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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 | Republicans playing by different rules when it comes to state ethics laws

Josh Moon

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The law is simple: Candidates running for public office in Alabama must file a statement of economic interests when they qualify, and then must file an annual SEI by the yearly deadline.

That’s not hard, right?

File an SEI when you qualify. File again at the next year’s deadline.

Simple.

But then, following ethics laws is like Kryptonite to an Alabama politician. And so, quite a few candidates — some big name Republicans and a couple of Democrats — didn’t file on time.

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The consequences for this, according to the laws on the books, are also fairly simple and easy to read: You get booted off the ballot.

Don’t take my word for it, though. Here, read the law for yourself: “… if a candidate does not submit a statement of economic interests or when applicable, an amended statement of economic interests in accordance with the requirements of this chapter, the name of the person shall not appear on the ballot and the candidate shall be deemed not qualified as a candidate in that election.”

For future reference, that’s Section 36-25-15(c) of the Code of Alabama.

Would you care to guess what’s happening with these candidates who quite clearly violated this law?

Well, the two Democrats were determined by the Ethics Commission to have violated the law, so they were booted. Judicial candidate Pamela Cousins appealed that decision to a Montgomery Circuit Court, and a judge ruled in her favor, saying she had complied with the law by filing her paperwork with the Democratic Party but the SEI didn’t make it to the Ethics Commission on time.

For the Republicans, though, the story has been much different.

Sure, they violated the same laws in the same ways and had the same excuses as the Democrats. But the Republicans — four of them so far — haven’t been kicked off the ballot. And state lawmakers and party officials are on record saying those Republican candidates won’t be booted.  

Apparently, when there is an R beside your name on the ballot, the laws become a bit more ambiguous.

Republican Secretary of State John Merrill — the man at least partly responsible for enforcing the laws surrounding ballot access — found not only some exceptions for his party mates but also a makeshift fine: $5 per day.

I’ve read through the filing requirements, the Code of Alabama and the guidance documents presented on the Ethics Commission website, and I can’t find any mention of a $5 fine.

I do see where the Ethics Commission can impose a $10 fine per day on elected officials who miss the SEI filing deadlines. But that fine applies only to sitting officeholders.

The penalty for candidates missing the deadline is removal from the ballot. That simple.

As such, according to reporting from APR’s Brandon Moseley, Republican House District 30 candidate Brandon Craig Lipscomb, PSC commissioner Jeremy Oden, Montgomery state Rep. Dimitri Polizos and Guntersville state Sen. Clay Scofield should be removed.

Just as the Democrats were.

They all missed the deadlines. They all violated the laws. They’re all candidates for public office.

And there’s a reason why that last part matters, why the laws are different for sitting lawmakers than for an incumbent candidate for office. Because during campaigns is when money can flow the easiest. It’s when debts and personal financial obligations and business dealings and partnerships can be exploited easiest.

That’s why the laws of this state place such an importance on these SEI filings — because they’re that important to the integrity of our election process.

But who am I kidding?

There’s no integrity left.

 

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Opinion | Alabama Democrats can’t rebound without a change in leadership

Josh Moon

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Nancy Worley is a good person.

I should start there, because it needs to be said. It needs to be pointed out that what has been discussed and argued about and shouted about among Alabama Democrats over the last few days has too often strayed from what’s important — the direction and leadership of the state’s Democratic Party — to something ugly and unnecessary and unproductive — personal attacks against Worley.

It’s fine to disagree with Worley’s leadership of the party — I have and do — but there’s no reason to attack her. Like so many other progressives in Alabama, she believes as we do — that we have to lift from the bottom, that racism continues to set us back, that the Democratic Party is a voice for those people who are far too often left voiceless in this state.

That said, what occurred at the Alabama Democratic Party executive committee meeting in Montgomery on Saturday was a farce that no good leader should stand for, much less benefit from.

If you’re unaware — and honestly, why would you be aware? — Worley was re-elected as party chairman, edging out Montgomery attorney Peck Fox, 101-89.

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That all might seem like business as usual, until you learn how those votes broke down. The elected members of the Democratic executive committee voted 89-66 for Fox.

But party officials said Joe Reed, head of the powerful Alabama Democratic Conference and chairman of minority affairs for the state party, was able to personally appoint 35 members. Reed has long supported Worley as chairman, and his appointees pushed Worley over the top, several Democratic officials told APR.

That’s no way to do business. And if any group of people should know this, it’s Democrats.

Stifling the will of voters and forcing candidates through by rigging the system is at least partly to blame for Donald Trump bumbling around the White House today.

And make no mistake, Democrats across the state want change at the top. I hear it every single day. From all corners and all shapes.  

Why wouldn’t Democratic voters want to change leaders? Nothing has gone right for the party, aside from beating the worst U.S. Senate candidate in modern political history, in nearly a decade.

Mostly this leadership group was caught flat-footed as Republicans took over the state from the ground up, winning down-ballot races and judgeships, and quickly organizing funding sources with deep pockets. And as Republicans did that, they also quickly made moves to stifle Democrats’ funding sources — by utilizing social media and media outreach to brand the Dems’ primary funding source, the AEA, as an organization somewhat comparable to ISIS.

And in the eight-plus years since that utter tail whipping, seemingly no one in leadership at the Democratic Party has thought: Hey, we should try that.

Instead, Worley’s primary accomplishment in her five years as party chair has been a recent reduction in debt. She has accomplished that debt reduction by not spending money.

The current website for the party lists one staff member. Despite national attention and a close race, Jones said his campaign received no support from the state party.

And there are other problems.

There has been very little social media outreach. The Alabama Democratic Party’s official Twitter account hasn’t tweeted in six months. The Facebook page is slightly more active, but rarely engaging.

But here’s the worst part: In the last election cycle, Republicans have watched the House Speaker, Majority Leader, Governor and three more Republican state lawmakers be indicted or admit to using their offices for personal gain.

And yet, there has been no plan from the Democratic Party leadership to utilize those GOP failures. Even as moderate GOP voters prove time and again in primaries that they’re aching for candidates who will stand for ethics and good government.

Even now, with a popular Democratic gubernatorial candidate at the top of the ticket, there is no state-office plan to attack down-ballot races and break the GOP supermajority.  

2018 should be the year that Alabama Dems start a comeback.

And it might be, but it will be left up to splinter groups of progressive, younger Democrats and minority voter groups to do the work, as they did for Jones’ win.

The Alabama Democratic Party office should be the general manager of that effort — the entity pulling the pieces together, working with the various groups to develop a comprehensive strategy and steer necessary resources to the right races. But that isn’t happening.

Instead, Reed squandered resources this year trying to settle a personal beef with former state Rep. John Knight, a longtime and devoted Democrat, and a number of Democratic officeholders say Worley has been mostly quiet.

This can’t go on. The enthusiasm among progressive voters in the state is there. The leadership to cash in on that enthusiasm is missing. 

For the sake of the party, it’s time for Worley and Reed to step aside.

 

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Opinion | Toe the lie, err, line, or get out of it

Joey Kennedy

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Earlier this year, I was on a panel for a debate of gubernatorial candidates at Alabama Boys State’s annual meeting at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

One night, the GOP candidates debated; the next night, the Democratic Candidates debated.

Only two Republicans showed up; all of the active Democrats were there.

Whatever you think about the value of political debates, that certainly shows that Democrats value open discussion of the issues far more than Republicans.

Even now, with only two candidates for governor remaining, the Republican, not-elected Gov. Kay Ivey, refuses to debate Democrat and elected Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox.

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But give credit to then-GOP gubernatorial candidates Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and state Sen. Bill Hightower for showing up at Boys State and answering questions, even if their answers were strictly following the Republican Party line.

Toeing the line.

One of those lines is that in-person voter fraud – that is, people showing up at the polls pretending to be someone they aren’t and voting – is as common as Kay Ivey refusing to debate.

That simply is not true (in-person voter fraud, that is, not Ivey refusing to debate).

Republicans continue to claim such voter fraud occurs, though there is no evidence for it. But they must toe that line because they so vehemently support strict voter identification laws that don’t actually protect against non-existent fraud, but do, in fact, suppress voting.

During that Boys State debate, Hightower said he believes there is massive voter fraud at the polls. But he’s not the only Republican. Alabama GOP Chair Terry Latham believes there’s massive in-person voter fraud. Indeed, find me a Republican who doesn’t believe it; or at least, find me a Republican who will say he or she doesn’t believe it. Publicly.

Can’t do it. They got to toe that line.

President Donald Trump said he believes more than 5 million people voted illegally in the 2016 election that put him in the White House.

Indeed, as APR colleague Josh Moon pointed out in his column this week, the scam “voter fraud commission” Trump established after he lost the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton was disbanded shortly after it was, uh, banded.

Not even a scam commission could scam up enough fake votes to make it work. Or scam up any fake votes at all. Because they don’t exist.

But Republicans aren’t going to drop that lie, err, line. Many Republicans don’t believe it, but they’ll repeat it because they think their supporters believe it.

Besides, they have to toe the line.

On that Tuesday night in late May, I don’t believe Hightower thought in-person voter fraud really existed, but for whatever reason, he had to say it did. Latham is a smart lady, and I don’t believe she thinks there’s in-person voter fraud, either. But Hightower and Latham and other Republicans will keep saying it. Because that’s what it takes to be a Republican: toe the lie, err, line, or get out of the line – even if the line is an outright lie.

Don’t want to vote for child molester Roy Moore for U.S. Senate? Too bad, he’s the Republican. If you’re a Republican, you’d better vote for the molester. Toe the line.

Don’t really think we need a wall separating the U.S./Mexican border? Too bad, that’s Trump’s idea, and Trump says he’s a Republican. You’d better support the wall.

Know in your heart that a trade war is bad for Alabama auto manufacturers and other businesses? Too bad. That’s Trump’s trade war, and Trump says he’s a Republican. You’d better support tariffs or, if you’re a Republican in Congress, at least take no action to interfere with them.

Know in your heart that President Trump is, indeed, owned by the Russians? What’s the big deal? Trump says he’s a Republican: “I’d rather be a Russian than a Democrat.”

Know in your heart that Republican Kay Ivey should debate Democrat Walt Maddox? If you’re a Republican, don’t you dare say that out loud.

Don’t say it. Toe that line. Toe it! Or you’d better get out of the line.

Want to be a Republican? Critical thinkers need not apply.

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

 

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Opinion | Inside the Statehouse: Primary political potpourri

Steve Flowers

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Now that the dust has settled on the primaries, allow me to share with you some thoughts on the Alabama political stage.

There is an old saying that says the more things change, the more they stay the same. This old adage is true in Alabama politics.

First of all, “All politics is local.” In the June 5 Primary, the turnout was about 25 percent on the average around the state. However, the ultimate voter turnout was 27 percent due to local races.  Alabamians are more interested in who is sheriff and Probate Judge than who is Lt. Governor, or Attorney General.

Secretary of State, John Merrill, predicted a 27 percent turnout on June 5.  Guess what, there was a 27 percent turnout. Almost 873,000 Alabamians voted. There were twice as many voters, 590,000, that chose the Republican ballot than the Democratic slate. There were 283,000 Democratic voters.

What this tells me is that we are still a very red Republican state. We have 29 elected statewide officeholders in the state. All 29 are Republican. When all the votes are counted in November, that 29 out of 29 figure will still be more than likely the same in the Heart of Dixie. The Democrats have a good horse in Walt Maddox. He may run close to Kay Ivey, but the odds favor an incumbent GOP Governor who has done nothing wrong and sits in the Governor’s office in a robust economy. I would put the odds at 56 to 44 in Ivey’s favor.

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The Legislature will remain about the same after the November General Election as we head into the next quadrennium. The Alabama House of Representatives will have an over 2 to 1 GOP majority. The numbers will be about what they are now, 72 Republicans and 33 Democrats.

The State Senate will more than likely have a 3 to 1 GOP edge. The members now are 26 Republicans and eight Democrats and one Independent. The Democrats may very well pick up a Senate Seat in Northwest Alabama with Johnny Mack Morrow vs Larry Stutts which will bring them to nine. The Independent seat being held by Senator Harri Ann Smith in the Wiregrass is one of the most Republican in the state. Harri Ann is retiring. It will be taken by the very Republican and popular state representative, Donnie Chesteen. 

Whoever made the decision to oust Harri Ann from the Republican Party six years ago made a very poor and ignorant decision. She continued to be elected as an Independent. Her popularity exudes my example of all politics is local and home folks know you best.

The GOP control of the Senate will probably be 26 to 9 or 27 to 8.

Speaking of control, the Big Dog still walks the halls of the State House. The Alabama Farmers Federation or Alfa still controls the legislature. They ran the table in legislative races all over the state. That is because they ran most of the races for their candidates. They are the kings of Goat Hill, the same way they were in 1901 when the state constitution was written. The more things change the more they stay the same.

Alfa perennially puts their power, muscle and interest in the legislature. They endorse in the statewide races and their endorsement is invaluable, especially in secondary state races. Their members vote that ballot and many conservative Alabamians look over the Farmers’ shoulder and vote along with them.

Alfa may give a token contribution to the Agriculture Commissioner, Attorney General, or Lt. Governor race and maybe $25,000 to the governor’s race. However, it is not unusual for them to put up to $50,000 in a House race and over $100,000 into a Senate race, along with excellent political strategy and pastures along interstates to put big signs on.

They use to play in the governor’s race. However, they got burned badly by Bob Riley when they helped him get elected and the first thing he did was stab them in the back. However, they have slipped around this year and will not only own the legislature, they will probably have a good friend in the governor’s office.

The day before the primary, Kay Ivey boarded Jimmy Ranes jet to fly around the state. The first person to board with her was Beth Chapman, Alfa’s political consultant. The next night when she came off the platform after giving her victory speech, guess who was helping her off the stage and holding her arm so that she would not fall?  It was Jimmy Parnell the Farmers Federation president.

Folks do not look for property taxes to be increased in the Heart of Dixie over the next four years.

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 legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

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Opinion | Alabama: The confused state

by Josh Moon Read Time: 4 min
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