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Opinion | Alabama politicians aren’t even trying to hide the corruption anymore

Josh Moon

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Gov. Robert Bentley shakes hands with new Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, after signing his appointment letter at the state Capitol in Montgomery, Friday, Feb. 10, 2017. (Governor's Office/Jamie Martin)

The corruption within Alabama’s state government doesn’t surprise me anymore.

The brazenness of that corruption does.

Seriously, these people aren’t even hiding it anymore.

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Former Republican majority leader Micky Hammon, before being busted, convicted and shipped off to federal prison, actually told a reporter about his illegal deal with a health care company.

Former Republican House Speaker Mike Hubbard was scheduling official meetings and whining in emails about the ethics laws — the laws he helped pass — before he was busted.

Former Republican Gov. Robert Bentley and former Republican Attorney General Luther Strange stood in front of a room full of reporters and tried to pretend that Bentley wasn’t under investigation by Strange’s office, even after Strange wrote a letter all but saying he was. And he was.

I mean, maybe there’s an argument to be made that our people are more stupid than brazen, and they’re simply too ignorant to recognize that we all see what they’re doing. But that’s not a lot of comfort.

Because we seem to have reached a point in this state where corruption and shadiness is the norm.

We simply expect the crooked deals and underhanded payoffs and backroom politics. So much so that our politicians aren’t really hiding it anymore.

Perfect example: Steve Marshall.

Take a quick look through our interim AG’s campaign finance records sometime. And prepare to be amazed.

Not necessarily at the amount of the donations, although that figure, at well over $1 million raised so far — for a gig that pays $168,000 annually — should be scandal enough. But look at who’s giving.

On Feb. 26, a $2,500 donation came in from the Riley and Jackson law firm. That’s the firm of former Gov. Bob Riley’s son, Rob Riley. That firm also shares office space with Bob Riley’s consulting firm.

But more importantly to Steve Marshall, and the attorneys working for him at the AG’s public corruption unit, Rob Riley is currently representing Mike Hubbard in his appeal against a case brought by that aforementioned AG’s public corruption unit.

So the current AG is taking in donations from the attorneys of a convicted felon who was one of the most powerful men in the state.

Swell.

But in Marshall’s case, not at all out of the ordinary.

Because Marshall has indirectly hauled in tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Jimmy Rane and Will Brooke — two wealthy and prominent business owners, and major political donors, who were caught up in the Hubbard conviction.

And here’s the fun backstory there: Rane and Brooke could technically still be indicted for their roles in giving Hubbard money. Of the 12 felony counts against Hubbard, two involved in Rane and Brooke. And with a grand jury still empaneled in Lee County …

But no biggie to Marshall. He’ll take their cash.

And why not? In fairness to him, now that HB317 — a bill that altered the definitions of who is deemed a lobbyist under Alabama law — has passed and is awaiting the governor’s signature, it’s not clear how Rane and Brooke would now be defined under the law.

Yeah, sure, he took in most of the cash before this bill was even introduced. And yes, if you want to get all nitpicky, he was out there publicly pushing for the passage of this bill. (Really, sarcasm on pause for a minute, when’s the last time you remember an attorney general pushing for major exceptions to the ethics laws, particularly those that define who is and isn’t a lobbyist?)

But then, it’s not like he’s the top law enforcement official in the state or something.

I mean, is there anything that defines Alabama politics better than the state’s top law enforcement official accepting campaign donations from an indicted felon’s attorneys during the appeals process and from two subjects in an ongoing investigation being conducted by his office?

And doing all of it right out in the open for everyone to see.

Maybe it’s just what we’ve come to expect, and accept, in this state.

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Josh Moon

Opinion | Alabama remains a safe haven for hate

Josh Moon

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In 1968, shortly after gunning down Martin Luther King Jr. at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, James Earl Ray was running from police, who were, he believed, right on his tail. He was looking for an escape route — a place where people might not be too upset by his crime.

He turned his Mustang towards Alabama.

Ray believed Alabamians would be sympathetic towards him, that then-Gov. George Wallace — whose hateful segregationist rhetoric had inspired Ray in the first place — would protect him, even pardon him, for killing King.

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Alabama was his safe haven.

This has been the perpetual image of Alabama for decades now.

A safe haven for racists.

And with good reason.

From our slavery roots, through Jim Crow, and George Wallace and anti-immigration bills and Roy Moore and Bull Connor and Jeff Sessions and all-white juries and breakaway school districts and separate but equal and the schoolhouse door, we have more than earned this reputation as a state filled with backwoods, good ol’ boys who hate anyone whose darker than khaki on a paint chart or rolls their R’s when speaking.

We’re the Hate Capital.

Over the last few years, as the KKK numbers dipped nationally, they grew in Alabama. Which helped the state place fourth in the number of hate groups — a number that also increased for Alabama as more hate groups moved in.

We’re like Boca for hate groups, apparently.

We draw in the hateful and ignorant. And we do it by refusing to change, refusing to correct the sins of the past, and instead we elect leaders who cater to those sins. Who tell us that it’s OK to cling tightly to ignorant ideals if label them “history.”

People like Kay Ivey.

A popular interim governor, Ivey has enjoyed widespread support thanks to her political strategy of staying out of sight. That might seem like a simple strategy, because it is, but the last guy couldn’t do it.

Instead of using that political capital to steer this sinking ship of a state towards a brighter, more inclusive future, Ivey, who once bragged that “no step is too high for a high stepper,” did what Alabama politicians seem to always do: take the easiest and lowest road.

On Tuesday, Ivey’s campaign released an ad with her essentially praising confederate memorials and blaming “out-of-state liberals” for attempting to get us to take some down. Ivey refers to the monuments as “history” and says it’s important that we understand it.

This explains quite a bit about the failings of Alabama’s school kids during testing. Instead of books, our students are traveling monument to monument to learn history. (I can’t wait until they get to the monuments for kamikaze pilots in Hawaii or the hijackers in New York.)

Apparently nuance is the step too high for the high stepper.

Because no one has advocated tearing down historical markers at sites where significant events occurred or even tearing down memorials for the men who died fighting for the South during the Civil War.

But there’s a difference between historical markers — this is where the nuance comes in — and grand statues honoring traitors, like the one outside of the capitol building depicting Jefferson Davis, who proclaimed after the war was over that he’d gladly do it all again. Or the one in Selma honoring Nathan Bedford Forrest, a man so vile that he was a business outcast after the war for his part in a massacre of surrendered, black Union soldiers and who was a founding member of the KKK.

Leaving up signs that mark where slaves were bought and sold or where battles were fought or where soldiers were treated — that’s history. Those are the sort of sites and monuments that teach future generations, that make our history more understandable.

The idolizing of vile men, and the whitewashing of their awful deeds, through these monuments serves only one purpose: to push the idiotic notion that the Civil War was about anything other than slavery, that there was some noble goal for which the South fought, that we were right and the North was wrong and we don’t have to be ashamed of what we did and what we’ve continued to do.

So, people like Ivey pander to those who want to believe such garbage, because it is politically expedient. And those people believe because it’s “history” and their lawmakers and leaders say it’s OK.

And Alabama continues to be a safe haven for hate.

 

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Josh Moon

Opinion | How has Trump deceived you? Let’s count the ways

Josh Moon

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Over the weekend, the same Facebook post kept popping up on my feed.

It was, essentially, a long whine about how poorly Donald Trump has been treated by pretty much everyone since becoming president. And at the end, before sharing it to show support for dear leader, each person signed his or her name and listed their hometowns.

I was not shocked to find that most of the names were from Alabama.

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Trump is essentially a poor man’s George Wallace — all of the hate, shadiness and ego, none of the craftiness and intelligence — so of course he plays well among this crowd. He hates non-white people, thinks we should hear the white nationalists’ side of things and made a public display of praying with the Alabama football team. We’re already looking for a stretch of interstate to name after the dope.

But if you’re looking for real world reasons to support the guy, well, that’s where the good people of Alabama lose me.

Trump doesn’t just lie all the time, he’s lied to you, Alabama voter, repeatedly. And not small lies. Big lies.

And YUGE failures.   

  • “I’m gonna say, ‘Mexico, this is not going to continue, you’re going to pay for that wall,’ and they will pay for the wall.”

— Donald Trump, Aug. 5, 2015

Guess what? Not only has just 20 miles of border wall been approved so far, you won’t believe who’s paying for it. Here’s a hint: It’s not Mexico, and it looks a lot like the person you see in the mirror.

  • “We will repeal and replace disastrous Obamacare. You will be able to choose your own doctor again.”

— Donald Trump, July 22, 2016

You’ll be shocked to discover that Obamacare was not repealed. Also, there was no Trump health care plan that covered everyone for much less, as he also promised. The plan he did introduce — so awful that even Congressional Republicans didn’t have the heart to pass it — cost ten times as much and covered 20 million fewer people.

  • “We will bring back coal and get clean coal” to “put you (coal workers) back to work.”

— Donald Trump, July 28, 2016

Nope. Since Trump took office, coal jobs have continued to decline. You know, it’s almost as if it’s an outdated energy resource that’s being replaced by less costly, more efficient resources. Because that’s exactly what’s happening. Which is why the last president — you remember, the black guy you thought was the antichrist — tried to give you job training in those new technologies. Instead, you trusted the billionaire who literally thought “clean coal” meant scrubbing the black off. Good call.

  • “When I see the crumbling roads and bridges, or the dilapidated airports or the factories moving overseas to Mexico, or to other countries for that matter, I know these problems can all be fixed, but not by Hillary Clinton. Only by me.”

— Donald Trump, June 22, 2016

We’re well over a year into this presidency now and Trump has just dumped out his “plan” for infrastructure — an utterly impossible dream that would be unworkable even if he hadn’t ballooned the annual deficit with his stupid tax cuts for the wealthy.

  • On day one of a Trump administration, the U.S. Treasury Department will designate China a currency manipulator.

— Donald Trump, Nov. 9, 2015 (Wall Street Journal)

China … still not labeled a currency manipulator on Day 475.

  • “We are getting rid of the carried interest loophole.”

— Donald Trump, Aug. 11, 2016

Narrator voice: He did not get rid of the carried interest loophole.

  • “I’m so much more into the middle class who have just been absolutely forgotten in our country. Everybody’s getting a tax cut, especially the middle class.”

— Donald Trump, May, 2016

Funny story: the tax plan will actually benefit the middle class the least, with the top 1 percent receiving 84 percent of the cuts by 2024 and 53 percent of Americans actually paying more.

And it doesn’t stop there.

Trump has been engulfed in scandal since his first day, when he started a stupid fight over his inauguration crowd size, and has slowly eroded any decency associated with the office of U.S. president. He’s been caught paying off a porn star, has been accused by multiple women of sexual assault, has spent more on golf vacations in one year than Obama did in three, has run through more White House staff than most presidents do in two terms and he’s employed some of the swampiest of swampy DC insiders.

And none of that even touches on the ongoing Mueller investigation, which has already led to four Trump associates being indicted and the raid of Trump’s lawyer’s office.

It’s an embarrassment that will cheapen the office of president for years to come. But these folks in Alabama — the same ones who wanted to impeach Obama because of this thing that happened in Benghazi that he was probably responsible for, because he was a secret Muslim terrorist sent by George Soros — are signing public declarations of support.

But then, I can only give you the facts. I can’t comprehend them for you.

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Josh Moon

Opinion | Why is the state takeover of Montgomery’s schools so shady?

Josh Moon

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There was much hand-wringing inside the Gordon Persons Building in downtown Montgomery on Wednesday, as interim state superintendent Ed Richardson and — for some reason not fully explained — Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange held a press conference to discuss the “dire state” of Montgomery’s public schools.

They might as well have been selling special skillets with non-stick surfaces.

It was that sort of press conference.

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For an hour, they droned on and on about the pitiful state of Montgomery’s schools — a state that both of them have more than a small hand in, I’d like to point out — and how the evildoers at AEA — and when he mentioned AEA, Richardson put on a face most Americans reserve for ISIS — are just holding up real and true progress. The progress that he and Strange could make within Montgomery — by way of charter schools operated by people with no experience operating schools of any kind — if only the mean ol’ AEA would stand aside.

To drive home his point, Richardson mentioned numerous times an accreditation review that is due to happen at Montgomery Public Schools next year. It was supposed to happen this year, the interim superintendent said, but it was delayed.

Why was it delayed?

Richardson never really came right out and said it, but he strongly hinted that the delay came at the request of MPS personnel because they knew the review would be bad. Because, again — and Richardson can’t stress this enough — MPS is in terrible shape because of the board and teachers and principals.

Except that’s not why the review was delayed.

According to several sources with direct knowledge of the accreditation review process, the request to delay the MPS accreditation review was made by Dr. Reginald Eggleston, the man who was brought in by the Alabama State Department of Education to help lead the failed intervention into MPS, and he made it because his intervention team included so many non-certified teachers and administrators that he and others within MPS feared it might cost the district its accreditation.

Oddly, that wasn’t mentioned by Richardson or Strange.

They also didn’t mention that when the accreditation agency initially rejected the request for the delay that then-state superintendent Michael Sentance got involved and was able to get the review pushed back, according to those same sources.

Weird how that fell through the cracks.

But then, it doesn’t fit the narrative that Strange and Richardson are trying desperately to paint: that the downfall of MPS is related only to the failure of the school board and MPS leadership.  

Smart people know better.

I’ve explained until I’m blue in the face the racial, social and economic issues that have combined to cause harm to MPS, and it’s hard to imagine anyone who has spent a day in Montgomery disagreeing. To be fair, there’s also no doubt that part of the mix of problems is mismanagement by the various incarnations of the county board and the people that board has selected to run MPS.

But the current vilification of the board by Richardson and Strange is a straight up scam designed to carve out an easy pathway to smearing lipstick on this pig.

They’re dying to get charter schools in Montgomery.

So they can sell to white business owners the idea of schools operated by other white business owners. So, people will stop fleeing Montgomery in droves, and the city can pay off its massive debt.

But like every other solution to “fix” Montgomery’s schools, this one maintains one of the biggest problems: some kids will be left behind in poor, dysfunctional schools.

But they don’t care. Not really.

The goal is business. Not education.

Because if it were truly education, no education-minded superintendent in the world would stand in front of a camera and promise to cut 200-plus teachers and outsource 400 staffers because the reserve budget isn’t high enough.

But that’s what Richardson did on Wednesday, as he’s done in the past. Hell, MPS has operated with the same reserve shortfall for most of the last 10 years and no one called from ALSDE to even chat about it.

Now it’s worth cutting 200 teachers? Stop it.

Richardson needs his plan to go through, because his plan includes closing four schools — two of which can be used for charters and a third that can be sold to Pike Road, which employed Richardson as a consultant when the idea to buy that school first popped up.

And so, yeah, AEA sued on behalf of the board, because state law doesn’t give Richardson the right to just come in and start selling off school buildings. It also sued so the board could name a new superintendent and hire an attorney.

The reason Richardson is so angry with AEA is because they continue to be right. Each time they file a suit, the courts end up agreeing with them.

Which, along with all of the exaggerations and sky-is-falling scare tactics at Wednesday’s press conference, should probably raise a serious question: if you’re really trying to do the right thing, why are you being so shady?

 

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Opinion | Alabama politicians aren’t even trying to hide the corruption anymore

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