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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.

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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.

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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Guest Columnists

Opinion | House passes VA bill, funds Choice Program

Martha Roby

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The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed S. 2372, the VA MISSION Act, taking another critical step towards fulfilling our promise to make the Department of Veterans Affairs work for the men and women who have selflessly served our great nation. I was proud to support the legislation, and I am very pleased that it addresses a number of important pieces of the large VA puzzle.

First and foremost, the VA MISSION Act extends and makes permanent funding for the VA Choice Program that many veterans depend on to receive care. You may have heard that Choice funding was set to expire at the end of May, and this bill prevents that from happening. In both densely populated and rural states alike, it can be very challenging for the VA medical centers to properly care for all veterans in a timely fashion, particularly when specialists are required. The Choice Program is an attempt to bridge this gap by allowing veterans to access private-sector care at VA expense if they have to wait longer than 30 days for a VA appointment or if they live more than 40 miles from a VA health care facility. It has been recorded that 550,000 veterans have used Choice so far this year, and in 2017, 14,790 Alabamians enrolled. Therefore, I am extremely glad that the House has taken action to ensure that this important program is funded.

Secondly, the VA MISSION Act expands the VA’s Post-9/11 Caregiver Program to include veterans of all eras. Currently, only caregivers of veterans from the post-9/11 era are eligible for monthly stipends through the VA, and I believe expanding this program to caregivers of veterans from all eras will help ensure that more veterans receive the help they need.

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Finally, officials at the VA have said that their current physical footprint includes “hundreds of outdated or obsolete facilities,” and many of these facilities are often not in close proximity to large veteran populations. This is a gross waste and misuse of precious resources. Congressman Phil Roe, the Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs and author of the VA MISSION Act, said he believes a process free from bureaucratic politics is needed “to fix the massive and misaligned footprint” of the VA. The bill directs President Trump to establish a team to review the current VA operations across the country and make recommendations about ways we can modernize, improve, and streamline facilities and the services they provide. We can do better than this for our veterans, and I believe we will.

Before the House voted on the bill, 38 veterans groups issued a letter of support for the legislation and called it “a major step towards making improvements to and investments in the VA health care system… so that veterans have access to care when and where they need it.” I agree, and I believe this bill will improve the lives of veterans. Fortunately, I believe the Senate will act quickly on this important piece of legislation, and the President has suggested he will waste no time signing it into law.

You know as well as I do there’s no “quick fix” for the problems plaguing the VA – of course, I wish there was. Nonetheless, I will continue to support commonsense measures like the VA MISSION Act to deliver positive change for veterans. I have heard from countless veterans in Alabama’s Second District about the continued need for VA changes to improve the care they receive. We owe the men and women who have served our country the absolute best care possible, and I won’t stop fighting to achieve this. I hope we will soon see the VA MISSION Act signed into law.

Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama, with her husband Riley and their two children.

 

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Opinion | Appreciation for Law Enforcement

Bradley Byrne

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Each day, law enforcement officers leave the safety of their homes not knowing if they will pass back through their own front doors at the end of the work day.  They leave their families behind to ensure the safety of our loved ones at schools, in neighborhoods, and on the roadways.  There is never enough we can do to show our appreciation for their work.

These men and women often go far beyond their official job descriptions.  Even when they are not wearing the uniform, law enforcement officers play a significant role in our neighborhoods, schools, and churches.  They even serve as positive role models for our children.

 I have had the chance to ride along with some of our local law enforcement officers and witness firsthand the challenges they face on the job.  Law enforcement officers encounter dangers on the job that do not exist in other professions.  It shocked me to realize that even a task as routine as a traffic stop can turn hostile, and in some cases, even deadly.

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That is why each year we celebrate National Police Week, which gives us an opportunity to reflect on the hard and dangerous work our nation’s law enforcement officers do daily.   Police Week attracts people from across the country to our nation’s capital for memorial services, parades, and vigils in honor of our men and women in blue.

Police Week also serves as a time to pay our respects as a nation to those whose end of watch came too soon.  I recognized National Police Week by speaking on the floor of the House of Representatives to honor these brave men and women and remember the life of one of our very own who was killed in the line of duty just four months ago.

Mobile Police Officer Justin Billa paid the ultimate sacrifice after being shot and killed while responding to a domestic violence call on February 20th, 2018.  In such a time of immense grief, we saw our community rally together to support the family and friends of fallen Officer Billa.  The impact of his death was felt throughout the United States, as officers and first responders from across the country traveled to Mobile to pay their respects.

To remember our fallen heroes and honor all of those in law enforcement, the House of Representatives passed several pro-law enforcement bills last week.

The Protect and Serve Act of 2018 toughens federal penalties against people who intentionally target law enforcement officers in attacks, including ambushes.

Additionally, we passed the Justice Served Act of 2018, which provides funds to prosecute cold cases that are solved by breakthrough DNA evidence, including backlogged rape kits.  This bill will strengthen our criminal justice system by making sure that newly-tested evidence is used to prosecute unsolved cases, thus ensuring violent criminals are brought to justice.

From legislation to prevent attacks on our officers to providing funding for additional resources, we are working to ensure these dedicated individuals have the tools they need to do their jobs and keep us safe.

Let us not forget that we sleep soundly at night due to the sacrifices our law enforcement officers make out on the streets.  We owe these individuals far more than our thanks for the services they provide.

I ask you to join me in showing your appreciation for the law enforcement officers in Southwest Alabama for living a life of service. May we honor them each and every day.

 

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Josh Moon

Opinion | No Mo, please: It’s time to vote out dumb people

Josh Moon

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Smart people reside in Alabama.

Curious, intelligent, open-minded, reasonable, rational people live within Alabama’s borders.

It’s true.

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I know them. I’ve talked with them. There are a lot of them. Many of them kept Roy Moore from being our Senator and they work every day to make the state and the world a little better and a little brighter.

They launch rockets and build cars. They teach some of the nation’s best students and lead world-class college departments. They’re book smart and street smart and can hold their own with a New York Time’s crossword or a round of “Jeopardy!”.

We have nationally renowned artists and mathematicians and engineers and lawyers and doctors and innovators.

Our problem, however, is that we — in the words of the great philosopher Jeff Foxworthy — can’t manage to keep the most ignorant amongst us from popping up on TV.

And so it was Thursday, when a picture of Alabama Rep. Mo “Ron” Brooks popped up on my TV screen, grinning like he was the cat who just ate the canary, but we all know he probably just accidentally ate a sock or something.

I knew it wouldn’t be good news for Alabama, whatever the story that accompanied Brooks’ random appearance on national news. I assumed it was immigration-related — maybe Brooks had renewed his claims of the “war on white people” or was now reconsidering not shooting immigrants.

To my utter amazement, it was dumber than that.

The guy representing the Huntsville area of our state — the area we prop up as our “smart” section, where the engineers and progressives reside — said out loud during a hearing before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology that rocks falling into the ocean are contributing to sea level rise.

Brooks was, of course, refuting a comment from a scientist. Philip Duffy, president of the Woods Hole Research Center, had the unfortunate responsibility of answering committee questions, and he had tried valiantly to explain in simple terms that the rising sea levels were caused by global warming.

To which Brooks interjected: “What about erosion?”

Brooks’ theory is that rocks and silt deposited into the world’s oceans by rivers, along with waves causing rocks to fall into the oceans, causes the water to be displaced and the sea floor to rise, and thus the rising sea levels are explained without the Koch Brothers and the oil barons having to pay a penny to regulate the poison they pump into the air.

It’s incredibly stupid, and something a child might think. But it’s a theory.

And in this age of all of us having to pretend that every ridiculous talking point dreamed up by conservatives to avoid accepting reality is a legitimate argument worthy of consideration, the Washington Post published research on Brooks’ “theory.” Turns out, the top five inches of all the soil in all of America would have to fall into the ocean to force it to rise at its current 3.3 millimeters annually.

And that’s to get one year of rising levels.

But you know what? I’m not even mad at Mo Brooks. Even if he’s only pretending to be this stupid to muddy the water. (Spoiler: He’s not.)

This is on Alabama voters. Again.

This is the guy representing you in Congress. Each time he’s on TV, the word “Alabama” is beside his name. He’s who people not from here think of when you tell them you’re from Alabama.

Like, when you go on vacation to that all-inclusive resort in Jamaica and you’re hanging out in the pool with cool people from other U.S. states and other countries, and they ask where you’re from, and you tell them you’re from Alabama. This guy — Mo freakin’ Brooks — is the guy they picture.

And that’s why you’re eating alone every night.

But it’s more than that.

This is also the guy that young entrepreneurs and business owners see. Which might explain why we have to pay people millions to relocate their businesses here.

He’s your first impression when you travel on business or welcome clients or try to land new vendors.

Call them crazy, but when Mo Brooks was elected as your representative, people took that to mean that he was representative of you, and the people of Alabama.

Well, Mo Brooks and the rest of this bunch of backwoods, discriminatory, willfully ignorant, guns-over-people politicians that we’ve put into office don’t represent me. And they don’t represent most of the people I know in this state.

It’s time we do something about that.

 

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Opinion | Inside the Statehouse: Entering the home stretch

by Steve Flowers Read Time: 4 min
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