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“Switcharoo” Marsh takes swing at the Governor

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

Earlier this week, the Governor asked the members of the Alabama Legislature to agree to a two-year moratorium on portions of the Alabama Accountability Act. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh tersely responded by basically telling the Governor to “stick it.”

Marsh and his House counterpart, Speaker Mike Hubbard, seem to have no respect for Governor Bentley. At times, they ignore him; other times, they simply treated him like a useful nuisance.

Now, it looks as if the final hours of the 2013 legislative session are going to be a showdown between, the man elected by the majority of all the citizens of Alabama, and two men who were respectively elected by the Oxford Country Club and the Auburn Chamber of Commerce.

In a letter send to state legislators, Bentley asked that they listen to their constituents and delay implementing key portions of the wildly unpopular Alabama Accountability Act. Bentley urged lawmakers to delay for two years the part of the bill that gives tax credits to families who move their children from of “failing” schools to private schools.

In a twitter response Marsh wrote, “We only have one constituency when it comes to education in Alabama and that’s the children.” This, of course, is laughable. Anyone who knows Sen. Marsh knows he is not a tweeter. He barely uses a computer.

Marsh and his cronies pretend that the AAA is intended to help Alabama’s poor children stuck in failing public schools.

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The bill itself belies that claim. HOW?

I have known Del Marsh for years. I like him as a person and I even voted for him, but he is no champion of the poor and downtrodden. Marsh is an elusive-businessman whose wealth is so vast that he owns a 1.7 million dollar island in the middle of the Tennessee river. He uses his 1500 acre island retreat as a private hunting club, for other millionaires. Naturally, as a rich politician who has served in the legislature for 12 years Marsh’s ego has outgrown his station. In a sad irony for five consecutive years Marsh sponsored term limits for Alabama legislators. But once he became President Pro Tem, he left that issue unaddressed. If his bills had passed, Marsh’s time in the senate would be up.

If Marsh was the man of steadfast principle he now seeks to portray, why has he not term-limited himself?

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But now on principle he openly defies a governor who enjoys an 80 percent approval rating. Why? Because he along with his fellow corny-capitalist want to pave the way for private corporations to own education in Alabama.

Men like Marsh and Hubbard don’t know or understand real Alabama conservatives. They seem to think that conservatives in Alabama spend their time reading National Review or following the policy papers of the Heritage Foundation. This could not be further from the truth. Most conservatives in our state are what might most easily be described as “Church-Going Conservatives.” I know this because I am one of them.

By Church-Going Conservative I mean we are concerned about the moral foundation of our families and our communities. We want to be left alone to make a living, to provide for our kids, to support our church, to improve our town —through membership in civic clubs—and to live by the golden rule.

In other words, God, family and community are the things that matter most.

Politicians mistakenly think that they know us. I guess that is because they spend a lot of money with pollsters every four years figuring out how to manipulate us.

In reality most Alabamians don’t know who the AEA is or what ADEC does and, frankly, they don’t really care. But they know what is important and what is right.

This is why the Accountability Act polls like a dead cat.

The people of Alabama don’t buy things without knowing what they cost. And rarely do we follow a course-of-action without understanding details. But this is exactly what Marsh forced on Alabama citizens on February 28 when he pulled the switch-a-roo that substituted the straight-forward School Flexibility Act for the mammoth, unknown and untested Accountability Act. Behaving like Nancy Pelosi on Capitol Hill, Marsh demanded legislators on Goat Hill pass the Accountability Act immediately, and figure out what was in it later.

Marsh and Hubbard sold the idea to the governor, who has now awakened to their deception.

There are those who think that Bentley, has seen the polling numbers for the AAA and now opposes it so he can say he tried. But it could be that the governor now understands the costs and intent of the Alabama Accountability Act, and he wants to change it before it is too late for the people of Alabama. The full cost and impact of the AAA are unclear. But we are learning more and more as times passes.

Rep. Jay Love (R-Montgomery) was tasked with finding the cost of the AAA —after it became law. He places the price tag at around $60 million. What is shocking is that about 80 percent of that money would solely benefit families who can already afford to put their children in private schools.

Gov. Bentley has said he didn’t want money drained from the Education Trust Fund to provide millions in tax breaks solely for those whose children already attend private schools.

If you are a National Review or Heritage Foundation conservative, you might argue that the wealthy deserve the tax-breaks as much as the poor— even if those tax breaks take money away from successful school systems like the ones in Madison, Elmore and Baldwin counties. School boards in each of those counties, by the way, have called on the legislature to repeal the Alabama Accountability Act because it is bad education policy.

Rep. Love is another millionaire legislator. His children attend private schools, and he has said, publicly, that he looked forward to taking a tax-credit. Same thing goes for the sponsor of the AAA, Chad Fincher (R-Semmes) whose children also attend private schools.

This all might sit-well with crony-capitalist-conservatives like Marsh, Hubbard, Love and Fincher. But most Alabamians ain’t buying that mangy-dog.

Marsh has been working hard since the passage of the original AAA to fix a few troubling items. For example, he wants to add what I call the “Mountain Brook Exception”, named after the affluent community high above Birmingham. The exception should actually be called the “Race Amendment” because it allows school to reject any student who applies. Heaven forbid that the poor black children from Center Point or Anniston set foot in premiere schools in Mountain Brook or Marsh’s neighborhood in Oxford.

Let me say, I am for school choice, but not at any cost, or when it excludes the children who would benefit the most.

See, that is another part of being a Church-going conservative that these crony-country club republicans don’t get. We want to lift everyone out of the shallows of life, we believe that everyone should be offered a hand-up. We are not selfish or unfeeling toward those less fortunate.

Why?

Because to us the teaching of our Lord Jesus, and the Ten Commandments are not mere suggestions, they are our way of life. These are the principles we live by — not just the words we use before an election.

Love him, like him or dismiss him, Governor Dr. Robert Bentley, is a doctor first. As a doctor he has lived by the code of, “First, do no harm.” This is what the governor is trying to do, with his executive amendment.
Bentley, loves people, it shows. He is a church-going conservative, like most of us in Alabama. On the other hand, the leadership at the Statehouse doesn’t understand us, and, most troubling, they don’t seem to care about us, either.

Onward, Governor, the people are with 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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