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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.

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!”.

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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 | 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 | In politics, more than ever, conversations are important

Josh Moon

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Terry Lathan was not happy with me.

That tends to happen, I guess, when you say in a column that someone believed a dumb thing. The believer of that dumb thing, it seems, very rarely shares the opinion that what they believe is, in fact, dumb.

And that was pretty much Lathan’s position.

In a column published in APR on Monday, I wrote that Lathan, the chairman of the state’s Republican Party, had turned over sensitive voter information to President Trump’s ridiculous “voter fraud commission,” circumventing Secretary of State John Merrill, who had declined to release that information. And I said that she did so because she believed a dumb thing — that in-person voter fraud is a rampant problem.

The basic facts cited in the column were all first reported by ProPublica, using emails obtained from a federal watchdog group. Lathan’s emails with the chairman of the voter fraud commission, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, were part of the batch obtained, and sure enough, there she was agreeing to turn over the info. And agreeing to do so a full month after Merrill had declined the request.

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But those emails didn’t tell the whole story, Lathan said.

And to be fair to her, she had a point. And she also had a fair reason to be upset. Actually, she had two reasons.

The first was that the headline I placed on the column didn’t match the information in the column. And the second was that I should have called her before running the column.

There was no way to know from the emails between Lathan and Kobach whether Lathan and her staff ever carried through with the promise to provide the voter rolls. And I was careful to say so in the column. I was not so careful with the headline.

It was a mistake. And it has been corrected.

The second problem, though, that’s one I shouldn’t have made. Calling Lathan was something I should have done, even if it wouldn’t have changed the column I wrote.

I didn’t call her because of a few reasons — mainly because it was Sunday night when I wrote the column and because it was based almost entirely on the basic facts contained in her emails with Kobach and the ProPublica story.

I talked with Lathan for an hour on Tuesday. She told me that she was very concerned with protecting the data, and that the rolls she agreed to turn over didn’t contain extensive information, such as driver’s license numbers. And she said the commission never followed through and collected the rolls.

None of that would have changed the column I wrote. Because, again, the point was that Lathan agreed to do this because she believes something that is simply incorrect.

We talked about that too — about in-person voter fraud and voter ID laws. I think Lathan would agree with me that we did not find common ground on those issues.

We didn’t yell at each other. We did let each other finish sentences. And I sort of think we at least listened to each other.

I have a better understanding of why she believes the completely inaccurate things that she does. She’s wrong, in my opinion, but at least I know she’s put some thought into it. And I have no doubt she feels exactly the same way about me, which is perfectly fine.

And I also know this: Terry Lathan doesn’t believe the things she does because she’s an awful, ignorant racist. And although I never said she was, she also does not believe these things because she’s dumb.

Lathan, like many Republicans who I disagree with vehemently, genuinely believe they are doing the right things, believing the right things and helping people.

I can handle people like that. Because people like that are usually just a few conversations away from seeing the light and slapping a “Biden 2020” sticker on their SUV.

And here’s something none of us should ever forget: conversations across ideological lines, no matter how inconvenient and uncomfortable, are vitally important. Don’t lock yourself in a bubble. Don’t fail to ask someone why. Don’t skip the phone call.

Because you never know, you might find some common ground that changes your perspective. I did with Lathan.

While we will likely never agree on the conservative-liberal, hot-button issues, we at least agree on college football.

And we agree that Alabama fans are the real problem in this state.

 

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Opinion | Lathan, ALGOP circumvent secretary of state, agree to hand out sensitive voter info

Josh Moon

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There is often a penalty for believing dumb things.

Terry Lathan should receive one.

Last week, emails from soon-to-be-impeached-President Trump’s so-called “voter fraud commission” were made public for the first time. The short-lived commission, which was abruptly disbanded last January, less than a year after it was established, was set up to root out the massive voter fraud that Trump claimed had cost him the popular vote in 2016.

Heading what was the stupidest commission of all time was Kris Kobach, the author of numerous states’ anti-immigration and anti-voter bills — almost all of which have been ripped to shreds by various courts.

The commission was a scam from the start. It had to be since it was investigating something that is not real — that being in-person voter fraud.

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This is the sort of voter fraud that voter ID laws are supposed to prevent. The only kind of fraud that ID laws can prevent.

Yet, it is so rare, you have a better chance of being struck by lightning than finding an instance of in-person voter fraud. There has been one case of it in Alabama in more than 20 years.

And so, when the commission was formed, everyone just sort of knew that it was bogus — nothing more than the man-child who had recently taken office using his newfound power to make good on his drunken Twitter promises.

Even the commission itself seemed to know that it wasn’t, like, a real commission. It took one official action.

That action was mailing a letter to every secretary of state in the U.S., asking that they forward to the commission their state’s voting roll.

All of it. Names. Addresses. The whole deal.

And almost all secretaries of state laughed and dropped the request in the trash can on their way to lunch.

Mississippi’s SOS, Delbert Hosemann, for example, told the commission to — and I want to get the wording right here — “go jump in the Gulf.” He’s a Republican.

Alabama’s SOS, John Merrill, not exactly known for his liberal ways, also denied the request — although, he was far less colorful than Hosemann, which is disappointing for a guy who is so snippy on Twitter.

The reason Merrill, and 43 other secretaries of state, denied the request was because Kobach’s commission requested far more detailed info than what’s typically available. In addition to names and addresses, the commission wanted phone numbers, partial social security numbers, military records and driver’s license numbers.

Merrill took it a step further, also refusing to simply hand over the publicly available list, saying the commission could purchase it, since the full printout would cost more than $32,000.

So, there you have it. Our voting records and personal info are safe and sound in Alabama … right?

Wrong.

Enter: Lathan, the chairman of the Alabama Republican Party.

When Merrill declined, Lathan stepped in.

Emails first reported by ProPublica on Friday show that on Aug. 21, 2017 — a full month after Merrill said he wouldn’t turn over the info because of security concerns — Lathan wrote to Kobach to say she and the ALGOP had no problem placing party over country.

“The ALGOP will honor your request and have a full state voter pull for the commission you chair,” Lathan wrote to Kobach. Kobach responded a day later, thanking her for the help.

It’s unclear whether the information was ever actually sent to the commission by Lathan and her staff. Subsequent emails show a staff member preparing to send the rolls, but there is no email confirming receipt.

For his part, Merrill told ProPublica that he was unaware that Lathan was going behind his back, and he said any voter list she might have would be several months old.

But see, that doesn’t matter. Because Terry Lathan believes a dumb thing.

And because she believes a dumb thing, she did a dumb thing in order to help a dumb commission that’s chaired by a dumb person and only exists because another dumb person made a dumb statement.

And now, a little more than a year after this commission was formed, here’s what we have: there was ZERO evidence of in-person voter fraud uncovered by this commission; several lawsuits were filed over the disbursement of the voter roll information; and Alabama voters may very have had their sensitive personal info sent to an entity that had no plan in place to protect that information.

All because some people insist on believing a dumb thing.

 

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

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