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Opinion | Inside the Statehouse: Supreme Court races on ballot this year

Steve Flowers

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Among the plethora of races on the ballot this year are the important seats on the Alabama Supreme Court. We have an unprecedented five out of nine seats up for election.

Our Alabama Supreme Court as well as our Courts of Criminal Appeals are extremely conservative, pro-business and all Republican.

This conservatism dates back to the 1980’s and 1990’s.  During that two-decade run, the plaintiff lawyers controlled and dominated our State Supreme Court. We were known throughout the country as a Plaintiff’s paradise. It was like a fairytale jackpot justice system. It was not uncommon for ludicrous multimillion dollar verdicts to be upheld daily for all types of cases. We were called Tort Hell by “Time Magazine.”

Tort reform became the dominant issue in the Halls of the Legislature.

When you have unbridled monetary verdicts coming out of Alabama that gives a plaintiff millions of dollars for having a wreck in a General Motors vehicle, it affects the entire country. General Motors does business in all 50 states.

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Well the business community throughout the country and in Alabama decided enough was enough. They decided to close down tort hell. They put their money where their mouth was and replaced an all Democratic plaintiff trial lawyer Supreme Court with an all Republican pro-business court. The pendulum has swung completely from left to right. If yesterday’s court was extremely liberal, today’s Alabama Supreme Court is extremely conservative.

These five open seats will be held by conservative Republicans when the dust settles at the end of the year and they begin their six-year terms. It is just a matter of which Republican presides and decides the major cases that affect Alabamians.

Will Sellers, a very well respected Montgomery attorney, was appointed by Governor Kay Ivey last year to Place 3 on the high court. Justice Sellers is running without opposition and will have a full six-year term.

Popular Justice, Tommy Bryan, also has no opposition and will return for another six-years on the high tribunal.

Justice Jim Main who has had a distinguished career as a private lawyer, finance director and Supreme Court Justice, cannot run for reelection due to an antiquated law that disallows judges to run for reelection after they turn 70.

Main’s Place 2 is being sought by Jefferson County’s John Bahakel and Jay Mitchell, also of Birmingham.

Circuit Judge, Debra Jones of Calhoun County has been a judge for a decade and has run a get acquainted race for the court. She will be formidable.

This place was held by Justice Glen Murdock who is originally from the Wiregrass. Murdock retired a few months ago and Governor Kay Ivey did a good day’s work when she appointed another Wiregrass native, Brad Mendheim to replace him. Mendheim has served a decade as a Circuit Judge in Dothan. He is very well respected in his hometown. He is seeking a full term. Sarah Stewart of Mobile is also in the race and should benefit from being from the vote rich Mobile-Baldwin area.

The battle royale will be for the Chief Justice post. The Chief Justice not only presides over the nine member Supreme Court but also oversees the entire Court System.

Justice Lyn Stuart currently presides as Chief Justice. She is running for a full 6-year reign.

When the business community orchestrated the takeover of the Court, they brought in the vaunted Karl Rove to mastermind the plan. When he departed, victoriously, he left with this admonition, “The best candidate that you can put forward is a female Republican who has some experience as a Circuit Judge.”

Alabamians prefer females on the Bench. If you have a race for Judge in Alabama and you have two names on the ballot, one Sue Smith and one Sam Smith and neither spends any money on campaigns and neither is known, Sue Smith will win.

Lyn Stuart epitomizes this scenario perfectly. She became a respected Circuit Judge in Baldwin County at a very young age. She was elected to the Supreme Court over a decade ago and is the longest serving member of the Court.

She will be pitted against another sitting member of the Court, Justice Tom Parker. He has excellent polling numbers. He was Roy Moore’s closest ally on the Court.  Stuart is the sweetheart of the Business Council.  Parker is the darling of the social conservatives.

The race for Chief Justice will be one of the premier contests this year.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. She may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

 

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Opinion | Brett Kavanaugh to SCOTUS would assure Trump legacy

Steve Flowers

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The appointment of a United States Supreme Court Justice is one of the most profound legacies that a U. S. President can achieve. The opportunity that President Donald Trump was given to appoint Neil Gorsuch to the High Tribunal last year will be a monumental achievement of the Trump administration.

The chance to name a second Supreme Court appointment will be a colossal legacy for the Trump presidency. The appointment of two seats on the Supreme Court has given Trump an indelible place in U.S. presidential history.

The leftist detractors of the Trump presidency are moaning. However, the conservative base of American politics has got to be rejoicing with hallelujahs. The quiet, conservative Americans who voted for Trump probably never realized how impactful their vote for Trump was in November of 2016. For within less than two years after casting that vote they will have placed America on a more stable conservative path for not only the rest of their lives, but possibly for the next generation.

President Trump’s appointment and subsequent confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to replace the deceased Antonin Scalia was a profound choice. However, his selection of Brett Kavanaugh to replace the retiring jurist Anthony Kennedy is equally brilliant. If Trump does nothing else during his tenure in the White House, if you are a conservative American, Trump’s presidency has been a rousing overwhelming success.

When the last votes were counted in November of 2016, and it became obvious that Donald Trump had defeated Hillary Clinton, conservative Americans were exuberant. Many had turned out to vote for one reason. The possibility of naming a conservative to the Supreme Court was their primary reason for voting for Trump. The naming of two within two years was beyond their wildest dreams.

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With the conclusion of the eight-year reign of the liberal Obama era and Trump’s defeat of Clinton, President Obama made one last simple, profound statement, “Elections have consequences.” That epitaph has become prophetic.

The court had been drifting leftward out to sea with the two extremely liberal Obama appointees, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor coming on board. However, the Supreme Court Ship of State has taken a turn to the right under the helm of Captain Trump.

Brett Kavanaugh is an excellent selection. He has impeccable credentials. He is only 53 years old, which means that he will be a sensible mainstream conservative voice of the court for probably three decades.

Brett Kavanaugh’s resume reads like a profile of someone born to be a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Like most Supreme Court members, he graduated from a prestigious Ivy League Law school. He is a product of Yale undergraduate and Yale Law School.

Kavanaugh was the favorite for the appointment from the beginning. He was always on the top of Trump’s short list and the choice of the Republican legal establishment in Washington. He is a former law clerk of the retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Although Kennedy had been appointed by Republican Ronald Reagan, he was considered the one moderate on the court. There are four bona fide liberal justices and four stalwart conservatives. Kennedy was the swing vote in the middle. Trump’s appointment of Kavanaugh will replace a swing vote on the nine-member court with a staunch conservative.

Kavanaugh served in George W. Bush’s administration and has been a distinguished jurist in the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit for over a decade and has written over 300 opinions. Therefore, his record as a jurist has been thoroughly reviewed and scrutinized. He is looked upon as a top legal scholar and strict constitutional adherent with a record of following judicial precedence.

Kavanaugh will be confirmed along pretty much the same partisan lines as Gorsuch. Trump is blessed with a Republican majority Senate. Leader Mitch McConnell will put the confirmation hearings on a fast track and have Kavanaugh approved by the end of October, prior to the mid-term elections. The Republicans have a thin 51 to 49 majority. All 51 Republican Senators appear to be on board for confirmation. Our Senator Richard Shelby has given a big thumbs up to Kavanaugh.

In addition to the 51 Republicans, Kavanaugh is expected to pick up four Democratic Senate votes of moderate Democrats from red states.

The big question is how does our new accidental anomaly, Democratic Senator Doug Jones vote. He is considered a longshot to win in 2020. However, a yes vote on confirmation could give him a glimmer of hope. A no vote would guarantee his not being elected to a full term. 

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us

 

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Opinion | Republicans playing by different rules when it comes to state ethics laws

Josh Moon

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The law is simple: Candidates running for public office in Alabama must file a statement of economic interests when they qualify, and then must file an annual SEI by the yearly deadline.

That’s not hard, right?

File an SEI when you qualify. File again at the next year’s deadline.

Simple.

But then, following ethics laws is like Kryptonite to an Alabama politician. And so, quite a few candidates — some big name Republicans and a couple of Democrats — didn’t file on time.

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The consequences for this, according to the laws on the books, are also fairly simple and easy to read: You get booted off the ballot.

Don’t take my word for it, though. Here, read the law for yourself: “… if a candidate does not submit a statement of economic interests or when applicable, an amended statement of economic interests in accordance with the requirements of this chapter, the name of the person shall not appear on the ballot and the candidate shall be deemed not qualified as a candidate in that election.”

For future reference, that’s Section 36-25-15(c) of the Code of Alabama.

Would you care to guess what’s happening with these candidates who quite clearly violated this law?

Well, the two Democrats were determined by the Ethics Commission to have violated the law, so they were booted. Judicial candidate Pamela Cousins appealed that decision to a Montgomery Circuit Court, and a judge ruled in her favor, saying she had complied with the law by filing her paperwork with the Democratic Party but the SEI didn’t make it to the Ethics Commission on time.

For the Republicans, though, the story has been much different.

Sure, they violated the same laws in the same ways and had the same excuses as the Democrats. But the Republicans — four of them so far — haven’t been kicked off the ballot. And state lawmakers and party officials are on record saying those Republican candidates won’t be booted.  

Apparently, when there is an R beside your name on the ballot, the laws become a bit more ambiguous.

Republican Secretary of State John Merrill — the man at least partly responsible for enforcing the laws surrounding ballot access — found not only some exceptions for his party mates but also a makeshift fine: $5 per day.

I’ve read through the filing requirements, the Code of Alabama and the guidance documents presented on the Ethics Commission website, and I can’t find any mention of a $5 fine.

I do see where the Ethics Commission can impose a $10 fine per day on elected officials who miss the SEI filing deadlines. But that fine applies only to sitting officeholders.

The penalty for candidates missing the deadline is removal from the ballot. That simple.

As such, according to reporting from APR’s Brandon Moseley, Republican House District 30 candidate Brandon Craig Lipscomb, PSC commissioner Jeremy Oden, Montgomery state Rep. Dimitri Polizos and Guntersville state Sen. Clay Scofield should be removed.

Just as the Democrats were.

They all missed the deadlines. They all violated the laws. They’re all candidates for public office.

And there’s a reason why that last part matters, why the laws are different for sitting lawmakers than for an incumbent candidate for office. Because during campaigns is when money can flow the easiest. It’s when debts and personal financial obligations and business dealings and partnerships can be exploited easiest.

That’s why the laws of this state place such an importance on these SEI filings — because they’re that important to the integrity of our election process.

But who am I kidding?

There’s no integrity left.

 

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Opinion | Alabama Democrats can’t rebound without a change in leadership

Josh Moon

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Nancy Worley is a good person.

I should start there, because it needs to be said. It needs to be pointed out that what has been discussed and argued about and shouted about among Alabama Democrats over the last few days has too often strayed from what’s important — the direction and leadership of the state’s Democratic Party — to something ugly and unnecessary and unproductive — personal attacks against Worley.

It’s fine to disagree with Worley’s leadership of the party — I have and do — but there’s no reason to attack her. Like so many other progressives in Alabama, she believes as we do — that we have to lift from the bottom, that racism continues to set us back, that the Democratic Party is a voice for those people who are far too often left voiceless in this state.

That said, what occurred at the Alabama Democratic Party executive committee meeting in Montgomery on Saturday was a farce that no good leader should stand for, much less benefit from.

If you’re unaware — and honestly, why would you be aware? — Worley was re-elected as party chairman, edging out Montgomery attorney Peck Fox, 101-89.

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That all might seem like business as usual, until you learn how those votes broke down. The elected members of the Democratic executive committee voted 89-66 for Fox.

But party officials said Joe Reed, head of the powerful Alabama Democratic Conference and chairman of minority affairs for the state party, was able to personally appoint 35 members. Reed has long supported Worley as chairman, and his appointees pushed Worley over the top, several Democratic officials told APR.

That’s no way to do business. And if any group of people should know this, it’s Democrats.

Stifling the will of voters and forcing candidates through by rigging the system is at least partly to blame for Donald Trump bumbling around the White House today.

And make no mistake, Democrats across the state want change at the top. I hear it every single day. From all corners and all shapes.  

Why wouldn’t Democratic voters want to change leaders? Nothing has gone right for the party, aside from beating the worst U.S. Senate candidate in modern political history, in nearly a decade.

Mostly this leadership group was caught flat-footed as Republicans took over the state from the ground up, winning down-ballot races and judgeships, and quickly organizing funding sources with deep pockets. And as Republicans did that, they also quickly made moves to stifle Democrats’ funding sources — by utilizing social media and media outreach to brand the Dems’ primary funding source, the AEA, as an organization somewhat comparable to ISIS.

And in the eight-plus years since that utter tail whipping, seemingly no one in leadership at the Democratic Party has thought: Hey, we should try that.

Instead, Worley’s primary accomplishment in her five years as party chair has been a recent reduction in debt. She has accomplished that debt reduction by not spending money.

The current website for the party lists one staff member. Despite national attention and a close race, Jones said his campaign received no support from the state party.

And there are other problems.

There has been very little social media outreach. The Alabama Democratic Party’s official Twitter account hasn’t tweeted in six months. The Facebook page is slightly more active, but rarely engaging.

But here’s the worst part: In the last election cycle, Republicans have watched the House Speaker, Majority Leader, Governor and three more Republican state lawmakers be indicted or admit to using their offices for personal gain.

And yet, there has been no plan from the Democratic Party leadership to utilize those GOP failures. Even as moderate GOP voters prove time and again in primaries that they’re aching for candidates who will stand for ethics and good government.

Even now, with a popular Democratic gubernatorial candidate at the top of the ticket, there is no state-office plan to attack down-ballot races and break the GOP supermajority.  

2018 should be the year that Alabama Dems start a comeback.

And it might be, but it will be left up to splinter groups of progressive, younger Democrats and minority voter groups to do the work, as they did for Jones’ win.

The Alabama Democratic Party office should be the general manager of that effort — the entity pulling the pieces together, working with the various groups to develop a comprehensive strategy and steer necessary resources to the right races. But that isn’t happening.

Instead, Reed squandered resources this year trying to settle a personal beef with former state Rep. John Knight, a longtime and devoted Democrat, and a number of Democratic officeholders say Worley has been mostly quiet.

This can’t go on. The enthusiasm among progressive voters in the state is there. The leadership to cash in on that enthusiasm is missing. 

For the sake of the party, it’s time for Worley and Reed to step aside.

 

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Opinion | Toe the lie, err, line, or get out of it

Joey Kennedy

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Earlier this year, I was on a panel for a debate of gubernatorial candidates at Alabama Boys State’s annual meeting at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

One night, the GOP candidates debated; the next night, the Democratic Candidates debated.

Only two Republicans showed up; all of the active Democrats were there.

Whatever you think about the value of political debates, that certainly shows that Democrats value open discussion of the issues far more than Republicans.

Even now, with only two candidates for governor remaining, the Republican, not-elected Gov. Kay Ivey, refuses to debate Democrat and elected Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox.

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But give credit to then-GOP gubernatorial candidates Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and state Sen. Bill Hightower for showing up at Boys State and answering questions, even if their answers were strictly following the Republican Party line.

Toeing the line.

One of those lines is that in-person voter fraud – that is, people showing up at the polls pretending to be someone they aren’t and voting – is as common as Kay Ivey refusing to debate.

That simply is not true (in-person voter fraud, that is, not Ivey refusing to debate).

Republicans continue to claim such voter fraud occurs, though there is no evidence for it. But they must toe that line because they so vehemently support strict voter identification laws that don’t actually protect against non-existent fraud, but do, in fact, suppress voting.

During that Boys State debate, Hightower said he believes there is massive voter fraud at the polls. But he’s not the only Republican. Alabama GOP Chair Terry Latham believes there’s massive in-person voter fraud. Indeed, find me a Republican who doesn’t believe it; or at least, find me a Republican who will say he or she doesn’t believe it. Publicly.

Can’t do it. They got to toe that line.

President Donald Trump said he believes more than 5 million people voted illegally in the 2016 election that put him in the White House.

Indeed, as APR colleague Josh Moon pointed out in his column this week, the scam “voter fraud commission” Trump established after he lost the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton was disbanded shortly after it was, uh, banded.

Not even a scam commission could scam up enough fake votes to make it work. Or scam up any fake votes at all. Because they don’t exist.

But Republicans aren’t going to drop that lie, err, line. Many Republicans don’t believe it, but they’ll repeat it because they think their supporters believe it.

Besides, they have to toe the line.

On that Tuesday night in late May, I don’t believe Hightower thought in-person voter fraud really existed, but for whatever reason, he had to say it did. Latham is a smart lady, and I don’t believe she thinks there’s in-person voter fraud, either. But Hightower and Latham and other Republicans will keep saying it. Because that’s what it takes to be a Republican: toe the lie, err, line, or get out of the line – even if the line is an outright lie.

Don’t want to vote for child molester Roy Moore for U.S. Senate? Too bad, he’s the Republican. If you’re a Republican, you’d better vote for the molester. Toe the line.

Don’t really think we need a wall separating the U.S./Mexican border? Too bad, that’s Trump’s idea, and Trump says he’s a Republican. You’d better support the wall.

Know in your heart that a trade war is bad for Alabama auto manufacturers and other businesses? Too bad. That’s Trump’s trade war, and Trump says he’s a Republican. You’d better support tariffs or, if you’re a Republican in Congress, at least take no action to interfere with them.

Know in your heart that President Trump is, indeed, owned by the Russians? What’s the big deal? Trump says he’s a Republican: “I’d rather be a Russian than a Democrat.”

Know in your heart that Republican Kay Ivey should debate Democrat Walt Maddox? If you’re a Republican, don’t you dare say that out loud.

Don’t say it. Toe that line. Toe it! Or you’d better get out of the line.

Want to be a Republican? Critical thinkers need not apply.

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

 

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Opinion | Inside the Statehouse: Supreme Court races on ballot this year

by Steve Flowers Read Time: 4 min
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