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Alabama’s fear problem

Josh Moon

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By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

The first step in correcting a problem is recognizing that you have one.

And it’s time we did that, Alabama.

Because we have a big one.

We’re the most intolerant people in the country. And I mean that as the collective “we,” because I’d love to not be included in this broad grouping. But I am.

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I live here, have lived here for my entire life. My family is here. My home is here.

But whatever modest efforts I’ve put forth to correct our most serious problem have fallen flat. Because it still exists.

We still hate anyone who is a little different from us.

Spare me the sanctimonious outrage over my saying this, because you know it’s true. I have proof it’s true.

Part of that proof is the GOP race for U.S. Senate.

It’s being led by Roy Moore, a guy so serious about denying gay people equal rights that he got himself booted from the Supreme Court – again.

He’s leading Luther Strange, who can’t say the words “illegal immigrant,” “wall” and “Trump” enough, as he vilifies immigrant workers for his own selfish political gain.

These are the two top choices from the party that controls this state’s government. That fact – that the GOP runs Alabama – is sad in its own right, given that it has achieved the rare trifecta of having the state’s House Speaker, Governor and Supreme Court Chief Justice be removed from office for various misdeeds.

But then, that plays right into the problem we all live with here.

The GOP is the anti-diversity party. And we don’t like diversity in Alabama.

Don’t believe me?

Last week, Facebook accounts of people from in and around Montgomery were active with people discussing a demographics chart for Montgomery Public Schools. The chart was simple: It showed the student population at each Montgomery school and then broke the numbers down by race.

The cold, hard numbers were staggering.

In a city where nearly half of the citizens are white, less than 10 percent of the nearly 30,000 kids enrolled in MPS are white.

Here’s what that means at some schools.

At Sidney Lanier High School, there are 1,003 students.

There is one white student.

One!

McKee Middle School has nearly 800 students. And one white kid. Bellingrath Middle has nearly 500 and doesn’t have a single white kid.

G.W. Carver High has 1,100 students. Of those, 1,038 are black, 21 are white.

The white people in Montgomery will tell you that they don’t send their kids to public schools in this system because it’s awful. That’s not really true.

They left public schools, originally, in the 1950s and 1960s, which is when the majority of the city’s private schools were built, to escape desegregation. And ever since they’ve made every excuse in the book to stay away.

A couple of years ago, the state switched testing methods for public schools. And right there in black and white, we all learned that MPS – with 20-percent of its top students funneled into magnet schools and absurd levels of poverty throughout the district – was roughly keeping pace with the surrounding communities.

But it didn’t matter. Places like Marbury are still growing rapidly, because of “schools.” (And you can consider those air quotes.)

Because this is what we do here: we run from different.

That’s why we’ve been forced by the federal government throughout this state’s history to treat people with dignity and respect and to grant equal rights to even those who think and look a little differently.

In the last six years alone, federal courts have stopped us from mistreating Hispanic workers and from denying rights to gay citizens.

And yet, here we are, trying to elect two Neanderthals who continue to embrace that hatred, that old-style Alabama.

Will it ever be enough?

Will we ever realize what our hate has and continues to cost us?

Because there’s evidence of that in Montgomery, too. Those aforementioned magnet schools in MPS are some of the best schools in the country. They also happen to be the most diverse in the city, splitting along a nearly 50/50 line, and there is a significant number of students on free and reduced lunch.

There isn’t a parent or teacher or former student or anyone else affiliated with those schools who believe the diversity they experience doesn’t better prepare all of the students for life in a diverse world. And every day, because of that diversity, ignorant stereotypes and racism die off.

Because you don’t fear what you know.

And I’m tired of living among a bunch of cowards.

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 | Maddox is right: The state shouldn’t pay for Bentley’s attorneys

Josh Moon

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Should the state be footing the bill for attorneys to defend former Gov. Robert Bentley in a wrongful termination lawsuit filed by former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency head Spencer Collier?

Gov. Kay Ivey says it should, that the state has an obligation to do so under the law.

Her challenger for the seat she currently holds, Walt Maddox, says no, and that Ivey is wrong about the state’s requirement to do so.

The war of words about the lawsuit started last week, when the Maddox camp questioned why the state was still footing the bill — a bill that’s surpassed $300,000 so far — to defend Bentley. Ivey responded to questions about the payments to Bentley’s attorneys over the weekend, saying it was appropriate to pay the bill, because the law requires it.

On Tuesday, the Maddox campaign issued a press release saying Ivey is mistaken about the law.

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And so, here we are.

First things first, let’s back up and explain just what’s going on.

Near the end of his tenure as governor, Bentley had a falling out with Collier over a request the Alabama Attorney General’s office was making of Collier. Basically, the AG’s office wanted Collier to file an affidavit about an investigation that was sort of related to the Mike Hubbard prosecution.

Bentley ordered Collier not to provide an affidavit and to instead tell the AG’s office that the investigation was ongoing.

Collier was concerned that lying to the AG’s investigator would violate the law. (It definitely does.) So, instead, he worked with Bentley’s legal advisor and issued a watered-down affidavit. When Bentley discovered what had been done, he fired Collier.

Collier, in his court filings, claims Bentley then set out to destroy him professionally through an investigation into misappropriated funds in ALEA and a smear campaign that, among other things, alleged that Collier was a drug addict.

So, Collier filed a wrongful termination lawsuit.

Ordinarily, such lawsuits would be kicked quickly by judges because state employees, such as the governor, enjoy immunity from lawsuits that arise from official acts. And in this case, Judge Greg Griffin agreed and dismissed most of the counts in Collier’s lawsuit.

But he also found that some of Bentley’s actions — specifically, the parts in which he retaliated against Collier — fell outside of his official duties. And so, he allowed the lawsuit to move forward. 

You should also know just why we, the taxpayers, are paying for Bentley’s defense in the first place.

The State of Alabama has an insurance program known as the General Liability Trust Fund that is used to pay for the legal defense of state employees who are sued as a result of incidents that occur while these employees are doing their state jobs. It also is used to cover any settlements stemming from lawsuits against state employees.

The official wording from the Code of Alabama says the GLTF will be used to cover “acts or omissions committed by the covered employee while in the performance of their official duties in the line and scope of their employment.”

And that brings us back to the argument between Ivey and Maddox.

Ivey claims that the law says Bentley should be covered. The Maddox camp says that was true up until the point the judge in the case found that Bentley’s actions fell outside the scope of his official duties.

After speaking to a few attorneys, it seems that the Maddox camp is right.

Griffin’s decision to allow the case to move forward, and specifically rejecting the defense’s motion to dismiss on the grounds that Bentley was immune from prosecution, recast Bentley’s position. His actions had to fall outside of the scope of his official duties in order for the lawsuit to proceed, which means the state has no responsibility to cover him.

Of course, there’s one other option here: Ivey could simply settle the lawsuit.

Collier was clearly wronged, and the state has all but admitted as much. The guy nearly went broke because our former governor lost his mind. To continue on with this lawsuit and the defense of Bentley is not just a monumental waste of money, it’s an embarrassment.

And it’s one more example of the political elite in this state operating a system that ensures they’re protected no matter the crimes they commit or the egregious nature of their behavior.

Collier didn’t deserve what happened to him and the rest of us don’t deserve to watch our hard-earned dollars be squandered on Bentley’s high-priced attorneys.

 

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Opinion | 1986 Governor’s race

Steve Flowers

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Since this is a gubernatorial election year, allow me to share an epic Governor’s Race with you.

The 1986 Governor’s race will be remembered as one of Alabama’s most amazing political stories. In 1978 Fob James sent the Three B’s, Brewer, Beasley and Baxley packing. Brewer and Beasley had been permanently exiled to Buck’s Pocket, the mythical destination for defeated Alabama gubernatorial candidates. However, Bill Baxley resurrected his political career by bouncing back to be elected lieutenant governor in 1982, while George Wallace was winning his fifth and final term as governor. Another player arrived on the state political scene. Charlie Graddick was elected as a fiery tough lock ‘em up and throw away the key attorney general. Graddick had previously been a tough prosecuting district attorney in Mobile.

When Wallace bowed out from seeking reelection in 1986, it appeared the race was between Bill Baxley, the lieutenant governor, and Charlie Graddick, the attorney general. It also appeared there was a clear ideological divide. The moderates and liberals in Alabama were for Baxley and the archconservatives were for Graddick. Baxley had the solid support of black voters, labor, and progressives. Graddick had the hard-core conservatives, including most of the Republican voters in Alabama.

The Republicans had gone to a primary by 1986 but very few Alabamians, even Republicans, participated. It was still assumed that the Democratic Primary was tantamount to election. The Democratic Primary would draw 800,000 Alabama voters while the GOP Primary might draw 40,000, so most Republican leaning voters felt that in order for their vote to count they had to vote in the Democratic Primary.

Baxley and Graddick went after each other with a vengeance in the primary. The race was close. Graddick came out on top by an eyelash. He encouraged Republicans to come vote for him in the Democratic Primary. They did and that is why he won. This was not something that had not been happening for decades. Brewer would have never led Wallace in 1970 without Republicans. Fob would have never won the Democratic Primary and thus become governor in 1978 without Republican voters. Basically, Alabama had been a no party state. We still have no party registration law. So how do you police people weaving in and out of primaries without a mechanism in place for saying you are a Democrat, Republican, or Independent?

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After Graddick defeated Baxley by less than 25,000 votes in the runoff primary, the Democratic Party did the unthinkable. They convened the hierarchy of the party, who clearly favored Baxley, and declared Baxley the Democratic nominee because they guessed Graddick had won the primary with Republican crossover voters. They paraded experts in front of their committee to testify that Baxley should have won if just Democrats had voted. They boldly and brazenly chose Baxley as the nominee in spite of the fact that Graddick had clearly gotten the most votes.

This move went against the grain of the vast majority of Alabama voters. They felt that Graddick, even if they had not voted for him, got the most votes and should be the nominee. The Democratic Party leadership sloughed it off. They assumed that the Democratic nominee would win regardless. After all, there had not been a Republican Governor of Alabama in 100 years. In addition, the Republicans had chosen an unknown former Cullman County Probate Judge named Guy Hunt. Hunt had no money and no name identification.

The Democratic leaders guessed wrong. The backlash was enormous. The bold handpicking of a nominee who had not received the most votes was a wrong that needed to be righted. Baxley did not help his case any by ignoring Hunt and dismissing him as a simpleton. He mocked Hunt saying he was unqualified because he only had a high school education. Baxley, as politically astute as he was, should have realized that he was insulting the majority of Alabama voters who themselves only possessed high school educations. This created a backlash of its own.

When the votes were counted in the November general election, Guy Hunt was elected Governor of Alabama. This 1986 result gave new meaning and proof to the old George Wallace theory that more Alabama voters vote against someone than for someone. Alabama had its first Republican governor in 100 years. The 1986 Governor’s race will go down in history as a red-letter year in Governor’s races. It was truly historic and memorable.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Three cheers for cheaters, conmen and crooks

Bill Britt

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Lobbyists and others representing special interests give millions to lawmakers in the form of campaign contributions, and it doesn’t even matter if they are legally or ethically right; they are a must.

Not only are these contributions acceptable and expected, in many cases, it is demanded with valued treats.

With millions in contributions, lobbyists and other entities with business before the state are, in fact, buying favors from an elected official and in turn, many of these so-called public servants reciprocate with favorable legislation and other goods not readily available to those who don’t pony up.

What is obvious is there is a pervasive give-to-get mentality that infects much of Montgomery.

A recent email sent by political consultant Brent Buchanan on behalf of Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh and Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed makes it clear leadership is watching who plays ball and who doesn’t.

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Fundraiser or shakedown?

Buchanan is not only a paid operative for state Senate Republicans, but he is also Gov. Kay Ivey’s campaign manager; therefore, his words matter because of who he represents.

Those close to Marsh and Reed think it’s doubtful they approved Buchanan’s indiscreet warning – that money is expected from lobbyists and other interests. But this attitude has become so common under Republican rule over the last eight years that it passes for normal behavior.

Pay-to-play or be sidelined is understood.

It’s tiresome to recall how in 2010, Republicans championed ethics and campaign finance reform only to now have abandoned any pretense of upholding them.

Under the guise of reform, they intend to gut current ethics statutes like a feral hog during the upcoming legislative session. Even now, holding the Republican-appointed Ethics Commission to the strict letter of campaign finance laws has become such a joke that Secretary of State John Merrill is publicly calling out the commission for not doing its job.

Opinion | Alabamians need an Ethics Commission that will enforce the laws

Amazingly, the state’s Republican Party continues to support it’s attorney general nominee, who has clearly violated the state campaign finance laws by blatantly accepting  $735,000 in contributions that are prohibited under the law.

Current Attorney General Steve Marshall, an appointee of disgraced former Gov. Robert Bentley, accepted unlawful contributions from an out-of-state special interest and no one says a word – not the state’s Ethics Commission’s executive director, not the governor or the Republican Party chair.

Add these to what amounts to legal extortion and bribery and a vivid picture emerges of a Republican majority that doesn’t care about the rule of law or civil propriety.

What is the message here?

Shakedowns are fine as long as it’s for our team.

Cheating is okay as long as it’s our team that wins.

Moral character, honesty of purpose and humility of service be damned,

Those who revere power over principle may prosper but never for long where there are individuals who value integrity over gain.

The Republican Party in Alabama used to stand for something, now it seems to cheer for cheaters, conmen and crooks, but perhaps someday it will come back to its senses.

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Opinion | Why are white people so scared?

Josh Moon

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Several Saturdays each Fall, Auburn University students, faculty and alumni — thousands of them — roll into Jordan Hare Stadium on campus to cheer for the school’s football team.

The majority of the players are black.

The school’s basketball teams — both mens and womens — are made up primarily of black players.

The school’s most recognized alumni, who have giant banners and statues on campus, are mostly black former athletes.

The Auburn marching band is influenced by the bands at historically black colleges.

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The music played at most athletic and other campus events comes mostly from black artists.

And yet, last weekend, when Auburn officials decided to honor the impact and influence of diversity on its campus, many of the students and alums and sidewalk fans reacted like … backwoods rednecks who had to shrug off their klan hoods on their way into the stadium.

There were fights. There were racist banners hung up by over-privileged frat boys. There were racist comments on several different university-operated social media pages.

It was, to put it bluntly, an utter embarrassment.

To the state. To all Auburn people.

The diversity weekend sponsored by the university was a fantastic idea, and holding it on the same weekend that the football team played Alabama State University, a historically black college in Montgomery, was a nice touch.

I know a lot of the people at ASU, including president Quinton Ross and several people in the athletic administration. They were genuinely excited about going to Auburn, playing that game and enjoying the gameday experience in an SEC venue.

They had no expectations of winning. They just wanted to compete, pick up some much needed cash for their program, show off their band and then head back down I-85. Everyone happy. Everything good.

What they got instead was a clown show from a bunch of racist morons.

But then, why am I surprised?

On a certain cable “news” network over the past several weeks, there have been hosts of opinion shows openly questioning “the value of diversity.” On something called “NRA TV” recently, there was a segment that put a children’s cartoon character in a KKK hood because the NRA hosts were trying, without success, to make some derogatory point about diversity. On college campuses all around the country, and especially in the South, there has been an uptick in controversial, racist speakers.

So, it should come as no surprise, I guess, that one of the most conservative campuses in America — a campus where such programming is consumed and parroted and where there exists a “white student union” — would be so resistant to recognizing the positive impacts of different perspectives and backgrounds.

I don’t understand what’s happening in America now.

For decades, we seemed to acknowledge that our racist ways were wrong, and at the very least everyone pretended to be in favor of equality and inclusion. We seemed genuinely intent on correcting the sins of the past and moving towards a country that lived up to its promises of equality for all men.

Now, almost overnight, there seems to be a shift back to a time when ignorant ideas, grounded in fear and hatred, were prevalent. Ideas that have convinced privileged white kids they’re being held back. Ideas that have left many white people living in fear.

And look, I’d love to pretend that it isn’t so bad, that people are making more out of it than they should. But then … Nazi sympathizers have been marching in American streets and the U.S. president said some of them were probably “good people.”

That’s a bit of a problem.

And the results of the spread of this nonsense were on display last weekend in Auburn, when the simple act of playing a historically black college so incensed people that they were a few steps away from fire hoses and dogs.

Enough is enough. White people need to get their stuff together and stop falling for the same tired fear tactics that have been used for centuries. America, like all countries, is never stronger than when it truly works together, ensuring the equality of all citizens.

 

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Alabama’s fear problem

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