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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

Opinion | The black hand behind Perry Hand

Bill Britt

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Perry Hand (via BCA)

Shortly after the Alabama Political Reporter made it known that the Business Council of Alabama’s Executive Board had voted on April 10 to terminate Billy Canary from his position as CEO, nearly a dozen Republican lawmakers were burning-up their mobile phones, trying to find out who Perry Hand is and who could convince him to push Canary out immediately. Hand wants to keep Canary in place until the fall

Billy Canary out at BCA, sort of 

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Hand’s motivation to protect Canary is not easily definable unless it’s weighed together with former Gov. Bob Riley’s plan to consolidate power after leaving office in 2010.

Perry A. Hand is the current BCA board chair and chairman of Volkert Inc., an engineering company, which primarily earns its money from government contracts. Volkert Inc. is a significant player in developing disgraced former Gov. Robert Bentley’s lovenest, aka Gulf State Park.

Hand cut his teeth in politics first as a state senator under Gov. George Wallace but came to prominence as an appointee and confidant of accidental Republican Gov. Guy Hunt.

It was Hunt who appointed Hand to secretary of state in 1989, only to see him pummeled in the next general election when former Wallace aide Billy Joe Camp bested him by over 115,000 votes. Hand was also appointed the head of the department of transportation as another temporary position.

An Auburn engineering graduate, Hand found success at Volkert where he flourished, rising from the company’s marketing man to chairman and CEO of the Mobile-based firm.

The plan was elegantly simple: Riley’s handpicked successor Bradley Byrne as governor, Hubbard as speaker, Del Marsh as Senate president pro-tem and Luther Strange as attorney general. They would oust Dr. David Bronner at RSA, replacing him with one of their own, and the coup would be complete.

Now, it appears in the twilight of his career, Hand is the man who stands between Canary and some of the state’s most potent business interests who want to see him removed from BCA.

Canary’s deep connection to the Riley machine has been the secret of his success, and like his friend, former speaker of the House and convicted felon Mike Hubbard, that same connection is likely to be his downfall.

Before leaving office in 2010, Riley, along with Hubbard and Canary, devised a plan to carve up state government in such a way as to have the Riley machine controlling the levers of power for a generation and beyond.

The plan was elegantly simple: Riley’s handpicked successor Bradley Byrne as governor, Hubbard as speaker, Del Marsh as Senate president pro-tem and Luther Strange as attorney general. They would oust Dr. David Bronner at RSA, replacing him with one of their own, and the coup would be complete.

But that scheme unraveled first with Bentley’s election over Byrne, Strange’s hiring of prosecutor Matt Hart and the trial and conviction of Hubbard, which exposed the whole enterprise.

Canary, in effect, is the last man standing, and Riley and his gang are hard pressed to stand by while one of their last cohorts goes down in disgrace.

Marsh, for his part, washed his hands of the affair soon after Hubbard was under investigation and there was no longer a need to get rid of Bronner, because Riley loyalist, Canary’s wife Leura Canary, was installed at RSA to keep Bronner in check.

So, it is that Hand, with a few devious or unwitting members of the BCA board, are left to protect what’s left of Riley’s once-thriving empire.

There is little doubt that Canary’s days are numbered, but to think that Riley’s machine will walk away without a fight is naive.

However, greater forces are pushing for Canary’s exit, and if they stay strong, the black hand behind Perry Hand will fail.

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Hey Batter, Batter: Taunting Ivey over debates is a silly thing

Bill Britt

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Gov. Kay Ivey throws out the first pitch at a Baron's baseball game in Birmingham, Alabama, on Thursday.

Some in the media, a handful of politicos and three Republican challengers for governor are dyspeptic over Gov. Kay Ivey’s decision to skip last Thursday’s debate to attend a baseball game.

While these head-to-head match-ups between Republican gubernatorial candidates might be entertaining, only the debate between the major party primary winners could prove decisive.

Ivey knows that she has little to fear from the men who want to replace her. So instead of engaging her Republican rivals, Ivey left them all standing like jilted prom dates to have some fun tossing out the first pitch at a Baron-Biscuits baseball game last Thursday night.

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No doubt the impish side of Gov. Ivey enjoyed donning a Magic City jersey to appear before a cheering crowd while across town campaign consultants and media types fretted over being deemed irrelevant by a governor who doesn’t care what they think.

Ivey’s opponent, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, cares that Ivey doesn’t give him the time of day, so does evangelist Scott Dawson and state Sen. Bill Hightower. But the sellout crowd of nearly 9,000 at the Baron-Biscuits baseball game Thursday night didn’t care about the debates, and neither do most voters who will determine the winner of the June Republican primary.

Why would a sitting governor who holds a 60-plus percent statewide approval rating attend an hour-long food-fight with candidates who aren’t even close to challenging her for election?

Ivey knows that she has little to fear from the men who want to replace her. So instead of engaging her Republican rivals, Ivey left them all standing like jilted prom dates to have some fun tossing out the first pitch at a Baron-Biscuits baseball game last Thursday night.

Like Thursday’s game where the Montgomery Biscuits took an early lead to defeat the Birmingham Barons 7-1, Ivey would be foolish to confront her opponents directly, when she already holds a commanding lead. Ivey will easily coast to victory in the ALGOP primary unless she commits an error, which is always a possibility in a public election.

Rarely do these stage confrontations have a significant impact on the outcome of a political contest, and usually, as with Thursday’s talkfest, nothing is actually learned by the viewer. Canned answers, even worse questions and general public apathy have made modern campaign forums almost useless— if the goal is to gain insight into how a candidate will govern.

Calls for Ivey to face Battle, Dawson and Hightower isn’t so much about a discussion of ideas but an opportunity for supercilious outrage as flimsy as a balsa wood cross whose bearer laments, “Ivey won’t debate.” Signal jackasses braying.

When talking heads and politicos whine and moan about Ivey ducking their get-togethers, it’s not about Ivey or the public’s interests – it’s about them.

What happened Thursday night wasn’t a serious policy debate or even a real opportunity to examine the candidates in any real meaningful way, it was a show. Like a beauty contest, moderators tossed out softball questions that drew vague answers.

When the candidates were asked if they supported Judge Roy Moore in the U.S. Senate, it was as if the moderator had hurled a beanball, with only Dawson directly admitting to voting for Moore while Battle and Hightower equivocated saying little more than they supported the Republican ticket.

The bloom may be off Moore’s rose, but the thorns remain, and that’s always been his appeal; a thorny character who doesn’t mind sticking his sharp finger in the blurred-eyed confusion of modernity. If Moore ran as an independent, he would give Ivey a real run for her money while sending the media into an apoplectic fit of indignation.

First off, only the left-leaning media cares about who supported Moore in the Senate election. Anyone who thinks a vote for Judge Moore hurts a candidate in an Alabama Republican primary doesn’t know much about Republican primary voters. In the ALGOP primary for the U.S. Senate race, Moore overwhelmingly bested his challenger, Luther Strange, by double-digits. He just barely lost to Democrat Doug Jones, even after all the scandal-mongering by the press.

A good 95 percent of the Alabama Republican Party’s base voted for Moore, including Gov. Ivey. Her vote for Moore will not hurt her in a Republican primary.

The bloom may be off Moore’s rose, but the thorns remain, and that’s always been his appeal; a thorny character who doesn’t mind sticking his sharp finger in the blurred-eyed confusion of modernity. If Moore ran as an independent, he would give Ivey a real run for her money while sending the media into an apoplectic fit of indignation.

There are no good reasons for Gov. Ivey to wade in to a blathering-pool for media ratings or to raise her opponents name-ID. All she needs to do between now and June is toss out more two-hoppers, shake hands, kiss babies, and she crosses home without breaking a sweat.

Now, if she refuses to face whoever emerges victorious from the Democrat primary, be it Judge Sue Bell Cobb, former state Rep. James Field or Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, then there will be a reason to call foul. Until then, taunting Ivey is a silly stunt.

As for Battle, Dawson and Hightower, each man, if not facing an incumbent, would be a formidable candidate and even perhaps a good governor. But like a grand slam, it’s all in the timing.

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Court of Criminal Appeals continues its failure to rule in Hubbard case

Bill Britt

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Stock Photo

With the indictment, conviction and sentencing of former Republican Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, there was an expectation of change. But because the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals has failed to rule on Hubbard’s case, the once-hoped-for new dawn in Alabama politics is on hold.

For 11 months, the appeals court has been in procession of the final briefs needed to rule on Hubbard’s case, yet the court continues to stall its judgment.

For all the motions, pleading and downright cheating by Hubbard’s defense, it now comes down to politics and an elected court with judges who want to avoid putting Hubbard in jail, where a circuit court judge and jury of his peers in Lee County said he belongs.

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Most notably since Hubbard’s conviction, Criminal Appeals Court Judge Liles Burke has been nominated to the federal bench by President Donald Trump. Burke has been confirmed by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and awaits final confirmation by the full Senate.

How in the name of all that is justice and fair can the United States Senate in good conscience vote to confirm a man to a federal judgeship who will not rule on the most egregious public corruption case in Alabama in over the last decade?

For eleven months the appeals court has been in procession of the final briefs needed to rule on Hubbard’s case yet the court continues to stall its judgment.

How can Sens. Richard Shelby and Doug Jones vote to confirm a man like Burke who even now shrinks from his duty?

Has duty, honor and blind justice become so subservient to politics as to render an entire court neutered and slavishly beholden to the donor class?

Hubbard’s case is not complicated. Lee County Circuit Court Judge Jacob Walker III studiously and with an abundance of caution adjudicated Hubbard’s trial. There are no grand questions of law hanging over his rulings. What there is are big donors and influential men who were caught in the same web as Hubbard, and these individuals have access to the levers of power that frighten elected courts.

How is the public to trust that Burke will do any better given a lifetime appointment on a federal court? How can we as a state and nation believe that justice sits on the ultimate balance scale where no one individual is above the law no matter their status when the state court of criminal appeals weights case after case while ignoring Hubbard’s?

It seems there is nothing that can be done to move the court forward but what can and should be done is for Burke to be denied a seat of the federal court for failing to do his duty.

When then-Republican Speaker of the House Hubbard was indicted on 23 counts of felony ethics violations, many of us thought things would change. It didn’t. Many in the Republican supermajority stood by Hubbard at a rally the same days as his indictment and praised the would-be felon. Not only did Republicans stand by Hubbard after his indictments, every Democratic House member save Rep. Alvin Holmes voted to re-elect him speaker.

After Hubbard’s conviction on 12 of those 23 felony charges, once again, there was an expectation of better days to come. But those hopes for renewal are dashed against the hard reality that weak judges who know better and should enforce the law are crushed under the weight of the rich and powerful who believe they are a law unto themselves.

It is widely believed that the Court of Criminal Appeals will leave the Hubbard decision until a new court is seated in 2019, or worse, will dismiss it under the cover of darkness. Either way, the State Supreme Court will hear Hubbard’s appeal before the public has closure.

It seems there is nothing that can be done to move the court forward, but what can and should be done is to deny Burke a seat on the federal court for failing to do his duty.

The courts deserve women and men who put the law before political connivance – something that is sorely lacking here in the Heart of Dixie.

 

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What kind of change will come?

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