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What we missed, and what we must not

Joey Kennedy

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By Joey Kennedy
Alabama Political Reporter

When one is talking about the biggest stories we didn’t cover in 2017, it’s difficult.

C’mon. If the big stories weren’t covered, how do we know? But we do, somehow, understand there were big stories we missed.

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Perhaps the biggest story is disgraced former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore’s propensity to fondle teenage girls.

It’s a big story now, sure, but only because a team of reporters from the Washington Post uncovered it.

Supposedly, this rumor about Moore liking teen spirit has been floating around Etowah County forever. Maybe so. I worked in neighboring Calhoun County for a few years, and I never heard it. Still, credible stories emerged, and likely helped Democrat Doug Jones defeat Moore in the race for the U.S. Senate.

Moore, a sore loser, still hasn’t conceded that race, though he clearly lost. But not by much, which should lead his supporters to consider whether they backed the wrong horse.

At least nine women have come forward to say that Moore either groped them when they were teens or dated them, when Moore was in his 30s.

State media didn’t report on Moore’s infatuation with young girls; it took a team from the Washington Post to find the women involved and convince them to tell their stories.

Women who have been abused by men like Moore should be allowed to tell their stories whenever and wherever they choose, but it was important that the Washington Post drew them out at the time it did, so that Alabama didn’t elect a child molester as its U.S. senator.

That’s a big story, perhaps the biggest of the year in Alabama, and state media should have been on it before the Washington Post ever sent anybody into the state to sort it out. Still, if we weren’t going to do it, thank goodness the Washington Post did.

I find it a desperate and despicable move on Moore’s part to now point to Jones’ gay son as an issue, considering his own son has multiple drug arrests. But that’s Moore: He’s despicable. Still, what kind of father is Moore? I think we know: Homophobic, xenophobic, anti-Muslim, anti-human.

Moore is against anything that isn’t white and a teen. That’s Moore.

There were other big stories we didn’t cover, too. One, still part of the #metoo movement, involves my wife.

Supposedly, two and maybe three news outlets are working on this story, but I can’t wait them out.

My wife, before I knew her and when she was in her early 20s, was aggressively spanked by the publisher of the newspaper she worked for, the Anniston Star. H. Brandt Ayers had a fetish for spanking. May still have, even at his advanced age. And one day in the newsroom, he attacked my wife. Perhaps unknown to Ayers, there was a witness that day. My wife fought and cursed and tried to defy Ayers, but Ayers is a big man, and he overwhelmed her.

Veronica didn’t report the assault because she feared her father, who was a fiery World War II veteran, would kill Ayers.

I agree with her. Norman would have butchered Ayers, so Ayers should thank Veronica every day that he’s still alive.

But there were multiple victims of Ayers’ assaults. He got off, somehow, by spanking his women reporters and other female employees. I heard about it in the newsroom when I was a sports reporter at The Star in the late 1970s. It was talked about all the time, and women reporters were warned not to be alone with Brandy. But this was the 1970s; it was a different era. Laws protecting women from sexual harassment and assault were weak, if they existed at all.

Thank God for #metoo in 2017. Now, women can speak out, and not be afraid their remembrances will simply be discarded.

Switching from the Moore and Ayers stories, there was other news that should have been more aggressively covered.

Once again, a bill to regulate puppy mills and backyard breeders didn’t get far in the Legislature. These bills often are shuffled aside because, after all, we’re just talking about dogs.

We have a number of dogs in our house right now who are the victims of these backyard breeders or puppy mills. After their productive lives are over, they’re “set free,” to roam streets and neighborhoods of whatever town is nearby. If somebody doesn’t take them in, they get picked up by animal control.

Our Keller, a blind pug who pushed out no telling how many babies over her life, is one of them. She was captured by animal control in Cullman, and we rescued her the day she was going to be euthanized (killed), thanks to our friend Wendy Michelle Montealegre, who monitors the Cullman shelter Keller was in.

But how many animals throughout Alabama don’t have a Wendy to watch out for them? Too many. Far too many.

And this is a story we have to be better at covering. Our Legislature is not animal friendly, as indicated by the number of a proposed bills to protect nonprofit spay/neuter clinics, to make animal abuse a top priority, to save wild animals who are taken in by a veterinarian to be healed, and then are unmercifully killed by so-called “conservation” officers.

We just don’t care, but we should. Animals – our dogs, cats, raccoons, foxes, whatever – are sentient beings. They deserve our respect and protection.

Finally, another big story this year we must be better at covering is Donald Trump, the orange man.

This president is a disaster. He’s bad for America. His motto is “Make America Great Again,” but he doesn’t acknowledge that America has always been great. He’s undoing everything positive President Barack Obama put into place. He’s telling federal agencies what kind of language they can use — what they can say. Who does this? Trump is very much like the Russian hack he wants to be.

Trump is narcissistic, creepy, and a dictator-Putin-wanna-be who has sexually abused many women. I know this doesn’t bother the so-called “evangelicals” out there, but it should bother everybody else.

We need to cover the crap out of Trump, so that Trump doesn’t become what he most desires: Oligarch for life. Trump is scary, and if you — yes, even you ignorant Trump supporters — don’t see this, you’re blind, deaf, and hollow.

Trump is a danger, not only to Alabama, but to America.

We must cover this story well, and thoroughly, and with courage. Else, we fail.

Happy New Year.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Opinion | Boys State debate couldn’t come at a better time

Joey Kennedy

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What do you think about political debates? Do they matter?

I think they do.

I’m going to participate as part of a panel for two gubernatorial debates next week at Alabama Boys State.

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The Republican gubernatorial candidates will meet on Tuesday evening (7 p.m.) at the University of Alabama’s Morgan Auditorium in Morgan Hall, and the Democratic candidates for governor will debate on Wednesday night in the same place and time.

Other questioners are my former Birmingham News colleague Tom Gordon and Rashad Hudson, the Montgomery reporter for CBS 42 News. The debate will be moderated by CBS 42’s Art Franklin.

It’ll be fun. And, let’s hope, informative.

Most of the candidates have agreed to participate; the big one missing will be Gov. Kay Ivey, who has refused any and all debates. It’d be great to ask her why, but she won’t be there.

Maybe I’ll ask anyway.

As a voter and a journalist, I’m naturally suspicious when a major candidate for public office refuses to face her opponents and discuss her vision and plans. What, exactly, is Ivey trying to dodge or hide?

Retired Judge O.L. “Pete” Johnson, a longtime Jefferson County District Judge, founder of Jefferson County’s drug court, and the longtime director of Alabama Boys State, sponsored by the American Legion, has called on me before. A few years ago, I was part of a Boys State debate panel for a U.S. Senate race.

And over the years, I’ve been on a number of election debate panels, from mayoral races to gubernatorial races.

Johnson does a great job organizing these debates, and it’s timely in that this one is happening right before the June 5 primaries the following week.

This certainly has been an active primary season, with Ivey caught up in a controversy over whether she is gay, which Ivey has strongly denied. Her opponent, far-right conservative Scott Dawson helped fuel that rumor.

On the Democratic side, former Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb found herself defending a convicted sex offender who worked for her campaign.

Current polls are showing that Ivey and Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle are favorites on the Republican side. For Democrats, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox is ahead of Cobb and former state Rep. James Fields.

While it’s a shame Ivey won’t be there, it does leave the governor open for political hits from her opponents, without an opportunity for her to reply in the moment.

I’m sure the candidates will have to answer questions about the controversies, but I’m hoping we can focus more on their visions and plans for their term as Alabama’s governor.

What are their positions on education, prison reform, economic development, equality, gun violence, mental health reform, infrastructure improvements, the environment, and efforts to weaken the state’s ethics laws?

I’ll likely ask a question about Alabama’s weak animal protection laws as well.

But I’d like to give readers a chance to ask questions, too. So either in an email ([email protected]) or in the comments sections on Facebook posts of this column, tell me what you’d like to ask the candidates, either generally, or specific to one candidate. I’ll share these with the other panelists as well.

Debates are an important tool that allows us to get to know the candidates better. They also present a record so we know what a candidate says he or she will do, then what that person does after winning the election.

During the week when Alabama Boys State is in session, many young people – Alabama’s current and future voters – will get to see these candidates up close and hear their ideas.

So send your questions and let’s have a debate.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes this column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

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Opinion | Inside the Statehouse: Less than two weeks to primary – governor’s race

Steve Flowers

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As we get down to the lick log in the 2018 June Primary, there are few if any surprises in any of the major state races. Polling indicates that all of the contests are about where they were three or four months ago when the races began.

There is a tremendous amount of apathy and indifference as we head into the final days. This lack of enthusiasm has also affected fundraising. Most of the high-profile races have not attracted the amount of dollars as in the past.

Kay Ivey is sitting on a sizeable lead in the GOP gubernatorial primary. She took a slight dip in the polls when she ducked out of debates. However, it is not as pronounced as it would have been if she had appeared.  Her campaign has been managed brilliantly.

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Coincidentally, at the same time that her staff adroitly kept her out of the debates, her polling picked up that preserving the confederate monuments was an issue with conservative Republican primary voters. Kay’s media folks responded with an ad that could have come out of the George Wallace playbook. They had her telling folks that northern liberals and scalawags were not going to tell us what we are going to do with our monuments. Her resolve made folks wonder if she was actually there when the monuments were erected.

Last week, with only three weeks until the primary, lesbian lawmaker and LGBTQ activist Patricia Todd suggested in social media posts that Kay was gay. Ms. Ivey adamantly denied the tweet. She has adroitly deflected any and all inquiries into her private life.

The bottom line is that polls indicated she had a 30-point lead three months ago, and that lead is about the same now with less than two weeks to go to the Primary. The question is do her challengers push her into a runoff. Speculation is that she could win without a runoff the same way that her mentor, Lurleen Wallace, did in 1966.

The surprise in the GOP race could be Birmingham evangelist, Scott Dawson. He has run a very energetic campaign. Evangelical, rural, Roy Moore voters may be coalescing around the young minister. His strength might be underestimated by polling data.

This white evangelical vote is ironically similar to the African American vote in the state. It is quiet and beats to a different drummer. The message resonates through word-of-mouth between church pews rather than through the media and social media. Although, it eventually gravitates to being somewhat in lock-step with a predictably higher than average turnout.

Most observers expect Huntsville mayor, Tommy Battle, to make a late run at Ivey. He has money in the bank. He will also come out of the vote rich Tennessee Valley with good Friends and Neighbors support. He should get enough votes to run second and force Ivey into a runoff. However, there will still be a 15-to-20 point spread in favor of Ivey when the votes are counted on June 5. Kay will have to put on her campaign bonnet for another six weeks. She will still not debate.

The Democratic Primary for governor has two thoroughbreds battling it out for the opportunity to face the GOP candidate, probably Ivey. Polling in this race between former Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb and Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox is inconclusive.

Most of the folks who vote in the Democratic Primary on June 5 will be African American. Although this vote is not monolithic, the pendulum swings toward one candidate.

The African American leadership in the party is actively supporting Walt Maddox. He has also captured a good number of young white millennials and college students. My guess is that Maddox is the winner in the Democratic Primary.

Troy King will probably lead the balloting in the Attorney General contest. Alice Martin and Steve Marshall are battling for a place in the runoff with King.

Twinkle Cavanaugh is poised to get a good vote in the Lt. Governor’s race. If she has a runoff, it will probably be Will Ainsworth from Sand Mountain, who has had a significant TV buy.

State Senator Gerald Dial has surged in the Agriculture Commissioner race, primarily due to a brilliant and upbeat television ad. It is the best TV spot of the year. He is also benefiting immensely from grassroots support from rural volunteer firefighters throughout the state.

Voter ambivalence favors incumbents and those who have voter name identification. Therefore, my prognostication is that when all of the votes are counted in November, we will have a female Republican Governor, Kay Ivey, and a female Republican Lt. Governor, Twinkle Cavanaugh.

We will see.

See you next week.

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

 

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Opinion | All you need is love

Joey Kennedy

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Oh, Alabama, I cry for you. I cry for you, too, Birmingham.

We make progress, then we wipe it out. It’s the old cliché of two steps forward, one step back. Except during election years, it seems we take no steps forward and 100 years back.

What’s wrong with us? When will we stop hating?

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State Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, was wrong to vaguely out Gov. Kay Ivey as gay in a tweet and on Facebook. Yeah, those rumors have circulated for awhile, but Todd’s tweet has a mean spirit to it, especially considering the state’s only openly gay legislator is leaving the State House and, presumably, the state, to take leadership of an LGBTQ organization in Florida.

This fire was ignited by Scott “I-Don’t-Stand-a-Snowball’s-Chance-in-Hell” Dawson, a Republican opponent of Ivey’s for governor. Dawson, in his self-righteous, white-Evangelical “superiority”, criticized Ivey for funding an LGBTQ anti-bullying organization. In Dawson’s world, it’d be OK to bully gay kids, or worse. In Dawson’s world, philanderer Donald Trump is a “Christian,” and monogamous Barack Obama is the anti-Christ. I’m glad I don’t live in Dawson’s screwed-up world, and I don’t want to go to his screwed-up heaven.

And sure, in the perfect world (not Dawson’s), we want all people, and especially our elected officials, to be who they are. Yet Ivey Wednesday directly denied the rumors, and that’s OK. She gets to decide who she is. We get to decide if that’s who we want to vote for.

But why does it matter if Ivey is gay? Think hard, Alabama. Why. Does. It. Matter? Your own homophobia? Your fear of somebody different? Your twisted Christianity where it’s OK to hate, despite the faith’s namesake demanding that we love?

It should not matter. Except that voters here (maybe everywhere?) respond to emotional, hot-button issues before thinking about whether they even matter. They don’t.

Meanwhile, here in Birmingham we have a controversy between new Mayor Randall Woodfin and a West End pastor known for using his church’s outdoor sign to deliver messages of hate.

New Era Baptist Church pastor the Rev. Michael R. Jordan is upset that the mega-Church of the Highlands may start a branch in his neighborhood. So he posted this on his church’s sign: “Black folks need to stay out of white churches.”

Woodfin responded appropriately: “There is a spirit of racism and division that is over this city. It must be brought down. We have to change the conversation to what we need it to evolve into. ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.’”

So now Woodfin is taking heat from some in Birmingham and elsewhere. For wanting love, not hate, to guide our conversations.

The Rev. Jordan decries white flight, and rightly so. He calls Woodfin naïve. He says white people won’t live in his neighborhood, but they want to bring a white church next door.

I’ve written about Jordan’s hate before. In 2004, Jordan posted this on his church’s Hate Board: “AIDS is God’s curse on a homosexual life.”

Jordan’s “god” is much less perfect than mine. AIDS practically wiped out generations of hemophiliacs. It has devastated (and still is) heterosexual communities across the world, especially in Africa. If my God had it out for homosexuals, his aim would be much more precise.

Jordan rails against white Evangelicals who elected Donald Trump. But, you see, there’s not much difference between Jordan’s brand of religion and that of white Evangelicals.

There’s not much difference between Jordan and Dawson. Skin color, yes. Not much else.

Their unifying characteristic: Hate. Whether taught from the pulpit or from a church’s outdoor marquee, or from the campaign trail or in the “white” church, hate is the common denominator.

Woodfin is absolutely right. We must change the conversation.

That’ll be hard, though, because we’re mostly cowards, afraid of each other, of our immigrant neighbors, of the black man walking down the street and the white cop patrolling the streets. We’re afraid of gay people, of Muslims, of Asians, of Rednecks, of Jews, of Catholics. We’re afraid of independent women who want the right to choose, and who don’t want to be the targets of sexual harassment and rape. We live our lives in fear.

We’re even afraid of love.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

 

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What we missed, and what we must not

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