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The revenge of the BCA

Josh Moon

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A terminated position, a transfer, a well-financed primary opponent and a ballot challenge.  

Over the last several weeks, some of the major players who exposed a scheme to smear a state superintendent candidate and hand the job to an outsider have fallen on hard times.

And the source of their problems isn’t much of a mystery among Montgomery insiders: The Business Council of Alabama.

“This is (the BCA’s) MO now,” said one Republican lawmaker. “They crossed them and this is the payback.”

To understand what’s going on, we’ll need to backtrack a bit. Back to the Dumbest Scheme Ever.

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That scheme was carried out during the 2016 search for a state schools superintendent that eventually landed Michael Sentance.

To make quick work of it, here’s what happened: Jefferson County superintendent Dr. Craig Pouncey was the frontrunner for the state job, but just before the official interviews of the finalists, a mysterious ethics complaint was filed against him. That complaint originated from State School Board Member Mary Scott Hunter, who said she received it anonymously, like every other board member, prior to a regular meeting.

The allegations in the complaint were way old and way outside the statute of limitations. But that didn’t stop Hunter from passing them along, the Ethics Commission from opening an initial investigation or the legal staff at the Alabama State Department of Education from opening its own investigation.

Ultimately, the allegations were found to be without merit. But when Pouncey lost to Sentance, a number of people wanted to know just what the hell happened.

State Sen. Gerald Dial opened a bipartisan legislative committee investigation into the matter and started calling witnesses. At ALSDE, another investigation was started — this one headed by department attorney Michael Meyer, at the direction of Sentance, to uncover whether department employees had conspired with Hunter to smear Pouncey.

Keeping tabs on the whole matter was blogger and now Montgomery school board candidate Larry Lee, whose popular “Education Matters” blog was a daily must-visit site for most education employees in the state during this ordeal.

The result of it all was an embarrassing chain of discoveries — that Hunter bragged about Pouncey’s “ethics problem” at a BCA event, that ALSDE attorneys called Pouncey’s alma mater to encourage it investigate him, that Ethics Commission violated at least three of its own rules to open an inquiry and that attorneys from a politically connected firm were mysteriously aiding the whole process.

It was a mess.

One that led to Hunter backing out of her bid to become lieutenant governor and played no small role in Sentance ultimately being forced out after just a year on the job.

“That wrecked a lot of plans, when he was pushed out of there,” said a source close to the situation.

But last month, things took a turn for the BCA, when its candidate of choice, Eric Mackey, was selected by the board as the new state superintendent. And ever since, some odd things have been occurring.

Dial, who headed up the legislative committee investigation, is retiring from the Senate and is running for state Agriculture Commissioner. And wouldn’t you know it, he has a well-financed opponent. (Although, apparently one who has a questionable past.)

Lee’s candidacy for the Montgomery County School Board was in serious jeopardy recently after a challenge was filed with the Alabama GOP executive committee. Lee found evidence of at least two hired attorneys working to dig up dirt on him, and BCA director Billy Canary personally donated to Lee’s opponent.

Meyer, who wrote the report on the Pouncey smear — the report that famously found evidence of five people colluding to smear Pouncey — was surprised a week ago with a transfer out of ALSDE and to the state Department of Human Resources. Three days later, Meyer’s wife, Tracey, a longtime legislative liaison who was well liked around the State House and ALSDE, had her position eliminated by Mackey without warning.

Several state school board members have privately expressed shock and anger at the moves. But for several state lawmakers, who spoke to APR on condition of anonymity, the revenge tactics by the BCA and Canary aren’t a surprise. And they’re a major reason so many of them have soured on working with the BCA.

“I don’t get what they’re trying to do,” said one longtime Republican lawmaker. “This is not the way it was done in the past, when that group had a lot of power. We had disagreements, but there was understanding of why and we still worked together. There was none of this vindictive revenge junk or whatever it is — punishment, I guess. A lot of people are tired of it, and I think that shows in how unsuccessful BCA has been lately.”

Two sessions back, BCA-backed legislation was shut out. Last session, the only meaningful bill it pushed through was a revisement of ethics laws — a bill that was so unpopular by the time it passed that it could cost lawmakers their seats in upcoming elections.

Now, with a potential gas tax and an infrastructure overhaul bill poised for consideration, the BCA is facing a critical time. If these pushes fail in the upcoming session — and passing a tax hike is never easy in this state — it would be a major blow to many of the businesses that contribute the most BCA money.

But instead of building bridges to ensure it all passed, the BCA leadership appears to be setting them on fire.

 

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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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Crime

ACLU, NAACP make demands of authorities following Hoover police shooting

Brandon Moseley

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Thursday, the ACLU of Alabama and Alabama NAACP filed public records requests to police departments in Birmingham, Mobile, Montgomery, Hoover, Huntsville, and Saraland for their use-of-force policies, body camera policies, and racial bias training materials, following the Thanksgiving shooting of Emantic “E.J.” Fitzgerald Bradford Jr. and other incidents where excessive use of force has been accused in Alabama.

The civil rights groups said that they are calling for “transparency and accountability.”

“Far too often, the concept of ‘reasonable force’ has been distorted to justify police officers killing or seriously injuring people of color for indefensible reasons,” stated ACLU Alabama policy analyst Dillon Nettles. “The death of EJ Bradford by the Hoover Police Department is a reminder of the tragic loss a family and community faces when law enforcement utilizes lethal force.”

“Law enforcement must implement transformative reforms that build public trust and lead to humane, equitable, and constitutional policing in all communities,” Nettles said. “We plan to fight for that transparency by collecting policies, practices, and data for departments across the state in the hope that it leads to greater accountability for violations of law, policy, and community trust.”

“Too many of our young black males, in particular, are being shot and killed like animals and no one is held accountable,” said Alabama NAACP President Bernard Simelton. “These tragic scenes must stop. The people in our communities deserve to know the policies and procedures that Law Enforcement Agencies use when engaging individuals with weapons. The NAACP has advocated for use of body cameras by police officers so that the community could see really what happened, but when Law Enforcement refuses to release the video to the public, it does not help the situation. It is as if the video was never taken.”

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In addition to E. J. Bradford, they cited: Chikesia Clemons, a Black woman wrestled to the ground and exposed for making a complaint at a Waffle House in Saraland; Ulysses Wilkerson, a Black teenager, beaten and hospitalized in Troy; Sureshbhai Patel, an elderly Indian man, slammed to the ground in Madison; and Greg Gunn, a Black man shot and killed walking home in Montgomery.

Simelton and Nettles claim that incidents of excessive and oftentimes lethal force, particularly towards people of color, is an epidemic. The Washington Post reported that 987 people were shot and killed by police in 2017.

They did admit that police officers do not see a systemic issue. A Pew Research Center poll released in 2017 found that two-thirds of the nation’s police officers believe the deaths of Black Americans during encounters with police are isolated incidents and not an indication of broader problems between law enforcement and the Black community.

They claim in a statement that this, “Disconnect between law enforcement and Black people shows that culture shifts and internal reform of police policies are needed to prompt agents of the law to foster a positive, trusting relationship with the communities they serve. Given this recent tragedy, Alabama law enforcement must be held to the same principles of transparency and open decision-making that other government officials accept as a condition of operating in a democratic society.”

The public records request is available at:

https://www.aclualabama.org/sites/default/files/prrletter20181212-useofforce.pdf

On Wednesday night, protestors crowded the Target store in Hoover. Several groups are protesting Hoover because of their view that the slaying of E.J. Bradford by a uniformed off-duty Hoover police officer at Hoover’s Riverchase Galleria in the moments following a shoot over some shoes was unjustifiable. The Bradford shooting is still under investigation by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA).

Some individuals have called for a boycott of the city of Hoover.

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Governor

Alabama’s marks 199 years as a state on Friday

Brandon Moseley

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Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey will join the Alabama Bicentennial Commission on Friday to kick off Alabama’s bicentennial year countdown.

Alabama officially became the nation’s 22nd state on December 14, 1819. In one year, on December 14, 2019, Alabama will celebrate its 200th anniversary as a state.

Gov. Ivey will mark the occasion with an Alabama Bicentennial Year Announcement at 10:00 a.m. at the Old House Chamber of the Alabama State Capitol.

Economic developer and Alabama historian Nicole Jones told the Alabama Political Reporter, “What does it mean to have an unwavering commitment to our state? It is recognizing that every county in Alabama is a priceless treasure, encompassed with an abundance of history and heart.”

“The Alabama 200 initiative provides an opportunity to recognize the people, past and present, who have shaped our state,” Nicole Jones continued. “Talented folks across generations and from various walks of life have utilized their gifts to make Alabama a special place, the best state, to live. Each of our 67 counties has experienced significant events as they pertain to societal, cultural, economic, and technological history. The three—year Bicentennial celebration serves as an educational opportunity as well as a way to engage residents to participate in civic and community events and record historic accounts for future generations. It is almost as if we are creating a three-year time capsule that encompasses the past 200 years.”

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“Any person or company can participate in the bicentennial in a myriad of ways. Alabama Public Television, for example, has contributed by producing Alabama Legacy Moments – 30-90 second video segments that showcase Alabama people and places, which entice viewers to further explore our state,” Nicole Jones added. “APT made the video clips, which feature original music by Bobby Horton and content from the Encyclopedia of Alabama, available free of charge for all commercial radio and television stations. Alabama’s Federal Road, the US Space and Rocket Center, Bear Bryant, Freedom Rides, DeSoto Caverns, the Longleaf Pine, and Luther Leonidas Hill’s contributions to medicine are just a few topics highlighted.”

“Another special exhibit currently making its way through Alabama’s 67 counties is Making Alabama, A Bicentennial Traveling Exhibit presented by the Alabama Humanities Foundation with support from Alabama Bicentennial Commission and Alabama Department of Archives and History,” Nicole Jones continued. “The exhibit uses a combination of artifacts, storyboards, storytellers, festivals, photographs, and kiosks to highlight Alabama from 1819 through today.”

Nicole Jones concluded, “The study of history provides us an opportunity to bridge the past with the present, learn what works and learn from mistakes, formulate hypotheses, and make informed decisions that hopefully will allow us to gain confidence in the future. We all are part of Alabama. Let us each take a moment to participate in our own unique ways and share our history, our story, with others.”
Alabama became a Territory on March 3, 1817 following the defeat of hostile Creeks in the Creek Indian War.

The stated mission of ALABAMA 200: “Is to support, create, and execute events and activities that commemorate the stories of our people, place, and path to statehood. Between 2017 and 2019, ALABAMA 200 will engage residents and visitors in educational programs, community activities, and statewide initiatives that teach, inspire, and entertain.”

To learn more, click here.

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Legislature

Sen. Bobby Singleton to replace Sen. Billy Beasley as Alabama Senate minority leader

Chip Brownlee

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Sen. Bobby Singleton speaks on the floor of the Alabama Senate. (Chip Brownlee/APR)

The small cohort of Democrats left in the Alabama Senate has elected a new minority leader.

The eight members of the Democratic caucus elected Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, to serve as the Senate minority leader. Singleton, who was elected to the Senate in 2005, will replace outgoing minority leader, Sen. Billy Beasley, D-Clayton.

Beasley will stay in leadership as the deputy Senate minority leader. Beasley was elected to the Senate in 2010.

The Democrats’ new leadership will serve through 2022.

“I just want to thank my colleagues for having the confidence in me to be able to lead them for the next four years,” Singleton said in a statement. “As the minority leader we will be looking at a robust agenda; not just for the Democrats, but for the State of Alabama. Hopefully, we can work across the aisle with the majority. I look forward to working with Senate Majority Leader Sen. Greg Reed and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh.”

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Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, D-Birmingham, will serve as minority caucus chair, and first-term lawmaker Sen. Malika Sanders Fortier, D-Selma, will serve as vice chair.

“I look forward to working with fellow senators and my Democratic colleagues as we establish goals and set priorities to represent our constituency and the state,” Coleman-Madison said. “As chair, one of my goals, in collaboration with Democratic Senators, is to start legislative outreach to not only hear from citizens, but to educate and inform them on issues facing the state. We have a strong caucus; each member brings unique talents to the legislative body, and I am honored to serve.”

As Democrats head into the next four years, they’ll face an empowered Republican majority with a slightly expanded majority. Republicans gained one seat and now control 27 of the 35 seats in the upper chamber. Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, is expected to remain in his post, and Sen. Greg Reed, R-Jasper, will remain as majority leader.

Marsh presided over the Senate last year in the absence of a lieutenant governor, but Lt. Gov.-elect Will Ainsworth will now take on that role.

The Senate pro tem congratulated Singleton on his election, saying the two have a good working relationship.

“There are many tough issues facing the Alabama Senate in the year to come and I look forward to working with Senator Singleton as we develop legislation that improves the lives of all Alabamians,” Marsh said in a statement.

Downstairs in the lower chamber, Republicans control 77 of 105 House seats, gaining 5 seats in the November general election. House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, is all but assured to retain his job after Republicans unanimously nominated him for another term.

The Legislative Black Caucus elected Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, as their chair. The caucus includes both House members and senators, and Figures will serve in that position until 2020, when a House member will take over the alternating role.

“I am very humbled and honored to have been elected to serve as Chair of the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus by my colleagues,” Figures said. “I am very excited to work with all members to develop an agenda with goals and objectives to move Alabama forward. Together, we will explore all opportunities as we strive to raise all boats so that we can be the best that we can be.”

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The revenge of the BCA

by Josh Moon Read Time: 5 min
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