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Bill Britt

What kind of change will come?

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

When the Alabama Republican Party swept into power during the November 2010 elections, they promised us change. In his book, Storming the State House, Mike Hubbard wrote of that November evening, “It would fundamentally change the direction of Alabama, and of my own life, forever.”

Republicans have controlled Alabama’s State government for nearly seven years, and the only justification they offer for their shortcomings is, “It would have been worse under the Democrats.”

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The real problem, however, is instead of a sound policy rooted in principle, Hubbard’s brand of Republicanism, like many others of his ilk, lacks real ideology, and is therefore bound to only interests that further their success. This political bent is a type of opportunism, that can be wrapped with any label, Republican, Democrat, Communist, Anarchist, or any “ism” because it is malleable, able to mold neatly around any political interest of the moment. If politics is at its most basic “who gets what” and if the process is one of “what is possible” within a given political context, then how do we as a State proceed?

Our State’s problems are many but solvable. What is absent is a willingness to change the culture that not only created the problems but sustains them.

How can anything be made better when those in power can’t say no to special interests?

How can ideas of reform or progress take hold when lobbyists coopt the agents of change? This is the pox that rests on the House of both Democrats and Republicans.

Hubbard, who set the agenda for the 2010 takeover, along with former Gov. Bob Riley, BCA Chieftain Billy Canary, and a handful of others, did fundamentally change the State; but not for the better. Their plan did not alter how business in Montgomery is conducted; they just realigned the power base.

The first of their big ticket items began during Riley’s last term in office when he and Hubbard set about destroying the Democrats funding efforts but targeting gaming interests and the Alabama Education Association. Secondly, they, along with Canary’s input, passed so-called Ethics reforms with loopholes for the Business Council of Alabama and Riley’s business interests.

Ethics reform was a magic trick that was to go undetected. However, Hubbard’s embrace and expansion of the culture of corruption exposed it as a lie.

Of course, that did completely change Hubbard’s life forever, because he was convicted of 12 felony counts of public corruption. So, his words on the night of the Republican’s 2010 victory were prophetic; just not what Hubbard had in mind when he uttered them.

Hubbard, sentenced to prison over a year ago yet still remains free on bail, and many of his cronies are still in power. But Hubbard, like his mentor former Gov. Bob Riley, never intended to change the workings of Montgomery, except in how it paid them and their cronies.

Again, in Storming the State House, Hubbard shows the hollowness of his and Riley’s promises. Recalling a rally where Riley was to lay out his plan if elected Governor, he writes, “Riley, wearing a tie and a blue dress shirt that quickly became dark with sweat, laid out his campaign platform. His reform-minded agenda included changing the State budget process to lessen the possibility of mid-year proration, road-building based on priorities rather than politics, focusing on economic development, and building a world-class education system.”

We are well over a decade removed from Riley’s “reform-minded agenda,” and all that is noticeable is how he has prospered by co-opting road builders, education policy, and economic development to enrich himself as a lobbyist. Sadly, this is the current legacy of the Republican movement in Alabama, but it doesn’t have to stay this way. Even so, to fundamentally change State government in a positive way that benefits the governed and not the governing class, there must be a movement to change the culture guided by principles, not proverbs.

When a political movement forfeits ideas for catchphrases, sound policy is hard to achieve, because there is no real foundation from which to govern.

On a State level, the Alabama Democratic Party is controlled by a leadership team that has passed its sell-by date long ago, and on the other side, the way forward coming from the ALGOP is by-in-large as stale as week-old bread.

Both parties are out of real ideas on how to address the most pressing issues facing our State.

Months before Governor Bentley resigned in disgrace, a close associate of then-Lieutenant Gov. Kay Ivey phoned me, and, in essence asked, “Wouldn’t it be exciting to be a part of a government where for two years, the focus would be ‘righting the ship of state’ without thought of the next election; to make real and enduring change based on principle?”

Gov. Ivey promised to do just that, but so far, other than calling a Special Election for US Senate, there is little evidence that principled change is at hand. Missteps coupled with an insular and secretive management style has led to suspicion and perceived weakness or worse, further corruption.

The Ivey Administration’s reliance on Riley/Hubbard retreads for leadership positions casts a dark cloud over the whole enterprise. Some in the administration have complained that past association with the Riley/Hubbard gang should not disqualify a candidate for public office, which is true. But when an administration’s first hires and appointments are those who have participated in schemes to empower and enrich Riley/Hubbard/Canary and their families, it is difficult to believe it has picked the best or the brightest.

While the next election cycle is already upon us, there are still hours to work toward significant progress, should the Administration embrace the idea of principled change as expressed in the call I received last year.

For the better part of the last seven years, Hubbard, along with the BCA chieftain Canary, and choice lobbyists including Riley Inc., ran the State House for their profit. Canary, the chosen lobbyist, and Riley Inc. are still on the prowl and continue to manipulate State government. Add to that the bullies who control big, short-sighted associations and there remains a threat to good government based on sound policy.

Last Session’s failure to pass a reasonable infrastructure tax and ignoring the much-needed clarification and strengthening of the Ethics laws is a further example of how the system is fractured at its core. Add to that, the Ivey Administration’s tabling of the final report by the Gaming Taskforce, and the Legislature’s refusal to address the State’s prison problems all point to a lack of political courage. Granted the players may be new in their positions, but they are not new to the game, and the major problems we face are decades old.

There is new leadership in the Governor’s office and in the House of Representatives, where there is an opportunity to reshape our State government; but is there a willingness?

Change will come. It always does. But what kind of change will it be?

 

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Bill Britt

Ethics Review Committee is a long con

Bill Britt

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After last week’s initial meeting of the Ethics Review Committee, it’s now apparent that the body, as far as its leaders are concerned, is not assembled to strengthen and clarify the state’s ethics laws but weaken it through a wholesale rewrite. In other words, the Ethics Review Committee is a prop in a confidence scheme.

It seems the real purpose of the committee is to provide cover for lawmakers when, during the 2019 Legislative Session, the current “toughest in the nation’s” ethics laws are gutted like a prize pig.

Doing away with the present statutes should come as no surprise since Republican lawmakers and some businessmen have worked to overturn the ethics laws since Republican Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard was convicted of 12 felony violations of the existing laws.

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As in high stakes, poker lawmakers have “tells” which, when read, reveal their true intentions.

The resolution that created the Ethics Review Committee reads in part, “[T]he multiple piecemeal amendments over the last 40-plus years and the evolving interpretation of the Code of Ethics have created an environment where reasonable individuals can sometimes disagree on what is permitted and what is not with the result that qualified individuals are discouraged from seeking public office.”

Citing a law as old implies it antiquated and in need of replacement to fit the times. Piecemeal here is used as a pejorative to indicate the law is flawed because of so many additions. It also states that reasonable individuals disagree on what is permitted and what is not. Finding a reasonable person is a stretch, but what this means is when someone wants a way around the laws or breaks the law, they hire an attorney to argue about what the law means. Lastly, the authors of the resolution establishing the committee want the public to believe the laws discourage qualified individuals from seeking public office.

These are all talking points that only mean they are going to scrap existing laws.

It’s almost like the committee itself is an unwitting partner in a confidence trick. This move against the state’s ethics act feels like a “long con” in which, “a scam unfolds over a period of time and involves a team of swindlers, as well as props, sets, extras, costumes, and scripted lines,” according to Amy Reading’s The Mark.

The set-up began in earnest during the 2018 Legislative Session when Republican House and Senate leaders promised the public that the committee would use SB343 as the starting point for the review committee’s suggested changes.

But using SB343 as the underlying law on which to build is now being trashed.

At the end of the first meeting, Jefferson County Presiding Circuit Court Judge Joseph Boohaker asked, “Are we going to work in the existing Ethics law? Are we working on SB343? Or are we just starting from scratch?”

Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton, who co-chairs the committee, answered, “I think all three are possibilities. That’s what this committee should decide. If there are things you like about the existing law, then you can propose we keep those. If you like the Attorney General’s bill, then you can suggest those. If you want to start from scratch, then I would encourage you to present something to the committee that you do like.”

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh introduced SB343 during the 2018 Legislative Session. The bill was painstakingly constructed primarily by the Attorney General’s Special Prosecution Division led by Matt Hart, a team assembled under former Attorney General Luther Strange that worked since August 2016, to deliver a comprehensive re-write of the Alabama Ethics Act. During the process, Hart’s team met with all the significant stakeholders which amounted to more than two dozen different groups consisting of attorneys, lobbyists, associations, prosecutors and university officials, as well as direct discussions with the Legislature, including Othni Lathram, the director of the Legislative Services Agency.

According to sources within many of those discussions, there was universal agreement that SB343 satisfied the concerns of the various interests.

The committee may be comprised of exceptional individuals, but the fix is in, and the grifter’s prize is a return to a lawless Legislature led by those who serve themselves, not the people.

The game is on, and mischief is afoot. It’s a con.

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Cobb’s pledge sets a trap for rivals; Very Trumpian

Bill Britt

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Democrat gubernatorial candidate Sue Bell Cobb, last week, put forward a campaign pledge as cover for her failure to vet a field director who is a registered sex offender.

Rather than admitting her mistake and firing the sex offender and the staff member who hired him, she tried to change the subject by blaming the media, pointing her finger at Republicans and asking her opponents to sign a pledge to play nice.

The pledge itself is little more than a cleverly disguised Faustian bargain, in which she attempts to trick her rivals into agreeing to a promise that serves her end but not theirs.

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Second from the bottom, the pledge reads: “REFUSE FUNDING any group requiring financial support in exchange for an ‘endorsement.'”

This coming Saturday, the Alabama Democratic Conference (ADC) will meet to choose which candidates it will support in the June 5 Democrat primary. With the ADC’s endorsement comes an explicit understanding of financial support. It appears Cobb is conceding she will not receive ADC’s endorsement and doesn’t want one of her opponents to benefit from the group’s support.

Cobb learned something from her 30 years on the bench, which seems to be how to hide a trap inside a seemingly innocuous document.

Every Democratic candidate wants ADC’s endorsement, and everyone needs it.

Four of the five candidates running for governor under the Democrat banner signed the pledge. Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox called it a “stunt,” and didn’t sign.

Now if one of the other four office seekers should win ADC’s endorsement, they would have to refuse it to comply with Cobb’s pledge.

Of course, Cobb’s presser last week was an unmitigated disaster. From its premise to its ending, Cobb showed her inability to understand the fundamentals of decency, much less the vital role of the press. Has Cobb basked so long in the warmth of an adoring liberal press that she couldn’t realize that not everyone swoons when she takes the stage? Or has she fooled herself for so long that facts no longer matter?

Since resigning her position as Alabama’s chief justice, Cobb has given at least six different reasons why she stepped down, so either she doesn’t know why she surrendered her office to Judge Roy Moore or has yet to decide which version of the facts plays best with her audience.

As if to take a page from President Donald Trump’s playbook, Cobb, last week, strolled in front of the cameras, denounced the dishonest press, defended paying a sex offender $40,000 —over the course of two months—and then duped her opponents into signing away their legal rights and the ability to receive a coveted endorsement.

Cobb’s pledge also states, “MAKE PUBLIC all expenditures placed on behalf of my campaign whether paid directly or through consultants.”

Alabama’s FCPA law doesn’t require candidates to disclose such expenditures. Here, Cobb once again is not looking to make the race fairer but to take away a lawful advantage she believes her rivals are using.

Furthermore, Cobb made a fool of herself at her most recent presser by saying the arrest of her campaign field director, sex offender Paul Littlejohn III, was politically motivated.

Jefferson County Chief Deputy Randy Christian called her out  saying, “How sad that a candidate for governor supports a convicted sex offender over sexual assault victims.”

Chief Deputy Christian points out what is perhaps the worst part of this whole sorry affair – Cobb, rather than remembering the victim, put the entire focus on herself.

Cobb’s pledge was meant to deflect and distract from her failure to identify and fire a sex offender. Instead, she deceived her opponents by persuading them to sign a phony pledge.

Very Trumpian.

Full pledge:

The Republican leaders of all three branches of our government have faced scandals and been removed from office. We must do better. Legitimate journalism is under attack while paid, partisan websites flourish unchecked. We must demand better. As a candidate for the highest elected office in Alabama, I will hold myself to the highest standards of ethics, pledging to:

ABIDE BY all campaign laws and procedures;

REFUSE TO defame the character of my opponent, his religious beliefs, his family or his lifestyle, or to condone the actions of those who do;

CONDEMN the use of campaign materials of any sort that falsify the facts regarding my opponent, his professional accomplishments, or his personal background;

CONDEMN any appeal to prejudice or bigotry;

DISAVOW PUBLICLY any material or advertisements that are not factually accurate or that fail to disclose the identity behind such campaign activities or the source of funding;

MAKE PUBLIC all expenditures placed on behalf of my campaign whether paid directly or through consultants;

REFUSE FUNDING any group requiring financial support in exchange for an “endorsement.”

SHARE copies of this pledge to my campaign workers, volunteers, and key supporters.

This 10th day of May, 2018.

 

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Bill Britt

BCA, ALFA and PCI support candidates with a history of misogyny

Bill Britt

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BCA's Billy Canary, left; ALFA's Jimmy Parnell, top-right; and PCI's Robbie McGee, bottom right, are backing two candidates for elected offices with a history of physical abuses or covering for sexual assault.

In the era of the #MeToo movement, it should be shocking that the Business Council of Alabama, the Alabama Farmers Federation and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians are supporting men for statewide office who have either protected sexual predators or are themselves accused spouse abusers.

The popular novel, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” was originally titled “Men Who Hate Women.” Written by Swedish author Stieg Larsson, it chronicles how powerful men use the levers of government, establishment-institutions and cronyism to rob women of their humanity in the most degrading acts of defilement imaginable.

It would seem here in Alabama that some at BCA, ALFA and PCI are taking a page out of  Larsson’s book by offering misogynistic candidates covered under a veneer of their company’s respected logos.

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Court records show BCA’s Billy Canary, ALFA’s Jimmy Parnell and PCI’s Robbie McGee are backing two candidates for elected offices with a history of physical abuses or covering for sexual assault.

Hand-picked by ALFA’s President Parnell, with financial support from Canary and McGee, Agriculture and Industry candidate Rick Pate, according to court records, abused his wife so severely that the court ordered that he not enter the marital home because his wife feared for her life.

“The Wife avers that the Husband has committed actual violence to her person and from his manner and conduct toward her, she is reasonably convinced that he will commit further violence upon her person, intended with danger to her life and health,” the record said.

In a handwritten note provided to the Alabama Political Reporter, the former Mrs. Pate recanted her sworn testimony saying she and her first husband now have an excellent relationship.

However, at the time of their divorce, the court granted her request of, “a restraining order strictly enjoining and restraining,” her Husband from “entering the resident premises…assaulting, threatening, or intimidating,” her.

BCA-backed candidate Attorney General Steve Marshall used the power of his office to protect a man who, according to court records, sexually assaulted a co-worker in an act that a U.S. district judge described as “horrific.”

After woman’s “horrific” sexual assault, what did Steve Marshall do?

Instead of firing the accused sexual assailant, Marshall sought to isolate and punish the victim before defending the perpetrator in court.

In the victim’s own words, she recounted the attack in court saying, “He had me pinned with my back against the wall … I kept saying stop, stop, get off me, stop. Stop it. He was trying to put his mouth on me. I could still feel his hot breath on my neck. I felt like I absolutely was going to die. I couldn’t move him because he was so heavy. He kept pushing his hands — he had one hand on my breast underneath the top part of my bra. I could feel his fingers on my nipples. The other hand, again, I could feel he was at the top of my pubic area. And I knew I had to stop him.”

Marshall did nothing to protect his female employee. In fact, he moved her to a basement office where she feared another attack.

Pate wants to represent the state’s largest industry here at home and abroad. Marshall is to be the state’s top lawyer defending the state and prosecuting its worst criminals, yet when women were involved, neither Pate or Marshall could be counted on to protect them, according to court documents.

That ALFA, BCA, and PCI would support such candidates with personal endorsements, and large sums of money are not lost on some members of the Republican Party. In a letter given to APR by a member of the Alabama Federation of Republican Women, it pleas with other women to, “Let’s prevent another black eye on our state and our party.” It further states,”In order for us to prove that we do care about our members and share their conservative family values; we must reconsider our support of Rick Pate or be forced to defend our support of him. If not, our lack of action once we became aware of his history of violence towards women will be our downfall.”

Did Canary, Parnell and McGee not vet Marshall or Pate? Did they simply not care that both men have a history of neglecting or abusing women?

What does it say about the female members of BCA, ALFA and PCI when their organization supports men who protect molesters and abusers?

The #MeToo movement is sweeping our nation, but in Alabama, Canary, Parnell and McGee using the force of BCA, ALFA and PCI are sweeping  misogyny under the rug.

 

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What kind of change will come?

by Bill Britt Read Time: 6 min
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