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Opinion | Inside the Statehouse: Breaking down the governor’s race

Steve Flowers

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When talk turns to politics in Alabama, it usually leads to the Governor’s race. In Alabama politics, the Governor’s office is the Brass Ring. It is talked about more than anything else around coffee clubs and kitchen tables from Sand Mountain to the Wiregrass. It is comparable to college football being the king of all sports in Alabama.

This infatuation with the Governor’s office is borne out in voting history. In most states the Presidential race sees the largest voter turnout, but that is not the case in Alabama where we have historically voted more heavily in gubernatorial years. Governor race years also have most of the important local offices up for grabs. “All politics is local.”

Kay Ivey enters the race as the favorite. She is the quasi incumbent having taken over the ship of state this time last year from beleaguered and tarnished Governor Dr. Robert Bentley. She probably would have gone to the house with her dog Bear with the plaudits of having served two terms as State Treasurer and two terms as Lt. Governor, which is not a bad legacy. However, now she can add Governor to her epitaph.

Kay has been around Alabama politics for quite a while. She has been thought of as vibrant over the years.  However, recently her demeanor and appearance belies the fact that she is only 73. This premature aging becomes apparent when she gets out campaigning and speaking. This elderly resonance and cognizance will not detract from her being elected to a full term. However, if I were running her campaign, I would limit her appearances. They should keep her in the Governor’s office and use photos from a few years back and take credit for the upturn in the economy. Her support is a mile wide and an inch deep. A slip and fall could derail her train.

My first term in the Legislature was George Wallace’s last term as Governor and to say he was incoherent would be an understatement. He was on heavy doses of medication to alleviate the constant pain he had to endure from the bullet wounds from an assassination attempt while he was running for President in 1972. Therefore, Kay’s slowness does not deter her from being elected or from probably doing a better job than most governors we have had.

My observation over the past 50-years is that we really do not have to have a fulltime governor of Alabama.  Big Jim Folsom was drunk his entire second term, George Wallace was on pain pills his last term and did not know where he was, Fob James was totally disinterested in being governor his second term and went duck hunting the whole time. They put Don Siegelman and Guy Hunt in jail.  Poor ole Bentley fell in love at 72 like a little school boy and walked around with a glazed look in his eyes and sheepish grin, and lost all sense with reality. They kicked the poor old fellow to the curb. Kay came on board and seems to have steadied the ship of state.

Kay’s most daunting opponent is Huntsville mayor, Tommy Battle, who is actually responsible for the largest economic development announcement for the state in the past several years. The landing of the Toyota-Mazda plant in Huntsville several months ago was a real coup. Battle is 61 and has been Mayor of Huntsville for over 10 years. Some would argue that if he could do half of what he has done for Huntsville for the State of Alabama, he would be the best Governor Alabama has had in generations.

Mayor Battle has raised a lot of money and will come out of the vote rich Tennessee Valley with a strong base of support. He may give Kay a run for her money.

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Birmingham Evangelist, Scott Dawson, is hoping to garner the evangelical vote. He is running a spirited campaign and could be a factor.

State Senator Bill Hightower from Mobile is somewhat of an aloof fellow, who will probably not be a factor.

Whoever wins the Republican nomination will be favored to win the race in November. The odds favor a Republican 57-to-43.

However, you have two formidable thoroughbreds vying for the Democratic nomination. Former Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb and Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox will fight it out for the nod in the June 5th Primary. There probably will not be a runoff. Either Cobb or Maddox will win outright depending on which way Alabama’s African American voters land. Most observers predict that Walt Maddox will prevail. He is 45 and has been Mayor of Tuscaloosa for 10 years.

Being mayor of a major city is probably the best training ground for governor.

See you next week.

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Josh Moon

Opinion | In Alabama, we just keep spinning in the same, sad circle

Josh Moon

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If you don’t learn from history, you will be doomed to repeat it. 

Just ask Alabama. 

We’re to the point now in this state where we don’t actually have new events, just new ways to relive the same awful things we did in the past. 

Look at this week. 

There’s a protest in a major city — this time in Huntsville. Cops respond with an absurd show of force and violence — using tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets against a peaceful crowd. There is national outrage over the images and injuries that result. 

The cops then claim there were “outside anarchists” (the 2020 version of “outside agitators) and they had no choice, because they knew where things were headed (even though there had been no violence or other problems in the previous five hours). The state attorney general “investigates” with a single phone call and backs up the cops without so much as interviewing a single individual who attended the protest. 

Tah-dah. Alabama “justice” is served. 

I think I know what comes next. Because it came next the last several times this same thing happened, with these same responses and this same embarrassment. 

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Some 30 years or so from now, there’ll be a movie or pictures in a history book. Alabama’s people will be portrayed as the ignorant, backwards racists they are. 

Do these people really not see it? Can they not hear themselves? Do they not understand how history will view them? 

Because it’s not hard to figure it out. We’ve all watched the movies and read the books. 

They can pretend it’s not that bad — that they’re right about their decisions to arbitrarily spray tear gas at peaceful protesters and shoot them with rubber bullets. They can attempt to justify that violence against peaceful American citizens by claiming the whole protest was illegal — simply because they said so.  

But it all sounds so stupidly familiar. 

To Alabama State Trooper Maj. John Cloud. Cloud stood at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965, as a group of black protesters planning to march from Selma to Montgomery neared the gathered throng of state troopers. That’s when Cloud began ordering them to stop. 

“You are hereby ordered to disperse,” Cloud yelled at the marchers. “I am saying that this is an unlawful assembly. You are ordered to disperse. This march will not continue.”

A day later, in a “Face the Nation” interview, Gov. George Wallace blamed the incident on “outside agitators” and held up newspapers to show that riots were occurring in other states, and police were using force in those cities. 

Remember those words. 

On Thursday, Huntsville Police Chief Mark McMurray and Madison County Sheriff Kevin Turner held a press conference at which they praised themselves and their departments for the response. 

During that press conference, Turner said this: “We gave them the order that this is unlawful — I gave it three or four different times. At that point, you’ve seen what’s going on around the country. Do y’all want that done to your town? We don’t want that done to our town.”

McMurray said: “It was an unauthorized protest against government. That’s what anarchists do. These were non-peaceful agitators. They, by their refusal to obey a lawful order, brought this on themselves.”

Striking, no? 

Now, look, I’m not saying that what happened in Huntsville approaches the level of injustice that took place in Selma 55 years ago, or that the result of the Huntsville debacle will lead to grand changes or even be remembered 10 years from now. 

But I am saying that what we’re witnessing in this country right now is a massive shift — a reckoning the likes of which we haven’t seen in those 55 years. Big changes are coming, finally, to right a whole lot of wrongs and make life much more palatable for a whole lot of people. 

And it’s striking that the same language and attitudes that dominated Alabama back in 1965 — the language and attitudes we all wince at when we hear them in movies or see them in footage from those days — are remarkably similar to what we’re hearing from police chiefs, sheriffs, mayors and state leaders around Alabama. 

Not all of them, but enough that it should embarrass the hell out of us, because here we are again doing the same things, having learned nothing at all from a half-century of shame. 

The people gathered in Huntsville weren’t a problem. They were never going to be a problem. They were in that park to stand up for themselves and their fellow Americans, to protest injustice and racism. 

They weren’t there because they don’t care about America or Alabama or Huntsville. They were there because they do care. 

They see an America that is unfair and uncaring. They see an America that kicks the little guy and pays no attention to laws or constitutional rights. They see an America where minorities — and those who stand up for minorities — routinely get the shaft and no one says a damn word about it unless it’s caught on video. 

And what happened Wednesday night proved them right.

 

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Opinion | Racism: Victims on both sides

Jim Allen

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I’ve just seen this Anniston Star photo of the June 3rd George Floyd “protest” march in Heflin. As you can see, a very mixed crowd, black and white, young and old, all peaceful. But serious. What especially got my attention was that sign a lead marcher is holding, the big print saying “Stop Hate, Teach Love.” And the fine print from Nelson Mandela explaining: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin . . .”

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Would this apply to Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis policemen who killed George Floyd? The man’s very name suggests he was somehow “to the manner (if not the manor) born.”

“Chauvin” is a French family name. We get the term “chauvinism” from Nicolas Chauvin, a French army officer of the new Republic and later under Napoleon who was notorious for his excessive, extreme patriotism, and portrayed as such in popular drama of the time. So our English term “chauvinism” means “irrational and extreme belief in the superiority or dominance of one’s own cause, group, race, sex, nation etc.” It’s used most often in academic writing, in plain language “Us vs Them-ism,” seeing the ”them” as enemies. As in violent racism.

So, was Derek Chauvin born a violent racist?

I don’t think so. I’ve searched the internet for photos of him as an infant or young child, looking for clues to his childhood development, hoping to see if he looked happy, or angry, or sad. I didn’t find any photos at all.

But I persist in believing that human infants are born with various kinds of potential. But with a bias toward “playing well with others,” since ours is after all a gregarious species. So a child who grows up wanting to hurt or kill others must have come under the influence of – or perhaps we could say was infected by the virus of – something like chauvinism. In an important sense, then, another victim.

Not that it’s wrong to be very angry about what Derek Chauvin did, not that he shouldn’t be prosecuted and punished under the law. But as we mourn the death of George Floyd, let’s also grieve for the child Derek who was taught hate instead of love, that hurting child who may still be hiding inside this man.

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The sign says “Teach love.” I’m afraid the hardest part is learning love, shaking off that viral Us vs Them disposition to see enemies everywhere. I like what contemporary Buddhist spiritual leader Thich Nhat Hanh declares: “No person is the enemy.” But didn’t we get the same advice two thousand years ago from Jesus? – “Love your neighbor – no exceptions!

We are all in this together.

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Opinion | What happened in Huntsville Wednesday night was disgraceful

Josh Moon

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Law enforcement officers in Huntsville assaulted dozens of people Wednesday night following a peaceful protest and march. 

This is the accurate description of what took place in Huntsville. 

I don’t care what you heard on “the news” or what you read on Facebook or Twitter. That’s what happened. 

Following a peaceful protest downtown — for which the NAACP obtained a permit, because it planned to block traffic — dozens of protesters, gathered to speak out about police brutality of black citizens in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, began to march around the downtown area. 

This is their right. It is guaranteed by the U.S. constitution. 

Contrary to popular belief, and according to legal guidance posted by the American Civil Liberties Union, you do NOT need a permit to peacefully assemble. In fact, it is against the law for anyone — or any law enforcement agency — to prevent you from peacefully assembling in response to a breaking news event.  

And yet, that’s exactly what happened in Huntsville. 

Huntsville Police, the Madison County Sheriff’s Department and — for some reason that no one could immediately explain — the Alabama State Troopers began firing tear gas and rubber bullets at people who were peacefully marching. 

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In attempting to explain why such actions occurred, Lt. Michael Johnson of HPD essentially admitted that officers acted improperly. 

He told TV station WHNT-19 that officers attempted to clear the area by telling the lawfully gathered crowd to disperse. When the crowd instead decided to exercise its right to assemble, Johnson said, officers began using force, including firing the rubber bullets at innocent men, women and children and spraying the crowd with pepper spray and tear gas. 

(Just a quick little FYI: Tear gas has been deemed a chemical agent and the Geneva Convention specifically bans its use in war. But it’s still legal for police departments to toss into peaceful crowds.)

Johnson said officers used force because they weren’t “going to roll the dice” and take a chance that the crowd could become hostile. 

Which — and while I’m no attorney, I feel comfortable going out on this limb — is not how the law works. You can’t impose force because you believe someone might break the law. Particularly when there is no evidence of that. 

And how do we know there is no evidence of it? 

Because Johnson just kept on talking during that interview, an interview led by WHNT’s Jerry Hayes, who was — and I’ll put this kindly — very police-friendly. As Hayes praised the police response and told everyone that the cops really had no choice but to clear the area by gassing children, Johnson explained just how well it had all gone. 

No officers were injured, Johnson said. No property was damaged, he said. They even had single-digit arrests/detainments, he said. 

So, again, law enforcement fired rubber bullets at peacefully assembled men, women and children who didn’t damage property, didn’t assault police officers and had every right to march on and alongside a public street. 

It’s not hard to understand why people are marching against police abuse. 

Democratic state Rep. Anthony Daniels, who represents the Huntsville area and who spoke earlier in the evening at the NAACP-organized event, compared the actions and the optics of the police attacking citizens to “Bloody Sunday” in Selma. On that day in 1965, Alabama State Troopers attacked a group of peaceful marchers because the marchers refused to disperse, and instead continued their march out of Selma towards Montgomery.

“I want someone to explain to me what the state troopers were doing at a peaceful event,” Daniels said. “What happened was a disgrace. That was a peaceful protest. Those people were following the laws and were not out of line.”

The same cannot be said for the officers. 

There are a number of videos of cops from various agencies firing tear gas canisters at people who are posing no threat, and in most cases are backing away from the officers, and randomly spraying down groups of people with pepper spray for no discernable reason. In one video that was viewed several hundred thousand times by late Wednesday evening, an HPD officer exits his patrol car, pepper spray in hand, and just starts strolling along, periodically dousing terrified people with the spray. 

It was disgraceful. It was ignorant. It was, most of all, simply wrong. 

There has been a lot of condemnation over the last few days of violent protests and criminal acts. And rightfully so. While many people understand and can empathize with the anger that lies beneath these protests, the majority doesn’t want to watch cities burn. 

I hope the same people who condemned those acts will also speak out against the violence committed by law enforcement in Huntsville on Wednesday.

 

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Opinion | Being silent is being complicit

Joey Kennedy

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A moment in time: I was a young journalist, just hired by The Birmingham News. I was standing on the street outside the old Birmingham News building. I had my coat and tie on. A man came up and stood beside me, also in a coat and tie, as we waited for the light to change so we could cross the street. An Alabama State Trooper car driven by a black officer passed by. The white man next to me leaned over and said, out loud: “I’ll never get used to seeing a n—– drive a state trooper car.” I looked at the man, startled, then quickly walked across the street.

I did not say anything to him. And I have regretted that inaction ever since. He assumed because I am white, like him, that I was also a racist. I vowed that day never to be quiet again.

The person who triggered me most, though, was my father. He used the n-word often, even as much of his older life was spent being taken care of by African-American workers at the nursing homes he lived in. Anytime I or my wife came around, he’d drop the word, and I’d tell him to knock it off. He never knocked it off.

In one of our last face-to-face conversations, in the fall of 2008, my father told me I could not vote for that n—— for president. I told him he couldn’t tell me who I could vote for, and I turned and left his apartment. He did apologize the next day, not for calling Barack Obama that word, but for thinking he could tell his 52-year-old son who to vote for. I did not forgive him, nor did I see him again. He died the next year.

The Minneapolis police officer who murdered George Floyd by pressing his knee on the unarmed man’s neck for nearly nine minutes had the cold eyes of my father.

“I can’t breathe!” Police officer Derek Chauvin and the other three police officers with him did not care.

Six police officers in Atlanta are being charged for brutalizing two Georgia college students. Many peaceful protesters have been beaten by police or shot with rubber bullets as they exercise their constitutional right. And more and more often, journalists are being attacked by police as they cover demonstrations all over the nation.

Words have power, and Donald Trump’s words have incited brutality against journalists and others.

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Certainly most police officers, and I know a few, are wonderful public servants. But there is systemic racism imbedded in many police departments, and there is little question that our black and brown citizens are more often targeted because of the color of their skin. Police are much more militarized these days, too, using weapons of war against their own people.

My heart beats a little faster when I see blue lights in my rearview mirror. I cannot imagine the terror that grips my black and brown friends when it happens to them.

I love teaching at UAB because of its diversity. One important aspect I’ve noted, at demonstrations here in Birmingham and elsewhere, is how diverse the crowds are. It’s not a black thing. It’s a human thing.

But this is a black thing: I ask my African-American students each semester whether they have been stopped for driving while black. Easily 90 percent say they have. And they also have had “the talk” with their parents. You know, how to act if you’re stopped by a police officer. “Show your hands. Be respectful. Yes, sir. Yes, sir.”

This exists in America, and it is profoundly sad.

While 77 percent of white Americans say they trust the police, according to a poll from Axios-Ipsos, only 36 percent of black Americans do.

There is a reason for that: Black people are being killed and terrorized by mostly white cops across the land. Even here, in a big mall, on a Thanksgiving night.

“I can’t breathe.”

The “leader” of our nation normalizes racism for many by his own example.

For the rest of us, though, we must reject racism wherever we find it in all of its forms. We must speak up, and march, and never let a person standing next to you on the street get away with it.

We cannot remain silent, or that knee will never be off our necks.

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

 

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