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Opinion | Police are not above public scrutiny

Josh Moon

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Why are police above public scrutiny?

That seems to be a relatively new thing in this country, and it is a particular problem in Alabama — this notion that the general public has no right to even question a police officer’s actions.

We’re hiding body cam footage. There are very few regular citizens on cities’ police review boards. Some cities are hiding cops’ personnel files, despite that being one thing that Alabama Open Records Act laws specifically covers.

And if ever a cop is questioned … whoooo, boy! There will be shame and ridicule, and the full weight of city government will be brought down to protect the Brother in Blue.

It’s nonsense.

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And it’s happening every day in this state. There are, specifically, two egregious cases active now — one in Huntsville, one in Montgomery. In both instances, city cops have been indicted on murder charges.

In Montgomery, the victim was black and walking through his neighborhood late at night. In Huntsville, the victim was white and police were responding to a mental health call.

In both instance, the county district attorneys — who each have to work with the police departments in those cities — reviewed the evidence and determined that enough existed to seek indictments. And in both cases, a grand jury issued those indictments.

That would seem like enough reason for the mayors of the respective cities — Todd Strange in Montgomery and Tommy Battle in Huntsville — to back away and allow the justice system to work.

They have not.

Battle last week asked his city council to cover the legal expenses for William Darby, the cop accused of murder. The council agreed unanimously, although it did put a $75,000 cap on expenses — a cap Battle said he disagreed with.

In Montgomery last year, following officer A.C. Smith’s shooting of Greg Gunn, Strange implemented an unprecedented city-led review, and he promised to allow Smith to remain on the MPD payroll, receiving his full salary and benefits, as he awaits trial.

Seriously consider the facts of these two situations.

In Huntsville, the taxpayers are footing the bill for private attorneys, when they are already paying for court-appointed attorneys for anyone who can’t afford legal representation. Apparently, public defenders are good enough for poor, mostly minority regular folks — even when they are accused of murder — but not good enough for cops.

In Montgomery, even as other city employees have been immediately terminated after their arrests for various offenses — all of which fall well short on the moral scale of murder — Smith remains fully paid.

When questioned about this early in the case, Strange said he wanted to wait on more facts to come out at hearings before making a decision on terminating Smith. A couple of weeks later, at a hearing, a State Bureau of Investigations officer testified that Smith admitted in interviews that he had no probable cause to stop, pat down, chase, strike, Taser or shoot Gunn.

That was not enough for Strange.

Nor was it enough when a second Montgomery judge proclaimed after an immunity hearing last month that he didn’t find Smith to be credible during his testimony.

In Huntsville, Battle cited a clearance by the HPD Incident Review Board as his primary cause for supporting Darby so vigorously.

He should be careful, because I can’t find a single incident in which the HPD review board didn’t clear an officer in a shooting. That includes a number of shootings in which the suspect was unarmed, and several in which other law enforcement officers also engaged the suspect and didn’t fire a shot.

In 2015, for example, Orlondon “Dre” Driscoll was shot by HPD officers after he exited, unarmed, from a car he was accused of stealing. The review board cleared the officers, saying that while Driscoll was unarmed, his hand made a motion as though he was pulling a gun.

It’s absurd.

And here’s the thing: In most cases, there is body cam footage of the incident. There’s certainly footage of the Darby shooting. But these same mayors and city governments and police departments have fought like hell to hide those videos from the public — the same public that pays the salaries of the officers.

In Montgomery, while there is no video — because Smith “forgot” to turn on his body cam — Strange has refused to release the findings of the city-led investigation into the Gunn alleged murder.

His reasoning: he doesn’t want to taint the jury pool. Which is not, as far as the law goes, an accepted exception under the  

Look, cops have a tough job. Yes, they are mostly heroic individuals who deserve our praise and admiration.

But you know what, it’s not like the job’s a mystery at this point.

We’ve all seen “Cops” on Fox and watched a thousand cop shows and reality cop shows on TV. If you sign up to be a cop in 2018, you know what you’re getting into, and you know the pay.

So, let’s stop pretending that the cops who have committed horrible acts of aggression and assault — and even murder — against the citizens they’re supposed to protect are somehow overwhelmed by the toughness of the job. Because that’s insulting to the 99 percent of cops who manage to not do anything illegal or dumb every day.

 

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Opinion | Straight-party suicide

Joey Kennedy

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One wonders if the 2018 midterm elections will ever end. There are still races undecided, recounts going on all over the nation. The original thoughts that the results were only mildly in favor of Democrats on a national level have turned toward a true Blue wave, as Democrats continue to win close races in once-solidly Red districts and solidify their hold on the U.S. House and a few more state governments.

Well, except for Alabama. Our midterms are long over – apparently they were over even before state voters cast their (straight-ticket) ballots nine days ago.

There was such a Red wave in Alabama that even the closest statewide race between a Republican and Democrat was such a GOP landslide nobody even blinked. Instead, we yawned.

Oh, Alabama! We’re so far out of touch with the nation. Even Mississippi has a runoff between a Democrat and Republican. Georgia and Florida have marquee races that are still undecided. A Democrat flipped a U.S. Senate seat in Arizona. A diverse caravan of women have elbowed their way into that old, white man’s club in Congress.

We could have had some of that. We could have gone more progressive. Instead, we stayed solidly regressive.

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Sure, a chunk of the problem is the dysfunctional Democratic Party of Alabama, which stood by while highly qualified candidates were massacred. If changes aren’t made in the state party, we’ll see more of the same, too. Even as the nation becomes ever more forward-thinking, ever more “we’ve got to dump Trump,” Alabama loves its status as one of the lowest-ranking states in quality-of-life issues. In education. In health care. In compassion for the least of these.

Hey, but we got that Ten Commandments constitutional amendment passed, one that’ll cost Alabama more money it doesn’t have in losing legal challenges.

We Dare Defend Our Wrongs.

But a bigger problem with Alabama, and we’ve got many where elections are concerned, is that we still allow straight-party voting. Voters overwhelmingly took the lazy way out on election day. They didn’t want to go down the ballot and choose the best-qualified candidate for office. That’s too hard. That requires thinking. Instead, they just bubbled-in the “D” or the “R.”

As with so many reforms, Alabama is among those who choose to stay the archaic course. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, only eight states allow straight-ticket voting these days. Of course, Alabama is one of them. We don’t hear Secretary of State John Merrill talking about reforming that voting anomaly. And even Texas, one of those eight states, is doing away with straight-ticket voting for the 2020 elections; Indiana, another one, doesn’t allow straight-party voting for at-large races.

It’s no coincidence, either, that just about every state that still allows straight-ticket voting is a solidly Red state. It’s just another way Republicans, whose agenda is completely out of touch with what is happening across America but are masterful at suppressing the vote, maintain their now-more-tenuous hold on power.

Straight-party voting goes both ways. In Jefferson County, now a solidly Democratic county, straight-party voting for Democrats left some outstanding judges out of jobs. That judges even run in partisan races is a flaw – party philosophy has no place in the law.

The loss is that up and down the ticket, there were qualified candidates on both sides. Too many voters, though, had to run home and watch Fox news, so they didn’t have time to think about their selections. Instead, they just blacked the “R” oval and settled into their easy chairs to watch Hannity.

Far too many voters aren’t responsible enough to educate themselves before an election, even on the most important offices – governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, the Public Service Commission, statewide judicial seats, Congress.

Now, our Republican U.S. House delegation (Democrat Terri Sewell is the one exception) find themselves on the outs. They’re in the minority, with little power to do anything – not that any of the Republicans from Alabama exercised their influence when they had that power to begin with.

Republicans have been pretty successful at influencing low-information voters, and that’s to those voters’ detriment. When it comes to issues like preserving Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, food stamps, access to health care, protection from health insurance companies on pre-existing illnesses, equal pay, protecting women against sexual assault, humane immigration reform, equal rights for all Americans, including minorities and the LGBT community, Democrats are more likely to stand up.

Republicans give out billions in tax breaks to billionaires, then try to make up the difference with cuts to the programs that disproportionately affect the very Alabamians who elected them.

You may not like that assessment. You may be offended by it. Well, get over it. That’s the truth.

Try thinking.

But if you don’t, at least you can vote that straight ticket.

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

 

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Opinion | Sellouts are running Alabama’s environmental agencies. Why don’t you care?

Josh Moon

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There is contaminated tap water in north Alabama.

There are no oysters in the Gulf.

There is poison soil in Birmingham.

There are polluted lakes and rivers throughout the state.

There have been coal ash spills and a stalled poop train and imported toxic waste too dangerous for other states to allow.

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There’s a poison plume running under all of downtown Montgomery.

This is Alabama Outdoors.

In a state where at least 90 percent of the males hunt or fish with some regularity, and state law requires at least every third car have a “Salt Life” back window sticker, we don’t seem to give two good damns about the actual environment that make those things possible.

And we sure don’t seem to care much about the people who are supposed to be in charge of protecting those things.

If you did, you would know that two of those people were indicted this week on ethics charges. There are serious — and widely known and widely believed and widely supported with a mountain of evidence — allegations that Trey Glenn, the current head of the EPA’s southeastern region, and Scott Phillips, a former commissioner with the Alabama Environmental Management Commission, accepted bribes from polluters to actively work against cleaning up pollution and holding those polluters responsible.

Or to put that more simply: They sold out.

They sold out you.

They sold out the environment.

They sold out their oaths.

(Allegedly, of course.)

And these two aren’t the first ones. If you paid the least bit of attention to the recent trial involving a former Balch & Bingham attorney and a former Drummond Co. executive, you heard of all sorts of shady dealings flowing back and forth between companies highly suspected of polluting our soil, air and water and the agencies — Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), EPA and AEMC — that are supposed to stand in the gap between us regular folk and big business.

Instead, it seems, these guys have spent most of their time standing in big businesses’ pockets.

In addition to Phillips to Glenn, ADEM head Lance LeFleur was accused of having a cozy relationship with Drummond, and once wrote a letter opposing the EPA’s listing of a pollution area in north Birmingham as a superfund site. In court testimony, attorneys openly questioned if that letter was written at the encouragement of Drummond and its attorney.

A few weeks after the trial, 12 environmental groups sent a letter to AEMC demanding that LeFleur be removed and cited examples of his department’s failures and compromises. LeFleur denied the allegations, calling them “mean-spirited” and “untrue.”

But the problems don’t even end there.

Former Gov. Robert Bentley was actively writing — or signing his name to letters pre-written by Drummond’s attorneys — to stop the superfund site and cleanup.

Former attorney general Luther Strange signed off on pre-written letters from his office to the EPA demanding that the site not be listed on the superfund registry and proclaiming that the state would provide no funds for cleanup.

Think about that.

That’s the guy whose main job is consumer protection.

You’re the consumer. We’re all the consumers.

So, why, why, why do you not care?

I’m begging someone to explain this to me. Why do you not care that you can’t eat fish out of the Tennessee River? That you can’t swim in Wheeler Lake? That you can’t drink the tap water in Courtland? That there will literally be NO oysters harvested from the Gulf this year? That poor people in one of the poorest areas of this state have dealt with constant illnesses? That your “salt life” and your “lake life” and your hunting and your fishing and your kids swimming and your just everyday existing is being jeopardized by sellouts?

Why don’t you care?

And I know you don’t care, because you just voted 60-40 to put the same people back in charge who put all of these people in charge of protecting our environment and natural resources.

And those same people you put back in office are taking your indifference seriously. When I sent a question to the governor’s office today asking for a comment on the sad state of Alabama environmental management programs, they didn’t even bother to respond.

Because Kay Ivey knows you don’t care.

There wasn’t a peep from any state lawmakers, because they also know you don’t care.

You know, I hear people ask all the time how Alabama — in the middle of the Bible Belt and with a church on every corner — could have a government that’s so corrupt, so filled with people willing to take bribes and sell out their constituents.

This is how: You stop paying attention.

 

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Elections

Opinion | The Alabama Democratic Party has no plan, no hope for the future

Josh Moon

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The Alabama Democratic Party is a dumpster fire.

This cannot be news to you by now.

Not after last Tuesday. Not after the last eight years.

Actually, that description might not be harsh enough. Try this: The Alabama Democratic Party is a flaming bag of poop way down at the bottom of a dumpster fire.

And before you go away thinking that to be too harsh, consider this: In the midst of a legit blue wave nationally — Democrats will gain around 40 House seats and receive around 8 million more votes when all of the counting is finished — Democrats in Alabama lost five House seats to an existing GOP supermajority.

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Alabama Dems’ best crop of candidates in YEARS received roughly the same percentage of the vote as its worst candidates ever.

Gubernatorial candidate Walt Maddox traveled more than 30,000 miles around this state, spent years attending county commission meetings and getting to know citizens on both sides of the aisle. His likability numbers among likely voters, regardless of party, were fantastic.

He got roughly the same number of votes as Lt. Governor candidate Will Boyd, who you couldn’t pick out of a lineup with The Beatles.

Party chairwoman Nancy Worley and Democratic Conference head Joe Reed had quite the answer for this disaster of an election, saying, and I’m paraphrasing here: “eh, whatchagonnado?”

That was basically Worley and Reed’s response after they were heavily criticized by their own candidates last week. The criticisms, which came most loudly from Congressional candidate Mallory Hagan, centered on the Alabama Democratic Party’s lack of assistance with campaigns, lack of messaging, lack of financial support, lack of planning, lack of Get Out the Vote efforts, lack of organization and lack of visibility. To name a few.

Worley and Reed attempted to explain it all away by noting that Hagan and other candidates faced insurmountable odds, that the deck was stacked against them, that they would have been wasting resources to have even tried.

Don’t you dare buy it.

Because while it’s true that dropping a half-million the last month of the campaign wouldn’t have saved any candidate (except maybe Johnny Mack Morrow), that’s not when the money should have been spent. That’s not when the party office is most useful.

Winning elections takes effort. It takes planning. It takes information. It takes a long-term strategy.

Republicans didn’t take over the State House after 100-plus years of Democratic control because they prayed about it harder, even if that’s what they’d like you to believe.

They had a plan. They executed that plan.

They started down the ballot, winning races where a handful of votes swayed by the top of the ticket or a county initiative could land a few judgeships, maybe put a new House rep in place. Then they built on that.

They also did it through messaging.

I loathe Mike Hubbard, but that dude knew how to win elections. And he knew how to drive a point home. From the mid-2000s on, Democrats couldn’t go to the bathroom without Hubbard holding a press conference or issuing a press release claiming the Dems were in the bathroom plotting to take your guns or steal your money.

He went to major businesses around the state and started making deals for campaign contributions. And then he used those funds to push the party message even harder. Year after year, Hubbard and the rest of the ALGOP highlighted every bad thing Alabama Democrats did, and told people how Republicans would fix it and make their lives better.

Hubbard could do that, because as party chairman, he spoke for the ALGOP. And because he controlled the purse strings of the party, he could ensure that his message was the message resonating throughout the ALGOP.

ALGOP candidates were prepared with the best polling, the best opposition research, the best ads and the best volunteers. And they were all pushing just the right messages to voters.

They got to be so good at it that it didn’t matter if the candidate was essentially a door stopper. The ALGOP brass, led by Hubbard and a few others, had established a system so good and so efficient that they could get Shadrack McGill elected to the Alabama Senate.  

It didn’t even matter that the messages were mostly BS, and all Hubbard really wanted to do was take all of the money he could get his hands on.

The plan, the message and the execution were so good that it didn’t matter.

Alabama Democrats don’t have any of that.

Not the plan. Not the voice. Not the leadership.

And for some reason, the people in charge of the party seem to be OK with that. Because they just continue to not do anything at all to fix it.

The state deserves better.

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Will Republicans bring change or status quo?

Bill Britt

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For eight years, Republicans have dominated state government in Alabama, but those years are not a fair representation of Republican leadership because, for most of that time, corrupt, crazy or compromised men were at the helms in the State House, the governor’s office and throughout the political infrastructure.

Already, Republicans are laying the groundwork for the next four years by determining who will staff the governor’s office and cabinet, the committee chairs in the House and Senate and key leadership roles within the caucus. Those choices will show whether there will be a change in character, conduct, and competence or status quo.

Beginning in 2008, then-Gov. Bob Riley, ALGOP Chair and minority leader Mike Hubbard, along with BCA’s Billy Canary, began to methodically execute a plan to take control of Alabama’s political structure. While they personally failed due to greed and incompetence, their plan succeeded and even today, after Hubbard’s felony conviction and Canary’s ouster at BCA, many of their handpicked legislators, cronies and co-conspirators still enjoy dominant positions in government and the accompanying political apparatus.

Reportedly, Riley is laying low but will seek a comeback in the run-up to the 2020 U.S. Senate election, positioning either himself or his son Rob to take on Democrat U.S. Senator Doug Jones.

A scan of Hubbard’s book, “Storming the State House,” offers a look at those candidates who Hubbard, Riley and Canary selected and groomed to do their bidding. Some of their staunchest allies have either quit government or have been indicted or convicted, but still many remain.

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Some have changed horses, but not everyone is happy that their former masters do not still hold the reins.

Some miss Hubbard’s whip hand, Riley’s conniving and Canary’s money and outsized influence.

The Republican House caucus will meet Tuesday to determine key leadership roles.

Current Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon will not face a challenge even though there are some among his ranks who would like to return to a Hubbard-style leadership.

Rep. David Standridge has put his name forward for House Pro Tem, a position presently held by Rep. Victor Gaston. Standridge, it is believed, wants to bring new life into the position, however, Gaston is a well-known fixture. What is unclear is why U.S. Congressman Mike Rogers is lobbying for Gaston’s return as Pro Tem?

It is not sure if House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter will face opposition or if he should.

Where the rubber wheel hits the road is with committee leadership assignments that will come later. Several committees are still chaired by Hubbard loyalists who, again, long for his dictatorial command. Even the House Ethics Committee is currently headed by a man who believes Hubbard’s conviction was a grave conspiracy involving prosecutorial misconduct.

Over at the Capitol, Gov. Ivey’s staff and cabinet have well placed Hubbard and Rileyites, but there are no signs that Gov. Ivey will replace them.

Most troublesome are rumors that Ivey’s Chief of Staff Steve Pelham is leaving to take a post at Auburn University. No one can blame Pelham given the enormous burden of guiding the office for nearly two years, but replacing him will be a difficult task.

As for the Senate, President Pro Tem Del Marsh will continue his business management approach with few surprises in store. There are rumors of some significant changes, especially among budget chair assignments, but even that is mere speculation at this point.

Republicans have an opportunity to show their governing abilities beginning with its choice of leadership. This is extremely important because Republicans overwhelmingly control every office in state government. Moral, effective leaders are always essential but never more so than when there is no opposition.

If Republicans do not put forward honest leaders, they will be forced at some point in time to look around and say, “We have seen the enemy, and it is us.”

As President Harry Truman noted, “Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.”

The people of Alabama have selected a Republican super-majority to lead the state. Let’s pray they are ready to prove the people were right.

 

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Opinion | Police are not above public scrutiny

by Josh Moon Read Time: 5 min
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