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Oliver Robinson shouldn’t go to jail alone

Josh Moon

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By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

Oliver Robinson is going to jail.

Quite a few others should be going with him.

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If Robinson, a former State Representative, wants to redeem himself and maybe help the constituents he’s sold out, he’ll spend the next few weeks and months working to make sure the jail cells around him are filled with other suit-wearing, fast-talking, greased-palm hustlers who have hijacked our State political system.

Because make no mistake about it, Oliver Robinson, dirty and slimy as he is – and he’s got a coating like a nightcrawler worm on him right now – is not the dirtiest and slimiest of the bunch.

And I am happy to explain.

Robinson pleaded guilty, it was announced on Thursday by the US Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, to fraud, conspiracy, bribery and tax evasion charges. It was also announced that Robinson is actively working with the FBI, IRS and other agencies to build cases on other conspirators.

All of this stems from Robinson’s involvement, as a representative from Birmingham, in the North Birmingham Superfund Site (officially tabbed the 35th Avenue Superfund by the EPA).

That site, located in the area of Birmingham where steel mills operated for decades, is an environmental mess. Testing has found toxins in neighborhoods to be so high that the top layers of soil have been removed from hundreds of yards, businesses and school grounds. There’s pollution in the waterways and in the air, as well.

There have been various reports of significantly increased cases of cancer and off-the-charts-high reports of pollution-related illnesses, such as respiratory illnesses.

Care to guess the racial and economic makeup of the affected area?

Mostly black and poor? Why, you’ve lived in Alabama longer than 5 minutes, haven’t you?

You could also probably guess that even after decades of complaints and warnings from local activists and residents, it took the EPA – and released testing results from Walter Energy – to finally get something done. After more than 100 years of contamination, the EPA arrived in 2011. The site was designated a superfund in 2014.

When the EPA designates a pollution site as a superfund, it automatically goes about investigating and testing that site to determine the likely source(s) of that pollution. They did that in North Birmingham, and they returned with five likely suspects: Drummond Coal, Alagasco, Walter Coke, US Pipe and KMAC.

Those companies have fought the EPA, refusing to pay their shares of an estimated $20 million cleanup, according to reporting from al.com.

To put that $4 million-per-company payout in perspective, Drummond is listed in Forbes as one of the country’s largest private companies, with $2.2 billion in revenues for 2015.

So, multi-million dollar companies on one side. Poor, black residents in a depressed area on another side.

Guess which side the State of Alabama picked.

Both the Alabama Department of Environmental Management and then-AG Luther Strange took on the EPA, with Strange – a real man of the people – declaring that “no State money” will be spent to clean up the site. (No one asked him, but he probably would have been against spending the $30,000 in campaign contributions that Drummond has given to him the last two election cycles on the site, too.)

And yet, the EPA persisted.

What eventually happens in these cases is that the EPA compiles its evidence, reaches its conclusions, tries to work with the named parties, and then demands payment. If the parties continue to protest, lawsuits and legal actions are taken. And those things rarely work out well for the named parties.

And so, according to acting US Attorney Robert Posey, Drummond went a different way. Using an attorney from the law firm Balch & Bingham as basically a bagman, at least one Drummond exec funneled money to Robinson to undercut the EPA.

And Robinson did the job he was paid to do.

He fought the EPA at every turn, and went so far as to record meetings he had with EPA officials and with local environmental groups and give those recordings to Balch & Bingham and Drummond.

All of that makes Oliver Robinson the villain. He deserves to be the villain. In the shadows of Fred Shuttleworth’s church – a church that was firebombed three times because its trouble-making pastor was fighting to give black citizens a chance in Alabama – Robinson sold out those same people for a few thousand bucks.

But Robinson is not the only villain in this story, nor is he the main villain.

There are many others – from the CEOs who have enjoyed comfy lives while poisoning the communities where they earn their paychecks to the state officials who ignored the pleas from the affected neighborhoods and effectively turned their backs on dying children to the state officials who have joined the wrong side of yet another fight.

And then there’s the biggest villain: this persistent, and consistently failing, mindset in this State that places profits and wealth before people and their wellbeing.

 

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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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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Opinion | Straight party? That’s lazy, or stupid

Joey Kennedy

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A few years ago (more than a decade), a friend was running for circuit judge in Jefferson County. He is a Democrat. His opponent was, obviously, a Republican. An incumbent Republican.

My friend was much more qualified than the Republican incumbent, who had made a number of questionable decisions from the bench.

This Republican was terrible, on many levels.

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I didn’t campaign for my friend; I’m a journalist, so I stay out of direct involvement in political campaigns. But I am a voter, and there’s no question I was going to support my friend at the polls. And, when anybody asked specifically about that particular race, I’d recommended him. As an editorial board member of what used to be the best newspaper in Alabama, we studied the candidates carefully; personally interviewed most of them. That newspaper recommended my friend.

Before we made our recommendations, however, another friend asked me about that judicial race. I laid out the qualifications of the two candidates, and made a good case for my friend.

And then: “Is he a Democrat or Republican?” my other friend asked. Democrat, I replied.

“Well, I can’t vote for a Democrat,” my other friend said.

That is absolutely a stupid response. She wouldn’t vote for the best qualified candidate because he was running as a Democrat? I shook my head and moved on.

I can’t figure out, or pretend to understand, how somebody can eliminate a candidate simply based on party.

I have never, in my 44 years of being a voter, voted straight-party, whether Democrat or Republican or whatever.

There are bad Democratic Party candidates. And bad Republican Party candidates. And, yes, there are good candidates in both parties. And good independents. And good third-party candidates, though you’ll rarely find them on Alabama’s selfishly closed ballot.

The last election that featured lots of state and local candidates, I voted for more Republicans than Democrats.

I know readers assume (wrongly) that I’m a Democrat, because I write, generally, from the left. I’m not. I’m a left-leaning independent. That’s one reason I hate Alabama’s closed primary elections. You have to choose, one or another.

And if you vote for one party in a primary, you can’t vote the other party in a runoff, if there is a runoff.

Maybe I could understand such a discouraging system more if the parties paid for their own primaries. But they don’t.

I do. And you do. The poor Alabama taxpayers do.

Voting straight-party is an indication of two things: You’re either too lazy to find out who you really are voting for, or you’re too ignorant to care. Not voting would be a better choice.

We’ve got primary elections coming up. I’m going to be on a panel for Democratic and Republican party gubernatorial debates later this month at Boys State on the University of Alabama campus.

I’ll ask tough questions of the candidates from both parties.

From what I’ve been told, every candidate for governor, from both parties, has accepted the invitation to participate in the debate.

Every candidate but one, that is: Republican Kay Ivey, the current sitting governor. Now remember, Ivey wasn’t elected governor. She took over for the disgraced, libido-enhanced Robert Bentley, who was tossed from office.

Kay Ivey will not have my vote. But she’s clearly the favorite, even though there are candidates in her party and candidates in the Democratic Party who are clearly more qualified.

I’m a geezer who turned 62 this year. And unless the choice and qualifications are clear otherwise, I’m not voting for another geezer. And I’m not going to vote for those candidates, like Republican Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh for lieutenant governor, who opportunistically run for whatever state office they think they can win.

I’m looking closely at the younger generation, Republican or Democrat, who appears to have the best qualifications for the office they seek.

We geezers have let Alabama down – America down. We often are more in it for us than what’s best for our state and country.

And if a candidate refuses to debate her opponents, or if a candidate is endorsed by a child molester like Roy Moore, or if a candidate is clearly only in it for herself or himself, I’m not voting for them. Forget it.

Oh, I expect many of the candidates (most) I support won’t win. I don’t vote for somebody just because they might have a chance at winning.

I study the candidates, and I vote for the candidate I determine is most qualified to hold the office they seek.

But I will never mark that bubble for straight party. From my perspective, that’s just lazy. Or stupid. It’s like eating mountain oysters and not knowing what they are.

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

 

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Oliver Robinson shouldn’t go to jail alone

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