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Alabama Legislature Recap Week 9: All questions, no answers

Josh Moon



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.”


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 | The Pulitzer Prize: The Good Journalism Seal of Approval

Joey Kennedy



Stock Photo

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

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

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


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.”


“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



File Photo

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

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

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


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


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Opinion | Hot buttons worth pressing

Joey Kennedy



They don’t want you to vote.

Remember that.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, something like that.

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

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

The evils of immigration and undocumented residents.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a mess, to be sure.

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

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

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

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

Yes, even in Alabama.

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

Imagine hot buttons that truly matter.

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

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


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Alabama Legislature Recap Week 9: All questions, no answers

by Josh Moon Read Time: 7 min