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2018 might be better … cautious warning aside

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

When we look back over 2017, it would seem there is little cause for celebration, and yet, there are signs of a better year to come. As we ponder the coming year, here are some things to keep in mind.

Happening in the House

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon is showing that it is possible for now to lead the House of Representatives with the strength of conscience and not just political muscle or intimidation. The 2018 Regular Legislative Session should roll along without any great turmoil. Expect House members to enter the State House more united, but voters shouldn’t expect too much in the way of sweeping legislation as it is traditional to tamp down controversy before a general election. Instead, expect McCutcheon and his team to be teeing up the ball for 2019 with an emphasis on budgeting reform, infrastructure planning and a more inclusive agenda that doesn’t merely rely on National GOP talking points.

After taking the reigns when former Speaker Mike Hubbard met his fate in a Lee County courtroom, McCutcheon promised to leave central leadership positions intact until the next quadrennium. However, circumstances have resulted in Rep. Nathaniel Ledbetter taking up the post of Republican House Majority Leader with Rep. Connie Rowe as vice chair of the House Republican Caucus. Both Ledbetter and Rowe, elected in 2014, do not owe their positions to Hubbard or the Business Council of Alabama and remain untouched by the corruption that still taints some in House leadership. The elevation of Rep. Mike Jones to Rules chair is a positive move as Jones is studious in his understanding of every piece of legislation before it is presented in the “people’s house,” as McCutcheon refers to the lower chamber.

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What ethics reform

Ethics reform, for now, is being relegated to the legislative “lost and found.” McCutcheon continues to support Rep. Mike Ball as  chair of the House Ethics Committee. Ball’s chairmanship presents a serious problem as he continues to accuse AG Division Chief Matt Hart of criminal activities, and also press a case that former Speaker Mike Hubbard was the victim of a political prosecution. Ball  wonders in a conspiracy dreamland of his own making which renders him wholly incapable of such a serious responsibility.  McCutcheon’s unwillingness to replace Ball is baffling. Has the Speaker not yet grasped the need to strengthen and clarify state ethics statute?  Ethics reform will continue to be a thorn in the side of the House leadership until it is resolved.

Worry in the courts

There is a legitimate worry among pro-ethics reformers that the State’s Court of Criminal Appeals may move to strike down some of the charges against Hubbard, claiming the judge and jury interpreted some of the ethics statutes too broadly. This has been the contention of several lawyers who continue to work to undermine the ethics laws, especially the portion that deals with principals. Business elites and those that protect them are not, so subtlety, encouraging the court to rule against the jury’s finding on these parts of Hubbard’s conviction. Meanwhile, Hubbard remains convinced the court will throw out all charges against him. The court is expected to issue its opinion after the first of the year. Expect a firestorm to rip through the judicial branch if Hubbard is exonerated on any of the 12 felony counts against him.

Gov. Ivey’s ship is steady for now 

Gov. Kay Ivey is keeping her promise to right the ship of state. Her cautious leadership has served the state well but will be challenged as the state moves toward the general election.

Gov. Ivey’s team has yet to set forth a cohesive agenda, but that may very well change in the upcoming State of the State Address on January 9.

Ivey’s reliance on a single advisor is showing strains within her staff, who feel their advice and expertise is being ignored, and it is not going unnoticed by her allies as well as enemies that discord is fermenting in the ranks. A large contingency of Montgomery insiders still believe that former Gov. Bob Riley is directing members of Ivey’s inner circle. If only a perceived reality, Ivey’s failure to rid her administration of Rileyittes is casting a long shadow over her current stream of success.

Her challenges from Huntsville, Mayor Tommy Battle, and faith-leader Scott Dawson are serious. But it is Democrat gubernatorial hopeful Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox that should be giving Gov. Ivey heartburn.

While the election of Doug Jones to the U.S. Senate is a one-off phenomenon, Ivey would be foolish to underestimate the enthusiasm that has emboldened young Dems, Black voters and some crossover Republicans and independents.

Moore is down but not out 

Judge Roy Moore may be down, but only fools count him out. He’s still fighting for the U.S. Senate seat, but that’s a vain prospect. It took over $50 million in cash, The Washington Post, most of the national and local media plus the GOP establishment to defeat Moore in his Senate bid, but those forces will not unify to stop Moore from mounting a formidable campaign for governor. Moore’s base of hardcore social conservatives is set on revenge which will likely split the ALGOP primary vote. Even now, Moore is fundraising and calls are going out from Courageous Conservatives PAC calling into question those Republicans who they say aided in his defeat.

Dems opportunity and conundrum 

On the Democrat side, Joe Reed needs to understand it’s time to let Nancy Worley go, or he will squander a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rebuild the Democratic Party in Alabama. Reed must decide if his legacy will be: he built a Black Democratic Party in Alabama that loses, or did he preside over the rise of an inclusive party that can win again? The same goes for Sue Bell Cobb. Judge Cobb had her chance to lead the party as Chief Justice, but for reasons that remain unclear, she stepped down. Like Reed, she can still play a significant role in a Democratic comeback, but only if she clears the field for Maddox. Both Reed and Cobb need to support new young leadership and help guide the next wave of Democrats – but from the sidelines.

Marshall sells soul to Hubbardites 

Perhaps the most consequential race in 2018 will be for the State’s Attorney General Office. Steve Marshall, a Gov. Don Seigelman-Robert Bentley appointee, is a disaster. Veteran lawyers are leaving his office due to his incompetence. But the business community likes Marshall because he has shown a willingness to bend to its will, and they see in him a weak man who will end white collar crime investigations just to curry favor with big-moneyed donors. Even now, Marshall is isolating the powerful Special Prosecution Unit that successfully brought Hubbard to justice. Current money from Hubbard BFF Southern Wood’s Jimmy Rane is flowing like mother’s milk into Marshall’s campaign. Unless Alice Martin or Troy King can stop Marshall, all hope of holding public officials accountable to the law will be lost.

Odds and ends

Retired Alabama Supreme Court Justice Terry Butts was thinking of running for the State Senate seat currently held by Dick Brewbaker who is stepping down at the end of this term. APR recent spoke with Judge Butts, and he confirmed that he is not seeking that office. “As Bob Ingram, a man I respected and enjoyed, who was a beloved, respected, reporter and political commentator always advised would-be political candidates: “Don’t be a deciding candidate,” Butts said.

Judge Butts confirmed that over the Holiday his family discussed his possible candidacy and decided it was best for them if he did not run for elected office at this time. “The unanimous agreement of my family that I just continue with my law practice and with my other, both legal/non-legal public work, and simply not attempt a return to elected office,” Butts said.

He ended our exchange by reciting a quoting from President Abraham Lincoln which he keeps on his desk, “If I were to try to read, much less answer, all the attacks made on me, this shop might as well be closed for any other business. I do the very best I know how—the very best I can; and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what is said against me won’t amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, 10 angels swearing I was right would make no difference.”

Also this past week APR learned that Dr. Rich Hobson plans on opposing U.S. Congresswoman Martha Roby in the fall. Hobson is the former Chief of Staff to former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Roy Moore. Hobson is a native of Enterprise. He earned his A.A. from Enterprise State Junior College and his B.A., M.A., and Doctor of Public Administration from the University of Alabama. Hobson will enter the field along with State Rep. Barry Moore to challenge Roby, the incumbent.

And so it is that there is more to be done and few that are willing to pull the load unselfishly. We enter the new year much as we leave the old – with some good, some bad and too many wanting to rule the world.

But with a bit of grace, a lot of mercy and little luck, 2018 might be better.

 

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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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2018 might be better … cautious warning aside

by Bill Britt Read Time: 8 min
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