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Opinion | Alabama can do much more to help voters be smarter

Joey Kennedy

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I spent last weekend at my dajas’ home in San Diego. I had to personally deliver a wedding present to Nicole and Sara Kate Denton, one that couldn’t be mailed.

The wedding present, a 15-week-old French Bulldog puppy named Arnold, tolerated the long flight and is adjusting well to his new humans, who also give a home to a rescue pug named Olive.

My dajas – a word meaning “daughters,” in Nicole lingo – live in a nice one-bedroom apartment in the city with lots of day- and night-life close by. They walk a lot, and so did I over my four-day weekend. Nicole and Sara Kate have good jobs, are politically active, and enjoy a good life. Nicole adopted Veronica and me while she was a volleyball player at UAB 15 years ago, and she’s been the daughter we never had. We celebrated Nicole’s and Sara Kate’s two-month wedding anniversary while I was on the “Left Coast.”

There is a lot about California that, of course, is appealing to me. My dajas live there, and Veronica and I don’t get to see them often enough. San Diego has awesome city services. And California is among the bluest states in the nation.

Readers who disagree with my politics shouldn’t get too excited. I’m not moving there. We need some blue right here in Alabama, as well, so I’m not leaving. I’m no Democrat – I’ve said this time and again – but, rather, a left-leaning independent. I do vote for both Republicans and Democrats when elections roll around; I’ll never vote straight-party ticket anything, though, and I don’t see any Republicans running statewide who’ll get my vote in 12 days.

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I take solace that I live in the bluest city in Alabama. Birmingham has been described by some observers as the Southern Portland, Oregon. That’s a compliment, Birmingham. You know it if you’ve ever visited Portland.

One fact I noticed while in California is that California’s political leaders want their citizens to vote. All citizens – not just those of one particular party’s leanings. They don’t put up barriers to voting; indeed, they have few barriers, if any, to qualified voters. There is early voting, voting by mail and, of course, voting in person. Their polls are even open longer than ours in Alabama. They don’t put up impossible obstacles for third-party or independent candidates, either. Such are often found on California’s ballots, including this year.

In Alabama, Republican Secretary of State John Merrill does most everything in his power to discourage voters, especially those who disagree with his party’s politics. But Merrill isn’t an anomaly; this is the Republicans’ strategy in most deep Red states.

Not in California, though, and California is the most populous state in the nation by far.

Every qualified voter in California receives a couple of booklets during voting season that helps educate them about the candidates and issues on the upcoming ballot.

Unlike Alabama, California leaders trust their citizens enough to allow them the right to propose laws themselves. Through citizen petitions, measures (propositions) are on the California ballot each election. These informational booklets explain those issues thoroughly, and they are entirely nonpartisan.

One of the booklets each of my dajas received through the mail is about 150 pages of voter information on statewide candidates and propositions, as well as local measures and candidates from their voting district in San Diego. These so-called “pamphlets” go out to each of the more than 20 million California voters, not just households.

The goal is to have voters as educated as they want to be before casting their ballots. In Alabama, we don’t even explain our many constitutional amendments on the ballot very well. We depend on advocates for or against a particular amendment to offer their skewed recommendations, or analysis from media organizations, though that’s becoming less frequent as newspapers and other news outlets downsize their staffs.

Yes, California television is full of advertisements from advocacy groups in favor or in opposition to particular candidates or propositions. But voters also have this neutral voter guide that provides the full text of the proposition or local measure, along with arguments for and arguments against, and an impartial analysis of the proposition or measure.

It’s not particularly sexy reading, but it does offer voters much more information than we provide our 3 million-plus registered voters in Alabama.

The message in California: Vote, and vote smart. In Alabama, it’s more vote our way or take the highway (and election officials are glad to show voters the highway, by disfranchising qualified and registered voters left and right – especially if they are minorities).

We may have to work harder to vote smart in Alabama, but we can do it. In less than two weeks, we’ll be given that opportunity. That gives qualified voters plenty of time to do their homework instead of just voting for the candidate who incite the most fear with ridiculous, hot-button issues.

I tell my students at UAB all the time: Do your homework if you want a better grade. Voters need to do their homework, too, if they want Alabama to be a better state.
Maybe one day, we’ll welcome all qualified voters to the polls, but it’ll take voting smart on Nov. 6 to start making that happen.

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

 

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Opinion | The fight against public corruption isn’t lost yet

Josh Moon

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This will likely not surprise you: I get a lot of correspondence.

Emails. Twitter direct messages. Facebook messages. Text messages.

Every day. All day long. They come rolling in, usually from someone who disagrees with something I’ve written or has taken issue with something I said on TV or who wants to say something bad about my mama.

At this point, there’s very little contained in a letter or message to me that would surprise me.

Or, at least, that’s what I thought until the last couple of weeks.

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When the Matt Hart letters started rolling in.

If you don’t know by now, Hart is the recently fired head of the Alabama Attorney General’s special prosecutions office — the team that prosecutes political corruption. If that seems like it should be a relatively obscure position, well, it should.

Except for a couple of things: 1. We have a ton of political corruption in Alabama, and 2. Hart went after all of the crooks, regardless of party or political influence.

For those reasons, I guess, people in this state paid attention to the guy who was doing the prosecuting. And right now, I feel safe in saying that no one topic has prompted more messages than Hart’s firing by AG Steve Marshall a couple of weeks ago.

Those messages generally fall into two categories: 1. “I’m mad as hell!,” or 2. “What are we gonna do now?”

If you’ve written me one of these letters and not received a reply, consider this your answer.

I get it, and I don’t know.

The fact is Hart’s ouster, which comes a year after his top deputy — AG candidate Alice Martin — also resigned, is a significant blow.

Hart and Martin are a sort of white-collar-crime-fighting duo, beginning with their days in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of Alabama. As al.com’s Kyle Whitmire pointed out recently, prosecutions of political corruption spiked in that office while Hart and Martin were on the job.

Then those prosecutions spiked at the AG’s office when Hart landed there.

At the federal level, Hart was chasing primarily Democrats. At the state level, after the GOP takeover, it was Republicans.

Because corruption doesn’t vote straight ticket, even if you do.

But now, we’re in trouble.

Taking Hart’s spot is a prosecutor who has never tried a public corruption case and who has spent her life in and around state politics and defense attorneys. Maybe Clark Morris will be a fantastic prosecutor and turn this state upside down rooting out public corruption — I truly hope that’s the case and I’ll be happy to write about it if so — but I have my doubts that she’ll be half as dogged as Hart has been.

And so, I guess that leaves the business of exposing and stopping public corruption to just one person: You.

That’s right, you. And me. And all of the good people who live in this state who are sick of crooks and political welfare and good ol’ boys and smoky back rooms and brother-in-law deals and pay-to-play scams.

You all care about this stuff. I have your letters to prove it.

So, it’s time to take some action. To pay attention to what’s going on. To show up at board meetings and council work sessions and county commission meetings and state legislature committee hearings. It’s time to start asking questions and making phone calls and writing letters.

If you need help, I guarantee you that we at APR will help all we can. And I’m certain other media outlets will help, too. Whether it be with making sure you know when and where to go for meetings or helping expose the corruption or illegal behavior you find.

Our system of government was set up from top to bottom to represent everyday people, and it is designed — in most cases by law — to give the people it represents a voice.

Look, I know you’re busy. I know you have lives and jobs and kids and the dog isn’t going to drive itself to the vet, but this is important too. In fact, it might be the most important thing, because it literally encompasses almost all of your life — from the taxes and fees and costs you pay every day to the quality of your kids’ schools to the success of the company you work for to the 401k you’re relying on.

It matters.

And it’s up to you to make sure the crooks don’t win.

 

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Opinion | The Hoover situation gets stranger every day

Josh Moon

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What’s happening in Hoover makes no sense.

Every day, there’s another report that’s stranger than the last report. Every day, someone says something that they have to almost immediately correct. Every day, there is some action taken by city leaders or Alabama Law Enforcement Agency officials that makes it seem as though they actually want bigger and more frequent protests.

We’re now two full weeks past the shooting of E.J. Bradford in the Galleria.

For those who need a quick recap: Bradford was in the mall when a fight broke out and shots were fired, striking two people. There are conflicting reports saying he might/might not have been friends with one of the participants in the fight, but regardless, no one now believes that he was involved. When the shooting started, Bradford apparently headed for the door and was helping others, while at the same time carrying his firearm, which was legally purchased according to his family’s attorney. An on-duty Hoover police officer mistook him for the shooter and shot Bradford. According to a private autopsy paid for by his family’s attorneys, Bradford was shot three times in the back.

It’s a truly awful situation. That has been handled in the most awful way possible.

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Initial press releases from Hoover labeled Bradford, although not by name, as the shooter. When that was obviously wrong, the city decided to say he was involved in the altercation that led to the shooting. That, too, was wrong, so a third swing at it just made him out to be a crazy person waving a gun around — which also had to later be corrected.

As you might imagine, Bradford’s family and the local black community — sensing a city coverup of a white cop shooting an innocent black man — were pretty angry about all of that.

And things haven’t improved much.

City and police officials eventually went to the Bradford family to apologize. But promises to be more open with the investigation and share video from that night have fallen flat. Mostly because ALEA has stood in the way, claiming the release of any info would hurt the ongoing investigation.

And so, now Hoover has a roving band of protesters that shows up at random places, blocking traffic, stopping businesses from operating and generally causing havoc throughout the city. Because they want answers about what happened that night.

And you know what? That’s perfectly reasonable.

At this point, we should have some answers. No, not a completed investigation, and nothing that would jeopardize the overall investigation, but something.

Like that video.

Why can’t the video be made public? Hoover city officials certainly wanted to show it, before ALEA stepped in. It didn’t jeopardize the investigation to allow literally dozens of people, including the attorneys for the Bradford family — al.com reported on Thursday evening — to watch that video.

So, why can’t everyone else watch the thing and see what happened?

It’s a video. Watching it won’t change it. Nor will it change the other facts and other evidence.

Because the silence here isn’t helping. The protests are growing larger and they’re getting more hostile. There’s a serious threat of protests at schools now, which will really elevate the anger.

And things are going to continue to trend ugly. Because the facts in front of the protesters are very ugly.

They know video exists. They know Bradford was shot in the back three times. They know Bradford was wrongly accused by the city and PD after he was dead. And they know there’s been enough time and enough evidence for police to ID the real shooter, find him in Georgia and bring him back.

That’s a lot of one-sided info.

There’s no reason for this to continue on without any answers for the family and community.

That it does is truly mind boggling.

 

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Opinion | Protest is an American right, deserves respect

Joey Kennedy

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Overkill is probably a bad word to use in this context, but it’s accurate. Law enforcement is out in huge numbers to quell protests that continue in Hoover in the wake of the literal overkilling of Emantic “E.J.” Bradford Jr. on Thanksgiving night.

The resources being used to divert or “contain” the generally small and loud-but-peaceful demonstrations appear to far outweigh any danger posed by them.

That’s exactly what’s expected, though. I grew up during the Vietnam War protest era, and law enforcement often overreacted to legitimate demonstrations then. They always have, it seems: Labor strikes in the early 20th century, during the Great Depression, and the Civil Rights movement, among others.

As more information is learned about the shooting, the worse it looks for the Hoover Police Department. At first, Hoover PD said Bradford was the man who shot and wounded an 18-year-old at the Riverchase Galleria that night. (A 12-year-old girl was also wounded, but for some reason, gets very little attention now.) Hoover PD quickly backed off its original story, admitting Bradford was unlikely to be the man who fired the shots that night. Various reports claim Bradford had a gun, but his family says he had a carry permit, though one isn’t required to tote a weapon in Alabama, an open-carry state.

Another man was arrested in Georgia for the Galleria shooting.

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Little else has come from Hoover officials about the tragedy, despite a vow to be transparent during the inquiry. The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency is conducting the investigation, and requested Hoover not release any evidence because it might jeopardize the work.

The only thing being jeopardized by the silence is the truth.

From an autopsy commissioned by Bradford’s family and released this week, it appears the 21-year-old was shot three times from behind by a Hoover police officer while Bradford was moving away from the scene — as were many people in the Riverchase Galleria that evening after the initial shots were fired.

Again, various reports claim Hoover PD denied Bradford treatment after he was mortally wounded. Some witnesses claim Bradford was helping other people escape the scene. Others say they didn’t see Bradford with a gun, while yet others say he was holding a gun. Police originally said Bradford was “brandishing” a gun, but they’ve backed off of that claim, too.

Witness accounts of crime scenes are often contradictory and confused. But with Hoover PD, ALEA, and other officials deciding not to be open with facts, that’s all we’re left with.

And sadly, that increases racial and other tensions in Jefferson County’s second-largest city.

Some social media comments have been outright racist and ugly, which is not unexpected, either. This is Alabama, after all, and Hoover, a white-flight city, is overwhelmingly majority white. Bradford was a black man, and the protests, while racially mixed, are led by African-Americans.

Underscore, though, that the protests have been peaceful. Yes, there’s hollering and chants, but no threats of violence. Meanwhile, police, including Alabama State Troopers, at one point blocked all the exits to the Interstate in Hoover to keep protesters contained.

We are allowed to peacefully protest in this country. That’s a constitutional right. Police and Hoover city officials – and Hoover residents and business owners — must respect that. They may not like the spotlight blinding them right now, but that spotlight is in large part of Hoover PD’s own making by rushing to judgment on the killing of a young black man, then shutting down information as they continued to change their story.

We’ve seen police overreact in violent incidents against young black men all over the nation for years. When they do, police departments often respond by refusing to release information that could clear up disturbing but valid questions.

As has been shown multiple times, that creates doubt and confusion, and does real damage to a police department’s reputation in the community it is supposed to protect.

E.J. Bradford certainly was not protected by Hoover police Thanksgiving night.

All anybody wants to know is the truth, but don’t blame Bradford’s family and others for wondering whether the truth is being manipulated when officials refuse to release information now, but were so certain Bradford was the man doing the shooting in the beginning.

The other sad fact this highlights is this nation’s dangerous gun culture. There are very real and lethal consequences with laws that allow open carry. When an event does occur, who are the police supposed to be looking for? The shooter may be there, but so maybe are many others with guns strapped to their waists or held in their hands.

Even so, that’s no excuse for a police officer, supposedly trained for high-stress, treacherous situations, to shoot a suspect three times from behind without being certain he is a threat to police or others. Merely having a gun in an open-carry, gun-loving state shouldn’t qualify.

The questions will continue, and the longer it takes to answer them, the less credibility an investigation will have.

Yes, we need to see what the overall inquiry reveals and what can be done to prevent a future repeat, but showing key video and evidence about Bradford’s role now, if he had any role at all, won’t jeopardize anything if the investigation is legitimate.

After all, Thanksgiving was two weeks ago. It took Hoover PD hardly any time to publicly brand E.J. Bradford the Galleria shooter or that it was a “hero” cop who took him down.

We may not have a lot of the facts, but we know today, for a fact, that story is not true.

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

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Public corruption unpunished, public left in the dark

Bill Britt

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Two former state public officials appear to be receiving extraordinary leniency, and the public should demand to know why.

In one case, former Sumter County Sheriff Tyrone Clark pleaded guilty to eight criminal charges including ethics violations and drug charges. However, District Attorney Greg Griggers who oversaw the investigation announced after Clark’s plea that he didn’t want to see the former sheriff go to prison. “It was never my goal to send Tyrone Clark to prison,” said Griggers.

Grant Culliver, a former top official at the Alabama Department of Corrections, is being allowed to retire after an investigation into allegations of misconduct. The Alabama Ethics Commission, the Department of Corrections and the Attorney General’s Office refuses to acknowledge publicly what the inquiry uncovered.

In both instances, the public is being denied a full accounting of why these high-ranking government employees are being shown preferential treatment. It is also becoming evident that there is no appetite to punish office holders or hold them publicly accountable for misconduct.

These two cases are just a small sampling of how public officials are being given a pass under Attorney General Steve Marshall.

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Marshall has no real interest in prosecuting public corruption which is evident by his firing of Chief Prosecutor Matt Hart.

It is estimated that nearly two dozen public corruption investigations are languishing after Hart’s firing. Perhaps more egregiously, Marshall, according to several well-placed sources still inside the AG’s office, has denied subpoenas, withheld vital documents and generally hampered investigations that involve state lawmakers and business leaders.

More troubling, Marshall is not only compromised by his debt to his political donors but also by those in his office that have critical knowledge about his personal conduct.

As one source close to Marshall explained, “Steve is a dark character with a lot to hide.”

Under former attorneys general, Clark and Culliver would have been treated like any other individual accused of misconduct, but Marshall is side-stepping both cases.

It is entirely within the attorney general’s authority to take control of Clark’s case, as well as revealing Culliver investigations, but Marshall is doing neither.

Culliver, who served as associate commissioner for operations at the Department of Corrections, is being allowed to quietly retire without the public ever knowing what the investigation uncovered.

Clark confessed to numerous crimes including two counts of unlawful employment of county inmates, three counts of ethics violations for using his office for personal gain, one first-degree count of promoting prison contraband, another second-degree count of promoting prison contraband and a count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance.

The county DA wants him to walk free.

Former Sumter County sheriff pleads guilty to criminal ethics, drug charges

Marshall, with his appointment by disgraced Gov. Robert Bentley and his subsequent election, has ushered in an era where public officials are free to do as they please without fear of prosecution as long as it is in Marshall or his handler’s interest.

Marshall also serves as co-chair of the Ethics Reform and Clarification Commission which is rewriting the State’s Ethics Act to ensure that convicted felon former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard is the last high-ranking political figure ever to be punished by the once championed “toughest in the nations” ethics laws.

Both Clark and Culliver were paid with state tax-dollars and should be accountable to the citizens of our state. Clark’s crimes are clear and he should be punished to the fullest extent of the law because, not only did he break the law, he violated public trust.

Culliver, it appears, did something to warrant a forced retirement. He, too, was paid by tax-payers who have a right to know what he did.

The public should demand more, Gov. Kay Ivey should intervene, but for now, there is little hope for equal justice under the law as dispensed by the likes of Marshall.

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Opinion | Alabama can do much more to help voters be smarter

by Joey Kennedy Read Time: 5 min
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