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Will leaders lay fundamental groundwork for tomorrow or wimp out?

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

Results from the Alabama Political Reporter’s first Influentials poll show that many of our state’s best thinkers see an urgent need to invest in infrastructure, encourage new industry and develop a 21st-century workforce. These are three big ideas that, if executed correctly, will have a profound effect on the state’s economy, quality of life and upward mobility of all citizens who wish to participate.

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle speaking with WAAY-TV last week said he would add two items to APR’s poll; funding for public education and having strong leadership in Montgomery. (Battle is running for governor in a field of candidates led by Gov. Kay Ivey.)

Leadership, as Battle points out, is key to success in any venture, public or private. And there is no argument that the state’s education system is flawed, underfunded and perilously misled.

The survey was not intended to address every issue facing our state but to determine the most needful things to move our state forward.

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Battle hits on an essential point – that bold leadership is needed to create a better tomorrow. But in Alabama, timid leadership is a significant factor in why our state is near the bottom on every measurable level of success. It’s not that our leaders can’t, it’s that they won’t.

Next in ranking from the poll is a necessity to reform the state’s budgeting process and address an insufficient and unfair tax structure.

Statistically much lower on the list of important items facing our state are strengthening and clarifying existing ethics laws, providing more school choices/charter schools and lastly, building new prisons.

Those individuals who answered the Influentials poll were a cross-section of Republicans and Democrats, lawmakers and constitutional officers along with political consultants, political media analysts and lobbyists.

The first five items in the survey should not be a wish list but rather a guidepost for how to improve our state. If state leaders ignore these issues or only address them in small measure, then the state will tread along as it has for generations.

APR’s survey also asked, “Do you believe the healthcare system in Alabama is at risk with uncertainty related to CHIPS, Medicaid, and Obamacare repeal/changes?” Nearly 80 percent of respondents said yes. Much of what will happen on these issues is in the hands of the U.S. Congress, so it will be a steady-as-she-goes situation.

As for prisons, Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said he didn’t see building new prisons as an agenda item for this session but did say DOC is hiring a consulting company to develop a master plan. Really? Why someone on the joint budget committee didn’t beat him with a rubber chicken is unbelievable. It is outrageous that taxpayer funds will pay for another study for DOC.

Surely liberal groups will call for some bill to undermine payday and small lending in the state, ultimately ignoring the choices of those they claim to represent. But in Alabama, both liberals and conservatives know what’s best for the people (barf bag in use). Heaven forbid the legislature should consider a lottery or recognize the fact that hundreds of millions of would-be tax dollars are leaving the state or going to a small group of individuals.

But, as it is an election year, when there will be a sizable turnover in the Legislature – there are ample reasons to do nothing.

The 2018 Legislative Session is simple; get out as soon as possible, don’t raise a fuss and please don’t do anything controversial that might lead to unwelcome headlines in an election year.

But this is Alabama – where politicians, lobbyists and activists can’t help putting forward their pet projects or trying to answer last session’s grievances.

However, this doesn’t mean that leadership can’t lay the fundamental groundwork to implement a plan that prioritizes economic growth through investment in infrastructure, encouraging new industry and developing a 21st-century workforce.

If the Legislature needs examples of how to implement economic growth ideas, then perhaps a conversation with Mayor Battle or Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox can shed some light on the subject. These men have accomplished this on a local level.

As President Ronald Reagan said, “The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave.”

 

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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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Will leaders lay fundamental groundwork for tomorrow or wimp out?

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