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Opinion | Ivey, Bentley have been robbing bridges to pay judges, and this shell game has to stop

Josh Moon

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Want to know how broke Alabama is under its current Republican leadership?

For the past nine years, GOP lawmakers, at the request of the Govs. Robert Bentley and Kay Ivey, have moved more than $300 million out of funds earmarked for road and bridge repairs and deposited it into an account that covers the costs of our court system.

And the court system is still so broke that it takes two years to get a case before a judge.

That’s governance, baby.

It’s also illegal.

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Or, at least, it sure looks like the shifting of those funds — which was pointed out in a press release on Wednesday by Walt Maddox’s campaign — violates the state constitution.

Those road and bridge funds, according to the state constitution, must be used for purposes at least somewhat related to the maintenance of roads and bridges. I don’t believe the courts qualify.

But illegal or not, it’s no way to fund government.

This is what Republican leadership has brought to Alabama.

This shell game, where we take a little from this fund to give to partially fund that fund because we took from that fund last year and now need to take from another fund.  

College kids manage their finances better than this. At least they would go out and find more money.

ALGOP just keeps pretending that all is well, and that our regressive tax structure, which leaves custodians paying a higher percentage of taxes than CEOs, is working out for us.

In the meantime, our roads and bridges are crumbling. Our roads are routinely rated as some of the worst in the nation. Our bridges, in some areas, are shockingly unsafe. And as comedian John Oliver once joked, “Alabama the state has as many dam inspectors as Alabama the band.”

Now we know why.

For nine years, beginning with Robert Bentley, we’ve been robbing bridges to pay judges. It started with $25 million in 2011. It has reached $35 million each of the last nine years, including the last two years under Ivey.

The truly shameful part: The courts are still broke!

If you doubt this, ask any judge. Anywhere. From any party.

Or hell, just walk around almost any county courthouse and count the empty offices.

But it’s actually even worse than it seems.

Actually, no, let me take that back. It’s actually dumber than it seems. Because here’s what very few people realize about the court system: It is a revenue generating system.

That means that our legislature, in all of their financial wisdom, are taking money from the courts to fund various non-court things within our general fund budget, to the point that the court system is at least $35 million in the hole every year. (It’s actually much, much more than that, but $35 million is what they’ve stolen from roads and bridges each of the last seven years.)

Then, our lawmakers are taking road and bridge money and diverting it (illegally) into the court system to the fill the hole they created.

That is, of course, on top of the courts jacking up fines and fees and costs to the point that a ticket for rolling through a stop sign now costs more than a monthly power bill and the average Alabama citizen can’t afford to participate in the Alabama legal system.

And not a single system, despite massive reductions in employees and expenses over the past eight years, is financially sound. Most of them are teetering on the verge of financial collapse.

Seriously. There’s a hole so big in the general fund budget in 2019 that Alabama Republicans are praying that an oil well explodes somewhere in the Gulf. There is serious talk among some judges — Republicans and Democrats — about filing a grievance with the feds over Alabama’s backlog of cases and inadequate funding. And one of the biggest GOP talking points this election cycle is their candidates’ willingness to get behind a tax increase to pay for — you guessed it! — repairing roads and bridges.

Honestly, what are we doing here?

For the past six months, every Republican candidate that’s popped up on your TV has rambled on and on about “responsible governing” and “living within our means” and treating our state budgets “like you and your family handle your budgets.”

So, maybe these are analogies that are understood among the voters. In which case, let’s try this.

Alabama Republicans have been paying only part of the power bill so it could pay the mortgage and then paying only a small portion of the car payment in order to send enough to keep the lights on. All because some members of the family aren’t putting in a fair share or they’re pretending that the property they own is worth way less than it is. You probably haven’t realized any of this because they keep distracting you with scary fairytales about evil non-white people.

The only good news is that there’s a nice Native American family that has its eye on the place once we go through foreclosure.

 

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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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 | It’s time to end Veteran’s Day

Josh Moon

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Forget Veteran’s Day.

We need a Veteran’s Month.

Every year, as November 11 rolls around, and the parades start slowly marching and the wreaths get laid on graves and everyone seeks out a veteran to thank for their service, I can’t help but think how completely disingenuous it all is.

Seriously, it’s noise.

Tomorrow, the day after Veteran’s Day, most of this country will go back to not giving a damn about veterans or their many, many problems.

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One day we’re tying ribbons on trees. The next we’re stepping over homeless vets on the sidewalk.

Maybe if we had a little more time each year — breast cancer, alcoholism and diabetes all get a month — maybe we could actually address a few problems, raise a little money, have enough time to get really, really ticked off about the way we — along with our federal government — consistently fail these men and women.

Because we do fail them.

And nowhere more so than with their health care.

We’ve got billions upon billions to waste on jets that the Air Force doesn’t even want, but we consistently cut and trim the health care services provided to the men and women who fought to protect us.

(And for just a moment, I want you to consider what “fought to protect us” actually means. Because it gets tossed around easily. But the reality is that many, many of these folks flew into a sandy/mountainous/jungle/Nazi-infested hellhole, tiptoed around roadside bombs, ducked enemy gunfire, and generally lived scared out of their ever-lovin’ minds every minute of every day for YEARS on end.)

And failing on veterans’ health care is not a partisan thing. Every recent administration and every recent Congress have done it.

President Obama included cuts to some benefits in Obamacare. Trump proposed cuts in his budget. George W. Bush made cuts, while two wars were still being fought. Clinton made cuts.

This functional indifference is a relatively new thing in this country. Following WWII, a country that had been scared to death gladly gave returning soldiers the rewards they deserved, primarily through the G.I. Bill.

Housing. Cheap loans. College tuition. Entire neighborhoods (unless you were black, of course). And no expenses were spared when it came to treating the returning wounded.

Much of that healthcare was provided by the newly consolidated Veterans Administration, or VA. And some of those hospitals would become world-class centers for care.

Today, many of them are world-class centers of embarrassment.

I know. I’ve written the stories. I’ve followed veterans and their family members around as they tried desperately to get the care promised. Or to simply get a doctor to show up for an appointment inside of a year.

I could tell you stories that would blow your mind.

Like the time a VA doctor and nurse left an 85-year-old Korean War vet lying on the floor, gasping for air, for more than 15 minutes. They saw him, left the room, and didn’t return.

Or the time a VA administrator took a patient to a crack house.

Or the many times VA workers spoke up about patients having to wait YEARS for an appointment, only to have top brass retaliate against them. As former soldiers died waiting.

That’s what we’ve done. Democrats, Republicans, Alabamians, liberals, conservatives, independents — all of us.

And for God’s sakes, don’t even get me started on mental health care, or the lack thereof. It’s a national crisis all by itself. And as last week’s shooting in California indicates, it’s not getting any better.

But you know what makes it all even worse?

The promise on the front end.

That slap-on-the-back promise made to the volunteer heroes heading off to war that if they’d go fight so we don’t have to, we would pick up the tabs, no matter the cost. You go fight our wars, keep us free and safe, and we’ll pay for your health care.

That was the deal we made.

They upheld their end. But like a bunch of used car salesmen, we’ve tried every shady trick in the book to weasel out of ours.

Instead, we give them one day each year, when we close up the banks and government offices, let kids out of school and walk around thanking vets for their service. And while that’s nice and all, it’s just not enough.

Maybe if we had a month, we could actually make good on a few of these promises.

 

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Opinion | With last minute move, Sessions cements his awful legacy

Josh Moon

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Here come the rewrites of Jeff Sessions’ pathetic history.

Already, the apologists and conservatives have begun to mold Sessions’ as a rule-of-law stalwart, a steadying force, a letter-of-the-law stickler for truth and justice.

He stood up to Trump.

He protected Robert Mueller.

He was brave and honorable and dignified, and most of all, he followed the letter of the law, because Jeff Sessions is a good person.

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Here’s the truth about Jeff Sessions: He’s a horrible person who has no qualms about laws being broken or U.S. citizens being abused and tortured and wrongly imprisoned, and innocent men being put to death, so long as the victims of those atrocities are not white.

The damage he did at the U.S. Department of Justice will take a generation to undo. And he made sure to do more on his way out the door.

In a sign of just how awful and vindictive and racist he is, in one of his last acts, as he was being dragged out the door towards his North Korea-like forced-applause send-off, Sessions signed a memorandum that, according to the New York Times, sharply limits the use of consent decrees to curb police misconduct.

Those decrees — reached after investigations uncover abuses in police departments and enforced by federal courts — have been used in recent times to address departments with long, sordid histories of abuses, particularly abuses of poor and minority citizens.

The decrees are essentially agreements between the Department of Justice and the departments in question, and they require the departments to make broad changes and show improvements.

For example, in Baltimore, following a number of well-documented scandals, including the death of Freddie Gray, and riots, the department asked the DOJ to investigate and recommend changes. That investigation turned up widespread abuses and unconstitutional behavior by officers, and the DOJ and department reached an agreement to make several changes. Among the changes were things like enhanced training in de-escalation techniques, training in community policing tactics and changes to rules about when and how officers could engage with citizens and suspects.

Let me stress again: These agreements were reached AFTER an investigation found and documented hundreds of instances of abuse. Including the wrongful death of suspects, the beating of innocent citizens, allegations of theft and multiple violations of constitutional rights of citizens.

But that didn’t matter to Sessions.

What did matter was that the majority of the victims were minorities.

No matter the situation, no matter the injustice, if it happens to a person of color, Sessions is incapable of empathy or of simply doing the right thing. And this is not new for him.

He acted similarly when he was Alabama’s AG. He did and said racist things while a federal prosecutor in Alabama. He was no better as this state’s senator. And he’s been an embarrassment as AG.

But some people now want to give him a pass because he did one right thing and recused from the Russia investigation.

That’s what he was supposed to do. He was the AG. He was supposed to follow the law.

Sessions doesn’t get rewarded for doing the absolute bare minimum. He doesn’t get to be recast as a hero because he wasn’t awful this one time.

And if you’re inclined to think otherwise, remember the story of Laquan McDonald.

Four years ago, police in Chicago shot and killed McDonald. At the time of the shooting, he was walking away from the cops. They shot him 16 times.

The official story from police, however, was that McDonald had “lunged” at them and they feared for their lives. They told the public he was shot once.

At least 20 cops in the department knew the story was a lie. Multiple cops in the department, including senior and high-ranking officers, signed off on it, repeated it and turned a blind eye.

The department turned away witnesses, tried to destroy video evidence, and lied repeatedly about the incident.

The cop who shot McDonald had a history of abuse dating back years. Abuses that had done little to stop his upward climb in the department.

The subsequent DOJ investigation found widespread abuses within the Chicago PD. It found multiple instances of officers violating the constitutional rights of citizens, sometimes through physical assaults, and facing little or no discipline for their actions. And it found a climate that would support an entire department lying to cover up a murder.

Jeff Sessions knew of these findings. And of ones in other departments. And still, on his way out the door, his last act was to pull the thin rug from under the feet of citizens abused and murdered by the police.

That’s who Jeff Sessions is.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

 

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Opinion | Got to get rid of this Democratic Party of Alabama

Joey Kennedy

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The problem is the Democratic Party of Alabama. An awful mess looks better.

In Tuesday’s elections, Republicans won top to bottom in statewide and congressional races  that had credible Democratic Party challengers.

And across those races, the Democrats were clearly, unquestionably, more qualified than their stale, same-as-always, mostly race-baiting, health care-hating, fear-mongering Republican incumbents.

Gov.-elect Kay Ivey clearly ran the better campaign. Democrat and Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox had a plan for just about everything. He campaigned non-stop, answered every question, laid out his ideas, and lost in a landslide.

Ivey stayed quiet, refused to debate, promised nothing new, laid out no plans, and won in a rout.

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It was pretty much the same across the board. Republicans offered nothing new; Democrats offered a lot new; Republicans refused to debate; Democrats answered questions. Republicans ignored their voters; Democrats engaged them.

Republicans, across the board, won easily. It wasn’t even close, in even the closest race.

But here’s the big difference: The Republican Party of Alabama has its stuff together. It knows how to run campaigns, knows how to win and what will win, and follows through.

The Democratic Party of Alabama does absolutely nothing. It’s a meaningless little club, for meaningless little people who think they can wield power, but only in their tiny, grotesque imaginations.

So all those Democrats who were shellacked on Tuesday stood alone without statewide Democratic Party support. Republican candidates had the winning infrastructure; Democratic candidates had losers running the state party – the same losers who have been running the state party for way too long now.

Credit those candidates — Walt Maddox, Will Boyd, Judge Robert Vance, Joe Siegelman, Heather Milam, those running for Congress and other offices – for doing a helluva lot –basically on their own — with their own campaign organizations, grassroots canvassing teams, fundraising, and get-out-the-vote efforts.

Many, many progressives (and Republicans) came out, too. It took me a half hour to vote Tuesday morning, most of that time spent in line. The only other time I’ve seen that much enthusiasm for an election was in 2008, when Barack Obama won his first term.

Still, it wasn’t enough. Because the state Democratic Party sat this one out. It couldn’t do otherwise, because it’s absolutely dysfunctional, in disarray, more than an awful mess, led by ancients or lackeys, and it’ll be the same in two years if something isn’t done.

The time is now to jettison Joe Reed and his cronies if Democrats ever want to do more than win the 7th Congressional District or the once-in-a-lifetime special election for the U.S. Senate against a child predator who, not surprisingly, was the Republican.

The results from Tuesday night did surprise me. Not that Republicans won every statewide race and the congressional seats. That I did expect.

But that the margins were so wide is discouraging. The difference, friends, is that the Republicans have solid party organization behind them. Even though Republicans elected to public office have been regularly removed from many of those same offices for corruption over the past few years. Even though Republicans sponsor programs that are terrible for most Alabamians. Even though they are peopled by many who are racist or homophobic or misogynous or xenophobic, or all of the above.

Even though they take Alabama voters so for granted that they don’t even have to campaign, or answer questions, or do much more than cut a few ribbons for new businesses or attend Republican-sponsored events where the crowds are peopled by folks just themselves.

Maddox, Vance, Siegelman, et al., did amazingly well, considering what they were up against.

Nationally, Democrats did well, winning back the U.S. House and some governorships and state legislatures here and there.

The 2018 Democratic Party of Alabama, however, did exactly what it’s done for the past decade or so: Nothing.

Nothing to write home about. Nothing to help Alabama move forward. And certainly nothing to vote for.

Somebody needs to get rid of it.

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

 

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Opinion | Ivey, Bentley have been robbing bridges to pay judges, and this shell game has to stop

by Josh Moon Read Time: 4 min
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