselves at their expense.

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | The last refuge of a scoundrel

Bill Britt

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The Republican Party nationally and especially here in Alabama prides itself on its patriotism.

But what is patriotism?

Noted English scholar Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), best known for “A Dictionary of the English Language” wrote, “It is the quality of patriotism to be jealous and watchful, to observe all secret machinations, and to see publick dangers at a distance. The true lover of his country is ready to communicate his fears, and to sound the alarm, whenever he perceives the approach of mischief.”

Today, it seems that those who expose corruption or sound an alarm where there is injustice are often vilified.

It appears that rewards most often go to those who ignore wrongdoing or worse, enable it.

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Over the last eight years when scandal has rocked the state’s Republican political elite, the state’s Republican governor, Lt. governor, legislators and the Alabama Republican Party did not call out the perpetrators. More often, they remained silent or offered them aided comfort.

Only on the rarest occasions did anyone dare utter a word, much less raise the type of patriotic alarm Dr. Johnson wrote about in his book, “Patriot.”

Likewise, when Gov. Robert Bentley ran amuck, those around him remained silent or enabled his dangerous behavior.

The House did finally launch an investigation into Bentley, but only after it became apparent that he was too weak and incompetent to offer much of a defense. Still today the Republican led government chooses to pay Bentley’s legal bills rather than cut ties with its former leader.

When Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard was brazenly using his office for personal gain, not only did the Republican establishment support him, traditional news outlets, as well as radio talking heads and online media, remained willfully quiet, or in some cases voiced Hubbard’s defense or talking points.

It should be noted that Republican Rep. Will Ainsworth, who is the current Republican nominee for Lt.Governor, did stand in the well of the House and call out Hubbard for his crooked ways. At the time, many said Ainsworth’s political career was over, but they were wrong. There were also other individuals who worked in private to bring about Hubbard’s righteous end, but they were few.

Merriam-Webster found that patriotism was one of the top eight political buzzwords of 2016, but what does it actually mean?

The roots of political patriotism are found in the ancient understanding of the Greek and Roman concepts of loyalty to the republic and is “associated with the love of law and common liberty, the search for the common good, and the duty to behave justly toward one’s country,” according to Britannica.com

Over the last few years, patriotism has been confused with nationalism and they are sometimes used interchangeably, but there is a marked difference. Nationalism is more about the homogeneity of culture, language and heritage, while patriotism places its emphasis on shared values and beliefs.

Patriots may come in many forms, but patriotism has certain irrefutable qualities far beyond mere outward gesture; speaking truth to power, exposing wickedness wherever it’s found and holding high the sacred values that are enshrined in our founding documents.

It is neither the individual who stands for the National Anthem hand-over-heart or the one who kneels head-in-hand, but it is the one who lives the founding principle of our nation who shows patriotism.

Isn’t it time for Republicans here in Alabama to do more than mouth the word patriotism?

The patriot is ever watchful, ever ready and always mindful that there are those among us who will steal, kill and destroy the blessings of liberty while claiming that their’s is true patriotism.

As Dr. Johnson said, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Three cheers for cheaters, conmen and crooks

Bill Britt

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Lobbyists and others representing special interests give millions to lawmakers in the form of campaign contributions, and it doesn’t even matter if they are legally or ethically right; they are a must.

Not only are these contributions acceptable and expected, in many cases, it is demanded with valued treats.

With millions in contributions, lobbyists and other entities with business before the state are, in fact, buying favors from an elected official and in turn, many of these so-called public servants reciprocate with favorable legislation and other goods not readily available to those who don’t pony up.

What is obvious is there is a pervasive give-to-get mentality that infects much of Montgomery.

A recent email sent by political consultant Brent Buchanan on behalf of Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh and Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed makes it clear leadership is watching who plays ball and who doesn’t.

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Fundraiser or shakedown?

Buchanan is not only a paid operative for state Senate Republicans, but he is also Gov. Kay Ivey’s campaign manager; therefore, his words matter because of who he represents.

Those close to Marsh and Reed think it’s doubtful they approved Buchanan’s indiscreet warning – that money is expected from lobbyists and other interests. But this attitude has become so common under Republican rule over the last eight years that it passes for normal behavior.

Pay-to-play or be sidelined is understood.

It’s tiresome to recall how in 2010, Republicans championed ethics and campaign finance reform only to now have abandoned any pretense of upholding them.

Under the guise of reform, they intend to gut current ethics statutes like a feral hog during the upcoming legislative session. Even now, holding the Republican-appointed Ethics Commission to the strict letter of campaign finance laws has become such a joke that Secretary of State John Merrill is publicly calling out the commission for not doing its job.

Opinion | Alabamians need an Ethics Commission that will enforce the laws

Amazingly, the state’s Republican Party continues to support it’s attorney general nominee, who has clearly violated the state campaign finance laws by blatantly accepting  $735,000 in contributions that are prohibited under the law.

Current Attorney General Steve Marshall, an appointee of disgraced former Gov. Robert Bentley, accepted unlawful contributions from an out-of-state special interest and no one says a word – not the state’s Ethics Commission’s executive director, not the governor or the Republican Party chair.

Add these to what amounts to legal extortion and bribery and a vivid picture emerges of a Republican majority that doesn’t care about the rule of law or civil propriety.

What is the message here?

Shakedowns are fine as long as it’s for our team.

Cheating is okay as long as it’s our team that wins.

Moral character, honesty of purpose and humility of service be damned,

Those who revere power over principle may prosper but never for long where there are individuals who value integrity over gain.

The Republican Party in Alabama used to stand for something, now it seems to cheer for cheaters, conmen and crooks, but perhaps someday it will come back to its senses.

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Time for an ethics champion to step forward

Bill Britt

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A majority of Alabama voters are “very concerned” about government corruption and ethics, however, Republicans who once championed strong ethics laws have retrenched or given up the fight altogether.

Our state needs a champion who will lead the battle to keep the state’s ethics laws strong: a singular individual with the courage to do what others lack even the nerve to say.

When the Alabama Republican Party drafted its first ever statewide party platform in August, the state’s ethics laws were not listed among its priorities.

Likewise, Republican leadership in the state Legislature and the Attorney General’s Office have abandoned the ethics reforms established in 2010.

Most tellingly, on the day that the Court of Criminal Appeals upheld 11 of former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard’s 12 felony convictions for violating the state’s ethics laws. Attorney General Steve Marshall was at the Ethics Reform and Clarification Commission where he told gathered reporters that the court’s opinion made it clear why the commission’s work was so important.

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What the court actually did was perform a political magic trick that at once upholds 11 counts of Hubbard’s conviction while creating doubt on who is a principal and what constitutes a conflict of interest while making it legal for a lawmaker to vote on legislation while getting paid to do so by an outside interest.

The court satisfied the wishes of big Republican donors, just like Marshall, whose campaign is being heavily funded by those who want Hubbard to go free or at the very least be the last man in a suit to ever be charged under the 2010 ethics reform.

Another magic trick is naming a commission designed to water down the current ethics statutes a “Reform and Clarification Commission.” The commission’s sole purpose is to give political cover to those who wish to overturn rules that keep public officials from using their office for personal gain or receiving lavish perks from lobbyists.

A June report published by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama shows there is broad agreement among Alabama voters about what issues are important to them as the state nears a statewide election in November.

As first noted by APR’s Chip Brownlee, the report is the result of a survey PARCA conducted, polling Alabama voters to determine their thoughts about the general direction of the state and issues that are concerning to them. Based on the responses to the survey, PARCA identified and ranked voters’ top 10 critical issues – ethics and corruption rank the third top concern.

Alabama voters’ priorities: Education, healthcare and government ethics

Since Hubbard was indicted nearly four years ago for violating state’s ethics laws, his allies and those who wish to avoid his fate have deployed a variety of tactics to undermine the State’s Ethics Act.

Over the last several years, efforts to gut current laws have failed, but the efforts by the Ethics Reform and Clarification Commission are  straight-out rewrites without a presence of righteousness.

The state’s ethics laws do not need to be reformed and clarified; they need to be clarified and strengthened – there is a critical difference.

But unless a champion steps forward, the people be damned. They may be “very concerned” about government corruption and ethics, but the Republican Party can’t be bothered to even mention it, lawmakers want to overturn the laws, and the attorney general – he’s just happy corrupt former Gov. Robert Bentley gave him a job and big monied donors like having an AG for a lapdog.

Justice awaits a champion.

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Bill Britt

Labor Day’s forgotten meaning still hotly debated

Bill Britt

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Labor Day is intended to be a tribute to the labor movement and, “is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers,” according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s website.

Today, in Republican-dominated states, labor unions are seen as an enemy to free enterprise.

David Macaray writing for CounterPunch suggests it’s not the Republican Party that’s labor’s most dangerous adversary, but “Labor’s arch-enemy—and a truly dangerous enemy it is—happens to be the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.”

Under partisan-Republican control the Business Council of Alabama has worked to marginalize organized labor’s influence in the State House and Governor’s Office.

Not long ago, Gov. Kay Ivey, while speaking at a labor conference, touted the state’s commitment as a staunch right-to-work state, a fact not welcomed by most of individuals present.

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Alabama became a right-to-work state by statute on Friday, Aug. 28, 1953. Nearly 65 years later, the state’s Republican lawmakers successfully pushed a ballot measure adding a right-to-work provision to the state constitution. Why after 65 years the state needed to pass a constitutional amendment to bolster a law already on the books was politics, not policy. However, the state’s voters overwhelmingly approved the constitutional amendment.

According to the National Right to Work Committee, the justification for right-to-work legislation is that, “No worker should be forced to join or pay dues to a labor union in order to get or keep a job.”

As one might imagine, labor organizations see right-to-work policies as something much different than their counterparts.

“’Right to work’ is the name for a policy designed to take away rights from working people,” according to the AFL-CIO. “The real purpose of right to work laws is to tilt the balance toward big corporations and further rig the system at the expense of working families. These laws make it harder for working people to form unions and collectively bargain for better wages, benefits, and working conditions.”

“A lot of the good things we enjoy in this country today were hard won at the bargaining table where labors leaders stood for worker’s rights,” said Bren Riley, president of the Alabama AFL-CIO, which through it’s 37 International Affiliates represents about 60,000 working Alabamians.

Labor organizations in the state represent approximately 138,000 members or roughly 7.4 percent of the workforce.

While Alabama has recently experienced a rise in employment, like many states and the nation as a whole, wage-growth is stagnant.

“The federal minimum wage has languished at $7.25 for almost a decade now,” according to Think Progress. “Even as local governments are trying to pass $15 minimum wage bills, the Republican party continually opposes such measures, in some cases using state-house majorities to impede legislation.”

As AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in an article by Emily Q. Hazzard, “It doesn’t matter if unemployment’s at 3.9 percent if their wages are low. They don’t have health care, and they can’t afford to send their kids to school.”

The City of Birmingham voted to increase its minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 in Feb. 2016. The state Legislature immediately took action to block the wage increase by passing a law that prevented, “local governmental entities from requiring minimum leave, wages, or other benefits for employees.” The statute further established that only the state had the authority to “establish uniform employment policies and regulations.”

Court allows Birmingham minimum wage lawsuit to move forward

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals held in June that a lawsuit that challenges the state’s actions to nullify the City of Birmingham minimum wage ordinance may go forward. If successful, Birmingham might upend the balance of power that has long favored the state Legislature and its White majority said those who favoring the wage increase.

During her first year in office, Gov. Ivey has doggedly focused on job growth in the state, and according to labor statistics, her efforts are paying dividends.

Like many other holidays, Labor Day now has mixed meanings. For many Alabamians, it’s the end of summer, the beginning of political nonsense, but most importantly, the start of football season – something we can all enjoy.

But for a moment, some will remember the good brought about by the once honored labor movement; others still curse its existence.

 

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The shape of things to come?

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