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Opinion | Lies and half-truths won’t save Montgomery’s schools, only planning can

Josh Moon

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Last week, new state superintendent Eric Mackey brought the lumber when talking about the Montgomery Public School system and its recent accreditation review from AdvancEd.

According to the Montgomery Advertiser, Mackey told business leaders and the Chamber of Commerce that unless changes on the board were made, accreditation would surely be lost. And with that lost accreditation would come serious repercussions, such as MPS graduates being unable to attend colleges outside of the state and — here’s the biggie — being unable to qualify for federal student aid.

“LAMP, BTW, Jeff Davis, Lee. All them together,” Mackey said, according to the Advertiser. “None of the students — and this is a piece of information I picked up just this morning — but none of the students, whether they went to an Alabama public school or not, would be eligible to apply for federal financial aid. … I don’t think I need to say anymore to tell you what devastating effect this would have on our high schools and our community.”

It would be devastating.

If any of that were true.

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Fortunately, none of it is. Because most colleges long ago recognized the fickle and often politically-driven process of accreditation. And they decided not to punish students for circumstances outside of their control.

As the president of Harvard University explained to U.S. News and World Report a few years ago, college acceptance mainly hinges on criteria that doesn’t consider the accreditation of a student’s high school. (And in a time of growing home schooling, that seems reasonable.)

Also, according to a worker at the Federal Student Aid office, disbursement of federal aid has nothing to do with the accreditation status of your high school. In fact, the Federal Student Aid Department doesn’t even determine eligibility. That responsibility falls to the colleges themselves.

So, if you qualify for a college, you also qualify for federal aid..

If you’re scoring at home, that means Mackey was right about exactly zero things. Or he was being intentionally dishonest to mislead the business leaders gathered before him.

I’m honestly not sure which is worse. Or how a state superintendent could be so wrong.

I tried to ask Mackey where he got his information but state offices were closed on Monday to honor the birthday of traitor to the country Jefferson Davis. Life in Alabama ….

This is the latest detestable attempt to drum up a panic among voters and convince them that the only way to save Montgomery’s public school system is to vote out all of the existing board members. There have also been nasty flyers sent out about some candidates, and over the weekend, there was a new website devoted to bashing a candidate.

All of this is being pushed by the Montgomery mayor, the BCA and other business leaders who are hellbent on installing charter schools in Montgomery as a means to convince rich people to move back into the city and send their kids to school there.

This is the extent of their plan.

If you doubt this, ask anyone, including the candidates who have been endorsed by the #boottheboard backed PAC, for specifics on how they plan to fix Montgomery’s public education system. What you will most likely hear is an answer so pollyannish it would make a grade schooler roll their eyes.

And that’s why this is a movement that should be squashed on Tuesday at the polls.

Look, I’m not telling you to vote for the incumbents. All I’m saying is don’t believe that simply voting out people will solve anything. It’s lazy. And lazy won’t fix MPS’ deep rooted issues.

If you doubt that, consider the last 18 months or so of state intervention into MPS. The state was going to roll in and clean this joint up. Heads were gonna roll. Student achievement was going to skyrocket. All of MPS would be efficient and bluebirds would land on kids’ shoulders as they walked to school.

Except, small problem: Once the state intervention teams got started in MPS, they discovered that the schools weren’t failing and the system struggling because there wasn’t enough try in the teachers and principals. Hell, the state gave the principals a raise, and to date, not one has been fired.

Instead, the state’s biggest accomplishments have been: selling off a historic landmark school and returning $1.4 million of MPS’ money that it accidentally sent to Pike Road.

Through two different state superintendents (and now a third), the takeover has been an unmitigated disaster that, to date, has failed to improve the classroom experience of a single MPS student.

And there’s a reason why: MPS’ problems are hard to solve without a bunch of money and a clear and concise plan.

If there is ever any hope of MPS serving all students, there must be a clear plan that incorporates specialized charter schools and funding increases and technical programs and capital improvements and better overall resources. Because Montgomery has unique problems — problems that have grown over decades because of indifference, racism and poor parental guidance — that have to be considered and addressed.

If you don’t, there’s no point. You’ll simply be placing new board members in front of the same problems, and they’ll be just as incapable of solving them.

And if you’re not careful, you’ll wind up worse off.

 

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Opinion | Alabama: The confused state

Josh Moon

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Alabama is a confusing state.

A state that prides itself on its hardworking, blue-collar image but somehow turned out overwhelmingly to vote for the (alleged) billionaire, reality TV star for president was just as bi-polar during Tuesday’s primary runoff election.

On one hand, voters seemed to want to rid themselves of long-serving, stagnant politicians, rejecting Democrats Alvin Holmes, John Knight and Johnny Ford and Republicans Twinkle Cavanaugh and Gerald Dial. They seemed to be saying that they wanted ethics and term limits and candidates that were more responsive and energetic.

But on the other hand, still standing at the end of the night were Steve Marshall, Martha Roby and Larry Stutts. So, voters were also saying they were cool with a complete lack of ethics, a complete disregard for constituents and a completely awful human.

Maybe this is why pre-election polling in Alabama is always so screwed up. How can a pollster figure out what you people want when even you don’t know?

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So, let’s try to dissect this a bit and come up with a few answers. 

Let’s start with the Democrats, because they’re easier to understand.

Holmes and Knight, with a combined 70 years of experience serving in the Alabama House, lost to two dudes who have combined to serve for exactly zero years in any state office. David Burkette, who beat Knight for what seemed like the 50th time in the past year, has served as a city councilman in Montgomery, but that’s the extent of their political experience. Kirk Hatcher, who I couldn’t pick out of a lineup with The Beatles, has zero political experience.

All of this fits with a recent trend in the Democratic Party to push for candidates who relate better to real, everyday people. They believe the old-school guys, particularly the multi-term lawmakers, are out of touch with the real people they serve and are selling them out.

And those voters are right.

For example, while I’ll happily vote for Chuck Schumer over pretty much any dollar-seeking, Bible-thumping Republican, I’d sure like to have an option that isn’t sitting right in the middle of the big banks’ pockets.

And so, the Dems have decided to clean house wherever it’s possible.

It was possible in Montgomery.

Republicans, however, are a different story, which is usually the case. Because while certain factions of the GOP love to play up this alleged independent streak they claim to have, at the end of the day, it’s hard for them to turn their backs on the guy they came in with.

They get trapped by the lights and sparkle of the incumbent’s deep pockets.

Or at least they used to.

Before Twinkle turned dull and Dial time ran out.

In those races, Republicans voted against the lifelong politicians, putting Will Ainsworth and Rick Pate, respectively, into office.

Ainsworth’s win was particularly satisfying, yet also so confusing. He’s a pro-ethics, pro-term limits guy who once stood up to Mike Hubbard and told him he needed to go.

How do you vote for a guy like Ainsworth and then also vote for Steve Marshall? Or Larry Stutts?

Marshall, in particular, has governed pretty much the opposite of Ainsworth and former AG candidate Alice Martin, who picked up nearly a third of the votes in the primary. Marshall’s not chasing crime and corruption. His major accomplishments have been weakening the state’s ethics laws  — a move the business community rewarded him for — and pushing back against the law that outlaws political action committee (PAC)-to-PAC transfers.

Marshall is OK with such transfers now that he’s raking in millions from PACs doing exactly what is outlawed.

Speaking of outlaws, I’m not sure how Stutts is even on the ballot, much less still winning GOP elections. He has been nothing but an embarrassment, selling out women and children and selling out everyone else fairly routinely.

And yet, he won.

I just don’t get it. At the end of these elections, there’s supposed to be a pattern. We’re supposed to be able to look at who won and who lost and tell people what it all means. That voters were tired of this, or happy about that, or that they want a certain type of candidate.

Not in Alabama.

We apparently do things a bit different here.

 

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Opinion | The anti-American American president

Josh Moon

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The American president has refused to defend America.

That is, as far as I can tell, an unprecedented development in American history. Even when delusional conservatives were railing on and on about President Obama, they usually stopped short of seriously complaining that he had sold out the country in deference to a hostile foreign nation.

Because it’s an act so astonishing, so unprecedented that it’s hard to seriously fathom.

And yet, on Monday, there was Trump, standing alongside Vladimir Putin — a man whose 12 military officers were indicted by the American Department of Justice just 72 hours ago for hacking an American election — at a press conference. That brings the total number of Russian citizens indicted by Robert Mueller and his team to 25.

(Or, it did until no. 26 was indicted later on Monday — a woman with deep ties to top GOP brass and a prominent member of the NRA.)

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None of that stopped Trump from meeting with Putin. And it didn’t stop the two from presenting a cozy relationship.

And it didn’t stop the American president from proclaiming that the relationship with Russia — strained for the past four years, he said — got “a lot better about four hours ago.” And it didn’t stop the American president from saying during a press conference on foreign soil, standing side by side with a foreign adversary — a murderous thug who is responsible for the deaths of thousands of his own people — that he had as much faith in the adversary’s words as he does in the American intelligence agencies’ investigation and his own DOJ’s indictment.

It was an utterly deplorable scene.

And one that Republican voters appear too ignorant to understand.

Let me be clear: That is not an assessment of Republicans’ intelligence. It is an assessment of Republicans’ sources of information.

Those sources have left them ignorant of basic facts and completely lost when it comes to details that should be widely known and accepted facts by now.

How badly misled are GOP voters?

Consider this: On Monday — again, just 72 hours after the DOJ announced the hacking indictments — a candidate for Alabama Attorney General, Troy King, a former attorney general in the state, invited and advertised that Trump advisor Roger Stone would be in Alabama to endorse King.

Stone was in Alabama because King’s campaign has taken the temperature of the Alabama GOP voters and determined that such an endorsement would aid King.

This is the same Roger Stone who exchanged messages with one of the most prominent Russian hackers in an attempt to obtain the hacked information. While he wasn’t named in Friday’s indictment, he was all-but-named in Friday’s indictment, as a person “in regular contact with the Trump campaign.”

It is widely believed that charges against Stone are forthcoming. Stone’s finances have already been investigated by Mueller’s team and Stone is on record saying he expects to be indicted.

But somehow, Alabama GOP voters see the guy as a trustworthy source of political advice.

There’s only one possibility for how that can be: Those voters are ignorant of Stone’s transgressions and of the seriousness of the Russian interference in our elections.

Republicans have encapsulated themselves in a bubble. And the only thing that is allowed into that bubble are sources that confirm their already held beliefs. Anything that deviates from those beliefs even slightly — no matter how grounded in reality that information might be — is dismissed as “lib’rul fake news.”

Except … it’s not.

What happened on Monday between Trump and Putin wasn’t fake. The astonishing sellout of this country by its president wasn’t just another of ol’ Trump being Trump.

It was dangerously close to treason — close enough that all of us should be concerned about just why the American president seems to be so beholden to a dictator.

And it’s close enough that a whole bunch of flag-waving, America-first GOP voters should start to wonder why they’re constantly being duped by their chosen leaders.

Seriously, doesn’t ever get old, being embarrassed time and again?

Like, when it turned out that Obama wasn’t behind Benghazi, didn’t you regret the outrage and idiotic Facebook posts. Or when you learned that Hillary Clinton didn’t really sell uranium to Russia, weren’t you red-faced over the way you behaved at Thanksgiving dinner?

All along, us sane people have tried to convey to you that your continued shunning of legitimate news sources could become detrimental to the country.

And now, here we are.

An American president is actively “paling around” with dictators, selling out American law enforcement and lifelong patriots and undermining the American government for personal gain, and you’re making excuses. You’re parroting the orange buffoon and calling it all one grand witch hunt.

You’re helping the witches.

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Josh Moon

Did Steve Marshall violate campaign finance laws?

Josh Moon

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Let’s chat about campaign finance laws.

Oh, believe me, I know that sentence ranks right up there with “Hey, watch this video of my kid singing” and “Let’s watch two soccer teams not score for an undetermined amount of time.”

But give me a minute, if you would, because I’m going to do something few people ever do: I’m going to at least attempt to make a few specific campaign finance laws easy to understand and relatable.

We’re going to start here: Attorney General Steve Marshall’s allegedly illegal campaign contributions from the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA).

This is the thing that Troy King, Marshall’s opponent in next Tuesday’s runoff election, keeps prattling on and on about. King held a press conference in Huntsville on Tuesday to blast Marshall again, claiming that the more than $700,000 he’s taken in from RAGA in this election has been illegal donations.

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The reason King believes this is where things usually get complicated, regular folks’ eyes glaze over and we all find a ballgame to watch to forget it all.

But hear me out.

King claims these donations violate a rule in Alabama law that prohibits one Political Action Committee (PAC) from donating to another PAC in an effort to obscure the original source of funds.

Let’s not get all caught up in precise definitions. Just know that a PAC is a group of like-minded individuals — Republican AGs or Republican governors or construction companies or any group of two or more people — who form this PAC in order to donate money to their preferred candidates.

Why would they do this?

Easy: Politics is a slimy business and sometimes candidates want to have a level of deniability when it comes to donations.

For example, let’s say you’re an anti-gambling politician in Alabama, but boy, do you ever want to get your hands on that sweet, sweet Indian casino cash. Solution: You have the Indian casinos donate money to a PAC, mix their money with other money donated by not-Indian casinos, and tah-dah, there’s a bit of deniability there.

While these PACs do have to disclose their donors, they don’t have to disclose where each donor’s contributed money went.

And if you have one PAC donating to another PAC things can’t get particularly confusing. Which flies in the face of the goal: To ensure the voting public has some idea who is influencing elections in the state.

So, did Marshall violate the law?

That’s a tricky question, but what’s stone cold for certain is this: He violated the spirit of the law.

Because there’s also no doubt that the RAGA PAC, before donating that $700,000-plus to Marshall, accepted transfers from other PACs.

Marshall’s camp is hanging its hat on alleged advice it received from the Alabama Secretary of State’s Office, which says the state has no authority to force federal PACs located outside of the state to register in Alabama, or follow Alabama laws.

Ethics Commission Director Tom Albritton, however, had a very different view when he answered that question in June from al.com, saying that he had informed other campaigns that similar donations would not be legal. (Albritton wouldn’t discuss his statement on Tuesday, saying that because King has filed an ethics complaint against Marshall, it would be improper for him to discuss a pending case.)

But he hasn’t retracted his previous advice, and there’s one reason why. In the 2010 law that created the PAC-to-PAC ban, it states the law applies to both in-state and out-of-state PACs.

That sure looks like an illegal donation.

But here’s the thing. Even if there’s a way to technically dodge a campaign finance law violation for this, Marshall can’t dodge the fact that he’s violating the hell out of the spirit of the law and trying to hide from voters who’s dumping huge buckets of cash into his campaign.

Unfortunately for Marshall, if you have enough time and know-how, you can dig through the RAGA contributions and expenditures and figure out where large chunks of money came from. And once you do, it’s easy to see why he wouldn’t want those donations disclosed.

For example, if one of your major talking points is your fight against opioids, you probably wouldn’t want it known that major drug companies — some of which have been sued by other states for their roles in the opioid epidemic — dumped more than $200,000 into RAGA in the first quarter of 2018 alone.

One of the biggest contributors, Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, which dumped $100,000 into RAGA earlier this year, was found by the DEA to have supplied 66 percent of the oxycodone sold in Florida in 2016.

It also wouldn’t be too swell for voters to learn that the guy who was taking on gambling operations in Alabama a few months ago was accepting money from a PAC funded by Las Vegas casino owners, Caesars Entertainment and the lobbying firm that represents the Choctaw Indians in Mississippi.
This is why campaign finance laws — as boring as they might be — are vitally important to keeping elections open and giving the voting public a window into who is supporting each candidate. Because that support often says a whole lot about the candidate.

That the AG would be so willing to violate the spirit of that law seems like something you should pay attention to.

 

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Opinion | Lies and half-truths won’t save Montgomery’s schools, only planning can

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