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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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Bill Britt

Opinion | Can Alabama’s one-party system deliver for all the people?

Bill Britt

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Alabama is a one-party state.

For 136 years, the Democratic Party was the sole governing body which ruled the state under a one-party system. Voters switched sides in 2010, and now there is one-party control by Republicans.

Of the many problems created by a one-party system are the elimination of checks and balances, disregard for the minority population, a tendency for tolerating corruption within the controlling ranks and ignoring best practices because they may be ideas that come from the opposition.

Alabama is in dire need of men and women in positions of political power and influence who can see beyond the second ripple in the pond and who will do what is right, not based on party, but a deep abiding loyalty to our state.

Far too often policy items are ill-conceived, half-baked-by-products of some other state’s solutions or a national narrative that isn’t in the best interest of the people of our state.

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Best policy is written using fact-based information tailored to the needs of the state.

As lawmakers gear up for the 2019 Legislative Session, it might be fair to ask, “What do in-coming Republican lawmakers stand for today?”

One freshman legislator recently said that he is coming to Montgomery to help President Trump build the wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Far be it from me to question the gentleman’s motivation or IQ, but if I’m correct, the state Legislature does not have any say over a border wall, unless he thinks we need one in Mobile.

We have some excellent women and men at the State House, but there are a few who have no business deciding what’s for lunch, much less what is best for the people.

The state has many challenges which include weak income growth which is only improving because the national economy is rolling along, prisons that are a disgrace and under federal lawsuits, an infrastructure which is crumbling and self-dealing that is on the rise.

Republicans, like the Democrats before them, have not adequately addressed these systemic problems because with one-party rule, no one is pushing them to do better.

Perhaps the lack of real change is understandable given that for six of the last eight years, the Republican-led government was controlled by a delusional governor and a crooked Speaker of the House.

Former Speaker Mike Hubbard is going to prison, Gov. Robert Bentley is out of office and still out of his mind, so going forward, the state will know if Republicans can actually lead.

Republicans have a chance to lead; will they?

Without a strong opposition party, Republicans, like Democrats of the past, have no reason to compromise or build a coalition between the two parties. Therefore, in many instances, what is best for the state is hampered by groupthink or a slavish devotion to a national party orthodoxy that offers scant solutions to Alabama’s most pressing problems.

The state’s voting population is arguably at 60/40, with Republicans holding a commanding majority over Democrats as evident by the state’s last general election.

In his essay “Party dominance ‘theory’: Of what value?” Raymond Suttner notes, “The notion of a dominant party, usually described by those who deploy the concept, as a theory or a system, refers to a category of parties/political organizations that have successively won election victories and whose future defeat cannot be envisaged or is unlikely for the foreseeable future.”

Republicans occupy all 29 statewide offices and control more than two-thirds of both the House and the Senate; Alabama is a one-party state.

If the state succeeds, Republicans can take credit. If it continues near the bottom in every meaningful measure of success, then they should be held accountable.

One-party government is fraught with problems, not the less of which is a failure to deliver good government for all the people because they don’t have to worry about reelection.

Alabama should expect more, but do we?

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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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Bill Britt

Opinion | In the arena

Bill Britt

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Alabama Political Reporter does one thing: it covers politics, more specifically state politics. Along with our news coverage, we publish opinions about issues facing the state. We do include the state’s congressional delegation in D.C., but that is limited in scope.

As for APR’s opinion columns, we err on the side of free speech. As our nations first president, George Washington, said, “If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”

APR has two categories of opinions, feature opinions, which are ones we solicit, and guest views, which are those provided to us by individuals with political credentials or expertise that warrant giving their ideas space in our publication.

At APR, every opinion column has the name of the author and their contact information.

We don’t feel it necessary to affix a disclaimer to every opinion piece saying this material is solely the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the opinion of APR. We think our readers are smart enough to know that already. However, due to the rapid response of the internet, people sometimes do confuse what is an individual’s opinion and APR’s willingness to support free speech.

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On occasion, our contributors and columnists wander off into national politics. As editor-in-chief, I cringe on those days when opinion columnist focus on President Trump, Sharia Law, Supreme Court nominations or other national hysteria. Not because it is unimportant but because it is not our core mission, and it enflames passions that have little to do with good state government.

When we first envisioned APR, it was with an understanding that there was little we could do to change Washington or national politics. What we saw was an opportunity to do good by reporting on matters facing the state. If it holds that all politics is local, then dogged coverage of state issues might result in better local policies and governance.

When APR remains focused on Legislative accountability, fiscal responsibility, public corruption and those things that directly affect the lives of our state’s citizens, we are most relevant. However, when we stray into national hot-button issues already beaten to death on cable news, we enter fights that are unwinnable and distract from the primary mission.

In an era when even cold facts make people angry or are greeted by alternative ones, it should come as no great surprise that opinions often irritate and cause consternation.

APR doesn’t print opinion columns merely to make anyone mad but to perhaps cause us all to think.

As President John F. Kennedy said, “Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”

Thinking is a tough business, especially in today’s political climate where much of the civic conversation is based on entrenched political identity and not necessarily on sound reasoning. On the right and left, there is an established dogma that labels competing ideas as wrong and even evil. But these national party convictions do not always translate to sound state government policy.

As a news organization, APR does not take particular positions on issues. The closest we come to an official stance on any given subject is when I, as editor-in-chief, offer an opinion, but even then it is not ex cathedra.

APR’s mission is simple, to inform, educate and alert the public on issues facing our state. When we stay true to that edict, we succeed. When we do not, we fall short of our purpose. There are times when we as a news organization must call to action those who care about good government – that is the job of our opinion page. Sometimes, we do so nobly, other times not so much.

As President Theodore Roosevelt wrote, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena.”

APR and its writers and opinion columnists are women and men who have chosen to enter the arena. We are a small band of committed individuals working hard to bring you news and opinions that will promote good government here in Alabama. That is our job.

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Get Hart

Bill Britt

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Years of political pressure from shady defense attorneys and crooked lawmakers culminated last week in the firing of Special Prosecution Division Chief Matt Hart.

Gov. Robert Bentley’s appointed attorney general, Steve Marshall, delivered the blow just 13 days after being elected attorney general, but the move against Hart was orchestrated by some of the state’s most powerful political figures.

Make no mistake, Hart’s firing was no less than a political coup de grâce by those who operate most efficaciously in the dark corners of politics.

Hart’s removal serves as punishment not only for prosecuting some of the state’s most influential men, it is also part of a broad scheme to allow those who are currently under investigation to walk free.

There should be an immediate and thorough federal investigation into Hart’s termination as well as a joint legislative committee created to conduct an inquiry with public hearings. A former senator, such as Dick Brewbaker or Gerald Dial, should be appointed to oversee the joint committee to eliminate political chicanery. Perhaps, more importantly, Gov. Kay Ivey should name a special prosecutor working under Montgomery District Attorney Darryl Bailey to investigate the matter.

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For nearly two decades, Hart served as a widely respected career prosecutor who was once a hero of state Republicans when he successfully convicted dozens of high-profile Democrats, but that changed when he turned his sights onto corrupt Republicans after their victory in 2010.

When Hart began investigating Republican Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard in 2011, he immediately went from a conservative champion to a political pariah who must be stopped by any means.

Under oath during a July deposition, Bentley testified that lawmakers, attorneys and a major Republican donor, on several occasions, asked him to intervene in the Hubbard case by appointing a special prosecutor to replace Hart.

The goal was to appoint a special prosecutor who would remove Hart and launch an investigation to discredit him personally and the underlying case against Hubbard.

Deposition: Bentley was pressured by lawmakers, attorneys, major donors to upend Hubbard trial

After Hubbard’s conviction, Bentley and his alleged girlfriend, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, increasingly paranoid, believed Hart was coming after them which led to Bentley appointing Marshall to attorney general with the expressed agreement that he would investigate Hart.

Marshall has publicly denied this allegation, but those with direct knowledge of the quid pro quo may soon go on the record.

While under questioning in the wrongful termination lawsuit filed by former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Secretary Spencer Collier, Bentley testified that Great Southern Wood owner and Republican super-donor, Jimmy Rane, approached him on three different occasions about appointing a special prosecutor.

Additionally, Rob Riley, son of former Gov. Bob Riley and a Hubbard attorney, also contacted Bentley about opening an investigation into Hart and acting Attorney General Van Davis. Hubbard’s other attorneys, Augusta Dowd and Lance Bell, also met with Bentley about replacing Hart as Bentley swore under oath. Bentley conveniently could not recall the sitting legislators who pushed him to upend the Hubbard prosecution but did admit that all these individuals shared a common goal to get Hart.

Up until his firing last Monday, Hart was overseeing dozens of investigations believed to be targeting business elites, lawmakers and other public officials, but a swift ax ended those probes.

If there is a shred of justice left in the state of Alabama, a full hearing into Hart’s firing will be conducted immediately.

Those who care about the rule of law must now demand that Gov. Kay Ivey, the Legislature and law enforcement act decisively to ensure that those who perpetrated this coup are held accountable. If Gov. Ivey, the Legislature and law enforcement fail to act, then all hope for law and order is lost here in Alabama because those who got Hart can now get anyone.

 

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Opinion | Will Republicans bring change or status quo?

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