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Luther Strange and a very bad choice

Josh Moon

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By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

Tuesday was not a good day for Luther Strange.

Alabama’s appointed US Senator found out by way of a phone call from Gov. Kay Ivey that she was reversing course and calling a Special Election to be held later this year for the seat Strange currently holds.

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Strange, Alabama’s former Attorney General, is the only announced candidate for that seat. And he was banking on staying in it until Nov. 2018, when, if his plan worked, he would be officially elected to that seat.

In a normal situation, that wouldn’t have been a bad plan.

Nearly two years of watching a guy do a job and getting used to seeing him in that role leaves an impression on the average voter. Especially if Strange had managed to avoid conflict, earn some praise from his colleagues, maybe do a good thing or two for the hometown folks.

He’d be a sure bet come election time.

But this isn’t the usual situation. And when measured against current events and the current climate, Tuesday’s decision by Ivey cements Strange’s move to accept the appointment from former Gov. Robert Bentley as the dumbest, most shortsighted political move in recent history.

Because make no mistake about it, Luther Strange was more likely than not going to be Alabama’s senator come 2018.

Sure, there were going to be challenges. Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh was likely the biggest challenger.

But Strange had the name recognition, the great advantage of having no voting record on controversial bills and the backing of the Poarch Creek Indians.

That’s the trifecta: Name, record, money.

All he had to do was nothing.

Seriously. He didn’t have to convict Robert Bentley of anything. He didn’t have to clean up Alabama’s government corruption. He didn’t have to arrest anyone or make any tough decisions.

All he had to do was make sure his office was open 8 to 4:30 most days and that someone kept sending out press releases about removing gun bans at businesses.

Or, if he wanted to ensure his victory, he could have moved hard against Bentley. He could have pushed for criminal charges. He could have made the governor the top target in his corruption probe.

Public sentiment towards Bentley was so negative and so widespread, even if Strange didn’t make charges stick, the voting public would have loved him. Strange could’ve billed himself as some sort of public corruption sheriff – the guy who takes ethics laws seriously. The guy watching out for the public’s dollars.

Had he chosen either path, Strange could’ve started picking out furniture for his DC office immediately.

But instead, Luther Strange – a man who has spent a lifetime in politics – made the one move he absolutely couldn’t make.

He made a deal with Bentley.

Oh, we all know it’s true.

I’m sick of the idiotic pretending by grown men and women, acting as if they’re not sure whether Strange made a deal. The man was chasing Bentley hard one month – interviewed his entire security detail and others around him – and then all but completely bailed on the investigation from November to February. And then, to make sure we all knew he made a deal, Strange tried to fool everyone into believing that there really wasn’t a Bentley investigation, apparently forgetting that we’d be able to figure out very quickly that he was lying.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure this out.

Proof: Jim Zeigler figured it out.

Zeigler, who’s demonstrated a remarkable proficiency for cutting through the nuance and fluff that often encapsulates ethics in this state, said Tuesday that Strange “obstructed” the investigation into Bentley.

Obstructed.

That’s a good word for what Strange did – both to Bentley and to his own chances of holding onto that Senate seat. The Senate seat he coveted so much that he was blinded by it.

Strange so wanted out of the AG’s office and into that DC Senate office that he picked the one path he couldn’t.

And the result will very likely be Strange walking that path, side by side with Robert Bentley, right into political obscurity.

 

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.

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Opinion | Thank goodness, I’m an “outside agitator”

Joey Kennedy

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I guess I’m an outside agitator.

Alabama politicians love to throw that phrase around. Seems like anytime somebody disagrees with one of Alabama’s horrible laws or policies or acts, the politicos throw out that line, or something like it.

In defending his law to prohibit removing monuments more than 40 years old, state Sen. Gerald Allen blamed “politically-correct, out-of-state pundits.” Outside agitators, in other words.

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But let’s be honest, here. The law, proudly signed by Gov. Kay Ivey and which she currently touts as often as an Alexander Shunnarah commercial on TV, is intended to protect monuments to Confederate “heroes,” but traitors to the United States actually. These are men who proudly and violently defended slavery.

During discussions a few years ago over Alabama’s terrible law aimed at expelling immigrants from the state, politicians and others, including then GOP Chairman Bill Armistead, pulled forms of the worn-out “outside agitator” phrase from their equally worn-out playbooks.

These “outside agitators” have done “terrible” deeds in Alabama: Forcing us to treat our prison population humanely; to properly investigate child abuse and neglect; to respect the separation of church and state; to acknowledge and sanction equality in the LGBTQ community; to allow women to determine what is best for their own bodies; and, of course, to stop Alabama from requiring African-American citizens to use separate bathrooms, lunch counters, hotel rooms, water fountains, and public schools.

These “outside agitators” are horrible, I tell you, just horrible.

Alabama has a mean streak.

Too often, the federal courts have to tell Alabama to do right, even though we know we should be doing right already. The federal courts will get another shot on a recently passed Ten Commandments law. Yes, those federal judges are “outside agitators,” even if the decision starts with federal judges from Alabama.

Our state has some of the best welcome centers of any state. As you enter Alabama from Mississippi or Georgia or Florida or Tennessee, there are welcome stations that give the state a great first impression. They also have monuments that declare: “We Dare Defend Our Rights.”

If only that were so. In Alabama, we dare defend our wrongs. And we do it proudly, insanely so.

No telling how much of this poor state’s tax dollars have gone to defend our wrongs. This money could have been used to improve our marginal public school systems, or our practically non-existent mental health system, or our flawed Medicaid system, or our stretched-thin state police system, or programs to help the poor and homeless.

Instead, we go to court, and we lose.

Again.

And again. And again.

And we will again.

All because of those damned “outside agitators.”

In his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., addressed the accusation that even he was an “outside agitator.” King, after all, had strong roots in Alabama, yet when he came to Birmingham for the civil rights marches in the spring of 1963, he was called an “outsider.”

King writes: “I think I should give the reason for my being in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the argument of ‘outsiders coming in’ … I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. … Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider.”

Yet, our own political leaders and others love to bludgeon Alabama citizens with that “outside agitator” club, like it somehow provides forgiveness for them and our state when we’re acting badly.

Ivy and Allen would proudly defend a commemorative statue to Bull Connor, if there were one.

So, yes, I’m an “outside agitator.” I’ve lived all of my adult life, except for three years, in this great state. I married an Alabama girl, and I’m still married to her. My college degrees come from an Alabama university. And my politics and advocacy are informed by watching this great state take not-so-great actions.

Like King, who was proud to be called an “extremist,” because, as he writes, Jesus Christ himself was an extremist, I’m proud to be an “outside agitator.”

Even from the inside.

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: 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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Luther Strange and a very bad choice

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