By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
This is the time of year that editors, writers and pundits try to list what they believe are the top stories of the past year. If the truth be known, people in the newsroom are not really all that concerned with the stories of the last year unless they hope to garner a prize or ask for a raise. Most are concerned with the next story, the big one that just might get away.
That is the life of a journalist, in that we are akin to hunters, it is the thrill of hunt not the trophy hanging on the wall.
The story of the year for Alabama has to be the tornadoes of April 27, 2011. It is the sudden, heartbreaking loss of life, the furious, overwhelming destruction that places it at the top of the news. Nothing in life is so shocking as pointless, unmerciful killing on a massive scale.
Property can be replaced but the loss of so many souls shatters our peace, leaving us with the horror of how brutish life can be. Yes, the tales of giving, the willingness of stranger to help stranger is compelling, it is heartening to see the goodwill and works of humankind when our fellows are faced with tragedy.
Yet, in the dark when thunder cracks and lighting flies, it is not the helping hand that we remember but the terror by night and in our hearts we remember the helplessness of being human that make April 27 personal. All of us should silently in prayer remember those who lost all and those who lost ones dear.
News organizations around the state have judged Alabama’s so-called tough immigration law as the second most important story of 2011, I differ. This is self-serving on their part and on a grand scale, mockery of all that journalist should hold dear.
The immigration story only became a top story because the mainstream media deemed it so. Only because editorial boards, writers and elitist promoted the story as if it were the new civil rights movement of our age.
To equate the plight of illegals, to the suffering, struggle and discrimination of generations of African-American citizens is an appalling, heinous and a damnable lie. It wholly dishonors the brave men and women who fought and yes, even, died to see the promise of our country fulfilled. African-American who were brought here in chains, worked the fields of our ancestors and clawed their way upward only to ask that the founding truths of our republic be applied to them.
They asked, “Is it not true, ‘That all men are created equal, endowed by their creator…?’” To which an angry mob in Anniston said, “Hell no, we will burn all the Freedom Riders out of the bus.” Terrible things were done to our fellow citizens and it remains a shameful blot on our history.
The insincerity of those who would compare the civil rights struggle to that of those who have entered our country illegally is a disgrace. They are foolish people who do not know the history of their own country or of their African-American brothers and sisters, at best they are as ignorant as they are wrong, at worst they trade in lies to inflame the crowds.
My vote for second most important story of the year would have to be the retirement of Paul Hubbert and Joe Reed.
These two men have reined as power-brokers, kingmakers and giants of Alabama politics for 50 years. The minds, will and deeds of these two individuals have shaped our state in ways unimaginable to ordinary citizens. But politicians know, unions know, the press knows but little has been exposed about what has really transpire on their watch.
Recent stories of each man’s rise from humble beginnings to visionary leaders would be heartwarming if it were not for some of the back story yet, untold.
Dr. Reed certainly deserves credit for being a dynamic leader in bringing equal justice to African-Americans in Alabama. I have often been in awe of the fight that was carried on in our state to undo the injustices visited upon our fellow citizens. But did Dr. Reed fight the long battle of the civil rights movement to reject its natural heir Artur Davis in favor or Ron Sparks? The shameful treatment of Davis at the hand of Reed was a terrible thing but typical of those who have amassed power and held on for too long.
And Dr. Hubbert, a man who welded power like a feudal lord, summoning the state’s leaders to his office as if a throne room and then handing down orders for them to obey.
They used men as tools, power as a weapon, for all the good Reed and Hubbert did it is their abuse of power that has left a sullied legacy.
But this is not new men of humble origins rising though the ranks, their promise to the masses, we will make things better. Perhaps they did make things better for a few but they failed the many.
Hubbert and Reed are wealthy men, men who came to power and used it to enrich themselves. And as they leave the halls of the AEA each man will take with him another bag of money, this time filled to more than a million dollars each.
It will take a generation to undo the error of their tenure.
Perhaps now a justice system and legislators who are not cowed by their presence, can clean the system of their legacy.
Farewell Doctors Hubbert and Reed, thank you for leaving.
The next story of the year is the federal trial over State House gambling corruption that ends in acquittals and mistrials.
It would be laughable if it were not such a miscarriage of justice that 12 jurors could not connect obvious dots that should have convicted most of the accused. This should not come as a surprise because O.J. walked, Casey Anthony walked, now these men and women were more like common grifters but still, once again we are given witness to the stupidity of jurors. The fact that the judge in the case was purely prejudicial and that the prosecution was less than stellar all led to the fiasco of the bingo debacle but the jury was hopeless.
As a result of the gambling corruption trial and the immigration law, Scott Beason has become the most vilified man in Alabama. Beason, a man who was trying to do the right thing, has received a beating in the press and in the courts.
The lawbreakers, media prostitutes and race baiters have come after Beason with a vengeance. In time-honored tradition, Beason has been called a racist, bigot and the embodiment of all that is bad about Alabama.
I have known Scott for around five years, I have never known him to be any of those things. I don’t know all that was on those tapes, I do not know Beason’s thinking on some of the actions he took. But I know that he is not deserving of the media punishment he has received. Freedom from the press is an editor’s responsibility as freedom of press is the editor’s right.
GOP promises kept.
The Alabama Republicans promised reform and better government in their Handshake with Alabama proposal. In 2011, they kept their word to pass legislation to help create jobs and economic opportunities for our citizens. They vowed to control wasteful spending, the President Pro tem Del Marsh’s office is a place to look for an example of ending waste.
The GOP also said they would work to end corruption in Montgomery. While that task has begun, years of institutionalized corruption is not swept away easily or quickly. I am not so foolish as to believe that there are not those within the Republican ranks that have not or will not want to keep a little graft for themselves.
Lastly, they pledged to voters that they would combat illegal immigration on which they kept their word and now fight the U.S. Department of Justice and the media. On all these things, the GOP must be given high marks. There are many miles to go before they rest but for the first time in generations it feels like the government in Montgomery is working for the people and not itself.
Bingo is off the front page.
Since Luther Strange took office as Alabama’s Attorney General, bingo has nearly vanished as a front page news story. In one of his first acts as AG, Strange dismantled the gambling task force and instead took control of the situation in a straight-forward professional manner. Strange and his team have quietly and doggedly enforced the law, letting the bosses and operators of gambling establishment know that the law would be unequivocally enforced, that the new AG and his staff would not play games on the issue of law.
Little attention has been given to this matter as enforcing the law without fanfare does not make for bold headlines. Luther Strange and team are doing what his predecessor would not do. Luther Strange put would-be law breakers on notice that there was a new lawman in town and he was not for sale or hire.
For me 2011 was a trying year, one of heartache, loss and rebuilding.
My story of the year is how my wife and I started the Alabama Political Reporter to inform, educate and alert the people of Alabama about our government, its policies and how it affects our state. For me, 2011 will be the story of our friends who rallied with us and the strangers who have embraced our cause. It was a year to be thankful for all God has given us.
To be back at work, doing what I love with the ones I love, and for the state I love.
So, for me, these top stories are enough.
God bless Alabama and God bless you all. Let’s make 2012 even better.