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Opinion | Inside the Statehouse: Judicial races highlighted – June 5 primary

Steve Flowers

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This is not just a gubernatorial year in the Heart of Dixie.

We have every constitutional office up for election which includes Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, State Treasurer, State Auditor and Agriculture Commissioner.

We also have a good many of the State Judicial races on the ballot. We have nine seats on our State Supreme Court. We have five judges on the Court of Criminal Appeals, as well as five seats on the Court of Civil Appeals. All of these judicial posts are held by Republicans. Therefore, it is more than likely safe to assume that the winner of the Republican primary will be elected to a six-year term and can be fitted for their robe, at least by July 17. In fact, Democrats usually do not even field candidates in state judicial races.

Over the past two decades, a prevailing theme has been that women have become favored in state judicial races. In fact, it was safe to say that if you put two candidates on the ballot for a state judicial position, one named John Doe and the other Jane Doe, and neither campaigned or spent any money, Jane Doe would defeat John Doe.

However, for some inexplicable reason, this prevalence reversed itself on June 5, in the Republican primary. In the much-anticipated race for the extremely important Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, position two of the sitting members of the Supreme Court were pitted against each other. 

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Justice Lyn Stuart, who is the longest serving member on the State Supreme Court, had moved into the Chief Justice role after the departure of Judge Roy Moore. She was running for Chief Justice for the full six-year term. Justice Tom Parker was Roy Moore’s closest ally and is now the most socially conservative activist on the court. Parker and Moore dip from the same well.

Parker chose to challenge Stuart for Chief Justice. The Lyn Stuart vs Tom Parker contest was billed as one of the Titanic battles of the Primary season. Stuart was the darling of the business community. Parker openly was carrying the banner of the social conservatives. Parker bested Stuart 52 percent to 48 percent. Most of Parker’s financial backing came from plaintiff trial lawyers. Parker does have Democratic opposition from Birmingham attorney, Robert Vance, Jr. However, he should win election in November.

Judge Brad Mendheim was facing two prominent female Circuit judges, Debra Jones of Anniston and Sarah Hicks Stewart of Mobile, for Place 1 on the State Supreme Court. Mendheim has been a longtime popular Circuit Judge in Dothan. He was appointed to this Supreme Court seat by Governor Kay Ivey earlier this year.  Mendheim decisively outdistanced his female opponents by garnering 43 percent of the vote. He is expected to win election to a full six-year term on the high tribunal on July 17.

Another example of the male uprising in the court contests occurred in the race for a seat on the Court of Civil Appeals. Judge Terri Willingham Thomas, who has been on this court since 2006 and has served with distinction, was shockingly defeated by her unknown male opponent, Chad Hanson.

Pickens County Prosecutor Chris McCool forged to the front in the race for a seat on the Court of Criminal Appeals. He led 43 to 35 over Rich Anderson from the Montgomery/River Region.

In the other court races, the candidate who raised the most money and was able to buy some TV time prevailed.

In the State Supreme Court race in Place 4, two Birmingham attorneys, John Bahakel and Jay Mitchell, were pitted against each other. Mitchell significantly outspent Bahaked and won 73 to 27.

Christy Edwards of Montgomery and Michelle Thomason of Baldwin County are headed for a runoff for a seat on the Court of Civil Appeals.

Richard Minor defeated Riggs Walker overwhelmingly 66 to 34 for a seat on the Court of Criminal Appeals. In the seat for Place 3 on the Court of Criminal Appeals there was yet another display of male dominance in the court races. Bill Cole bested Donna Beaulieu 60 to 40. 

On Saturday before the Primary, legendary Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Clement Clay “Bo” Torbert, passed away at 88 in his beloved City of Opelika. His funeral was on Election Day. Judge Torbert served as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court for 12 years, 1976 to 1988. He had previously served two terms in the State Senate prior to his election as Chief Justice.

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 | What in the world happened to Robert Bentley?

Josh Moon

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Being governor is hard.

It’s a tough, gruelling job that requires 24-hour attention and results in long, long days for the man or woman who holds the position. Such a job can wear on a person, grinding them down physically and mentally.

And if you doubt the negative effects that such a job can have on the mental stability of a person, consider former Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley.

Because somewhere between his first inauguration in 2011 and his stunning forced resignation in 2016, Bentley lost his mind.

And it’s still gone today.

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In a recent deposition in a wrongful termination civil suit filed by former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Secretary Spencer Collier, Bentley provided some of the weirdest, most perplexing answers.

Like, for example, on the topic of his wife of 50 years, Dianne, discovering his relationship with his staffer, Rebekah Mason, Bentley was asked if Dianne found the relationship inappropriate.

“I’m sure that she did,” he responded.

“Do you consider the relationship inappropriate?” Bentley was asked by Collier’s attorney, Kenny Mendelsohn.

“No,” the former governor said flatly.

Um, say what?

That also seemed to be the general reaction in the deposition room to this answer. Because Mendelsohn immediately followed up with questions about Bentley’s multiple press conferences in 2016, during which he spoke of his “inappropriate relationship” with Mason.

I know this to be true because I attended all of those press conferences. I heard him say these things, express remorse for his actions, apologize to his family.

As a matter of fact, that he ONLY had an inappropriate relationship — and not a sexual relationship — with Mason was his entire defense at those press conferences.  

By the way, he’s held on to that “we didn’t have sexual intercourse” claim, too. Doubled and tripled down on it during this deposition, claiming there was a lot of touching and kissing but no sex.

No intercourse. No oral sex.

But really, I’m just not sure how much faith we can put in the former governor’s statements about his relationship with Mason. And I say that because of one specific exchange between Bentley and Mendelsohn. One exchange that is so unbelievable, so off-the-wall bonkers that you have to wonder if Bentley has wandered into space cadet territory.

That exchange comes after his astounding assertion that the relationship with Mason — who now works for him, making $5,000 per month at his dermatology practice — wasn’t inappropriate.

Mendelsohn asks Bentley why — if the relationship with Mason wasn’t inappropriate — did Bentley hold multiple press conferences to apologize.

Bentley says he doesn’t know.

No. Not that he doesn’t recall why he did it. But he literally doesn’t know why he was apologizing.

“At that time, I didn’t know what I was apologizing for, because I didn’t even know what I was talking about,” Bentley insists. “You know, I apologized for inappropriate things that I may have said, but at that time I didn’t know what those things were. If I had to do over again, I probably wouldn’t have had a press conference that day.”

Bentley insists repeatedly that when he apologized during a press conference — a press conference specifically called to refute claims made by Collier, who had held his own press conference a few hours earlier — he had no idea why he was talking. He had never heard the tapes, Bentley says, of him describing how he loves to walk up behind Mason and put his hands on her breasts.

According Bentley, he didn’t watch Collier’s press conference. No one told him what was said.

He just grabbed a prepared statement and started talking.

Ohhhhh, and if you think that’s some insanity, try this on: Bentley claims he wasn’t sure it was Mason who was on the other end of those calls Diane Bentley secretly recorded.

“I’m not denying it was her, I’m just saying there’s no concrete evidence that it was her,” Bentley said. “But most likely it was.”

Mendelsohn, obviously flabbergasted by this, asks the obvious: “As we sit here today, I’m asking you, was it her?”

Bentley: “I don’t remember doing that. I don’t remember the tapes.”

Mendelsohn: “Is there anybody else that you would have been talking to about holding their breasts and pulling them up close to you, like what’s in the tapes?”

Bentley: “I don’t remember the tapes. I don’t remember doing what it says on the tapes.”

Honestly, I don’t even know what to say about that.

But I can say this. When he was the upset winner in 2010 and became governor, Robert Bentley had a lot of people who believed in him, a lot of people who thought he was a good and decent guy who would try to do a good job.

Those same people have no idea what happened to that man.

And judging by this deposition, he’s still lost.

 

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Opinion | Alabama voters: You just don’t care

Joey Kennedy

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Secretary of State John Merrill expected turnout in Tuesday’s Democratic and Republican Party primary runoffs to be “extraordinarily low.”

Merrill said he thought, on average, 15 percent to 18 percent of the state’s registered voters would go to the polls.

Even that was wishful thinking.

Alabama voters: You don’t care. With as much going on in Alabama and American politics at this moment in history, you just don’t give a damn.

Early numbers indicated fewer than 12 percent of Alabama’s registered voters bothered to take a few minutes to be heard in Tuesday’s runoffs.

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True, in some areas, Democrats didn’t really have runoffs. But Republicans had runoffs in key statewide races, including lieutenant governor, attorney general, and the courts.

And even where Democrats had runoffs – Jefferson County is an example – voting numbers were low.

Alabama voters, you just don’t care.
Of course a lot of this is on Merrill and Republicans in control of the House, Senate, and governor’s mansion, where the goal, truly, is a low voter turnout. Republicans don’t want voters to go to the polls because they’ll have more trouble staying in control if they do.

Strict photo voter ID, a prohibition against crossover voting in taxpayer-funded primaries, purges of voter rolls, keeping former inmates from re-registering to vote, partisan gerrymandering, the lack of early voting or multiple-day voting – all of this is part of the GOP’s efforts to suppress voter turnout.

That hideous, mean-spirited strategy is wildly successful, too.

Consider also that the turnout of “registered” voters does not mean “eligible” voters. Many voters are eligible, but for whatever reason, don’t register to vote. So Tuesday’s turnout of eligible voters was likely quite a bit below 10 percent.

In that vote, Republicans nominated their candidates for lieutenant governor (the second highest position in Alabama government) and attorney general (the state’s top law enforcement officer).

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby, a disaster and embarrassment for Alabama in Congress for awhile now, was re-nominated for her fifth term and will likely defeat her Democratic Party opponent in November.

Another career politician, Republican Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, was defeated in her primary for lieutenant governor, but this was a free election for political opportunist Cavanaugh. She’ll simply return to her post as president of the Alabama Public Service Commission, having lost little, and where she’ll continue to do little. But Cavanaugh will be well-rested for whatever political opportunity she tries to grab in 2020.

Important runoffs in Jefferson County for the five-member County Commission saw two of the most contentious Birmingham City Council members unseat more reasonable incumbents. At least these two are off the City Council now, but they’ll no doubt take their professional dysfunction to the Jefferson County Commission.

Because voter turnout was so low, the results don’t truly reflect what might have happened had voters turned out in the numbers they should have.

But c’mon, Alabama voters: You don’t really care, do you? Oh, you’ll gripe at the results, sure. You’ll moan and roll your eyes when the candidates you didn’t vote for embarrass your county or state. But you really don’t give a damn.

Maybe that’ll change some if the Southern Poverty Law Center’s and Campaign Legal Center’s Alabama Voting Rights Project is successful.

Secretary of State Merrill won’t like it, but that’s really more of a recommendation for the project than not.

The SPLC and CLC want to make it clear to tens of thousands of Alabamians that a felony conviction doesn’t permanently take away a person’s right to vote. Once an individual has fully paid for his crime, he can get his voting rights reinstated.

According to the SPLC’s July 12 announcement, “Workers will organize and train local leaders in communities across the state, participate in community events and forums, and go door to door to work with formerly incarcerated people who may be eligible to vote under Alabama law. They will also make use of an online tool, www.alabamavotingrights.com, that will guide formerly incarcerated Alabamians through the process of registering or re-establishing their voting status.”

Many of these “criminals” were convicted of nonviolent drug or other nonviolent offenses. They’ve paid their debt. Being eligible to vote again is an important part of their successful return to society.

“So many people fought and died to ensure that all citizens have a voice in our society through the right to vote, yet many men and women – disproportionately people of color and poor people – have been denied the right to vote even after serving their time and completing their sentences,” said Lecia Brooks, outreach director for the SPLC, in the announcement. “The Alabama Voting Rights Project is dedicated to ensuring that every person who is eligible to vote in Alabama is registered and that each one of them can access the franchise. A healthy democracy depends on full participation by all members of society.”

And that’s what bothers Merrill and his Republican Party minions. “People of color and poor people” are disproportionally going to vote against Republicans. That’s probably why Merrill hasn’t done his duty to make sure these folks know they can regain their voting rights. The SPLC and CLC believe “(t)ens of thousands of additional Alabamians may be eligible to restore their right to vote through a simple application for a state Certificate of Eligibility to Register to Vote.”

So yeah, the dastardly plan worked Tuesday – and it has in many previous elections where our state leaders are happy if even 30 percent of registered voters show up.

As the state’s top election official, Merrill should be working to guarantee all eligible citizens are registered to vote, to make it convenient for them to vote, to get the highest voter turnout possible.

That’s not the strategy, though, and mainly because: 1) Voters don’t care enough to go vote. And, 2) because those in charge simply don’t want them to vote.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

 

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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: Judicial races highlighted – June 5 primary

by Steve Flowers Read Time: 4 min
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