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A disquisition on greed in politics, an introduction with Mr. Blue Suit

Samuel McLure

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By Sam McLure
Alabama Political Reporter

“I have no doubt from what I daily see that our whole system is rapidly becoming a mere money-making concern to those who have the control of it.”

US Senator Calhoun, (Circa 1848)

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The Big 4 meet Mr. Blue Suit

The State of YullaMama is located in the southern region of North America. YullaMama’s average temperature is well above 90 degrees. It’s warm weather has proven to be a fertile environment for the ice-production business. Currently there are four ice production companies that retain 95 percent of the market share – the Big 4.

The CEOs of the Big 4 met in the Capitol one day for lunch.  One CEO lamented that, “it sure would be nice if there were some way to keep upstarts out of the ice making business.”

Another CEO chimed in, “Hey, what if the State required ice makers to be licensed? The State could set the requirements high enough to make gaining entry into the ice making business almost impossible.”  The other CEOs applauded the idea, but couldn’t fathom how this would be possible.

As fortune would have it, eating at the table right next to the Big 4 was a man in a nice blue suit who couldn’t help but overhear the conversation.  “Excuse me, Gentlemen. I hate to interrupt,” said Mr. Blue Suit, politely. “My name is Mr. Blue Suit. I work for the Bureau for Community Advancement and I may have a solution for you.”

Blue Suit explained to the Big 4 that the Bureau was a “non-profit”, member based organization, that specialized in helping like-minded business owners change State laws to further “community advancement.” For a small fee, the Bureau could lobby the Legislature of YullaMama, and with Blue Suit’s extensive connections, could get a law passed that would require licensure for any ice makers in YullaMama.

The Big 4 were naturally skeptical. One CEO asked, “If we make this small contribution to the Bureau, can you ensure we get Legislation passed that would make it virtually impossible for new competitors to start ice-making business?”

Blue Suit dropped his head and laughed with a chuckle that made the CEO feel naive.  Blue Shirt explained that the Bureau controls one of the most powerful Political Action Committees in the sate. The Bureau’s PAC contributes to the political campaigns of almost every elected official in YullaMama. “That means,” Mr. Blue Suit explained while emphatically thumping his pointed finger on the table,  “that these elected officials do what the Bureau tells them to do – otherwise, the Bureau will make sure these politicians don’t stay in office for long.”

“But, won’t there be a public outcry about this?”, asked one of the CEOs. Blue Suit assured them that the standard protocol in these situations was fail safe.  The Bureau would enlist scientist do perform focused research and retain marketing firms to disseminate their “evidence-based” research.

“I’m just spitballing here,” said Blue Suit, “but, we could do some research on the health hazards of contaminated ice. If we could find a couple of cases where people have used ice from some no-name dispensary and gotten sick, well then, there you have it. A bill like this would be all about ensuring the public safety … and ensuring “community advancement”

The Big 4 were in.  They made the requisite contributions and Blue Suit used the influence of the Bureau for Community Advancement to pass the legislations.

Five Years Later

Five years later, the Big 4 found themselves eating lunch again at the Capitol; this time Blue Suit was comfortably seated at their table. One CEO commented, “Blue Suit, we couldn’t be happier with the legislation you passed. The demand for ice in YullaMama has doubled and our market share has remained the same. No new competitors have entered the market, and a few of the smaller fish even had to close shop because of the licensing regulations.”

“I sense a ‘but’ coming here,” Blue Suit observed with a smile.

“Well, your right,” said the CEO. “I wonder if we could do something more. Is there some other strategy that that Bureau could help us with?”

“I’m so glad you asked,” said Blue Suit with a grin like a cheshire cat. “You’ve only just scratched the surface of possibilities. You’ve accomplished market share protection, but that’s just Phase 1. The real money comes from getting your hands into tax revenue. If you can find a way to reach into the public coffers, then … anything is possible.”

“YullaMama’s state tax revenue is one thing, and we can reach into that for sure,” explained Blue Suit, “but, But, BUT … the Federal Government, has an unlimited power to tax and print money. Figure out how to get a piece of that and …,” Blue Suit leaned back and raised his eyebrows with an anything-is-possible look.

The Big 4 sat at the table in silence. They mostly looked down at their plate or coffee cup … occasionally glancing at each other. The look each CEO gave to the other made it clear, “We’ve got to do this.” The boldest of the Big 4 broke the silence, “Okay, Blue Suit, lay it out for us. How do we get this done?”

“First, we need to privatize the ice making needs of the schools and prisons,” Mr. Blue Suit was clearly in his element. “We can cite some studies that there has been an outbreak of contagious diseases from in-house ice making. So, it’s essential for ‘community advancement’ that we outsource ice-making to someone to ‘experts’ who are licensed by the State.  And, of course, that would be you guys.”  The CEOs of the Big 4 nodded in agreement with a slight smile.

“Can we can get all that done legislatively – like we did with the licensing bill?”, asked the bold CEO.

“Absolutely. Remember, nobody gets elected or stays elected in YullaMama without our blessing.” Mr. Blue Suit went on, “Next, we have to get you guys tied into Pres. Tupaloo’s infrastructure money. Pres. Tupaloo has promised 4 billion to the State for ‘infrastructure’ if YullaMama will pass 4 or 5 pieces of legislation.  You guys could get a big chunk of that 4 billion as the sole distributors of ice for all the workers out in the field putting up bridges and such.”

“Imagine this,” said Mr. Blue Suit, “we can find a medical doctor who can show that it is essential for workers in YullaMama to have ice on hand at all times for their health – due to the heat, of course. Then we have an analyst do some research to show that it saves a ton of money to have that ice delivered to the workers on the construction site.”

Blue Suit leaned back from the table as before, with the same eyebrow lifting anything-is-possible look, “We are talking millions of dollars of contracts from federal money … and hey, it’s gonna go to somebody. Might as well be you, boys.”

The CEOs of the Big 4 once again sat in silence as the possibilities of Blue Suit’s proposal sank in. After seconds that seems like minutes, the mildest and quietest CEO spoke up, “Something has been bothering me from the beginning of our work with the Bureau. Now, don’t get me wrong … we’ve all gotten filthy rich from the licensure requirement and what you’ve just proposed could triple our net worth.”

“But, here’s my predicament,” said the mild CEO. “I don’t know that what we’ve done and what we are proposing to do is good for the State of YullaMama. People are paying higher prices for ice because there’s less competition.  And, we stomped out all the little guys. And, if we get the contracts to make ice for the schools and the prisons, it’s going to costs taxpayers way more money than just making it in-house.”

Brows began to furrow on the faces of the other CEOs, but the mild CEO continued, “And, I’m not really sure the Federal Government has the right to tax folks the way they do and spend money like we’re talking about. The 10th Amendment gave them very limited powers. Each time the Federal Government taxes and spends money outside those parameters, it sort of feels like stealing. I’m not sure I want to reap the benefits of stolen money.”

Blue Suit leaned forward with a nervous laugh and quickly chimed in, “I get where you’re coming from. Look, lots of folks have that concern, but you can’t turn the clock back.  Our whole two-party system is geared to people, like you boys, reaping the benefits of the tax revenue. Let me break it down to you this way: Republicans scream ‘Pro-Life’ and Democrats scream ‘Criminal Justice Reform.’ The reality is, if either party really cared about those things, they would be resolved yesterday.  But the truth is, if they were resolved, then the respective parties wouldn’t have a platform to stay in power. We just ‘make up’ these social justice issues to keep the right people in power so the Bureau can continue to serve your business interests – the interests of ‘community advancement.’”

“And this is just Capitalism, Boys.” Mr. Blue Suit was starting to sweat, “Greed is good. Greed gives us cars and air conditioning and medicine … and ICE! What we are talking about is just the invisible hand of Capitalism. I’m not proposing anything illegal.” Blue Suit looked at the group for affirmation, but all he saw was blank stares. “Look, my perspective is you get as much as you can from on the public’s dime without going to jail. If you don’t get it, someone else will … someone who is probably a flaming liberal. If that makes me a terrible person, then … I guess I’m a terrible person.”

What Would You Do?

What would you do if you were a CEO of the Big 4.  If you agree with Mr. Blue Suit and would move forward with his proposal, then I don’t know if there is much I can do for you. But if, like the mild CEO, something doesn’t sit right with you about the Bureau’s arrangement, then travel with me on this three part series to explore greed in politics. Part I will focus on diagnosing greed. Part II will explore some of the most sinister examples of greed in Alabama politics. And, Part III will propose solutions to curbing the effects of greed in Alabama politics.

 

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Opinion | Boys State debate couldn’t come at a better time

Joey Kennedy

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What do you think about political debates? Do they matter?

I think they do.

I’m going to participate as part of a panel for two gubernatorial debates next week at Alabama Boys State.

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The Republican gubernatorial candidates will meet on Tuesday evening (7 p.m.) at the University of Alabama’s Morgan Auditorium in Morgan Hall, and the Democratic candidates for governor will debate on Wednesday night in the same place and time.

Other questioners are my former Birmingham News colleague Tom Gordon and Rashad Hudson, the Montgomery reporter for CBS 42 News. The debate will be moderated by CBS 42’s Art Franklin.

It’ll be fun. And, let’s hope, informative.

Most of the candidates have agreed to participate; the big one missing will be Gov. Kay Ivey, who has refused any and all debates. It’d be great to ask her why, but she won’t be there.

Maybe I’ll ask anyway.

As a voter and a journalist, I’m naturally suspicious when a major candidate for public office refuses to face her opponents and discuss her vision and plans. What, exactly, is Ivey trying to dodge or hide?

Retired Judge O.L. “Pete” Johnson, a longtime Jefferson County District Judge, founder of Jefferson County’s drug court, and the longtime director of Alabama Boys State, sponsored by the American Legion, has called on me before. A few years ago, I was part of a Boys State debate panel for a U.S. Senate race.

And over the years, I’ve been on a number of election debate panels, from mayoral races to gubernatorial races.

Johnson does a great job organizing these debates, and it’s timely in that this one is happening right before the June 5 primaries the following week.

This certainly has been an active primary season, with Ivey caught up in a controversy over whether she is gay, which Ivey has strongly denied. Her opponent, far-right conservative Scott Dawson helped fuel that rumor.

On the Democratic side, former Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb found herself defending a convicted sex offender who worked for her campaign.

Current polls are showing that Ivey and Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle are favorites on the Republican side. For Democrats, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox is ahead of Cobb and former state Rep. James Fields.

While it’s a shame Ivey won’t be there, it does leave the governor open for political hits from her opponents, without an opportunity for her to reply in the moment.

I’m sure the candidates will have to answer questions about the controversies, but I’m hoping we can focus more on their visions and plans for their term as Alabama’s governor.

What are their positions on education, prison reform, economic development, equality, gun violence, mental health reform, infrastructure improvements, the environment, and efforts to weaken the state’s ethics laws?

I’ll likely ask a question about Alabama’s weak animal protection laws as well.

But I’d like to give readers a chance to ask questions, too. So either in an email ([email protected]) or in the comments sections on Facebook posts of this column, tell me what you’d like to ask the candidates, either generally, or specific to one candidate. I’ll share these with the other panelists as well.

Debates are an important tool that allows us to get to know the candidates better. They also present a record so we know what a candidate says he or she will do, then what that person does after winning the election.

During the week when Alabama Boys State is in session, many young people – Alabama’s current and future voters – will get to see these candidates up close and hear their ideas.

So send your questions and let’s have a debate.

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

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Opinion | Inside the Statehouse: Less than two weeks to primary – governor’s race

Steve Flowers

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As we get down to the lick log in the 2018 June Primary, there are few if any surprises in any of the major state races. Polling indicates that all of the contests are about where they were three or four months ago when the races began.

There is a tremendous amount of apathy and indifference as we head into the final days. This lack of enthusiasm has also affected fundraising. Most of the high-profile races have not attracted the amount of dollars as in the past.

Kay Ivey is sitting on a sizeable lead in the GOP gubernatorial primary. She took a slight dip in the polls when she ducked out of debates. However, it is not as pronounced as it would have been if she had appeared.  Her campaign has been managed brilliantly.

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Coincidentally, at the same time that her staff adroitly kept her out of the debates, her polling picked up that preserving the confederate monuments was an issue with conservative Republican primary voters. Kay’s media folks responded with an ad that could have come out of the George Wallace playbook. They had her telling folks that northern liberals and scalawags were not going to tell us what we are going to do with our monuments. Her resolve made folks wonder if she was actually there when the monuments were erected.

Last week, with only three weeks until the primary, lesbian lawmaker and LGBTQ activist Patricia Todd suggested in social media posts that Kay was gay. Ms. Ivey adamantly denied the tweet. She has adroitly deflected any and all inquiries into her private life.

The bottom line is that polls indicated she had a 30-point lead three months ago, and that lead is about the same now with less than two weeks to go to the Primary. The question is do her challengers push her into a runoff. Speculation is that she could win without a runoff the same way that her mentor, Lurleen Wallace, did in 1966.

The surprise in the GOP race could be Birmingham evangelist, Scott Dawson. He has run a very energetic campaign. Evangelical, rural, Roy Moore voters may be coalescing around the young minister. His strength might be underestimated by polling data.

This white evangelical vote is ironically similar to the African American vote in the state. It is quiet and beats to a different drummer. The message resonates through word-of-mouth between church pews rather than through the media and social media. Although, it eventually gravitates to being somewhat in lock-step with a predictably higher than average turnout.

Most observers expect Huntsville mayor, Tommy Battle, to make a late run at Ivey. He has money in the bank. He will also come out of the vote rich Tennessee Valley with good Friends and Neighbors support. He should get enough votes to run second and force Ivey into a runoff. However, there will still be a 15-to-20 point spread in favor of Ivey when the votes are counted on June 5. Kay will have to put on her campaign bonnet for another six weeks. She will still not debate.

The Democratic Primary for governor has two thoroughbreds battling it out for the opportunity to face the GOP candidate, probably Ivey. Polling in this race between former Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb and Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox is inconclusive.

Most of the folks who vote in the Democratic Primary on June 5 will be African American. Although this vote is not monolithic, the pendulum swings toward one candidate.

The African American leadership in the party is actively supporting Walt Maddox. He has also captured a good number of young white millennials and college students. My guess is that Maddox is the winner in the Democratic Primary.

Troy King will probably lead the balloting in the Attorney General contest. Alice Martin and Steve Marshall are battling for a place in the runoff with King.

Twinkle Cavanaugh is poised to get a good vote in the Lt. Governor’s race. If she has a runoff, it will probably be Will Ainsworth from Sand Mountain, who has had a significant TV buy.

State Senator Gerald Dial has surged in the Agriculture Commissioner race, primarily due to a brilliant and upbeat television ad. It is the best TV spot of the year. He is also benefiting immensely from grassroots support from rural volunteer firefighters throughout the state.

Voter ambivalence favors incumbents and those who have voter name identification. Therefore, my prognostication is that when all of the votes are counted in November, we will have a female Republican Governor, Kay Ivey, and a female Republican Lt. Governor, Twinkle Cavanaugh.

We will see.

See you next week.

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

 

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Opinion | All you need is love

Joey Kennedy

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Oh, Alabama, I cry for you. I cry for you, too, Birmingham.

We make progress, then we wipe it out. It’s the old cliché of two steps forward, one step back. Except during election years, it seems we take no steps forward and 100 years back.

What’s wrong with us? When will we stop hating?

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State Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, was wrong to vaguely out Gov. Kay Ivey as gay in a tweet and on Facebook. Yeah, those rumors have circulated for awhile, but Todd’s tweet has a mean spirit to it, especially considering the state’s only openly gay legislator is leaving the State House and, presumably, the state, to take leadership of an LGBTQ organization in Florida.

This fire was ignited by Scott “I-Don’t-Stand-a-Snowball’s-Chance-in-Hell” Dawson, a Republican opponent of Ivey’s for governor. Dawson, in his self-righteous, white-Evangelical “superiority”, criticized Ivey for funding an LGBTQ anti-bullying organization. In Dawson’s world, it’d be OK to bully gay kids, or worse. In Dawson’s world, philanderer Donald Trump is a “Christian,” and monogamous Barack Obama is the anti-Christ. I’m glad I don’t live in Dawson’s screwed-up world, and I don’t want to go to his screwed-up heaven.

And sure, in the perfect world (not Dawson’s), we want all people, and especially our elected officials, to be who they are. Yet Ivey Wednesday directly denied the rumors, and that’s OK. She gets to decide who she is. We get to decide if that’s who we want to vote for.

But why does it matter if Ivey is gay? Think hard, Alabama. Why. Does. It. Matter? Your own homophobia? Your fear of somebody different? Your twisted Christianity where it’s OK to hate, despite the faith’s namesake demanding that we love?

It should not matter. Except that voters here (maybe everywhere?) respond to emotional, hot-button issues before thinking about whether they even matter. They don’t.

Meanwhile, here in Birmingham we have a controversy between new Mayor Randall Woodfin and a West End pastor known for using his church’s outdoor sign to deliver messages of hate.

New Era Baptist Church pastor the Rev. Michael R. Jordan is upset that the mega-Church of the Highlands may start a branch in his neighborhood. So he posted this on his church’s sign: “Black folks need to stay out of white churches.”

Woodfin responded appropriately: “There is a spirit of racism and division that is over this city. It must be brought down. We have to change the conversation to what we need it to evolve into. ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.’”

So now Woodfin is taking heat from some in Birmingham and elsewhere. For wanting love, not hate, to guide our conversations.

The Rev. Jordan decries white flight, and rightly so. He calls Woodfin naïve. He says white people won’t live in his neighborhood, but they want to bring a white church next door.

I’ve written about Jordan’s hate before. In 2004, Jordan posted this on his church’s Hate Board: “AIDS is God’s curse on a homosexual life.”

Jordan’s “god” is much less perfect than mine. AIDS practically wiped out generations of hemophiliacs. It has devastated (and still is) heterosexual communities across the world, especially in Africa. If my God had it out for homosexuals, his aim would be much more precise.

Jordan rails against white Evangelicals who elected Donald Trump. But, you see, there’s not much difference between Jordan’s brand of religion and that of white Evangelicals.

There’s not much difference between Jordan and Dawson. Skin color, yes. Not much else.

Their unifying characteristic: Hate. Whether taught from the pulpit or from a church’s outdoor marquee, or from the campaign trail or in the “white” church, hate is the common denominator.

Woodfin is absolutely right. We must change the conversation.

That’ll be hard, though, because we’re mostly cowards, afraid of each other, of our immigrant neighbors, of the black man walking down the street and the white cop patrolling the streets. We’re afraid of gay people, of Muslims, of Asians, of Rednecks, of Jews, of Catholics. We’re afraid of independent women who want the right to choose, and who don’t want to be the targets of sexual harassment and rape. We live our lives in fear.

We’re even afraid of love.

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

 

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A disquisition on greed in politics, an introduction with Mr. Blue Suit

by Samuel McLure Read Time: 9 min
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