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Politics as Usual

Steve Flowers

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INSIDE THE STATEHOUSE
by Steve Flowers

As our primary selection day approaches, it appears that we are seeing significant campaign attention from the presidential candidates. The move by the legislature to make us an early primary state was a good one.

As is generally the case, we are seeing negative ads. That is not unusual in politics. The reason that they are employed is because they work. Otherwise, the media consultants would not use them. Therefore, this is not a different approach. However, the unique factor in this year’s presidential contest is who is paying for the ads.

The disparaging attacks are being paid for by Super PACs and not directly by the candidates’ campaigns. These shadow campaign organizations have been created by a federal campaign loophole. They allow a candidate to organize a PAC with an innocuous name that allows them to circumvent the federal campaign contribution threshold and spend unlimited amounts of money. These Super PACs are created to allow wealthy individual contributors to write very big checks. Thus, in essence it allows the super-rich to control the Super PACs and have a super-size say on who sits in the oval office.

These Super PACs created for deep pocketed supporters are supposed to operate separately from campaigns but in this presidential contest the lines have become very blurred. The rules on what amounts to coordination have been so narrowly defined that Super PACs and candidates’ campaigns appear to be one in the same.

Federal Election Commission records reveal a good amount of correlation. Super PACs are paying staffers before they shift to campaign payrolls and individuals and groups are writing checks to the same vendors. Super PACs and other outside organizations have sponsored nine of every ten political ads aired this year.

Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, has appeared at fundraisers for a pro-Clinton Super PAC called Priorities USA Action. It is well documented that GOP candidate, Jeb Bush, delayed his presidential announcement by several months to allow his Super PAC, Right to Rise, to raise money. Right to Rise raised $103 million for Bush, while the Jeb Bush official campaign collected $11 million.

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Last year’s surprise announcement by GOP House Speaker John Boehner to resign gave rise to the selection of a new speaker. Paul Ryan the 45-year-old Wisconsin Congressman, who was a former vice presidential candidate, appears to be a good choice. Ryan comes across as sincere and well intentioned. He comes across as direct, confident but not cocky or abrasive. He strikes you as someone who is doing the job for the right reasons. He obviously is living within his means on his congressional salary. He sleeps in his office rather than opting for an apartment or swanky Georgetown residence.

For years it was thought that being a governor was not only the best training ground for president but also the best stepping stone. That has not been the case this year. In a record size Republican field the first two horses to fade and fail were Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Texas Governor Rick Perry.

It has instead been a year for outsiders. The GOP field has been led by completely inexperienced political novices. Celebrity billionaire Donald Trump, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, and former CEO Carly Fiorina have stolen the show. These three political newcomers have never won an election or even run for public office.

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It appears that Donald Trump is poised to carry Alabama next week. He leads overwhelmingly in the polls and has garnered a good cadre of political face cards who have rallied to the frontrunner. Perry Hooper, Jr., a well-known establishment Republican figure, heads his campaign. Hooper is joined by State Representatives Jim Carnes, Tim Wadsworth, Ed Henry, and Barry Moore.

It will be interesting to see the outcome. Many national political experts predict that Trump may falter prior to the GOP nomination convention. They believe that at the end of the day the 2016 Republican nominee will be someone who actually has held office. Conventional prognosticators predict that Florida Senator Marco Rubio or Texas Senator Ted Cruz will ultimately be the nominee. We will see.

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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Opinion | Open Seat for the 2nd Congressional District will be decided in March

Steve Flowers

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Over the course of history, the second congressional district has been referred to and considered a Montgomery congressional district because the Capital City has comprised the bulk of the population.  In recent years a good many Montgomerians have migrated to the suburban counties of Autauga and Elmore.  Therefore, the district has been refigured to reflect this trend.  Today there are more Republican votes cast in this congressional district in these two counties than from Montgomery.  

Nevertheless the bulk of the population is in what is now referred to as the River Region.  This Montgomery region is coupled with Southeast Alabama and the Wiregrass, which makes it a very conservative Congressional district.  It is a Republican seat and has been since Bill Dickinson won it in the southern Republican Goldwater landslide of 1964.

Bill Dickinson beat longtime sitting Congressman George Grantin 1964, and became the first Republican to be elected since Reconstruction.  Congressman Dickinson stayed in the seat for 28 years.  He rose to be the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee.  Through his influence, not only were the vital military bases Maxwell/Gunter in Montgomery and Ft. Rucker in the Wiregrass – enhanced, he was also instrumental in bringing Lockheed and Sikorsky plants to the district.  Over the past 100 years, Dickinson has had the most profound effect for the district.

Businessman Terry Everett won the seat in 1992 upon Dickinson’s retirement.  He was the first and only Wiregrass person to hold that seat.  Everett served with distinction for 16 years, through 2008.  He was a stalwart Republican and very conservative.

The current Congressional person is Martha Roby, a Republican from Montgomery.  After 10 years in Congress, she said she had enough and chose to not run for reelection this year which leaves the open seat up for grabs.  It is a Republican seat, therefore, the winner of the March 3rd primary and probable March 31 GOP runoff, will go to Washington for at least two years.  

The probable winner of that congressional seat will be Dothan businessman, Jeff Coleman.  He is 53 and has not only been successful running his family’s worldwide moving business, hehas been active civically in the Wiregrass. He is at the right time in life to serve in Washington.  His profile is the prototypical scenario for being elected to a Republican Congressional or Senate seat.  Congressional campaign fundraising limits coupled with the fact that Washington PACs do not get involved in primaries but wait until the General Election to place their bets, favors a wealthy candidate.  

Coleman has his own money and dedicated $2 million to the race.  He has followed through on his promise to spend that amount.  Amazingly, he has raised another $1 million.  When all is said and done, he will probably have spent close to $3 million to win this seat in Congress.  Just outspending his challengers by a 10 to 1 amount would be sufficient to win.  However, he has not only spent more than all the others combined, he has outworked them.  He is affable and confident in an unassuming way.  People seem to like him.  He will win.

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If Coleman had not entered the race, former Attorney General Troy King would have been favored to win.  Having run several times and being a native of the Wiregrass, King had some inherent name identification.  He has been hampered in this race by lack of fundraising.  However, if there is a runoff, King will more than likely be Coleman’s opponent in the March 31 GOP runoff.

Former Enterprise State Representative Barry Moore ran a gallant race against Martha Roby a couple of years ago and got a good vote, most of which came out of Coffee County. He may not do as well in the Wiregrass this time.

There is a dashing young candidate named Jessica Taylor, who is running a good campaign focused on getting free publicity on Fox News as a youthful female candidate.

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Whichever candidate wins the seat, there is no question as towhich congressional committees they should aspireAgriculture and Armed Services because this district is highly dependent on military spending and farming.

Sadly, the winner will probably not have a long tenure in Congress.  Alabama is probably going to lose a Congressional seat after this year’s census count.  The logical seat to be altered and probably merged with the current third and first district is the second district.

Folks, the primary election is less than two weeks away.

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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Opinion | It’s time for Alabama Democrats to learn from Alabama Republicans

Josh Moon

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Democrats never seem to learn from Republicans. 

All around the country, and all around the state of Alabama, Democrats are still playing by the rules. Still listening to the cries and outrage from the other side. Still entertaining the idea that compromise and diplomacy are important to Republicans on some level. 

Still watching Lucy jerk that football away at the last moment. 

It’s time that stopped. 

It is time — actually, well past time — for Democrats to adopt the attitudes of their GOP colleagues, and just do whatever the hell you want to do. 

Whatever goal you set, go achieve it. Whatever policy is important, implement it. Whatever action you believe is right, take it. 

This is how Republicans have governed now for years. It is how they have wrestled control of the U.S. Supreme Court — just don’t hold a hearing for a duly appointed candidate — and how they have stolen elections — keep blocking attempts to secure elections. It is how they control half of Congress — thanks, gerrymandering! — despite representing nearly 20 million fewer people and how they have managed to offset a growing minority vote — put up every roadblock short of a poll tax. 

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In Alabama, it has how they adopted the AAA act to funnel tax money to private schools — just completely rewrite the bill in the dead of night — and how they passed the most restrictive abortion ban — just ignore promises and public opinion. It is how they have stopped attempts to pass gambling legislation — by straight up lying about the law — and how they have steadily cut into ethics laws — pretend that no one can understand the laws they wrote themselves — and how a House Speaker convicted on 12 felonies still isn’t in prison three years later — just don’t send him. 

They don’t care. 

About rules. About the law. About public perception. About basic decency. 

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And it’s time for Democrats, especially in Alabama, to adopt the same attitudes. 

Because if Republicans can behave this way to implement racist bills and roll back ethics laws and protect the income of the elites, then Democrats shouldn’t think twice about doing it to protect rural hospitals or new mothers’ health or workers’ rights or decent public schools. 

Now, this will be a big change for Democrats, so let me explain how this would look in practice, using the ongoing saga of Confederate monuments. 

Republicans shoved through an absurd bill last year that protects the state’s monuments to those who fought to enslave other human beings, and they’re shocked — shocked and outraged — that African Americans in Alabama might find it offensive to honor the men who enslaved their ancestors. 

The bill they passed last year was a dumb bill, right down to the portion which levied a fine on cities if those cities removed or damaged a monument. The bill completely screwed up the fines portion, failing to penalize cities for moving or damaging monuments over 40 years old and failing to place a per-day fine on those cities. Instead, the Alabama Supreme Court said the cities would be subject to one $25,000 fine. 

Birmingham has a monument that it desperately wants to move. It has already boarded up the monument in Linn Park, and the ALSC, in the same ruling, ordered the boards to come down. 

And this is the first opportunity for Mayor Randall Woodfin to approach this with a new attitude. 

Tear it down. 

Write out one of those big “Price is Right” checks for $25,000, hold a press conference and award that money to Steve Marshall like he just won at Plinko. 

At the same time, workers should be taking that monument apart piece by piece and moving it to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, where it can be viewed for its historical significance instead of serving to honor traitors and racists. 

No apologies. No shame. Don’t even entertain their complaints. 

A similar approach should be taken by the city of Montgomery in regards to its occupational tax, which Republicans are attempting to stop through legislative action. 

Montgomery is going broke, and it can’t put enough cops on the streets. Part of that is because every day about 70,000 people flood into the city to go to work, and then they leave each afternoon and spend their money in — and give their tax dollars to — surrounding cities and counties. 

Montgomery has to do something to offset the costs, so an occupational tax has been proposed. But just as quickly as it was, the ALGOP — the kings of handouts to people who don’t need them — passed a bill to block it. 

So, some creativity is required.

Instead of an occupational tax, pass a public safety tax. 

If you work within the city limits of Montgomery, but live outside of those city limits, your paycheck will now be taxed an extra 1 percent to offset the cost of the police and fire services that you might use while in the city every day. 

No apologies. No shame. Don’t listen to GOP complaints. 

It’s a shame that things have to be like this, but they do. Democrats have tried for decades to force rational debate and to promote the value of compromise. Those pleas have fallen on deaf ears, which have been attached to toddler-like brains that have justified atrociously selfish behaviors and awful governance. 

At this point, it has gone on so long and been so successful for Republicans, the only thing that might break through is a taste of their own medicine. 

Give it to them.

 

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Opinion | Facts are stubborn things

Joey Kennedy

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I’m in my 20th year of teaching in the English Department at UAB. I’ve never taught my primary discipline, journalism, and I really don’t have much of a desire to, either.

Yet, in 2017, the leadership of UAB’s University Honors Program asked me to be a part of their interdisciplinary faculty for the fall. UHP’s fall semesters are themed, and that year, the first year of Donald Trump’s term as president, the theme was appropriate: “Evidence and Belief in a Post-Truth Society.” For UHP, I was a “communications” (journalism) professor. I taught with a scientist and public health professor, a religion professor, a philosophy professor, a literature professor and a psychology professor.

The students in this program – all 100-plus of them – are among the smartest students on campus. Needless to say, I was intimidated. For my first lecture before the students, I took a Xanax (it’s prescribed because I do have anxiety sometimes). The Xanax didn’t make me lecture better, but it made me not really care if I screwed up.

I’m sort of a one-trick pony – I teach and write in the only language I know: English. Here, you had neuroscience and biology and chemistry majors galore. And, yes, there were a few English and history and business and engineering students, too. Pretty much every discipline taught at UAB is represented in UHP, and certainly in its umbrella school, the UAB Honors College.

That fall went by quickly. I only took the Xanax for the first lecture. I settled into my groove pretty quickly. But when it was over, I ached for the continued intellectual stimulation I received as a teacher. I’m a lifetime learner, and that program taught me a lot. And I got to teach others a lot, too.

I thought it was a one-shot deal. Until, that is, the program’s director, Dr. Michael Sloane, asked me to return in the fall of 2018 to direct the first-year students’ literary analyses. And that fall, I was also asked to propose a UHP seminar class for the spring of 2020. I returned last fall to once again direct the first-year literary analysis. And I’ve been asked to return for first-year LAs again this coming fall.

This semester, I’m teaching the class I proposed, “Media and Social Justice.” And I’ve already got another self-created UHP seminar class scheduled for next spring, “Media and War: Men and Women Making a Difference on the Front Lines.”

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Unlike my composition and literature classes in the English Department, these seminars have no template. I have to create the teaching as I go. Some days, I’m very confident; others not so much.

I divided the “Media and Social Justice” class into six two-week units: Nellie Bly (mental illness and investigative journalism), The Jungle (food safety and immigration), Jim Crow Lives (the civil rights era and voter suppression), #MeToo (sexual assault and harassment), Black Lives Matters (police and other shootings of people of color), and March for Our Lives (gun violence and sensible gun regulation).

These classes are limited to 16 honors students, but 19 students wanted in my “Media and Social Justice” class, so I have 19 students.

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I teach these classes as a communications professor, not an English professor. I direct the literary analyses as a literature professor, not a communications professor.

We’re covering historical topics, for sure, but also contemporary topics. It doesn’t get any more current than Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, voter suppression, or March for Our Lives.

We don’t just talk about the journalism around these topics, but also about other media. For example, I find protest songs for each topic. While it’s not on our plate, did you know Trump has inspired a whole catalog of protest songs? Most every president inspires protest songs, though Trump has inspired an awful lot of them.

Maybe at some point, I’ll create a “Media and Donald J. Trump” class. There is plenty of material.

The point, though, is that we all should be lifelong learners. I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned from by English students and my honors students, how much the English faculty has taught me, and how much the faculty and directors of the University Honors Program have taught me.

That I get to return the favor by teaching these unique classes says a lot about UAB, and how it values critical thinking and learning.

I hope I never lose my enthusiasm for learning, or become too stubborn to change when the facts point toward another direction. That is our responsibility to the truth. I guess I am stubborn in one way: There are no alternative facts. Facts are truth, reality. The alternative is false, untruth, lies.

Readers, that’s a fact, and like me sometimes, facts are stubborn.

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

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Deception, subtlety and the wholesale destruction of current ethics laws mark proposed rewrite

Bill Britt

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Legislation proposed by Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison, would radically alter the existing State Ethics Act rendering it useless as an effective tool to regulate the behavior of public officials, much less prosecute a rouge lawmaker.

Testifying at a pre-trial hearing in the criminal case against then-Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard in April 2015, Ball said the ethics laws needed amending to avoid prosecutions like Hubbard’s in the future.

If HB179 becomes law, Ball will have fulfilled the words he spoke at the Lee County Court House, where Hubbard was tried and convicted.

As House Ethics Committee Chair, Ball has sought to change the State’s Act since Hubbard was indicted.

Ball’s bill is subtly written from an enforcement and trial perspective to neuter the law.

Words are added, deleted, and meanings changed in ways that might look harmless but actually open the door for the kind of corruption Republicans vowed to change in 2010, when they passed the toughness in the nation’s ethics laws.

Beyond changes that would allow for general corruption to go unpunished, Ball’s legislation would strip the Attorney General and district attorneys of their power to prosecute anyone who violates the ethics laws without first securing approval from the State Ethics Commission.

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All prosecution of any public official would first have to be approved by the Ethics Commission, a group that has repeatedly shown that it bends its decisions according to the prevailing political winds.

HB179 reads in part, “This bill would prohibit the Attorney General or a district attorney from presenting a suspected ethics violation by an individual subject to the code of ethics, other than a member or employee of the commission, to a grand jury without a referral by the commission.”

In other words, Ball would have a politically-appointed commission decide if law-enforcement agencies can seek indictments against wrongdoers.

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Neither the Attorney General or a county district attorney can even impanel a grand jury in an ethics probe without the commission first finding probable cause.

Some of Ball’s alterations come in the form of removing whole sections of the law under the guise of redefining words, like “a thing of value” or “widely attended event.”

An example of how Ball’s legislation plays with the law is under the section of code, which defines a family member of a public official. Currently, a family member is “[t]he spouse, a dependent, an adult child and his or her spouse, a parent, a spouse’s parents, a sibling and his or her spouse, of the public official.” Ball changes it so it only includes a spouse and a dependent. That means that a public official may act to enrich his adult children, a parent, an in-law a brother, or a sister. These small but destructive alterations to the law are at the heart of Ball’s legislation.

Some loopholes are so extensive that a sitting legislator could be paid by a city or county governmental economic development entity and still seat in the Legislature voting on bills that might directly affect his consulting client.

Out-of-state junkets make a comeback as do several other goodies lawmakers have been desiring.

It seems Republicans want to cash in on the rewards of office like Democrats did once upon a time.

One thing is clear, Ball didn’t write the bill, but whoever did knew precisely what they were doing and were probably paid handsomely for their efforts.

There are so many cunningly deceptive changes to the ethics laws in Ball’s bill as to make it impossible to catch them all without days of intense study—and perhaps a team of lawyers.

Ball, one of Hubbard’s most an ardent defenders has said Hubbard’s indictment and conviction was a political witch hunt. He has said he wants to rewrite the ethics laws to save future Hubbards; it now looks as if he has.

 

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