Connect with us

Joey Kennedy

Opinion | Let’s march: The #Neveragain reckoning on guns

Joey Kennedy



The second best news for me this week is that the Alabama Legislature isn’t going to do the knee-jerk thing of passing a law that’ll allow teachers to carry guns into the classroom, as a deterrent to some lunatic who might attack a school to massacre students.

The protection of our students from a mad gunman isn’t a teacher’s responsibility; it’s law enforcement’s – those trained to do that. I don’t want a school resource officer teaching the writing process or Robert Frost; the parents of my students don’t want me packing heat on the chance some nut is going to barge into my classroom shooting.

Besides, I have wasp spray.

The news that, at least for this year, the Legislature has some sanity on the arming-teachers-issue couldn’t come at a better time for the outstanding young people organizing and planning Saturday’s March for Our Lives events across the nation.

That’s the best news this week.


This movement started fewer than six weeks ago, after the Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where 17 students and teachers were killed and others injured.

The impressive students at Douglas High said: “Enough! Never Again!”

Sadly, since that tragic day Feb. 14, there have been other school shootings, including one right here in Birmingham, at Huffman High School, where a young woman who wanted to be a nurse died when a gun went off at the school.

Just this week, a Maryland high school was the scene of another shooting, where two students were injured and the shooter killed.

Will it ever be “Never Again”?

Probably not. But that doesn’t mean something can’t be done to lower the risk of this all-too-common devastation on our nation.

Saturday in Birmingham, we’ll have a March for Our Lives event that is expected to attract between 3,000 to 5,000 people. There will be a rally starting at 2 p.m. at Railroad Park, followed by the march. This is in conjunction with the national March for Our Lives event in Washington, D.C., and more than 725 marches across the nation and another 80-plus marches around the world in solidarity with the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students who ignited this movement.

#NeverAgain. #MSDStrong. #BanAssaultRifles

Those hashtags have been trending. They remain popular. And these young people are not going away. They’re scaring the National Rifle Association-owned politicians who want to be re-elected. Many of these “kids” will be voting this year, and that doesn’t bode well for the NRA politicians’ careers.

Still, those politicians are so afraid of the NRA they have done very little to ban all-access to military style weapons or bump stocks or huge ammunition magazines or even to allow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study gun violence as the serious health issue it is.

These politicians and the NRA have blood on their hands. The blood of our children. The blood of our teachers.


So Saturday, in Washington, D.C., and in Birmingham, Alabama, and in other cities in Alabama and in cities and towns across the nation and world, the children will march.

Ashley Causey, a senior at Helena High School, has been instrumental in organizing Birmingham’s march. No doubt, these teens will be happy they won’t have to worry about their teachers being armed, at least for the next year.

Teachers with dry-erase markers and a Glock .45? Please.

“No, definitely not,” said Causey this week. “We’re strongly against teachers having guns.”

This teacher is against teachers having guns, too. C’mon, we have papers to grade.

Causey and her peers, in less than six weeks, have organized a march, gathered people to offer voter registration and other services, raised nearly $10,000, and can’t wait for Saturday’s event.

Get there early; it’s going to be crowded.

But it’s not just the size of a crowd. Causey said there are events that have 30 or fewer people involved.

“Even the smallest group of people, if you are impassioned enough and determined, can make a difference,” Causey said. She and her peers certainly have.

Saturday’s March for Our Lives in Birmingham will start with a rally. Speakers include both students and adults – law enforcement, involved teens, teachers, kids with gun-violence experience, involved teens, and, of course, involved teens. This is mainly a student-led movement.

The primary purpose is to advocate for responsible gun restrictions, but Causey is clear:

“We’re open to anybody who wants any type of reform,” she said. Security will be tight at the event, but it’s open to all who want to see the gun culture in this state and country change, those who want to help ensure kids can go to school, and anybody can go to the movies, or to a nightclub, or to church, or to a music festival, without a serious threat of being killed by a shooter.

And here’s what matters most:

“You would have thought with Newtown (Conn., Sandy Hook), that would have been the breaking point,” Causey said. But, “I think this (Parkland, Fla.) has affected a group of people who are not going to stand down. We’re not going to let this get lost in the news. I don’t think that’s going to happen any more.

“We want to be sure we have a lasting effect,” Causey said.

Spring Break might have just ended; Saturday’s marches are just the beginning.

The NRA, many conservative politicians, conspiracy theorists, gun nuts, and others, have already underestimated these amazing Millennials.

Well, they do so at their own risk.

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


Continue Reading

Featured Columnists

Opinion | Straight-party suicide

Joey Kennedy



One wonders if the 2018 midterm elections will ever end. There are still races undecided, recounts going on all over the nation. The original thoughts that the results were only mildly in favor of Democrats on a national level have turned toward a true Blue wave, as Democrats continue to win close races in once-solidly Red districts and solidify their hold on the U.S. House and a few more state governments.

Well, except for Alabama. Our midterms are long over – apparently they were over even before state voters cast their (straight-ticket) ballots nine days ago.

There was such a Red wave in Alabama that even the closest statewide race between a Republican and Democrat was such a GOP landslide nobody even blinked. Instead, we yawned.

Oh, Alabama! We’re so far out of touch with the nation. Even Mississippi has a runoff between a Democrat and Republican. Georgia and Florida have marquee races that are still undecided. A Democrat flipped a U.S. Senate seat in Arizona. A diverse caravan of women have elbowed their way into that old, white man’s club in Congress.

We could have had some of that. We could have gone more progressive. Instead, we stayed solidly regressive.


Sure, a chunk of the problem is the dysfunctional Democratic Party of Alabama, which stood by while highly qualified candidates were massacred. If changes aren’t made in the state party, we’ll see more of the same, too. Even as the nation becomes ever more forward-thinking, ever more “we’ve got to dump Trump,” Alabama loves its status as one of the lowest-ranking states in quality-of-life issues. In education. In health care. In compassion for the least of these.

Hey, but we got that Ten Commandments constitutional amendment passed, one that’ll cost Alabama more money it doesn’t have in losing legal challenges.

We Dare Defend Our Wrongs.

But a bigger problem with Alabama, and we’ve got many where elections are concerned, is that we still allow straight-party voting. Voters overwhelmingly took the lazy way out on election day. They didn’t want to go down the ballot and choose the best-qualified candidate for office. That’s too hard. That requires thinking. Instead, they just bubbled-in the “D” or the “R.”

As with so many reforms, Alabama is among those who choose to stay the archaic course. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, only eight states allow straight-ticket voting these days. Of course, Alabama is one of them. We don’t hear Secretary of State John Merrill talking about reforming that voting anomaly. And even Texas, one of those eight states, is doing away with straight-ticket voting for the 2020 elections; Indiana, another one, doesn’t allow straight-party voting for at-large races.

It’s no coincidence, either, that just about every state that still allows straight-ticket voting is a solidly Red state. It’s just another way Republicans, whose agenda is completely out of touch with what is happening across America but are masterful at suppressing the vote, maintain their now-more-tenuous hold on power.

Straight-party voting goes both ways. In Jefferson County, now a solidly Democratic county, straight-party voting for Democrats left some outstanding judges out of jobs. That judges even run in partisan races is a flaw – party philosophy has no place in the law.

The loss is that up and down the ticket, there were qualified candidates on both sides. Too many voters, though, had to run home and watch Fox news, so they didn’t have time to think about their selections. Instead, they just blacked the “R” oval and settled into their easy chairs to watch Hannity.

Far too many voters aren’t responsible enough to educate themselves before an election, even on the most important offices – governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, the Public Service Commission, statewide judicial seats, Congress.

Now, our Republican U.S. House delegation (Democrat Terri Sewell is the one exception) find themselves on the outs. They’re in the minority, with little power to do anything – not that any of the Republicans from Alabama exercised their influence when they had that power to begin with.

Republicans have been pretty successful at influencing low-information voters, and that’s to those voters’ detriment. When it comes to issues like preserving Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, food stamps, access to health care, protection from health insurance companies on pre-existing illnesses, equal pay, protecting women against sexual assault, humane immigration reform, equal rights for all Americans, including minorities and the LGBT community, Democrats are more likely to stand up.

Republicans give out billions in tax breaks to billionaires, then try to make up the difference with cuts to the programs that disproportionately affect the very Alabamians who elected them.

You may not like that assessment. You may be offended by it. Well, get over it. That’s the truth.

Try thinking.

But if you don’t, at least you can vote that straight ticket.

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


Continue Reading

Featured Columnists

Opinion | Got to get rid of this Democratic Party of Alabama

Joey Kennedy



The problem is the Democratic Party of Alabama. An awful mess looks better.

In Tuesday’s elections, Republicans won top to bottom in statewide and congressional races  that had credible Democratic Party challengers.

And across those races, the Democrats were clearly, unquestionably, more qualified than their stale, same-as-always, mostly race-baiting, health care-hating, fear-mongering Republican incumbents.

Gov.-elect Kay Ivey clearly ran the better campaign. Democrat and Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox had a plan for just about everything. He campaigned non-stop, answered every question, laid out his ideas, and lost in a landslide.

Ivey stayed quiet, refused to debate, promised nothing new, laid out no plans, and won in a rout.


It was pretty much the same across the board. Republicans offered nothing new; Democrats offered a lot new; Republicans refused to debate; Democrats answered questions. Republicans ignored their voters; Democrats engaged them.

Republicans, across the board, won easily. It wasn’t even close, in even the closest race.

But here’s the big difference: The Republican Party of Alabama has its stuff together. It knows how to run campaigns, knows how to win and what will win, and follows through.

The Democratic Party of Alabama does absolutely nothing. It’s a meaningless little club, for meaningless little people who think they can wield power, but only in their tiny, grotesque imaginations.

So all those Democrats who were shellacked on Tuesday stood alone without statewide Democratic Party support. Republican candidates had the winning infrastructure; Democratic candidates had losers running the state party – the same losers who have been running the state party for way too long now.

Credit those candidates — Walt Maddox, Will Boyd, Judge Robert Vance, Joe Siegelman, Heather Milam, those running for Congress and other offices – for doing a helluva lot –basically on their own — with their own campaign organizations, grassroots canvassing teams, fundraising, and get-out-the-vote efforts.

Many, many progressives (and Republicans) came out, too. It took me a half hour to vote Tuesday morning, most of that time spent in line. The only other time I’ve seen that much enthusiasm for an election was in 2008, when Barack Obama won his first term.

Still, it wasn’t enough. Because the state Democratic Party sat this one out. It couldn’t do otherwise, because it’s absolutely dysfunctional, in disarray, more than an awful mess, led by ancients or lackeys, and it’ll be the same in two years if something isn’t done.

The time is now to jettison Joe Reed and his cronies if Democrats ever want to do more than win the 7th Congressional District or the once-in-a-lifetime special election for the U.S. Senate against a child predator who, not surprisingly, was the Republican.

The results from Tuesday night did surprise me. Not that Republicans won every statewide race and the congressional seats. That I did expect.

But that the margins were so wide is discouraging. The difference, friends, is that the Republicans have solid party organization behind them. Even though Republicans elected to public office have been regularly removed from many of those same offices for corruption over the past few years. Even though Republicans sponsor programs that are terrible for most Alabamians. Even though they are peopled by many who are racist or homophobic or misogynous or xenophobic, or all of the above.

Even though they take Alabama voters so for granted that they don’t even have to campaign, or answer questions, or do much more than cut a few ribbons for new businesses or attend Republican-sponsored events where the crowds are peopled by folks just themselves.

Maddox, Vance, Siegelman, et al., did amazingly well, considering what they were up against.

Nationally, Democrats did well, winning back the U.S. House and some governorships and state legislatures here and there.

The 2018 Democratic Party of Alabama, however, did exactly what it’s done for the past decade or so: Nothing.

Nothing to write home about. Nothing to help Alabama move forward. And certainly nothing to vote for.

Somebody needs to get rid of it.

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


Continue Reading

Featured Columnists

Opinion | Secretary of State John Merrill isn’t very collegial

Joey Kennedy



As we head to the last weekend before next Tuesday’s midterm elections, Alabama voters need to be reminded how Republican candidates have conducted themselves this campaign season.

Very few Republican candidates have debated their Democratic opponents. That’s because Republicans would rather not have to defend their programs and policies in front of an opponent who, quite frankly, probably has better ideas.

The Republicans’ control in Alabama is getting stale. They really have no new ideas to move Alabama forward, if they ever did. Their main strategy is just to make Alabama more Republican. That’s true across all the constitutional offices that are elected statewide.

Their strategy: Stay hidden, say little, and arrogantly depend on Alabama voters to once again return them to office, once again vote against their best interests.

Voters should not reward that kind of arrogance.


Perhaps one of the most arrogant Republicans seeking re-election is Secretary of State John Merrill. Like most Republican secretaries of state across the nation, Merrill’s goal is to make sure as few people vote who might vote against Republicans as possible. He’s the kingpin of elections in Alabama and the primary architect of voter suppression in the state.

Merrill argues: We need strong voter ID because voter fraud at the polls is real. Fact: It isn’t. In-person voter fraud is rare, as studies have shown. Even President Donald Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity (voter fraud commission) disbanded after only a few months because it found no voter fraud.

Merrill argues: We don’t need early voting in Alabama because you can apply for an absentee ballot and vote early. Fact: Absentee ballots are for voters who cannot, for whatever reason (usually because they’re out of their districts on election day), go to the polls. All states with early voting also provide for absentee voting. They are two different things.

Merrill argues: We don’t need automatic voter registration in Alabama because if a qualified citizen can’t go through the steps required to register to vote, that person is “lazy.” Fact: Automatic voter registration would qualify many more citizens to vote, and more voters is not what Merrill and Republicans want to see.

We have all of that, plus, Merrill is simply not a very nice person. In academia, we would say he’s not “collegial,” which means he doesn’t play well with others, especially those who disagree with him.

Merrill’s Twitter feed often lashes out at those people who do disagree with him. He’s known to block people left and right, if he doesn’t like what they say. Merrill can’t take criticism, and he doesn’t have the critical thinking skills to accept that somebody else might have a better idea than he.

Merrill is even unpleasant at public events.

At a gathering at the Spencer Honors House at UAB a couple weeks ago, Merrill refused to answer some questions, unless the questioner acknowledged Merrill had done more as secretary of state for Alabama than any other in the nation. In other words, Merrill needed his ego stroked. Not collegial.

Merrill didn’t want to address hard questions in detail or honestly, everything from automatic voting to voter fraud to educating felons on how to register to vote after they’ve served their time and are qualified again.

“From the very beginning, he was so defensive,” said UAB honors student John Aiken, a political science major. “He was already ready for all of (those questions). He wasn’t answering a lot of questions. It was like talking to a brick wall, and I just had to give up.”

Aiken, 21, is education director and on the executive board for UAB’s College Democrats, so he went to the meeting knowing that he and Merrill likely wouldn’t agree on much.

But what Merrill fails to acknowledge is that, while a Republican, he’s the elected secretary of state for all Alabamians – Republicans, Democrats, third party, independents. He fills that role poorly. Not very collegial.

“I asked him about automatic voter registration,” Aiken said. In his response, Merrill said that some eligible voters don’t want to be registered. “He’s more concerned about violating the rights of those who don’t want to vote” than those who do, Aiken said.

Merrill also told Aiken he was generalizing because Aiken couldn’t provide the name of somebody who couldn’t physically register to vote or who would benefit from automatic registration. Merrill said that type of person doesn’t exist.

Well, of course, that type person does exist. Every eligible voter should be registered, whether they’re “lazy” or not. If they don’t want to vote, they don’t have to vote. But what’s the harm in making certain they can if they so desire?

Well, they might vote, and that scares Merrill and Republicans to death.

As for encouraging qualified former felons to register, Aiken said Merrill claimed these former felons can’t be found. I’ll guarantee you law enforcement agencies can find them.

But again, former felons aren’t likely to vote Merrill’s way.

Following the event, Aiken posted details on his Facebook page. Somebody screenshot the page and sent it to Merrill on Twitter.

Merrill’s response was fairly typical, considering that he and Aiken disagreed: “He heard what he wanted to hear he came in there with an agenda and that’s what he promoted. That’s generally the liberal narrative. If you would like to talk to me about the meeting or what we have done since I’ve been the Secretary please to call me at cell phone 334-328-2787.” Not very collegial.

By the way, Aiken did call Merrill. The call went to voice mail.

I’ve heard this same story from other people who have had interactions with Merrill, then tried to call him. I’ve seen similar partisan, nasty Tweets from Merrill on his timeline. It’s a way for Merrill to appear he’s open for discussion when he’s actually anything but.

At an academic institution, Merrill’s lack of collegiality could easily prevent him from ever earning tenure.

So here’s the question: Why should voters give Merrill another four years’ tenure as Alabama Secretary of State? He certainly doesn’t represent all of us. He doesn’t have an open mind about getting more voters to the polls because that scares him. He’s just one of many Republican election officials across the nation doing everything they can to keep voter turnout low, because that’s what Merrill and other Republicans need to keep winning elections. And, after they win, to keep suppressing votes.

If you’re not one of those “lazy” people who isn’t registered to vote, make sure to show up Tuesday. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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

Continue Reading

Featured Columnists

Opinion | Alabama can do much more to help voters be smarter

Joey Kennedy



I spent last weekend at my dajas’ home in San Diego. I had to personally deliver a wedding present to Nicole and Sara Kate Denton, one that couldn’t be mailed.

The wedding present, a 15-week-old French Bulldog puppy named Arnold, tolerated the long flight and is adjusting well to his new humans, who also give a home to a rescue pug named Olive.

My dajas – a word meaning “daughters,” in Nicole lingo – live in a nice one-bedroom apartment in the city with lots of day- and night-life close by. They walk a lot, and so did I over my four-day weekend. Nicole and Sara Kate have good jobs, are politically active, and enjoy a good life. Nicole adopted Veronica and me while she was a volleyball player at UAB 15 years ago, and she’s been the daughter we never had. We celebrated Nicole’s and Sara Kate’s two-month wedding anniversary while I was on the “Left Coast.”

There is a lot about California that, of course, is appealing to me. My dajas live there, and Veronica and I don’t get to see them often enough. San Diego has awesome city services. And California is among the bluest states in the nation.

Readers who disagree with my politics shouldn’t get too excited. I’m not moving there. We need some blue right here in Alabama, as well, so I’m not leaving. I’m no Democrat – I’ve said this time and again – but, rather, a left-leaning independent. I do vote for both Republicans and Democrats when elections roll around; I’ll never vote straight-party ticket anything, though, and I don’t see any Republicans running statewide who’ll get my vote in 12 days.


I take solace that I live in the bluest city in Alabama. Birmingham has been described by some observers as the Southern Portland, Oregon. That’s a compliment, Birmingham. You know it if you’ve ever visited Portland.

One fact I noticed while in California is that California’s political leaders want their citizens to vote. All citizens – not just those of one particular party’s leanings. They don’t put up barriers to voting; indeed, they have few barriers, if any, to qualified voters. There is early voting, voting by mail and, of course, voting in person. Their polls are even open longer than ours in Alabama. They don’t put up impossible obstacles for third-party or independent candidates, either. Such are often found on California’s ballots, including this year.

In Alabama, Republican Secretary of State John Merrill does most everything in his power to discourage voters, especially those who disagree with his party’s politics. But Merrill isn’t an anomaly; this is the Republicans’ strategy in most deep Red states.

Not in California, though, and California is the most populous state in the nation by far.

Every qualified voter in California receives a couple of booklets during voting season that helps educate them about the candidates and issues on the upcoming ballot.

Unlike Alabama, California leaders trust their citizens enough to allow them the right to propose laws themselves. Through citizen petitions, measures (propositions) are on the California ballot each election. These informational booklets explain those issues thoroughly, and they are entirely nonpartisan.

One of the booklets each of my dajas received through the mail is about 150 pages of voter information on statewide candidates and propositions, as well as local measures and candidates from their voting district in San Diego. These so-called “pamphlets” go out to each of the more than 20 million California voters, not just households.

The goal is to have voters as educated as they want to be before casting their ballots. In Alabama, we don’t even explain our many constitutional amendments on the ballot very well. We depend on advocates for or against a particular amendment to offer their skewed recommendations, or analysis from media organizations, though that’s becoming less frequent as newspapers and other news outlets downsize their staffs.

Yes, California television is full of advertisements from advocacy groups in favor or in opposition to particular candidates or propositions. But voters also have this neutral voter guide that provides the full text of the proposition or local measure, along with arguments for and arguments against, and an impartial analysis of the proposition or measure.

It’s not particularly sexy reading, but it does offer voters much more information than we provide our 3 million-plus registered voters in Alabama.

The message in California: Vote, and vote smart. In Alabama, it’s more vote our way or take the highway (and election officials are glad to show voters the highway, by disfranchising qualified and registered voters left and right – especially if they are minorities).

We may have to work harder to vote smart in Alabama, but we can do it. In less than two weeks, we’ll be given that opportunity. That gives qualified voters plenty of time to do their homework instead of just voting for the candidate who incite the most fear with ridiculous, hot-button issues.

I tell my students at UAB all the time: Do your homework if you want a better grade. Voters need to do their homework, too, if they want Alabama to be a better state.
Maybe one day, we’ll welcome all qualified voters to the polls, but it’ll take voting smart on Nov. 6 to start making that happen.

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


Continue Reading






Opinion | Let’s march: The #Neveragain reckoning on guns

by Joey Kennedy Read Time: 5 min