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Opinion | Milton McGregor lied to me

Josh Moon

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One of the first things Milton McGregor ever told me was that he wouldn’t lie to me.

That was in March 2014, several months before I wrote an in-depth series on the history of gambling in Alabama and McGregor’s role in it. It was the first of many interviews, and McGregor wanted to set the ground rules.

“Let me set some things straight so we understand each other,” McGregor said. “If I tell you something is a fact, by God, you can take it to the bank. I won’t ever lie to you. I might tell you I don’t know for sure something is true, or that I believe something to be true but can’t confirm it, but I won’t ever lie to you.”

It was a promise he didn’t keep.

It would have been tough for anyone to do so. After all, that initial interview lasted three hours. A few days later, there was another that lasted two hours.

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Over the next four years, I literally can’t tell you how many times I spoke to Milton McGregor — about gambling, about politics, about our families, about business, about sports and just about life.

Oh, I’m not foolish enough to believe that a then-75-year-old billionaire met me and became mesmerized by my sensational intelligence and wit, and wanted to bounce ideas off of me. McGregor found in me what he had wanted for a long time: an open mind and limitless ink.

He had been wronged by Bob Riley and the U.S. government, and he wanted to tell his story. Not in pieces and soundbites, as it had been reported before, but in totality.

When that full story was published, he told me once, he felt vindicated. He felt like there was finally a recorded history of all the ways he was wronged. That finally, someone had taken the time to put it all together.

Honestly, I hadn’t done McGregor any personal favors. I just went back through old newspaper stories and interviewed about a hundred people and told the story of gambling. That it was favorable to McGregor in print only occurred because the facts in real life were favorable to him.

The man had been screwed.

It’s really that simple, and it was impossible to sugarcoat.

But that reality was a minor point to McGregor. From that day forward, I became someone McGregor believed he could trust. Or as he put it, I was a person who “has the balls to report the truth.”

And so, the phone calls and meetings began.

Often, I had no clear understanding of why I was meeting with McGregor. He would call, say “hey, big man, I need about 20 minutes of your time” — which really meant two hours — and I’d meet him at his office. Inevitably, I would leave with a manilla envelope, prepared by his secretary, Linda Pittman, and containing some piece of information that McGregor wanted me to read through and learn more about.

He quite literally gave me homework.

But I didn’t care. McGregor was bribing me with the only currency I cared about.

Stories.

At least half of the time we spent together was devoted to him recounting 40-plus years of Alabama political stories. And not the stuff you read in the newspapers — the real dirt. The stunts he pulled. The stunts others pulled. The payoffs and paybacks and secret blackmails. The sex scandals and secret lovers.

McGregor was basically an oral history of Alabama’s smoke-filled back rooms.

I learned more about the inner workings of Alabama politics in an hour of talking to McGregor than I could learn in a lifetime of roaming the State House halls.

Somewhere in the midst of all those talks, I think it’s safe to say that we became friends. And I saw a side of McGregor that most never did.

I could tell you stories about his generosity that would blow your mind. About the hospital bills he paid for his former employees after they lost their jobs and health care when the casino was raided. About the numerous times he used his plane to fly people who were in desperate situations. About the millions of dollars he’s given away to help people and the community over the years.

But McGregor wouldn’t want that. He’d much rather I remind you that Bob Riley should, in Milton’s words, “be under the damn jail.” And he’d probably follow that pronouncement up with a colorful saying, something along the lines of: “I wouldn’t trust Riley in a s**thouse with a muzzle on.”

Then he would apologize, because he’d promised Pat that he was going to cut down on the cussing.

And without fail, at the end of every phone call or meeting — no matter the topic of conversation or what he had going on — he would ask about my family. Over the last few months, as my wife and I prepared for the arrival of our daughter earlier this month, McGregor called countless times just to check on us.

Last week, I met with McGregor at his house for a bit. As I was leaving, he asked about the baby and said he wanted to get together for dinner and meet her.

“We’ll do that. Sometime in the next two weeks, I’m going to meet her,” he said.

To my knowledge, it’s the only time Milton McGregor ever lied to me.

 

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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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Josh Moon

Opinion | Taylor Swift: GOP kryptonite

Josh Moon

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Taylor Swift doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

That line was tossed around a lot on Monday following an Instagram post from Swift in which she encouraged her followers to register to vote and to vote for the Democratic U.S. Senate and House candidates in Tennessee.

Within minutes, the chorus of rightwing water-toters was full throat, denouncing Swift’s music and her fans and her reach. But mostly, they proclaimed emphatically that Taylor Swift simply doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

You know, because she’s a ditzy girl who only puts together song lyrics and writes music that have sold over 130 million singles worldwide and organizes stadium shows that rake in hundreds of millions of dollars and revamp the way the music industry sells its live shows. But, yeah, politics is waaaayyyy too complicated for her tiny girl brain. Louie Gohmert and Steve King have managed to thrive, but not the self-made multi-billionaire.

That was the message from Donald Trump and Mike Huckabee on Monday. Huckabee, who once had a little jam session with Ted Nugent, who so totally knows about politics because he is a white male who hates Obama, managed to criticize both Swift’s intelligence and her reach. Huckabee claimed Swift could reach only 13-year-old girls.

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Swift’s two most recent singles have been streamed more than 600 million times on Spotify alone. Either there are way more 13-year-old girls than I thought, or maybe her reach is a tad broader.

The girls who were 13 when Swift wrote the song “Fifteen” are now 23. And some of them probably make up the 113 million who follow her on Instagram. Some might be part of the 85 million who follow her on Twitter. (That’s about 30 million more than Trump, by the way.)

But here’s what makes this whole thing more absurd: Swift seemed to know exactly what she was talking about.

In encouraging her fans to vote against Marsha Blackburn, Swift didn’t go generic. She didn’t do general. She cited Blackburn’s actual voting record in Congress, when Blackburn failed to support the Violence Against Women Act and voted against equal pay for women.

As Swift noted, Blackburn has stated frequently that she is opposed to same-sex marriage and has voted consistently to allow businesses the right to refuse gay customers.

So, what, exactly, is Swift wrong about?

The problem here is that Swift is too right. Too plain spoken. Too accurate.

Today’s GOP has spent a lot of time and effort shaping its embrace of hate. They’ve worked out the right buzzwords, come up with just the right circumstances to justify it and pushed all the appropriate Bible verses to back themselves up.

And in one brief Instagram post, Swift blew it up.

Don’t get me wrong, what she wrote wasn’t original, and it’s been said thousands of times by now.

But not by her. Not to her fans. Not in that way.

In an instant, the charade of “religious freedom” was recast as “the right to deny service to gay couples.”

And millions of young men and women now know that Blackburn, a woman, voted against legislation that would have protected women from date rape, domestic abuse and harassment.

Truth is a nightmare for Republicans.

And so, naturally, not long after Swift’s post went up, the hate began. And the outcry was a common one — at least to me: Get out!

Get out of Tennessee. Get out of the South. Go somewhere where your views are more acceptable.

I get similar suggestions frequently. In emails and comments after my columns, I inevitably get told I should move to California or New York, where my “liberal views” would be more welcome.

I’m assuming she would answer the same as me: No.

We’re not asking you bunch of backwoods Bible-thumping racists to give up college football or white gravy. We’re asking you to be decent humans to other humans, and to also vote for your own interests. Those aren’t terribly hard or uncomfortable things for you to do.

And if the way you’ve been voting makes you so terribly uncomfortable that you have to boycott the entire entertainment industry — including soft-spoken, doe-eyed Taylor Swift — maybe you should question a few things.

 

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Opinion | Milton McGregor lied to me

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