INSIDE THE STATEHOUSE
By Steve Flowers
Alabama is only one of a handful of states that work out of two budgets. We have a General Fund Budget and a separate Education Budget. Our General Fund is where the severe problem rests. The reason is that the General Fund gets none of the growth taxes so its revenue has remained the same for decades.
The Legislature failed to find a solution during the four month regular legislative session. The new fiscal year begins October 1. Therefore, a summer special session will be necessary.
In the meantime, the Education Budget has passed. It glided through both houses with minimum strife. The almost $6 billion Education Budget increases funding for textbooks by $3 million. It also includes a $10 million increase for the state’s pre-kindergarten program. Colleges and universities are essentially level funded.
The Education Budget does not provide money for teacher pay raises or an increase in funding for their health insurance. This essentially means that teachers will probably see a cut in compensation in the next fiscal year under this Republican budget.
The crisis in the General Fund Budget has been formulating for over a decade. Our current Republican governor and legislature did not create the problems, they inherited them. However, they have done very little to resolve the dilemma.
Instead, they followed the Republican rule book of cutting government and voting no new taxes. Their solution for the past four years has included cutting teacher’s and state worker’s income and benefits. Some folks would say they balanced the budgets on the backs of state workers and teachers.
As the session was winding down, some of the Republican legislators began to come to the realization that they have already cut to the bone and now must do something if Alabama is going to have any semblance of state services.
The House passed a General Fund Budget that most observers and legislators felt was merely a vehicle to drive to see how bad it would sputter down the road. The problem is the jalopy would not even make it to the road because under that proposed budget Alabamians would not have any roads to drive on much less troopers to police them. The jalopy could ramble along potholed state roads without any headlights or taillights and if a local policeman stopped them, the driver could accost the officer without any repercussions because we will not have a functioning court system to try them much less a prison to house them if found guilty.
The Budget passed by the House was referred to very elegantly by House Budget Chairman Steve Clouse (R-Ozark) as a “pig that was hard to put lipstick on.” Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard said that this is not the ultimate budget that will be enacted for the next fiscal year. Hubbard threw in the towel with four legislative days remaining. He said, “I think if we can isolate it during the summer and come back in special session in August is the best scenario.”
This grim reaper budget could be dire for Alabama’s state employees. It is a $1.64 billion budget that cuts about $204 million over the current year’s budget. State workers would not get a pay raise and they would have to pay more for their health insurance. They have not received a cost of living raise in six years and will now see their take home pay cut yet again while their work load continues to increase. The state employee workforce has been reduced by 5,000 people, which is about 15 percent since Republicans took over state government in 2010.
The most dangerous problem with the present budget involves the prison system. Not only would the heralded Prison Reform package not be implemented, the prison population would increase by another 5,400 in our major facilities. This would take the capacity from 200 percent to 226 percent. The federal courts took over California’s prisons at 150 percent which seems to be the top threshold. Sen. Cam Ward, the sponsor of the Prison Reform legislation frustratingly said, “We have just laid a red carpet for a federal takeover of our prison system.”
We will see what a special session will behold.
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.
Opinion | The emperor has no votes
The outcry of illegalities over the recent election is simply the latest example of just how far they’ll go.
Two-and-32. That’s the record of the super-fantastic “strike team” of “elite” attorneys representing the Donald Trump campaign in various lawsuits around the country that contest the outcome of the U.S. presidential election.
For a refresher: Joe Biden won that free and fair election in a landslide and will be the next president of the United States. The end.
In case after case after case, despite what the president has tweeted and despite what enablers and spineless politicians have helped him push, the Trump elite attorney strike team has failed to offer even the slightest bit of proof of the grand fraud that Trump has repeatedly claimed on Twitter or that his “dye hard” personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, has screeched about during insane, “Veep”-like press conferences. (Have you ever witnessed a stranger, more disturbing image than that of “America’s mayor,” wild eyed and ranting, with his cheap hair dye running down his face as if his ears were bleeding?)
In fact, in the overwhelming majority of the cases filed by strike team Trump, the team has been forced to admit to judges that they have no evidence of fraud or that they’re not able to claim fraud.
It’s pathetic that we’re still doing this — that the transition to a new administration is being held up by this band of grifters looking to squeeze one last drop of donations from the marks who have already forked over so much to this long-running American con.
That’s all this is.
The entire Trump presidency has been exactly this — a con game to enrich him and his closest business partners. To that end, it has been highly successful.
It has also been successful in turning seemingly rational people into googly-eyed yes men willing to sully themselves for a taste of the political fortune or fame that comes with being near the presidency.
It is, to be honest, shocking the ease with which so many in the highest offices of our federal and state government have been convinced to denounce reality and make fools of themselves to ensure they either benefit from being in the cult’s favor or at least not being a target of the cult.
The outcry of illegalities over the recent election is simply the latest and most horrific example of just how far they’re willing to go and how little of America they truly hold sacred.
Alabama’s Secretary of State John Merrill, for example, has given media interviews in which he willingly passed along wild, long debunked conspiracy theories of Biden getting thousands of votes at once, and how there’s no explanation for it. And yet, there was an explanation — one that had been given over and over and over.
Alabama congressman Mo Brooks, a man who so frequently buys into rightwing conspiracies that he almost certainly has purchased an extended warranty for all of his cars, sent a bat-guano insane letter to a constituent this week in which he laid out how “socialist Democrats” were able to “steal” the election through massive fraud and how Republicans in Congress can steal it back.
One of the means by which this election was stolen, according to Brooks, was by excluding Republican poll watchers. None were excluded. And the strike team has now dropped that line of attack altogether.
Brooks and Merrill aren’t alone, however. Up and down the line, Alabama GOP officials and the media mouthpieces they pay to amplify their idiotic ideas have gone full in on this idea of fraud, even when other Republicans — like that poor secretary of state in Georgia — were trying desperately to tell them it wasn’t real.
Honestly, it’s like Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is being played out in real life, right in front of us. Only, the swindlers became the emperor.
Trump and his minions continue to walk around stark naked while insisting that he has on the most beautiful, perfect clothing in the whole world. And there’s this one group of people who are buying it. And then there’s this whole other group who know full well that this guy is buck naked but they’re too afraid of alienating the first group, even if it means undermining the cornerstone of American democracy.
In the meantime, the swindlers just keep sending out fundraiser emails. Because, again, that’s all this is.
Look at the frivolous lawsuits and how thoroughly Trump’s strike team has been embarrassed in every courtroom so far. This isn’t about winning or about massive fraud or about correcting problems in the election system. It’s about money. Pure and simple.
Finally, late Thursday, two influential Republicans, Sens. Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse, said what we all know.
Sasse said the lawyers have “refused to actually allege grand fraud.” He was also critical of the strike team’s tactics.
Romney said Trump was trying to “subvert the will of the people.” And he said he couldn’t imagine “a worse, more undemocratic action by a sitting American president.”
Hopefully, that will open the floodgates for a river of sanity and basic common sense. Because the longer this goes on, the more likely it is something catastrophic takes place.
It’s not too late yet for the president to put some clothes on.
Opinion | Be thankful, not regretful
“We can stay home, because maybe next Thanksgiving, we can gather again.”
My wife, Veronica, and I just don’t have much real family left. But Thanksgiving Day is one of our favorite holidays. In the past – many years past – we hosted Thanksgivings.
Over the past few years, though, we’ve attended three Thanksgiving celebrations with friends. One, hosted by our dear friend Jo Ellen O’Hara, former longtime food editor at The Birmingham News, is no longer possible because she now lives at Fairhaven, an assisted living community in eastern Birmingham.
This was a typical Southern Thanksgiving, with turkey, cornbread dressing, various (and too many) side dishes, and featured a dozen or so people.
John Evon and Rian Alexander hosted us later in the day on Thanksgiving. Usually, this was simply the four of us at their Helena home. It was more a Northern Thanksgiving, with turkey or ham, stuffing (not dressing), and various (and too many) side dishes.
And for the past three years, we’ve attended the Thanksgiving bash hosted by APR editor Bill Britt and his wife, associate editor Susan Britt. This gathering, of maybe 20 or so people, was held at the Britts’ farm in Attalla. There was more than just turkey or ham, more side dishes than should be possible. Bill and Susan and the APR’s capable copy editor and the Britts’ assistant Charlie Walker did most of the cooking, but this gathering was also partially potluck. We’d all bring dishes to add to the abundant food choices. (Bill also makes a damn good Raw Apple Cider. Add a touch of whiskey.)
This year, we’ll have none of that. With the Coronavirus (COVID-19) spiking in Alabama and across the country, it’ll be just Veronica and me on Thanksgiving.
That’s sad, too. We’re social people. We like to be around others. A lot of others.
That hasn’t been much of a feature in 2020, and I don’t expect it will be through a big chunk of 2021.
The warnings have been issued. Gov. Kay Ivey’s mask mandate is staying in place, thank goodness, though there should be an enforcement effort, too.
Here is Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris: “We all want to see our family for holidays, yet this is a special year when we need to minimize risks because of the consequences of this highly infectious virus. Use your best judgment to plan the safest possible Thanksgiving. Consider hosting a virtual celebration, or if hosting or attending one, be sure to put prevention measures in place.”
Oh, that Alabamians – and Americans – would heed that advice. But so many won’t. They’ll gather anyway – with grandparents and parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends.They’ll gather at Thanksgiving, in a big dining room, have great conversations, and wonderful prayers.
And two or three weeks later, they’ll start to get sick and die, just in time for the Christmas some of them may not be around for.
Or they’ll survive Thanksgiving, thinking this virus is no big deal. And they’ll gather again for Christmas. Two or three weeks later, they’ll start to get sick and die, just before the presidential inauguration.
By then, too, the cases from all those New Year’s celebrations will be cranking up. And another group of people will start to get sick and die, just in the first month of 2021.
This plague is real. It’s killing hundreds of thousands of people – old people, middle-aged people, young people, children.
In Alabama alone, there have been more than 220,000 COVID cases, with more than 3,340 deaths. More than 88,000 people have recovered, but many of those are crippled with long–term, chronic health problems.
Daily cases in Alabama are ranging from 2,000 to 3,000 right now.
This is serious.
This is no hoax.
It is real.
Wear a mask.
Wash your hands obsessively.
Attend only small gatherings if you must attend any gatherings – and you really don’t have to attend any gatherings.
So for Thanksgiving, for Christmas, for New Year’s, it’ll be just Veronica and me. We’ll make the best of it. Have fun together. Watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and A Christmas Story and It’s a Wonderful Life. We’ll listen to Christmas music and drive around looking at Christmas lights. We’ll have great food (my wife’s cornbread dressing is the best in the world).
And we’ll miss our friends. But we won’t kill them, and they won’t kill us.
We have plenty to be thankful for today and next week. And at Christmas and New Year’s. But we won’t be attending any parties or gatherings. We cannot do that for awhile, just as we have not done it since March. We can stay home, because maybe next Thanksgiving, we can gather again, with our friends (our family) who lived through one of the darkest periods of our lives.
Opinion | Turnout for presidential election shatters record in Alabama
“The driving force had to unquestionably be driven by a fervor to vote for President Donald Trump.”
On the morning of the momentous Nov. 3 presidential Election Day, I began my day on my hometown radio station, WTBF in Troy, which has been my tradition on Election Day for more than 30 years.
As the polls began to open around 7 a.m., we began getting calls that the people were lined up for almost a mile outside of the two most populous voting locations in Pike County.
Then, I started getting texts that a good many of the Republican boxes in major North Alabama cities had people waiting in line for two to three hours in voting precincts in Jasper, Hamilton, Cullman and Huntsville.
Folks in Talladega were showing up in droves driven by a local amendment.
When I voted around 10 a.m., the voting officials informed me that more people had already voted in record-breaking numbers.
About that time, I was receiving texts from other South Alabama locales like Daphne and Fairhope in Baldwin County and Enterprise and Ozark in the Wiregrass that records were going out the window.
In Dothan, where I had spoken the day before, people were calling to tell me that records were being shattered at the Westgate polling place, which is one of the largest Republican boxes in the state.
When I went on the popular Mobile talk radio Jeff Poor Show at 10:30 a.m., Jeff said reports were coming in of an unbelievable turnout.
During the noon hour, I traversed to Montgomery for talk radio and interviews with my Capitol City television home, the Alabama News Network CBS 8 and ABC 32. I saw the same thing happening.
At St. James Methodist Church, where most of Wynlakes votes, there were two-hour-long lines. At Woodland Methodist in Pike Road, it was two to three, and at most of the Republican boxes in Elmore County, especially Millbrook and Wetumpka, there were three-hour waits.
As I headed on to Birmingham for my election night TV appearance the scene in Shelby and Jefferson counties was more of the same, if not more pronounced.
My daughter, who votes at Vestavia Hills United Methodist Church, said the line had been out the door and around the church all day with no parking. The two major voting locations of Hoover, the Finlay Center and Hoover Met, had lines that reached almost a mile.
Around 6 p.m., while discussing the unprecedented turnout with Secretary of State John Merrill, who had joined me on CBS 42, we saw an unbelievable line out the street at the prestigious Church of the Highlands voting location in Tuscaloosa.
The coup de gras was at around 9:30 p.m., a good two-and-a-half-hours after the polls had closed, our TV cameras showed a picture of Trussville City Hall where voters were still waiting in line to cast their ballot even though Trump and Tuberville had already been declared the winners in Alabama by the Associated Press.
Merrill confirmed what I knew by that time, that indeed the state of Alabama had an unprecedented, unbelievable, amazing, record-breaking turnout — 2.3 million Alabamians voted despite COVID, which shattered any previous voting participation record.
The driving force had to unquestionably be driven by a fervor to vote for President Donald Trump. The vote for Trump was the largest for any candidate in the history of the state.
Trump garnered an amazing 62.7 percent of the vote, which surpassed his 62 percent against Hillary Clinton. He provided immense coattails for coach Tommy Tuberville, who beat our-anomaly, liberal, two-year-tenured Democratic Sen. Doug Jones by an amazing 60-to-40 shellacking.
Tuberville is now Senator-elect Tommy Tuberville.
Public Service Commission President Twinkle Cavanaugh set a record in her re-election bid with almost 1.4 million votes. She gained the record by receiving the most votes for any candidate in a contested race outside the presidency in state history.
Tuberville set the record for most votes for any senatorial candidate in state history. He trounced Jones by over 20 points despite being outspent 4-to-1.
According to unofficial election night results, the top Alabama counties for Trump were Winston at 90.3 percent, Cleburne at 89.7 percent, Blount at 89.6 percent, Marion at 88.4 percent and Cullman at 88.2 percent. They were the brightest red in the ruby red Heart of Dixie.
See you next week.
Opinion | Let the embarrassment begin
“It’s all just a game for Tuberville. He’s not serious about representing Alabama in the U.S. Senate.”
When I was in high school, our coaches — head football, basketball, and baseball coaches, all assistant coaches — had to teach classes, too. My civics class was taught by one of these coaches. He was just a high school assistant football coach, but the dude knew the three branches of government. He taught us that, and a lot more.
The nation is embarrassed for Alabama, again. For electing mediocre coach, now-Senator-elect Tommy Tuberville, the Republican, over Democratic incumbent Sen. Doug Jones. We should be embarrassed as well. Alabama, when you elect idiots, you’re going to get idiots.
Look at Donald Trump, the president-unelect. Then look at his children, who surround him to grift whatever they can grift. See. The idiots don’t fall far from the idiot tree.
Friday when I opened my Twitter, this was waiting for me:
— Ian Sams (@IanSams) November 13, 2020
In an interview with Alabama Daily News, here was one exchange:
- TCS (Todd Stacy): You mentioned the majorities and they are going to be razor thin. I mean, right now it looks like one or two seats in the Senate for Republicans, maybe 14 or 15 seats for Democrats in the House. And that’s as close as it’s been in a long, long time. Do you think the Democrats are going to have to work with Republicans and Republicans are going to have to work with Democrats? You see that being possibly a more productive situation?
- CTT (Coach Tommy Tuberville): Yeah and that’s how our government was set up. You know, our government wasn’t set up for one group to have all three of branches of government. It wasn’t set up that way, our three branches, the House, the Senate and executive.
Tuberville clearly doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about. When our constitutional government was set up by the founders, the president and vice president didn’t even run as a ticket. They were elected separately. Most founders argued against political parties. Senators were appointed, not elected.
But here’s what the real embarrassment is: Tuberville thinks the three branches of the U.S. government are the House, the Senate, and the executive. Seriously. That’s what Tuberville said. Stacy didn’t ambush Coach Tubby. No, Tuberville volunteered his immense knowledge of the federal government all on his own.
Of course, the three branches of the U.S. government, as set up in the U.S. Constitution Tuberville obviously hasn’t read, are the Legislative (House and Senate), the Executive (president and vice president), and the Judicial (the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal courts).
One would presume Tuberville would know at least this much, because the body he was just elected to confirms the nominees for that third branch, the judiciary.
It’s all just a game for Tuberville. He’s not serious about representing Alabama in the U.S. Senate. Hell, he lives mostly in Florida. Tuberville is just interested in the appearance of power, and the really nice salary and benefits. He will rarely have an independent thought in his head, and when he does, it’ll probably be wrong, like not even knowing the three branches of the U.S. government.
This truly is embarrassing. For all of us in Alabama. But you get what you vote for, Alabama. That’s why we’re near the bottom in just about every quality-of-life survey taken.
And without Trump in the executive branch, sycophant Tubby will be lost. Tuberville ran on Trump, and Trump won’t be there. Now that’s a hoot.
There’s a decent chance Tuberville will be in the minority in the Senate, too, depending on what happens in the two Senate runoffs in Georgia on Jan. 5.
Tuberville says he may spend one or two weeks in Georgia campaigning and fund-raising for the Republican Senate candidates. One might imagine those candidates would say: “No, thanks. Keep your Alabama stupid out of here.” But, then, those two Georgia Republican candidates aren’t all that smart, either.
But the assistant high school football coach who taught me civics was pretty much on the ball, where telling us about the operations of the U.S. government were concerned. He was a really good teacher. Maybe you have to choose one or the other: good coach or good teacher?
That coach was a good teacher, but our high school football team sucked. Like Tommy Tuberville will.