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Opinion | The politics of deflection, distraction

Joey Kennedy

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By Joey Kennedy
Alabama Political Reporter

With everything going on in Washington, D.C., it’s difficult to predict the result of the midterm 2018 elections.

All indications are that Democrats will have a good year, perhaps even taking over the House of Representatives or the Senate or both.

Let’s learn our lesson, though. Predictions during this Donald Trump era are not certain. Few people thought so-called Republican Trump would defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.

Trump did, at least through the Electoral College.

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And look at the string of scandals that surround Trump. The most serious: Possible collusion with the Russians to help Trump win that election, to be sure. And from the outside, it looks as if Trump simply continues to dig that s—hole deeper. If not collusion, obstruction of justice, right?

But looks can be deceiving.

Trump, touting himself as the ultimate businessman and deal-closer, ran his businesses about as sloppy as a tycoon can. Multiple bankruptcies. Scams ranging from a university to meat. In this era of #me-too, many women have come forward accusing Trump of sexual harassment and even rape. Grab ‘em by the you-know-what, right?

Reports claim Trump had an affair with a porn star shortly after his third wife gave birth to his youngest son. Then Trump paid to have that relationship covered up.

During his campaign, Trump mocked a disabled news reporter. His Twitter feed is full of self-congratulations on any number of misdeeds, attacks against perceived enemies, white-power slogans, racist comments, divisive rhetoric.

Trump endorsed an accused child-molester in Alabama for the U.S. Senate.

Any one of these calamities, verified, would be the downfall of most national leaders.

Not Trump. Ronald Reagan was once described as a “Teflon president.” What does that make Trump? Something a lot less stick-free than Teflon.

But you see, Trump’s appeal to a certain base (mainly, racists, white nationalists, Angry White Men, immigration cowards, hypocritical Evangelicals) and against women, the LGBTQ community, people of color, and others, is working.

Until it stops working, we’ll continue to see the same sad results. We’ve been saying this for years.

Trump’s deplorable behavior is a winner, for now. Whether it’ll continue the win streak in the 2018 midterms, who knows? We’ll see. But I’m making no predictions.

Democrats and independents will have to develop a counter-message that appeals to reasonable people who will be motivated to go out and vote. They haven’t really shown yet they have that message, other than: “Donald Trump is dangerous,” or “Donald Trump is a traitor,” or “Donald Trump is orange.”

Probably no state in the nation has elected officials who have been as successful by using the so-called hot-button issues than Alabama.

Our politicians are masters of this “dark art.”

That pertains as much to Democrats who controlled the Alabama Legislature before 2010 as much as it does Republicans who control the Legislature now.

Making the state’s African-American people the button worked for decades with white Alabama. African-Americans are still targeted today, but the menu of hot-buttons being used by Republicans now a full buffet: Immigrants, of course; don’t forget gay, lesbian, and transgender citizens; the good people who want reasonable and common-sense gun laws are targeted; those damned independent women who want the right to choose what they will do with their own bodies . . .

None of these red-meat issues are brought up to make life better in Alabama, one of the most poorly performing states in most any quality-of-life category. They’re brought up to keep voters distracted; to make them feel, no matter how low their self-esteem, that somebody else is below them.

It’s the crime of deflection.

While some voters are worried about immigrants taking their jobs (a nonissue), Republicans are quietly working to dismantle the state’s ethics laws. While some voters can’t stand to respect that any couple who loves should be allowed to marry, Republicans are quietly working to undermine government accountability. While some voters fear independent women, Republicans are quietly working to suppress the vote of so many in our state. While some (white) voters fear the truth that it’ll be them in the minority soon, Republicans are quietly working to make sure the laws they pass now primarily benefit them and their financial supporters, not the voters who put them in office.

For me, all bets are off for the 2018 midterms, nationally and in Alabama. For so long, our elected officials have used this same, ugly playbook, and it works.

Maybe voters will truly be motivated to vote this year, and get out in numbers that overcome voter suppression and gerrymandering and those divisive hot buttons.

They haven’t so far, though. That’s what’s scary.

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

 

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Opinion | Police are not above public scrutiny

Josh Moon

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Why are police above public scrutiny?

That seems to be a relatively new thing in this country, and it is a particular problem in Alabama — this notion that the general public has no right to even question a police officer’s actions.

We’re hiding body cam footage. There are very few regular citizens on cities’ police review boards. Some cities are hiding cops’ personnel files, despite that being one thing that Alabama Open Records Act laws specifically covers.

And if ever a cop is questioned … whoooo, boy! There will be shame and ridicule, and the full weight of city government will be brought down to protect the Brother in Blue.

It’s nonsense.

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And it’s happening every day in this state. There are, specifically, two egregious cases active now — one in Huntsville, one in Montgomery. In both instances, city cops have been indicted on murder charges.

In Montgomery, the victim was black and walking through his neighborhood late at night. In Huntsville, the victim was white and police were responding to a mental health call.

In both instance, the county district attorneys — who each have to work with the police departments in those cities — reviewed the evidence and determined that enough existed to seek indictments. And in both cases, a grand jury issued those indictments.

That would seem like enough reason for the mayors of the respective cities — Todd Strange in Montgomery and Tommy Battle in Huntsville — to back away and allow the justice system to work.

They have not.

Battle last week asked his city council to cover the legal expenses for William Darby, the cop accused of murder. The council agreed unanimously, although it did put a $75,000 cap on expenses — a cap Battle said he disagreed with.

In Montgomery last year, following officer A.C. Smith’s shooting of Greg Gunn, Strange implemented an unprecedented city-led review, and he promised to allow Smith to remain on the MPD payroll, receiving his full salary and benefits, as he awaits trial.

Seriously consider the facts of these two situations.

In Huntsville, the taxpayers are footing the bill for private attorneys, when they are already paying for court-appointed attorneys for anyone who can’t afford legal representation. Apparently, public defenders are good enough for poor, mostly minority regular folks — even when they are accused of murder — but not good enough for cops.

In Montgomery, even as other city employees have been immediately terminated after their arrests for various offenses — all of which fall well short on the moral scale of murder — Smith remains fully paid.

When questioned about this early in the case, Strange said he wanted to wait on more facts to come out at hearings before making a decision on terminating Smith. A couple of weeks later, at a hearing, a State Bureau of Investigations officer testified that Smith admitted in interviews that he had no probable cause to stop, pat down, chase, strike, Taser or shoot Gunn.

That was not enough for Strange.

Nor was it enough when a second Montgomery judge proclaimed after an immunity hearing last month that he didn’t find Smith to be credible during his testimony.

In Huntsville, Battle cited a clearance by the HPD Incident Review Board as his primary cause for supporting Darby so vigorously.

He should be careful, because I can’t find a single incident in which the HPD review board didn’t clear an officer in a shooting. That includes a number of shootings in which the suspect was unarmed, and several in which other law enforcement officers also engaged the suspect and didn’t fire a shot.

In 2015, for example, Orlondon “Dre” Driscoll was shot by HPD officers after he exited, unarmed, from a car he was accused of stealing. The review board cleared the officers, saying that while Driscoll was unarmed, his hand made a motion as though he was pulling a gun.

It’s absurd.

And here’s the thing: In most cases, there is body cam footage of the incident. There’s certainly footage of the Darby shooting. But these same mayors and city governments and police departments have fought like hell to hide those videos from the public — the same public that pays the salaries of the officers.

In Montgomery, while there is no video — because Smith “forgot” to turn on his body cam — Strange has refused to release the findings of the city-led investigation into the Gunn alleged murder.

His reasoning: he doesn’t want to taint the jury pool. Which is not, as far as the law goes, an accepted exception under the  

Look, cops have a tough job. Yes, they are mostly heroic individuals who deserve our praise and admiration.

But you know what, it’s not like the job’s a mystery at this point.

We’ve all seen “Cops” on Fox and watched a thousand cop shows and reality cop shows on TV. If you sign up to be a cop in 2018, you know what you’re getting into, and you know the pay.

So, let’s stop pretending that the cops who have committed horrible acts of aggression and assault — and even murder — against the citizens they’re supposed to protect are somehow overwhelmed by the toughness of the job. Because that’s insulting to the 99 percent of cops who manage to not do anything illegal or dumb every day.

 

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Opinion | A blue few days away, and a same-sex wedding

Joey Kennedy

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After another disappointing Alabama election where voters decided against their better interests, I was characteristically frustrated.

One of my friends, this one living in northern Virginia, wrote to me: “Joey, you and Veronica should move to a blue state just for a little while. It’ll add 10 years to your life.”

I chuckled. I can’t say how many times a reader, equally frustrated, no doubt, at what I’d just written, said to me: “If you hate Alabama so much, move somewhere else.”

I don’t write what I write about Alabama out of hate. I write out of love. I love Alabama.

My other career is as an educator. I try to educate. I welcome people to fact check my work. If I make a factual mistake, I’ll correct it. If you disagree with my informed opinions, then let’s disagree. But you need to be informed as well. Show me your evidence, and I’ll show you mine. Indeed, I most often include my evidence in my columns.

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Don’t tell me that Hillary Clinton is running a pedophile ring out of a pizza parlor’s basement or that Sandy Hook is a hoax or that the Parkland survivors are “crisis” actors. None of that is true.

And don’t cite Breitbart or InfoWars or Judicial Watch as your sources. Keep Drudge and Rush Limbaugh and Dana Loesch out of it. If you cite Fox News, do it honestly, understanding that Fox has some credible news coverage, but then it has its idiots – the Hannitys and Ingrahams and Lahrens — who don’t give a whit about facts, only about slant, and who will twist their stories to “support” their latest right-wing conspiracy or left-wing outrage.

As a favor, I won’t cite MSNBC or the other “left” sources. I don’t watch MSNBC. CNN does generally good journalism, as does the three major networks. Mostly, I’m going to reference the Washington Post or The New York Times. But even more mostly, I’m going to do my own research and reporting. And thinking.

It’s not that difficult, as long as you don’t approach an issue with a preconceived idea. Keep your minds open, and do a little homework.

Thanks to the Internet, we have more information available to us today than ever before. Yet, we really seem a whole lot dumber. That’s because we only look for crap that validates our preconceived ideas, not the truth.

Find the truth, or at least get as close to the truth as you can get. Among my most difficult challenges as a writing teacher is to show students how important it is to approach issues with an open mind. If you can’t be persuaded by indisputable evidence, you’re not going to learn.

I’m going to California this week. I’m not moving there, so don’t get your hopes up. I’m going for a few days to participate in my “daughter’s” wedding. Nicole Bowland graduated from UAB, and adopted Veronica and me as her “parents” shortly after coming her from her home in California. She came on a volleyball scholarship, and her parents couldn’t attend volleyball events, so she adopted us. We’ve become very close over the past 15 years.

Nicole’s fiancé, Sara Kate Denton, has the full support of her family for the wedding. Nicole’s parents are not as supportive and won’t attend the wedding, so I’m filling in the “daddy” role at Nicole and Sara Kate’s ceremony.

I hope this brief trip to one of the bluest states may add at least a few days or hours to my life, but that’s not a real consideration. Dancing with my daughter at her wedding and toasting her marriage to Sara Kate are.

My friends in the blue states know they, too, have citizens who believe the conspiracy theories, who oppose same-sex marriage, who hate people different from them. They just don’t have them in as great of numbers (proportionately) as we do in Alabama.

We’re a herd state. We follow those deceitful politicians (and they’re a dime-a-dozen in Alabama, both Democrats and Republicans) who won’t tell us how to make education better or how to lower our prison population or what we need to do about gun violence, but would rather tell us why immigrants are evil, gay people are going to hell, black people are less than white, and women’s bodies should be controlled by men.

Right now, 63 percent of them support President Donald Trump, which makes us one of the Trumpiest states in the country.

Think for yourself. Question authority. If a politician or journalist tells you something, make him or her show you the evidence. Maybe it’s simply a good argument, based in fact, and it will get you thinking. Thinking critically. Thinking skeptically.

Don’t be in the herd.

I’ll be back soon.

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

 

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Opinion | Brett Kavanaugh to SCOTUS would assure Trump legacy

Steve Flowers

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The appointment of a United States Supreme Court Justice is one of the most profound legacies that a U. S. President can achieve. The opportunity that President Donald Trump was given to appoint Neil Gorsuch to the High Tribunal last year will be a monumental achievement of the Trump administration.

The chance to name a second Supreme Court appointment will be a colossal legacy for the Trump presidency. The appointment of two seats on the Supreme Court has given Trump an indelible place in U.S. presidential history.

The leftist detractors of the Trump presidency are moaning. However, the conservative base of American politics has got to be rejoicing with hallelujahs. The quiet, conservative Americans who voted for Trump probably never realized how impactful their vote for Trump was in November of 2016. For within less than two years after casting that vote they will have placed America on a more stable conservative path for not only the rest of their lives, but possibly for the next generation.

President Trump’s appointment and subsequent confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to replace the deceased Antonin Scalia was a profound choice. However, his selection of Brett Kavanaugh to replace the retiring jurist Anthony Kennedy is equally brilliant. If Trump does nothing else during his tenure in the White House, if you are a conservative American, Trump’s presidency has been a rousing overwhelming success.

When the last votes were counted in November of 2016, and it became obvious that Donald Trump had defeated Hillary Clinton, conservative Americans were exuberant. Many had turned out to vote for one reason. The possibility of naming a conservative to the Supreme Court was their primary reason for voting for Trump. The naming of two within two years was beyond their wildest dreams.

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With the conclusion of the eight-year reign of the liberal Obama era and Trump’s defeat of Clinton, President Obama made one last simple, profound statement, “Elections have consequences.” That epitaph has become prophetic.

The court had been drifting leftward out to sea with the two extremely liberal Obama appointees, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor coming on board. However, the Supreme Court Ship of State has taken a turn to the right under the helm of Captain Trump.

Brett Kavanaugh is an excellent selection. He has impeccable credentials. He is only 53 years old, which means that he will be a sensible mainstream conservative voice of the court for probably three decades.

Brett Kavanaugh’s resume reads like a profile of someone born to be a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Like most Supreme Court members, he graduated from a prestigious Ivy League Law school. He is a product of Yale undergraduate and Yale Law School.

Kavanaugh was the favorite for the appointment from the beginning. He was always on the top of Trump’s short list and the choice of the Republican legal establishment in Washington. He is a former law clerk of the retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Although Kennedy had been appointed by Republican Ronald Reagan, he was considered the one moderate on the court. There are four bona fide liberal justices and four stalwart conservatives. Kennedy was the swing vote in the middle. Trump’s appointment of Kavanaugh will replace a swing vote on the nine-member court with a staunch conservative.

Kavanaugh served in George W. Bush’s administration and has been a distinguished jurist in the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit for over a decade and has written over 300 opinions. Therefore, his record as a jurist has been thoroughly reviewed and scrutinized. He is looked upon as a top legal scholar and strict constitutional adherent with a record of following judicial precedence.

Kavanaugh will be confirmed along pretty much the same partisan lines as Gorsuch. Trump is blessed with a Republican majority Senate. Leader Mitch McConnell will put the confirmation hearings on a fast track and have Kavanaugh approved by the end of October, prior to the mid-term elections. The Republicans have a thin 51 to 49 majority. All 51 Republican Senators appear to be on board for confirmation. Our Senator Richard Shelby has given a big thumbs up to Kavanaugh.

In addition to the 51 Republicans, Kavanaugh is expected to pick up four Democratic Senate votes of moderate Democrats from red states.

The big question is how does our new accidental anomaly, Democratic Senator Doug Jones vote. He is considered a longshot to win in 2020. However, a yes vote on confirmation could give him a glimmer of hope. A no vote would guarantee his not being elected to a full term. 

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 | Republicans playing by different rules when it comes to state ethics laws

Josh Moon

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The law is simple: Candidates running for public office in Alabama must file a statement of economic interests when they qualify, and then must file an annual SEI by the yearly deadline.

That’s not hard, right?

File an SEI when you qualify. File again at the next year’s deadline.

Simple.

But then, following ethics laws is like Kryptonite to an Alabama politician. And so, quite a few candidates — some big name Republicans and a couple of Democrats — didn’t file on time.

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The consequences for this, according to the laws on the books, are also fairly simple and easy to read: You get booted off the ballot.

Don’t take my word for it, though. Here, read the law for yourself: “… if a candidate does not submit a statement of economic interests or when applicable, an amended statement of economic interests in accordance with the requirements of this chapter, the name of the person shall not appear on the ballot and the candidate shall be deemed not qualified as a candidate in that election.”

For future reference, that’s Section 36-25-15(c) of the Code of Alabama.

Would you care to guess what’s happening with these candidates who quite clearly violated this law?

Well, the two Democrats were determined by the Ethics Commission to have violated the law, so they were booted. Judicial candidate Pamela Cousins appealed that decision to a Montgomery Circuit Court, and a judge ruled in her favor, saying she had complied with the law by filing her paperwork with the Democratic Party but the SEI didn’t make it to the Ethics Commission on time.

For the Republicans, though, the story has been much different.

Sure, they violated the same laws in the same ways and had the same excuses as the Democrats. But the Republicans — four of them so far — haven’t been kicked off the ballot. And state lawmakers and party officials are on record saying those Republican candidates won’t be booted.  

Apparently, when there is an R beside your name on the ballot, the laws become a bit more ambiguous.

Republican Secretary of State John Merrill — the man at least partly responsible for enforcing the laws surrounding ballot access — found not only some exceptions for his party mates but also a makeshift fine: $5 per day.

I’ve read through the filing requirements, the Code of Alabama and the guidance documents presented on the Ethics Commission website, and I can’t find any mention of a $5 fine.

I do see where the Ethics Commission can impose a $10 fine per day on elected officials who miss the SEI filing deadlines. But that fine applies only to sitting officeholders.

The penalty for candidates missing the deadline is removal from the ballot. That simple.

As such, according to reporting from APR’s Brandon Moseley, Republican House District 30 candidate Brandon Craig Lipscomb, PSC commissioner Jeremy Oden, Montgomery state Rep. Dimitri Polizos and Guntersville state Sen. Clay Scofield should be removed.

Just as the Democrats were.

They all missed the deadlines. They all violated the laws. They’re all candidates for public office.

And there’s a reason why that last part matters, why the laws are different for sitting lawmakers than for an incumbent candidate for office. Because during campaigns is when money can flow the easiest. It’s when debts and personal financial obligations and business dealings and partnerships can be exploited easiest.

That’s why the laws of this state place such an importance on these SEI filings — because they’re that important to the integrity of our election process.

But who am I kidding?

There’s no integrity left.

 

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Opinion | The politics of deflection, distraction

by Joey Kennedy Read Time: 4 min
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