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Bentley returns to sound principle while others foolishly resist

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—In what might be considered deja vu all over again, the governor visited several of Alabama’s radio talking-heads to find support for his executive amendment to the Alabama Accountability Act (AAA). The thrust of Gov. Bentley’s argument is that the state needs a two-year delay in offering tax credits to those in failing schools.

Political observers will remember that just a fews months ago the Governor joined the Speaker of the House and the Senate President Pro Tem in a victory lap at the same shows. At the time Speaker Hubbard, used his favorite pollsters McLaughlin & Associates to produces a glowing acceptance of the AAA.

However, since those heady days, it has become apparent that the bill is not receiving the universal appreciation Hubbard and Marsh had promised Bentley. Instead, school boards in heavily conservative districts like Madison, Baldwin and Elmore Counties have called for the repeal of the AAA. Today, the trumpet of victory has become a muted tin horn. Hubbard and Marsh have stuck the governor with a skunk, and he wants to give it back.

In his appearances, the governor talked about the need to be fiscally responsible. At the time of the grand switch-a-roo, I asked the question that was on the minds of many real conservatives:

“How is it fiscally responsible to pass a bill without knowing much it is going to cost?”

In February and March, that question was dismissed by almost everyone including the radio cabaret.

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Often mistaken but never in doubt, the so-called conservatives and their lapdogs pushed ahead without a moment’s hesitation and without a clue.

It has become apparent that Bentley has come out from under the ether only to realize that Hubbard and company lied to him once again.

On the airwaves, Bentley sounded like the man the people elected governor and not the one who has been sucker-punched by Hubbard time and again. The governor says he is in favor of giving schools flexibility while taking time to find a responsible way to offer choice.

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Marsh is saying the Governor’s amendment is DOA—his egos is too invested to backdown. And, sadly, he nor Hubbard respect this governor. Hubbard, looks at Bentley and sees a man standing in his way. As for Marsh, it is anyone’s guess as to his motivation.

Bentley also said he didn’t believe that the tax-credits should go to kids already in private schools, which would deny millionaire legislators from taking their tax breaks. It seems that AEA Boss Mabry’s “No rich child left behind,” is dawning on the Gov.

I noticed that none of the talking heads are calling Bentley a “whore,” a “ho” or an “ape,” for wanting to delay the AAA. They however could not show that same respect to a black circuit court judge.

Governor Bentley is a good man, who has too often listened to bad ones like Hubbard and company. Perhaps the governor has realized that for evil men to prosper, good men simply need to do nothing. Our state deserves real-conservatives with real reforms and not more corporatists.

The Hubbard, Marsh faction of the republican party is a morally bankrupt band of crony-capitalists. They strut and posture, drunk on power and greed. But in reality they are like a dog returning to its vomit they are foolish in their folly.

2014 is right around the bend, and conservatives will be blowing the trumpets to rally the troops to oust Hubbard and his kind. Then the victory laps will be real, because the people will have taken back the state.

It looks like Governor Bentley is once again joining the fight. Welcome back sir, we’ve missed you.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Legislature

Bill unlocks the “revolving door” for public employees

Bill Britt

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After a brief introduction lasting approximately three minutes, SB177 passed out of the Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee with a favorable report.

If the legislation sponsored by Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman, becomes law, it will radically alter the “revolving door” statute permitting any public employee to leave a government job and immediately return as a representative for that entity or another government agency.

Under existing law, former public officials and public employees are prohibited from serving as a lobbyist or otherwise representing clients before the governmental body for which he or she had served or worked for two years after leaving office or employment.

This legislation would open the door for all types of public employees to avoid the current law.

However, Gudger’s bill does away with the two-year prohibition on public employees, allowing them to freely serve as agents of their former boss or another government body.

Under state law, a public employee is defined in part as, “Any person employed at the state, county, or municipal level of government or their instrumentalities.”

“We see a distinction between public employees who move to other public employment and those who leave for jobs in private industry,” said Sonny Brasfield, Executive Director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama. “The bill leaves in place the strong prohibition against shifting from public employment to private employment, but creates an exception that we feel is appropriate for public employees who want to continue to work in the public sector.”

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The proposed legislation was presented to the state’s attorney general’s office for analysis as well as ethics officials.

Gudger, who is vice-chair of the committee, did not explain why the legislation was needed and neither did any of the committee members ask for a reason for the drastic rewrite of the state’s ethics law.

Why it was passed out of the Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development committee rather than ethics or judiciary raises questions as well, as does the fact that there was no discussion.

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Republican lawmakers made ethics reform a centerpiece of their efforts to wrestle power from Democrats in 2010. Having succeeded in gaining control of the State House, Republican lawmakers passed what would be called the toughest ethics laws in the nation.

Legislation currently proposed by Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison, would render the existing State Ethics Act useless as an effective tool to regulate the behavior of public officials and employees.

Opinion | Deception, subtlety and the wholesale destruction of current ethics laws mark proposed rewrite

Since the indictment and conviction of Mike Hubbard—the former Speaker of the House who led the charge to swing the Legislature to Republican control, many of his former colleagues have sought to rewrite the ethics laws championed ten years ago. Gudger, a newcomer to the state Senate, was not a part of the class that passed the 2010 ethics laws.

Hubbard was sentenced to state prison nearly four years ago but currently remains free pending a ruling by the State Supreme Court.

The bill passed out of committee unanimously with both Democrats and Republicans supporting the measure.

Committee members are as follows:

  • Chair Steve Livingston
  • Vice-Chair Garlan Gudger
  • Will Barfoot
  • Tom Butler
  • Clyde Chambliss
  • Vivian Davis Figures
  • Arthur Orr
  • Dan Roberts
  • Malika Sanders-Fortier
  • Clay Scofield
  • Cam Ward

Article was updated for clarity.

 

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House

Opinion | Ethics are dying and you don’t care

Josh Moon

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Alabamians don’t care about ethics. 

Just admit it. Or, actually, don’t even bother admitting it, because the evidence is quite clear. 

You don’t really care that much. 

Oh, sure, you say you do. Each election, when the pollsters start making calls asking you to rank what’s most important to you, you list ethics right up at the top. In most cases, it’s the No. 1 issue for voters, according to the polls. 

But that’s BS.  

Your supposed love of ethics is a facade. It’s something you say because you think you’re supposed to say it. But deep down, it’s like bottom five on your list. 

And I know this because I see who you vote for. 

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I see how you fail to punish those who abuse ethics laws, who skirt the rules of campaign finance, who seek to constantly roll back the protections put in place to ensure your government operates fairly and plays favorites as little as possible. 

Not a single person who has attacked Alabama ethics laws or who has been accused of violating campaign finance laws or ethics laws has lost an election in this state in recent years. 

Some have gone to jail and been forced to resign, but conservative voters in Alabama have sent exactly zero bad actors packing. And if we’re honest, I think we all know that Mike Hubbard — the face of political corruption in this state — would likely win his old House seat back if he ran in the next election.

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Because you care more about the R beside the name of a candidate than you do about the quality of the candidate. 

Don’t dispute this. 

In 2018, when Republicans in the state legislature carved out massive loopholes in the ethics laws, despite corruption prosecutors raising red flags, not a single person who voted for that monstrosity paid a political price. In fact, Republicans who were thought to be vulnerable won easily, despite their support of a bill that went against what was allegedly voters’ top priority. 

In that same election cycle, Attorney General Steve Marshall, who clearly seemed to have accepted campaign funds that violated Alabama laws, won easily. In the primary, when GOP voters could have chosen another Republican — one with a history of fighting public corruption — they still chose the establishment Republican, and turned a blind eye to sketchy ethical behavior. 

The sketchy ethical behavior of the state’s top law enforcement officer.

If you don’t care about that, there’s not much left. 

And so, here we are now, with one GOP hack after another whittling away at the ethics laws each and every year. 

A couple of years ago, we made broad exceptions for “economic developers.” Even as the most sensible and independent members of the ALGOP screamed bloody murder over the extra large loopholes. 

Last year, Sen. Greg Albritton tried to essentially remove ethics altogether, with a rewrite bill that was so shockingly brazen that even the party leadership had to turn its back on it. 

And this year, there are two more attempts to weaken the laws. 

One is from Rep. Mike Ball, who is one of Hubbard’s oldest and bestest pals, and a guy who has wanted to rewrite the ethics laws ever since his good buddy was sent to rich-white-guy’s prison in Alabama. Which is to say Hubbard is out on bond on appeal forever. 

Ball’s latest bill might just challenge Albritton’s for the most shamefully obvious attempt to undermine ethics laws. Except, instead of rewriting the laws, he just removes the portions that allow district attorneys and the AG’s office to prosecute them. Unless the charges go through the Ethics Commission first. 

So, the commission that is appointed by the legislature would be the only group that could bring ethics charges against the legislature.

A fox appointed by other foxes to guard the hen house. 

But we don’t stop there. 

In addition to Ball’s bill, there’s also one from Sen. Garlan Gudger that would get the revolving door swinging again. 

As part of the 2010 ethics reform package, lawmakers were prohibited from leaving their elected positions and accepting lobbying work for a period of two years. Gudger’s bill would carve out an extensive exception, allowing for former public employees to return to their old job — or ANY OTHER public position — and immediately start lobbying. 

Because, you know, just the other day, I passed by a group of people talking on the street about the things that really need fixing around this state, and their top issue was how unfair it was that these folks couldn’t work as lobbyists immediately. 

This is pathetic. 

These are people carving out exceptions for themselves and their buddies — working to rig the game so they can keep sucking up public dollars and making sure hefty contracts go to their pals. It’s government handouts for the wealthy and crooked. 

And you’d be outraged about it. If you cared at all.

 

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House

McCutcheon says public opinion is driving gambling debate

Brandon Moseley

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Thursday, Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, told reporters that public opinion is driving the debate on gambling.

Speaker McCutcheon praised Alabama Governor Kay Ivey’s (R) working group on gambling and said that a lot of good people had been appointed to that group.

At Gov. Ivey’s State of the State address, she told the Legislature to wait on bringing any gaming bills until her working group could be appointed, study the issue, and issue a recommendation on what sort of gambling should be passed by the legislature, if any. Thus far the Legislature has complied with the governor’s request.

The Alabama Political Reporter asked McCutcheon, there are only 24 legislative days left in this session, wouldn’t it make more sense for the legislature to give the Governor’s working group six months or whatever time they need to formulate a recommendation. That would give legislators time to carefully study and understand this proposal and bring it in the 2021 legislative session, rather than trying to pass a bill in the next few weeks without legislators having time to fully understand what it is that they are voting on.

McCutcheon agreed that that would be smart, but that public demand is driving this debate.

“Legislators are hearing from constituents who are asking why all of our neighboring states have lotteries and other gaming and we don’t,” McCutcheon said.

APR asked: this would be a constitutional amendment so if anything is wrong at all in the bill that passes it is not so easy to go in and fix. Doing it in a special session would give legislators more time to analyze the legislation.

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“That’s a good option, but public opinion is driving this train and that is growing,” McCutcheon replied.

Reporters asked what committee would the gambling bill be assigned to. Last year it went to tourism.

McCutcheon said that he needed to see the bill to know what committee it would be assigned to. “It could be an education lottery,” in which case it would go to education. We have to wait and see.

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Last year, the Senate passed a simple paper lottery proposal that would have brought revenue to the state general fund (SGF). Some legislators in the House objected and argued that gambling funds should go to education. Others objected to the lottery bill because it did not have video lottery terminals (VLTs) at the existing dog tracks.

Before this legislative session began, the Poarch Creek band of Indians (PCI) which operate two large video bingo casinos in Wetumpka and Atmore, presented a proposal which would bring the state “a billion dollars” in exchange for a compact with the state. In exchange the state would fully legitimize their existing gaming facilities, allow them to expand those to full Class A gaming with table games, allow the tribe to build new casinos in Birmingham and Huntsville, and a sports book. There would also be a lottery. The existing dog track operators in Shorter, Birmingham, and Greene County object to this proposal because it would give PCI a de facto gaming monopoly.

Gambling opponents argue than any lottery or expansion of gambling proposal would prey on people who don’t understand math and would adversely affect the poorest among us.

 

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National

Byrne: People of Alabama “do not want the coronavirus brought here”

Brandon Moseley

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Sunday, Senate candidate Congressman Bradley Byrne, R-Montrose, expressed his opposition to a federal government plant to relocated coronavirus infected people in Anniston.

“The people of Alabama DO NOT want the coronavirus brought here,” Congressman Byrne said. “I’m fighting to bring this to a full stop. Leave these people in the place they came to, don’t spread them around the US, and keep them OUT of Alabama. The risk is much too high.”

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) also expressed concerns about the federal plan to relocate coronavirus exposed passengers to Anniston. Coronavirus infected persons could be in Alabama as early as Wednesday.

“Late Friday night, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) informed me about their proposal to transport Americans who have tested positive with the Coronavirus (COVID-19) from the Diamond Princess cruise ship to a FEMA Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP) in Anniston,” Ivey said. “Sensing the urgency, I quickly informed the offices of Senators Richard Shelby and Doug Jones and Congressman Mike Rogers, as well as Dr. Scott Harris with the Alabama Department of Public Health.”

“On Saturday, it appears that a press release from HHS was inadvertently, and perhaps prematurely, sent notifying the State of Alabama that these individuals were scheduled to begin transporting to Alabama as early as Wednesday,” Ivey continued.

“Obviously concerned, there were a number of conversations between HHS, the White House, my staff and me, as well as two rounds of conference calls including the senior staff of the Congressional Delegation to try to clarify HHS’ intent and reasoning for selecting Alabama,” Ivey continued. “On one of the calls, they informed us that the CDP in Anniston is only being considered as a “back-up” plan, in case they run out of alternative locations. They assured us on both calls that no decision had been made to send anyone to Anniston.”

“I made it abundantly clear that while the State of Alabama wants to work closely with the Trump Administration to assist fellow Americans who may have tested positive for the Coronavirus, there were some grave concerns about why the site in Anniston was chosen and how, logistically, this would play out in the event this back-up site were to be eventually activated,” Ivey said in a statement to the media. “First and foremost, my priority is to protect the people of Alabama. While locating these folks in Alabama is currently a backup plan, this is a serious issue and we need to be fully aware of the facts regarding the potential of housing them in Anniston.

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“I am grateful to Senator Shelby and his team for coordinating today’s effort to send officials from HHS to Alabama to provide further clarity to this situation,” Ivey said. “I also appreciate Congressman Rogers for speaking with the President and informing him of the concern of the people of Alabama. Through these coordinated efforts, we will begin a process that will be transparent, and hopefully find a solution of which we are united and comfortable with.”

Congressman Rogers expressed his concerns about the coronavirus infected persons being housed in the Third Congressional District.

“Earlier this evening, I spoke with President Trump,” Rogers said in a statement on Saturday. He agreed with me that the decision by the Department of Health and Human Services to house those Americans exposed to Coronavirus at the Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston is the wrong decision. President Trump had no advanced notice and these individuals were brought to the continental United States without his consent. I will continue to work with President Trump and HHS to find the best facilities that meet the needs for those Americans that have been exposed to this dangerous virus. The CDP is not that place.”

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Byrne shared Rogers comments and added, “We’ve been tracking the issue and I’m glad to stand with Rep. Rogers and President Trump as we work to stop this ill advised plan.”

Coronaviruses are extremely common throughout the animal kingdom and are one of the causes of the “common cold.” This is novel (new) strain of the virus, that appears to have come from bats. Researchers are calling this disease COVID-19, short for “coronavirus disease 2019.”

As of Sunday morning, there have been 78,966 diagnosed cases of COVID-19. 53,079 of these are still active. 23,418 people have recovered from their illness and been discharged. 2,469 have died. Most of these are in China, where the plague originated; but at this point the disease has spread to 32 countries.

 

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