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Opinion | Countdown to the end of session: Don’t let the screen door hit you

Bill Britt

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As the 2018 legislative sessions sprints towards the finish line, it is too early to count the winners and losers accurately. Perhaps it is enough to identify the heroes and villains — or merely recognize survivors. But even those player categories are a bit elusive for now, but they are coming into focus in these final days.

The twentieth legislative day finds over 900 bills introduced, 175 being approved by both chambers, 93 enacted, 71 awaiting the governor’s signature and 11 constitutional amendment bills pending referendum.

Like any royal court, there are those who have obtained new favor and those who have slid back a rung or two.

So far, the most notable survivor is BCA’s Billy Canary who, against all the odds, still hangs on to his chairmanship at the once valued business alliance. But like his dear friend, convicted felon and former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, his survival is more dependent on the endurance of his foes than the resolve of his allies.

While Canary’s supporters have rallied to keep him in place, those who would see corruption ousted from power steadily gather strength as they understand that real progress for the state is not possible as long as he leads at BCA. Perhaps the only answer is to bring the entire organization to its knees in order to remove the cancer that infects it. So, Canary remains for now, but nothing is so inevitable in life as change.

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On a brighter note, a most noticeable change in the 2018 session is that under the leadership of House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, politics is no longer a zero-sum game as it was under his predecessor, disgraced felon Hubbard. Some would mistake McCutcheon’s fairness for weakness, but longtime political observers see his evenhandedness as a sign of quiet confidence often lacking in iron-fisted demagogues. For Hubbard and the like, it is never enough to win, but the other side must lose.

There is little doubt that Gov. Kay Ivey’s commerce secretary and the state’s attorney general have fostered lies and deception in their drive to pass HB317, a bill that will essentially gut portions of the state’s ethics laws.

Gov. Ivey asks Pro Tem Marsh to press forward with controversial bill

Today, the bill is set to go before the Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee for consideration. While it may pass out of committee in deference to its Senate sponsor, President Pro Tem Del Marsh, it will most likely die on the Senate floor should it be unwisely pulled from the basket.

On Tuesday, two retiring Senators joked about how if HB317 passes, they will both immediately sign on as “less than full-time” economic development professionals next year, taking advantage of aspects of the law that circumvent the “revolving door” statutes of the state’s ethics laws.

HB317 not only opens a loophole to bypass current ethics laws, it also allows lawmakers and public officials to leave office and start over as economic development professionals without violating that revolving door statute. Imagine the pain endured by Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield as he has watches others make millions off economic development while he has had to settle with traveling the world like an aging playboy on the taxpayers’ dime.

Should HB317 pass as written, Canfield can leave office next year and take advantage of the riches he has been denied as a public servant. Perhaps he will be joined by AG Steve Marshall in a remake of a sad but hilarious buddy movie in which the pair is cast as losers in a situation where they are woefully inept at finding their dream until the last minute of the film.

Shameful efforts to break the state ethics laws by piecemeal legislation is likely to be the legacy of the 2018 session.

Opinion | Piecemeal approach to ethics reform continues, and it’s questionable

Despite the pitfalls of HB317 and HB387, on Monday Marsh said, “I’ve been in contact with the attorney general and the ethics commissioner,” and, “There are two bills that I’m looking at, that’s [HB317] one of them, that deal with ethics. Those are the two bills that I will consider.” So it is likely that there will be one last push to break the ethics laws, which is a shameful ending to this “non-controversial” spectacle of a legislative session.

But then, just maybe, it’s the beginning of the end when we finally say goodbye, so long and don’t let the screen door hit you to the many bad actors who have plagued our state since Hubbard and his cronies stormed the State House in 2010.

 

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Bill Britt

A move to reunify BCA is underway

Bill Britt

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Reconciliation efforts are underway to salvage the Business Council of Alabama after a very public split with some of its most influential members.

Those close to the negotiations speaking on background say recent talks have been productive, but there are still many details that must be agreed upon before a reunification occurs.

The forced exit of President and CEO Billy Canary earlier this month was the first step toward restoring BCA’s reputation and mending fences.

Individuals who are negotiating rapprochement are looking to restructure BCA’s governance to ensure that any future leader will not exercise the unchecked authority wielded by Canary. They also want to make BCA more equitable, fair and balanced in its representation of its members.

Beyond the mechanics of structure is the need for a strong leader who can restore not only confidence in the once powerful organization but also one who can navigate the state’s political landscape while enduring the inevitable discord that comes with change.

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There is a level of hope that an improved structure and new leadership might be in place by BCA’s summer conference, which begins August 10 at Point Clear. But even those involved in the process know it’s a tall order to fill given the short window of opportunity.

Perhaps the most significant challenge is identifying an individual who can articulate a vision for BCA, inspire confidence in its members and ensure elected officials that they are dealing with an honest broker.

There is much at stake in the upcoming legislative session, not only because it is the first year of the quadrennium, when hard tasks are generally achieved, but the 2019 session will also welcome many new legislators not necessarily in step with BCA due to a bruising primary season.

People may forgive, but they often do not forget, and there are many bridges to build.

Lawmakers will be wise to remember the warning of President Ronald Reagan, “Trust but verify.”

For a revitalizing transition to occur, a clean sweep of BCA’s leadership team is imperative, as those who served the old guard must be replaced or else it’s a false start doomed to fail.

BCA would be wise to move away from the partisan approach taken over the last eight years and look to establish relationships that favor business-friendly legislation without bright lines of division.

In business as in life, sharp breaks are sometimes required and often are inevitable, but this doesn’t have to be one of those times.

Now is an hour for wise deliberation, difficult choices and bold resolve to strengthen the entire business community and not merely to fortify the narrow interests of a few.

Over the last year, good and honest leaders called for BCA to do what was right. That fight hopefully can be put aside to now do what is best.

 

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Bill Britt

The fix was in

Bill Britt

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Montgomery Circuit Judge James Anderson’s ruling to allow out-of-state political action committees to donate to in-state campaigns without disclosing its donors through PAC-to-PAC transfers may be the legal fulcrum Democrats need to target key Republican officeholders in the state.

On Wednesday, attorney general candidate Troy King filed a lawsuit in Montgomery County Circuit Court seeking a restraining order to prevent his opponent, appointed Attorney General Steve Marshall, and his campaign from using donations it received from the Republican Attorney Generals Association (RAGA) which doesn’t disclose some of its mega-donors by using PAC-to-PAC transfers.

Judge Anderson ruled against King and dismissed the lawsuit in Marshall’s favor.

Marshall, unlike an ordinary plaintiff, wasn’t present at the hearing before Judge Anderson, which should have alerted the public that the fix was already in.

The State’s Ethics Commission will likely weigh-in on King’s question soon— finding that RAGA’s actions were unlawful—but Thursday’s judgment holds for now, with no consequences for Marshall, win or lose.

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In 2010, the state’s newly minted Republican supermajority outlawed PAC-to-PAC transfers as part of its effort to show voters that there was a new day in Montgomery politics.

Since 2010, both Republicans and Democrats have found ways to circumvent FPCA restrictions, but until Thursday, there wasn’t a court ruling that opened a flooded-gate to renew PAC-to-PAC campaigns using outside interest groups.

Republican conservatives who believe that undisclosed donors shouldn’t control the state’s election process through hidden contributions should worry.

Is it now legal for pro-abortion groups to finance judicial races with stealth campaign donations to defeat pro-life candidates like Supreme Court Justices like Tom Parker?

What about Gov. Kay Ivey? Is it now legal for The Democratic Governors Association (DGA) to upend her campaign with hidden contributions to her rival, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox?

Ethic Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton has all but definitively stated that RAGA’s contributions are illegal, but it’s too little too late for this election.

Perhaps none of this matters because it seems that many of the Republicans who passed these bans in 2010, don’t seem to honestly believe in them or any of the ethics reforms that they once championed.

So once again, it’s winning, not the law, that matters, or as a prominent Montgomery attorney said, “When you have a Democrat judge, a Democrat lawyer and a Democrat attorney general what else did you expect?”

More, I guess.

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | BCA takes out the trash, finally

Bill Britt

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In a last-ditch effort to save the Business Council of Alabama from the dung heap of political obscurity, President and CEO Billy Canary was pushed out of the business association late last Friday after he waged an ugly and protracted battle to remain in power.

Canary’s fight to keep his job has left the once powerful business interests a hollow and factored alliance with an uncertain future. He didn’t care if he destroyed BCA; it was all about his ambitions.

For years, Canary, along with now-convicted felon former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard and former Gov. Bob Riley, reigned over an unparalleled orgy of greed and corruption.

Canary, Hubbard and Riley’s perverse domination of the state’s political landscape was supreme, and even now, the tentacles of their profiteering are evident from the Capitol to the State House and beyond.

Even during this election cycle, Canary has used BCA’s political arm, Progress PAC, to back disreputable candidates who seek to overturn the state ethics laws that convicted Hubbard, advocate for so-called education reform that profits Riley’s business interests and to stall efforts to create a statewide lottery in favor of gambling concessions for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.

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During Hubbard’s last years in office, PCI Vice Chair Robbie McGhee joined forces with Hubbard, in hopes of exercising more sway over Republican legislators. Over the previous year, he coupled the tribe to Canary with the same end in mind. McGhee, who faces a reelection challenge in August, casts himself as a Hubbard-Canary protege. Even now, he tells candidates who come calling for campaign contributions, “We are BCA,” meaning the tribe, under Canary, is controlling many decisions being made at the business association.

McGee, like Hubbard and Canary, is viewed by many as a pariah in the state capital where he still hopes to further the Tribe’s gambling operations by lavishing money and entertainment on Republican lawmakers. Twice now, McGhee has chosen poorly and tarnished the Tribe’s reputation in the bargain. With McGhee’s backing, Canary gave at least $250,000.00 to appointed Attorney General Steve Marshall so that he will continue Riley’s bingo wars.

Hubbard stands convicted on 12 felony counts of using his office for personal gain and other criminal violations of the state’s Ethics Act, yet he remains free because of the corrupting influence of Canary and others of his ilk.

During Hubbard’s trial, Canary said, “I love Mike Hubbard like a brother.” He even waxed poetic, saying his friendship with Hubbard, “Blossomed like any blessing in life.”

So infectious are the remnants of their power that even after two years Hubbard remains free because Court of Criminal Appeals Justices Samuel Henry Welch, J. Elizabeth Kellum, Liles C. Burke and J. Michael Joiner will not rule on his conviction.

Canary, in a face-saving announcement, says he is taking a position as a, “senior fellow at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce,” which is a nothing job.

Canary, like Hubbard and Riley, pimped the state like a cheap whore, and now he’s busted for the user he is. He left BCA in shambles, and don’t think for a minute that the coalition that left BCA isn’t coming back just because the executive committee finally took out the trash.

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Opinion | Countdown to the end of session: Don’t let the screen door hit you

by Bill Britt Read Time: 4 min
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