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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.

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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.

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 | Inside the Statehouse: Supreme Court races on ballot this year

Steve Flowers

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Among the plethora of races on the ballot this year are the important seats on the Alabama Supreme Court. We have an unprecedented five out of nine seats up for election.

Our Alabama Supreme Court as well as our Courts of Criminal Appeals are extremely conservative, pro-business and all Republican.

This conservatism dates back to the 1980’s and 1990’s.  During that two-decade run, the plaintiff lawyers controlled and dominated our State Supreme Court. We were known throughout the country as a Plaintiff’s paradise. It was like a fairytale jackpot justice system. It was not uncommon for ludicrous multimillion dollar verdicts to be upheld daily for all types of cases. We were called Tort Hell by “Time Magazine.”

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Tort reform became the dominant issue in the Halls of the Legislature.

When you have unbridled monetary verdicts coming out of Alabama that gives a plaintiff millions of dollars for having a wreck in a General Motors vehicle, it affects the entire country. General Motors does business in all 50 states.

Well the business community throughout the country and in Alabama decided enough was enough. They decided to close down tort hell. They put their money where their mouth was and replaced an all Democratic plaintiff trial lawyer Supreme Court with an all Republican pro-business court. The pendulum has swung completely from left to right. If yesterday’s court was extremely liberal, today’s Alabama Supreme Court is extremely conservative.

These five open seats will be held by conservative Republicans when the dust settles at the end of the year and they begin their six-year terms. It is just a matter of which Republican presides and decides the major cases that affect Alabamians.

Will Sellers, a very well respected Montgomery attorney, was appointed by Governor Kay Ivey last year to Place 3 on the high court. Justice Sellers is running without opposition and will have a full six-year term.

Popular Justice, Tommy Bryan, also has no opposition and will return for another six-years on the high tribunal.

Justice Jim Main who has had a distinguished career as a private lawyer, finance director and Supreme Court Justice, cannot run for reelection due to an antiquated law that disallows judges to run for reelection after they turn 70.

Main’s Place 2 is being sought by Jefferson County’s John Bahakel and Jay Mitchell, also of Birmingham.

Circuit Judge, Debra Jones of Calhoun County has been a judge for a decade and has run a get acquainted race for the court. She will be formidable.

This place was held by Justice Glen Murdock who is originally from the Wiregrass. Murdock retired a few months ago and Governor Kay Ivey did a good day’s work when she appointed another Wiregrass native, Brad Mendheim to replace him. Mendheim has served a decade as a Circuit Judge in Dothan. He is very well respected in his hometown. He is seeking a full term. Sarah Stewart of Mobile is also in the race and should benefit from being from the vote rich Mobile-Baldwin area.

The battle royale will be for the Chief Justice post. The Chief Justice not only presides over the nine member Supreme Court but also oversees the entire Court System.

Justice Lyn Stuart currently presides as Chief Justice. She is running for a full 6-year reign.

When the business community orchestrated the takeover of the Court, they brought in the vaunted Karl Rove to mastermind the plan. When he departed, victoriously, he left with this admonition, “The best candidate that you can put forward is a female Republican who has some experience as a Circuit Judge.”

Alabamians prefer females on the Bench. If you have a race for Judge in Alabama and you have two names on the ballot, one Sue Smith and one Sam Smith and neither spends any money on campaigns and neither is known, Sue Smith will win.

Lyn Stuart epitomizes this scenario perfectly. She became a respected Circuit Judge in Baldwin County at a very young age. She was elected to the Supreme Court over a decade ago and is the longest serving member of the Court.

She will be pitted against another sitting member of the Court, Justice Tom Parker. He has excellent polling numbers. He was Roy Moore’s closest ally on the Court.  Stuart is the sweetheart of the Business Council.  Parker is the darling of the social conservatives.

The race for Chief Justice will be one of the premier contests this year.

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. She may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

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

Joey Kennedy

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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.

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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]

 

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Opinion | Inside the Statehouse: Races to watch

Steve Flowers

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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.

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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.

 

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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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