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Opinion | It’s the greed that hurts Alabama most

Josh Moon

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By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

It’s the greed that bothers me most about the Alabama Legislature.

I know that it sometimes seems tough to narrow down the most troubling aspect of our state lawmakers — to boil down the systemic failures and overwhelming corruption to a single topic.

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But it’s not for me.

It’s greed.

Because every bad decision made in that house, every stupid bill, every head-scratching statement, all of the oh-my-God embarrassing moments can almost always be traced back to one motivating factor: self-enrichment.

Let me give you an example from this past week.

The Senate Finance and Taxation Education committee was set to consider a bill — SB210 — that addressed an obvious and serious problem in this state: a shortage of rural doctors.

To address this issue, SB210, carried by Sen. Larry Stutts and co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of 13 other senators, would provide scholarships to a total of 100 medical students in the state.

In exchange for the scholarships, the students would agree to sign a contract that required them to practice for five years in some underserved part of the state.

Basically: we’ll help you pay for medical school if you’ll promise to stick around for five years and provide medical services to rural Alabamians.

A solid idea. Good for the state.

So, why am I talking about it in a column about greed in state government?

Because it is apparently impossible for some state lawmakers to do anything that is simply just good for the state. And it is particularly hard for Larry Stutts.

Shortly before Wednesday’s committee meeting, I received word from a few … let’s call them insiders, that Stutts’ bill was going to have trouble in the committee because lobbyists working on behalf of Alabama’s public colleges had discovered a personal conflict of interest.

During the meeting, Stutts’ conflict was broached, but in vague terms, and the bill was ultimately shot down by the committee.

According to multiple senators, including some on the Finance and Taxation Committee, Stutts’ conflict was this: His son recently started medical school at the college that stood to benefit the most from this scholarship program.

Whether his son would have received a scholarship, I don’t know.

But I do know this: Alabama has a few outstanding medical schools with long histories of churning out top-notch doctors and that place an emphasis on serving the state that supports the schools.

Stutts’ bill bypassed those schools, and the administrations that operate them, and instead landed on The Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine (ACOM), a private college located in Dothan.

If you’re unfamiliar with ACOM’s work, that’s likely because it’s only been in existence since 2013.

The college is a product of a partnership between the Southeast Alabama Medical Center in Dothan and a nonprofit group called the Alabama Medical Education Consortium (AMEC), which up until the opening of ACOM served as a sort of lobbying arm for eight osteopathic colleges around the Southeast.

By all accounts, ACOM is a perfectly good school and AMEC is a perfectly good nonprofit with good intentions.

But what no one in the State House could figure out was why a scholarship program that would eventually pay out medical school costs for up to 100 students would be placed in the control of a nonprofit operated by the owners of a private medical school.

Because that’s what Stutts’ bill did — it placed complete control of the scholarship program in the hands of AMEC.

And it reeked. So badly that some of Stutts’ fellow Republicans voted against it, and some others, after learning of his personal conflicts, were a bit ticked off.

“The worst thing is that the way it was handled killed a bill that addressed a serious problem,” said one Republican senator, who asked not to be named.

How many times has that been the case in this state — that greed, or at least the appearance of it, has upended attempts to do the right thing or address a serious issue?

The root of all evil and most bad decisions.

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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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Opinion | It’s the greed that hurts Alabama most

by Josh Moon Read Time: 3 min
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