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Measure for measure: The politics of 2017

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Poltical Reporter

From Aesop, we learn that, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” And Oscar Wilde teaches us that, “No good deed goes unpunished.”

So it is in politics that we experience both measures for measure as a darkly divine comedy where misunderstandings and hidden actors cloud the morality play. God laughs at us because He knows the day of judgment is coming as the palmist surmised.

What feverish mind could have imagined the winding insanity that was Alabama politics in 2017?

Perhaps the sad irony underlying the political turmoil of 2017 is rooted in a powerful man’s lust for younger women and her willingness to use him for her personal gain.

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At a time when the #MeToo movement offers hope for a national conversation about how older, more powerful men manipulate and prey on younger, less powerful women and men, it is Bentley’s alleged sexual liaison with his former senior adviser, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, that is the genesis of the political storms that roiled Alabama.

Bentley’s affair with Mason, a married mother of two, cost him his wife of 50 years, his family and the governor’s office. Far from joining the #MeToo movement, which is leading a national debate on influential men’s predatory behavior towards women, Mason is still standing by Bentley.

It should have been an easy task to fill the vacancy left behind when President Donald Trump tapped Alabama’s junior U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions to be U.S. attorney general, but as it turned out, the appointment created chaos with far-reaching ramifications in not only Alabama but the nation and even the world.

It is widely believed that then-Gov. Robert Bentley appointed Alabama’s Attorney General Luther Strange to the U.S. Senate in an effort to stop the attorney general’s investigation into possible criminal activities by Bentley and Mason.

The public may never know for sure if Bentley and Strange made a deal to protect himself and Mason, or if Strange’s replacement, Bentley appointee Attorney General Steve Marshall, was part of the bargain. But so far, Marshall let Bentley off with a slap on the wrist, and Mason roams Tuscaloosa – a free bird.

And as always, an invisible hand of mischief stirs the winds of political chaos.

Gov. Kay Ivey’s administration is a welcome calm after the Bentley affair, but even now, there are those in her offices that do the bidding of men like former Gov. Bob Riley and BCA Chieftain Billy Canary. Ivey’s staff has been negligent in rooting out the Fifth Column in their ranks, and their presence is not without notice by her political rivals.

At the Attorney General’s Office, Marshall has all but abandoned the Special Prosecution Unit that effectively convicted former Speaker Mike Hubbard. The ethics reforms championed by Strange, Alice Martin and Matt Hart have long ago been relegated to the trash bin to save Marshall’s political career. And now lawmakers, lobbyists and powerful business interests await some covering of darkness to remove the major provisions of state ethics laws that saw Hubbard convicted on 12 felony counts of public corruption.

And then there’s the state Ethics Commission that has become law unto itself, regularly applying the ethics statutes in an uneven and, perhaps, illegal manner. Far from a court of Solomons, the ethics commissioner divides the baby as many times as needed to please its constituency of lawyers, lobbyist and Birmingham power brokers.

If these were all of 2017’s political dramas, it would be enough to fill an unsellable novel, but it’s not.

Many yet unanswered questions await us in 2018.

  • Will BCA President Perry Hand find the will to rid the state of Canary?
  • Will State Senator Gerald Dial make his final act one to right or abolish the Ethics Commission he helped to create?
  • Can Alice Martin or Troy King defeat the weak and ineffectual Marshall?
  • Will the #MeToo movement visit the State House?
  • And will Gov. Ivey’s staff bring her low in 2018?

So much more lies ahead in 2018 that we must hope for a few good women and men to step forward with kindness to serve and the endurance for the punishment that will inevitably follow.

“Our doubts are traitors
And make us lose the good we oft might win.”
― William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure

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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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Measure for measure: The politics of 2017

by Bill Britt Read Time: 4 min
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