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Bill Britt

What can we learn on the Plains of Weehawken?

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

“If we had an Attorney General, there’d be a Grand Jury,” said a retired judge referring to revelations in APR’s exit interview with Ethics Commissioner, Dr. Stewart Tankersley.

Examples of collusion, questionable opinions, and other suspect activity, he said, “should be before a Grand Jury, and we should ask them: ‘What do you want us to do with this?'”

Speaking truth to power or shining a light on a brood of vipers undoubtedly has consequences both negative and positive. At the moment, Tankersley is feeling the wrath of those he has criticized.

It is, perhaps, expected that fixer attorney J. Mark White would bully Tankersley with a lawsuit claiming Tankersley had defamed him, but the fact that Ethics Commission Chair Jerry Fielding would also threaten legal action against Tankersley is shameful. Tankersley is being coerced to recant his statements to APR, but so far he is holding firm to his principled stand to expose the failures of the Ethics Commission.

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There are days when I long for a time when the Codes Duello would settle such matters. It is doubtful that White or Fielding would meet a man on the “field of honour,” as the dueling grounds were called. Frivolous law suits are the dull swords of cowards.

Words like honor, duty and justice seem to have slipped from the heart of so many, that it’s like they were part of distant America that no longer exists except in yearning memories.

Sophocles’ admonishment that it is preferred to fail with honor than win by cheating is now an arcane notion.  But the high places of government are often inhabited by men of low character, who manipulate the levers of power to wicked ends.

What Tankersley has done is to stand in the midst of public heretics and cry “repent,” and his call should be heard by lawmakers who can reform the Ethics Commission before it’s too late.

Lawmakers are usually reluctant to champion controversial issues before an election, but are there no leaders in State government willing to stand for principles while running for office?

At the State’s Attorney General’s Office sits an Ethics bill that was crafted with care listening to all the stakeholders while preserving the nation’s tight Ethics code.

Will someone call and ask for a copy?

Attorney General Steve Marshall would not let the bill come before the Legislature at the last Session, saying he needed to get up to speed and make it his own. Marshall, by all accounts, is a smart guy; he had plenty of time to understand the Legislation and give it his imprint, but he chose to play politics.

Heaven forbid he should anger his newly found donor base. Marshall’s campaign has signaled its willingness to play footsies with the very groups who would undermine our State’s Ethics code. Marshall it seems is willing to trade his integrity for political office.

The most famous American duel was between Vice President Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. On the plains of Weehawken, New Jersey, in July 1804, Burr’s deadly shot mortally wounded Hamilton. Revisionist history, courtesy of a Broadway play, has made Hamilton a loin of the liberal left. Nothing could be further from the truth. Hamilton was a monarchist and perhaps the inventor of crony capitalism.

It was Burr who was a “disciple of the Enlightenment, but also an advocate for criminal justice reform, freedom of the press, women’s rights, and the rights of immigrants,” as noted by Nancy Isenberg in The Washington Post.

Burr killed Hamilton for a number of reasons, but primarily for, as Isenberg points out, “Burr’s villainy is actually the result of a smear campaign invented by his political enemies centuries ago, and then disseminated in newspapers, pamphlets, and personal letters during and after his lifetime.”

So if Dr. Tankersley is being vilified by lesser men, so be it. Many times a man’s detractors are a sign of his true character. Jokers may be nipping at his heels but honest people know it’s Tankersley who is right.

I have stood on the plains of Weehawken, high above the Hudson River and it felt good.

Let’s pray that someone takes a cue from the good doctor and champions the reform he is advocating.

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Bill Britt

A move to reunify BCA is underway

Bill Britt

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Reconciliation efforts are underway to salvage the Business Council of Alabama after a very public split with some of its most influential members.

Those close to the negotiations speaking on background say recent talks have been productive, but there are still many details that must be agreed upon before a reunification occurs.

The forced exit of President and CEO Billy Canary earlier this month was the first step toward restoring BCA’s reputation and mending fences.

Individuals who are negotiating rapprochement are looking to restructure BCA’s governance to ensure that any future leader will not exercise the unchecked authority wielded by Canary. They also want to make BCA more equitable, fair and balanced in its representation of its members.

Beyond the mechanics of structure is the need for a strong leader who can restore not only confidence in the once powerful organization but also one who can navigate the state’s political landscape while enduring the inevitable discord that comes with change.

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There is a level of hope that an improved structure and new leadership might be in place by BCA’s summer conference, which begins August 10 at Point Clear. But even those involved in the process know it’s a tall order to fill given the short window of opportunity.

Perhaps the most significant challenge is identifying an individual who can articulate a vision for BCA, inspire confidence in its members and ensure elected officials that they are dealing with an honest broker.

There is much at stake in the upcoming legislative session, not only because it is the first year of the quadrennium, when hard tasks are generally achieved, but the 2019 session will also welcome many new legislators not necessarily in step with BCA due to a bruising primary season.

People may forgive, but they often do not forget, and there are many bridges to build.

Lawmakers will be wise to remember the warning of President Ronald Reagan, “Trust but verify.”

For a revitalizing transition to occur, a clean sweep of BCA’s leadership team is imperative, as those who served the old guard must be replaced or else it’s a false start doomed to fail.

BCA would be wise to move away from the partisan approach taken over the last eight years and look to establish relationships that favor business-friendly legislation without bright lines of division.

In business as in life, sharp breaks are sometimes required and often are inevitable, but this doesn’t have to be one of those times.

Now is an hour for wise deliberation, difficult choices and bold resolve to strengthen the entire business community and not merely to fortify the narrow interests of a few.

Over the last year, good and honest leaders called for BCA to do what was right. That fight hopefully can be put aside to now do what is best.

 

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Bill Britt

The fix was in

Bill Britt

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Montgomery Circuit Judge James Anderson’s ruling to allow out-of-state political action committees to donate to in-state campaigns without disclosing its donors through PAC-to-PAC transfers may be the legal fulcrum Democrats need to target key Republican officeholders in the state.

On Wednesday, attorney general candidate Troy King filed a lawsuit in Montgomery County Circuit Court seeking a restraining order to prevent his opponent, appointed Attorney General Steve Marshall, and his campaign from using donations it received from the Republican Attorney Generals Association (RAGA) which doesn’t disclose some of its mega-donors by using PAC-to-PAC transfers.

Judge Anderson ruled against King and dismissed the lawsuit in Marshall’s favor.

Marshall, unlike an ordinary plaintiff, wasn’t present at the hearing before Judge Anderson, which should have alerted the public that the fix was already in.

The State’s Ethics Commission will likely weigh-in on King’s question soon— finding that RAGA’s actions were unlawful—but Thursday’s judgment holds for now, with no consequences for Marshall, win or lose.

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In 2010, the state’s newly minted Republican supermajority outlawed PAC-to-PAC transfers as part of its effort to show voters that there was a new day in Montgomery politics.

Since 2010, both Republicans and Democrats have found ways to circumvent FPCA restrictions, but until Thursday, there wasn’t a court ruling that opened a flooded-gate to renew PAC-to-PAC campaigns using outside interest groups.

Republican conservatives who believe that undisclosed donors shouldn’t control the state’s election process through hidden contributions should worry.

Is it now legal for pro-abortion groups to finance judicial races with stealth campaign donations to defeat pro-life candidates like Supreme Court Justices like Tom Parker?

What about Gov. Kay Ivey? Is it now legal for The Democratic Governors Association (DGA) to upend her campaign with hidden contributions to her rival, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox?

Ethic Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton has all but definitively stated that RAGA’s contributions are illegal, but it’s too little too late for this election.

Perhaps none of this matters because it seems that many of the Republicans who passed these bans in 2010, don’t seem to honestly believe in them or any of the ethics reforms that they once championed.

So once again, it’s winning, not the law, that matters, or as a prominent Montgomery attorney said, “When you have a Democrat judge, a Democrat lawyer and a Democrat attorney general what else did you expect?”

More, I guess.

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | BCA takes out the trash, finally

Bill Britt

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In a last-ditch effort to save the Business Council of Alabama from the dung heap of political obscurity, President and CEO Billy Canary was pushed out of the business association late last Friday after he waged an ugly and protracted battle to remain in power.

Canary’s fight to keep his job has left the once powerful business interests a hollow and factored alliance with an uncertain future. He didn’t care if he destroyed BCA; it was all about his ambitions.

For years, Canary, along with now-convicted felon former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard and former Gov. Bob Riley, reigned over an unparalleled orgy of greed and corruption.

Canary, Hubbard and Riley’s perverse domination of the state’s political landscape was supreme, and even now, the tentacles of their profiteering are evident from the Capitol to the State House and beyond.

Even during this election cycle, Canary has used BCA’s political arm, Progress PAC, to back disreputable candidates who seek to overturn the state ethics laws that convicted Hubbard, advocate for so-called education reform that profits Riley’s business interests and to stall efforts to create a statewide lottery in favor of gambling concessions for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.

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During Hubbard’s last years in office, PCI Vice Chair Robbie McGhee joined forces with Hubbard, in hopes of exercising more sway over Republican legislators. Over the previous year, he coupled the tribe to Canary with the same end in mind. McGhee, who faces a reelection challenge in August, casts himself as a Hubbard-Canary protege. Even now, he tells candidates who come calling for campaign contributions, “We are BCA,” meaning the tribe, under Canary, is controlling many decisions being made at the business association.

McGee, like Hubbard and Canary, is viewed by many as a pariah in the state capital where he still hopes to further the Tribe’s gambling operations by lavishing money and entertainment on Republican lawmakers. Twice now, McGhee has chosen poorly and tarnished the Tribe’s reputation in the bargain. With McGhee’s backing, Canary gave at least $250,000.00 to appointed Attorney General Steve Marshall so that he will continue Riley’s bingo wars.

Hubbard stands convicted on 12 felony counts of using his office for personal gain and other criminal violations of the state’s Ethics Act, yet he remains free because of the corrupting influence of Canary and others of his ilk.

During Hubbard’s trial, Canary said, “I love Mike Hubbard like a brother.” He even waxed poetic, saying his friendship with Hubbard, “Blossomed like any blessing in life.”

So infectious are the remnants of their power that even after two years Hubbard remains free because Court of Criminal Appeals Justices Samuel Henry Welch, J. Elizabeth Kellum, Liles C. Burke and J. Michael Joiner will not rule on his conviction.

Canary, in a face-saving announcement, says he is taking a position as a, “senior fellow at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce,” which is a nothing job.

Canary, like Hubbard and Riley, pimped the state like a cheap whore, and now he’s busted for the user he is. He left BCA in shambles, and don’t think for a minute that the coalition that left BCA isn’t coming back just because the executive committee finally took out the trash.

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What can we learn on the Plains of Weehawken?

by Bill Britt Read Time: 4 min
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