By Lee Hedgepeth
Alabama Political Reporter
Burton Leflore is a Democratic candidate running for the US House of Representatives in Alabama’s 1st District, a seat left vacant after Republican Jo Bonner resigned to work as a lobbyist for the University of Alabama. On Wednesday, Leflore spoke with the Alabama Political Reporter about his candidacy and about issues that will certainly be raised in the upcoming primary and general elections.
APR: When you ran earlier this year in the State House District 97 special election, you cited your grandfather’s aversion to straight ticket voting as a reason for running as an independent. What has changed since then in your view?
LeFlore: Well, first of all, I’m a Democrat. I’ve always been a Democrat. In the last election, I missed the filing deadline to run as a Democrat. And let’s be clear. I didn’t run as a Republican. Now, as far as my grandfather, John Leflore, and his ideology about nonpartisan politics, you know, my grandfather was a Democrat. But his belief was that voters should vote for candidates, whether they be Democrat or Republican, if they support their interests. Now, we are talking about in the 60’s and 70’s. A lot has changed since then, and I think that our parties have become a lot more polarized, but my comments about running independent were about his ideology of voting for the candidate who supports your interests. But let’s be totally clear. I’m a Democrat. I was raised with Democratic values and ideals. And certainly, had I been elected to that seat, I would have gravitated toward the Democratic Party, and possibly would’ve sought the Democratic nomination when I ran for reelection.
APR: The voter registration deadline for the special election you’re running in is September 13th. Do you think this allows potential voters a fair amount of time to register?
LeFlore: Well, I think we’re working on a compressed timeline based on Governor Bentley’s proclamation that he wants someone in that seat by January.
APR: Do you think it is a biased timeline?
LeFlore: No. I don’t.
APR: If you win the primary, will your campaign planning any specific efforts to increase voter turnout on general election day?
LeFlore: In any special election, voter turnout is going to be key. If we can’t get the voters to come out, then you know… I mean we just saw in the mayoral race here in Mobile that—clearly—Sam Jones could’ve won that election, if the voters in heavily African American precincts would’ve come out and voted. I can’t say what’s going to turn that around, but I’m going to focus on my base, increasing my base, keeping them informed, and hopefully getting them out to vote.
APR: Do you know Lula-Albert Kaigler?
LeFlore: Yes. I’ve met her on a couple of occasions.
APR: What do you think of her?
LeFlore: She is a very nice lady.
APR: Do you think you will have any trouble winning the Democratic primary?
LeFlore: I hope not. [laughter]
APR: What do you think is the most important issue right now to the 1st district?
LeFlore: Jobs and education. Our educational system is failing. We need to do the best to give our children the best education we can, access to quality athletic programs within their schools and their communities and we need to do everything we can to try to get industries that want to locate here to hire here in this district, and not just everyone from everywhere else. We don’t want to see a situation where Airbus comes in and, for example, only hires 10% residents from this district. I just want to see a proportionate number of people from our district getting good jobs.
APR: “The US should not intervene in Syria at this time. Congress should send a clear and unequivocal message to Syria, no more chemical warfare.” That is your statement on Syria. Sounds pretty cut and dry. Why do you oppose action in Syria?
LeFlore: Because I think at this point there have been statements made that an attack in Syria could benefit Al-Qaida. Also, I firmly feel that while the president states that this will be a swift type of attack, just in and out, ultimately there might be some other repercussions. I don’t know if our country is ready for that. We also need to further evaluate the situation. I mean there is a civil war in Syria. In order for the US to get involved in a civil war, I just don’t see where that is going to benefit the US at this time. There may be other means we can pursue, besides military action, possible sanctions against Syria, maybe other diplomatic means to achieve the same objective.
APR: Let’s say Congress sends that unequivocal message, and then Syria again uses chemical warfare, what then?
LeFlore: Well, like I have said, I think congress needs to send a clear and unequivocal message to Syria that we are opposed to the use of chemical warfare against innocent citizens…. even if they are Syrian citizens. And if we have continued use or continued evidence that there is chemical warfare going on then at some point the I think perhaps the us would be in the position to go into Syria on a very limited, limited basis.
APR: Do you think holding a position contrary to many in your party undermines your running as a Democrat?
LeFlore: Well, I’m a Democrat, not an Obamacrat. I don’t support everything that the Obama Administration is about, I mean there are some things that I agree with the Obama Administration about, but there are lots of things I’m in opposition to, and I don’t support. As far as Obama’s position on Syria, we’re in a situation where Obama has made clear that he would not condone any chemical warfare. And I think that clearly we have evidence that the Syrian government does have some instruments of chemical warfare and I guess that at this point his statement, in light of evidence of their use of chemical warfare, Obama’s response is that look I’ve already warned you guys that we’re not going to condone this, and now he’s asking congress, come on, you warned them, and I think it’s just a little premature. I do think that we need to present a clear front as far as our position on chemical warfare.
APR: Do you think Obama’s use of a red line was a mistake?
LeFlore: No, I don’t.
The special primary election will be held on Tuesday, September 24, 2013.
The special primary runoff, if needed, will be held on Tuesday, November 5, 2013.
If a special primary runoff is not required, the special general election will be held on Tuesday, November 5, 2013.
If a special primary runoff is required, the special general election will be held on Tuesday, December 17, 2013.
Judge orders Alabama to change voter requirements over COVID-19 concerns
In his 197-page ruling, the judge wrote that “the plaintiffs have proved that their fears are justified.”
A federal judge ruled in favor of plaintiffs in a case challenging aspects of Alabama’s voting requirements amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon’s Wednesday ruling orders the principal defendant in the lawsuit, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, to allow curbside voting, in the counties that choose to do so, but only for the Nov. 3 general election. The judge’s rulings pertain solely to the Nov. 3 election.
Kallon also ordered the state to do away with the requirement for voters to have two witnesses or a notary sign their absentee ballot, if the voter submits a statement that they have an underlying medical condition that puts them at a heightened risk from COVID-19 and thus, they cannot safely get those additional signatures.
In addition, Kallon ruled that voters 65 and older with an underlying medical condition won’t need to submit a copy of a photo ID with their absentee ballot, so long as the voter provides other identifying information, such as their driver’s license number or last four digits of their Social Security number.
In his 197-page ruling, Kallon wrote that “the plaintiffs have proved that their fears are justified” and the voting provisions challenged in the lawsuit “unduly burden the fundamental Constitutional rights of Alabama’s most vulnerable voters and violate federal laws designed to protect America’s most marginalized citizens.”
“That is for three reasons,” the judge continued. “First, because the Challenged Provisions only marginally advance the State’s interests in maintaining them while significantly burdening the right to vote, all three provisions violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments during the pandemic.”
“Second, because the photo ID requirement and the de facto curbside voting ban make voting inaccessible for voters with disabilities, both those provisions violate the Americans with Disabilities Act during the pandemic. Finally, because the witness requirement interacts with Alabama’s history of discriminating against Black citizens to deny Black voters’ their right to vote, that provision violates the Voting Rights Act during the pandemic.”
The lawsuit, filed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Southern Poverty Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Alabama and Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program, was brought on behalf of several Alabamians with underlying medical conditions.
“This decision is a huge win for Alabama voters, especially voters of color and voters with disabilities,” said Deuel Ross, senior counsel at LDF, in a statement. “Given COVID-19, Alabama’s draconian voting rules needlessly place the health and voting rights of Alabamians in danger. No one should be forced to risk their safety to exercise their constitutional right. State and local election officials have a responsibility to ensure that voting is easy and accessible for everyone in the pandemic.”
Caren Short, senior staff attorney for the SPLC, applauded Wednesday’s decision.
“Today’s decision provides crucial relief in Alabama’s absentee voting process, allows for curbside voting in counties that wish to provide it, and ultimately will create a better public health situation in Alabama as it conducts an historic election,” Short said. “We’re deeply hopeful that the secretary of state and county election officials will accept the court’s ruling and begin educating Alabama voters on how they can vote safely and easily for the general election.”
“This ruling recognizes the hardships these laws place on Black Alabamians and those at particular risk for COVID-19. This decision will help to ease those burdens in the midst of this deadly pandemic,” said Davin Rosborough, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.
Merrill, in a statement to APR after the ruling, said he plans to appeal the verdict, which he likened to “judicial activism.”
“I am extremely disappointed in today’s ruling in the case of People First of Alabama v. Merrill relating to the November 3 General Election. Judge Kallon’s ruling to disallow the Secretary of State from prohibiting an illegal activity known as ‘curbside voting’ undermines the integrity of the elections process and the ability for Alabamians to cast a secret ballot as the chain of custody is then broken,” Merrill said. “It is important to remember that counties are in no way required to offer the illegal activity known as ‘curbside voting.”
Kallon in his ruling noted that “No provision of Alabama law expressly prohibits curbside or drive” but that there’s also no provision in state law allowing for the practice, and that Merrill then believes curbside voting to be illegal. Kallon also wrote that several states do allow for curbside voting, and that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends states allow curbside voting to comply with social distancing rules and in limiting personal contact during in-person voting.
“In addition, the photo ID and witness requirement components are necessary deterrents for those wishing to illegally influence elections,” Merrill continued. “We look forward to successfully appealing this decision as we continue fighting for safe and secure elections – free from voter fraud and judicial activism.”
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall in a statement said he will ask for an appeal of Kallon’s verdict.
“Back in June, the district court in this case enjoined these important protections for the primary runoff. But the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in, staying that injunction and allowing the State to enforce its laws. We will ask the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and, if necessary, the Supreme Court, to do the same again,” Marshall said. “Voting began weeks ago. And every Alabama voter is entitled to vote under the same laws, not new ones written by a federal court in the middle of voting.”
Gov. Kay Ivey extends statewide mask order, allows limited nursing home visitations
“This mask ordinance is working. It works, and we have evidence of that,” State Health Officer Scott Harris said.
Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday extended Alabama’s statewide mask order, citing the upcoming general election and a reduction in the spread of the virus since her order went into effect in July. Ivey’s new order also allows for limited visitations in state nursing homes, and keeps all other previous social distancing restrictions in place.
“I’d hate to see us pull back too quickly and negate the progress that we’ve made in our daily positive numbers and our hospitalization rates by risking another spike due to a false sense of security, the upcoming winter months, the flu season and a host of other reasons,” Ivey said during a press conference Wednesday.
Ivey said that with the Nov. 3 Election Day nearing “it’s important to have a safe environment where our poll workers poll watchers, and those of us who would like to vote in person.”
Ivey said that voters aren’t required to wear a mask to vote in person, “I’m certainly going to wear my mask because I want to protect the poll workers and others that are going into the polls as well.”
Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said state hospitals are caring for about half the number of COVID-19 patients than were hospitalized in late July, during a surge in cases, hospitalizations and deaths, and just before the mask order was issued.
“This mask ordinance is working. It works, and we have evidence of that,” Harris said. “There have not been any additional restrictions imposed on our state since this Stay at Home order at the end of April.”
Harris noted an August study released by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control that looked at that state’s jurisdictional mask orders, and found that in the 40 percent of jurisdictions that have mask orders COVID-19 cases were reduced by nearly half, compared to an increase in cases by 30 percent in jurisdictions without mask orders.
White House Coronavirus Task Force Member Dr. Deborah Birx during a visit to Alabama last week urged Ivey to extend the mask order. Birx had praised Ivey’s statewide mask mandate during a previous visit to the state in July, when nine of the first 13 days of that month saw daily case increases in COVID-19 cases statewide of more than 1,000.
Ivey’s amended “safer-at-home” order also states that beginning Friday, hospitals and nursing homes shall ensure that each patient or resident can have one caregiver or visitor at a time, with some exceptions.
Ivey’s order states that the changes are “subject to reasonable restrictions imposed on the entrance of persons because of the COVID-19 county positivity rate, the facility’s COVID-19 status, a patient’s or resident’s COVID-19 status, caregiver/visitor symptoms, lack of adherence to proper infection control practices, or other relevant factors related to the COVID-19 pandemic, consistent with the following guidance from the federal government,” and goes on to list links to Centers for Medicaid and Medicaid Services guidance for the different facilities.
Ivey said during the Wednesday press conference that none of her previous statewide orders prevented anyone from accompanying a loved one into a hospital, and said despite that, there has been some confusion on the matter. She said her amended order made that fact clear.
Dr. Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association, told The Montgomery Advertiser in June that hospitals have control over visitations. Hospitals statewide have enacted individual varying rules on visitations since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Harris also discussed the work being done to ready the state for disbursement of a vaccine, if and when one becomes available. Harris said a plan for doing so must be given to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services by mid-October.
“Obviously, we’re following very closely the safety data and efficacy data so that we are sure that we have a vaccine product that’s going to be safe and effective,” Harris said. “And I’m confident that information will be available for us, and then we can make a really good decision on that as we start to receive this vaccine.”
Harris said the supply of a vaccine will initially be limited, and state health officials will have to prioritize disbursement for high-risk people, including health care workers, but that the state will release its plan to do so to ensure openness in the process.
Opinion | In Alabama, the past is prologue
Even after 200 years, Alabama’s political approach hasn’t changed much; the fundamentals established by its founders are still evident in everyday politics.
Like people, governments have pasts, and today’s fortunes are either furthered or frustrated by the things that came before. It might be said that even history leaves DNA.
Understanding Alabama’s past is essential to navigating its future because its government’s origins determine that the past is prologue.
Even after 200 years, Alabama’s political approach hasn’t changed much; the fundamentals established by its founders are still evident in everyday politics.
Those who observe Alabama’s governing process closely see the same structural problems impede progress year after year. Resistance to home rule and a regressive tax system are just two of the many roadblocks to a more prosperous state.
Some unresolved issues are due to a lack of leadership, but others are inherent within the state’s original governing procedures. Even the state’s architects’ elitist attitude is still prevalent with near total power given to a Legislature dominated by one-party rule. The earlier settlers’ prejudices are enshrined in every process of governing.
Failure to understand, acknowledge, and change the state’s historical patterns hinders advancement, leaving the state nearly dead last in every metric of success. It doesn’t have to be this way, but the cure is always met with fierce rejection because beyond admitting ingrained inequities, any change would upend 200 years of consolidated power.
When Republicans promised a new day in Alabama politics in 2010, some sincerely believed that change was possible. Still, after nearly a decade of Republican one-party rule, there isn’t a substantial difference in governing practice.
It’s not because good people haven’t tried to make a difference; it’s that there are systematic flaws that thwart reformers while rewarding the status quo.
A region’s founders and its dominant settlers are the creators of what can be called a state’s DNA. Alabama’s government still reflects the make-up of its original colonizers.
Much of the Deep South was established by slave owners who intended to recreate a society based on the Caribbean colonies of Great Britain.
In his 2011 non-fiction work American Nations: A history of the eleven rival regional cultures of North America, Colin Woodard shows how Deep South states were “Marked by single-party rule, the domination of a single religious denomination, and the enshrinement of a racial caste system for most of its history.” He also writes that these cultures supported regulation on personal behavior while opposing economic restraint.
Today, Alabama’s governance framework and, to a lesser degree, its society is much like the Deep South characteristics Woodard describes.
One Party rule.
A dominant religion.
A racial caste system.
And a willingness to impose regulations on personal behavior while opposing almost every economic restrictions.
Woodward’s findings mirror Alabama’s state government.
Alabama’s central governing power is based on a top-down fraternity where a privileged few hold the reins of authority with a whip hand ready to strike.
Even before statehood, Alabama was regulated by an upper class who built the territory’s economy slave labor. The same class gained even more control after statehood.
“By the antebellum period, Alabama had evolved into a slave society, which…shaped much of the state’s economy, politics, and culture,” according to the Encyclopedia of Alabama.
Slaves accounted for more than 30 percent of Alabama’s approximately 128,000 population when it was granted statehood in 1819. “When Alabama seceded from the Union in 1861, the state’s 435,080 slaves made up 45 percent of the total population,” writes Keith S. Hebert.
The state is currently home to approximately 4.9 million individuals. If 45 percent were slaves today, that would account for around 2.2 million people in bondage.
After the South lost the Civil War, Reconstruction ushered in an era where “a larger number of freed blacks entered the state’s electorate and began voting for the antislavery Republican Party,” according to Patrick R. Cotter, writing for the Encyclopedia of Alabama.
But the old establishment fought back and instituted the 1901 Constitution, which permanently ended any challenge to one-party rule and restored white supremacy in government.
A major feature of the new constitution was a poll tax and literacy tests and other measures to disenfranchise Black people and poor whites.
As Republicans reminded voters in the 2010 campaign cycle, Democrats controlled Alabama politics for 136 years. But these were not liberals; far from it. Alabama’s old Democratic Party for generations was home to racists, not radicals.
It was only over time that the Democratic Party became the diverse collation it is today.
With Republicans holding every state constitutional office and the Legislature, the one-party rule continues as it has throughout the state’s history; only the name has changed.
Looking back over the founding years of Alabama’s history, barbarity is searing, and the atrocities unimaginable. Yet, the fact remains that these early framers thought nothing of enslaving Blacks or treating poor whites as little more than chattel. It shocks our modern sensibilities as it should. Still today, the state continues in a system of government steeped in framers’ institutionalized prejudices.
Famously 19th-century British politician Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Alabama’s fathers wanted a government that gave absolute power to the few at the expense of the many; that is as true now as it was then.
There is a path to a better government, but as Lord Acton also said, “Great men are almost always bad men.”
History may not repeat itself, but politics does, and that is why Alabama’s history is prologue for today.
Opinion | Capping Alabama Power’s ash pond might be the best bad option
When you look at the actual, real-life options for this stuff — and I can’t believe I’m going to say this — but the plan from Alabama Power seems to be a fairly good one.
It would be wonderful if coal ash didn’t exist. Had humans never figured out that you could blast the top off a mountain or send desperate men deep into the earth to find coal to be burned to produce power, I’m not sure we wouldn’t be substantially better off. Just think of the environmental damage and human deaths that we could prevent.
But that’s not real life.
In real life, we live by the kilowatt. And as a result, we’re left with tons and tons and tons of coal ash — the leftover, toxic remnants of all that coal we’ve burned to keep all those lights on. And something has to be done with all of it.
Exactly what we want to do with it is the dilemma facing Alabama Power and state and federal regulators. And there seems to be no answer that doesn’t tick off somebody.
You can’t just leave it in wet ash ponds anymore, because the EPA has essentially — and very appropriately — made that illegal.
You can’t cap it in place — a process by which the water is sucked out and cleaned and the remaining coal ash is covered with a synthetic liner and then with synthetic turf — because environmental groups say that still leaves a risk that some contaminants will leach into the groundwater.
You can’t haul it away to a landfill — where it would be dumped into a lined pit and later covered — because nearby residents hate it and environmental groups say the dumping can lead to airborne contamination that sickens nearby residents.
So, what do you do?
No, really, I’m asking. What should we do with an ash pond like the one at Alabama Power’s Plant Barry?
Plant Barry has been a major point of contention between the power giant and environmental groups, particularly the Mobile Baykeeper and the Southern Environmental Law Center, for years now. But the conflict, in this particular instance, isn’t quite as simple as the usual cost-v-environment arguments that usually dominate these situations.
Barry’s ash pond currently holds 21 million tons of coal ash. That’s a big ash pond.
It is located just feet from the Mobile River, separated by a 21-foot dike. For years, environmentalists have predicted that the pond is one good hurricane away from a major environmental disaster. (That has proven to be mostly hyperbole. Hurricane Sally pushed the Mobile River level up 3 feet. That’s 18 feet below the top of the existing dike, and the water has never been within 15 feet of the top.)
Alabama Power has maintained that the coal ash is as safe as a big, arsenic-laden baby and that no weather event in 55 years has disturbed the material stored at the site. But the company, after recent EPA law changes, is moving to cap in place the pond — a process it says will virtually eliminate the potential for contamination.
Not good enough, the environmental groups have said. They want the coal ash moved to some other location.
What location? The moon, preferably. Or some other place where humans will never come in contact with it.
However, when you look at the actual, real-life options for this stuff — and I can’t believe I’m going to say this — but the plan from Alabama Power seems to be a fairly good one.
Look, I know that several heads just exploded, but hold off on the emails and angry tweets for a minute or two and let me explain.
First, coal ash is a problem no matter where it’s stored or how it’s stored. Is placing it in a lined landfill at another location safer than capping it in place at Plant Barry? Possibly, but several people — people who are experts in the field — disagree about the overall danger and about the types of dangers related to each option.
For example, capping the ash in place poses a higher risk that toxins could, at some point in the future, leach into the groundwater. APCO officials, and their hired engineers and third-party experts, insist that the new engineering improvements made to the site will significantly reduce that likelihood, making it almost equally as safe as a lined site.
The plan APCO has presented has been approved by the EPA and is being monitored by ADEM.
But let’s say that APCO decided to go with the approach that some environmental groups want — trucking all 21 million tons of coal ash, after it’s been dried out, to a lined landfill site somewhere else. (And no one has a good thought on where that somewhere else is, by the way.)
That would mean, according to APCO’s estimates, more than 30 years of moving this stuff, with semi-trucks leaving out of the site every six minutes and traveling to wherever. Along county and state roads. And then dumping this stuff in another community that I can guarantee you does not want it.
Pardon me, but sending diesel trucks up and down the roads for three decades (or two decades, if we go by most optimistic projections) doesn’t sound very environmentally friendly either. Nor does it sound like a solution that will prevent complaints. It also sounds like a blown tire or missed turn away from being an environmental disaster somewhere else.
Capping this ash in place at Barry will move it another 750 yards away from the Mobile River. It will result in the dike being raised another three feet, eliminating the risk of a flood-caused disaster by anything other than a 1,000-year storm. The site will feature new engineering to cut off groundwater leaching and it will be monitored continuously for leaking.
That all sounds pretty reasonable.
Look, I’m not recommending that APCO get an environmental award or anything here, but at the same time, I think it’s OK to say that they’ve chosen the best of several bad options.