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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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Opinion | Why do Alabama governors insist on taking the unpopular path?

Josh Moon

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We’re doing it again.

The same thing. We’re doing the same thing again, and hoping for a different outcome. Which I believe is the definition of insanity. And that might as well be our state motto at this point.

Alabama: The Insane State.

The state where the people continue to elect people who promise to do the same things as the last people who we hated, and who will eventually totally renege on those promises and try to do the opposite.

Case in point: Kay Ivey.

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At her inauguration on Monday, Ivey was all smiles and upbeat rhetoric. She talked of steadying the ship and putting Alabamians back to work. And she was governor while those things happened, so the rules say she gets credit, even if it’s mighty tough to pinpoint exactly what it is that she did to cause any of those good things.

But Ivey also dropped a few hints about the future.

To no one’s surprise, she discussed a gas tax without ever saying the word “tax,” and she talked about a new prison construction proposal.

Actually, neither of those ideas is “new,” and the proposals Ivey and the Legislature will put forth in the coming months won’t be new either. We’ve been talking about prisons for three years now, if not longer, and the gas tax was kicked around during the last legislative session.

And both will be met with roughly the same amount of disdain by voters this time around.

No matter how badly we might need to renovate our current prisons or build new ones, the average Alabama voter doesn’t want to do that. In fact, those voters have proven to be amazingly willing to let prisoners out of jail, if the alternative is a higher tax bill.

And on the gas tax front, yeah, that’s a big ol’ no.

I’m sorry, but you can’t set up a state income tax system that charges janitors more than CEOs, leaving the state with consistently no money to make necessary repairs to infrastructure, and then ask the working stiffs to pick up the bill for those repairs when things fall completely apart. And make them pay for it by charging them more to get to work every day.  

I don’t care that we just held elections and most lawmakers are safe for another four years. You vote for that sort of a tax on working people, and it’ll hang around your neck for the rest of your political career. What’s left of it.

If you doubt this, ask Robert Bentley.

He tried something similar. Actually, come to think of it, he was a lot like Ivey following his re-election in 2014. Very popular. Had pledged not to raise taxes. Was generally trusted by most people around the state.

And then he hit people with a proposal for a cigarette tax.

His whole world blew up from that point forward.

Because it’s not right. Taxing gas or taxing cigarettes is a coward’s tax.

It’s an admission that you know we don’t have enough revenue but you’re not brave enough to attack the real problem — to raise property taxes or restructure our state income tax.

Or to do what’s popular: Legalize gambling.

Why do Alabama Republicans continue to run from legalized gaming? It makes zero sense, considering the massive edge they hold in statewide voting and the unprecedented popularity of gambling among Republican voters.

Poll after poll shows that conservative voters in Alabama now massively favor legalizing gambling. In one of the more recent polls, more than 60 percent of likely Republican voters were in favor of a vote to legalize full-fledged casinos with sportsbooks.

And yet, Ivey, like the two governors who came before her, will stand on a stage at her inauguration and push for two completely unpopular ideas —— prisons and a gas tax — but never speak of the one subject that’s both popular and could raise enough money to pay for the infrastructure repairs. And the prisons.

So, here we are again. Another governor who thinks she can thumb her nose at the will of the people. Another governor who seems hellbent on ignoring a popular solution. Another fight that will lead to nowhere.

Insanity. That’s what it is.

 

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Crime

Opinion | Slain Birmingham officer needed our help

Josh Moon

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On Sunday, Birmingham Police Sergeant Wytasha Carter was shot and killed by some criminals who were apparently trying to break into cars.

Carter died at the scene. His partner was also shot, and remains in critical condition at UAB Hospital.

It was senseless. And stupid. And maddening.

And not at all unpredictable.

In fact, it’s astounding that it has taken this long for a cop in one of the most violent cities in America — one of the most violent industrialized nations on earth — to be killed. Carter was the first police officer murdered in the city in 14 years.

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In that same city, more than 200 people have been killed — most of them by gunfire — in just the past TWO YEARS.

And it will get worse.

It will get worse because we continue to turn a blind eye to the root causes of the violence that permeates our major cities: under-education, extreme poverty, drug use and a flood of easy-to-obtain firearms.

To put that another way: you have large groups of people who are hopeless, desperate and angry. They have been failed at every step of their lives — by their parents, their government, their schools and their justice system. They have been immersed in horrific violence since birth. They have no idea what acceptable conflict resolution even is, much less how to practice it. And they have been afforded ridiculously easy access to any firearm they would like.

A few years ago, as Montgomery suffered through one of the ugliest and deadliest years on record, I spent several days essentially hanging out in the highest crime neighborhoods — the projects, the abandoned apartment buildings, the neighborhoods you tell your kids to avoid when they start driving.

What I found was depressing.

Because these were not bad people, They were not lazy or unmotivated. They were not happy with their lives, nor were they particularly hostile.

They were hopeless.

Every single day mothers in those neighborhoods sent their kids off to schools that they knew were failing them. Every day, they prayed that their kids found some crack to slip through and into a better life — maybe they would be great at sports or a gifted student who landed in a magnet program or … hell, anything.

But deep down, they knew.

They knew that at some point reality would take hold. Their kids, lured by quick and easy money, would fall into the gangs. The violence and crime would take root and become common. Juvenile detention facilities would follow. And probably, if their kids survived, jail and prison.

The stories are more nuanced, and there are more twists and turns along the way, but this was life in a nutshell for a good chunk of Alabama’s capital city.

The people had no hope.

And when such a thing happens, when you remove hope from hurting people, you also remove a valuation of life. Their life seems to be so utterly unvalued by everyone, so why should they value yours?

Or a cop’s?

This is where we are. And it’s getting worse.

You can get angry and stomp your feet and pretend that sticking kids in electric chairs or locking ‘em all up is going to solve it, but it’s not. Deep down, after centuries of that nonsense, surely you all know that by now.

The only thing that will solve it is love.

Until we love the poor kids, the black kids, the brown kids and all of the other kids who are a little bit different, this will never get better. Until we are as invested in the kids who dress in ratty clothes and have bad attitudes, in the kids who don’t speak the language well and who fight first and ask questions later, we will continue to produce murderers and cop killers.

It seems that Sgt. Carter knew this.

In interviews with local media outlets, those who knew Carter best said he served Birmingham because he wanted to make a difference in his city. He wanted kids and the good people to feel some measure of safety. He wanted kids to know there were alternatives to the gangs..

But mostly, he wanted the people in the worst parts of his city to simply know that someone cared about them.

Sgt. Carter didn’t die because his efforts were naive or misguided, or because the people he tried to help are too hopeless.

He died because not enough us joined him.

 

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Opinion | There’s a reason the state legislature has no oversight of the AHSAA

Josh Moon

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Kyle South is the reason that the Alabama Legislature has no authority over the Alabama High School Athletic Association.

South, a Republican state representative from Fayette, announced on Wednesday that he would be filing legislation that, if passed, would give the state legislature and the Alabama Department of Education some oversight of AHSAA rulings and governance.

Except … they can’t.

The AHSAA, in its current form, was established by a federal court order in 1968. That order gives it unique standing and authority, specifically removing it from the reaches of misguided, misinformed, overzealous and downright ignorant politicians motivated by personal interests, personal gain and personal relationships.

In other words, it is protected from politicians like Kyle South and the 87 House members who have signed on as co-sponsors to an unwritten piece of legislation. (Which tells you a lot about Alabama. We have raw sewage causing 19th century parasites to return in Lowndes County, and not whimper, but someone not being able to play a game draws three-quarters of the House.)

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It’s not hard to understand why South and so many other politicians are up in arms about the Maori Davenport situation. When you’ve lived your life governed by the Alabama Ethics Commission and working in the most corrupt state house in America, it must be quite the shock to the system to see a governing body actually uphold rules and apply them properly.

That’s what happened in Davenport case.

In case you’re somehow unaware, Maori Davenport is the now-famous high school player from Troy’s Charles Henderson High who was ruled ineligible by the AHSAA for accepting and cashing an $857.20 check mistakenly sent to her by USA Basketball. The check was compensation for her time playing for the US U18 national team, which was supposed to only be sent to college players, but was inadvertently sent to the three high school players.

Everyone involved in this, including officials from the AHSAA who I’ve spoken with, believe Davenport to be an innocent victim of a series of poor choices and bad mistakes. But in the end, the AHSAA found that the actions of Davenport’s mother violated the state’s amateurism rule. It ruled Maori Davenport ineligible and that ruling was unanimously upheld by two different committees — following hours of hearings — made up of 19 principals, athletic directors and superintendents from districts all around Alabama.

You would think that such widespread agreement among lifelong educators — the overwhelming majority of whom wouldn’t know Maori Davenport if she was standing in the room next to them — would cause elected leaders to pause and wonder if maybe they don’t know the entire story before jumping on this bandwagon.

But then, why take that time when there’s so much free PR out there?

Had they bothered to take any time, or to, say, call any of the board members and ask questions, phone up the AHSAA and talk to executive director Steve Savarese, what they would have heard was a story much different than the one presented in most media stories, and particularly the one presented by ESPN’s Jay Bilas.

That’s not entirely the media’s fault. The AHSAA can’t officially discuss most of what led to its decision to suspend Davenport, which leaves media outlets with one side screaming about unfair treatment and the other side sitting behind bland, lawyered-up statements.

But on background, and under their breath, and in quiet voices, many of the people directly involved in this case are happy to talk — eager to talk. And what they’ll tell you, and show you, are facts that explain their unanimous votes.

These people who work for the AHSAA and serve on their boards didn’t ask for the unending downpour of stupidity that is falling on them. But they’re fairly used to it at this point. They get it constantly for doing a thankless job that often allows incompetent or corrupt coaches and parents to hide from the blame that come from situations like Davenport’s.

Situations in which parents and coaches and principals fail miserably and intentionally, and then blame the AHSAA for hurting the player.

And right on cue, here comes a pandering bunch of politicians, smelling easy votes like sharks smell blood, working on half information and full emotion.

Which is exactly why the AHSAA isn’t beholden to the state legislature. It’s one of the main reasons it still functions semi-effectively.

 

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Opinion | ALGOP House rule changes eliminate democracy

Josh Moon

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Elections have consequences.

In Alabama, the consequence is the death of democracy.

Or, at least, it will be if the Republicans who increased their supermajority stronghold in the state Legislature in November have their way.

On Monday, APR received a copy of Republicans’ proposed rules changes for the upcoming 2019 legislative session. The changes are set to be approved in upcoming organizational meetings.

There is a clear theme: No more debate.

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Of any kind. Anywhere in the State House.

Republicans are proposing cutting debate time on the special order calendar, which allowed members to debate for two hours over which bills would hit the floor for consideration, and they want to speed through any bills being read at length.

They also want to give the Speaker of the House the authority to remove unruly people from the House chambers, including active representatives. They also want to allow every committee chairman to have the same authority in committee meetings.

The exact language gives the Speaker and committee chairmen the authority to remove other elected representatives for UP TO A FULL DAY in instances in which those members — or members of the general public attending the meetings or House sessions — “breach the peace.”

Now, just what “breach the peace” means, who knows? Because it’s not defined in the proposed changes.

But something tells me that voicing displeasure over spineless lawmakers melting into mush around the lobbyists for big business would be a breach.

As would lawmakers passionately questioning other members’ morals when the latter chooses money over the safety of children attending unlicensed daycare facilities.

The Speaker also will have the authority, under the proposed changes, to oust observers from the public gallery for creating a disturbance or even bringing a placard.

Basically, the ALGOP wants to do whatever it wants to do and it wants you to shut your damn mouth about it.

Oh, and it wants to run your county, too.

There’s already a rule on the books that requires any local bill — which are routinely handled by local legislative committees made up of reps from each county — that involves gambling or an environmental issue be sent through a standing House committee once approved by the local committee. Now they want ALL local bills involving constitutional amendments to first go through a standing committee.

Because it’s not enough that local bills are voted on by the full legislature. They want every opportunity to kill bills before those uppity Democrats in Jefferson, Montgomery and Mobile plant good ideas in everyone’s heads.

(Democrats believe they’ve successfully talked Republicans out of this change, but we’ll see.)

This is a shameful, and harmful, grab for unnecessary power.

Republicans can already do whatever they want to do. Democrats are virtually powerless to stop them. In fact, all the Dems can do is force debate and raise hell on the floor, maybe force GOP lawmakers to consider the consequences of their bills.

There’s a reason we have debate time. There’s a reason ample time is given for an exchange of ideas and to allow for opposing views to be heard. That’s sort of the basic idea of our entire government.

It’s anti-American to establish a system of governance in which you attempt to stifle debate from the outset. And it’s even worse to threaten dissension with ouster based on the Speaker’s discretion.

That’s a lot of power placed in the hands of one guy. Maybe I should remind you all that your last speaker is on his way to prison.

And maybe I should also remind you that the 2010 Republican takeover of the legislature should make it impossible for you to forget that no one stays in power forever. Eventually, the power will shift, even if it takes 100 years.

And today’s ridiculous power grabs will be tomorrow’s headaches.

 

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Opinion | The changing atmosphere at ASU

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