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Bill Britt

Let the People Vote

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

When Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge William Shashy ruled in favor of VictoryLand, many thought that would be the end of the long, costly war over electronic bingo. But, it appears, that will not be the case. 

Attorney General Luther Strange has signaled his office, will appeal Judge Shashy’s ruling to the Alabama Supreme Court, where the lower court’s order will almost assuredly be reversed.

It is past time for the State Legislature to end the question of legal or illegal gaming once and for all. This battle over bingo has cost the taxpayers millions over an issue that could easily and quickly be resolved by a vote of the people. 

To continue to spend manpower and treasure over what constitutes a game of bingo, is a futile endeavor, given that a simple answer is in sight. 

(It is important to note that Macon County, where VictoryLand is located, passed Constitutional Amendment 744 that authorized electronic bingo as stated in Judge Shashy’s ruling.)

The Poarch Band of Creek Indians (PCI) continue to offer bingo-style gambling in luxurious facilities all across the State, and as the 11th Circuit Court has ruled, they can operate with impunity from State law. Four other casinos with less glamor continue to operate, unmolested by the State, however, the State will spend more money and more time in a fight, presumebly to the death, with Milton McGregor. 

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For those who argue over the a social cost of gambling, I would agree, but we are already paying that cost. There is gambling in our State, and it is not going away. The Federal government has assured that with the PCI ruling.

Personally, I have found the tribal leaders of PCI to be good and honest people, who obey the law, help others, and only want to be left alone to make a living. However, there is an unavoidable intersection between big money and power politics. The tribe has already shown itself willing to spend millions to elect politicians who will do their bidding. That is their legal right under State and Federal law. 

In the last election cycle the tribe gave over $1.5 million to unseat General Strange. It may not be illegal, but it was truly unethical, given that it was all about retribution, and not good government. But, that’s politics, as played in a State without campaign finance limits. 

Of course they have proven to be ecumenical in their giving, even secretly funneling hundreds of thousands to a Republican candidate though a scheme devised by then ALGOP head, Mike Hubbard. Hubbard, now as Speaker of the House, stands charged with 23 felony crimes, continues to strengthen his relationship with the PCI through his close connection with lobbyist Phillip and Allison Kinney. Even during the last Special Session tribal council members and their lobbyist  were reportedly meeting what Hubbard in his fifth floor office. With not a single piece of gambling legislation before the House why would Hubbard be meeting with the PCI?

This again appears to be the dark cross roads where money and power meet.

In 2009, McGregor’s VictoryLand became the target of then Gov. Bob Riley. The reason Riley zeroed in on McGregor continues to be under debate. The Montgomery Advertiser’s Josh Moon has done what to date stands as the definitive work on the subject.

What is certain is by shuttering VictoryLand, the Poarch Creek have become the de facto lords of gambling in Alabama. And like McGregor before them, they have learned that there is a toll road in Montgomery through which they must pass to expand their wealth and power. 

The tribe has built an empire, the likes of which others have only imagined. There is no counter weight to their economic engine, which is driven by what Strange has dubbed, “an illegal enterprise.” 

But neither he, nor anyone else can touch them, and as long as there in no competition, they will grow, and it will be the leaders of some 3,000 tribal members in south Alabama who will elect the next Attorney General and Governor.

Hubbard has publicly stated that he favors giving the PCI control over gambling in the State because he trust them. Perhaps, Hubbard has forgotten that power corrupts. Of course, an honest look into his bathroom mirror and Hubbard would see the truth of that statement staring back at him. But it is doubtful that Hubbard has reflective moments, he, like Narcissus, would only see his own lovely, visage.

The Attorney General’s Office has said it doesn’t cost much to appeal Judge Shashy’s ruling, only attorneys and paper. This statement is as ignorant of cost management as it is offensive to the taxpayers of our State. 

It is now time for the legislature to act, not the courts. Gov. Robert Bentley and AG Strange have said they wanted the court to rule. It did, but it appears that is not enough.

Republicans always decry activist judges. Now is the time to allow the judges to step aside and the legislature to step up and let the people vote.

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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Bill Britt

Opinion | With liberty and justice for all

Bill Britt

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Photo: Rosa Pineda

As peaceful protests over the last week have been marred by violence and looting, the nation should be asking what kind of country we are and what we are to become?

Are we to be the shining city on a hill or a lord of the flies kingdom of warring factions?

Most of the protesters who have taken to the streets across the nation are only asking for those things promised in The Declaration of Independence and quoted in the nation’s Pledge of Allegiance.

They want the promise of “all men are created equal,” with “liberty and justice for all,” to be fulfilled.

Amidst the chaos, we hear calls for “law and order” and chants of “No justice, no peace.”

A nation can have law and order without justice, but when justice is denied or meted out unequally, people will only remain silent or peaceful for so long.

Law, justice, and peace should flow from the same fountain but rarely ever do in equal measure.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Gandhi before him, showed the world the power of nonviolent resistance. From the Salt March, which took place from March to April 1930, in India, to the Selma-to-Montgomery March in 1965, a small band of individuals has shown that peaceful protests can overcome even institutional wrongs.

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But laws passed in the 1960s, while changing what was legal, didn’t answer inequities or alter everyone’s hearts and minds.

Even today, the dog whistles of racism and bullhorns of hate compete against calls for change.

Only when bigotry is shown in bright relief against the suffering of a nation’s citizens, do the powerful lose their stranglehold.

The murder of George Floyd is further evidence of a long-festering problem, and the ensuing rage is simply the manifestation of years of systematic mistreatment of black citizens. The laws may have changed in the 1960s, but the mindset of those who fought against that progress has been reborn.

As a nation, we cannot stand with a Bible in one hand and a club in the other and claim equal protection under the law.

Perhaps opening the Scriptures and letting the voice of Jesus speak, rather than holding his words as a prop, would be a good first step. Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Are these not the values we should hold dear?

I do not condone violence or property destruction, but I do understand the grievances that lead to both. We, as a state, and nation, can’t address the one without offering to answer the other.

President Trump’s failed attorney general Jeff Sessions has appointed himself as the spokesman for law and order. In a recent press release, Sessions said, “All over the country we have seen the results of ‘politically correct’ and completely ineffective leadership.”

Sessions blames, “Antifa, far-left radicals, and criminal thugs,” and many agree with him.

During George Wallace’s political rally at Madison Square Garden in 1968, he blamed anarchists, activists, militants, revolutionaries and communists for the nation’s ills.

Wallace also said, “The Supreme Court of our country has hand-cuffed the police, and tonight if you walk out of this building and are knocked in the head, the person who knocks you in the head is out of jail before you get in the hospital, and on Monday morning, they’ll try a policeman about it.”

Today, Wallace, like Sessions, would say that political correctness was the problem, not a culture that targets certain citizens.

Wallace expressed his disdain for demonstrators who tried to block President Lyndon B. Johnson’s limousine saying, “I tell you when November comes, the first time they lie down in front of my limousine, it’ll be the last one they ever lay down in front of; their day is over.”

On Facebook, some Alabamians have suggested protesters be shot in the head if they resist arrest. And so it goes that the ugliness of human nature stands ready to repeat the sins of the past over and over again.

In an Op-Ed, Alabama State University President Quinton T. Ross, Jr., invoked the past in a very different way.

“Our nonviolent stand proved successful in the past, and I believe it could be the catalyst for real and impactful change. Let peace be at the core of all of our actions,” wrote Ross.

“While it seems as though remaining calm in the midst of a racist storm is a signal to be disrespected, disregarded and endangered, remember the lives that were lost to get us to this day. Remember the examples of those who were brutally beaten and rose up from that brutality to walk the halls of Congress, to become mayors, governors, state legislators and community leaders.”

Our nation was born out of public defiance in the face of political oppression. Our nation was to be a port for those seeking hope and justice in a world of tyrants.

President Ronald Reagan called the United States “the shining city upon a hill.”

“In my mind, it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace,” said Reagan in his 1989 Farewell Address to the Nation. He further said he saw the nation as, “A city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors, and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”

Reagan saw a nation where everyone was allowed to live with peace and prosperity. A place where all were equal, deserved freedom and justice. Is that not what we all want, including the protesters?

America has always been a land of promise, and many times, promises are not kept.

But today, our nation may very well be at a turning point.

Will the moral imperative of fairness break over the dam’s edge, or will some just add more sandbags to the top?

Will we decide liberty and justice for all are more than words we repeat by rote, and that everyone deserves the promise of America?

That is the question before us, and now what we choose will show who we are and what we will become.

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Marsh hurls accusations at Gov. Ivey. Is he barking mad?

Bill Britt

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Appearing on the latest edition of Alabama Public Television’s “Capitol Journal,” Sen. President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, blamed Gov. Kay Ivey for the loss of some 450,000 jobs in Alabama.

It’s an absurd accusation that any thinking Alabamian knows is a lie. But Marsh wants to hurt Ivey because she exposed him as little more than a petty, greedy-gut politico.

Still stinging from the public humiliation he suffered after Ivey revealed his “wish list” — which included taking $200 million in COVID-19 relief money to build a new State House — Marsh is leveling a cascade of recriminations against the popular governor.

However, what is astonishing is that he would spew brazen lies about Ivey during raging loss and uncertainty caused by a worldwide pandemic. This latest fiction about Ivey creating widespread economic calamity is the unseemly work of a hollow man without empathy, wisdom or decency.

This insane assertion that Ivey is somehow responsible for thousands suffering is as cravenly evil as it is politically stupid.

“The policies that have been put in place by the [Ivey] administration have 450,000 people out of work,” Marsh told show host Don Daily.

Only a fool, a nutjob or a politician would blame Ivey for losing some 450,000 jobs, but there was Marsh, on public television, showing he is perhaps all three.

In the middle of his barking-mad comments, Marsh somehow forgot to mention that he was a member of Ivey’s Executive Committee on the COVID-19 task force and helped make the very policies he now claims led to joblessness and financial ruin for many Alabamians.

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Marsh is merely making it up as he goes because his fragile ego, pompous character and rank inhumanity suddenly became fully displayed for every Alabamian to see when he doubled down on building a new State House.

And so, like a guy caught with his pants down, Marsh is pointing his finger at Ivey to distract from his naked indifference toward the struggles of his fellow Alabamians.

Marsh’s plan to spend the CARES Act funds on a State House and other pet projects ignored the sufferings of hundreds of thousands of the state’s most vulnerable citizens and businesses.

Ivey wanted the nearly $1.9 billion in CARES funds to go to help those individuals, businesses and institutions affected by COVID-19. Marsh wanted it as a Senate piggybank, so, he lashes out at her rather than reflect on how he and the State Senate could do better in the future.

Anyone who blames others for their failings is a weakling, not a leader.

Marsh came to power under a scheme hatched around 2008, by then-Gov. Bob Riley. The plan was to make Mike Hubbard the speaker of the House, Marsh as pro tem and Bradley Byrne as governor. Riley would act as the shadow puppet master pulling the strings of power from behind a thin curtain of secrecy, allowing him to make untold riches without public accountability.

Byrne losing the governor’s race to the hapless State Rep. Dr. Doctor Robert Bentley was the first glitch in the plan (yes, during the 2010 campaign for governor, Bentley changed his name to Doctor Robert Julian Bentley so the title Doctor would appear next to his name on the primary ballot).

The second problem for the venture was Hubbard’s avarice, which landed him on the wrong side of the ethics laws he, Riley, Byrne and Marsh championed. Of course, the ethics laws were never meant to apply to them. They were designed to trap Democrats.

Marsh has floundered since Hubbard’s grand departure and with Riley sinking further into the background, it is now apparent that Riley was the brains, Hubbard the muscle and Marsh the errand boy, picking up bags of cash to finance the operation.

Gofers rarely rise to power without the public noticing they’re not quite up for the job, and so it is with Marsh that his office has shown the limits of his abilities.

Marsh wanted to control the COVID-19 relief money to spend on pork projects as he’d done in the past, but Ivey didn’t allow it. To be outsmarted is one thing, but to be beaten by a woman is too much for a guy like Marsh.

Ivey burned Marsh like a girl scout roasting marshmallows over a campfire.

Senator Marshmallow, anyone?

Poor Marsh, with his political career in turmoil, picked the wrong target in Ivey.

Some look at Ivey and see a kind, grandmotherly figure. Ivey is as tough as a junkyard dog, and now Marsh knows what her bite feels like.

Ivey didn’t cause massive job losses. COVID-19 did that. But Marsh got his feelings hurt, bless his heart, so he wants to take Ivey down.

Just like his scheme to commandeer the COVID-19 funds from the people didn’t work, his attack on Ivey won’t either.

People see Marsh for what he is, and it’s neither strong nor competent; it’s weak and ineffectual.

Marsh stood behind Ivey when she announced the state’s health orders wearing an American flag style mask.

He voted for her executive amendment.

And now he lies.

In times of real crisis, true leaders emerge while others of lesser abilities whine. Marsh is complaining. Ivey is leading.

And so the public watches as The Masked Marshmallow takes on Iron-jawed Ivey. It’s not tricky to see how this cage match turns out.

Marshmallow, down in three.

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Ivey brings the heat

Bill Britt

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The Alabama Legislature on Monday approved Gov. Kay Ivey’s plan to spend $1.8 billion in federal CARES Act relief funds responsibly and transparently, and it is a victory for the people of Alabama.

Passage of Ivey’s executive amendment was, however, a blow to the fragile egos and grand money grab orchestrated by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, and his cronies.

Marsh and his allies had hoped to highjack the money designated to fight and repair the ravages of COVID-19 on the state and use it for pet projects like a robotics park, an additional forensic lab and a new State House to name a few.

Marsh and his cohorts kicked and screamed, some Senate leaders took to favorable talk radio and blogs to disparage Ivey, but it didn’t work.

Even at the eleventh hour, Marsh tried to back out of the deal, but cooler heads prevailed.

Ivey won the battle the moment she revealed the contents of Marsh’s so-called “wish list,” because Marsh wasn’t politically sophisticated enough to back down and regroup when he had a chance.

Instead, he and a few diehards doubled down on their intent to use the CARES Act funds for their self-serving projects. They even paid for a poll showing the people back them, not Ivey. But it didn’t work because their conniving was as inept as it was shameful.

Ivey is a straight shooter; Marsh is a double-dealer with a history of betraying friend and foe, not a good habit for anyone who wants a long career in politics.

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Taking a page from President Ronald Reagan’s playbook, Ivey brought righteous indignation to the underhand game being played by some in the Senate.

Reagan said, “When you can’t make them see the light, make them feel the heat.”

Finally, she made a deal with Speaker Mac McCutcheon and the House budget chair, Rep. Steve Clouse, to bring about a plan to shield the CARES funds and make sure it went to help Alabamians instead of legislative cronies. McCutcheon and Clouse aren’t crooks.

Anyone who has been around the State House for a few years knows how Marsh, along with then-Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (now a convicted felon awaiting prison), used almost $1 billion from the BP settlement to fund Medicaid and pay off state debt.

They also remember how then-Gov. Robert Bentley used $1.8 million in BP settlement money to renovate the governor’s dilapidated beach mansion, which became known as the “Lov Govs’ Love Shack.”

The BP settlement money was meant to help those devastated by the Deep Water Horizon oil spill, but Marsh and Hubbard used it as a personal piggy bank, not for its intended use.

Under Marsh and Hubbard, perhaps billions were squandered, and the BP funds are just one example.

Ivey reminded the public of Hubbard and Marsh’s hijinks, and people took notice.

But even after Ivey’s amendment passed, Marsh and Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed, R-Jasper, released a statement so utterly dishonest that it’s astounding that Reed — generally a decent human — signed on to it.

The statement reads in part, “This is by no means a perfect compromise; however, we are pleased that the Governor has acknowledged that the Legislature has control of funding as per the Constitution.”

Ivey always acknowledged the Legislature’s constitutional authority. She never questioned it. So for Marsh and Reed to couch their loss as a win in such a disingenuous statement is remarkably arrogant.

“Ultimately, we gave our support to the Governor’s Executive Amendment as it is the best deal for the people of Alabama,” Marsh and Reed said in their joint statement.

They supported Ivey’s amendment because their incompetence beat them.

Supposedly, Marsh is to step down as pro tem before the 2021 session and surrender the post to Reed. No one knows if Marsh will keep the agreement he’s made or not. He’s not known for keeping his word.

As for Reed, he could be a decent pro tem, but the joint statement calls into question his political wisdom and, indeed, his humility.

Marsh and his folks played a poor game of checkers; heaven forbid they ever have to play chess with anyone with a pulse.

The purpose of Ivey’s battle was to ensure that the nearly $1.8 billion given under the CARES Act went to help the state.

Ivey and her team won, not for themselves, but the people. That’s good government.

Perhaps now the Senate should sing a few verses from the Hank Williams song, “I Saw the Light.”

Or, more appropriately, the Jerry Lee Lewis tune, “Great Balls of Fire,” because they felt the heat.

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Government being weighed in the balance

Bill Britt

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President Donald Trump, on March 27, 2020, signed into law the U.S. government’s Phase 3 aid package known as the CARES Act to provide relief for states and individual local governments to combat the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A series of failed private negotiations between members of the executive and legislative branches of state government spilled out into the open over how best to spend the nearly $1.8 billion in aid relief responsibly.

This latest round of conflict shows that the real measure of a leader is revealed in times of crisis and Alabama’s legislative leadership is failing as shown by the power play instituted by certain members of the House and Senate over the spending of the CARES money.

The matter was never over the Legislature’s appropriations authority under the 1901 Constitution but how to most effectively administer the money wisely with oversight and transparency.

Neither was it the exposure of a so-called “wish list” that brought the private discussions to a boiling point. The fight occurred because of the unwillingness of some in the legislative leadership—especially Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston—to work with Gov. Kay Ivey to ensure that the funds served the broad interest of the people of Alabama affected by the COVID-19 crisis instead of the narrow ones championed by a handful of lawmakers.

Marsh, on Saturday, took ownership of the so-called “wish list” after days of denial by various members of the Legislature. However, to mitigate the disastrous revelation that he had seriously wanted to spend $200 million on a new State House while people were suffering by the hundreds of thousands, Marsh tried to claim he was just doing what Ivey had asked him to do.

While Marsh has been flexing his political muscle and trying to worm out of a media crossfire, literally thousands of Alabamians are going without food due to job losses caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.

What the “wish list” does illustrate is the callow, careless and callous thinking of those who would control money meant to heal the wounds and restore the institution ravaged by the novel coronavirus.

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But Marsh and his cronies have never shown a sense of caring or shame only the arrogant entitlement that is so pellucid in times of want and need.

Marsh appearing Saturday on APT’s Capitol Journal tried to make the case that the legislative process was far more transparent than anything that would happen in the Governor’s office.

“We’re always transparent,” Marsh told APT’s Don Daily. “We pride ourselves on that. I think, unfortunately, the Governor has taken issue with the legislature becoming involved in this process. But, nothing can be more transparent than the legislative process. I can promise you — you give these dollars to a governor to spend, you have no process.”

Perhaps Marsh’s not wearing a face mask at the State House has left his mind cloudy so that he doesn’t remember how he handled the BP settlement— a fact Ivey brought up at a recent press conference.

Not too many years ago, Marsh, along with then-Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (now a convicted felon awaiting prison), used almost $1 billion from the BP settlement to fund Medicaid and pay off state debt, according to a 2016 report by Market Place.

Also then-Gov. Robert Bentley used $1.8 million in settlement money to renovate the dilapidated Governor’s beach mansion, which became known as the “Lov Govs’ love shack.”

The squandered BP funds are an example of how under Marsh and Hubbard’s leadership, the BP money was diverted from its intended use.

What the Ivey administration is trying to avoid is another repeat of the dubious spending spree Marsh and Hubbard oversaw with the 2010 Gulf oil spill settlement.

For now, the CARES money is parked in the Legislature and State Representative Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, who chairs the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee has said it would take a special session to resolve how the money will be spent.

Ivey said she would not call a special session unless there was assurance on how the money would be allocated.

All the CARES fund must be spent by December 31 and will require special expertise to use it all without running afoul of federal regulations or law-enforcement.

During the failed negotiations that led to the public feud that is now engulfing state government, Ivey suggested a six-person committee comprised of the two minority leaders and the four budget chairmen to decide how the funds would be spent. Marsh rejected Ivey’s proposal. But now it is time to revisit those negotiations before the divide between the executive and legislative branches become too wide to cross.

Over the weekend, not only did Marsh amp up the rhetoric blaming Ivey, so did other lawmakers. One even said Ivey could find herself “on an island” like Bentley in his final days in office.

Any legislator who believes their threats or insults will cow Ivey is as ignorant as they are delusional.

Ivey is widely seen as a strong, competent leader, while the legislative leadership with only a few exceptions is viewed as a bunch of greed gut opportunists, willing to rob from those in need to feed themselves.

It is time to put the grandstanding public bickering aside and come together to save the state, which means spending the CARES funds to help repair the damage, prepare for the next wave and mend those lives and institutions that are broken.

If not now, then the government itself will be weighed in the balance; let it not be found wanting.

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