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Canary’s survival at BCA seen as a growing threat to infrastructure plan success

Bill Britt

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Billy Canary is CEO of the Business Council of Alabama. (via BCAToday.org)

There may have been a time when the Business Council of Alabama was a cohesive organization dedicated to growth opportunities for all its members, but those days are in the distant past due to the failed leadership of its embattled CEO, Billy Canary.

“Canary is not a bridge builder. He builds walls that divide, not paths that unite,” said a longtime advocate for BCA.

Canary, according to BCA members, is obsessed with passing a gas tax in 2019, to fund a massive statewide infrastructure project. He is also reportedly determined to finance a slate of candidates who are sympathetic to his cause. “Billy is picking candidates for personal reasons, not because they are best for BCA but to help him,” said a prominent campaign consultant. “He wants to settle scores, and finance those who will be personally loyal to him, not BCA.”

Email acknowledges it’s time for Canary to go

Since an April 10 meeting of BCA’s executive committee, Canary has struggled to survive a consensus agreement that he must resign. At the April conference, seven of the state’s largest corporations detailed why Canary must step aside for the good of the organization and the state. While the executive committee agrees its time for Canary to go, there is vast disagreement on timing. The seven corporations represented by BCA’s largest donors want Canary’s resignation effective June 1. Current Chairman Perry Hand is fighting to keep Canary around through the fall general elections.

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Billy Canary out at BCA, sort of 

While the infrastructure project is seen as a necessary next-step to advance the state’s economy, just how such a sweeping investment will be financed is still being hammered out.

But Canary’s push for a broad tax is indicative of his myopic approach that has alienated lawmakers and business executives over the last several years.

Speculation abounds that Hand, chairman of Volkert Inc., may be allowing Canary to stay on at BCA so that the engineering firm he represents may disproportionately benefit from the infrastructure plan Canary is promoting. It is also believed that Canary is using Progress PAC campaign contributions to build a lobbying business for when he is finally pushed out at BCA.

Does Volkert chairman have millions of reasons to support Canary at BCA?

Since the Republican takeover in 2010, Canary adopted a ‘my way or the highway’ approach favored by Hubbard and former Gov. Bob Riley.

“The Rileys have always favored a ‘Masters of the universe’ approach,” said a former Riley staffer. “This suited both Billy and Mike who wanted to create a fiefdom like Riley’s for themselves and successfully did so until greed overtook them.”

Signs of this type of arrogance was evident even in the 2010 rewrite of the state’s ethics laws, where Riley and Hubbard approved an exception in the Ethics Act that allowed only BCA to hold large events while denying smaller lobbying interests even a Christmas party or a steak dinner with lawmakers. “One thing these guys never understood was that you have to share,” said the former Riley staffer. “If you keep everything for yourself and your buddies, you’re going to create a bunch of enemies.”

Opinion | The black hand behind Perry Hand

Canary has done an excellent job of elevating his loyalists to BCA’s executive committee, but he forgot that bigger players were not going to sit idle as Canary used their funds to build a solo empire.

Currently, Canary is spending hundreds of thousands from BCA’s political arm, Progress PAC, to fund losing candidates like Attorney General Steve Marshall, Supreme Court Justice Lyn Stuart and Agriculture and Industry Commissioner candidate Rick Pate. Despite internal polling that shows the three losing in the upcoming Republican primary, Canary continues his spending spree.

Sources at BCA say Canary is emboldened by Poarch Creek Indian Vice-chair Robbie McGhee and his lobbyist-friends Allison and Phillip Kinney, who are aiding in his funding efforts. McGhee and the Kinneys joined forces with Canary after it became apparent that many corporate sponsors were questioning Canary’s leadership. Reminiscent of McGhee’s alliance with former speaker and convicted felon Mike Hubbard, many tribal leaders fail to grasp the harm being done to PCI’s reputation by supporting the endangered Canary. McGhee and the Kinneys lack full support from the Tribal Council according to their allies, but the threesome remains “hellbent” in their support of Canary regardless of the political blowback, as one tribal observer noted.

Canary-Hand dumpster fire leads to emergency conference call; PAC plan revealed

The seven corporations that are calling for Canary’s removal each have a stake in seeing an infrastructure plan succeed. However, they are looking at the bigger picture while Canary is only looking out for himself, according to APR‘s insider.

Canary’s divisive tactics are seen as a growing liability. One that must be dealt with in May — not November.

 

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Prosecutor Matt Hart has been fired by Steve Marshall

Josh Moon

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The most feared man in Alabama politics has been fired.

Alabama prosecutor Matt Hart, who until Monday headed up the special prosecutions unit at the Alabama Attorney General’s Office, was unceremoniously fired by AG Steve Marshall. A brief statement from Marshall’s office said Hart resigned and refused to comment otherwise.

However, a source told APR on Monday that Hart was informed of the decision on Monday morning and given the option of resigning instead of being fired. He was then escorted out of the building by security.

The firing of Hart was not necessarily surprising to anyone who paid attention to the recent election and Marshall’s run for AG. As APR reported in numerous stories, Marshall accepted campaign donations from several sources with interests in weakening ethics laws and seeing Hart removed.

There is also little political downside for firing Hart. Most state lawmakers will be happy to see him go, since it removes a barrier to the quid pro quo style of governance that turned Alabama’s government into one of the most corrupt in the nation. Additionally, Alabama voters have proven to be far more concerned with party politics than rule of law and ethics.

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Hart’s career spans decades in the state and includes high-profile prosecutions of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

He was a particular thorn in the side of politicians who skirted the ethics laws. He prosecuted and earned a 12-count conviction of former GOP Speaker Mike Hubbard. He negotiated a guilty plea and resignation from former Gov. Robert Bentley. And his special grand jury in Jefferson County was digging through the scheme to undermine an EPA superfund site.

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Elections

More than $100,000 campaign finance penalties collected during 2018 election season

Chip Brownlee

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More than $100,000 in campaign finance fines and fees have been collected during the 2018 campaign season in Alabama.

The Alabama Secretary of State’s Office said Friday that $197,657.84 in Fair Campaign Practices Act penalties have been issued, and $102,249.05 of those fees have been paid by political action committees and principal campaign committees.

The Secretary of State is required to issue penalties to PACs and PCCs when they do not file their monthly, weekly or daily campaign finance reports on time or at all.

The office said money that hasn’t been paid of the $197,000 total have either been waived by the Alabama Ethics Commission or the Secretary of State’s Office is still waiting to collect the funds from the committees. There were a total 1,166 penalties or warnings this campaign season.

The requirements are part of act 2015-495, which was passed by the legislature in 2015, and went into effect with the start of the 2018 Election Cycle.

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Committees are required to file their campaign finance report by midnight on the date the report is due. Most reports are due by 12:00 p.m. on the second day of each month. Committees are required to report all contributions and expenditures incurred by their campaign during the previous month.

The first report a candidate files late — if it’s within 48 hours of the date the report is due — leads to a warning, which does not count against them or require a fine be paid. Further, the code specifically states that warnings are not violations of the law.

Penalties amounts increase as the number of late reports increases from the candidate.

Committees also have the ability to appeal their penalty to the Alabama Ethics Commission, which has been lenient in overturning violations for a number of reasons.

Of the 1,166 penalties and warnings, 166 have been overturned.

Fines paid by committees are deposited directly into the state general fund.

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | The political genius in film: William Goldman

Bill Britt

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Last Friday, Oscar-winning writer William Goldman died at the age of 87. Movie-goers and Hollywood enjoyed his wry wit and sardonic wisdom, but investigative reporters worldwide are forever in his debt for giving us the single best lead for tracking down public corruption and nefarious politicos.

Goldman wrote the screenplay for the movie adapted from Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s book, “All the Presidents Men,” which follows the downfall of President Richard M. Nixon after the Watergate break-in.

During a pivotal scene in the 1976 movie, Woodward’s character, played by Robert Redford, is told by his anonymous government source known as Deep Throat to, “Follow the money.”

Nowhere is the line, “Follow the money” found in Woodward and Bernstein’s book. It is Goldman’s invention and pure reporting genius.

But tracking a money trail can be used in a broader context to understand why things happen the way they do in government.

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Let’s put aside, for now, the notion of public service and admit that a majority of what happens in politics is tied to the wants of one particular group or another. These groups or individuals, commonly referred to in the pejorative as special interests, are not necessarily evil. They just want what’s best for themselves and their interests.

During her first State of the State address nearly a year ago, Gov. Kay Ivey staked her ground with workforce development, job creation and an education proposal under her, “Strong Start, Strong Finish: from pre-K to workforce,” plan. Gov. Ivey has a detailed strategy for success, but her goals will be challenged by those who prosper under a system that is burdened with an entrenched bureaucracy, as well as those who dine off the Education Trust Fund without actually being a part of educating Alabamians.

Likewise, Alabama’s Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon lists infrastructure, improving public schools, school security and stronger ethics laws as a priority. To enumerate the special interests that will line up to pick away at his goals would be a nearly impossible task.

Neither Ivey or McCutcheon will be swayed by personal gain as was their predecessors, but they will need a well-placed group of watchers to see who will work to undermine their best efforts. To do so means following the money.

Goldman wrote many other novels and screenplays, most notably, “The Princess Bride,” “Marathon Man” and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”

In Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the pair’s only hope of escaping a rapidly approaching posse is to cliff dive hundreds of feet into a raging river. During the tense moment, Sundance reveals he can’t swim to which Butch chuckles, “Are you crazy, the fall will probably kill you.”

Butch and Sundance were not winners, but they rarely doubted as an exchange between the pair shows.

The Sundance Kid: “You just keep thinking Butch, that’s what you’re good at.”

Butch Cassidy: “I got vision, and the rest of the world wears bifocals.”

Goldman’s characters displayed ironic humor in the face of defeat and generally find a way, at least for a moment, to turn a loss into a victory. Sometimes leadership is simply the ability to make it from one failure to the next.

An enduring line from the Princess Bride is, “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” However, any wise practitioner of the political arts knows as Goldman points out, there’s not much money in the revenge business.

Another phrase from the Princess Bride which is a mainstay of the movie’s fans is, “Inconceivable,” repeatedly uttered by the stooge mastermind, Vizzini. Every action in government is conceivable because it is human nature at work.

In Goldman’s “Marathon Man,” Dustin Hoffman plays an oblivious long-distance runner who becomes entangled in a case of stolen gems and sadistic henchmen.  During the film, Huffman’s character encounters a Nazi-dentist who drills Hoffman’s healthy teeth without painkillers, torturing him for the correct answer to the eternal question, “Is it safe?”

It’s politics, and it’s never safe. That is why there must be journalists who ask the tough question, dig for facts and report without fear or prejudice. We don’t see this as often as we should in state politics because there is a cost to truth-telling. But the price of not reporting is a price too high to measure.

Goldman was a genius who not only entertained us but made us think. In politics, we don’t all have to think alike, but it would be good to know that everyone is thinking.

With Butch and Sundance, he gave us a lesson in how hope springs eternal. In “Marathon Man,” we see that things are not always what they seem. “The Princess Bride” let us see how true love can conquer all, but in politics, follow the money if you want to know what’s really happening.

In the end Goldman summed up the human condition, “Life is pain, Highness! Anyone who says differently is selling something.” –The Princess Bride

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Mazda-Toyota auto plant breaks ground in Limestone County

Brandon Moseley

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via Governor's Office

Friday, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) joined Mazda Toyota Manufacturing, U.S.A. to break ground on their new $1.6 billion plant in the City of Huntsville. The jointly owned-and-operated automotive production plant is expected to create 4,000 new jobs. The Limestone County automobile plant is the largest economic development project landed by the state of Alabama in the last decade.

“Not only is Mazda Toyota Manufacturing providing high-paying jobs, they are investing heavily in our future workforce,” Gov. Ivey said. “This will not only benefit them, but also other manufacturers in the area. One thing I’ve learned with Toyota being in our state is that they care for the communities where they do business – it is, after all, their home, too. And they prove it every day. We are lucky to have Mazda Toyota expanding in Alabama.”

The massive new plant will have the capacity to build 300,000 vehicles. The plant will build both Toyota’s Corolla, whose all-new 2020 model was unveiled last week in California, and Mazda’s yet-to-be revealed crossover model.

“We are proud to be here with Toyota, with whom we share the bond of pride in manufacturing,” said Mazda’s senior managing executive officer Kiyotaka Shobuda. “We are proud to be breaking ground on a new ‘home’ here in Huntsville – a city that believes in the possibilities of technology and manufacturing, and has striven to realize mankind’s greatest dream.”
Economic Developer Nicole Jones told the Alabama Political Reporter, “Much has progressed with site prep since we sat in Montgomery for the official unveiling of the Mazda-Toyota joint venture manufacturing plant ten months ago. Folks are excited about the 4,000 job opportunities that await with global companies that consistently invest in their workforce and communities.”

The alliance will assure competitiveness in manufacturing, allowing both automakers to respond quickly to market changes and helping to ensure sustainable growth toward the future of mobility.

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“It is extremely special to have a partner like Mazda to team up with not only to make the highest-quality cars, but also to create a plant that team members are proud to call their own,” said chief executive officer of Toyota Motor North America Jim Lentz. “As we’ve seen at our Huntsville engine plant, Alabamians are a proud, talented, hard-working group. We are excited to continue our deep investment in the U.S. and Alabama and see nothing but a bright future.”

Nicole Jones said, “Thank you to Akio Toyoda, President of Toyota Corporation, and Masamichi Kogai, President of Mazda, for investing in our state. Mazda and Toyota’s search was intense and included visits to 20 states within six weeks in 2017. Governor Kay Ivey, the Alabama Department of Commerce, members of the local delegation, and many people from the public and private sector collaborated to make ‘Project New World’ happen. And we all can recognize how monumental a project is when the President of the United States mentions it in his State of the Union Address!”

Also with the groundbreaking, MTMUS donated $750,000 to support STEM-related programs that will encourage and motivate students to pursue a career in the advanced manufacturing field. MTMUS has 4,000 jobs to fill and is committed to investing in developing its future workforce in collaboration with local educators and economic development partners.

Those donations include $500,000 to the Huntsville Madison County Chamber Foundation to launch a new career exploration online platform highlighting careers in manufacturing to students. The goal is to work with local school systems and promote this tool as a resource for career coaches and teachers.

The company also donated $250,000 to be split between: the Huntsville City Schools, the Madison County Schools, Madison City Schools, Limestone County Schools, the Decatur City Schools, and the Morgan County Schools

In addition, the Mazda Foundation (USA), Inc. also donated: $50,000 to Boys & Girls Club of North Alabama; $50,000 to Food Bank of North Alabama; and $20,000 to Greater Huntsville Humane Society.

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Canary’s survival at BCA seen as a growing threat to infrastructure plan success

by Bill Britt Read Time: 4 min
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