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The Poarch Creek Indians were noticeably absent in the 2018 election cycle. There’s a good reason why.

Josh Moon

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Throughout the 2018 election cycle, as major donors and top political action committees dumped needed cash into the campaign accounts of their chosen politicians, there was one major player in the state that remained remarkably quiet.

The Poarch Band of Creek Indians.

While PCI dumped buckets of cash into various PACs, it did so mostly without a clear objective and without making it known, in most cases, where the cash was destined to land.

And early on, PCI leaders made it clear that the tribe planned to lay back in this election and offer only modest support to longtime political allies.

That seems like an odd position to take during an election cycle that saw so many legislative seats up for grabs and important statewide races for governor and attorney general — two offices that have historically mattered a great deal to PCI’s economic success — on the ballot.

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But the tribe’s silence was likely calculated. And for good reason.

The next couple of years could be perilous times for Alabama’s only federally recognized tribe, and as PCI leaders look to secure its future, this was no time to make enemies. Or to remind everyone that you’re running a statewide monopoly and raking in more than a billion dollars annually in untaxed profit.

To understand why the Poarch Creeks — and many other tribes across the country — suddenly find themselves in such a dangerous position, you need just two words: Donald Trump.

Trump has long been viewed as hostile to Native American tribes, believing that they held an unfair advantage in opening and operating casinos. (Forget, of course, the long, awful history of this country’s mistreatment of the tribes, and the injustices that literally led to their people starving.)

And it should be no surprise that his administration has been astonishingly hostile when dealing with tribes — to the point of being borderline criminal in their behavior.

To illustrate this — and to underscore this new, perilous world that PCI now finds itself in — there are a couple of examples in the Northeast.

Most ominous is a decision in late September by the new head of the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to remove a recognized tribe’s land from federal trust. Holding lands in trust is the manner in which Native American tribes protect their sovereignty and is a required step for the U.S. government to formally recognize a tribe’s sovereignty.

It has been decades — possibly as far back as the 1950s — since a tribe has had its land removed from trust, and most lawmakers and tribal leaders believed those days were in the past. But a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Carcieri v. Salazaar, which established that only tribes that were recognized in 1934 could benefit from the federal land restoration efforts.

There are certain other provisions which tribes recognized after 1934 could use to satisfy the federal requirements, but those provisions are often more subjective, as the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe in Massachusetts has learned.

The new assistant secretary for Indian affairs at the Interior Department, Tara Sweeney, issued a ruling pulling the Mashpee lands out of trust after she determined that the tribe didn’t have enough interaction with the federal government prior to when it was officially recognized in 2007.

It was a shocking decision, particularly since the former assistant secretary had stated publicly that there was virtually no chance of the trust status being revoked. Not to mention, the Mashpee met several other criteria that have historically been enough for the Interior Department to uphold sovereignty.

That leaves all tribes that weren’t federally recognized in 1934 — such as the Poarch Creeks, which were recognized in 1983 — in a precarious position. They now have no idea what to expect from the Interior Department and Trump administration.

And for PCI, that is a potentially big problem. Because it also lacks the protection of a compact with the state of Alabama.

As Alabama’s gambling fight has unfolded, PCI has offered numerous times to enter into talks with the state to draw out the terms of a compact. But those talks have never materialized — mostly because state leaders have feared the state’s conservative voters would punish any lawmakers who pushed for a deal.

The up side to that is that PCI has been able to rake in untaxed cash hand over fist. The down side is the current national climate. A climate so hostile that even if the tribe seeks to sit down and negotiate in good faith, there’s no certainty that the Interior Department, led by Ryan Zinke, would work in the same good faith.

In fact, there is evidence that it would do the exact opposite, as the Mashantucket Pequot tribe in Connecticut is learning. Even after striking a deal with the state, Zinke’s office refused to sign off on a new casino for the Mashantucket tribe. A subsequent lawsuit claims Zinke’s motivation to kill the deal — which had been approved by Interior Department advisors — was a lobbying campaign by MGM casinos, which is building a new casino near where the Mashantucket casino was planned.

That, too, is a fairly unprecedented move — the Interior Department altogether killing a proposed deal between a state and a recognized tribe. Usually, the department would force amendments to any deal it felt didn’t benefit the tribe enough. But it wouldn’t kill a deal outright.

If you’re in PCI’s shoes, none of this is good. It needs protection moving forward from an administration that doesn’t follow any rules or established protocols. And it will have to get any deal with the state past that same Interior Department.

To make sure it happens, PCI will need friends. Lots and lots of friends.

Which likely explains why they made so few enemies in the last election cycle.

 

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Opinion | Do what’ll really help: Expand Medicaid

Joey Kennedy

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We’ll certainly see whether state Sen. Greg Reed’s support of the new Medicaid Integrated Care Network is worthy and that the program does what is promised. Let’s hope it does, but pardon my cynicism, because any health care program these days that promises to do more for millions of dollars less falls under my “too-good-to-be-true” doctrine.

That just doesn’t happen.

Reed wrote about the ICN for Alabama Political Reporter Wednesday, and here’s how he describes it: “In October of this year, the state Medicaid agency partnered with an Alabama health care provider that will now serve the medical needs of the 23,000 senior citizens who are receiving Medicaid’s long-term care services, 70% of whom are in nursing homes. By partnering with an expert health care provider based in Alabama, Medicaid can offer its long-term patients better care – and thus allow more Medicare recipients to stay longer in the comfort of their own home.”

This program, Reed writes, “is projected to save, over the long run, tens of millions of taxpayer dollars.”

Too bad that Reed, the Jasper Republican who is Majority Leader, isn’t pushing to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. That would do far more to help poor Alabamians, especially the working poor. Hundreds of thousands of Alabamians can’t get health insurance because they don’t qualify for subsidies, yet make too much to qualify for Medicaid.

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While helping Alabama seniors live at home longer is a great goal, it’s doubtful they’ll get better care for millions of dollars less.

Expanding Medicaid under the ACA isn’t going to save the state money, either. It’ll cost millions of dollars more, though a fraction of what it would cost without the federal dollars that’ll come into the state with expansion.

And with that expansion comes more jobs and economic development, and many hospitals, particularly in rural areas on the verge of bankruptcy, can keep their doors open, saving good-paying jobs there and at businesses that benefit from development around hospitals.

Expanding Medicaid is about the best economic development decision the Legislature and governor could make.
Alabama should have expanded Medicaid from the outset, but the politics of hating President Barack Obama kept that from happening. It was more important to stick it to the first black president than to make sure more Alabama residents had access to health care.

Frankly, that still seems to be the goal.

We just had an election, and Alabama voters decided they’d rather keep the same crew in charge – the one that continues to make life-and-death decisions against their best interests.

For too many, an unconstitutional amendment to our state constitution that practically bans a woman’s choice was more important than making sure that women have decent health care. An unconstitutional amendment glorifying the Ten Commandments is more important than making sure those commandments are kept in the way we deliver services to the least of these.

So really, I’m rooting for Reed on doing something to provide more Medicaid services to Alabama senior citizens. But I’m rooting even more that Reed and his Republican colleagues change their can’t-do mind-set and expand Medicaid under the ACA.

Even if they still, for no good reason, hate the man who made the ACA possible.

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

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Opinion | Inside the Statehouse: Last of famous probate judges: Hardy McCollum

Steve Flowers

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In Alabama political history, the office of Probate Judge was the most powerful and prestigious position. In the old days, in every county in Alabama, the probate judge was not only judge, he also appointed all county positions, hired all county employees and was Chairman of the County Commission. He was essentially the “King of the County.”

In bygone days, gubernatorial candidates ran grassroots campaigns. There were no televisions, therefore, the first and maybe the only stop they would make in their quest for the Governor’s mansion, was to kiss the ring of and get the endorsement of the probate judge. The omnipotent probate judge would endorse them and that endorsement usually meant that that they would carry that county. The local folks would follow the lead of their judge. They and their county would be on the right side of the governor’s race.

The last vestige of the era of vintage Probate Judges will end this year with the retirement of Tuscaloosa Probate Judge, Hardy McCollum.

Judge McCollum is only 71. However, Alabama law disallows judges from running for reelection after age 70. He has been the longest serving probate judge in the state, and at the time of his first election in 1976, he was the youngest probate judge in Alabama. Hardy was elected at age 28, and took the coveted office of Probate Judge at the ripe old age of 29. Hardy McCollum has served his home county as Probate Judge for 42 years.

During that time, he has consistently been considered the most popular political figure in his county. He has always run as a Democrat. When the tide turned and the state went Republican in the 1980’s and 90’s and most of the state’s prominent politicians switched to the Republican Party, Hardy refused to change. He withstood the tidal wave and remained the most revered public official in Tuscaloosa County.

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The anomaly of his popularity is that he continues to hold the title of Chairman of the County Commission, a rarity in this day and time, especially for a large county like Tuscaloosa. There are only 15 counties in the state left where the Probate Judge still serves as Chairman of the County Commission and, only two populous counties, Lee and Tuscaloosa.

Hardy McCollum was born and raised in Tuscaloosa. He learned at an early age how much the Goodrich and Gulf States paper plants meant to Tuscaloosa. Druid City was also dependent upon public employees. Tuscaloosa was home to the state mental health institutions, Bryce and Partlow. The University of Alabama has always been Tuscaloosa’s mainstay. Hardy grew up selling peanuts, popcorn and programs at Denny Stadium.

Hardy married his high school sweetheart, Juanita. They both graduated from Tuscaloosa High School and they both continued on and graduated from the University of Alabama.

They have three children, Jay, Jason, and Joy. Hardy and Juanita are fortunate that all three live in Tuscaloosa. They are able to enjoy their five grandchildren. Their second son, Jason, and Tuscaloosa mayor, Walt Maddox, grew up together as neighbors and best friends.

After college, Hardy began work in Tuscaloosa and became active in the Jaycees, which was a normal training ground for aspiring politicos in those days. His first political experience was campaigning for Richard Shelby for the State Senate in 1970.

In his first race for office, he was elected as Probate Judge. After that initial election in 1976, he was subsequently reelected to six more six-year terms, serving from 1976 through 2018. He had opposition every time but dispensed of his opponents easily each time.

Hardy’s last reelection in 2012 was the one that caught the eye of most political observers throughout the state. President Barack Obama was heading the Democratic ticket. It was a tsunami wipeout of almost every white Democrat in the Heart of Dixie. This red tidal wave also swept through Tuscaloosa. Hardy McCollum stood out like a sore thumb. Hardy McCollum, who had refused to change parties, withstood the tidal wave and won reelection as a Democratic Probate Judge with 67 percent of the vote against a Republican Sheriff.

There is an old saying in Alabama politics that home folks know you best. Hardy attributed his longevity and success to always doing the right thing regardless of whether it is politically popular. People will respect you if you are doing the right thing.

Hardy McCollum has done the right thing for his home county for 42-years. It’s time for him to go to the house and, hopefully, he will enjoy his retirement years. You can rest assured they will be spent in his beloved Tuscaloosa County. He will be replaced as Probate Judge by a Republican. It marks the passing of an era in Alabama politics.

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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Corruption

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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The Poarch Creek Indians were noticeably absent in the 2018 election cycle. There’s a good reason why.

by Josh Moon Read Time: 5 min
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