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Opinion | Once again, we dare defend our wrongs

Joey Kennedy

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By Joey Kennedy
Alabama Political Reporter

How many times is Alabama going to go down this well-traveled road? We’re like a Twilight Zone episode. Or many of them.

Our state is beautiful; the people generally are wonderful. We smile and say hi as we pass each other on the street.

Alabama is a great place to live, and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

But we’ve got a mean streak. Our state motto – “We Dare Defend Our Rights” – should, more accurately be: “We Dare Defend Our Wrongs.”

Alabama makes policies and law often based on prejudice. For most of the 20th Century, it was Jim Crow laws that discriminated against African-American citizens. It took the federal courts to make us do right.

We’ve had (and our state has defended) lawsuits against the prisons, mental health system, laws intended to keep women from deciding what to do with their bodies. We lose them all, spending no telling how much money along the way.

Alabama passed a draconian anti-immigration law a few years ago that chased a lot of immigrants, undocumented and otherwise, to other states. The federal courts dismantled that misguided law, but it cost taxpayers (and farmers, business owners, and others) with a loss of workers for a time.

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Probably the state’s most notorious politician, former Chief Justice Roy Moore, was thrown off the court two times for disobeying orders from higher courts. First, the Ten Commandments behemoth put Moore on the street, then Moore, after being elected again to the high court, refused to go along with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that legalized same-sex marriage.

Moore, along with being accused of molesting teen girls years ago as he ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate, projects a level of piousness that highlights the hypocrisy that surrounds him on so many levels. Moore clearly is the state’s most aggressive homophobe.

Maybe after his defeat in the Senate race, we’ve seen the last of Moore. We can hope.

But even as a state, we can’t shake institutional homophobia.

Some officials don’t want probate judges to issue any marriage licenses because if they do, they must also issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

And now, the American Civil Liberties Union, along with the ACLU of Alabama, are suing the state because it refuses to issue driver licenses to transgender residents unless they produce proof that they’ve had gender reassignment surgery.

Once again, the state is swimming against the tide. There are many reasons why a transgender person might not have the surgery, not the least of which is the cost.

But people should be able to be who they are, not how they were born. Only nine states restrict licenses to transgender people. Of course, Alabama is among them.

Why does it matter? If a man or woman identifies as the opposite sex, what interest does the state have of not issuing a driver license, an identification used for any number of purposes, including voting.

As Gabriel Arkles, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU correctly stated: “Transgender people, like all people, deserve to live their lives without the government compromising their privacy, safety, autonomy, dignity, or equality. All people have a right to make their own healthcare decisions free from government coercion. They have a right to keep their personal information private. They have a right not to endorse a message from the government with which they disagree. They have the right not to be discriminated against by the government for who they are. And in addition to endangering transgender people, Alabama’s policy — and other policies like it — violate the law.”

Seems Alabama, a deep South state, would be more in character as a live-and-let-live state. Why do we have such a terrible history of discrimination against many different peoples? What’s in it for us, except a bad national reputation?

Let’s stop being mean, and let’s quit daring to defend our wrongs.

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

 

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Opinion | GOP Senate runoff in less than two weeks

Steve Flowers

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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 15week 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 threemonth 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 ninepoint 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.

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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 4
th of July.


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 | The heavy weight of racist words

Joey Kennedy

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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.

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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 AfricanAmerican 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.

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

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Opinion | How has coronavirus affected Alabama politics?

Steve Flowers

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As we end the first half of 2020, there is no doubt that the coronavirus is the story of the year.  The coronavirus saga of 2020 and its devastation of the nation’s and state’s economic well-being may be the story of the decade.

How has the coronavirus affected Alabama politics?  The answer is negligibly, if at all. The Republican Primary runoff to hold the Junior U.S. Senate seat was postponed by the virus epidemic.  It is set for July 14, which is right around the corner.  The race between Tommy Tuberville and Jeff Sessions should be close and interesting.

The virus delay did affect this race in one regard, if the vote had been held on March 31 as planned, Coach Tuberville had the advantage and the momentum.  The almost four-month delay may have stymied that train. To what degree we will not know,until the votes are counted in three weeks.  Tuberville’s campaign has been totally based on his being loyal to Donald Trump.  

Both Sessions and Tuberville were given a golden opportunity to use the four-month hiatus to do some good old fashion one-on-one campaigning, if only by phone.  If one of them did it, it could make the difference.  We will soon see.  People still like to be asked personally for their vote.

The next elections will not be until 2022.  It will be a big year.  It is a gubernatorial year and there may very well be an open U.S. Senate Seat.  Senator Richard Shelby will be 88.  It would be a blessing beyond measure if he ran again.  However, at that age he may choose to retire. Governor Kay Ivey will be 78 in 2022.  She will more than likely not run for a second term.

The one development that has occurred during the virus saga is that Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth, has made it clear that he will be running for governor in 2022.  If it were not apparent before, it is obvious now. He inserted himself into the coronavirus episode.  In many instances he appeared to usurp the center stage from Governor Ivey.

The young Lt. Governor first urged aggressive public health response, differing from Governor Ivey’s.  She made a comment about his out of nowhere position.  She then forgave him and gave him a position on one of her many meaningless task force bodies.

Ainsworth then changed courses and tweeted that the state’s businesses should reopen prior to the Governor’s recommended date.  She seemed undeterred nor miffed by his second assertion of his policy position. Having been around Alabama politics a lot longer than Ainsworth, she may be savvy enough to know that she is giving him just enough rope to hang himself.

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Kay cut her political teeth campaigning for Lurleen Wallace for Governor in 1966.  That was 15 years before Ainsworth was born in 1981.  I doubt he knows of a similar scenario that played out 50 years ago where a Lt. Governor got too big for his britches and overly and overtly tried to play Governor.

George Wallace had won his second term as Governor in 1970.  If you count Lurleens 1966 victory, it would be his third straight gubernatorial victory.  He was running for President in 1972 and was gunned down by a crazed assassin in a Maryland Parking lot.  He was near death from the multiple wounds and had to be hospitalized in Maryland for three to four months.  It was a miracle he survived.

Another young Lt. Governor Jere Beasley had been elected to the post in 1970, primarily because the Wallace people had supported him. Beasley seemed to insert himself overtly as governor during Wallace’s bedridden absence.  The Governor’s people actually had to fly him back home from his recovery for a day so that he could remain governor.  

Folks never seemed to forgive Beasley for this ambitious assertion of power.  In his next race for reelection as lieutenant governor, Beasley trailed Charles Woods in the first primary and barely won the runoff. Four years later, in the monumental 1978 Governor’s race which Fob James ultimately wonLt. Governor Jere Beasley finished in fifth place, even though he spent lots of money.

Speaking of money, losing the 1978 Governor’s race was the best thing that ever happened to Jere Beasley.  He began practicing law in Montgomery and became one of the most prominent Plaintiff lawyers in America.  He and his wife, Sarah, have had a much happier and prosperous life out of politics.

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. He may be reached at
www.steveflowers.us.

 

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Opinion | Admitting error is not a sign of weakness

Josh Moon

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We would be so much better off with more Glen Pruitts in the political world. 

There are, right now, dozens of people laughing at that sentence. Because they know Pruitt. They know of his history on the Montgomery City Council, his gaffes and unrefined explanations. They know about his rendition of “Strokin’” on stage at a New Year’s Eve in downtown Montgomery several years ago. 

Basically, they know the Glen Pruitt that I know: A goofball. 

But here’s the other thing I know — and what the state and, I guess, the country got to see on Wednesday afternoon: Glen Pruitt is a decent man who wants to do what’s right and who wants to listen to the other side. 

And if he is wrong, he will say so.

That’s what Pruitt did Wednesday during a press conference with Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed. A day after Pruitt had joined three other councilmen in voting down a citywide mask ordinance — and after several hours of hearing from his constituents and speaking to doctors — he stood in front of the cameras and said the three words that I thought were forbidden in 2020 politics. 

I was wrong. 

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“I was near-sighted,” Pruitt said. “I didn’t see the big picture. I should have listened to the doctors who were at the meeting. I was wrong.”

Reed followed by noting what a better world this would be if more people adopted Pruitt’s mindset. And ain’t that the damn truth. 

In many ways, Glen Pruitt is what a politician is supposed to be — an individual with flaws and shortcomings who represents the people of his district the best he can. Sometimes, he screws up. Sometimes, he doesn’t get it exactly right. 

But that’s life. That’s how a representative government is supposed to work. 

It’s not supposed to be filled with wealthy men and women who all think, speak and vote one of two ways on every single issue, always parroting the proper talking points and dispatching staff to take constituent complaints. 

Sometimes, the person best suited to represent a group of people is the guy who runs a small lawncare business — and actually cuts grass himself every day — and who everyone knows and talks with on an almost daily basis. A guy who isn’t interested in climbing the political ladder, but is interested in learning about complicated issues and the best ways to address them, even if his methods and initial approaches are often clumsy and wrong.

That’s Pruitt. 

I’ve known the man now for going on 20 years, ever since I used to torture him playing pickup basketball at a Montgomery YMCA. We don’t agree on much politically. And I’ll be honest and say that when I heard Pruitt had won a seat on the council, I did check to make sure it was the same Glen Pruitt. 

Pruitt has represented District 8 in Montgomery for going on 20 years now. He has rarely faced a challenger, and never faced a serious challenge. 

He has faced controversy. 

Wednesday wasn’t the first time Pruitt apologized publicly and admitted he was wrong on an issue. It also wasn’t the first time that he publicly changed his mind on an issue. 

In the summer of 2016, there was major uproar in one of Pruitt’s neighborhoods — a group of Muslims, including a well respected doctor in town, wanted to build a mosque on a piece of property it had purchased. 

Pruitt was asked by a local TV station for his thoughts, and he said: “This is the greatest nation that we live in but also we have concerns about people that are not like us. It’s just the way that it is.” 

The next day, after his comments were, rightfully, not taken very well, Pruitt apologized and said this to me: “Sometimes, I don’t say things the way I intend, and the way that came out wasn’t how I meant it. I was just describing why it was controversial to people. Because people fear things they don’t know about and people they don’t know. 

“I am as ignorant on the Muslim religion as you can be, but I want to learn. I want to talk to people and understand why there’s an issue and why these other people are saying there shouldn’t be an issue.”

You see what I mean? That level of self-deprecating honesty is rare in all of life. In politics, it’s basically non-existent. 

Now, look, I know that as sure as I’m writing this, I will be flooded with examples of Pruitt saying goofy things, cussing too much and singing dumb songs. But you can save it. I’ve already said we don’t agree on much politically. And all of those other flaws are the point of this. 

We’ve reached a point in American politics where it is impossible to admit error or apologize. The president of the United States, on a daily basis, says at least 10 false things, and then, when provided evidence that they’re false, he doubles down. And this is considered acceptable. 

In the meantime, every political consultant working will tell you that what Pruitt did was a bad move. Admitting error is a sign of weakness. Apologizing is a flaw. 

It sure didn’t seem that way on Wednesday.

 

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