Connect with us

Featured Columnists

Alabama Legislature Week 6: You won’t miss them while they’re gone

Josh Moon

Published

on

By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

I have good news and bad news.

First the good news: For the next two weeks, the Alabama Legislature will be on break – a much deserved vacation from the grueling 3-day work weeks and mostly 6-hour days spent thinking hard about stuff.

Advertisement

But here’s the bad news: they weren’t off this week, which means we need to recap all the ways you got hosed over the past three days.

If it helps, I plan to be really sarcastic and a little funny while explaining it.

Off we go with your Week 6 recap.

Money for Nothing

There was a General Fund Budget passed out of the House late Wednesday night. It took nine hours, thanks to a filibuster from Democrats, to pass the exact budget that came out of committee.

You’ll be shocked to learn that the budget again trimmed a proposed State employees’ raise.

The raise was just too much, Republican lawmakers said. They couldn’t possibly spare the money for a 4-percent raise with such uncertainty lingering from the Federal Health Care overhaul being kicked around by President Trump.

So, they left $97 million on the table and kicked it up to the Senate. Seriously, there’s a $97 million surplus left over.

This is how it goes for you, average workers: After nearly a decade of not getting a raise, a State Legislature that never plans ahead or has extra money for anything just chose planning ahead instead of giving you a raise.

If you are a working person in this State, why oh why do you keep voting for these people?

Pro-fetus Day

You knew from the scene outside that Thursday was an odd day even for the Legislature. In celebration of Pro-life Day, there were groups outside the State House handing out fetus dolls to children and others.

Inside the State House, though, the lawmakers who entertained scheduled such nonsense proved yet again that while they love to pander for your votes with abortion-themed bills that do nothing but cost us lawsuit money, once that fetus becomes a baby, they stop caring so much.

The day before Pro-life Day, Rep. Pebblin Warren was forced to pull a bill that would have required that church daycare centers be licensed the same way private daycare centers are. The reason it was pulled was because Warren had received pushback from her colleagues in the House and was concerned she couldn’t get it passed.

Just prior to pulling it, Warren provided examples of what can go wrong when daycares aren’t licensed. She used the example of the 80-plus children that contracted staph at a Montgomery “church” daycare, whose owner had been shut down by DHR previously and had reopened as a church daycare to avoid the scrutiny.

There was the story of a child who died. Another of a child who suffered a mysterious broken leg, for which the daycare couldn’t compensate the parents for medical care because it lacked basic health care coverage.

So, you’re probably asking why this is controversial. Seems like a no-brainer, right?

Well, in order to comply with DHR regulations, currently unlicensed church daycares would have to do all of the costly things that private daycares do – like running criminal background checks, installing proper fire safety equipment, ensuring emergency exits aren’t blocked, following safety guidelines for handling and storing food and being subjected to DHR inspections.

And these “pro-life” church leaders and lawmakers think that’s just asking too much. I mean, really, are kids’ lives worth the cost of an extra smoke alarm?

The Holy Army

One of the strangest, scariest bills I’ve ever seen came floating through and out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. It allows for Briarwood Presbyterian Church to form its own police force.

Those would have police powers just the same as your average deputy Christian cops or street cop, but they would be tied to a church and the private school it operates.

And the Judiciary Committee passed that nonsense.

The problem here is there is no outside oversight of what occurs with this private force. While anyone arrested would be sent to Jefferson County court, the private force would essentially end public police monitoring of the church and school campus. And the public would not be entitled to see the church police forces’ records.

It’s probably worth noting that the idea for this police force came about around the same time the Briarwood school started experiencing a number of drug issues among its student body. In 2015, a drug raid occurred at the school and left several students expelled and one student arrested.

The whole incident – and, sources say, several other drug-related incidents – is shrouded in secrecy and kept out of the public view.

And if this private police force is approved, that’s the way everything will be.

A Sports Problem

With all other problems in the state pretty much solved, lawmakers in the House Education Committee turned their attention to high school sports on Wednesday.

A bill that threatened to forbid public schools from playing private schools was the topic, but the real issue was an unfair advantage some House members believe private schools have in spring sports.

Like most things in the Legislature, the complicated issue was boiled down to its simplest form and potential solutions were both overly simplistic and mostly unhelpful. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Ritchie Whorton, would have essentially resulted in private schools being booted from the AHSAA.

Do private schools have an unfair advantage in some sports, primarily the spring sports? Yes. But that advantage exists because of a few reasons.

Many private schools fund and devote resources to those spring sports while public schools often lack those funds and lack the participation levels to keep up.

Also, many of those private schools have taken advantage of the ridiculous Accountability Act, which basically pushes public school tax dollars to private school bank accounts. Those schools actively recruit top players while using the AAA money as a sort of scholarship. There are some private schools in this State that have athletic rosters crammed with AAA recipients.

These are problems that were created over time by poor funding and poor legislation.

Complaining to the head of the Alabama High School Athletic Association that he needs to solve the problems you and other lawmakers created isn’t exactly the best way to handle the situation.

Big Finish

A prison bill passed the Senate on Thursday, finally. It allows for the state to borrow just $100 million to build one prison, but only if two other counties agree to build two other prisons. The state would lease those two prisons. I was told that Senate leaders knew when they presented and passed the bill that it likely wouldn’t fly in the House, but they have no desire to attach their names to an $800 million bill that leaves the State in serious future debt. So, instead, they opted for only a little debt and doing absolutely nothing to address any problem – not overcrowding, not mental health, not a shortage of corrections officers. Well played, Alabama Senate.

In the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, we learned that black people are the reason that black people in Alabama are more than three times as likely to be convicted for marijuana possession as white people, despite the fact that white people are more likely to possess marijuana. At least, that’s what former Rep. Richard Laird believes. Laird told the committee, as he argued against a medical marijuana bill, that high incarceration rates for drug offenses among minorities was due to their bad decisions. The offensiveness of his comments was pointed out by Rep. Juandalynn Givan, who made it rather clear to Laird that his comments were a bad decision.

And finally, Sen. Gerald Dial pushed a bill through a committee that would make it mandatory to give the death penalty to anyone convicted of killing an on-duty police officer. Dial claimed it would help protect police, but it won’t. No person who would kill a cop would be deterred by a mandatory death penalty rule. It’s another meaningless pander that will, at some point in the future, result in the death of a wrongly convicted man or result in a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the State or some other awful outcome. But then, what bill that this bunch passes doesn’t result in one of those?

 

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

Continue Reading

Featured Columnists

Opinion | The Pulitzer Prize: The Good Journalism Seal of Approval

Joey Kennedy

Published

on

Stock Photo

Alabama Media Group columnist John Archibald’s life has changed forever.

I know, because I’ve been there. Still am.

Archibald won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary this week, a much-deserved honor and one that underscores the journalism talent that existed at The Birmingham News for decades. Still exists on a few islands.

Advertisement

It says much about those who run the media company now that they have destroyed the best of journalism in Alabama over the past six years. It also says much about Archibald, who hung in there and did his thing – write superb columns – under no telling how much pressure.

When digital became the primary means for consumers to get their news, Advance Digital focused on trying to make profits instead of keeping the best journalists in the state. To do that, the company cut their most valuable resource.

My wife, Veronica, was among the 60 or so journalists laid off during the first wave of decimation back in 2012. From there, year after year, some of the state’s best journalists were cut loose or fled before that happened.

Profit over journalism.

Newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post have continued doing the best journalism in America, despite cutbacks. But they had better plans for digital. They didn’t give away their product, which is NEWS, by the way, not newspapers.

Instead, Alabama Media Group cut a great newspaper to three days a week, turning its back on its most loyal subscribers.

That Archibald won the Pulitzer for Commentary – one of the most prestigious of the prizes – says everything about him and not the company.

Archibald is an outstanding writer, a veteran of more than 30 years at the newspaper. He’s a good person, sharp, and works tirelessly. He has compassion and cares. Archibald has built a huge audience. It’s not unusual to see him on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, and he has weekly segments on WBHM, Birmingham’s National Public Radio affiliate.

Now, his life has changed.

Archibald will forever be known as a Pulitzer Prize winner. That’s journalism’s top honor. That’ll likely be in the lead of his obituary.

Mine, too. I was one of three editorial writers who won the first Pulitzer Prize at The News and, indeed, at any newspaper owned by the Newhouse company at the time. The late Ron Casey, Harold Jackson, and I won in 1991 for a series on tax reform in Alabama.

This week, as Alabama Media Group showered Archibald with praise, and deservedly so, it recapped the other two Pulitzer Prizes won by the “company.” In 2007, Brett Blackledge won for investigative journalism, and, of course, we won in 1991 for editorial writing.

You’ll see Blackledge’s award acknowledged, but the media group’s story just mentioned that The News also won for editorial writing in 1991. That’s misleading. Pulitzer Prizes are awarded to individuals, unless there is a team of four or more writers, and then it’s a staff award.

The late Ron Casey, Harold Jackson (now Philadelphia Enquirer Editorial Page Editor), and I were awarded Pulitzer Prizes, individually. Nowhere on our Pulitzer Prize awards is The Birmingham News mentioned. The News editorial board had a good team, too. We were cited as top-three finalists for Pulitzer Prizes in 1994 and 2006.

But, you see, I wasn’t “eased” out the door at Alabama Media Group, like so many were. I was fired outright, for “threatening” sources and for “being too personally involved with my stories.”

Any good journalist has threatened sources. Not with violence or something that stupid. But we “threaten” all the time if a source isn’t going to respond, or is going to respond with a known lie.

“If you don’t give your side of the story, I’m still writing that story.”

Or,

“If you are going to just tell that lie, I’m going to report the truth.”

“Threats.” Journalism, as Archibald and any good journalist will tell you, is a confrontational business.

And, yes, since I became an advocacy journalist in 1989, I’ve become personally involved in my topics. I write about subjects that I’m passionate about. Hard not to become personally involved when one actually cares, whether it be about undocumented immigrants, or abused children, or how badly this state treats its poor residents, or race, or equality, or education, or, yes, animals.

That’s the very characteristic that helps make us good advocacy journalists and keeps us human: We care, even if our bosses don’t.

Thank goodness I was fortunate enough to win a Pulitzer Prize. It did change my life, and it’ll change Archibald’s.

I found myself in an elite community. I began to really study writing. I wanted to deserve to be in the company of Ernest Hemingway, and Russell Baker, and Cynthia Tucker, and William Safire, and Gwendolyn Brooks.

So many great writers.

I returned to university for a master’s degree in English, with an emphasis in creative nonfiction. I have a rewarding second career, now in my 18th year, teaching English at UAB, my alma mater.

Archibald, too, will see new opportunities ahead of him. He has always been a star, for at least three decades, but now he’s got the official sanction of our profession, the ultimate seal of approval in journalism.

What opportunities will open before him: Who can say? But they’ll be there.

John Archibald knows a good column when he sees one. He’ll know the good opportunities, as well.

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

 

Continue Reading

Featured Columnists

Opinion | Inside the Statehouse: Races to watch

Steve Flowers

Published

on

File Photo

Our antiquated 1901 Constitution was designed to give inordinate power to the Legislature. During the Wallace years, the King of Alabama politics, George Wallace, usurped this power and controlled the Legislature from the Executive Branch of Government. Over the last couple of decades the Legislature has wrestled this power back and pretty much excluded the Governor from their bailiwick. Governors Bob Riley and Robert Bentley were ostracized and pretty much ignored.  Their proposed budgets were instantaneously tossed into the nearest trashcan.

Legislative power is derived from controlling the state’s purse strings. Thus the old adage, “Those who have the gold set the rules.” The Legislature has gotten like Congress in that incumbents are difficult to defeat. Therefore, the interest will be on the open Senate and House seats. Most of the Montgomery Special Interest money will be focused on these Legislative races.

Speaking of Montgomery, two open and most interesting Senate seats in the state will be in the Montgomery/River Region. One is currently in progress. Montgomery City Councilman, David Burkette, Representative John Knight and Councilman Fred Bell are pursuing the Democratic seat vacated by Senator Quinton Ross when he left to become President of Alabama State University. Burkette has already bested Knight and Bell in a Special Election last month. A rebound race is set for June 5.

Advertisement

The Republican Senate seat in the River Region held by Senator Dick Brewbaker is up for grabs. This seat was expected to attract numerous well-known aspirants. However, when the dust settled at the qualifying deadline two relatively unknown candidates were the only ones to qualify. Will Barfoot and Ronda Walker are pitted against each other in a race that is considered a tossup.

The Etowah County/Gadsden area was considered one of the most Democratic areas of the state for generations. However, in recent years it has become one of the most Republican. State Representative, Mack Butler, should be favored as a Republican. Although, polling indicates that veteran Democratic Representative, Craig Ford, could make this a competitive race in the Fall. He is running as an Independent.

Veteran State Senator Harri Ann Smith has represented the Wiregrass/Dothan area admirably for over two decades. She has been elected several times as an Independent. However, she has decided not to seek reelection. Her exit leaves State Representative Donnie Chesteen in the catbird seat to capture the seat.

Republican State Senator Paul Bussman, who represents Cullman and northwest Alabama, is a maverick and very independent. This independence makes him powerful.  He will be reelected easily.

State Representative David Sessions is predicted to win the seat of Senator Bill Hightower who is running for Governor.

Most of the state Senate’s most powerful members are unopposed or have token opposition. Included in this list of incumbent State Senators are veteran Senate leader and Rules Chairman, Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia, Senate President, Del Marsh, R-Calhoun, Senate Majority Leader, Greg Reed, R-Jasper, veteran Senator Jimmy Holley, R-Coffee, as well as Senate leaders Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, Clay Scofield, R-Marshall, Clyde Chambliss, R-Autauga, Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, Tom Whatley, R-Lee, and Shay Shelnutt, R-Gardendale. The Senate leadership will remain intact, as will the House leadership.

Almost all of the House leaders are unopposed or have token opposition. This prominent list includes:  Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Madison, Budget Chairmen, Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, Speaker Pro-tem, Victor Gaston, R- Mobile, Rules Chairman, Mike Jones, R-Covington.

In addition, there are numerous Veteran lawmakers, who will be reelected, including Lynn Greer, Mike Ball, Jim Carnes, Howard Sanderford, Kerry Rich, and Jimmy Martin; as well as rising leaders: Nathaniel Ledbetter, Kyle South, Connie Rowe, Tim Wadsworth, April Weaver, Paul Lee, Terri Collins, Danny Garrett, Dickie Drake, Chris Pringle, Randall Shedd, Allen Farley, Becky Nordgren, Mike Holmes, David Standridge, Dimitri Polizos, Reed Ingram and Chris Sells.

Even though there are 22 open House seats and 10 open Senate Seats, the leadership of both Chambers will remain the same.

There are some competitive House seats that will be interesting. In the Pike/Dale County Seat 89, Pike Probate Judge Wes Allen is pitted against Troy City Council President Marcus Paramore. Tracy Estes is favored to replace retiring Mike Millican in Marion County. Alfa is going all out for Estes. David Wheeler is expected to capture the open House seat in Vestavia.

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.

 

Continue Reading

Featured Columnists

Opinion | Hot buttons worth pressing

Joey Kennedy

Published

on

They don’t want you to vote.

Remember that.

And “they” are mostly the Republicans today. Voters scare Republicans just about to death.

Advertisement

I stand corrected: “They” don’t want you to vote unless you vote for them.

But to be fair, when Democrats controlled all the branches of Alabama government, they weren’t too crazy about you voting, either, unless you were voting for them.

“They” usually could get you to vote for them, too. For years, Democrat George Wallace used the race card in vicious ways to scare black voters away and draw equality-challenged whites to the polls. There were no race-baiting tactics too vile for Wallace to use.

It wasn’t simply that Wallace was a racist, though he was. But he knew, after losing to John Patterson in 1958, that he’d been out-N’d by Patterson, and he vowed that would never happen again.

And it didn’t. Wallace won in 1962 on a strict segregationist platform, and he dominated Alabama politics through the mid-1980s using some form of the same themes.

Even after race was no longer such a hot-button issue, Democrats still won. The last Democrat elected governor, Don Siegelman, didn’t use race; he used the hot-button lottery.

That may have gotten him elected, but because Siegelman’s lottery proposal was so difficult to understand, and because Republicans and other conservatives used hot-button, non-sequitur religious arguments against it, the lottery was doomed.

“Go to church on Sunday, or the ‘lottery’ will get you!”

Well, something like that.

After Siegelman was defeated by Republican Bob Riley, Alabamians have elected nothing but Republicans to the state’s top office since, and most other statewide offices as well.

Democrats may have used hot-button racial and other issues to get elected, but Republicans perfected the hot-button campaign.

The evils of immigration and undocumented residents.

The traditional marriage “threats” posed by lesbian, gay, and transgender residents.

Democrats are corrupt. Democrats only want higher taxes and more spending. Democrats hate your mother, apple pie, and Chevrolet.

As it turns out, Republicans are the party of corruption in Alabama. Consider just the past few years, when the governor (Robert Bentley), speaker of the House (Mike Hubbard), and Chief Justice of the state (Roy Moore) were removed from their respective offices because of corruption (or, in Moore’s case, twice for not adhering to his oath of office, another form of corruption). Other Republican lawmakers and public officials have been caught up in corruption scandals. Some are in prison right now, though Hubbard, for some reason, remains free.

Too, Republicans figured out a way to keep the people who won’t vote for them from voting at all.

Alabama has some of the most restrictive ballot-access laws in the nation. Both Democrats and Republicans share the blame, but Republicans, with a supermajority in both the House and Senate, could have opened the ballot more.

They refused. The more candidates on the ballot, the more choices voters have. Can’t have voters having choices; can’t have different ideas floating around out there.

The more people out there who vote, the less chance Republicans have of winning. So they passed draconian voter ID laws. That locks out or scares away many voters who would likely vote for Democrats or a third party. Qualified voters who don’t have photo IDs are more likely to be poor and minority, generally voters who elect Democrats or who certainly don’t vote for Republicans.

Republicans gerrymandered the state to such an extent, their districts are usually considered safe. They even gerrymandered moderate, thinking Republicans out of their own districts so those reasonable officeholders couldn’t win against the far more conservative Republicans.

Republicans now have weakened the state’s ethics laws so much, their favorite kind of corruption – using their offices for public gain – is practically legal.

It’s a mess, to be sure.

That’s why this year is so important. With the December win of Democratic U.S. Sen. Doug Jones over Republican Molester Roy Moore, Democrats and independents are charged up.

There actually are more Democrats running for office this year than Republicans. Many are women. Many are African-American women. The governor’s race this year not only features Republicans challenging the incumbent, but Democrats elbowing their way in.

True, many of the Republicans running for office are the incumbents. But Democrats and independents are fired up.

And with Millennials and post-Millennials becoming qualified to vote, and with a renewed interest in activism because of the #MeToo movement, the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the #NeverAgain gun restriction movement, the #DACAnow immigration movement, and the radical shift in public opinion surrounding LGBTQ issues, it very well may be a new day.

Yes, even in Alabama.

Imagine our hot buttons turning out to be a real push for reasonable gun control. Or “Equality for All,” that would make the lives of immigrants and the gay community and women and, yes, sadly, still, African-Americans feel truly included.

Imagine hot buttons that truly matter.

Those are the hot buttons we can press with pride. If we will.

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

 

Continue Reading

Authors

Advertisement

Facebook

Advertisement

Trending

Alabama Legislature Week 6: You won’t miss them while they’re gone

by Josh Moon Read Time: 7 min
0