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Alabama Legislature Recap Week 9: All questions, no answers

Josh Moon

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By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

Question: What happened in the Alabama Legislature this past week?

  1. Lawmakers wasted time and money, like always.
  2. Lawmakers passed embarrassing, illegal legislation.
  3. Lawmakers got into entertaining arguments.
  4. All of the above.

It’s always “All of the above.”

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Let’s recap this nonsense.

Civically speaking

One of the most entertaining debates of the week came as the House attempted to pass a bill sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, which he had already ushered through the Senate, to require that Alabama high school students pass a civics test prior to graduating.

It’s the perfect Republican bill: It seems like a good idea until you consider implementation and practice, there was no additional funding to help with introducing this new requirement on our already overburdened schools and there was little evidence that such a test would help.

But it felt good to Republicans, so they passed it.

But not before two veterans of floor debates sliced the idea to pieces and made Rep. Terri Collins, who was carrying the bill for Orr, wish she could crawl into a hole.

First, Rep. John Knight, usually calm and measured, was nearly shouting by the time he ended a lengthy and sarcastic rant. “The more I talk, the angrier I am with you,” Knight told Collins at one point.

He went on to sarcastically change his mind about the bill, saying it’s “just what we need,” since it would force future lawmakers to also pass the civics test.

“So maybe those people who pass the test will know we’ve got people going hungry two blocks from here and the answer you’re giving them is a civics test, because that will solve it all,” Knight said.

A short time later, Rep. Alvin Holmes took his shot at Collins. Republicans like to cast Holmes as an ignorant clown, and Holmes often plays into that image of a less-than-serious lawmaker with off-the-wall statements. But I’m betting Collins came away with a newfound respect for Holmes.

For the better part of a half-hour, Holmes fired civics questions at Collins. And he challenged other House members that if they could stump him on him an Alabama-related civics question, he’d resign.

Holmes didn’t resign.

Gov. Kay Ivey signed the bill. So, congrats, teachers. One more thing to do.

Clinically Speaking

Week nine was a bad one for women.

In addition to another round of anti-abortion rhetoric and useless bill that allows the people of the State to vote to make Alabama a “right-to-life state,” there was also a resolution condemning a woman.

The abortion bill, like all of Alabama’s abortion bills, was useless. It literally does nothing but cost us money to put it on a ballot. Even if it passes with 100 percent of the vote in the next statewide election, the amendment can’t change Federal laws and Alabama has never been in any danger of legalizing abortions if Federal laws change.

It did allow for our State lawmakers to go on record on the Senate floor making up things, such as being able to get an abortion on demand across the State.

Interestingly, Republicans shot down a proposed amendment that would have required the State to provide financial support for that child once born. So, not so much “pro-life” as “pro-fetus.”

Not to be outdone, in the House, Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow was attempting to pass a resolution to condemn Rebekah Mason, the former mistress of Gov. Robert Bentley.

And while I think most people can get behind a condemnation of Mason’s actions – even if they think it a tad silly to do so – it was the presentation of the resolution from Morrow that was a bit … um, off-putting.

Morrow clearly has a bad history with Mason, who he said killed one of his local bills four years ago because she was still holding a grudge over a bad college grade she received from then-professor Morrow. And that anger Morrow still holds for her seeped into his presentation.

He continually blamed Mason and her husband for scamming Bentley – making it seem as if he was blaming the whole embarrassing scene on her. He also continued to use the term “female” when describing Mason, which made the whole thing seem way too misogynistic.

But it was an attack on just one woman instead of all women, so maybe it was some progress.

Anti-Life Legislation

For a group of lawmakers who spend so much time explaining how precious life is, Alabama Republicans sure do like to kill people.

Two bills this week prove my point. One speeds up the process for killing an inmate on death row and the other broadens the way in which we can kill death row inmates.

The first bill takes quite a bit of gall from a State that has watched as two death row inmates in the last three years have been exonerated after lengthy prison stays when wrongly convicted. Attorneys working with other death row inmates on appeals believe there could be more freed through technology advancements.

I’m not anti-death penalty. But I am pro-being absolutely certain a guy is guilty of an awful crime. After our failures over a number of years, it seems that shortening the appeals process could make it more likely that an innocent man is put to death.

And he’ll have a new manner in which to die.

Sen. Trip Pittman, who apparently has taken up studying weird ways to kill people legally as a hobby, pushed a bill through the Senate that would allow prisoners to choose nitrogen gas as a means of death.

Pittman’s original bill would have allowed death by firing squad, so as hard as it might be to believe, nitrogen was an improvement.

We Did It!

There were also two good bills – those do exist, believe it or not – that passed the House. One mandates insurance coverage for Autistic children and the other would have guaranteed church daycares were also licensed by the state. Both passed easily.

But it was the self-congratulations that occurred after those bills passed that was really something to see. House members acted as if they’d just rolled back controversial civil rights impediments.

Making sure sick kids get proper medical care and ensuring children in daycares are safe as possible aren’t great victories for competent government. They’re literally the least you can do.

And if we’re honest about it, you didn’t really do that great. The Autism coverage was tweaked and caps put in place. And the daycare bill grandfathered in existing church daycares.

What was more important to conservative lawmakers than the health and safety of children?

The healthy bottom lines of major companies and churches.

Big Finish

One of the worst things to occur all week was the passage by the Senate of a bill removing the requirement for a permit to concealed carry a firearm in the State. Sheriffs across Alabama spoke out against this, calling it a serious safety issue, but it didn’t matter. Making it even worse: lawmakers voted down an amendment that would have kept in place a requirement that people with a documented history of mental illness would still have to receive the permits.

Very soon, the marriage license could be a thing of the past. Having already passed the Senate, a bill that would abolish the license and sub in a marriage certificate instead passed out of the House Judiciary Committee this week. What’s the difference, you ask. None. But people get to feel better about a symbolic (it appears) strike back at gay people. So, congrats.

And finally, the Senate also voted to ban physician assisted suicide. When it was discussed in committee, it became apparent that such a ban would be very tricky to enforce, and some Republicans expressed deep concerns over the appropriateness of telling someone who is suffering with a terminal illness that he or she can’t humanely stop their pain and end their life. Luckily, they stamped out that bit of compassion and humanity on Thursday.

 

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Opinion | State schools chief backtracks, Montgomery schools mess grows

Josh Moon

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Never mind.

That’s essentially what state schools superintendent Eric Mackey told parents, business leaders, school system employees and everyone else on Tuesday, telling the Montgomery Advertiser that he — the top executive in all of Alabama public education — might have been mistaken when he talked about the effects of Montgomery’s public schools potentially losing accreditation.

Oops.

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A little more than a week ago, a few days before school board elections in the county, Mackey stood before the Montgomery Chamber of Commerce and Montgomery County Commission and told a dire tale of hardship that was certain to set upon the poor children of Montgomery if board changes were not made.

No out-of-state colleges.

No private colleges.

No federal aid.

The effects would be devastating, driving people from the capital city at a pace faster than they’re currently leaving.

Small problem: None of that was true.

I called Mackey on it. I asked his office to provide evidence that it was true, because the Federal Student Aid office told me it wasn’t and two college presidents said it wasn’t.

But that was prior to the elections still, so the best I could get from Mackey was a garbled statement explaining that a loss of accreditation was very bad, which, of course, no one was arguing. But it’s one thing to say it’s bad and quite another to have the state schools superintendent stand before you and say your kids won’t be able to attend college unless you make changes to the school board.

That last part is what Mackey did. He was flat wrong.

And now he’s saying so. But he’s blaming it on an unnamed source. Because apparently Alabama’s superintendent of schools needs to be told by someone else what accreditation loss means.

Mackey wouldn’t tell the Advertiser who the source was, but he insisted that the source was “reputable.”

You’ll have to decide whether, at this point, Mackey is reputable enough to be believed.

Because that’s not all Mackey was apparently wrong about. During that speech to the County Commission, Mackey was discussing an accreditation report on MPS from the district’s accreditation agency, AdvancED. The report was, to put it lightly, not good.

But to hear Mackey and Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange talk, unless those board changes were made — changes that were being pushed by a political action committee tied to the mayor and his consultants — well there was just no way to avoid a loss of accreditation.

Fast forward to the same Advertiser interview: Mackey now says not to sweat that loss of accreditation, because MPS was forced into selling off Georgia Washington Middle School and because it’s operating a summer reading program that was already scheduled when the accreditation review took place.

Read that again. Let it sink in.

MPS losing accreditation, according to Mackey and other city leaders, rested on the sale of a middle school building and a summer reading program. Oh, and don’t let me forget those terrible board arguments — the ones that never rose to the level of formal complaints, rules violations or violations of state open meetings laws.

If all of that is true, AdvancED accreditation is worthless.

But slightly less worthless than the opinion of anyone from the state department of education on the operation of a local school district. Because if the state’s operation of Montgomery’s school district is any indication, they have no idea what they’re doing.

MPS was better run by MPS.

In the year and a half or so that ALSDE has been in charge of MPS, they have overspent on administrators, overspent on an odd cleaning contract instead of allowing already-employed custodians to do it, gave out raises to failing school principals, then had to give out raises to all principals, forgot to get their expensive administrators certified (some still aren’t), hired a guy who was barred from all of New York City’s schools and had to quietly run off most of the administrative hires it made.

But here are the two kickers: 1. After all of the money that has been spent, there hasn’t been a single additional teacher, aide, coach or book purchased to help improve the learning environment of a child in MPS, and 2. After all the complaints of mismanagement, not a single principal was removed.

Now, look here, MPS has serious, serious problems, and there isn’t a soul alive who would deny that. But what’s taking place in Montgomery right now isn’t an effort to better anything for those poor kids. It’s an effort to protect the pocketbooks of a few wealthy businessmen.

It’s an effort to simply change the image of MPS, instead of its culture and basic operation. It’s yet another attempt to educate the advantaged at the expense of the disadvantaged.

It’s wrong. As wrong as the state superintendent.

 

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Opinion | We’re perfecting the “art” of being mean

Joey Kennedy

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My mother, Patricia Ann Harper Kennedy, has been dead more than 21 years now. She died young, in 1997. She had cancer. She did not have health insurance.

Mom couldn’t get health insurance because she had a “pre-existing,” non-malignant tumor a decade before her fatal cancer. She wanted insurance. She could have paid for insurance. But she couldn’t get it. The insurance industry wouldn’t let her have it.

Despite the promises of the Affordable Care Act, we’re moving right back to that horror again today.

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Under the ACA, or Obamacare, as Obama-haters like to call it, people couldn’t be denied insurance because of pre-existing conditions. Nor was there a limit on how much an insurance company was obligated to pay for a health issue. Our kids can remain on our own insurance until they’re 26.

We’re the only First-World nation in the world that doesn’t view health care as a right. We don’t mind if sick people shoot up schools, clubs, churches, or concerts with their Second Amendment rights, but we won’t promote the general welfare by making sure sick people can see a doctor in a timely manner.

The Donald Trump administration’s Justice Department, under the leadership now of our former and long-terrible U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, is doing all it can to destroy the ACA. And, like so many progressive, successful, and humane programs started during Barack Obama’s eight years in office, Trump and Sessions are doing a great job tearing those programs down.

America – and Alabama, too – are becoming more mean every day. Sessions is mean, and that is reflected in his Justice Department’s policies.

So the Justice Department will no longer defend certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act. The decisions Sessions and his mean colleagues are making will lead to even higher health insurance premiums. Even more mommas dying without insurance.

But the meanness isn’t simply reflected in damage to the ACA.

Sessions no longer will allow citizens of countries that basically condone gender abuse to get asylum in the United States. Go ahead and beat those women to death; that’s not our problem.

Home of the brave.

Compassion? Trump and Sessions likely can’t even spell the word, much less define it. It is not “covfefe.”

A “true” state’s righter, Sessions demands that the federal government enforce laws against recreational marijuana use in the states that have already approved it. Hypocrisy is a Republican value.

Temporary refugees from so-called (by this administration) “sh—hole” countries are finding they’re losing their protection. Go home. Leave us alone. Be murdered.

A woman’s right to manage her own body is under unprecedented assault. By men.

The LGBTQ community, which only recently won the right of marriage, finds itself the target of “legal” discrimination under this administration. Our transgender and gay members of the military are now at risk.

Children and parents trying to get asylum in the “land of the free” are being brutally separated. Many hundreds of those children are now, literally, “lost.”

We’re friends with North Korea’s brutal dictator, but are confrontational with the leaders of our strongest allies, including Canada, Mexico, Great Britain, France, and Germany.

We’ve got a mean streak that was suppressed by better angels in previous administrations, but has now been unleashed by Trump and his hate-filled minions, including Sessions.

Sadly, in our state, many politicians (all Republicans) tout this hateful Trumpism as a reason to vote for them in their TV commercials. Too many hateful voters feel enabled by that. So we get people like child molester Roy Moore running for the U.S. Senate, and supported by Alabama’s first woman governor since Lurleen Wallace.

We let our worse demons loose to kill our better angels.

We’re killing angels.

We want to make Medicaid practically impossible for our poorest to get. And we’re a very poor state. We want to deny food aid to children. We want to privatize public education and prisons, so private corporations can make more money.

We celebrate being mean. We monetize being mean.

Angels are dying.

My mother was too young two decades ago when she died of cancer. She was helped along to her early death by the highly profitable health insurance industry. The one we are bringing back.

Today, I don’t have health insurance. I cannot afford it. I haven’t been to a doctor in 18 months. My hope depends on living until I’m 65 and can get Medicare, which I’ve paid into my entire professional career. That is, If Medicare as we know it still exists in 2021. These Trump Republicans want to get rid of that, too.

I am 62 years old. Next year, I’ll be my mother’s age when she died. So little has changed.

Well, except we’re even more mean.

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

 

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Opinion | Inside the Statehouse: Analysis of gubernatorial primaries

Steve Flowers

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Now that the dust has settled from last week’s gubernatorial primaries, let’s analyze the outcome.

Governor Kay Ivey and Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox won very impressive victories. Ms. Ivey beat three well-financed opponents without a runoff. She trounced them. She garnered 56 percent of the vote to 25 percent for Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. Evangelist Scott Dawson and Mobile State Senator Bill Hightower brought up the rear with 13 percent and 5 percent respectively. All three men worked hard and raised money. It was a daunting task to defeat a sitting governor.

The challenge now goes to youthful, vibrant, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, who captured the Democratic nomination with a brilliant and impressive victory.

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Maddox’s win may have been more impressive than Ivey’s. He had to defeat a field of five. He did so, like Ivey, without a runoff. He also received 55 percent of his primary vote. His closest challenger was former Alabama Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb, who got 29 percent. Former Cullman State Representative James Fields ran third in the Democratic primary with 9 percent of the vote.

Polling revealed three months out that Kay Ivey had an insurmountable lead. Remarkably, the same polls had her with the almost identical 30-point lead three weeks out. Her numbers were 45 to Battle’s 12, Dawson 9, and Hightower 4 in mid-February and again as late as mid-May.

The only way to diminish that kind of lead is to go negative. Battle refused to go negative, which negated any chance he had to overtake her. He was the only one of the three with the financial resources to decimate her numbers.  He chose to use his campaign largesse to buy name identification. He is probably planning on making another run for governor in 2022. Thus, making this his get acquainted race. Kay will more than likely not be a candidate for reelection in 2022, if indeed she survives the November general election against the Democrat Walt Maddox.

All three dawdled with the scheme to go after Kay’s age, cognizance, and health. The first to use the ploy was Hightower. In a veiled way to draw attention to Kay’s health, he released his medical report.  Dawson and Battle followed suit with statements from their doctors saying they were fine. The media took the bait and smelled blood. They caught Kay off guard and off script. She first gave some ambiguous, befuddled response. Then when her campaign handlers had time to survey the scenario, they realized that all the three men did was to get a written statement from their primary physician that simply stated they were in generally good health. Well, Kay could do that. The issue was diffused and laid to rest.

Presidential candidates cannot get by with broad, benign statements that they are fine. They are made to reveal their medical records and history. This is sometimes pretty private and quite revealing. Every medical problem, procedure, medication, and disease contracted is shown. There is a reason that Bill Clinton did not release his medical records.

The gentleman award in the GOP Primary goes to Mayor Tommy Battle and Preacher Scott Dawson in the Governor’s race and State Senator Rusty Glover in the Lt. Governor’s race. They were vibrant and positive.  Their sincerity and candor were refreshing. They gave hope that good people will enter Alabama politics.  However, they also gave renewed credence to the old adage, “nice guys finish last.” This maxim is especially true in politics.

One of the most interesting stories of this year’s gubernatorial election is that when Kay Ivey was a student at Auburn University 52 years ago, she cut her teeth in politics campaigning for Lurleen Wallace for governor.  Lurleen won that race going away. In 1966, Governor Lurleen Wallace defeated 10 male opponents without a runoff. She is our only elected female governor in our state’s history. Ironically, if Kay is elected in November, she will be our second elected female governor.

Kay Ivey also made a special friend at Auburn. She and Jimmy Rane met and bonded at the Loveliest Village on the Plain. Rane, better known as the Yellow Man from his commercials, founded Great Southern Wood Company and has forged it into one of America’s great companies. Rane runs his company out of Abbeville and still resides in his native Henry County. Rane and Ivey have remained fast friends over the years. He has been an integral part of her campaign. He has been her largest personal contributor. In addition, she used Rane’s Great Southern jet to fly around the state on her final day of campaigning.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

 

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Alabama Legislature Recap Week 9: All questions, no answers

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