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Opinion | Inside the State House: The Capitol Press Corps

Steve Flowers

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By Steve Flowers
Inside the State House

I have written about the legendary capitol reporters who use to cover Goat Hill. There was Bob Ingram of the Montgomery Advertiser, Al Fox of the Birmingham News, Hugh Sparrow of the Birmingham News, Rex Thomas of the Associated Press, Don Martin of UPI and Clarke Stallworth of the Birmingham Post Herald. A young cub reporter named Jim Bennett joined the Post Herald in 1961 and later had a distinguished career in Public Service. None of these legends is any longer with us.

Today’s capitol press corps also works hard, they stick with “just the facts” by conscientious research of their stories and leave out the speculations, “what-ifs”, opinion and political slants.

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The men and women I knew in the Montgomery press corps then and today, may have personal views, but they all were and are vigilant in their work as professional journalists. They defended the freedom of the press and the right of the public to know the facts and events of public officials, their decisions and actions that will impact education, taxes and the economy.

Over the last few years, an ongoing debate has emerged as to whether reporting on political news is still just the responsibility of professional journalists and whether online bloggers can also be a trusted source of news reporting.

The contemporary capitol press corps, like their colleagues of a bygone era, work hard to meet their deadlines. These professional reporters put in long hours by getting evenhanded quotes, verify pertinent facts and simply report an issue, controversy, or an event in an evenhanded way.

Online bloggers will do the same but add twists of innuendo, supposed behind the scenes reasons, and anonymous inferences. Often the online ‘journalists’ story will present a story but give contorted extraneous, often incendiary, perspectives which have no basis in reality.

Some suggest this is done to enhance the number of online “clicks”, make the story more salacious, attack someone’s reputation either directly or indirectly, make it cynical and infer insider deals and corruption – and you will get your clicks!

In many cases, stories are published by journalists only to be later “reinterpreted” by online bloggers with an editorial or political agenda.

Because of the cynicism and negativity that this new 24/7 online blogging creates, I have heard of many good men and women who would otherwise wish to give back to their communities by serving in public office essentially say – no thanks! They have spent a lifetime building up a good reputation in their communities and businesses. They cannot imagine where a pseudo-journalist, who is trying to build their reputation by the number of online clicks they get, can get away with attacking someone’s reputation in such a careless way.

We must make sure that individuals get the news and information they need to be informed, responsible citizens. Those sources can be from journalists, bloggers, and other digital platforms.

Let’s be vigilant about the freedom of press whether it is old fashion, hard-nosed journalism or 24/7 blogging. However, let’s also clearly delineate whether it is political opinion and gotcha stories whose sole purpose is to tarnish reputations and add to further public alienation from politics and cynicism. Opinions are great and important to public discourse but see them for what they are – opinions of one – do not try to mask those as ‘facts’.

Recently, the Alabama Political Reporter brought the documentary, “Atticus and the Architect”, to the Davis Theatre in Montgomery. A packed house watched the story of former governor, Don Siegelman’s persecution. The film left no doubt that Siegelman was prosecuted for political reasons.

Siegelman spent close to ten years in prison, unduly. It is one of the saddest stories I have witnessed in my lifetime of following Alabama politics. The travesty has not gone unnoticed by young potential leaders in the state.

I have the opportunity to get to know some brilliant, young Alabamians in my University classes on Alabama and Southern politics. Many of them are political science and prelaw majors. I will inquire as to whether they are interested in pursuing a political career. Most will tell me that they would never seek political office, not even a judgeship. Invariably, they will point to the Siegelman prosecution as one of their reasons for not being a part of the political process. They realize that their lives could be ruined by political persecution.

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 | 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 | Straight party? That’s lazy, or stupid

Joey Kennedy

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A few years ago (more than a decade), a friend was running for circuit judge in Jefferson County. He is a Democrat. His opponent was, obviously, a Republican. An incumbent Republican.

My friend was much more qualified than the Republican incumbent, who had made a number of questionable decisions from the bench.

This Republican was terrible, on many levels.

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I didn’t campaign for my friend; I’m a journalist, so I stay out of direct involvement in political campaigns. But I am a voter, and there’s no question I was going to support my friend at the polls. And, when anybody asked specifically about that particular race, I’d recommended him. As an editorial board member of what used to be the best newspaper in Alabama, we studied the candidates carefully; personally interviewed most of them. That newspaper recommended my friend.

Before we made our recommendations, however, another friend asked me about that judicial race. I laid out the qualifications of the two candidates, and made a good case for my friend.

And then: “Is he a Democrat or Republican?” my other friend asked. Democrat, I replied.

“Well, I can’t vote for a Democrat,” my other friend said.

That is absolutely a stupid response. She wouldn’t vote for the best qualified candidate because he was running as a Democrat? I shook my head and moved on.

I can’t figure out, or pretend to understand, how somebody can eliminate a candidate simply based on party.

I have never, in my 44 years of being a voter, voted straight-party, whether Democrat or Republican or whatever.

There are bad Democratic Party candidates. And bad Republican Party candidates. And, yes, there are good candidates in both parties. And good independents. And good third-party candidates, though you’ll rarely find them on Alabama’s selfishly closed ballot.

The last election that featured lots of state and local candidates, I voted for more Republicans than Democrats.

I know readers assume (wrongly) that I’m a Democrat, because I write, generally, from the left. I’m not. I’m a left-leaning independent. That’s one reason I hate Alabama’s closed primary elections. You have to choose, one or another.

And if you vote for one party in a primary, you can’t vote the other party in a runoff, if there is a runoff.

Maybe I could understand such a discouraging system more if the parties paid for their own primaries. But they don’t.

I do. And you do. The poor Alabama taxpayers do.

Voting straight-party is an indication of two things: You’re either too lazy to find out who you really are voting for, or you’re too ignorant to care. Not voting would be a better choice.

We’ve got primary elections coming up. I’m going to be on a panel for Democratic and Republican party gubernatorial debates later this month at Boys State on the University of Alabama campus.

I’ll ask tough questions of the candidates from both parties.

From what I’ve been told, every candidate for governor, from both parties, has accepted the invitation to participate in the debate.

Every candidate but one, that is: Republican Kay Ivey, the current sitting governor. Now remember, Ivey wasn’t elected governor. She took over for the disgraced, libido-enhanced Robert Bentley, who was tossed from office.

Kay Ivey will not have my vote. But she’s clearly the favorite, even though there are candidates in her party and candidates in the Democratic Party who are clearly more qualified.

I’m a geezer who turned 62 this year. And unless the choice and qualifications are clear otherwise, I’m not voting for another geezer. And I’m not going to vote for those candidates, like Republican Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh for lieutenant governor, who opportunistically run for whatever state office they think they can win.

I’m looking closely at the younger generation, Republican or Democrat, who appears to have the best qualifications for the office they seek.

We geezers have let Alabama down – America down. We often are more in it for us than what’s best for our state and country.

And if a candidate refuses to debate her opponents, or if a candidate is endorsed by a child molester like Roy Moore, or if a candidate is clearly only in it for herself or himself, I’m not voting for them. Forget it.

Oh, I expect many of the candidates (most) I support won’t win. I don’t vote for somebody just because they might have a chance at winning.

I study the candidates, and I vote for the candidate I determine is most qualified to hold the office they seek.

But I will never mark that bubble for straight party. From my perspective, that’s just lazy. Or stupid. It’s like eating mountain oysters and not knowing what they are.

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

 

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Opinion | Inside the Statehouse: Low voter turnout expected for primary

Steve Flowers

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We are less than four weeks away from our June 5th primary. Those of us who follow Alabama politics have pointed to this year as being a very entertaining and interesting gubernatorial year. However, last year’s resignation by former Governor, Robert Bentley and the ascension of Kay Ivey from Lt. Governor to the Governor’s office has put a damper on the excitement we anticipated in the governor’s race.

Kay took over the reins of state government and her appearance as a seasoned veteran of state politics seems to resonate with voters. Polling indicates that the governor’s race is hers to lose. Therefore, the less she does may be the best course. Her support is a mile wide and an inch deep. A slip and fall could derail her train.

Her perch reminds me of a story surrounding the last truly colorful southern governor, Edwin Edwards of Louisiana. Ole Edwin had a wide lead like Kay’s in the polls a few weeks prior to his race for reelection as governor of the Pelican state. The press asked him about two weeks out about his significant lead in the polls. Edwin’s reply was, “Yeah, the only way that ole Edwin can lose this race is to get caught in bed with a dead woman or a live boy.”

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Tommy Battle, the popular Mayor of Huntsville is poised to make a formidable run at Kay in the closing weeks. He has some money in the bank and will come out of the vote rich Tennessee Valley with a good friends and neighbors vote. The Evangelical Roy Moore voters appear to be coalescing around Evangelist Scott Dawson.

My guess is that Walt Maddox, the young 45-year old Mayor of Tuscaloosa is benefitting from a grass roots support among African American voters in the Democratic primary. If indeed this is the case, Maddox will be favored to capture the Democratic nomination.

Will Barfoot has emerged as the frontrunner in the closely watched open Montgomery/River Region Republican seat. Incumbent State Senator Paul Bussman is in a close contest with Cullman City Council President Garlan Grudger. Polling indicates that this one may be too close to call. Bussman’s departure from the GOP Senate Caucus has given his constituents the perception that he may be rendered ineffective. This district is politically savvy.

Veteran educator, Wayne Reynolds, may be poised to win the State Board of Education District 8 seat in the Huntsville-Tennessee Valley area being vacated by Mary Scott Hunter. Mary Scott and Sam Givhan are battling for an open state Senate seat in Huntsville. This race is one of the best Senate races in the state. Both Givhan and Hunter are heirs to great Alabama legacies. Givhan’s grandfather was legendary Black Belt State Senator Walter Givhan. Ms. Hunter’s daddy, Scott Hunter, is one of Bear Bryant’s famous quarterbacks.

Speaking of legends, Alabama political icon, Milton McGregor, was laid to rest a few weeks ago. He would have been 79 today. Montgomery’s Frazer Memorial Methodist Church was overflowing. A good many of the state’s past and present political powers were there, including several past governors and a sitting U.S. Senator.

One of the state’s most famous and personable preachers, John Ed Mathison, presented a masterful sermon. He is a great man. He and his wife were best friends with Milton and Pat.

It was actually a joyous political homecoming event. As folks were visiting and reminiscing, one of Alabama’s most prominent pulmonary physicians, Dr. David Thrasher, who has been a doctor to many famous Alabamians and was one of Milton’s pallbearers was visiting with me and said, “Steve, I was at Governor Wallace’s funeral when Franklin Graham spoke and it doesn’t compare to this.” Then he quipped, “Steve, I got a call from Billy Graham. He said that he had met a nice guy at breakfast by the name of Milton McGregor. Milton said to tell John Ed to remind the people down here that if they did good and believed in Jesus that they could be a winner too and join him.” That’s what John Ed said.

See you next week.

 

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Opinion | Inside the State House: The Capitol Press Corps

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