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Opinion | Inside the Statehouse: Entering the home stretch

Steve Flowers

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Folks, we are less than three weeks away from our June 5th primary. Besides the governor’s race, all of our secondary constitutional races are on the ballot.

As we head into the home stretch, there appears to be very little interest in the primary elections. People seem disinterested and disillusioned. There have been a good many scandals and ethics convictions over the past quadrennium, which has put a damper on the enthusiasm generally associated with a gubernatorial election year. Even fundraising has been down considerably.

This voting ambivalence will result in a lower than normal turnout. This accrues to the advantage of incumbents and those with name identification.

The governor’s race has not been that interesting. However, the Democrats have fielded quality candidates in that race. The winner of the June GOP Primary will have to mount a campaign in the fall against either Walt Maddox or Sue Bell Cobb.

The secondary races are being lost in the shuffle of the avalanche of races on the ballot. The best race, as was expected, has been the Attorney General contest.

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Former Governor, Robert Bentley, during his last days as governor, appointed an obscure former District Attorney named Steve Marshall, as the acting Attorney General. As expected Marshall did the bidding of Bentley and allowed him leniency in any further prosecution. Marshall has used every tool of incumbency to strong arm campaign contributions for his race for a full term. However, polling indicates that his efforts will be to no avail.

With so little interest in the secondary statewide races, former Attorney General Troy King, is perceived as the incumbent and enjoys a comfortable lead in this race due to his name identification. As we head to “Amen” corner, my guess is that King leads the race and former U.S. Attorney Alice Martin is in a runoff with Troy King.

Birmingham attorney, Chess Bedsole, could be a late surprise if he spends a significant amount of his own money. He is not a political novice. He was an integral part of the Donald Trump presidential campaign.

The winner will probably face off against Joseph Siegelman, a handsome, progressive, young heir to an iconic Alabama Democratic name.

The Lt. Governor race has changed very little since the beginning of the campaign season four months ago. Public Service Commission President, Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, holds a commanding lead in all polls. She knows how to run statewide and has headed the state Republican Party. Even though her polling lead is daunting, her results in three weeks may even exceed her formidable lead in the polls. She has built a statewide grassroots campaign organization over the years, which her two challengers lack.

The last polls reveal that Twinkle Cavanaugh leads Mobile State Senator Rusty Glover and Sand Mountain State Representative Will Ainsworth. Polls reveal that Glover will get a good friends and neighbors vote from his home Mobile region. This may hold him in good stead in a race for Congress in two years, if Mobile-Baldwin Congressman Bradley Bryne runs for the U.S. Senate in 2020.

Will Ainsworth has made a significant television buy in the lieutenant governor’s race, which should propel him into second place in that contest.

Secretary of State John Merrill will waltz to a second term as Secretary of State. He is the best retail politician on the Alabama political scene. Even though he has token opposition, he has probably outworked every candidate on the ballot. When his office counts all the ballots on June 6, Merrill will probably be the top vote getter in all statewide races.

Right behind Merrill winning in a landslide, will be Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan, who will have an overwhelming victory as State Treasurer.

Rick Pate has gotten a lot of traction in the Agriculture Commissioner race. He has garnered most of the major endorsements, including ALFA and BCA.

Jeremy Oden and Chip Beeker should coast to reelection victories as members of the Public Service Commission for another four years.

Beeker, Oden and Twinkle Cavanaugh should benefit from their recent vote to save Alabama Power customers $337 million over the next two years, a cut made possible by the Trump administration and Republican Congress’ passage of federal tax reform.

Folks, that is a big win for Alabama’s economy. It is sure to put a smile on the faces of families and small business owners across the state. Cavanaugh, Beeker, and Oden deserve credit for making it happen.

See you next week.

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Can Alabama’s one-party system deliver for all the people?

Bill Britt

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Alabama is a one-party state.

For 136 years, the Democratic Party was the sole governing body which ruled the state under a one-party system. Voters switched sides in 2010, and now there is one-party control by Republicans.

Of the many problems created by a one-party system are the elimination of checks and balances, disregard for the minority population, a tendency for tolerating corruption within the controlling ranks and ignoring best practices because they may be ideas that come from the opposition.

Alabama is in dire need of men and women in positions of political power and influence who can see beyond the second ripple in the pond and who will do what is right, not based on party, but a deep abiding loyalty to our state.

Far too often policy items are ill-conceived, half-baked-by-products of some other state’s solutions or a national narrative that isn’t in the best interest of the people of our state.

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Best policy is written using fact-based information tailored to the needs of the state.

As lawmakers gear up for the 2019 Legislative Session, it might be fair to ask, “What do in-coming Republican lawmakers stand for today?”

One freshman legislator recently said that he is coming to Montgomery to help President Trump build the wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Far be it from me to question the gentleman’s motivation or IQ, but if I’m correct, the state Legislature does not have any say over a border wall, unless he thinks we need one in Mobile.

We have some excellent women and men at the State House, but there are a few who have no business deciding what’s for lunch, much less what is best for the people.

The state has many challenges which include weak income growth which is only improving because the national economy is rolling along, prisons that are a disgrace and under federal lawsuits, an infrastructure which is crumbling and self-dealing that is on the rise.

Republicans, like the Democrats before them, have not adequately addressed these systemic problems because with one-party rule, no one is pushing them to do better.

Perhaps the lack of real change is understandable given that for six of the last eight years, the Republican-led government was controlled by a delusional governor and a crooked Speaker of the House.

Former Speaker Mike Hubbard is going to prison, Gov. Robert Bentley is out of office and still out of his mind, so going forward, the state will know if Republicans can actually lead.

Republicans have a chance to lead; will they?

Without a strong opposition party, Republicans, like Democrats of the past, have no reason to compromise or build a coalition between the two parties. Therefore, in many instances, what is best for the state is hampered by groupthink or a slavish devotion to a national party orthodoxy that offers scant solutions to Alabama’s most pressing problems.

The state’s voting population is arguably at 60/40, with Republicans holding a commanding majority over Democrats as evident by the state’s last general election.

In his essay “Party dominance ‘theory’: Of what value?” Raymond Suttner notes, “The notion of a dominant party, usually described by those who deploy the concept, as a theory or a system, refers to a category of parties/political organizations that have successively won election victories and whose future defeat cannot be envisaged or is unlikely for the foreseeable future.”

Republicans occupy all 29 statewide offices and control more than two-thirds of both the House and the Senate; Alabama is a one-party state.

If the state succeeds, Republicans can take credit. If it continues near the bottom in every meaningful measure of success, then they should be held accountable.

One-party government is fraught with problems, not the less of which is a failure to deliver good government for all the people because they don’t have to worry about reelection.

Alabama should expect more, but do we?

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Opinion | Do what’ll really help: Expand Medicaid

Joey Kennedy

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We’ll certainly see whether state Sen. Greg Reed’s support of the new Medicaid Integrated Care Network is worthy and that the program does what is promised. Let’s hope it does, but pardon my cynicism, because any health care program these days that promises to do more for millions of dollars less falls under my “too-good-to-be-true” doctrine.

That just doesn’t happen.

Reed wrote about the ICN for Alabama Political Reporter Wednesday, and here’s how he describes it: “In October of this year, the state Medicaid agency partnered with an Alabama health care provider that will now serve the medical needs of the 23,000 senior citizens who are receiving Medicaid’s long-term care services, 70% of whom are in nursing homes. By partnering with an expert health care provider based in Alabama, Medicaid can offer its long-term patients better care – and thus allow more Medicare recipients to stay longer in the comfort of their own home.”

This program, Reed writes, “is projected to save, over the long run, tens of millions of taxpayer dollars.”

Too bad that Reed, the Jasper Republican who is Majority Leader, isn’t pushing to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. That would do far more to help poor Alabamians, especially the working poor. Hundreds of thousands of Alabamians can’t get health insurance because they don’t qualify for subsidies, yet make too much to qualify for Medicaid.

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While helping Alabama seniors live at home longer is a great goal, it’s doubtful they’ll get better care for millions of dollars less.

Expanding Medicaid under the ACA isn’t going to save the state money, either. It’ll cost millions of dollars more, though a fraction of what it would cost without the federal dollars that’ll come into the state with expansion.

And with that expansion comes more jobs and economic development, and many hospitals, particularly in rural areas on the verge of bankruptcy, can keep their doors open, saving good-paying jobs there and at businesses that benefit from development around hospitals.

Expanding Medicaid is about the best economic development decision the Legislature and governor could make.
Alabama should have expanded Medicaid from the outset, but the politics of hating President Barack Obama kept that from happening. It was more important to stick it to the first black president than to make sure more Alabama residents had access to health care.

Frankly, that still seems to be the goal.

We just had an election, and Alabama voters decided they’d rather keep the same crew in charge – the one that continues to make life-and-death decisions against their best interests.

For too many, an unconstitutional amendment to our state constitution that practically bans a woman’s choice was more important than making sure that women have decent health care. An unconstitutional amendment glorifying the Ten Commandments is more important than making sure those commandments are kept in the way we deliver services to the least of these.

So really, I’m rooting for Reed on doing something to provide more Medicaid services to Alabama senior citizens. But I’m rooting even more that Reed and his Republican colleagues change their can’t-do mind-set and expand Medicaid under the ACA.

Even if they still, for no good reason, hate the man who made the ACA possible.

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: Last of famous probate judges: Hardy McCollum

Steve Flowers

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In Alabama political history, the office of Probate Judge was the most powerful and prestigious position. In the old days, in every county in Alabama, the probate judge was not only judge, he also appointed all county positions, hired all county employees and was Chairman of the County Commission. He was essentially the “King of the County.”

In bygone days, gubernatorial candidates ran grassroots campaigns. There were no televisions, therefore, the first and maybe the only stop they would make in their quest for the Governor’s mansion, was to kiss the ring of and get the endorsement of the probate judge. The omnipotent probate judge would endorse them and that endorsement usually meant that that they would carry that county. The local folks would follow the lead of their judge. They and their county would be on the right side of the governor’s race.

The last vestige of the era of vintage Probate Judges will end this year with the retirement of Tuscaloosa Probate Judge, Hardy McCollum.

Judge McCollum is only 71. However, Alabama law disallows judges from running for reelection after age 70. He has been the longest serving probate judge in the state, and at the time of his first election in 1976, he was the youngest probate judge in Alabama. Hardy was elected at age 28, and took the coveted office of Probate Judge at the ripe old age of 29. Hardy McCollum has served his home county as Probate Judge for 42 years.

During that time, he has consistently been considered the most popular political figure in his county. He has always run as a Democrat. When the tide turned and the state went Republican in the 1980’s and 90’s and most of the state’s prominent politicians switched to the Republican Party, Hardy refused to change. He withstood the tidal wave and remained the most revered public official in Tuscaloosa County.

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The anomaly of his popularity is that he continues to hold the title of Chairman of the County Commission, a rarity in this day and time, especially for a large county like Tuscaloosa. There are only 15 counties in the state left where the Probate Judge still serves as Chairman of the County Commission and, only two populous counties, Lee and Tuscaloosa.

Hardy McCollum was born and raised in Tuscaloosa. He learned at an early age how much the Goodrich and Gulf States paper plants meant to Tuscaloosa. Druid City was also dependent upon public employees. Tuscaloosa was home to the state mental health institutions, Bryce and Partlow. The University of Alabama has always been Tuscaloosa’s mainstay. Hardy grew up selling peanuts, popcorn and programs at Denny Stadium.

Hardy married his high school sweetheart, Juanita. They both graduated from Tuscaloosa High School and they both continued on and graduated from the University of Alabama.

They have three children, Jay, Jason, and Joy. Hardy and Juanita are fortunate that all three live in Tuscaloosa. They are able to enjoy their five grandchildren. Their second son, Jason, and Tuscaloosa mayor, Walt Maddox, grew up together as neighbors and best friends.

After college, Hardy began work in Tuscaloosa and became active in the Jaycees, which was a normal training ground for aspiring politicos in those days. His first political experience was campaigning for Richard Shelby for the State Senate in 1970.

In his first race for office, he was elected as Probate Judge. After that initial election in 1976, he was subsequently reelected to six more six-year terms, serving from 1976 through 2018. He had opposition every time but dispensed of his opponents easily each time.

Hardy’s last reelection in 2012 was the one that caught the eye of most political observers throughout the state. President Barack Obama was heading the Democratic ticket. It was a tsunami wipeout of almost every white Democrat in the Heart of Dixie. This red tidal wave also swept through Tuscaloosa. Hardy McCollum stood out like a sore thumb. Hardy McCollum, who had refused to change parties, withstood the tidal wave and won reelection as a Democratic Probate Judge with 67 percent of the vote against a Republican Sheriff.

There is an old saying in Alabama politics that home folks know you best. Hardy attributed his longevity and success to always doing the right thing regardless of whether it is politically popular. People will respect you if you are doing the right thing.

Hardy McCollum has done the right thing for his home county for 42-years. It’s time for him to go to the house and, hopefully, he will enjoy his retirement years. You can rest assured they will be spent in his beloved Tuscaloosa County. He will be replaced as Probate Judge by a Republican. It marks the passing of an era in Alabama politics.

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 | More fake news from Alabama Policy Institute

Larry Lee

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The Montgomery County board of education passed a resolution in October calling for the repeal of the Alabama Accountability Act.

I was on the board that did this, I wrote much of the resolution and I voted for it.

So, I was more than a little surprised when I read a recent article by Rachel Bryars of the Alabama Policy Institute telling me why I did what I did and how I was intent on hurting needy children.

The article was titled: School boards are choosing systems over students by calling for scholarship repeal.

This title is totally inaccurate, as is most of her following article.

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To be correct, it should have said something like: Schools boards are looking out for students in their system instead those in private schools.

Every school board member takes an oath that they will do all they can to help their system and its students. But apparently Ms. Bryars thinks oaths are to be forgotten.

API is a huge supporter of the accountability act. The one that diverts money from the state Education Trust Fund to give scholarships so students can attend private schools.

Montgomery is one of four systems to pass such a resolution. The others are Mobile, Baldwin and Tallapoosa counties.

Ms. Bryars would have you believe that these four systems have all the funding they need and are being cold-hearted by calling for money to stop being diverted.

That is laughable.

So immediately after reading her article I sent Ms. Bryars an email inviting her to come visit some public schools in Montgomery and see for herself. Told her I would be glad to arrange her visit.

Got no response.

I would take her to visit some science teachers who can’t remember the last time they got new textbooks, would take her to the present home of our magnet performing arts high school that is crammed into an abandoned elementary school because their school burned down a few months ago.

Would take her to another magnet school that is housed in a building constructed in 1910, and would take her to see Curtis Black, the principal at Goodwyn Middle School who got 300 new students back in August and has them crammed into every nook and cranny he can find.

Would also suggest she take a look at the national website, DonorsChoose, where teachers around the country show projects they need funding for. There are presently 38 projects listed by Montgomery teachers. Guess they don’t know their system has more money than it can use.

As to the contention that this system is not looking out for children, figures from the state department of education show there are now 16,202 students in this system on free or reduced lunches.

Anyone who knows anything about education know these are our most at-risk students.
Ms. Bryars must think we have zero obligation to these children. That we should say it is OK to take money that might be used to boost their education and give it to private schools instead?

And how did API determine MPS is flush with cash? Because we have had an increase in funding since 2008. However, they fail to point out that 2008 was the high-water mark for education funding in Alabama and funding today is less than it was ten years ago.

Schools in Alabama need all the help they can get. We certainly don’t need the kind of falsehoods and half-truths the Alabama Policy Institute insists on peddling.

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Opinion | Inside the Statehouse: Entering the home stretch

by Steve Flowers Read Time: 4 min
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