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“Something wicked this way comes.” A toast to Chief Counsel Katherine Robertson’s vision for a free Alabama

Samuel McLure

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By Sam McLure
Alabama Political Reporter

On the last Wednesday of March, 2017, one of the best legal minds in the State of Alabama was appointed as Chief Counsel to the Alabama Attorney General. Given that Chief Robertson has been an attorney for less than seven years, lauding her as “one of the best legal minds in the State of Alabama,” may seem like a bit of an overstatement.

Well, buckle your seat belt – that’s a statement I’m about to defend.

First, this toast is not because Chief Robertson graduated from one of the highest ranked law schools in the country. Nor does it flow from the fact that her very first job as an attorney was with the U.S. Department of Justice, then as U.S. Senator Jeff Session’s own legislative counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Nor does this praise spring from being hand picked by A.G. Jeff Sessions to go to Washington and guide him through the process of confirmation.

No, none of these noteworthy accomplishments merit this toast. Chief Robertson stands out as one of the best legal minds in Alabama because of her work on a little known report entitled, Selling our Sovereignty: Alabama’s Federal Dependency, released on October 27, 2016.

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Selling our Sovereignty, or S.O.S. for short, is the first scholarly article of its kind to support the hunch that many Constitutional and political watchdogs have had for years – the Federal Government is using the carrot to bribe the States into ceding more and more of their sovereignty; a sovereignty that is necessary for a balanced American government.

Let me break it down a little more. When the 13 original “colonies” revolted from England, they realized that they needed to band together for the common good. These 13 “colonies,” were sovereign States that were more akin to Sweden, Switzerland, or Moldova today. The greatest evil in their mind was the centralization and consolidation of power across the pond – the English monarchy.

So, when they decided to create a “federal” covering, they were very careful to put in place a restraint on the amount of power this federal covering could possess, vis-a- vis the individual sovereign states.

Enter the 10th Amendment. With it, the 13 sovereign states rested a little easier that everything they had fought and sacrificed for – that their friends and family had died for – would not grow into an evil worse than that which they just cast off. With a modicum of continued reverence for the 10th Amendment, the Federal Government still restrains itself from a wide application of using “the stick” to control the states; rather it prefers to use “the carrot.”

The Carrot

In the 1962 novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes, author Ray Bradbury tells the story of a carnival, led by Mr. Dark, that comes to a small town. Mr. Dark and his carnival hold the allure of being able to grant the townsfolk their every secret wish. As the story progresses, the townsfolk realize the grave cost of being snared in Mr. Dark’s sinister web.

I have written much and often regarding the great perils of Alabama’s heroin-like addiction to Federal money: The Man Who Wears Underwear on His Head, Two Kinds of Republicans, and What Would it Take For You to Switch Political Parties?. Thus, I will not exert much more effort on the topic here, except to say, if Alabama wishes to exert it’s values in any sphere of society, it must learn the lessons that Bradbury’s 13 year-old protagonists, Jim and Will, learned from the deceitful Mr. Dark.

Conservatives may be lulled into forgetting the great evils of Federal Government overreach during this perceived respite under the Trump administration. However, we must be warned: will something more or less extreme than Obama come after Trump? Most likely, the next President will be a Democrat from the vein of Michelle Obama or Oprah Winfrey … or something worse. They will seek to use the carrot to force the States to comply with a federally- mandated homosexual agenda, a pro-abortion agenda, and a God-hating educational agenda.

How will Alabama respond when the Federal Government says, “We’ll take away your funding if you don’t comply?” If we work now to rid ourselves of this addiction to Federal Government money, we may have the fortitude to tell the Federal Government to take a hike.

Jenga Pin

Jenga is a children’s game where small wooden blocks are stacked to a height of about 1 foot. Each player in-turn pulls out a block. The game ends when the particular block is pulled that causes the whole tower to crumble.

The Federal Government’s use of the carrot to control the states is a Jenga pin of disfunction in society. It affects education, criminal justice, abortion, health care, and privacy. The rabbit-hole is deep and Chief Robertson proves to be a faithful guide.

Chief Robertson recommends that, “Alabama’s leaders should begin … to approach federal aid with a heightened sense of skepticism and to identify opportunities (big or small) for our state to maintain or regain its authority over various programs. At the very least, a deeper understanding of the degree to which we sell our sovereignty and the ramifications of our state’s federal dependency is necessary to advance sound policymaking at the state level.”

Obama’s Transgender School Policy

Robertson tipped her hand before the release of the report, on May 16, 2016, with an article entitled, Alabama’s Shrinking Sovereignty: [https://www.alabamapolicy.org/alabamas-shrinking- sovereignty/]

“On Friday, the omnipotent U.S. Department of Education threatened to pull federal funding from public school districts that refuse to fall in line over transgender bathrooms. Many school districts will submit, knowing that they cannot afford to jeopardize their federal cash flow. …

“Will we continue to carelessly sell our sovereignty—and, with it, our values—to the federal government? Or will we begin to take seriously Chief Justice John Robert’s admonishment when he said, writing for the majority of the Supreme Court: ‘In the typical case, we look to States to defend their prerogatives by adopting ‘the simple expedient of not yielding’ to federal blandishments when they do not want to embrace the federal policies as their own. The States are separate and independent sovereigns. Sometimes they have to act like it.’”

What could Robertson’s ascension to Chief Counsel mean for the State of Alabama?

Bills which seek to court Federal money may be opposed by the Office of the Attorney General.

It could mean that bills like HB97/SB153, a Data Collection Bill, sponsored by Sen. Singleton, which seeks to establish an Orwellian state by collecting data on Alabama citizens from kindergarten all the way through the life … it may mean that bills like this will no longer have a welcome mat in the Alabama legislature. It was only after 30 minutes of debate in the House Education Committee that light was shed on the fact that the Federal Government has been bribing the States, 47 in all, into collecting data on its citizens.

It could mean that bills like HB277/SB236, sponsored by Sen. Cam Ward, which seeks to limit the religious liberty of churches, in order to have more licensed day care facilities, to access more federal money, will not be tolerated.

According to Deborah Love, Executive Director of Eagle Forum of Alabama and 20-plus other concerned citizens, HB277 is appalling:

“Dollars are flowing from the federal government in support of licensed daycare facilities. The more that are licensed, the more money. With federal dollars come federal control.”

“As the fiscal note for the HB277 shows the financial support for this regulation comes from the Federal government.”

2) It could mean that lobbying groups which are in the business pushing legislation which drive us deeper into dependence on Federal Government money – groups which contribute more to State Legislative campaigns than any other entities – it could mean these types of lobbying groups will be watched like a hawk for ethics violations … and ubiquitously prosecuted for violations. []

3) It could mean the Attorney General spearheads a Federal Funding Accountability Task Force which investigates and evaluates all federal money flowing into the State. A similar protocol was introduced by Governor Mike Pence of Indiana. Chief Robertson’s report explains:

“In the Hoosier State, Governor Mike Pence created the ‘Office of State-Based Initiatives’ in an effort to impose additional oversight and accountability on agencies receiving federal funds. The goal of the office … is to ‘contribute to Indiana’s continued fiscal health’ by ‘working with agencies to push back against onerous regulations that often accompany the return of federal dollars to Indiana.’ The office is charged with reviewing the state’s federal grant opportunities and giving approval for any agency to seek a federal grant. The office also ‘subject[s] each grant to a cost-benefit analysis’ that ‘measure[s] the grant’s fiscal and regulatory impact.’ During the 2015 fiscal year, the office focused its analysis of grants to determine if the state should consolidate programs, seek more federal waivers, or discontinue certain programs altogether. The Pence Administration encourages other states to set up a similar office to help establish ‘the necessary coalition of states to assert state authority and make it easier for governors and state legislatures to run their states.’” (footnotes omitted)

Alabama Is Not Free

Alabama is the third most dependent state on federal money. We are the third most enslaved state. We have 8.4 billion reasons not to break our addiction.

The fact is that Alabama is not free. We live in the shackles of a tyrannical Federal Government. This tyranny extends to almost corner of our lives. If we wish to live as free Alabamians, we must fight for freedom from this addiction to federal money. Federal money is a heroine addiction. Alabama’s path to freedom passes through the pain of detoxing from addiction to Federal Government money. We must stop being dependent on a system that enslaves.

In 1959, just three years before the Supreme Court of the United States decided Engel v. Vitale, would the people of Alabama been able to imagine that the Federal Government would take away their right to pray to the Supreme Creator in Alabama’s public schools? In 1970, just three years before the Supreme Court of the United States decided Roe v. Wade, would the people of Alabama been able to imagine that Federal Government would take away the right to protect the most vulnerable? In 2009, just three years before the Supreme Court of the United States decided National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, would the people of Alabama been able to imagine that the Federal Government would take away their right to control their healthcare? In 2012, just three years before Obergefell v. Hodges, would you have imagined that the Federal Government would order a freely elected Alabama judge to perform homosexual marriage?

Try with me, now, to imagine what atrocity will befall us in the next years … if not in the Trump administration, then in the years that follow? Will the Federal Government tell the citizens of Alabama that their preachers may not speak the plain truth of the Bible’s message on homosexuality? What would stop the Federal Government?

Every freedom-loving citizen of Alabama needs to read Robertson’s report, Selling our Sovereignty: Alabama’s Federal Dependency. Alabama’s freedom has no friend in the man or woman who seeks to strengthen the Federal Government’s shackles on the State of Alabama, through deeper dependence on Federal money.

This toast is for Chief Robertson’s vision of a better Alabama, a freer Alabama, an Alabama that does not sell its own sovereignty.

At the base of Edinburgh Castle in Scotland, the Castle which Robert the Bruce scaled by night to usurp the English tyrants, is a monument with the inscription, “A True Scotsman Gives Up His Freedom, Only At The Cost Of His Life.” May the same be true of Alabama. May the same be true of Alabama citizens.

May we be able to say together, “A true Alabamian gives up his freedoms, only at the cost of his life.”

 

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Opinion | Alabama voters: You just don’t care

Joey Kennedy

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Secretary of State John Merrill expected turnout in Tuesday’s Democratic and Republican Party primary runoffs to be “extraordinarily low.”

Merrill said he thought, on average, 15 percent to 18 percent of the state’s registered voters would go to the polls.

Even that was wishful thinking.

Alabama voters: You don’t care. With as much going on in Alabama and American politics at this moment in history, you just don’t give a damn.

Early numbers indicated fewer than 12 percent of Alabama’s registered voters bothered to take a few minutes to be heard in Tuesday’s runoffs.

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True, in some areas, Democrats didn’t really have runoffs. But Republicans had runoffs in key statewide races, including lieutenant governor, attorney general, and the courts.

And even where Democrats had runoffs – Jefferson County is an example – voting numbers were low.

Alabama voters, you just don’t care.
Of course a lot of this is on Merrill and Republicans in control of the House, Senate, and governor’s mansion, where the goal, truly, is a low voter turnout. Republicans don’t want voters to go to the polls because they’ll have more trouble staying in control if they do.

Strict photo voter ID, a prohibition against crossover voting in taxpayer-funded primaries, purges of voter rolls, keeping former inmates from re-registering to vote, partisan gerrymandering, the lack of early voting or multiple-day voting – all of this is part of the GOP’s efforts to suppress voter turnout.

That hideous, mean-spirited strategy is wildly successful, too.

Consider also that the turnout of “registered” voters does not mean “eligible” voters. Many voters are eligible, but for whatever reason, don’t register to vote. So Tuesday’s turnout of eligible voters was likely quite a bit below 10 percent.

In that vote, Republicans nominated their candidates for lieutenant governor (the second highest position in Alabama government) and attorney general (the state’s top law enforcement officer).

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby, a disaster and embarrassment for Alabama in Congress for awhile now, was re-nominated for her fifth term and will likely defeat her Democratic Party opponent in November.

Another career politician, Republican Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, was defeated in her primary for lieutenant governor, but this was a free election for political opportunist Cavanaugh. She’ll simply return to her post as president of the Alabama Public Service Commission, having lost little, and where she’ll continue to do little. But Cavanaugh will be well-rested for whatever political opportunity she tries to grab in 2020.

Important runoffs in Jefferson County for the five-member County Commission saw two of the most contentious Birmingham City Council members unseat more reasonable incumbents. At least these two are off the City Council now, but they’ll no doubt take their professional dysfunction to the Jefferson County Commission.

Because voter turnout was so low, the results don’t truly reflect what might have happened had voters turned out in the numbers they should have.

But c’mon, Alabama voters: You don’t really care, do you? Oh, you’ll gripe at the results, sure. You’ll moan and roll your eyes when the candidates you didn’t vote for embarrass your county or state. But you really don’t give a damn.

Maybe that’ll change some if the Southern Poverty Law Center’s and Campaign Legal Center’s Alabama Voting Rights Project is successful.

Secretary of State Merrill won’t like it, but that’s really more of a recommendation for the project than not.

The SPLC and CLC want to make it clear to tens of thousands of Alabamians that a felony conviction doesn’t permanently take away a person’s right to vote. Once an individual has fully paid for his crime, he can get his voting rights reinstated.

According to the SPLC’s July 12 announcement, “Workers will organize and train local leaders in communities across the state, participate in community events and forums, and go door to door to work with formerly incarcerated people who may be eligible to vote under Alabama law. They will also make use of an online tool, www.alabamavotingrights.com, that will guide formerly incarcerated Alabamians through the process of registering or re-establishing their voting status.”

Many of these “criminals” were convicted of nonviolent drug or other nonviolent offenses. They’ve paid their debt. Being eligible to vote again is an important part of their successful return to society.

“So many people fought and died to ensure that all citizens have a voice in our society through the right to vote, yet many men and women – disproportionately people of color and poor people – have been denied the right to vote even after serving their time and completing their sentences,” said Lecia Brooks, outreach director for the SPLC, in the announcement. “The Alabama Voting Rights Project is dedicated to ensuring that every person who is eligible to vote in Alabama is registered and that each one of them can access the franchise. A healthy democracy depends on full participation by all members of society.”

And that’s what bothers Merrill and his Republican Party minions. “People of color and poor people” are disproportionally going to vote against Republicans. That’s probably why Merrill hasn’t done his duty to make sure these folks know they can regain their voting rights. The SPLC and CLC believe “(t)ens of thousands of additional Alabamians may be eligible to restore their right to vote through a simple application for a state Certificate of Eligibility to Register to Vote.”

So yeah, the dastardly plan worked Tuesday – and it has in many previous elections where our state leaders are happy if even 30 percent of registered voters show up.

As the state’s top election official, Merrill should be working to guarantee all eligible citizens are registered to vote, to make it convenient for them to vote, to get the highest voter turnout possible.

That’s not the strategy, though, and mainly because: 1) Voters don’t care enough to go vote. And, 2) because those in charge simply don’t want them to vote.

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

 

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Opinion | Alabama: The confused state

Josh Moon

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Alabama is a confusing state.

A state that prides itself on its hardworking, blue-collar image but somehow turned out overwhelmingly to vote for the (alleged) billionaire, reality TV star for president was just as bi-polar during Tuesday’s primary runoff election.

On one hand, voters seemed to want to rid themselves of long-serving, stagnant politicians, rejecting Democrats Alvin Holmes, John Knight and Johnny Ford and Republicans Twinkle Cavanaugh and Gerald Dial. They seemed to be saying that they wanted ethics and term limits and candidates that were more responsive and energetic.

But on the other hand, still standing at the end of the night were Steve Marshall, Martha Roby and Larry Stutts. So, voters were also saying they were cool with a complete lack of ethics, a complete disregard for constituents and a completely awful human.

Maybe this is why pre-election polling in Alabama is always so screwed up. How can a pollster figure out what you people want when even you don’t know?

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So, let’s try to dissect this a bit and come up with a few answers. 

Let’s start with the Democrats, because they’re easier to understand.

Holmes and Knight, with a combined 70 years of experience serving in the Alabama House, lost to two dudes who have combined to serve for exactly zero years in any state office. David Burkette, who beat Knight for what seemed like the 50th time in the past year, has served as a city councilman in Montgomery, but that’s the extent of their political experience. Kirk Hatcher, who I couldn’t pick out of a lineup with The Beatles, has zero political experience.

All of this fits with a recent trend in the Democratic Party to push for candidates who relate better to real, everyday people. They believe the old-school guys, particularly the multi-term lawmakers, are out of touch with the real people they serve and are selling them out.

And those voters are right.

For example, while I’ll happily vote for Chuck Schumer over pretty much any dollar-seeking, Bible-thumping Republican, I’d sure like to have an option that isn’t sitting right in the middle of the big banks’ pockets.

And so, the Dems have decided to clean house wherever it’s possible.

It was possible in Montgomery.

Republicans, however, are a different story, which is usually the case. Because while certain factions of the GOP love to play up this alleged independent streak they claim to have, at the end of the day, it’s hard for them to turn their backs on the guy they came in with.

They get trapped by the lights and sparkle of the incumbent’s deep pockets.

Or at least they used to.

Before Twinkle turned dull and Dial time ran out.

In those races, Republicans voted against the lifelong politicians, putting Will Ainsworth and Rick Pate, respectively, into office.

Ainsworth’s win was particularly satisfying, yet also so confusing. He’s a pro-ethics, pro-term limits guy who once stood up to Mike Hubbard and told him he needed to go.

How do you vote for a guy like Ainsworth and then also vote for Steve Marshall? Or Larry Stutts?

Marshall, in particular, has governed pretty much the opposite of Ainsworth and former AG candidate Alice Martin, who picked up nearly a third of the votes in the primary. Marshall’s not chasing crime and corruption. His major accomplishments have been weakening the state’s ethics laws  — a move the business community rewarded him for — and pushing back against the law that outlaws political action committee (PAC)-to-PAC transfers.

Marshall is OK with such transfers now that he’s raking in millions from PACs doing exactly what is outlawed.

Speaking of outlaws, I’m not sure how Stutts is even on the ballot, much less still winning GOP elections. He has been nothing but an embarrassment, selling out women and children and selling out everyone else fairly routinely.

And yet, he won.

I just don’t get it. At the end of these elections, there’s supposed to be a pattern. We’re supposed to be able to look at who won and who lost and tell people what it all means. That voters were tired of this, or happy about that, or that they want a certain type of candidate.

Not in Alabama.

We apparently do things a bit different here.

 

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Opinion | Inside the Statehouse: Potpourri/Notebook from June 5 primary

Steve Flowers

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You have the results of Tuesday’s runoff elections. I had to go to press with my column before the results were known.

There are some fantastic runoff races which should be close and interesting. The four best will be Troy King versus Steve Marshall in the Attorney General’s race. The Lt. Governor runoff between Twinkle Cavanaugh and Will Ainsworth will be interesting. The Agriculture race between Rick Pate and Gerald Dial will be good. It will be interesting to see if Bobby Bright ousted Martha Roby from Congress in the 2nd district.

Let me share some thoughts and analyses from the first primary on June 5th. Kay Ivey and Walt Maddox won their party’s nominations very impressively. Governor Ivey used the mantle of incumbency to win a decisive victory with 56 percent of the vote against three thought to be viable, well financed opponents. Her campaign was brilliantly run. Her television ads were excellent.

The mastermind of her campaign was Brent Buchanan. He is now the master of political campaigns in Alabama. His polling arm, Cygnal, is the most accurate on the scene. He uses his polling adroitly to design brilliant ads. Buchanan runs many campaigns out of state. He only ran two in the state, Ivey’s gubernatorial contest and Gerald Dials’ race for Agriculture Commissioner. In fact, Buchanan came up with the best ad of the campaign season. The jingle ad for Dial in the Ag race was spectacular.

Walt Maddox’s waltz to victory over five opponents without a runoff was impressive. It became apparent in the closing days that he was going to win without a runoff. He ran the table on all of the important endorsements. He got the Alabama Democratic Conference, New South Coalition, but even more importantly the endorsement of and use of the young Birmingham Mayor, Randall Woodfin’s organization. This was a recipe for a big win.

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Maddox is the best candidate that the Democrats have fielded for governor in two decades. He is young, vibrant, and has a proven track record as a Chief Executive/Mayor of one of Alabama’s largest and most important cities, Tuscaloosa.

However, we are still a very red state. All 29 of our statewide elected offices are held by Republicans. Kay Ivey is not only the Republican nominee, she is the sitting Republican governor who can continue to cut ribbons and claim credit for every industrial announcement as well as the outstanding national economy and job growth. She will refuse to debate or go unscripted. In addition, as the incumbent she can raise substantial campaign funds.

In the June 5th primary, there were twice as many votes cast in the GOP Primary as there was in the Democratic Primary. There were 340,000 votes cast for Kay Ivey, whereas there were only 284,000 votes cast for all of the Democratic gubernatorial candidates combined. Therefore, 174,000 more people voted for Governor Kay Ivey than Mayor Walt Maddox.

I would handicap this race 56 to 44 in favor of Ivey going into the Fall. The only way that Maddox can win is for Kay to falter. Her handlers should keep her close to home and limit her appearances. They should continue to not discuss the issues that face the state or take any positions or offer any plans for the state woes. Under no circumstance should they allow her to debate. The young articulate mayor would eat her lunch. The contrast in appearance itself would be dramatic.

Maddox, if not elected, will live to run another day. The divide between the two political parties is narrowing in the state. Younger voters are trending Democratic, even in the Heart of Dixie.

Tommy Battle ran a very successful get acquainted race for governor. He will be the favorite in 2022. You could see a Walt Maddox vs. Tommy Battle contest in four years.

Battle built name ID and got 25 percent of the vote against a popular incumbent governor. He goes back to being Mayor of Alabama’s most prosperous and fastest growing city. If you think Huntsville has prospered and boomed the last 10 years, you ain’t seen nothing yet! It could very easily be the boom town of America in the next five to ten years.

Maddox’s city of Tuscaloosa is growing right behind Huntsville. Quite frankly, Battle and Maddox have much better jobs as mayors of Huntsville and Tuscaloosa than if they were Governor of Alabama.

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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“Something wicked this way comes.” A toast to Chief Counsel Katherine Robertson’s vision for a free Alabama

by Samuel McLure Read Time: 10 min
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