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Opinion | Inside the State House: Elections

Steve Flowers

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By Steve Flowers
Inside the State House

The 2018 legislative session will be short and sweet. It is an election year. Historically, during the last year of a quadrennium, the legislature convenes early and passes the budgets, then goes home and campaigns for reelection to another four year term.

Our forefathers, who wrote our 1901 Constitution must have been thinking the same thing because they designed for the fourth year of the quadrennium legislative session to start and end early. It is set by law to begin in early January, whereas it begins in February in most years. This year’s session began January 9 and can run through April 23. The consensus is that they will adjourn sine die earlier than the April deadline. Most observers believe that they will pass the budgets and be out of Montgomery by the end of March and home campaigning by April Fools’ Day.

The budgets will not be hard. The economy has picked up and the education budget, which is reliant on sales and income tax, is flush. Even the beleaguered General Fund is not in dire straits.

The House budget chairmen, Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, and Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, walk around with a smile on their face.

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The Senate budget chairmen, Trip Pittman, R-Baldwin and Arthur Orr, R-Decatur also seem happy. Pittman is a giant of a man who probably stands 6’8” tall and Orr is somewhat short. When they stand next to each other, they look like Mutt and Jeff. It reminds me of a picture made in the 1950’s with Governor Big Jim Folsom and Congressman Frank Boykin standing next to each other. Boykin was extremely short and portly. He was around 5’2”. Big Jim was about 6’9”. It was quite an amazing photo taken at Boykins hunting lodge north of Mobile in Washington County. Both Big Jim and Boykin were inebriated. In defense of Pittman and Orr, they are both sober and serious about their business and do a good job.

Pittman has decided to stick to a campaign pledge he made when he first ran to serve only two terms, so he is not running again.

The other three budget chairmen are running and will be easily reelected if they even have opposition. Arthur Orr, Steve Clouse, and Bill Poole will all return to the legislature and will more than likely chair their chamber’s budget committees for another four years. All four of these budget leaders are smart and articulate.  Clouse, Pittman and Poole all went to the University of Alabama for their college education.

These four chairmen write and control the budgets. In fact, most of the major decisions affecting the budgets are dictated by the chairmen. Most legislators do not really know the intricate details in the numbers.  After the budgets come out of conference committee late in the session, it is “Katie bar the door.” They are ready to vote yes and go home.

However, there will be significant turnover in both chambers next year. There are about 10 of the 35 state senate seats open due to retirement or seeking other offices. There will be close to 22 of the 105 House of Representatives seats open.  That is a significant turnover but it is not record breaking. Furthermore, almost all of the major leaders and decision makers in the legislature will be back for another four years in their same leadership positions.

The best action in senate races this year may be in the Montgomery/River Region area. Popular state Senator, Dick Brewbaker, chose to not seek reelection. There will be a spirited sprint to replace him. Also in Montgomery County, State Senator Quinton Ross was chosen to be President of Alabama State University. Veteran State Representative John Knight is favored to take that seat.

The primaries are June 5. I will keep you posted.

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.

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 | The Hoover situation gets stranger every day

Josh Moon

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What’s happening in Hoover makes no sense.

Every day, there’s another report that’s stranger than the last report. Every day, someone says something that they have to almost immediately correct. Every day, there is some action taken by city leaders or Alabama Law Enforcement Agency officials that makes it seem as though they actually want bigger and more frequent protests.

We’re now two full weeks past the shooting of E.J. Bradford in the Galleria.

For those who need a quick recap: Bradford was in the mall when a fight broke out and shots were fired, striking two people. There are conflicting reports saying he might/might not have been friends with one of the participants in the fight, but regardless, no one now believes that he was involved. When the shooting started, Bradford apparently headed for the door and was helping others, while at the same time carrying his firearm, which was legally purchased according to his family’s attorney. An on-duty Hoover police officer mistook him for the shooter and shot Bradford. According to a private autopsy paid for by his family’s attorneys, Bradford was shot three times in the back.

It’s a truly awful situation. That has been handled in the most awful way possible.

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Initial press releases from Hoover labeled Bradford, although not by name, as the shooter. When that was obviously wrong, the city decided to say he was involved in the altercation that led to the shooting. That, too, was wrong, so a third swing at it just made him out to be a crazy person waving a gun around — which also had to later be corrected.

As you might imagine, Bradford’s family and the local black community — sensing a city coverup of a white cop shooting an innocent black man — were pretty angry about all of that.

And things haven’t improved much.

City and police officials eventually went to the Bradford family to apologize. But promises to be more open with the investigation and share video from that night have fallen flat. Mostly because ALEA has stood in the way, claiming the release of any info would hurt the ongoing investigation.

And so, now Hoover has a roving band of protesters that shows up at random places, blocking traffic, stopping businesses from operating and generally causing havoc throughout the city. Because they want answers about what happened that night.

And you know what? That’s perfectly reasonable.

At this point, we should have some answers. No, not a completed investigation, and nothing that would jeopardize the overall investigation, but something.

Like that video.

Why can’t the video be made public? Hoover city officials certainly wanted to show it, before ALEA stepped in. It didn’t jeopardize the investigation to allow literally dozens of people, including the attorneys for the Bradford family — al.com reported on Thursday evening — to watch that video.

So, why can’t everyone else watch the thing and see what happened?

It’s a video. Watching it won’t change it. Nor will it change the other facts and other evidence.

Because the silence here isn’t helping. The protests are growing larger and they’re getting more hostile. There’s a serious threat of protests at schools now, which will really elevate the anger.

And things are going to continue to trend ugly. Because the facts in front of the protesters are very ugly.

They know video exists. They know Bradford was shot in the back three times. They know Bradford was wrongly accused by the city and PD after he was dead. And they know there’s been enough time and enough evidence for police to ID the real shooter, find him in Georgia and bring him back.

That’s a lot of one-sided info.

There’s no reason for this to continue on without any answers for the family and community.

That it does is truly mind boggling.

 

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Opinion | Protest is an American right, deserves respect

Joey Kennedy

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Overkill is probably a bad word to use in this context, but it’s accurate. Law enforcement is out in huge numbers to quell protests that continue in Hoover in the wake of the literal overkilling of Emantic “E.J.” Bradford Jr. on Thanksgiving night.

The resources being used to divert or “contain” the generally small and loud-but-peaceful demonstrations appear to far outweigh any danger posed by them.

That’s exactly what’s expected, though. I grew up during the Vietnam War protest era, and law enforcement often overreacted to legitimate demonstrations then. They always have, it seems: Labor strikes in the early 20th century, during the Great Depression, and the Civil Rights movement, among others.

As more information is learned about the shooting, the worse it looks for the Hoover Police Department. At first, Hoover PD said Bradford was the man who shot and wounded an 18-year-old at the Riverchase Galleria that night. (A 12-year-old girl was also wounded, but for some reason, gets very little attention now.) Hoover PD quickly backed off its original story, admitting Bradford was unlikely to be the man who fired the shots that night. Various reports claim Bradford had a gun, but his family says he had a carry permit, though one isn’t required to tote a weapon in Alabama, an open-carry state.

Another man was arrested in Georgia for the Galleria shooting.

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Little else has come from Hoover officials about the tragedy, despite a vow to be transparent during the inquiry. The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency is conducting the investigation, and requested Hoover not release any evidence because it might jeopardize the work.

The only thing being jeopardized by the silence is the truth.

From an autopsy commissioned by Bradford’s family and released this week, it appears the 21-year-old was shot three times from behind by a Hoover police officer while Bradford was moving away from the scene — as were many people in the Riverchase Galleria that evening after the initial shots were fired.

Again, various reports claim Hoover PD denied Bradford treatment after he was mortally wounded. Some witnesses claim Bradford was helping other people escape the scene. Others say they didn’t see Bradford with a gun, while yet others say he was holding a gun. Police originally said Bradford was “brandishing” a gun, but they’ve backed off of that claim, too.

Witness accounts of crime scenes are often contradictory and confused. But with Hoover PD, ALEA, and other officials deciding not to be open with facts, that’s all we’re left with.

And sadly, that increases racial and other tensions in Jefferson County’s second-largest city.

Some social media comments have been outright racist and ugly, which is not unexpected, either. This is Alabama, after all, and Hoover, a white-flight city, is overwhelmingly majority white. Bradford was a black man, and the protests, while racially mixed, are led by African-Americans.

Underscore, though, that the protests have been peaceful. Yes, there’s hollering and chants, but no threats of violence. Meanwhile, police, including Alabama State Troopers, at one point blocked all the exits to the Interstate in Hoover to keep protesters contained.

We are allowed to peacefully protest in this country. That’s a constitutional right. Police and Hoover city officials – and Hoover residents and business owners — must respect that. They may not like the spotlight blinding them right now, but that spotlight is in large part of Hoover PD’s own making by rushing to judgment on the killing of a young black man, then shutting down information as they continued to change their story.

We’ve seen police overreact in violent incidents against young black men all over the nation for years. When they do, police departments often respond by refusing to release information that could clear up disturbing but valid questions.

As has been shown multiple times, that creates doubt and confusion, and does real damage to a police department’s reputation in the community it is supposed to protect.

E.J. Bradford certainly was not protected by Hoover police Thanksgiving night.

All anybody wants to know is the truth, but don’t blame Bradford’s family and others for wondering whether the truth is being manipulated when officials refuse to release information now, but were so certain Bradford was the man doing the shooting in the beginning.

The other sad fact this highlights is this nation’s dangerous gun culture. There are very real and lethal consequences with laws that allow open carry. When an event does occur, who are the police supposed to be looking for? The shooter may be there, but so maybe are many others with guns strapped to their waists or held in their hands.

Even so, that’s no excuse for a police officer, supposedly trained for high-stress, treacherous situations, to shoot a suspect three times from behind without being certain he is a threat to police or others. Merely having a gun in an open-carry, gun-loving state shouldn’t qualify.

The questions will continue, and the longer it takes to answer them, the less credibility an investigation will have.

Yes, we need to see what the overall inquiry reveals and what can be done to prevent a future repeat, but showing key video and evidence about Bradford’s role now, if he had any role at all, won’t jeopardize anything if the investigation is legitimate.

After all, Thanksgiving was two weeks ago. It took Hoover PD hardly any time to publicly brand E.J. Bradford the Galleria shooter or that it was a “hero” cop who took him down.

We may not have a lot of the facts, but we know today, for a fact, that story is not true.

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

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Public corruption unpunished, public left in the dark

Bill Britt

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Two former state public officials appear to be receiving extraordinary leniency, and the public should demand to know why.

In one case, former Sumter County Sheriff Tyrone Clark pleaded guilty to eight criminal charges including ethics violations and drug charges. However, District Attorney Greg Griggers who oversaw the investigation announced after Clark’s plea that he didn’t want to see the former sheriff go to prison. “It was never my goal to send Tyrone Clark to prison,” said Griggers.

Grant Culliver, a former top official at the Alabama Department of Corrections, is being allowed to retire after an investigation into allegations of misconduct. The Alabama Ethics Commission, the Department of Corrections and the Attorney General’s Office refuses to acknowledge publicly what the inquiry uncovered.

In both instances, the public is being denied a full accounting of why these high-ranking government employees are being shown preferential treatment. It is also becoming evident that there is no appetite to punish office holders or hold them publicly accountable for misconduct.

These two cases are just a small sampling of how public officials are being given a pass under Attorney General Steve Marshall.

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Marshall has no real interest in prosecuting public corruption which is evident by his firing of Chief Prosecutor Matt Hart.

It is estimated that nearly two dozen public corruption investigations are languishing after Hart’s firing. Perhaps more egregiously, Marshall, according to several well-placed sources still inside the AG’s office, has denied subpoenas, withheld vital documents and generally hampered investigations that involve state lawmakers and business leaders.

More troubling, Marshall is not only compromised by his debt to his political donors but also by those in his office that have critical knowledge about his personal conduct.

As one source close to Marshall explained, “Steve is a dark character with a lot to hide.”

Under former attorneys general, Clark and Culliver would have been treated like any other individual accused of misconduct, but Marshall is side-stepping both cases.

It is entirely within the attorney general’s authority to take control of Clark’s case, as well as revealing Culliver investigations, but Marshall is doing neither.

Culliver, who served as associate commissioner for operations at the Department of Corrections, is being allowed to quietly retire without the public ever knowing what the investigation uncovered.

Clark confessed to numerous crimes including two counts of unlawful employment of county inmates, three counts of ethics violations for using his office for personal gain, one first-degree count of promoting prison contraband, another second-degree count of promoting prison contraband and a count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance.

The county DA wants him to walk free.

Former Sumter County sheriff pleads guilty to criminal ethics, drug charges

Marshall, with his appointment by disgraced Gov. Robert Bentley and his subsequent election, has ushered in an era where public officials are free to do as they please without fear of prosecution as long as it is in Marshall or his handler’s interest.

Marshall also serves as co-chair of the Ethics Reform and Clarification Commission which is rewriting the State’s Ethics Act to ensure that convicted felon former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard is the last high-ranking political figure ever to be punished by the once championed “toughest in the nations” ethics laws.

Both Clark and Culliver were paid with state tax-dollars and should be accountable to the citizens of our state. Clark’s crimes are clear and he should be punished to the fullest extent of the law because, not only did he break the law, he violated public trust.

Culliver, it appears, did something to warrant a forced retirement. He, too, was paid by tax-payers who have a right to know what he did.

The public should demand more, Gov. Kay Ivey should intervene, but for now, there is little hope for equal justice under the law as dispensed by the likes of Marshall.

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Opinion | A real outsider

Josh Moon

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Donald Trump got a lot of votes in Alabama.

Even today, after two years of implementing policies that have undeniably hurt this state, he still enjoys healthy support in Alabama.

While it would be easy to tie that support to Alabama’s history of racism and Trump’s tendency to say racist things and support racist people and push racist policies, there’s more to it than that. Oh, sure, a good portion of this state loves that Trump is rolling back civil rights investigations of police departments and coddling Nazi-sympathizers and terrorizing Hispanic babies, but there’s a larger percentage of people who like Trump because he was different.

He was an outsider. He was going to buck the system. He was going to change things, kick out the career politicians, get rid of the lobbyists and bankers and return control of America to the regular, working-class people.

Now, we can discuss the gullibility of a grown person believing a New York City millionaire, who was born with two silver spoons and no concept of an average American’s life, would ever be the one to restore power to the regular people, but that’s what they believed.

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And that’s where this whole thing went wrong.

As a matter of fact, the entire Trump phenomenon in rural, white America is a microcosm of a larger problem — one that has destroyed the middle class and stagnated workers’ wages and led to decreasing paychecks and increasing bills.

They keep picking the wrong outsiders.

Poor white people continue to believe that the next rich white guy they elect is going to be the one to finally share the secret of how they too can become rich.

Instead of voting for people who represent their interests, who understand their daily struggles, who feel their pains, the white, working-class and poor voters in rural America have voted in one wealthy conman after another. Falling time and again for ridiculous lies.

Here’s what that looks like in Alabama: A group of lawmakers who have found countless ways to trim from programs that help the poor, the disabled, the elderly, teachers and children have yet to broach the subject of Alabama’s lowest-in-the-nation income taxes or a property tax system undeniably created to disenfranchise black citizens.

Last year, on the heels of several rural hospitals closing and the state’s refusal to expand Medicaid, the state’s answer to health care funding woes was to implement a Medicaid work requirement that will undoubtedly prevent needy people from receiving health care they need.

At the same time, despite billions in economic incentives doled out to rich corporations and car manufacturers, Alabama remains a state with one of the highest poverty levels and lowest worker wage levels. And those wages, despite the alleged influx of “good paying jobs” brought by the incentive deals, aren’t growing.

Do you know why these things happen?

Because Alabama voters go to the polls and elect people who do not understand their daily struggles. Instead of doing what the people of the Bronx and Queens did: Boot out the rich incumbent who had lost touch with the people he served and replace him with someone who understood them.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

That’s right, the 29-year-old who Fox News has convinced you is an evil socialist is actually the perfect example of the sort of an outsider that working-class people should be voting for.

Because she is a working-class person. She’s someone who understands the plight of working men and women. And she believes that if government is going to help anyone in this country, it should start at the bottom, where the aid is most needed and most impactful.

She hasn’t even officially started in Congress yet, and she’s already causing waves as she pushes back against a system that has been manipulated to favor the wealthy.

She has publicly criticized her colleagues on both sides of the aisle for not paying their staffers living wages — criticism that apparently pushed many to change their ways.

Do you know how that came about? Because AOC is broke until she starts receiving her Congressional pay, she’s dining in dive bars and cheap restaurants. While in one, she was speaking to the wait staff and discovered that many of them were also Congressional staffers working second jobs.

Funny the things that happen when people who actually represent the majority of America show up to govern.

Before the deal with the staffers, she publicly discussed the absurdity of her receiving the Congressional, super-cheap health insurance plan, but was forced to pay twice as much for basically the same plan when she worked as a waitress.

During the campaign, she refused all corporate campaign donations.

You see, that’s a person who represents regular people, who’s fighting to solve everyday problems.

That’s an outsider.

 

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Opinion | Inside the State House: Elections

by Steve Flowers Read Time: 3 min
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