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Three Trains Running Down Same Track

Steve Flowers

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INSIDE THE STATEHOUSE
By Steve Flowers

As the legislative session was winding down, it was obvious no solution was going to be found for the beleaguered General Fund Budget. The Governor’s $541 million tax increase proposal had been ignored. Although he still kept preaching that this was the prescription for the ailing General Fund, the good doctor’s prognosis and recommended course of treatment was completely disregarded.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh offered a solution in the form of a lottery. It did not get the proper traction, although it only calls for the legislature to vote to let the people vote. Polling shows it would pass, so the dismissal by the Senate is hard to understand. Finally, the House leadership came forward with a hybrid proposal to raise the cigarette tax and a few fees. It never got far.

With three different trains running down the same track it was a perfect storm for a train wreck and that is what occurred. However, late in the session the perennial cry to combine the two budgets was thrown against the wall again without much success.

Alabama has two budgets. The General Fund and Education Trust Fund budgets. Neither is well-funded. The reason we have two budgets is that during the Depression Era, Alabama schools were so underfunded that the prisons had better conditions. Third world countries had better school systems. Most rural schools were dilapidated one room schools with no indoor plumbing. Teachers were not even getting paid. They were being given script or promissory notes that they might get paid one day.

A progressive governor, Bibb Graves, came along and created a Special Education Trust Fund budget to see that schools had basic minimum standards and funding. At that time, the only colleges in the state were the University of Alabama and Auburn University. His education plan created teachers colleges at Florence, Jacksonville, Troy and Livingston. Graves convinced the legislature to earmark state sales and income tax for education. Education funding has been able to keep pace with inflation with these growth taxes.

Combining these two budgets has been proposed numerous times over the years. Each time with no success. Governor Bentley floated this consolidation balloon a year ago. It was met with deafening silence pretty much the same way that his tax proposal has been greeted.

Most legislators and their constituents know that public education is not funded properly. To allow the legislature to run roughshod into the education coffers would be devastating to the state. The wall created constitutionally prohibits the legislature or governor from raiding education dollars to pay for the money eating Medicaid monster.  Even more importantly, it keeps the state from putting prisoners ahead of schoolchildren. Furthermore, if this legislature or future legislatures fail to fund prisons to a minimum standard, as set forth by the federal courts, it is not only possible but probable that a federal judge could mandate prison appropriations from the state budget that would deprive schools of basic funding in favor of prisoners’ comfort.

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The Special Education Trust Fund budget was created for reason. A farsighted governor and even more farsighted legislature believed that education was an important and basic function of state government and that it was important for the future of the state.

During the Paul Hubbert era, teacher salaries in Alabama moved into the top 25 in the nation. In the past five years, with the Republican takeover of the legislature and demise of the AEA, teacher salaries have dropped into the bottom 10 states in America. Our educational spending in Alabama is 48th in the nation.

Our universities used to receive half of their funding from the state. It is now less than 20 percent. Our woefully funded education system could ill afford a raid of its tax dollars.

The governor and legislature need to work together to find a permanent solution to funding the General Fund. Stealing the money earmarked for school children’s basic learning is not a solution to the General Fund’s dilemma. Nobody is going to look back 60 years from now and praise this current group for robbing from the Special Education Trust Fund to pay for prison reform.

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.

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.

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Fear not, fight on and don’t faint

Bill Britt

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The spread of COVID-19 in Alabama is worse today than it was yesterday, and in all likelihood, it will be more devastating tomorrow.

The realities of the moment challenge us to be strong, resilient and persistent.

On Sunday, the number of confirmed COVID-19 infections in the state passed 1,800, with 45 reported deaths. Those numbers represent real people, our fellow citizens, friends and loved ones.

The latest figures coming from the state may be only a hint of what’s next.

More of us will survive this disease than succumb to it, but we will all feel it, even naysayers and deniers.

The fight against this pathogen is not a sprint that will end swiftly; it is a marathon. Therefore, perseverance is critical. In sports, as in life, perseverance separates the winners from the losers.

Winston Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

As a state and a nation, the times demand we keep going without fear.

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These are not the worst of times; these are trying times that will pass. This is not a happy talk but a message from history. History teaches that humans are adaptive and, therefore, survivors.

It doesn’t mean that horrible things aren’t happening; they are.

People are sick, some are dying, but all the while along with doctors, nurses and health care providers, there is a legion of ordinary Alabamians doing simple things that in the context of this calamity are extraordinary.

Individuals who deliver groceries, stock shelves and cook take out are putting themselves at risk so others can eat. The same can be said of thousands that are keeping essential services open.

These individuals are displaying the very essence of perseverance — the will to push forward when it would be easier to quit.

In George S. Patton’s speech to the Third Army during World War II, he delivered many memorable lines that are not easily quoted in a general publication. Patton was fond of profanity. But many apply to our current situation.

“Sure, we all want to go home. We want to get this war over with. But you can’t win a war lying down,” Patton said.

We will win if we don’t give in and don’t quit.

This isn’t hell for all, but it is for some.

Now is a time for each of us to do what we can to ensure that we all survive.

My mother was fond of quoting scripture and sometimes with her own unique twist.

Galatians 6:9 was one of her go-to verses.

“And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap if we faint not.”

She would say, “Now, that doesn’t mean you won’t get woozy, or that you won’t need to take a knee. It says don’t faint — never give up.”

Then she would round it off with, “‘Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,’ to heck with the flesh, it will follow where the mind tells it to.”

What we do now will determine who we will be as a state and nation once this pandemic subsides. Will we be better, stronger, and more humane, or will we further cocoon into tribes who are weaker, disparate and frightened?

Fear not, fight on and don’t faint.

 

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Opinion | Groupthink voting is now literally killing us

Josh Moon

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I have many friends who can tell you the names of the offensive linemen who started last year for their favorite college football team. And most of them can also tell you who their backups are. 

Very few of these people can name off their state senator, their state representative, the city councilmen or their county commissioners. I’d bet an embarrassing percentage couldn’t tell you who their U.S. senators and congressmen are. 

And today, that disparity in knowledge is killing us. 

As the coronavirus rips through this country, and as it rips through this mostly hospital-less state, it is exposing the absolute buffoons who have been elected to public office. Folks who few of us would allow to walk our dogs are being forced to confront an unprecedented national crisis, and they are failing miserably. 

Nowhere is that more true than in the state of Alabama. 

Where our governor hasn’t taken a live question from media or scared-to-death voters in going on a month now. Where our House leader and Senate president have apparently been sheltering in place in a bunker in the hills. Where the only people with plans and ideas and straight talk are the powerless lieutenant governor and the super-minority party. 

And where we still — STILL! — are left without a shelter-in-place order. 

From one end of this state to the other, the people on the frontlines of this crisis are screaming for help. They’ve been sounding alarms for weeks now, and they’ve caught the attention of no one in state leadership, it seems. 

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If not for this state’s proactive mayors, God only knows what shape we’d be in right now. Behind the scenes, those mayors — Randall Woodfin in Birmingham, Walt Maddox in Tuscaloosa, Steven Reed in Montgomery, Tommy Battle in Huntsville and Sandy Stimpson in Mobile, along with others — have been communicating with each other, bouncing ideas of one another and sharing plans. 

We will never know how many lives they’ve saved by taking proactive measures before their state government did — and in a couple of cases, in defiance of state leaders — but it will be many. 

As for our state leaders, hopefully this catastrophic failure will be a wake-up call for Alabama voters. But I have my doubts. 

And the reason I have my doubts is what I mentioned above — too many people simply don’t place a value on educated voting. 

Don’t get me wrong. These are not dumb people. It’s not that they’re too stupid to understand the issues that affect their lives and select a person who would best represent their interests. They’re absolutely smart enough to do that. 

But they don’t want to. 

They go to work. They take care of their kids and their house. They try to get some exercise in. And then they’d like to watch a ballgame and have a decent time. 

And so, voting — if they vote at all — becomes a group-think exercise in which most of these people just vote like their friends. They follow their lead and vote for the popular candidate, who is only popular for superficial reasons. 

They’re swayed by cheesy pandering using religious issues or guns or racism or some phony patriotism. Simple pitches work best, because they’re not really paying attention anyway. 

That’s why the guy who offers up a detailed explanation for how taking slightly more from you in tax dollars will actually put considerably more money in your pocket on the back side always loses out to the “conservative” who just says, “No new taxes; I’mma let you keep yo money.” 

This dumb pitch works on even people who aren’t dumb simply because they’re not interested enough to appropriately weigh the two arguments. 

The growth of social media has made things worse. Now, in a matter of 15 minutes, the average person in Alabama can scroll through 100 political memes about libtards and MAGA from their friends, and they’re not going to be on the outside of the circle looking in. They want to laugh too. They want to be part of the group. 

But very few are laughing now. 

Because inevitably, what that group-think voting does is remove the requirement that a candidate actually try. That a candidate present an understanding of the complicated issues and then present solutions to solve them. That a candidate demonstrate an ability to think on his/her feet. That a candidate demonstrate any aptitude for problem solving. 

You’ll do things like elect a woman governor who refused to debate any challenger.

When you know you’ve got the election in the bag simply because you’re running for the right party, who needs to try? 

And when you’re voting without demanding that effort — and Alabamians have been doing so for decades now — you’re assuring that incompetent, unprepared, useless politicians are going to be put into positions of power. 

On a good day, those sorts of politicians are a burden on all of us. On really bad days, like we’re experiencing now, they’re basically grim reapers. 

It would be nice if on the other side of this crisis we placed a higher premium on educated voting that produces better, more qualified public officials. 

But given our history, I have my doubts.

 

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Opinion | Facing each day, finding hope

Joey Kennedy

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People text me news tips all the time. Most of them are unfounded rumors. I’m sure my other colleagues at Alabama Political Reporter get their share.

We should never simply pass on a rumor or, as Donald Trump says, “fake” news. And the vast majority of us in journalism understand our responsibility in this.

But if we have a person in authority telling us something credible, whether it be about the COVID-19 pandemic or a completely unrelated issue, on-the-record or off, we’re careless if we don’t start looking into it. Often, these embryonic stories go nowhere. Sometimes, they give birth to real news.

All of these tips are valuable, even the clearly obvious ones that fall simply under “unfounded rumor” or “conspiracy theory.” We have an obligation to stop a story if it’s wrong, or to intervene in the telling of that story if somebody is spreading it on social media or the mainstream media.

Lately, I’ve been getting texts and videos on unfounded cures for the novel coronavirus. I’m going to leave that up to the scientists and doctors. I tell stories and write informed opinion; I don’t have much of a brain for science and math on my own.

As I’ve often said, I’m kind of a one-trick pony: I speak and write in the only language I know. And writing, really, is all I know. I can become a half-hour expert if I have to, cramming credible research into a short amount of time so I can produce a story.

I do make mistakes, though, and I try to correct them as quickly as possible when I do.

When I’m teaching one of my English or Honors classes at UAB and a student asks a question I can’t answer on the spot, I just admit it. Then I promise to look into the question so that I can get the student an answer. And then I do.

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I’ve been corrected by a student in real time in class. The Internet is right there, on their smartphone or their smartpad or their laptop. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I don’t get flustered. I get smarter.

I’m also far more disciplined on social media than I once was. If we don’t learn from our mistakes, we don’t learn.

I hope, as a nation, we learn from the huge mistake we made when the coronavirus pandemic first started. We had two months to prepare before it got out of control in the United States and Alabama. It’s not as if the experts and intelligence agencies didn’t send a “heads-up” to the White House months ago. Yet, we were terribly, irresponsibly unprepared for this, and people have died because of that.

We have a president ill-equipped to instill confidence and calm into most of the people of his nation. We have a governor and a controlling political party that often stand around seemingly twiddling their thumbs.

But, then, appearances can be deceiving.

APR Editor in Chief Bill Britt reported Wednesday that a lot more is going on behind the scenes in Alabama than we’re aware of.

Writes Britt: “The Governor’s office is working in partnership with the state’s universities, businesses and others in an ongoing battle to curb the COVID-19 outbreak in the state.

In times of crisis governments always stumble getting out of the gate; that’s what happens.

The work presently being coordinated by the Governor’s staff and volunteers is not currently seen by the general public, but the efforts of these groups will affect the state now and in the future.

Yes, we want to know our government is working to help end what very well may be the biggest crisis in generations.

We are a social society, and we want to be with our friends, and to take part in the organizations we support, and to hold an election this year. We want to attend sporting events and concerts and the symphony and the theatre.

The reality is that we don’t know how long this new normalwill last. Axios reported this week that the NFL and college football seasons now are in jeopardy. We’re already without any of the spring and summer sports. The Olympics has been moved to next year, so Birmingham, the 2021 host of the World Gameswill now host them in 2022.

Still, thank God we live in a city and state that has a world-class research university, strong tech businesses, and top-notch hospitals to help find cures and treat people sickened from COVID-19.

I passed by one of our hospitals in Birmingham this week, and a big sign out front said: “Heroes Work Here.”

And they do.

UPDATE: Last week, I interviewed Pamela Franco, who was at University Hospital with a pretty vicious case of COVID-19. She is recovering and was released from the hospital over last weekend. She and her fiancé, Tim Stephens, are continuing to improve in quarantine at their home on Birmingham’s Southside. We wish them all the best.


Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

 

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Opinion | 1964 Goldwater landslide was beginning of Republican dominance in the South

Steve Flowers

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Our primary runoffs have been postponed until July 14, 2020. It was a wise and prudent decision by Secretary of State John Merrill and Gov. Kay Ivey. Most voters are older and you are asking them to come out and vote and at the same time stay home.

The main event will be the GOP runoff for the U.S. Senate. The two combatants, Jeff Sessions and Tommy Tuberville, will now square off in the middle of a hot Alabama summer. The winner will be heavily favored to go to Washington. We are a very reliably Republican state especially in a presidential election year.

Many of you have asked, “When did Alabama become a dominant oneparty Republican state?” Well it all began in the Presidential year of 1964.  The 1964 election was the turning point when the Deep South states of Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana and South Carolina voted for Barry Goldwater and never looked back.  It was the race issue that won southerners over for Goldwater.  The Republican Party captured the race issue that year and have never let go of it.

The South which was known as the “Solid South” for more than six decades, because we were solidly Democratic, are today known as the “Solid South” because we are solidly Republican.Presidential candidates ignore us during the campaign because it is a foregone conclusion that we will vote Republican, just as presidential candidates ignored us for the first 60 years of the 20th Century, because it was a foregone conclusion that we were going to vote Democratic.

George Wallace had ridden the race issue into the Governor’s office in 1962.  It had reached a fever pitch in 1964.  Democratic President, Lyndon Johnson, had passed sweeping Civil Rights legislation which white southerners detested.  

The only non-southern senator to oppose the Civil Rights legislation was Republican Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona.  When the Republican Party met at the old Cow Palace in San Francisco, they nominated Goldwater as their 1964 presidential candidate.  Johnson annihilated him, nationwide, but Goldwater won the South in a landslide.  

Before that fall day in November of 1964, there was no Republican Party in Alabama.  There were no Republican officeholders. There was no Republican primary. Republicans chose their candidates in backroom conventions.  Except for a few Lincoln Republicans in the hill counties, it was hard getting a white Alabamian even to admit they were Republican.

That all changed in 1964.  Goldwater and the Republicans became identified with segregation and the white Southern voter fled the Democratic Party en masse.   As the Fall election of 1964 approached the talk in the country stores around Alabama was that a good many good ole boys were going to vote straight Republican even if their daddies did turn over in their graves.  Enterprising local bottling companies got into the debate and filled up drink boxes in the country stores labeled Johnson Juice and Gold Water.  The Gold Water was outselling the Johnson Juice 3-to-1.

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Alabamians not only voted for Barry Goldwater but also pulled the straight Republican lever out of anger towards Lyndon Johnson’s Civil Rights agenda.  Most of Alabama’s eight-member Congressional delegation, with more than 100 years of seniority was wiped out by straight ticket Republican voting on that November 1964 day.

Earlier that year, Lyndon B. Johnson, the toughest, crudest, most corrupt and yes most effective man to ever serve in the White House, made a profound statement.  As he signed the Civil Rights Bill he had pushed through Congress, he looked over at the great Southern Lion, Richard Russell of Georgia, and as Senator Russell glared at Johnson with his steel stare, Lyndon said, “I just signed the South over to the Republican Party for the next 60 years.” Johnson’s words were prophetic.

Folks, beginning with the 1964 election, there have been 17 presidential elections counting this year.  If you assume that Donald Trump carries our state in November, that is a safe assumption, Alabama has voted for the Republican nominee 16 out of 17 elections over the past 56 years.  Georgia peanut farmer, Jimmy Carter, is the only interloper for the Democrats in 1976.

The U.S. Senate seat up this year was first won by a Republican in 1996.  That Republican was Jeff Sessions.  

So folks, in 1964, Alabama became a Republican state and it happened in what was called the Southern Republican “Goldwater Landslide.”

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.

 

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