INSIDE THE STATEHOUSE
By Steve Flowers
The 2016 Presidential election has not only begun, it is well under way. It is now a lengthy process that spans the entire four-year presidential term. The race essentially begins the day a president is sworn into office. Aspirants begin jockeying for the brass ring of American politics the next day and the marathon begins. It becomes exponentially more intriguing when there is no incumbent in the fray as will be the case in 2016.
We have an Electoral College system that makes for a chess game of political maneuvering to capture the White House. On one hand, this appears complicated because the winner of the popular vote in all 50 states is not necessarily the winner. However, it has become much simpler in the past few decades. As a result of our Electoral College election system, only about 12 states really matter. Therefore, the election process boils down to campaigning in only about a dozen battleground states. The remaining 38 states are irrelevant because they are so predictably inclined to vote for one party regardless of who the candidates are for the presidency.
Alabama is one of those reliably safe states. We will vote for the Republican candidate no matter who the nominees are for either party, so we will be ignored in the general election. Donald Duck could be the Republican nominee and we would vote for Donald Duck, along with about 15 other southern and western conservative states. However, do not feel bad. New York and California will be ignored too because these liberal states are going to vote for the Democratic candidate, regardless.
Prior to the GOP convention, we will see a host of Republican presidential candidates vying for the GOP nomination, but not afterwards. Therefore, like most elections, strategist will look to the numbers. It is simple arithmetic which battleground or swing state a candidate can carry and how. More specifically, the experts say it is now even simpler than that – their primary focus is how to get Hispanic voters in those pivotal swing states to vote for their candidate?
Most pundits and prognosticators are saying that the GOP has a slippery slope to climb when it comes to presidential politics because of the growing importance of Hispanic votes in America. Most Republicans are from conservative states and the GOP has taken a hardline approach to immigration. Alabama is a prime example. This hardline approach has not boded well with Hispanic voters.
In the past two presidential elections, hardline rhetoric against immigration reform decreased the Republican nominee’s share of Hispanic voters from 40 percent for George W. Bush in 2004 to 27 percent for Mitt Romney last time.
Within a few days of Romney’s 2012 defeat, GOP leaders agreed there had to be a plan to get more Hispanic voters into the fold. A few months later a Republican national committee panel issued a report concluding, “We must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only.”
The President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Tom Donahue, recently said, “If the Republicans don’t do something positive towards immigration reform, they shouldn’t bother to run a candidate in 2016.”
Sen John McCain (R-Arizona) and the 2008 presidential nominee was even more blunt. He said that without action, “it doesn’t matter who we nominate.”
Even with this call for alarm, the Republicans in Congress have become even more strident and vocal in their approach to immigration. Those of us from the South find it difficult to understand and see the demographic changes in the United States, which has changed our political landscape. However, it is real.
In the 2016 presidential election, the Hispanic vote will likely total 16.5 percent of the American vote. Polling consistently indicates that if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee she garners 75 percent of the Hispanic vote against any GOP candidate.
You add to the mix that you are going to have a hotly contested GOP presidential contest with probably 12 viable well-financed candidates running negative ads against each other. They will more than likely not all kiss and makeup. This makes for a difficult mountain to climb for a Republican to sit in the White House after 2016.
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 | A search for the American conscience
Our response to the immediate crisis will surely determine our long-term destiny, and the collective conscience of “we the people” can be the moral force that brings about needed change.
A seemingly unstoppable virus, a sputtering economy and a cry for equal justice for Black citizens are trying the very soul of our nation. We stand at a time when the very conscience of our county and state is being tested in ways perhaps unimaginable just a few months ago.
Is there an American conscience?
Our government, our institutions and even who we are as a people are in question, and as with life in general, there are no easy answers.
Nearly 130,000 in the U.S. have lost their lives to COVID-19. In Alabama, almost 1,000 souls, and yet some of our citizens don’t even believe the virus exists, and if it does, some think it is not as bad as health professionals say.
Hospitals are being pushed to the brink, both physically and financially. While unemployment numbers are improving, there is a yet a steep hill to climb before fiscal solvency is restored to all Alabamians.
There are arguments over masks, fights over monuments and some are corrosively dismissive of the social injustice that disproportionately targets Black citizens.
The winds of change are blowing seeds of renewal; will they find a fallow ground or fall among the weeds and rocks?
Many of our citizens want the nation to remain in the past, a past that, for the most part, never existed. Others desire that the country move forward and fulfill its greatest promises.
Can a house divided stand?
This national crisis of moral conscience is where the dividing line is drawn.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Moral conscience, present at the heart of the person, enjoins him at the appropriate moment to do good and to avoid evil. It also judges particular choices, approving those that are good and denouncing those that are evil.”
In this rendering, it is as if an unseen umpire sits somewhere in our minds and judges our actions.
But if the conscience is formed from birth and as the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy suggests, “is like an empty box that can be filled with any type of moral content,” then our learning and understanding is the umpire and not some innate righteous force.
Is this why seemingly reasonable people see things so differently?
Take, for example, the Black Lives Matter movement. According to a recent CBS/YouGov poll, a majority of the American public, including more than half of white Americans, say they agree with the Black Lives Matter movement’s ideas.
The June CBS/YouGov survey also found a partisan divide exists on the issue with most Democrats and Independents supportive while a “large majority of Republicans say they disagree with the ideas expressed by the Black Lives Matter” and most Republicans also oppose the protests—though “one-quarter of Republicans join that majority of Democrats in supporting them.”
The poll is neither startling nor unimaginable and only confirms a divided nation.
The same schism can be found when individuals are polled about the new coronavirus and monuments.
Since individuals see things through entirely different apertures, is it possible to turn to a national conscience for resolution?
On December 23, 1776, Thomas Paine wrote, “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”
Paine was rallying the people of the American colonies to a revolution that would form a new nation with an aspirational promise of equality and unalienable rights, “that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
America just celebrated its 244th year of independence and the principles of the new nation were well-defined — even if not universally applied.
For Black Americans, the promise of the founding principles is yet unfulfilled.
Yes, the laws changed in the 60s, but there is still a long way to go in practice. Laws in themselves do not alter hearts and minds.
Alabama’s 1901 Constitution was written to deny equal access to justice for Black and poor Alabamians by keeping Montgomery as the power center from which all money and rights would flow. There have been changes but none so great as to amend the wrongs written into the state’s founding document.
A few short years ago, the state government passed a law that protected Confederate monuments that state lawmakers thought should be preserved as part of Southern heritage.
What monuments are revered speaks to national and local character. Is our character one that says we should honor those who sought to ensure the continuance of human bondage?
Should we honor those who preached and enforced segregation for political gain?
There is another way to look at statues and that is to realize that they are more reflective of the thinking at the time than the shrine itself.
If monuments are artifacts of the moment and not truthfully to honor history, then what they mean today is an open subject for debate.
Is the statue of Jefferson Davis on the Capitol grounds in Montgomery a symbol of who we are now or a reminder of who Alabama citizens were at the time it was erected?
This is not about erasing history but about recognizing monuments for what they are and acknowledging their meaning to all citizens.
The fact that most world religions warn against idols shouldn’t be lost in the moment either. Statues are tricky because heroes are almost always redefined by present events.
While nations should be built on laws alone, they are also made on myths and legends. But history has a way of exposing myths and bringing legends low.
Washington could tell a lie, Honest Abe was not always truthful, and under our current law application, some people are more equal than others. Should their memorials be removed because they were flawed? No
In his work “Adam Smith on the nature and authority of conscience,” Albert Shin argues, “there is a need to cultivate our conscience. We do so; I will argue, primarily through encountering diversity, which leads to disagreements, which prompt us to reevaluate how we judge others.”
Again the Catholic Church finds, “Faced with a moral choice, conscience can make either a right judgment in accordance with reason and the divine law or, on the contrary, an erroneous judgment that departs from them.”
Are we more divided than ever? Probably not.
Is there a way out of the present threefold dilemma? Yes.
Returning to our founding principles while understanding that they are for everyone is a start. But principles shouldn’t change with every election or be sacrificed to win one.
Indeed, King George III thought those who staged the Boston Tea Party were thugs and looters, set to overthrow the government.
No, they were ordinary citizens who saw injustice and launched a revolution.
Today, we do not see so much a call for revolution but a demand for evolution across a broad front of problems.
There is now a need for better respect for health and science, for our neighbors of all skin colors and a rethinking of the inequities of poverty.
Our response to the immediate crisis will surely determine our long-term destiny, and the collective conscience of “we the people” can be the moral force that brings about needed change.
Opinion | Somebody, please, take the lead
Just like Donald Trump on the national level, Gov. Kay Ivey has bungled containing the novel coronavirus COVID-19. Alabama is showing record cases and hospitalization levels.
But while Ivey extended the Safer-at-Home order though July 31, she didn’t add any new restrictions. The governor says requiring masks is simply too difficult to manage and enforce.
Nobody said fighting the virus would be easy. The problem is neither Ivey nor many other governors, along with the White House, didn’t really make containment much of a priority.
Testing is still inadequate, nearly a half-year after the pandemic started. Alabama’s first diagnosed case was March 13. Since then – as of Wednesday – Alabama has racked up more than 30,000 cases with more than 900 deaths. Nationally, there have been more than 2.6 million cases and nearly 130,000 deaths.
When the pandemic was young, Ivey responded well, ordering everybody to stay home except for essential workers. She did much better than the governors in the state’s surrounding Alabama. But just as with most states across the Southeast, after a few weeks Ivey’s resolve cracked. Like the governors of states like Georgia and Florida, which are also seeing a spike in infections and are setting records.
Ivey should tighten up the restrictions, including closing the state’s beaches over the July 4th weekend. Bars, gyms, and other places where large crowds gather, usually not social distancing and many without masks, should be restricted.
Yes, such measure will continue to cause economic pain, but such restrictions would slow the spread of the virus. We’ve already seen that not just in the United States, but across many parts of the world.
Ivey and health officials also need to increase testing and contact tracing.
Yes, all of that is difficult, but what are the consequences? More deaths. Just how many deaths are acceptable? Is it 1,000 (we’re almost there), or 2,000, or 5,000? Is any number unacceptable. It doesn’t suffice for elected officials to claim even one death is too many when, through their own actions, thousands and thousands have died in Alabama and across the nation.
And those numbers don’t include infected and once hospitalized patients who are left with permanent organ and lung damage.
Cities like Birmingham and Montgomery have mandatory mask laws, and they need to be enforced because a lot of people are going out without their masks. Still, there are many laws on the books that are difficult to enforce; that doesn’t mean those laws don’t have value. A statewide mandatory mask order if, nothing else, would lead more people to wear masks, plus it would give support to businesses who refuse to allow people inside without masks.
UAB is planning to bring students back on campus when the fall semester begins in late August, but there will be strict safety measures to follow, including wearing masks, social distancing, handwashing, and regular health checks.
Ivey says if the rate of cases and hospitalizations doesn’t slow, she’ll enact more stringent measures. But when she finally gets around to making those decisions, it could very well be too late.
Indeed, it may be too late already.
We’ve seen what indecisive leadership does during a pandemic. What we need to see – in Alabama and nationally – is a more determined response that helps put the virus in check. That includes mask wearing, increased testing, and contact tracing.
Every day that doesn’t happen, more people will get sick and die when they didn’t have to.
Opinion | GOP Senate runoff in less than two weeks
Folks, we are less than two weeks away from our election contest for our U.S. Senate seat. The runoff between former Senator Jeff Sessions and former Auburn football coach, Tommy Tuberville may be close and will be interesting.
The two conservatives were in a virtual dead heat in the March 3rd GOP primary. Congressman Bradley Byrne, the Republican U.S. Representative from the 1st District, primarily Mobile and Baldwin counties, finished a strong third.
The runoff was initially set for March 31. However, the coronavirus delayed the runoff until July 14. Therefore, the big question is how did the 15-week delay affect the runoff outcome. It is difficult to say. However, my guess is that it may have been a salvation for Sessions.
Most pundits and polls indicated that Coach Tuberville had the momentum and was set to win the runoff. The over three-month hiatus may have stymied if not thwarted that momentum the same way that football coaches call a timeout when the opposing team is driving toward a winning touchdown. It halts the Big Mo.
Amazingly, the entire campaign has been about Donald Trump and who can cozy up the most to the conservative Republican President. All three frontrunner candidates, Tuberville, Sessions and Byrne made their campaign pitches not about issues but who can be Trump’s buddy or valet.
Sessions and Byrne both had instances where they both had lapses in their obedience to the irrational and irascible Don, so Tuberville’s lack of playing time in the political arena made him the more perceptual slave for Trump.
Coach Tuberville’s entire campaign has been based on his being loyal to Trump. It has paid dividends. He led with 33 percent to Sessions 32 percent and Byrnes 25 percent. Indeed, as soon as the first primary was over in early March, Trump officially endorsed Tuberville. This endorsement propelled Tuberville into a nine-point lead in the polls in mid-March, which is when the pandemic hit and the election was delayed until July 14.
In the meantime, when the national economic virus shutdown subsided somewhat in mid-May, the campaign resumed. Trump again inserted himself into the Alabama GOP Senate race by blasting Sessions again with yet another vitriolic attack. Trump espoused that Sessions had asked him four times to be Attorney General. Finally, Sessions took up for himself and quickly retorted that he never asked Trump for the job.
Folks, I have watched Jeff Sessions’ career as our Junior U.S. Senator for 20 years and prior to that as Alabama’s Attorney General, and I am here to tell you that Jeff Sessions’ truth, veracity, and integrity trumps Trump by a country mile. Honesty, integrity, and truthfulness is not Trump’s forte. However, it has been Sessions’ his entre 30+ years in public service in Alabama.
In fact, Trump owed more to Sessions than naming him Attorney General. When Trump began his quest for the GOP nomination, he was given very little chance. Jeff Sessions’ endorsement as the nation’s most conservative senator gave the bombastic, egocentric New Yorker credibility and gave impetus to his race for the White House.
Actually, I said at the time that Sessions acquiescence to becoming Attorney General was a step down from being a veteran 20-year U.S. Senator and Chairman of the Judiciary Committee in a safe U.S. Senate seat. You can bet your bottom dollar he is now sorry he accepted the post. It is apparent he is not going to get Trump’s endorsement for obvious reasons. He would not break the law or do Trump’s bidding, so Trump hates him.
Trump has reaffirmed his endorsement of Tommy Tuberville. Historically, in Alabama politics, endorsements by one politician in another political race have not been advantageous. In fact, they have been counterproductive. Alabamians have inherently resented endorsements. However, in this case and in this race, my guess is that Trump is so popular among Republican voters in Alabama that his attacks on Sessions and endorsement of Tuberville will propel the coach to victory. In fact, polls show Tuberville with a double-digit lead. He has run a good campaign staying on point and simply saying, I am going to support Donald Trump.
Have a Happy 4th of July.
Opinion | The heavy weight of racist words
Oops! He did it again. Donald Trump just can’t pass up a chance to demonstrate how racist he is. We’ve known all along that Trump has a history of racism. This racism didn’t just show up when he decided to run for president in 2015.
Remember the Central Park 5, five young Black and Latino men who were charged with raping a woman in Central Park. Trump ran newspaper ads calling for them to get the death penalty. After the five spent some years in prison, they were exonerated when the real rapist confessed and his DNA matched that found at the crime scene.
To this day, Trump maintains that some in the group are guilty, and he refuses to apologize for the ads. Because he’s a racist.
Then there’s the birther movement, where Trump led conspiracy nuts to believe President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States. Obama was, of course, born in Hawaii. Still, Trump continues to denigrate Obama, and many of his followers still believe Obama is not a U.S. citizen. Because Trump is a racist.
And, of course, Trump has defended America’s racist heritage, arguing that statues of slave owners and Confederate monuments be preserved and not removed, as is happening more and more. Because Trump is a racist.
Trump isn’t reading the room very well. The majority of Americans, white and Black and brown and everything in between, want the racist monuments and statues removed. They do not want the Confederate battle flag — as much a symbol of hate as the Nazi Swastika — to be displayed.
Trump does, though. Because he’s a racist.
That’s just a few specific examples. But there are many others, including the language he uses, even today, at his rallies and in day-to-day exchanges with the media. Terms like “thugs” and “bad hombres” are never far from his lips.
Trump has no qualms about using racist language as an appeal to his base who, no doubt, appreciate the permission to show their own inbred racism as well.
Since the novel coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19), he’s added racist code words to his limited vocabulary to bash Asians. Attacks on Asian-Americans have increased says the Anti-Defamation League. U.S. Rep Judy Chu, D-California, said racism and xenophobia “against Asian Americans has surged as the coronavirus sweeps the U.S., with reports of hate crimes averaging approximately 100 per day,” according to Changing America.
This is not a little problem, especially in Birmingham, which has a small but thriving Asian population working both in research and medicine at UAB, as entrepreneurs and businesspeople, and as students at UAB. Birmingham has two sister cities in both China and Japan.
Still, Trump proudly displays his profound white supremacist character flaws by calling COVID-19 everything from the “China virus” and “Wuhan virus” to the really awful “Kung flu.” The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus denounces this terminology as dangerous to Asian Americans, Changing America reports.
But we don’t have to rely on caucuses and anti-hate organizations to see what’s up. I teach a large percentage of Asian students at UAB. They’ve seen the changes themselves.
“A lot of Asians felt the indirect consequences that were due to Trump’s word choices, especially when he called the coronavirus, ‘Chinese Virus,’” one student told me. “This label caused many non-Asians to see Asians – not just Chinese people – in a negative light, which led to Asians getting harassed, cursed at, and beat up in public places.”
Words have consequences, even the few words that Trump knows.
“Trump deliberately made the problem worse by blatantly attributing the coronavirus to China AND its people — ‘Chinese,’” the UAB student said. “Also, this became a greater issue for me because when Trump uses the word ‘Chinese,’ it doesn’t just affect the Chinese people but also Koreans like me. When the public sees the word ‘Chinese’ being used, they tend to overgeneralize to include other Asians, such as Koreans, Vietnamese, Japanese, Filipinos, and many more, because from what I have been told by many people in the past, all Asians look alike.”
In my years of teaching at UAB, my students have included Asians from all of these countries, and more. They are fine students and good souls.
“For me, it is truly disheartening to see someone with such great influence to carelessly speak before thinking about how using the word ‘Chinese’ could potentially affect other Asians, as well,” the UAB student said. “It hindered my living conditions because now I am more fearful of other people’s judgments when I am in public. Now, a carefree trip to the supermarket has turned into one where I have to willingly look out for my own safety and withstand potentially opposing perceptions of me, which Trump had a role in causing.”
My student should not have these worries when he goes out into the community. Neither should my African-American students. Nor my Latinx students. Nor any student. Nor any person. But they do.
Any national leader should work to bring us together, not split us into different factions or tribes, creating tensions between each of them.
Trump is definitely not that leader. Instead, he sanctions racism, tries to normalize it, but it’s not working, except within his racist base.
The trend now, since the Memorial Day murder of George Floyd and continued police violence against African-American men and people of color and, yes, even white protesters, is we may have reached a critical mass.
A milquetoast police reform bill like that proposed by overwhelmingly old, white Republicans in the U.S. Senate isn’t going to cut it anymore. The trite phrase “thoughts and prayers” isn’t even a beginning.
People want genuine reform: End the use of choke holds and such police violence, revise completely police department use-of-force policies, do away with no-knock warrants, redirect resources to agencies better equipped to deal with mental health issues that police have to respond to all the time. Demilitarize the police, and hold police officers accountable for their actions.
E.J. Bradford and his family certainly didn’t get justice when the police officer who shot him three times in the back at the Galleria on Thanksgiving night 2018 was never held accountable.
Systemic racism is real, and it permeates many institutions and police departments. When Trump demonizes Asian, Black and Latino people on a regular basis, it’s not going to get better. Those in our population who believe their whiteness alone makes them smarter and better than others are fooling themselves, and, frankly, they’re Donald Trump’s fools, too.