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Opinion | We could do worse than John Merrill

Josh Moon

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I’m going to do something that my progressive friends will mostly not like.

I’m going to say nice things about Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill.

I know. I know.

But hear me out.

Because part of the reason that I’m doing this is I believe politics at every level has devolved into such a scorched-earth, I-hate-everyone-on-the-other-side sort of spectacle that we’re no longer willing to say any person from the other team is doing anything good. Even when they are.

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And Merrill is.

Yes, I know he’s blocked several dozen people on Twitter, and I find that silly and pointless and illegal.

And yes, I know he has been snarky and sarcastic to some of you. And to me.

But even so, we’re lucky we have Merrill.

Because it could be so much worse.

If you doubt this, I would like to point you to news stories from other states with Republican-dominated legislatures. Like Ohio, where they’re booting active voters off rolls for missing a single election. Or North Carolina, which implemented the most unreasonable voter ID law in the nation to prevent minorities from going to the polls.

Alabama has one of those voter ID laws, too. And it has the right now to kick voters off the rolls for missing an election.

But what you don’t have in Alabama is anywhere near the level of disenfranchisement of voters. Even a federal judge agreed, when upholding Alabama’s ID law.

That’s mostly due to Merrill’s work.

When Alabama’s legislature passed its voter ID law a few years ago, it placed very few requirements on Merrill’s office for how to go about making those IDs available. It was a stupid, pointless law that in no way deterred voter fraud, but it was a law that Merrill’s office had to deal with.

Instead of taking the usual Alabama path and doing the absolute bare minimum required in the job, Merrill went the other way. In the years since that law was passed, his office has put a mobile ID unit on the street, they’ve coordinated with various groups to set up registration drives in underserved areas, they’ve actually visited the homes of people to issue voter IDs and they’ve implemented electronic registration.

That last one has been the biggie, with more than 60 percent of voters registered during Merrill’s tenure coming since the electronic registration went live a little more than a year ago. That electronic rollout also included an app — an app built by the staff of the Secretary of State’s office.

They’ve tried to work with the county Boards of Registrars to get registration info into the communities and schools. They’ve pushed registration through an ad campaign. And they’ve been willing to travel to pretty much any festival, ball game, bake sale or other community function to set up a registration drive.  

And let me repeat: None of this was required of the Secretary of State’s office.

At the same time, Merrill took a different approach from Ohio to cleaning up the voting rolls (removing deceased voters, people who moved, etc.). Instead of labeling voters who fail to return a verification card as “inactive,” the SoS office implemented a two-step process that began when only if the Post Office returned a notice for a voter.

And even if the two notices were somehow missed, if a voter shows up to the polls and finds themselves on the inactive list, the fix is simply updating the SoS address card at the polling place and then voting a regular ballot (not a provisional one).  

Again, this wasn’t required. And a much more mean-spirited, onerous process is now perfectly legal, according to our Supreme Court.

The decision to make Alabama’s process reasonable and fair was Merrill’s.

And look, it’s perfectly reasonable to say that Merrill and his staff shouldn’t get huge praise for doing the job they should be doing. After all, voter registration is the top priority in that gig, and there’s not a close second. So maybe we shouldn’t be handing out cookies for stuff the Secretary of State is supposed to do.

But that line of thinking ignores the reality of Alabama politics and the reality of the politically polarized country in which we live.

Because you just know that nine out of 10 Republican politicians wouldn’t have done half the things Merrill has. They would’ve offered a Jeff Sessions, little-kid-burning-ants, evil grin and hid behind the law and the lack of funds and the indifference.

That’s the norm.

So, yeah, Merrill loves the spotlight and camera lights. He has weird, right-wing beliefs that I wholly disagree with. And he has not always done enough to protect voter rights.

But man, things could be so much worse without him.

 

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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 | Inside the Statehouse: Potpourri/Notebook from June 5 primary

Steve Flowers

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You have the results of Tuesday’s runoff elections. I had to go to press with my column before the results were known.

There are some fantastic runoff races which should be close and interesting. The four best will be Troy King versus Steve Marshall in the Attorney General’s race. The Lt. Governor runoff between Twinkle Cavanaugh and Will Ainsworth will be interesting. The Agriculture race between Rick Pate and Gerald Dial will be good. It will be interesting to see if Bobby Bright ousted Martha Roby from Congress in the 2nd district.

Let me share some thoughts and analyses from the first primary on June 5th. Kay Ivey and Walt Maddox won their party’s nominations very impressively. Governor Ivey used the mantle of incumbency to win a decisive victory with 56 percent of the vote against three thought to be viable, well financed opponents. Her campaign was brilliantly run. Her television ads were excellent.

The mastermind of her campaign was Brent Buchanan. He is now the master of political campaigns in Alabama. His polling arm, Cygnal, is the most accurate on the scene. He uses his polling adroitly to design brilliant ads. Buchanan runs many campaigns out of state. He only ran two in the state, Ivey’s gubernatorial contest and Gerald Dials’ race for Agriculture Commissioner. In fact, Buchanan came up with the best ad of the campaign season. The jingle ad for Dial in the Ag race was spectacular.

Walt Maddox’s waltz to victory over five opponents without a runoff was impressive. It became apparent in the closing days that he was going to win without a runoff. He ran the table on all of the important endorsements. He got the Alabama Democratic Conference, New South Coalition, but even more importantly the endorsement of and use of the young Birmingham Mayor, Randall Woodfin’s organization. This was a recipe for a big win.

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Maddox is the best candidate that the Democrats have fielded for governor in two decades. He is young, vibrant, and has a proven track record as a Chief Executive/Mayor of one of Alabama’s largest and most important cities, Tuscaloosa.

However, we are still a very red state. All 29 of our statewide elected offices are held by Republicans. Kay Ivey is not only the Republican nominee, she is the sitting Republican governor who can continue to cut ribbons and claim credit for every industrial announcement as well as the outstanding national economy and job growth. She will refuse to debate or go unscripted. In addition, as the incumbent she can raise substantial campaign funds.

In the June 5th primary, there were twice as many votes cast in the GOP Primary as there was in the Democratic Primary. There were 340,000 votes cast for Kay Ivey, whereas there were only 284,000 votes cast for all of the Democratic gubernatorial candidates combined. Therefore, 174,000 more people voted for Governor Kay Ivey than Mayor Walt Maddox.

I would handicap this race 56 to 44 in favor of Ivey going into the Fall. The only way that Maddox can win is for Kay to falter. Her handlers should keep her close to home and limit her appearances. They should continue to not discuss the issues that face the state or take any positions or offer any plans for the state woes. Under no circumstance should they allow her to debate. The young articulate mayor would eat her lunch. The contrast in appearance itself would be dramatic.

Maddox, if not elected, will live to run another day. The divide between the two political parties is narrowing in the state. Younger voters are trending Democratic, even in the Heart of Dixie.

Tommy Battle ran a very successful get acquainted race for governor. He will be the favorite in 2022. You could see a Walt Maddox vs. Tommy Battle contest in four years.

Battle built name ID and got 25 percent of the vote against a popular incumbent governor. He goes back to being Mayor of Alabama’s most prosperous and fastest growing city. If you think Huntsville has prospered and boomed the last 10 years, you ain’t seen nothing yet! It could very easily be the boom town of America in the next five to ten years.

Maddox’s city of Tuscaloosa is growing right behind Huntsville. Quite frankly, Battle and Maddox have much better jobs as mayors of Huntsville and Tuscaloosa than if they were Governor of Alabama.

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 | 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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Opinion | We could do worse than John Merrill

by Josh Moon Read Time: 4 min
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