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Five Ideals Every Republican Should Love About the Alabama Democratic Party

Samuel McLure

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By Sam McLure
Alabama Political Reporter

On November 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy was assassinated; an event which overshadowed the death of a much more remarkable man, C.S. Lewis.  But, such is the way of historicism; we often attempt to grasp at meaning in the past through dates and deaths and wars and events. In contrast, Lewis suggests “that what is really important is the peace between wars and the lives of ordinary people.” While it may be absurd to assert that C.S. Lewis led an “ordinary” life, failing to sit at his feet on this topic would be equally absurd. 

In the last installment of the Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Battle, a unicorn named Jewel explains to Jill, the visiting English child, “that there’s not ‘always so much happening in Narnia,” and that in between the visits of the English children there were ‘hundreds and thousands of years … in which there was really nothing to put into the history books.’” This is the great ideal of government: To foster and facilitate a lasting peace that is so dull, it bankrupts the click-bait industry of persistent controversy.

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The Principles of the Alabama Democratic Party (ADP) contain ideals by which the party sets its course and measures its success. Contained in these ideals are five landing points, or safe harbors, where Republicans and Democrats can find common ground and work toward a very dull peace, where there is “really nothing to put into the history books.”

(1) Local control of public education.

The very first principle of the ADP is “[t]hat government functions best when it is closest to the people.” The spirit of this sentiment is foundational to our American system of Government. The risk of centralized, distant, and uninformed government was on the forefront of the minds of the first Americans as they resisted rule from the English Monarchy.

The desire for a government that is “closest to the people” was embodied in the 10th Amendment to the US Constitution, which sought to limit the rise of a Federal Government that would distance control of local issues from the people it affected. This struggle for local control is seen in a myriad of issues from criminal justice reform, to immigration policy, to the rights of pre-born persons.

Not least of these issues is the public education of our children. The ADP’s third principle states, “[t]hat a quality system of public education is the cornerstone of all our attainments and the foundation of our hopes for the future; that we must relentlessly strive to attain such a system so that every child is afforded full opportunity to realize his or her God-given potential.”

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, two men who were often at odds politically, were in agreement on the importance of public education. Brad Desnoyer, law professor at the University of Missouri School of Law, reminds us that:

“Rather than squabbling, Adams and Jefferson knew that public education was at the heart of democracy. ‘The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it,’ wrote Adams. ‘There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.’

“Jefferson, witness to the Revolution, drafter of the Declaration of Independence, and founder of the nation’s first public university, rightfully believed that it was the government and citizenry’s duty to invest tax dollars in public education: ‘[T]he tax which will be paid for this purpose [education] is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance.’”

Republicans should have no heartburn embracing these ideals and can work toward peaceful prosperity by championing the ADP’s efforts to resist distant powers from influencing local education.

(2) Stewardship of Natural Resources

The Stewardship Principle is inherent in all Judeo-Christian religions and common sense itself. When God created Adam and Eve, he made them stewards of creation, charging them to “take dominion” of the earth. Fundamentally, the earth does not belong to mankind; it belongs to God.

Common sense also tells us that, if we are to maximize our enjoyment of our State’s natural resources for our lifetimes and the lifetimes of our children, we must see that it is protected from the inertia of harm resulting from post-industrialization’s peculiar capitalism.

Take for example Acme Corp. Acme produces 1 bazillion widgets per day. In order to maximize their profits, Acme locates its plant beside the Alabama River. The Acme’s factory is cooled by water drawn from the Alabama river. Acme also produces 5 gazillion gallons of toxic waster every day.

Unfettered capitalism, i.e., a desire for profit that surpasses principles of stewardship, could lead to the decision for Acme to dump the used water and 5 gazillion gallons of toxic waste back into the river.

All Alabamians will agree, except perhaps the shareholders of Acme, that dumping the refuse back into the river would be bad … bad for Alabama’s natural resources … bad for the next generation … bad stewardship.

Thus, it is the noble ideal of stewardship that rings true in ADP’s desire to fulfill their ideals:

“[T]he Democratic Party is committed to clean air and water. We recognize that the complex problems of our era necessitate governmental action, control of which must be in the hands of the people and not those whose regulation has become unavoidable.”

Lest it be lost, let’s pause to notice last phrase of the principle: “control of which must be in the hands of the people and not those whose regulations has become unavoidable.” This means that the common Alabamian who lives on and enjoys the river should be the person in control of regulating Acme, not the shareholders of Acme. This is common sense, good sense.

ADP’s guiding principles go on to state,

“That the preservation and protection of our natural resources is a sacred obligation to unborn generations of Alabamians; that the development of our parks, recreational facilities, historical sites and wildlife is among the highest duties of our state.”

The phrases, “sacred obligation” and “highest duties” ring with the echoes of a people that deeply care about ensuring that our enjoyment of creation does not sully creation. I for one can see no room for damning this ideal, and I tend to think those who do have some obligation to report their Acme dividend income to the IRS.

(3) Honesty and Integrity

By anyone’s account, honesty and integrity have been lacking in the landscape of Alabama politics.  Robert Bentley, Mike Hubbard, Jefferson County Fund, gambling money, and the ubiquitous influence of lobbying money on campaigns are just a sampling of issues that could benefit from the ADP’s ideals of honesty and integrity:

“That the people are entitled to honest and ethical government; that it is demanded of all public servants that they make complete, current, public disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest; that in carrying out their public trusts they serve no master save only the people; and that they fairly make and administer the laws without fear or favor. It is the duty of all public servants to relentlessly support and enforce the highest ethical standards without any regard to political exigencies of affiliations.”

Tracing the ways of greed in politics is like tracking a scorpion in a boulder field. Its trail is elusive, and the more you hunt it, the more it hunts you. Greed seeks to daily corrupt all of our motives and decisions. Each political party must take it upon itself to enforce the solemn duties set out in ADP’s ideals of honesty and integrity.

If the Alabama Republican Party embraced this ideal, the silence may have not been so deafening when Luther Strange accepted Bentley’s appointment to US Senate; love of constitutional restraint over access to tax revenue might annihilate gun permits; and the reach of “pro-business” lobbyists into nearly every elected official’s pocket in Alabama would be treated with the utmost suspicion.

(4) Commitment to Cultivated Fields

The ancient Hebrew King, Solomon, had historic success in establishing a nation state that prospered with peace and justice.  He wrote that, “this is gain for a land in every way: a king committed to cultivated fields.”  The ADP embraces this wisdom in its ideal:

“That it is the duty of our State government to provide imaginative leadership and to strengthen the capacities of our free enterprise system in meeting the challenge of providing decent housing for all Alabama citizens.”

Providing “imaginative leadership” and “strengthening the capacities” of the free market, is a far cry from socialistic mandates from the government which constrain the free enterprise system.  Not only does this ideal rightly articulate the ideal of economic prosperity, it roots its purposes in attention to the needs of the poor.

Stated another way, the ADP’s ideal does not espouse that “Alabama citizens should be taxed to build houses for the poor.” On the contrary, the ADP’s ideal envisions providing leadership to encourage the free market to flourish, without forgetting the poor.

(5) Humility of Openness to Self-Correction

The last principle of the ADP contains a phrase that embodies that rare attribute of humility; a sense of humility which produces openness to self-correction: “that all Democrats are bound to defend, protect and honor our Nation, our state, or Party, that when they are right, it is our privilege to sustain them, that when they err, it is our duty to correct them.”

If wings were given to this ideal, Alabama could soar. If Alabama politics fostered humility of openness to intense feedback and correction, peace and prosperity would flourish.  In this ideal, the ADP has committed itself to creating a culture of self-correction. The faithful implementation of this ideal is essential to maintaining the integrity of any organization.

—-

I wish the best for the Alabama Democratic Party.  The sure path of Christ is often lost in the dark forest of party-spirit.  The more the ADP succeeds in accomplishing these ideals, the more the fundamental purpose of government is accomplished:  “hundreds and thousands of years … in which there was really nothing to put into the history books.”

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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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Opinion | Hot buttons worth pressing

Joey Kennedy

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They don’t want you to vote.

Remember that.

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

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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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Five Ideals Every Republican Should Love About the Alabama Democratic Party

by Samuel McLure Read Time: 9 min
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