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We all need a Summer of Revival

Joey Kennedy

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By Joey Kennedy
Alabama Political Reporter

Alabama needs a vibrant two-party system. In truth, it has never had one in modern times.

Democrats controlled the State for a long time, with Republicans holding only a few offices. Then, in 2010, Republicans swept into control, with a supermajority in both houses of the Legislature and winning every statewide office. It has been that way ever since.

I’m not a Democrat or Republican, and I vote for candidates in both parties. But I’m not trying to blow smoke, either. My politics certainly lean left, which means more often than not I identify more with Democratic Party positions, especially on a national level.

Frankly, though, whether Democrats or Republicans control Alabama’s elected offices, the State is controlled more by populists, along the lines of former Gov. George Wallace.

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Many of our politicians rarely run on ideas about how to make Alabama better; instead, they pick hot-button issues – race or immigration or marriage equality – to “inspire” voters.

Sadly, that works, and it works too well. Until political candidates run on ideas and win, that strategy will likely continue. And continue to the detriment of the best interests of most Alabamians.

We need a functioning Democratic Party in Alabama, and here’s hoping that the recently announced Summer of Revival program reported on by Alabama Political Reporter’s Brandon Moseley is a success. Moseley writes that state party “will partner with county parties and external allies to invest in local organizing projects over the summer, which will increase the Party’s capacity to elect Democrats up and down the ballot” in elections to come.

While obviously the state Democratic Party needs a lot of organizational work, the Republican Party isn’t in great shape, either.

Even with a supermajority in the Legislature, Republicans have been bickering with each other since they took control. With so few Democrats to fight, they turned on themselves.

And we can’t be reminded enough that the three top Republican office holders – former Gov. Robert Bentley, former House Speaker Mike Hubbard, and former Chief Justice Roy Moore – lost their positions because of misbehavior.

Indeed, never has the Democratic Party been in a better position to take advantage of those Republican disasters, and some others. Whether it can is the Big Q, and the Big A is: probably not.

Republicans – and likely Democrats – will still run their populist campaigns, thin on real issues and fat on hot-button issues.

If Alabama voters bite, and there’s nothing in recent political history to believe they won’t, we’ll once again get the same kind of government we deserve.

Let’s hope we do see a resurgence in the Democratic Party, not because it, too, is playing up the emotional issues, but because it starts discussing and debating the real issues facing Alabama, and there are some doozies, from our strapped budgets to Medicaid to child welfare to home rule.

It won’t do to simply campaign against Obama (he’s gone) and the Affordable Care Act; Republicans own that strategy anyway.

Discussing issues, real issues, would be the State Democratic Party’s real Summer of Revival.

 

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

 

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Opinion | Alabama solicitor Brasher not fit to be a federal judge

Josh Moon

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One of the dumbest legal conversations I ever had with anyone in Alabama state government was with someone who is currently on the verge of landing a lifetime federal judgeship — one of the most coveted and important positions in the U.S. justice system.

The conversation, like most of my legal conversations, involved gambling. Two gambling proposals had been put forth by the Alabama Legislature, and the Alabama Attorney General’s Office had just issued a statement supporting one over the other. The statement was confusing and incorrect in its assessment of the applicable laws — specifically, the AG’s office had misinterpreted Indian gaming laws.

So, I called to ask about the statement and the mistakes.

On the other end of the phone was Alabama’s Solicitor General, Andrew Brasher — the same man the Trump administration has now nominated to serve as a federal judge in Alabama’s Middle District.

For the better part of 15 minutes, Brasher argued with me about the laws. I won’t get too deep into the weeds of it all, but the confusion on his part involved the requirements of states and tribes entering into Class III gaming compacts.

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Now, my legal expertise would typically fill a medicine cup. But inside that cup would be Alabama and tribal gaming laws. And I know those laws because some of the best legal minds in America have explained them to me during the course of writing numerous stories.

Brasher was wrong. But instead of admitting it, he challenged me to provide him the relevant statutes. I did. He was still wrong.

But instead of admitting the mistake and retracting the statement the AG’s office released, the response back was: “We believe it’s complicated.”

Quite the legal ruling.

To put that another way, the response was: We have a conclusion that we want to reach and we will twist the laws any way we have to in order to get there.

And that, in a nutshell, is why Andrew Brasher shouldn’t be anywhere near a federal bench.

Whether it’s defending bogus press statements or wasting taxpayer money on disgraced “expert” witnesses or utilizing junk science to push a political position, Brasher’s legal resume is chock full of examples of him choosing politics over law.

It’s so bad that on Friday the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights wrote to the Senate Judiciary Committee tasked with approving Brasher’s nomination urging it to oppose him. The lengthy letter cited numerous examples of Brasher submitting briefs or making arguments in court that were roundly rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal courts.

Among other ludicrous arguments, Brasher has argued that … there was no racial gerrymandering in Alabama redistricting plan (the Supreme Court disagreed), demanding proof of citizenship on a voter registration card was legal (the Supreme Court disagreed), that only straight people should be allowed to adopt (the Supreme Court disagreed) and a fetus should granted an attorney.

There’s also this little nugget: During his confirmation hearing, Brasher refused to say that Brown v. Board of Ed. was correctly decided. Because, you know, who is he to say — a judge or something?

But probably the best summation of Brasher’s politically-driven career as an ideological prosecutor in Alabama came during a federal trial over Alabama’s restrictive laws on abortion clinics — laws that would have certainly forced most or all of the clinics to close. Unable to locate credible witnesses — medical doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, etc. — who would speak on the state’s side, Brasher and the AG’s office trotted out the paid stooges.

Four “experts” were paid more than $300,000 to testify on the state’s behalf. They were so bad that the judge in the case all but openly mocked them, and things became so bad that at one point, while questioning his witnesses, Brasher began to bang his own head on the wooden lectern.

That’s what happens when you choose politics over law in the courtroom. The system isn’t built to handle it. Things go awry. Justice falters.

And that’s what you risk by approving Brasher.

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Opinion | The BCA mess isn’t difficult to unravel

Josh Moon

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It’s been a rough week for the Business Council of Alabama.

The top lobbyist group in the state has been decimated by big-name defections. It started with Alabama Power and PowerSouth. Then Regions Bank. Then Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama. And now Protective Life Insurance. And there are strong rumors that Drummond Coal and Thompson Caterpillar are soon to follow.

All of those companies mentioned have expressed concerns — either while announcing their departure or while threatening to leave — over BCA CEO Bill Canary.

They felt Canary wasn’t getting the job done. They wanted him out. They wanted him out now.

The BCA board, led by Perry Hand, tried to block that. For reasons that are both dumb and seemingly personally beneficial to Hand and his company, Volkert Construction.

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And now there is debate in political circles over who’s right, who’s wrong and what it all means.

On the first two, there should be no debate. And anyone who is honest and who has spent an hour around the State House over the last two years knows it.

Alabama Power and these other major companies didn’t randomly decide one day that they didn’t like Canary’s suits and wanted him fired. They took a look at the scoreboard. And it clearly showed that Canary was getting killed.

And by that, I mean he had lost his influence in the State House. Most of it he squandered away by using too much stick and not enough carrot when dealing with lawmakers. He tried to bully his way around and such tactics quickly wear thin among grown people.

The companies contributing dues to the BCA do so for one purpose: for that organization to promote their best interest and help push business-friendly ideas in the state Legislature.

That’s the primary benefit of the BCA’s existence.

If the guy the BCA is paying big dollars to push that agenda is so disliked that state lawmakers are voting against BCA-backed legislation just to spite him, that’s what we call a gots-to-go situation.

That was 100-percent taking place with Canary in the State House.

Two years ago, the BCA was shut out on its top-priority bills. This past session, they got one — an unpopular weakening of state ethics laws that likely cost several lawmakers their seats — and lost their biggest.

Privately, Republican lawmakers, who once happily strolled into the building and voted for anything BCA sponsored, were so disenchanted with Canary and BCA that they told me they would vote against anything the organization backed. They were tired of being threatened, they said. And they were tired of Canary telling them what to do instead of working with them.

If you’re Alabama Power or Regions Bank or BCBS, and you’re dumping six figures annually into this association in order to promote your interests at the State House, you can’t have that.

And it’s that simple.

What’s hilarious to me is that there’s now this narrative being pushed on paid political blogs and in paid-for newspaper columns that somehow APCO and these other defecting businesses were too liberal and didn’t share the conservative, pro-business goals of Hand and the BCA.

Lord have mercy. I think I know liberal when I see it. And trust me, APCO, Regions and BCBS ain’t it.

Even if they pushed former Democratic House Speaker Seth Hammett to be the new BCA CEO. That decision, too, boiled down to simple business.

Hammett is the anti-Canary. He’s nice, well respected, well liked and doesn’t even own a stick. Basically, exactly the sort of change the organization needed.

But that’s a moot point now, I suppose. What’s left to consider is where things go from here, and it seems that other BCA defections offer some indication of the future plans.

In addition to top companies, board member Mike Kemp and legal counsel Fournier “Boots” Gale also resigned from BCA this week. Kemp was the chairperson of BCA’s political action committee, PROGRESSPAC.

If the departing companies intended to start a new lobbying group, or join an existing one, those specific members would be fairly important.

Whether that’s the case or not, certainly no one believes that APCO, Regions and BCBS are going to stop pushing their legislative agendas and backing bills that aid their companies and the state’s business climate.

Because just like with the push to remove Canary, the bottom line for them is money.

 

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Opinion | The most important election ever

Joey Kennedy

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Is this the country we want to be? Is this the state we love.

I truly wonder.

We always say there is never an election more important than the one at hand. It’s become a cliché.

But, folks, there’s never been a more important election than the mid-term election this  November. It may be cliché, but it’s absolutely true.

If you are eligible to vote but not registered, get registered now. Don’t keep putting it off.

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In the recent Republican and Democratic primaries in Alabama, only 26 percent of registered voters cast ballots.

That means 74 percent of registered voters stayed at home. Even that isn’t a true reflection of voter apathy in Alabama. Many more people in Alabama are eligible to vote, but simply don’t bother to register. Considering eligible voters, Alabama’s turnout is likely well below 25 percent.

Imagine fewer than 25 percent of eligible voters deciding who is going to head their parties’ tickets come November. In the few primary runoffs in July, the turnout likely will be single digits.

There’s no more crucial time for eligible voters to cast their ballots than this year.

Just look at the ongoing horror on our nation’s borders with Mexico. President Trump signed an executive order this week to prevent immigrant families from being split apart, but there’s debate over whether that means a whole lot. Trump only signed the order after tear-inducing descriptions and photos showed the terrible conditions that immigrant children were being housed in. So-called “tender age shelters,” little more than internment camps or prisons for toddlers and babies, was the last straw. Even tough-man Donald Trump couldn’t stand the backlash, so after saying he didn’t have the authority to keep families from being separated, he then signed an executive order ending his own policy of separating families.

Trump folded completely, but he folded on a terrible crisis of his own making.

Trump’s disgusting immigration decisions aren’t his only horrible policies. The assault on health insurance coverage, trade wars with our closest allies, destruction of the Environmental Protection Agency – the list goes on and on.

And on.

The bigger picture, though, is that voters allowed this to happen. More precisely, eligible voters who didn’t bother to register or vote allowed this to happen.

That’s why the cliché is true: There’s never been a more important election than this November’s midterms.

We’re not voting on a president, true, but we are selecting U.S. House members. Sure, Alabama polls overwhelmingly in support of Trump, but that’s not unusual in a state where voters so often go against their own interests.

Let’s not do that this time.

There are many more Democrats than usual running for office in Alabama this year. Get to know them. Learn what they stand for.

There are good Republicans, too, especially in local races.

On the statewide level, not so much, though, especially when compared to their Democratic Party opponents.

At the top, Tuscaloosa Mayor and Democrat Walt Maddox is eminently more qualified than Republican Gov. Kay Ivey, who supported a child molester for the U.S. Senate simply because he was a Republican, and who has refused to debate her opponents.

Go down the list. Remember that the party in charge in Alabama (and in Congress) is a party that wants to keep voter turnout as low as possible. It’s the only way they stay in control.

But to vote, you must be registered. And if you’re registered, you must travel to a polling place to cast your ballot.

Never, ever vote straight ticket. Vote a smart ticket.

Especially this year.

Because there’s never been a more important election.

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

 

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We all need a Summer of Revival

by Joey Kennedy Read Time: 3 min
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