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Lame Duck Governor wants prisons

Steve Flowers

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INSIDE THE STATEHOUSE
by Steve Flowers

The premier issue of this year’s legislative session will be whether to borrow a massive amount of money to build new prisons in the state. This initiative appears to be our lame duck Governor Robert Bentley’s primary agenda.

Last year Bentley proposed an $800 million bond issue for new prisons. He has come forward with a similar proposal this year. His plan would close all existing prisons and replace them with three new super men’s prisons and one smaller women’s prison.

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Folks, $800 million is a lot of money. There is no question that we have a prison problem. Alabama’s prison population is at 175 percent of capacity. It is among the highest in the nation. This overcrowding obviously causes violence and safety problems for our prison guards.

The federal courts are probably on the verge of dosing out some kind of remedy for our prisons. The courts took over the California prisons a couple of years ago with a lower overcrowding ratio than ours is now.

It is a tough spot for legislators. Funding prisons is not a popular reelection issue. There are several questions that would have to be answered if I were a legislator addressing this serious problem. First, if I were going to put this state in debt for that amount of money I would have to ask the imperative question, “How in the world are you going to pay for the debt?”

There needs to be absolute, concrete, valid, exact revenue sources to make the payment. It is doubtful that any banker would loan someone any money if the vague pie in the sky ambiguous reply was, “Well, the prisons will be more efficient and therefore the savings will probably be enough to pay the note.” Probably ain’t going to get it is what I am afraid the banker would say to the borrower. The last time I checked there was no growth revenue in the General Fund. So hoping that there might be new revenue growth is also wishful thinking.

You simply have to put dollars and cents to exactly how much you save with these nuts and bolts and how you are going to pay the bond indebtedness. Otherwise you are buying a pig in a poke. In addition, the crazy point is that these ultramodern new prisons still leave us with overcrowded prisons. Therefore, it does not solve the problem.

Another question that would have to be answered is why does the governor’s proposal require that the new prisons be designed and built by one company with a one-time exemption to the state bid laws. That just does not meet the smell test. That simply looks corrupt and, as they say, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck it must be a duck.

Finally, if I were a legislator from a county or neighboring county that had a state prison located in my area, hell would freeze over before I would let the governor close it. I would rather cast a vote dissolving my county than vote to borrow $800 million in order to close down one of my area’s largest employers. Just ask the people in Elmore, Escambia, St. Clair, Limestone and Bibb what it would mean for their county economics if they closed their prisons. The prisons in Barbour and Bullock counties are the largest employers in their counties.

Filibuster would have a new meaning if one of those prisons was in my Senate district. I would tell them in a New York minute, “that dog won’t hunt.” Besides, when the legislature last built new prisons in the aforementioned locales during the last Wallace administration they bought plenty of extra land around those prisons for future expansions. Gerald Wallace made sure of that.

The good thing for you, the Alabama taxpayer, is that this bond issue probably will not pass simply because Bentley is for it. He is essentially a deterrent to anything passing in the legislature.

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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Lame Duck Governor wants prisons

by Steve Flowers Read Time: 4 min
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