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Opinion | Inside the Statehouse: 4th of July / Trump and Big Jim

Steve Flowers

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Otto Whittaker wrote the following essay, “I Am the Nation” in 1955 as a public relations advertisement for the Norfolk and Western Railway. The message found in Mr. Whittaker’s essay is still appropriate for this Independence Day, so I have chosen to include it below as part of my weekly column.

“I was born on July 4, 1776, and the Declaration of Independence is my birth certificate. The bloodlines of the world run in my veins, because I offered freedom to the oppressed. I am many things and many people. I am the Nation.

I am 213 million living souls – and the ghost of millions who have lived and died for me. I am Nathan Hale and Paul Revere. I stood at Lexington and fired the shot heard around the world.  I am Washington, Jefferson, Patrick Henry. I am John Paul Jones, the Green Mountain Boys and Davy Crockett. I am Lee and Grant and Abe Lincoln.

I remember the Alamo, the Maine and Pearl Harbor. When freedom called I answered and stayed until it was over, over there. I left my heroic dead in Flanders Fields, on the rock of Corregidor, on the bleak slopes of Korea.

I am the Brooklyn Bridge, the wheat fields of Kansas and the granite hills of Vermont. I am the coalfields of the Virginias and Pennsylvania, the fertile lands of the West, the Golden Gate and the Grand Canyon. I am Independence Hall, the Monitor and Merrimac. I am big.  I sprawl from the Atlantic to the Pacific – my arms reach out to embrace Alaska and Hawaii – 3 million square miles throbbing with industry. I am more than 5 million farms. I am forest, field, mountain and desert.  I am quiet villages – and cities that never sleep.

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You can look at me and see Ben Franklin walking down the streets of Philadelphia with his bread loaf under his arm. You can see Betsy Ross with her needle. You can see the lights of Christmas, and hear the strains of “Auld Lang Syne” as the calendar turns.

I am Babe Ruth and the World Series. I am schools and colleges, and churches where my people worship God as they think best. I am a ballot dropped in a box, the roar of a crowd in a stadium and the voice of a choir in a cathedral. I am an editorial in a newspaper and a letter to a congressman.

I am Eli Whitney and Stephen Foster. I am Tom Edison, Albert Einstein and Billy Graham. I am Horace Greeley, Will Rogers and the Wright brothers. I am George Washington Carver, Jonas Salk and Martin Luther King. I am Longfellow, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Walt Whitman and Thomas Paine.”

Today, we have Donald Trump. Our current President is the most unbridled and shoot from the hip President I have witnessed in my lifetime. He is amazingly similar to Alabama’s most colorful and uninhibited governor, Big Jim Folsom. Similar to Folsom, Trump has a childlike disrespect for decorum.

Recently, Trump was making a speech that someone had written for him. He read to a large audience, “This 2018 election is as important as the 2016 election.” He paused and said, “I don’t know who wrote that. I don’t know that I really believe that, and I don’t think y’all think I do either.”

Similarly, Big Jim Folsom in his day was to address the American Textile Association meeting, which was being held in Montgomery. At that time Textiles was Alabama’s largest industry. Ole Big Jim had been in Mobile for a week on a fishing expedition with some of his buddies. As Governor Big Jim was to give a welcoming speech to the Textile executives and dignitaries from throughout the country, the state troopers drove Big Jim hurriedly from Mobile to Montgomery. As he was getting out of the car to walk into the hotel to give his welcoming speech, an aide handed him the speech to give, which Big Jim had not seen.

He got up and started reading the speech and it was full of all kind of statistics. He read, “Alabama has over 200,000 people employed in the textile industry. It accounts for one out of every four jobs. We are the second leading textile state in America.” Big Jim paused in childlike amazement with his mouth wide open and blared out in a loud and astonishing voice, “I’ll be doggone, I didn’t know that!”

Have a safe and happy Independence Day. We will continue next week with the sagas of Alabama politics.

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.

 

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: 4th of July / Trump and Big Jim

by Steve Flowers Read Time: 4 min
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