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Opinion | Secretary of State John Merrill isn’t very collegial

Joey Kennedy

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As we head to the last weekend before next Tuesday’s midterm elections, Alabama voters need to be reminded how Republican candidates have conducted themselves this campaign season.

Very few Republican candidates have debated their Democratic opponents. That’s because Republicans would rather not have to defend their programs and policies in front of an opponent who, quite frankly, probably has better ideas.

The Republicans’ control in Alabama is getting stale. They really have no new ideas to move Alabama forward, if they ever did. Their main strategy is just to make Alabama more Republican. That’s true across all the constitutional offices that are elected statewide.

Their strategy: Stay hidden, say little, and arrogantly depend on Alabama voters to once again return them to office, once again vote against their best interests.

Voters should not reward that kind of arrogance.

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Perhaps one of the most arrogant Republicans seeking re-election is Secretary of State John Merrill. Like most Republican secretaries of state across the nation, Merrill’s goal is to make sure as few people vote who might vote against Republicans as possible. He’s the kingpin of elections in Alabama and the primary architect of voter suppression in the state.

Merrill argues: We need strong voter ID because voter fraud at the polls is real. Fact: It isn’t. In-person voter fraud is rare, as studies have shown. Even President Donald Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity (voter fraud commission) disbanded after only a few months because it found no voter fraud.

Merrill argues: We don’t need early voting in Alabama because you can apply for an absentee ballot and vote early. Fact: Absentee ballots are for voters who cannot, for whatever reason (usually because they’re out of their districts on election day), go to the polls. All states with early voting also provide for absentee voting. They are two different things.

Merrill argues: We don’t need automatic voter registration in Alabama because if a qualified citizen can’t go through the steps required to register to vote, that person is “lazy.” Fact: Automatic voter registration would qualify many more citizens to vote, and more voters is not what Merrill and Republicans want to see.

We have all of that, plus, Merrill is simply not a very nice person. In academia, we would say he’s not “collegial,” which means he doesn’t play well with others, especially those who disagree with him.

Merrill’s Twitter feed often lashes out at those people who do disagree with him. He’s known to block people left and right, if he doesn’t like what they say. Merrill can’t take criticism, and he doesn’t have the critical thinking skills to accept that somebody else might have a better idea than he.

Merrill is even unpleasant at public events.

At a gathering at the Spencer Honors House at UAB a couple weeks ago, Merrill refused to answer some questions, unless the questioner acknowledged Merrill had done more as secretary of state for Alabama than any other in the nation. In other words, Merrill needed his ego stroked. Not collegial.

Merrill didn’t want to address hard questions in detail or honestly, everything from automatic voting to voter fraud to educating felons on how to register to vote after they’ve served their time and are qualified again.

“From the very beginning, he was so defensive,” said UAB honors student John Aiken, a political science major. “He was already ready for all of (those questions). He wasn’t answering a lot of questions. It was like talking to a brick wall, and I just had to give up.”

Aiken, 21, is education director and on the executive board for UAB’s College Democrats, so he went to the meeting knowing that he and Merrill likely wouldn’t agree on much.

But what Merrill fails to acknowledge is that, while a Republican, he’s the elected secretary of state for all Alabamians – Republicans, Democrats, third party, independents. He fills that role poorly. Not very collegial.

“I asked him about automatic voter registration,” Aiken said. In his response, Merrill said that some eligible voters don’t want to be registered. “He’s more concerned about violating the rights of those who don’t want to vote” than those who do, Aiken said.

Merrill also told Aiken he was generalizing because Aiken couldn’t provide the name of somebody who couldn’t physically register to vote or who would benefit from automatic registration. Merrill said that type of person doesn’t exist.

Well, of course, that type person does exist. Every eligible voter should be registered, whether they’re “lazy” or not. If they don’t want to vote, they don’t have to vote. But what’s the harm in making certain they can if they so desire?

Well, they might vote, and that scares Merrill and Republicans to death.

As for encouraging qualified former felons to register, Aiken said Merrill claimed these former felons can’t be found. I’ll guarantee you law enforcement agencies can find them.

But again, former felons aren’t likely to vote Merrill’s way.

Following the event, Aiken posted details on his Facebook page. Somebody screenshot the page and sent it to Merrill on Twitter.

Merrill’s response was fairly typical, considering that he and Aiken disagreed: “He heard what he wanted to hear he came in there with an agenda and that’s what he promoted. That’s generally the liberal narrative. If you would like to talk to me about the meeting or what we have done since I’ve been the Secretary please to call me at cell phone 334-328-2787.” Not very collegial.

By the way, Aiken did call Merrill. The call went to voice mail.

I’ve heard this same story from other people who have had interactions with Merrill, then tried to call him. I’ve seen similar partisan, nasty Tweets from Merrill on his timeline. It’s a way for Merrill to appear he’s open for discussion when he’s actually anything but.

At an academic institution, Merrill’s lack of collegiality could easily prevent him from ever earning tenure.

So here’s the question: Why should voters give Merrill another four years’ tenure as Alabama Secretary of State? He certainly doesn’t represent all of us. He doesn’t have an open mind about getting more voters to the polls because that scares him. He’s just one of many Republican election officials across the nation doing everything they can to keep voter turnout low, because that’s what Merrill and other Republicans need to keep winning elections. And, after they win, to keep suppressing votes.

If you’re not one of those “lazy” people who isn’t registered to vote, make sure to show up Tuesday. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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

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Opinion | Let’s put a wall around petty Donald Trump

Joey Kennedy

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How can one quantify how petty our infant-acting president, Donald J. Trump, really is?

Trump is so dim, he actually may be an unwitting tool of Russia. Hard to believe somebody as thin-skinned and brain-challenged as Trump could be working for the Russians intentionally. Yet, he may be doing that, too. Evidence looks strong.

Trump is way past the simple disgrace to the United States that Richard Nixon was. And his idiocy is dangerous.

When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked Trump to postpone his State of the Union address, for good reasons, until after the partial government shutdown is over, petty Trump retaliated by postponing an international trip Pelosi was going to make, refusing to allow military aircraft to transport her. That trip was being kept on the down-low for security reasons, until petty Trump released the details.

As the now 28-day shutdown has no end in sight, the only reason 800,000 federal employees, thousands of them in Alabama, aren’t getting paid is because of petty Trump.
Trump refuses to budge on his demand for $5.6 billion for a near-useless wall on the U.S. southern border with Mexico.

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The president is stubbornly low-information, ignoring facts that show technology and more border agents will better deter undocumented immigrants entering the country than a physical barrier that can be easily defeated.

People can climb over walls. They can dig under them. And that’s not the only way they can get through.

Perdido Vineyards’ Jim Eddins, 85, a 1957 graduate of the Naval Academy and a retired colonel from the U.S. Marine Corps, has plenty of experience with walls. He was a combat engineer in the Marines, and he established Perdido Vineyards in 1972 and started Alabama’s first farm winery in 1979.

Walls, Eddins says, have “many useful and peaceful purposes.”

“They support roofs, enclose space, help with privacy and secrecy, help with protection and security, define perimeters and boundaries, help with flood control; they work in prisons, make obstacles,” Eddins says.

But will a wall on the southern border do what petty Trump says it will: Keep out immigrants? Stop the drug trade? Keep terrorists out? Keep us free of these terrible “diseases” the president wrongly claims immigrants bring in?

“No,” Eddins says emphatically. “None of the above.” Those dangers cited by petty Trump are wildly exaggerated anyway, Eddins says.

“Disease? Ebola flies in: mosquitos, birds, animals, vehicles. The history of walls is ancient, as failures for the above reasons,” Eddins says. “A determined aggressor is only temporarily impeded. They tunnel under, fly over, go around, destroy, or breach. (Walls) often cause more damage than they prevent.”

The mobility of modern military criminal forces, with aircraft and explosives (and other technologies) – make a wall particularly vulnerable.

“A wall can very quickly cease to be a defense and become a prison or target,” Eddins says. “Hitting a fixed target is easy. Hitting a moving target is not so simple. Ask a deer hunter or bird hunter.”

Yet, petty Trump demands his wall be paid for by U.S. taxpayers – the one he said Mexico would pay for – or else he’ll keep the government shut. Republicans in Congress, and especially in the U.S. Senate and in Alabama, are complicit in the pettiness.

So, 800,000 federal workers are going without their paychecks, for a full month now and counting, the longest shutdown in U.S. history. For a wall that’ll do little to secure the southern border as petty Trump claims.

Tests have already shown that the wall or barrier or fence – whatever somebody wants to call it – is easily breached. Officials discovered a tunnel under an existing section of wall only a short distance from where Trump was visiting when he was at the Texas border last week. Most drugs come to the United States through the air or hidden in ground vehicles that come through existing border entries. A prototype of the wall Trump wants was sawed through by testers.

But Trump wants it his way or the highway. Democrats and a growing number of Republicans are telling Trump that he can’t always get his way.

“The United States has been wracked with the politics of division, religion, and immigration for its entire history,” Eddins says. “And the lessons of this experience are currently being ignored, and the same mistakes are being made for the self-serving purposes of mind control and a dictatorship.”

Walls are not for a democracy, Eddins says. “A wall is a physical object for dictators to impress foolish people,” he says. “Israel has a wall, and the Palestinians shoot missiles over it. Walls did not stop the Crusaders or Muslims.

“Putting a ‘wall’ around propaganda and sick minds is a logical option,” Eddins says, adding we must fight bad ideas with better ideas. And keep in mind, Eddins says, who is pushing “this noise.”

“Someone with corrupted, evil intent,” Eddins points out. “There are better and less expensive alternatives. It will definitely cost more than $5 billion to build and maintain a wall. In short, a political slogan and promise from a pathological liar is no basis for spending billions on this, especially when political ideology is the only purpose.”

Trump is a legend only in his own mind. His pettiness is the real legend, assaulting all of our tired, frustrated minds. His disastrous term is half over. I don’t know if our nation can survive the next 24 months. We don’t need a wall, and we certainly don’t need Donald Trump.

It is, indeed, Mueller time.

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

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Opinion | Mayor Woodfin: Tear down that statue

Josh Moon

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Dear Mayor Woodfin,

Tear it down.

Get a few blow torches and axes, maybe a jackhammer or two, and tear down that Confederate monument in Linn Park. If you’d like, to appease the phony historians out there, save a portion to be put in a museum in town.

But tear it down.

A Jefferson County Circuit Court judge ruled Monday night that you have the authority to remove it, and why wouldn’t you? It’s your city. It’s your city park. You maintain it. You should have complete authority over what goes or what stays in it.

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As Judge Michael Graffeo wrote in his order, “Just as the state could not force any particular citizen to post a pro-Confederacy sign in his or her front lawn, so too can the state not commandeer the city’s property for the state’s preferred message.”

It’s the perfect ruling. Because it’s so obviously accurate.

In fact, numerous people who worked in several cities around the state tried to explain to the legislature that this law was ridiculously encroaching — to the point of being counterproductive.

And a number of attorneys tried to explain to state lawmakers that the overreach was troubling and likely illegal.

But as the Legislature usually does, it ignored those cries of rationality. And instead chose the path of pandering.

Pandering to the most awful among us.

Pandering to the racists. Pandering to those who refuse to believe in an accurate history. Pandering to those who don’t care that statues honoring traitors and murderers offend large numbers of citizens in this state.

How couldn’t they offend black citizens?

Imagine learning stories of the horrific ways that your ancestors were treated — beaten, raped, tortured, bought and sold like cattle, and separated from their children — and then being told there was a statue of the men who did those things in the town square.

If this state’s citizenry had half the decency and morals that we proclaim, we’d be ashamed that we ever had the gall to erect these statues, or to honor the dishonorable men who led the fight to preserve slavery.

But instead, our state’s citizens have been brainwashed by decades of an absurdly whitewashed history, and will, in response to fact-based arguments for why the statues should be removed, talk passionately about the southern general’s great strategic mind or explain that this confederate treated his slaves well or tell you with a straight face that the whole damn thing wasn’t and isn’t about race and slavery.

Quite honestly, Mayor Woodfin, I am tired of the stupidity and the phony arguments and the wink-and-nod racism from closeted racists. They don’t really care if the statue is in the park. It’s not like they’re bringing their families by on Saturday afternoons to have picnics in front of the Confederate monuments and soak in the history.

They only want the statues to remain because those statues are one last poke in the eye to the people who say they have to treat black people as equals.

That’s it.

They get a little demented joy out of knowing that that statue is aggravating the blacks and the libs and the yankees.

That’s why they’ve erected a huge confederate flag beside the Interstate north of Montgomery. It’s why three confederate groups attempted a couple of years ago to put up a large confederate flag across the Interstate from Alabama State University, a historically black college.

And it’s why, most of all, they run around waving a flag that was never an official flag of the Confederacy, but was the battle flag of one confederate army and was later adopted by the KKK and other hate groups.

Because the history doesn’t matter to these people. And those who are interested in it would be just as well served visiting the monuments in a museum.

So, Mayor, I’m suggesting you do the right thing and set an example for other cities around the state to follow.

Tear that statue down.

 

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Opinion | What will our Congressional districts look like after the 2020 Census

Steve Flowers

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Preparations are being made to take the 2020 Census. This process is not just a fun game to spell out demographic changes and interesting tidbits about us as Americans. It is a very important mandate dictated by the Constitution. The number of people counted determines how many seats each state has in Congress. Thus, it is taken every 10-years.

The Country has been changing, demographically, over the last decade, as it always has over the course of history. The states of California, Texas and Florida continue to grow exponentially. All Americans, not just older ones, seek the sun. They like a sunny, warm climate. That is why our neighboring state of Florida is and has been for decades America’s growth state.

Last week I visited with you about our 1940’s Congressional Delegation. At that time we had nine seats. We lost one after the 1960’s census. We lost another after 1980. We are projected to lose another one after this upcoming Census of 2020. We now have seven seats. It is predicted that we will only have six after next year. We most certainly will lose one to California if they are allowed to count illegal immigrants.

The State Legislature is constitutionally designated as the drawer of lines of congressional districts for each respective state. Currently, we have six Republican seats and one Democratic seat. If indeed we drop from seven to six Congressional districts, how will it shake out.

The census will reveal that Huntsville and North Alabama have been our growth spots. Alabama’s population continues to move toward the northern tier of the state. Two out of every three Alabamians live in Birmingham, Hoover, and Tuscaloosa north.

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The Black Belt continues to lose population. The census will also reveal quite a disparity of financial prosperity. It will show that the same Black Belt counties are some of the poorest areas of the country and conversely Huntsville will be one of the most prosperous.

So who are the winners and losers under Congressional redistricting? You start with one premise. You have to have one majority minority African American district. The federal courts have mandated this edict. Therefore, Congresswoman Terri Sewell’s district is sacred. It now is very large, geographically. It will become even larger. The district will take in most of the African American population in Birmingham, Tuscaloosa and Montgomery, and the entire Black Belt stretching from south of Birmingham and Tuscaloosa all the way to Mobile. It will be a big geographic district and be numbered district six rather than seven.

This leaves us with five Republican districts and six incumbent Republicans. Therefore, who gets the short end of the stick. A cursory look says the odd person out is Martha Roby in the second district.

However, our current delegates have already come up with a plan to save everybody. Mo Brooks, the Congressman from Huntsville, will choose to move up or out in 2022. He is assuming that Senator Richard Shelby retires at age 88. Therefore, Brooks will see his fast-growing Tennessee Valley district divided and delved out to a plan that grows the districts north, which complies with the growth pattern.

Our senior and most seniority laden Congressman, Robert Aderholt, will opt to stay in Congress rather than risk a run for the Senate. This is a very wise and prudent move for him and the state. He has over 24-years in seniority and is in line to be Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. He will move north and pick up part of the Huntsville area and he will cut Gadsden loose. Mike Rogers will move north and pick up Gadsden and all of northeast Alabama, which is a more natural fit for him with his native Anniston area.

Rogers’ move north will allow him to abandon Auburn-Opelika, which in turn allows Roby’s district to exist primarily like it is with the population centers of East Montgomery, Elmore, Autauga, and the Wiregrass and Dothan and that district will add Auburn-Opelika.

The current 6th District of Jefferson-Shelby represented by Gary Palmer will remain essentially the same. Its upscale suburbs will make it one of the most Republican in the nation.

The last district seat of Mobile-Baldwin will remain intact and will still be District 1. However, the tremendous growth of Baldwin will require that the district only contain Mobile and Baldwin. The cadre of rural counties north of Mobile that are currently in the District will have to be cut loose to probably go to the Black Belt district.

The current 1st District Congressman, Bradley Bryne, is running for the U.S. Senate in 2020. However, his replacement will be a conservative Republican.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

 

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Opinion | Why do Alabama governors insist on taking the unpopular path?

Josh Moon

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We’re doing it again.

The same thing. We’re doing the same thing again, and hoping for a different outcome. Which I believe is the definition of insanity. And that might as well be our state motto at this point.

Alabama: The Insane State.

The state where the people continue to elect people who promise to do the same things as the last people who we hated, and who will eventually totally renege on those promises and try to do the opposite.

Case in point: Kay Ivey.

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At her inauguration on Monday, Ivey was all smiles and upbeat rhetoric. She talked of steadying the ship and putting Alabamians back to work. And she was governor while those things happened, so the rules say she gets credit, even if it’s mighty tough to pinpoint exactly what it is that she did to cause any of those good things.

But Ivey also dropped a few hints about the future.

To no one’s surprise, she discussed a gas tax without ever saying the word “tax,” and she talked about a new prison construction proposal.

Actually, neither of those ideas is “new,” and the proposals Ivey and the Legislature will put forth in the coming months won’t be new either. We’ve been talking about prisons for three years now, if not longer, and the gas tax was kicked around during the last legislative session.

And both will be met with roughly the same amount of disdain by voters this time around.

No matter how badly we might need to renovate our current prisons or build new ones, the average Alabama voter doesn’t want to do that. In fact, those voters have proven to be amazingly willing to let prisoners out of jail, if the alternative is a higher tax bill.

And on the gas tax front, yeah, that’s a big ol’ no.

I’m sorry, but you can’t set up a state income tax system that charges janitors more than CEOs, leaving the state with consistently no money to make necessary repairs to infrastructure, and then ask the working stiffs to pick up the bill for those repairs when things fall completely apart. And make them pay for it by charging them more to get to work every day.  

I don’t care that we just held elections and most lawmakers are safe for another four years. You vote for that sort of a tax on working people, and it’ll hang around your neck for the rest of your political career. What’s left of it.

If you doubt this, ask Robert Bentley.

He tried something similar. Actually, come to think of it, he was a lot like Ivey following his re-election in 2014. Very popular. Had pledged not to raise taxes. Was generally trusted by most people around the state.

And then he hit people with a proposal for a cigarette tax.

His whole world blew up from that point forward.

Because it’s not right. Taxing gas or taxing cigarettes is a coward’s tax.

It’s an admission that you know we don’t have enough revenue but you’re not brave enough to attack the real problem — to raise property taxes or restructure our state income tax.

Or to do what’s popular: Legalize gambling.

Why do Alabama Republicans continue to run from legalized gaming? It makes zero sense, considering the massive edge they hold in statewide voting and the unprecedented popularity of gambling among Republican voters.

Poll after poll shows that conservative voters in Alabama now massively favor legalizing gambling. In one of the more recent polls, more than 60 percent of likely Republican voters were in favor of a vote to legalize full-fledged casinos with sportsbooks.

And yet, Ivey, like the two governors who came before her, will stand on a stage at her inauguration and push for two completely unpopular ideas —— prisons and a gas tax — but never speak of the one subject that’s both popular and could raise enough money to pay for the infrastructure repairs. And the prisons.

So, here we are again. Another governor who thinks she can thumb her nose at the will of the people. Another governor who seems hellbent on ignoring a popular solution. Another fight that will lead to nowhere.

Insanity. That’s what it is.

 

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Opinion | Secretary of State John Merrill isn’t very collegial

by Joey Kennedy Read Time: 6 min
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