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Opinion | Alabama’s Year of the Woman

Steve Flowers

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By Steve Flowers
Inside the Statehouse

This political year of 2018 may very well be the Year of the Woman in Alabama politics. In Alabama’s 200 year history, only one woman has been elected governor. Lurleen Wallace won in 1966. Only two women have served as governor, Governor Lurleen and our current governor, Kay Ivey. It may be a historic year.

Sue Bell Cobb, the former Alabama State Supreme Court Chief Justice, and the first woman to hold that position, is hoping to be able to be the Democratic standard-bearer. She was elected Chief Justice in 2006, in a very expensive, high profiled battle with Republican Drayton Nabors. She had been a District Court Judge in her native Conecuh County for a long time before running statewide. She was elected to a six year term as Chief Justice in 2006, but quit after four years, inexplicably.

Cobb, 61, is predicting that it will be an all female gubernatorial showdown. She believes that she will be the Democratic nominee and that Governor Kay Ivey will carry the Republican banner into battle. She says, “That’s never happened and my prediction is that is what it will exactly be.”

However, first things first. Judge Cobb has to win the Democratic nomination. She is not the favorite in that primary. Tuscaloosa mayor, Walt Maddox, is the early favorite to win the Democratic nomination.

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Most political insiders suggest that Maddox is expected to get the overwhelming support of African American voters. The black vote makes up the bulk and majority of Democratic Primary voters in the state. This is no longer a monolithic vote. However, it tends to gravitate to one candidate in a primary. The few white voters who participate in the Democratic primary are young and they can more readily identify with Maddox who is 45.

In addition, there is some disillusionment among Democratic voters that Cobb quit her term midway as Chief Justice and allowed Republican Governor Robert Bentley to appoint a replacement. He, of course, appointed a Republican. She was the only Democrat on the Supreme Court. Roy Moore won the seat of Chief Justice in 2012.

Other Democratic partisans were dismayed that Cobb said she supported Donald Trump’s selection of Jeff Sessions for Attorney General. It may be perceived that her day has passed.

Kay Ivey appeared to be headed for the house and her day may have passed when out of the blue Bentley resigns and she is plucked out of the obscurity of the Lt. Governor’s office and thrust into the governorship. She seems like a grandmother who sticks to her knitting and steadies the Ship of State, which has gone through stormy waters the past four years. Kay Ivey may indeed make it to the dance as the Republican nominee in November. She is in the catbird’s seat and favored to win the GOP Primary.

However, she created a couple of stumbling blocks during the 2017 Senate election year that may thwart her reelection. Some GOP establishment stalwarts say that her changing the Senate election from 2018 to 2017 threw Luther Strange, their candidate, under the bus and gave the nomination to Roy Moore, which led to losing the seat to a Democrat. Her move also cost the state’s beleaguered General Fund $10 to $15 million. Some suburban women became disenchanted with her with she said she had no reason to not believe the women who accused Roy Moore of assaulting them as teenagers, yet she was still going to vote for him because he was a Republican. These two actions are only political stumbling blocks, not roadblocks.

Therefore, what I see as a possibility is not an all female race for governor, but a possible triumvirate of females being sworn into the top three constitutional offices next January. You could see Kay Ivey sworn into the Governor’s office, Twinkle Cavanaugh sworn in as Lt. Governor, and Alice Martin sworn in as Attorney General. All three are Republicans.

The Republican nominee goes into the general election with a 60/40 probability of winning. Currently, Kay Ivey is the favorite in the governor’s race. Twinkle is the favorite in the Lt. Governor’s race. Alice Martin or Troy King is favored in the Attorney General’s race.

If you made me bet right now, I would bet that Alabama would at least have a governor and Lt. Governor that are women. That may be the story of the year in Alabama politics in 2018.

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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Opinion | Alabama Democrats can’t rebound without a change in leadership

Josh Moon

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Nancy Worley is a good person.

I should start there, because it needs to be said. It needs to be pointed out that what has been discussed and argued about and shouted about among Alabama Democrats over the last few days has too often strayed from what’s important — the direction and leadership of the state’s Democratic Party — to something ugly and unnecessary and unproductive — personal attacks against Worley.

It’s fine to disagree with Worley’s leadership of the party — I have and do — but there’s no reason to attack her. Like so many other progressives in Alabama, she believes as we do — that we have to lift from the bottom, that racism continues to set us back, that the Democratic Party is a voice for those people who are far too often left voiceless in this state.

That said, what occurred at the Alabama Democratic Party executive committee meeting in Montgomery on Saturday was a farce that no good leader should stand for, much less benefit from.

If you’re unaware — and honestly, why would you be aware? — Worley was re-elected as party chairman, edging out Montgomery attorney Peck Fox, 101-89.

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That all might seem like business as usual, until you learn how those votes broke down. The elected members of the Democratic executive committee voted 89-66 for Fox.

But party officials said Joe Reed, head of the powerful Alabama Democratic Conference and chairman of minority affairs for the state party, was able to personally appoint 35 members. Reed has long supported Worley as chairman, and his appointees pushed Worley over the top, several Democratic officials told APR.

That’s no way to do business. And if any group of people should know this, it’s Democrats.

Stifling the will of voters and forcing candidates through by rigging the system is at least partly to blame for Donald Trump bumbling around the White House today.

And make no mistake, Democrats across the state want change at the top. I hear it every single day. From all corners and all shapes.  

Why wouldn’t Democratic voters want to change leaders? Nothing has gone right for the party, aside from beating the worst U.S. Senate candidate in modern political history, in nearly a decade.

Mostly this leadership group was caught flat-footed as Republicans took over the state from the ground up, winning down-ballot races and judgeships, and quickly organizing funding sources with deep pockets. And as Republicans did that, they also quickly made moves to stifle Democrats’ funding sources — by utilizing social media and media outreach to brand the Dems’ primary funding source, the AEA, as an organization somewhat comparable to ISIS.

And in the eight-plus years since that utter tail whipping, seemingly no one in leadership at the Democratic Party has thought: Hey, we should try that.

Instead, Worley’s primary accomplishment in her five years as party chair has been a recent reduction in debt. She has accomplished that debt reduction by not spending money.

The current website for the party lists one staff member. Despite national attention and a close race, Jones said his campaign received no support from the state party.

And there are other problems.

There has been very little social media outreach. The Alabama Democratic Party’s official Twitter account hasn’t tweeted in six months. The Facebook page is slightly more active, but rarely engaging.

But here’s the worst part: In the last election cycle, Republicans have watched the House Speaker, Majority Leader, Governor and three more Republican state lawmakers be indicted or admit to using their offices for personal gain.

And yet, there has been no plan from the Democratic Party leadership to utilize those GOP failures. Even as moderate GOP voters prove time and again in primaries that they’re aching for candidates who will stand for ethics and good government.

Even now, with a popular Democratic gubernatorial candidate at the top of the ticket, there is no state-office plan to attack down-ballot races and break the GOP supermajority.  

2018 should be the year that Alabama Dems start a comeback.

And it might be, but it will be left up to splinter groups of progressive, younger Democrats and minority voter groups to do the work, as they did for Jones’ win.

The Alabama Democratic Party office should be the general manager of that effort — the entity pulling the pieces together, working with the various groups to develop a comprehensive strategy and steer necessary resources to the right races. But that isn’t happening.

Instead, Reed squandered resources this year trying to settle a personal beef with former state Rep. John Knight, a longtime and devoted Democrat, and a number of Democratic officeholders say Worley has been mostly quiet.

This can’t go on. The enthusiasm among progressive voters in the state is there. The leadership to cash in on that enthusiasm is missing. 

For the sake of the party, it’s time for Worley and Reed to step aside.

 

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Opinion | Toe the lie, err, line, or get out of it

Joey Kennedy

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Earlier this year, I was on a panel for a debate of gubernatorial candidates at Alabama Boys State’s annual meeting at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

One night, the GOP candidates debated; the next night, the Democratic Candidates debated.

Only two Republicans showed up; all of the active Democrats were there.

Whatever you think about the value of political debates, that certainly shows that Democrats value open discussion of the issues far more than Republicans.

Even now, with only two candidates for governor remaining, the Republican, not-elected Gov. Kay Ivey, refuses to debate Democrat and elected Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox.

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But give credit to then-GOP gubernatorial candidates Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and state Sen. Bill Hightower for showing up at Boys State and answering questions, even if their answers were strictly following the Republican Party line.

Toeing the line.

One of those lines is that in-person voter fraud – that is, people showing up at the polls pretending to be someone they aren’t and voting – is as common as Kay Ivey refusing to debate.

That simply is not true (in-person voter fraud, that is, not Ivey refusing to debate).

Republicans continue to claim such voter fraud occurs, though there is no evidence for it. But they must toe that line because they so vehemently support strict voter identification laws that don’t actually protect against non-existent fraud, but do, in fact, suppress voting.

During that Boys State debate, Hightower said he believes there is massive voter fraud at the polls. But he’s not the only Republican. Alabama GOP Chair Terry Latham believes there’s massive in-person voter fraud. Indeed, find me a Republican who doesn’t believe it; or at least, find me a Republican who will say he or she doesn’t believe it. Publicly.

Can’t do it. They got to toe that line.

President Donald Trump said he believes more than 5 million people voted illegally in the 2016 election that put him in the White House.

Indeed, as APR colleague Josh Moon pointed out in his column this week, the scam “voter fraud commission” Trump established after he lost the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton was disbanded shortly after it was, uh, banded.

Not even a scam commission could scam up enough fake votes to make it work. Or scam up any fake votes at all. Because they don’t exist.

But Republicans aren’t going to drop that lie, err, line. Many Republicans don’t believe it, but they’ll repeat it because they think their supporters believe it.

Besides, they have to toe the line.

On that Tuesday night in late May, I don’t believe Hightower thought in-person voter fraud really existed, but for whatever reason, he had to say it did. Latham is a smart lady, and I don’t believe she thinks there’s in-person voter fraud, either. But Hightower and Latham and other Republicans will keep saying it. Because that’s what it takes to be a Republican: toe the lie, err, line, or get out of the line – even if the line is an outright lie.

Don’t want to vote for child molester Roy Moore for U.S. Senate? Too bad, he’s the Republican. If you’re a Republican, you’d better vote for the molester. Toe the line.

Don’t really think we need a wall separating the U.S./Mexican border? Too bad, that’s Trump’s idea, and Trump says he’s a Republican. You’d better support the wall.

Know in your heart that a trade war is bad for Alabama auto manufacturers and other businesses? Too bad. That’s Trump’s trade war, and Trump says he’s a Republican. You’d better support tariffs or, if you’re a Republican in Congress, at least take no action to interfere with them.

Know in your heart that President Trump is, indeed, owned by the Russians? What’s the big deal? Trump says he’s a Republican: “I’d rather be a Russian than a Democrat.”

Know in your heart that Republican Kay Ivey should debate Democrat Walt Maddox? If you’re a Republican, don’t you dare say that out loud.

Don’t say it. Toe that line. Toe it! Or you’d better get out of the line.

Want to be a Republican? Critical thinkers need not apply.

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

 

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Opinion | Inside the Statehouse: Primary political potpourri

Steve Flowers

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Now that the dust has settled on the primaries, allow me to share with you some thoughts on the Alabama political stage.

There is an old saying that says the more things change, the more they stay the same. This old adage is true in Alabama politics.

First of all, “All politics is local.” In the June 5 Primary, the turnout was about 25 percent on the average around the state. However, the ultimate voter turnout was 27 percent due to local races.  Alabamians are more interested in who is sheriff and Probate Judge than who is Lt. Governor, or Attorney General.

Secretary of State, John Merrill, predicted a 27 percent turnout on June 5.  Guess what, there was a 27 percent turnout. Almost 873,000 Alabamians voted. There were twice as many voters, 590,000, that chose the Republican ballot than the Democratic slate. There were 283,000 Democratic voters.

What this tells me is that we are still a very red Republican state. We have 29 elected statewide officeholders in the state. All 29 are Republican. When all the votes are counted in November, that 29 out of 29 figure will still be more than likely the same in the Heart of Dixie. The Democrats have a good horse in Walt Maddox. He may run close to Kay Ivey, but the odds favor an incumbent GOP Governor who has done nothing wrong and sits in the Governor’s office in a robust economy. I would put the odds at 56 to 44 in Ivey’s favor.

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The Legislature will remain about the same after the November General Election as we head into the next quadrennium. The Alabama House of Representatives will have an over 2 to 1 GOP majority. The numbers will be about what they are now, 72 Republicans and 33 Democrats.

The State Senate will more than likely have a 3 to 1 GOP edge. The members now are 26 Republicans and eight Democrats and one Independent. The Democrats may very well pick up a Senate Seat in Northwest Alabama with Johnny Mack Morrow vs Larry Stutts which will bring them to nine. The Independent seat being held by Senator Harri Ann Smith in the Wiregrass is one of the most Republican in the state. Harri Ann is retiring. It will be taken by the very Republican and popular state representative, Donnie Chesteen. 

Whoever made the decision to oust Harri Ann from the Republican Party six years ago made a very poor and ignorant decision. She continued to be elected as an Independent. Her popularity exudes my example of all politics is local and home folks know you best.

The GOP control of the Senate will probably be 26 to 9 or 27 to 8.

Speaking of control, the Big Dog still walks the halls of the State House. The Alabama Farmers Federation or Alfa still controls the legislature. They ran the table in legislative races all over the state. That is because they ran most of the races for their candidates. They are the kings of Goat Hill, the same way they were in 1901 when the state constitution was written. The more things change the more they stay the same.

Alfa perennially puts their power, muscle and interest in the legislature. They endorse in the statewide races and their endorsement is invaluable, especially in secondary state races. Their members vote that ballot and many conservative Alabamians look over the Farmers’ shoulder and vote along with them.

Alfa may give a token contribution to the Agriculture Commissioner, Attorney General, or Lt. Governor race and maybe $25,000 to the governor’s race. However, it is not unusual for them to put up to $50,000 in a House race and over $100,000 into a Senate race, along with excellent political strategy and pastures along interstates to put big signs on.

They use to play in the governor’s race. However, they got burned badly by Bob Riley when they helped him get elected and the first thing he did was stab them in the back. However, they have slipped around this year and will not only own the legislature, they will probably have a good friend in the governor’s office.

The day before the primary, Kay Ivey boarded Jimmy Ranes jet to fly around the state. The first person to board with her was Beth Chapman, Alfa’s political consultant. The next night when she came off the platform after giving her victory speech, guess who was helping her off the stage and holding her arm so that she would not fall?  It was Jimmy Parnell the Farmers Federation president.

Folks do not look for property taxes to be increased in the Heart of Dixie over the next four years.

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 legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

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Bill Britt

Opinion | DC’s political pornography keeps voters distracted

Bill Britt

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While Alabama’s voters breathlessly bask in the bodice-ripper soft porn that is the daily press coverage of the President Donald J. Trump administration here at home, some elected officials are disregarding and dismantling the very laws that Republicans rode to victory in 2010.

Ethics reform and the Fair Campaign Practice Act are under attack, not from Democrats, but by Republicans who control every branch of state government.

Voters, in general, are blinded by the R after a politician’s name because Alabama is considered a Republican state. The jersey seems to matter more than the character of the player who’s wearing it.

Billionaire industrialist and Republican megadonor Charles Koch recently said, “I don’t care what initials are in front or after somebody’s name — I’d like there to be many more politicians who would embrace and have the courage to run on a platform.”

When Republicans ran in 2010, they had a platform. It was pro-business, fiscally conservative with a heavy emphasis on a stringent code of ethics and transparent campaign laws.

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Since the indictment of then-Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard in 2014, Republicans have tried to weaken the Ethics Act they championed in 2010. They did it first to help Hubbard, but now in 2018, they want to rewrite the ethics laws to help themselves to the perks of office once enjoyed by Democrats.

Many Republicans don’t want to go back to the Wild West days of lawlessness before 2010, but they remain silent.

Recently, Alabama’s appointed Attorney General Steve Marshall accepted $735,000.00 from a dark money PAC controlled by the Republican Attorney Generals Association in violation of the state’s FCPA ban on PAC-to PAC transfers, but Republicans lawmakers haven’t uttered a word.

Gov. Kay Ivey’s campaign says she has cleaned up corruption in Montgomery, but within sight of her office, a so-called Ethics Review and Clarification Committee is rewriting the ethics laws to include allowing a public official to solicit things from a lobbyist.

A template for strengthening and clarifying the ethics laws was written under the watchful eye of the Attorney General’s Special Prosecution Unit. But the committee that is rewriting the ethics laws didn’t even use that plan as a starting point. Instead, they decided to arbitrarily let associations and the Alabama Legislative Services Agency undertake a wholesale rewrite.

Why?

The reality is – far too many public officials don’t want to be policed or held accountable.

As for the money Marshall received in violation of FCPA, he says there’s a loophole.

However, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in September 2016, found the 2010 Fair Campaign Practices Act (FCPA) made it “unlawful for any political action committee … to make a contribution, expenditure, or any other transfer of funds to any other political action committee.” The only exception to the rule is that a PAC can donate to a PAC set up by a candidate, but full disclosure is required by both parties.

Also in 2016, a Lee County Jury found that Alabama’s toughest-in-the-nation ethics laws worked when it convicted Hubbard.

What has changed since 2010? The Republican supermajority has found that running on ethics reform and campaign transparency sounds good, but trying to live by the law isn’t as easy as talking about it.

Frankly, the citizens should care more about integrity than initials, but for the most part, they don’t even know what is happening in their own backyard. The seduction of 24-hour cable news has left most voters knowing everything about the hookers in D.C. and nothing about the pimps in Montgomery.

 

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Opinion | Alabama’s Year of the Woman

by Steve Flowers Read Time: 4 min
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