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Opinion | The changing atmosphere at ASU

Josh Moon

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On Thursday, Alabama State University officials and administrators will travel to Concordia College in Selma to help.

Concordia, the nearly-100-year-old historically black college that has served the western portion of Alabama, is closing its doors for good. It can no longer afford to stay open.

ASU has long been a sister school to Concordia, and as such it will welcome many of Concordia’s students who wish to complete their degrees. But ASU officials aren’t stopping there.

According to a press release from ASU, numerous school officials — including a rep from each of ASU’s different colleges and its financial aid department — will travel to Concordia to work with its students who would like to transition from Concordia to ASU.

It’s a great move for everyone involved.

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And it’s a sign of the kind of leadership that ASU has sorely lacked in the past.

More than anything, bad press has killed ASU over the years. Some — maybe even most — of it has been the school’s own doing, as it skipped from one insane controversy to another.

But an even bigger problem has been the lack of imagination among the executive staff — the inability to consider grand ideas or to take the innovative approach.

That appears to be changing under new university president Quinton Ross.

For a school that so desperately needs to change its public image nothing could fit better than a president who will not just send regards and a press release to Concordia but will send a team; not just go to the State House to sway lawmakers into giving more, but will use his influence and connections to bring state lawmakers by the dozen to ASU to show them where their money is being spent; not just rely on the same methods of fundraising to offset the debt he’s inherited from past administrations, but will use government programs to restructure that debt.

This is the sort of change that makes a lasting difference for ASU.

Because let’s be honest: there are a whole bunch of people who want to see the place fail. Those people love to see stories in the local media of ASU officials bickering or screwing up or doing generally dumb things.

So they can point and laugh at the black college. (Or, if you’re a governor, so you can, with very little resistance, cripple a funding source for state Democrats.)

If you doubt this, let me ask you a question: What is the long term credit ratings for Auburn University or the University of Alabama? What about UAB? Troy? AUM?

Of course you don’t know.

But if you read any one of a half dozen news sources from around the state last week, you learned that ASU’s had recently been downgraded due to past debt and high board turnover. And in some places, you also learned that ASU’s long-term outlook had been labeled “stable,” which was quite the improvement.

Overall, the long-term outlook forecast was probably a bigger deal than the initial debt downgrade, but … why?

Why on earth do I know this information about ASU and not about any other university in the state?

Why does ASU get so much attention?

Simple: Because stories that paint ASU in an unfavorable light draw eyeballs (clicks, hits, engagement, viewers, etc.).

This is a simple fact. Trust me, I’ve seen the numbers.

The only way to change that reality is to introduce a new one.

Ross seems to understand that. Unlike past administrations, his doesn’t seem to be focused on the singular approach of complaining about bad news. Instead, they’re working to introduce their own narrative, provide their own news stories.

It’s an approach that other universities and companies use all the time. Because it’s effective and it’s fair.

And in ASU’s case, it’s reality-altering.

 

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Elections

Opinion | Kay Ivey’s official calendar is surprisingly empty

Josh Moon

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In late-August and early-September, there was one question dominating Alabama’s governor’s race.

Where is Kay Ivey?

The governor at that point had scarcely been seen in a few days. In one 10-day stretch, she held no public events and somehow managed to avoid even local ribbon cuttings and bridge openings. And her opponent’s campaign was raising questions about her lack of activity.

Walt Maddox, at that point, had already challenged Ivey to a series of debates. She declined, offering a number of excuses, including that she was “busy governing the state.” She had also told her Republican primary challengers that she was “too busy” to debate them.

So, I wanted to know: Who was telling the truth? Was it a big deal? Was Ivey too busy?

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There was only one way to find out: I filed an Alabama Open Records Act request for Ivey’s official calendar for a three-week span (Aug. 24 through Sept. 14).

That span, I figured, would provide a solid look into Ivey’s days and would cover all of the days that the Maddox campaign had questioned her whereabouts.

On Wednesday, after paying $17 and some change to a public entity to produce public records that the public had already paid to be produced once, APR was provided with copies of Ivey’s official calendar.

Counting every entry on the calendar for 21 days — including travel time to and from the governor’s mansion (which apparently takes 30 minutes) and air travel to a variety of meetings and ribbon cuttings — there are less than 60 hours accounted for.

That’s less than three hours per day.

But it’s actually worse than that, because most of that time is compacted into a handful of days, leaving large chunks of time — whole calendar pages — simply blank.

In total, seven days were blank. Three other days had just one entry.

In one calendar week — Sunday, Sept. 2, thru Saturday, Sept. 8 — Ivey’s calendar shows just three and a half hours of scheduled time.

That week, her days were completely blank on Sunday, Labor Day Monday and Tuesday. She had a single phone call on Wednesday and a single meeting on Thursday. She hosted the Alabama Association of Regional Councils on Friday morning and wrapped up the grueling week with a proclamation signing at 10:30 a.m. that Friday.

I’ll remind you that this is the governor — a governor in the midst of a campaign.

You would think her calendar would be crammed with events and meetings and staff scrums and trips all over the place.

But … there’s just nothing.

And that’s not normal. I know that for a fact.

I’ve been to the Alabama Archives and sorted through the official calendars for the last three governors of this state. None of their calendars look like Ivey’s. Not even close.

I shared photos on Facebook Wednesday night of entries from random days on Robert Bentley’s calendar. In some instances, his days spilled over onto a second page.

The same was true with Bob Riley. His days, like Bentley’s, seemed to be planned from morning until night. Every day. Even on the weekends.

What’s happening with Kay Ivey should raise eyebrows and a ton of questions. Mainly: Can she actually do this job?

I think that’s a fair question at this point, after the public freeze-ups, the long disappearances, the managed time by her staff, the refusal to debate, and now these nearly blank calendar days.

And then there are two other questions:

Who is running this state?

And who are you voting for?

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Elections

Opinion | A breakdown of Ivey’s ever-changing story on her Colorado illness, trooper demotion

Josh Moon

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It’s tough to keep a good lie going.

The problem isn’t so much the original lie, even if it’s a doozy. The trouble comes on the back side, when you have to start piling lies on top of lies to make that original lie hold up. And then you have to keep it all straight.

The Kay Ivey administration knows what I’m talking about.

Unless a whole bunch of other people are lying, Ivey and her staff have been lying all over the place to try and cover up a 2015 incident in which Ivey, then the state’s lieutenant governor, suffered a series of mini-strokes. Or at least something that appeared to be mini-strokes, or TIAs.

They’ve been scrambling ever since.

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And over such a dumb lie, too. Who cares if a 70-year-old woman had a mini-stroke, or something that appeared to be a mini-stroke? Hell, 30-year-old men and women who are in decent shape have those things. They’re not necessarily indicative of poor overall health, although they do indicate a higher risk for future strokes.

But still, why lie? I’m guessing a lot more people would vote for a gubernatorial candidate who admitted to having a mini-stroke than for one who everyone knows is lying about a mini-stroke and who wrongly punished a state trooper for simply following the protocols of his job.

It seems Ivey now finds herself in the latter category. And I think it’s important to understand how we got here.

In this world of abundant news, it’s easy to forget facts and leave entries off the timeline. So, let’s paint this full picture.

Ivey’s “health issue” occurred in 2015 when she was in Colorado Springs for a meeting of the Aerospace States Association. According to her own comments about the incident, she felt lightheaded during the meeting’s opening day, a Friday, and was admitted to the hospital that day. She was released on Sunday.

For the better part of two years, the coverup of the incident was successful, because, let’s be honest, who really cares what’s happening in the personal life of the lieutenant governor. But shortly after Ivey ascended to the big chair following Robert Bentley’s embarrassing demise, whispers about her poor health began.

In May 2017, citing multiple sources close to the governor, APR’s Bill Britt published the first account of the health scare and the coverup, including details of Ivey having a state trooper working her security detail, Drew Brooks, demoted and shipped off to work in a drivers license office in Houston County.

Ivey and her top officials screamed it was fake news.

In multiple settings, including a sitdown interview with al.com’s Mike Cason, Ivey and her chief of staff, Steve Pelham, flatly denied almost all of it.

Ivey said she had actually suffered from “altitude sickness,” which apparently requires a three-day hospital stay now. She told al.com’s Leada Gore that the trooper, Brooks, was “promoted,” because working drivers licenses in Dothan at a 25-percent pay reduction is every cop’s dream assignment.

Pelham told Cason that there was no directive and no punishment.

And for a while, it all died down.

But on Tuesday, the bad lie came back to life, as they have a tendency to do. This time, Britt had a bigger story: Collier, the head of ALEA, was on the record backing up every word of what Britt and APR reported back in 2017.

And we got the receipts too.

Collier, the guy who actually signed Brooks’ transfer order, confirmed that Ivey’s head of security reported to him in 2015 that Ivey was suffering from “stroke-like symptoms” and was being rushed to the hospital in Colorado. Collier reported that information to Bentley and remained in contact with the security detail.

Sometime after Ivey returned from that trip, she summoned Collier to the law offices of Balch & Bingham, because those offices are the Alabama equivalent to the Bada Bing, apparently, where all the bad plans in the state are concocted. At that meeting, she informed Collier that she wanted Brooks demoted and transferred, and claimed Brooks had attempted to hack her email.

Documents obtained by APR show that Brooks — who Ivey and Pelham claimed was promoted — was actually forced off the lieutenant governor’s security detail — a highly sought after position with top pay — and moved to Dothan to give license exams for about $300 less per month in salary.

Does that sound like a promotion?

But you know what’s coming now, right? More lies to cover up the faltering lies.

Later on Tuesday, Ivey’s office released another letter from her doctor to prove that she is in great health and absolutely, 100-percent has never had a stroke. Small problem: in discussing the Colorado incident, Ivey’s doctor stated that she was hospitalized in Denver, which is a little more than an hour from Colorado Springs, where Ivey was when she became ill.

It’s tough to imagine a three-day hospitalization at a large hospital an hour away for altitude sickness. But then, this isn’t my (fictional) story.

So far, the Ivey camp hasn’t addressed Collier’s allegations about Brooks. Instead, Ivey tried to blame the whole thing on Walt Maddox, which, if true, really confirms that we should all be voting for Maddox because that dude’s a wizard.

It’s a sad state of affairs. But that’s usually the case when lies start to unravel.   

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Opinion | Maddox is pro-life, pro-gun — and the Ivey campaign is freaking out

Josh Moon

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The Kay Ivey campaign threw a bit of a hissy fit earlier this week.

You probably missed it, since it took place mostly on old fashioned radio and rightwing blogs, but there was outrage aplenty.

Because Walt Maddox, who’s running against Ivey for governor, released his first statewide campaign ad and revealed that he’s both pro-life and pro-second amendment.

And whooooo boy, the Ivey campaign went crazy.

In a bizarre, angry statement, Ivey’s handlers called Maddox a liar — an allegation for which they offered zero proof — and then tossed in some Sarah Palin-like buzzwords and pretended to be just aghast that Maddox would say such things.

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“Walt Maddox promises not to lie, yet he just told two lies in 30 seconds. That takes lying to a whole new level – even for a politician like Walt Maddox,” the Ivey campaign wrote, and then paused for a breath.

While that all might seem a bit over the top, it’s actually understandable.

Because the phony issues of abortion and guns are all the Ivey campaign has.

If they can’t use those, and instead have to run on Ivey’s record of staying the hell out of sight, they’re toast. And they know it.

So, they can’t sit idly by and allow Maddox to tell people what he believes. They have to attack him and call him a liar.

And as proof of his lies, they offer … well, nothing.

Because mayors, like governors, don’t have a voice in the abortion argument. So, Maddox has no record of opposing abortion. He has two children, so he’s at least been pro-life twice. And there’s nothing to suggest that he doesn’t believe exactly what he says he does.

As for guns, I have a newsflash for you rightwingers: lots of people on the left own and enjoy shooting firearms of all sorts. Quite a few of us are pretty good at it. And even more of us think that owning a gun for personal protection is a right that we’d like to protect.

The fact is there are a whole bunch of Democrats who fall all over the map on both issues. Because both issues, despite what the fringes of both sides would have you believe, are incredibly complicated and nuanced.

Of course, that’s not the way the Ivey campaign wants to present them. There’s only abortion and not abortion, guns and not guns.

But how Ivey herself would respond to the specifics of each question — for example, what would she do in the instances of rape, or does she favor stronger protections to prevent the mentally ill from obtaining firearms — is unknown.

That’s because she’s refused to debate, where the specifics of complicated issues often get exposed as candidates go back and forth and voters are given an opportunity to better understand the issues and the candidates’ positions.

Ivey has run scared from those, because she knows the truth.

Walt Maddox isn’t some super-liberal. He’s a moderate with a better track record of actually doing things. If Ivey participated in a debate with Maddox, and his actual views and ideas were presented side-by-side with hers, all the PAC money in the world couldn’t save her.

Instead of debating, Ivey continues to hide behind her PR people and participate in 2-minute press scrums and softball radio interviews — places where she can toss out folksy soundbites without ever being truly challenged on her beliefs, lack of ideas and zero accomplishments.

Her handlers are hoping to do just enough to distract voters from these facts.

Maddox took away two of their shiny objects this week.

That’s why they were so mad.

 

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Elections

Opinion | 2017 Steve Marshall vs. 2018 Steve Marshall

Josh Moon

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2017 Steve Marshall would really hate 2018 Steve Marshall.

Do you remember 2017 Steve Marshall?

That fresh-faced guy who rolled into Montgomery, appointed by Robert Bentley, and swearing to follow the law and exhibit ethics and morals and junk? He wasn’t going to compromise himself or operate a quid pro quo AG’s office.

And the one thing that 2017 Steve Marshall was absolutely sure of was that Alabama’s ban on PAC-to-PAC transfers was legal and righteous and “the only legal protection standing between Alabama voters and the reality or appearance of quid pro quo corruption.”

Those were 2017 Steve Marshall’s words.

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And we know he meant them, because he put them on paper and filed them in a court of law, where he has an obligation to be truthful.

That’s how 2017 Steve Marshall described Alabama’s ban on PAC-to-PAC transfers in a court filing defending that law.

Marshall’s opponent for the AG’s seat, Joseph Siegelman, pointed out 2017 Steve Marshall’s words in a letter Siegelman sent to the Alabama Ethics Commission on Oct. 4. APR obtained a copy of that letter, which spells out in detail how Marshall violated the law he was defending and has since contradicted himself in his explanations.

Marshall’s violation is easy to follow. He took money from a PAC funded by the Republican Attorneys General Association. That PAC accepts money from other PACs and from PACs that participate in PAC-to-PAC transfers, therefore making almost all of the money in that PAC illegal to accept in Alabama.

2018 Steve Marshall took in $735,000 worth of that illegal money.

Somewhere, 2017 Steve Marshall is sooooo disappointed.

Because 2017 Steve Marshall didn’t just believe that Alabama’s ban on PAC transfer money — a method used to hide the original source of campaign donations — was good, he also believed that accepting such money was illegal.

As Siegelman points out in his letter to the Ethics Commission, 2017 Steve Marshall also argued in that same court filing that Alabama’s ban made those contributions illegal: “No PAC has any right to receive PAC-transferred funds for making candidate contributions.”

That seems fairly cut and dried, right?

Well, see, that’s where 2018 Steve Marshall would beg to differ. Because 2018 Steve Marshall believes he’s found a loophole in that law.

Now, you might be asking yourself why the AG of Alabama would be looking for a loophole to circumvent a law that he described as so important that it was Alabamians’ only legal protection against quid pro quo corruption. Well, obviously, the answer is money and power at all costs, but let’s set that aside for a moment.

Because 2018 Steve Marshall’s loophole is stupid. And in no way a loophole.

Siegelman points out that 2018 Steve Marshall has essentially taken two approaches: First, in court filings, he has claimed that decades’ old guidance documents issued by the Alabama Secretary of State’s office say that federal PACs do not have to adhere to Alabama law.

That is not accurate, and the executive director of the Ethics Commission is on record stating that the SOS office has been told repeatedly that its documents are inaccurate because of the new law, which was passed in 2010. Additionally, 2018 Steve Marshall’s office is fully aware of the law and the fact that former AG Luther Strange was forced to return identical RAGA donations because they violated the law.

Second, 2018 Steve Marshall went on TV earlier this year, after being challenged on the donations, and made the claim that the violation of the law wasn’t on him, but on the PAC. Basically, he’s saying that the law prohibits PAC-to-PAC transfers, doesn’t say anything about accepting them.

Except, well, it does.

As Siegelman explains in his letter, the statute that bans PAC-to-PAC transfers also requires the candidate who receives funds that are in violation of the ban to return those funds within 10 days to avoid criminal prosecution.

Guess who still hasn’t returned his RAGA PAC donations?

2017 Steve Marshall would not be happy.

 

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Opinion | The changing atmosphere at ASU

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