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The people want to vote

Steve Flowers

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INSIDE THE STATEHOUSE
by Steve Flowers

During the past couple of months everywhere I go people continually ask me why in the world the legislature could not simply put the issue of whether they could vote for or against a lottery on the November ballot.

The fact that this inquiry has lingered for this long tells me that folks are upset about this travesty. They are mad at the legislature. However, the blame lies with the governor.

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Indeed, the legislature met in a special session to address this issue of whether or not to put the lottery proposal on the ballot and let you vote on this lingering issue. Most polls indicate that the good people of Alabama would vote in favor of it, provided that there are no sweetheart deals, hidden chicanery or favoritism in the proposal.

Most Republicans would vote in favor of it because they are tired of their money being sent to Georgia, Florida and Tennessee to help their schools, roads and indigents rather than keep their money at home helping Alabamians.

Folks in the Heart of Dixie are going to buy lottery tickets. They are just going to buy them in our surrounding states. It was noticeable that a good many of the legislators, who represent border counties, voted against the referendum. This is similar to bygone days when most of the dry counties in the state continued to vote dry due to an ironic coalition between the bootleggers and preachers.

I seriously think that some of these border counties are reaping a bonanza in gas tax revenue from the throng of cars headed to border states to buy lottery tickets. They say that cars are backed up for miles around every state border when these super powerball extravaganzas occur.

Well, to answer your questions, it is difficult to pass anything in a congress or legislature. That is why they have the old adage, “It takes an act of Congress to get something accomplished.”

In Alabama extraordinary special sessions of the legislature are the way to go to get something accomplished if you are the governor. The legislature has to address what the governor calls the legislature into session for, it is called “the call.”

George Wallace was a master of using special sessions to get what he wanted done. He would call them repeatedly. However, before he called them, he would have his ducks in a row. He would have called you on the phone, had you visit with him one on one in his office at the capitol or at the governor’s mansion. He would know what the vote count was on his issue before he called a special session. He would not waste taxpayer money on a session without any accomplishment.

Well folks, our good ole doctor Governor Bentley ain’t George Wallace. Ole Bentley did waste money that the state General Fund does not have to squander. That is why the special session was called. It was designed to help bolster the beleaguered General Fund. Bentley failed because he did just the opposite of Wallace. He did not call any legislators. They heard about the session on the news.

Even though Gov. Bentley shoulders the blame for failure to at least put the lottery issue on the ballot, he has shown profound leadership with his creation of an advisory council on gambling. This is a prudent, rational, and unbiased approach to the entire gambling issue. Bentley is right when he says the issue of gambling in the state is something that will never end unless we come together and figure out a way for the people of this state to have a say in its resolution.

This advisory panel has done a thorough job of studying this issue. Jim Byard and Clinton Carter, two bright stars in Bentley’s cabinet, have led the comprehensive study of gaming. The commission looked at what other states are doing to reap revenue from gambling that already exists to get a clearer picture of what a lottery would generate for state coffers. They have looked at all gambits of gambling in the state, not just the lottery. They are designing a long term approach to present to the legislature. The administration has extended the panel’s deadline to report to the legislature from January 31st to June, probably because they do not want to deal with gambling during this legislative session. The final solution must allowed Alabamians to vote on this issue.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

 

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

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Opinion | State schools chief backtracks, Montgomery schools mess grows

Josh Moon

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Never mind.

That’s essentially what state schools superintendent Eric Mackey told parents, business leaders, school system employees and everyone else on Tuesday, telling the Montgomery Advertiser that he — the top executive in all of Alabama public education — might have been mistaken when he talked about the effects of Montgomery’s public schools potentially losing accreditation.

Oops.

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A little more than a week ago, a few days before school board elections in the county, Mackey stood before the Montgomery Chamber of Commerce and Montgomery County Commission and told a dire tale of hardship that was certain to set upon the poor children of Montgomery if board changes were not made.

No out-of-state colleges.

No private colleges.

No federal aid.

The effects would be devastating, driving people from the capital city at a pace faster than they’re currently leaving.

Small problem: None of that was true.

I called Mackey on it. I asked his office to provide evidence that it was true, because the Federal Student Aid office told me it wasn’t and two college presidents said it wasn’t.

But that was prior to the elections still, so the best I could get from Mackey was a garbled statement explaining that a loss of accreditation was very bad, which, of course, no one was arguing. But it’s one thing to say it’s bad and quite another to have the state schools superintendent stand before you and say your kids won’t be able to attend college unless you make changes to the school board.

That last part is what Mackey did. He was flat wrong.

And now he’s saying so. But he’s blaming it on an unnamed source. Because apparently Alabama’s superintendent of schools needs to be told by someone else what accreditation loss means.

Mackey wouldn’t tell the Advertiser who the source was, but he insisted that the source was “reputable.”

You’ll have to decide whether, at this point, Mackey is reputable enough to be believed.

Because that’s not all Mackey was apparently wrong about. During that speech to the County Commission, Mackey was discussing an accreditation report on MPS from the district’s accreditation agency, AdvancED. The report was, to put it lightly, not good.

But to hear Mackey and Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange talk, unless those board changes were made — changes that were being pushed by a political action committee tied to the mayor and his consultants — well there was just no way to avoid a loss of accreditation.

Fast forward to the same Advertiser interview: Mackey now says not to sweat that loss of accreditation, because MPS was forced into selling off Georgia Washington Middle School and because it’s operating a summer reading program that was already scheduled when the accreditation review took place.

Read that again. Let it sink in.

MPS losing accreditation, according to Mackey and other city leaders, rested on the sale of a middle school building and a summer reading program. Oh, and don’t let me forget those terrible board arguments — the ones that never rose to the level of formal complaints, rules violations or violations of state open meetings laws.

If all of that is true, AdvancED accreditation is worthless.

But slightly less worthless than the opinion of anyone from the state department of education on the operation of a local school district. Because if the state’s operation of Montgomery’s school district is any indication, they have no idea what they’re doing.

MPS was better run by MPS.

In the year and a half or so that ALSDE has been in charge of MPS, they have overspent on administrators, overspent on an odd cleaning contract instead of allowing already-employed custodians to do it, gave out raises to failing school principals, then had to give out raises to all principals, forgot to get their expensive administrators certified (some still aren’t), hired a guy who was barred from all of New York City’s schools and had to quietly run off most of the administrative hires it made.

But here are the two kickers: 1. After all of the money that has been spent, there hasn’t been a single additional teacher, aide, coach or book purchased to help improve the learning environment of a child in MPS, and 2. After all the complaints of mismanagement, not a single principal was removed.

Now, look here, MPS has serious, serious problems, and there isn’t a soul alive who would deny that. But what’s taking place in Montgomery right now isn’t an effort to better anything for those poor kids. It’s an effort to protect the pocketbooks of a few wealthy businessmen.

It’s an effort to simply change the image of MPS, instead of its culture and basic operation. It’s yet another attempt to educate the advantaged at the expense of the disadvantaged.

It’s wrong. As wrong as the state superintendent.

 

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Opinion | We’re perfecting the “art” of being mean

Joey Kennedy

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My mother, Patricia Ann Harper Kennedy, has been dead more than 21 years now. She died young, in 1997. She had cancer. She did not have health insurance.

Mom couldn’t get health insurance because she had a “pre-existing,” non-malignant tumor a decade before her fatal cancer. She wanted insurance. She could have paid for insurance. But she couldn’t get it. The insurance industry wouldn’t let her have it.

Despite the promises of the Affordable Care Act, we’re moving right back to that horror again today.

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Under the ACA, or Obamacare, as Obama-haters like to call it, people couldn’t be denied insurance because of pre-existing conditions. Nor was there a limit on how much an insurance company was obligated to pay for a health issue. Our kids can remain on our own insurance until they’re 26.

We’re the only First-World nation in the world that doesn’t view health care as a right. We don’t mind if sick people shoot up schools, clubs, churches, or concerts with their Second Amendment rights, but we won’t promote the general welfare by making sure sick people can see a doctor in a timely manner.

The Donald Trump administration’s Justice Department, under the leadership now of our former and long-terrible U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, is doing all it can to destroy the ACA. And, like so many progressive, successful, and humane programs started during Barack Obama’s eight years in office, Trump and Sessions are doing a great job tearing those programs down.

America – and Alabama, too – are becoming more mean every day. Sessions is mean, and that is reflected in his Justice Department’s policies.

So the Justice Department will no longer defend certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act. The decisions Sessions and his mean colleagues are making will lead to even higher health insurance premiums. Even more mommas dying without insurance.

But the meanness isn’t simply reflected in damage to the ACA.

Sessions no longer will allow citizens of countries that basically condone gender abuse to get asylum in the United States. Go ahead and beat those women to death; that’s not our problem.

Home of the brave.

Compassion? Trump and Sessions likely can’t even spell the word, much less define it. It is not “covfefe.”

A “true” state’s righter, Sessions demands that the federal government enforce laws against recreational marijuana use in the states that have already approved it. Hypocrisy is a Republican value.

Temporary refugees from so-called (by this administration) “sh—hole” countries are finding they’re losing their protection. Go home. Leave us alone. Be murdered.

A woman’s right to manage her own body is under unprecedented assault. By men.

The LGBTQ community, which only recently won the right of marriage, finds itself the target of “legal” discrimination under this administration. Our transgender and gay members of the military are now at risk.

Children and parents trying to get asylum in the “land of the free” are being brutally separated. Many hundreds of those children are now, literally, “lost.”

We’re friends with North Korea’s brutal dictator, but are confrontational with the leaders of our strongest allies, including Canada, Mexico, Great Britain, France, and Germany.

We’ve got a mean streak that was suppressed by better angels in previous administrations, but has now been unleashed by Trump and his hate-filled minions, including Sessions.

Sadly, in our state, many politicians (all Republicans) tout this hateful Trumpism as a reason to vote for them in their TV commercials. Too many hateful voters feel enabled by that. So we get people like child molester Roy Moore running for the U.S. Senate, and supported by Alabama’s first woman governor since Lurleen Wallace.

We let our worse demons loose to kill our better angels.

We’re killing angels.

We want to make Medicaid practically impossible for our poorest to get. And we’re a very poor state. We want to deny food aid to children. We want to privatize public education and prisons, so private corporations can make more money.

We celebrate being mean. We monetize being mean.

Angels are dying.

My mother was too young two decades ago when she died of cancer. She was helped along to her early death by the highly profitable health insurance industry. The one we are bringing back.

Today, I don’t have health insurance. I cannot afford it. I haven’t been to a doctor in 18 months. My hope depends on living until I’m 65 and can get Medicare, which I’ve paid into my entire professional career. That is, If Medicare as we know it still exists in 2021. These Trump Republicans want to get rid of that, too.

I am 62 years old. Next year, I’ll be my mother’s age when she died. So little has changed.

Well, except we’re even more mean.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

 

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Opinion | Inside the Statehouse: Analysis of gubernatorial primaries

Steve Flowers

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Now that the dust has settled from last week’s gubernatorial primaries, let’s analyze the outcome.

Governor Kay Ivey and Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox won very impressive victories. Ms. Ivey beat three well-financed opponents without a runoff. She trounced them. She garnered 56 percent of the vote to 25 percent for Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. Evangelist Scott Dawson and Mobile State Senator Bill Hightower brought up the rear with 13 percent and 5 percent respectively. All three men worked hard and raised money. It was a daunting task to defeat a sitting governor.

The challenge now goes to youthful, vibrant, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, who captured the Democratic nomination with a brilliant and impressive victory.

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Maddox’s win may have been more impressive than Ivey’s. He had to defeat a field of five. He did so, like Ivey, without a runoff. He also received 55 percent of his primary vote. His closest challenger was former Alabama Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb, who got 29 percent. Former Cullman State Representative James Fields ran third in the Democratic primary with 9 percent of the vote.

Polling revealed three months out that Kay Ivey had an insurmountable lead. Remarkably, the same polls had her with the almost identical 30-point lead three weeks out. Her numbers were 45 to Battle’s 12, Dawson 9, and Hightower 4 in mid-February and again as late as mid-May.

The only way to diminish that kind of lead is to go negative. Battle refused to go negative, which negated any chance he had to overtake her. He was the only one of the three with the financial resources to decimate her numbers.  He chose to use his campaign largesse to buy name identification. He is probably planning on making another run for governor in 2022. Thus, making this his get acquainted race. Kay will more than likely not be a candidate for reelection in 2022, if indeed she survives the November general election against the Democrat Walt Maddox.

All three dawdled with the scheme to go after Kay’s age, cognizance, and health. The first to use the ploy was Hightower. In a veiled way to draw attention to Kay’s health, he released his medical report.  Dawson and Battle followed suit with statements from their doctors saying they were fine. The media took the bait and smelled blood. They caught Kay off guard and off script. She first gave some ambiguous, befuddled response. Then when her campaign handlers had time to survey the scenario, they realized that all the three men did was to get a written statement from their primary physician that simply stated they were in generally good health. Well, Kay could do that. The issue was diffused and laid to rest.

Presidential candidates cannot get by with broad, benign statements that they are fine. They are made to reveal their medical records and history. This is sometimes pretty private and quite revealing. Every medical problem, procedure, medication, and disease contracted is shown. There is a reason that Bill Clinton did not release his medical records.

The gentleman award in the GOP Primary goes to Mayor Tommy Battle and Preacher Scott Dawson in the Governor’s race and State Senator Rusty Glover in the Lt. Governor’s race. They were vibrant and positive.  Their sincerity and candor were refreshing. They gave hope that good people will enter Alabama politics.  However, they also gave renewed credence to the old adage, “nice guys finish last.” This maxim is especially true in politics.

One of the most interesting stories of this year’s gubernatorial election is that when Kay Ivey was a student at Auburn University 52 years ago, she cut her teeth in politics campaigning for Lurleen Wallace for governor.  Lurleen won that race going away. In 1966, Governor Lurleen Wallace defeated 10 male opponents without a runoff. She is our only elected female governor in our state’s history. Ironically, if Kay is elected in November, she will be our second elected female governor.

Kay Ivey also made a special friend at Auburn. She and Jimmy Rane met and bonded at the Loveliest Village on the Plain. Rane, better known as the Yellow Man from his commercials, founded Great Southern Wood Company and has forged it into one of America’s great companies. Rane runs his company out of Abbeville and still resides in his native Henry County. Rane and Ivey have remained fast friends over the years. He has been an integral part of her campaign. He has been her largest personal contributor. In addition, she used Rane’s Great Southern jet to fly around the state on her final day of campaigning.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

 

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The people want to vote

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