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Opinion | Inside the Statehouse: It’ll be a fun election year

Steve Flowers

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Every constitutional statewide office is up for election this year. Just like the governor’s office you can serve two consecutive four-year terms and then you are through.

Kay Ivey would have been term limited as Lt. Governor. She could not have run again for that post even though she ascended to governor last year. Young Boozer has served his two four-year term limit as Treasurer. Young has chosen to not run again for anything. John McMillan has exhausted his eight-years as Agriculture Commissioner. He is running for State Treasurer and is favored to win that post. John Merrill can run for another four-year term as Secretary of State, which is what he is doing. The same is true for State Auditor, Jim Zeigler.

The Attorney General’s office was vacated by Luther Strange when then Governor, Robert Bentley, appointed him to Jeff Sessions’ Senate Seat. With the vacancy in the Attorney General’s office, Bentley plucked an obscure former District Attorney named Steve Marshall to serve the remainder of Luther Strange’s term. Marshall is seeking election to a full term. However, he is not expected to fare well in a very competitive race for this coveted post. Marshall’s only claim to fame is that he was appointed to the post by Robert Bentley and that is not a very good calling card. A Republican is favored 60-to-40 in this Attorney General contest.

Former Attorney General, Troy King, is the favorite to win the GOP Primary and ultimately a four-year term. Name identification is a precious commodity in these secondary statewide offices. King’s name ID surpasses the rest of the field.

Alice Martin could give Troy King a run for his money. She is a veteran well qualified prosecutor who was the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama for the better part of a decade. Being from North Alabama gives her some invaluable name identification in her hometown of Florence, but more importantly in Birmingham.

Chess Bedsole, who is a Birmingham attorney, has roots in Mobile and was an integral part of the Trump campaign, could be a player. He will have to spend a good bit of personal money to get into the mix.

The winner of the GOP Primary will be favored. However, they will probably be met by a well-known Democratic name in November. Joseph Siegelman is running for AG as a Democrat. Young Siegelman, who is only 30, will be favored to win the Democratic nomination over another Birmingham Attorney, Chris Christie.

The office of Lt. Governor is currently vacant. This post does very little except wait for the Governor to die or be removed from office. Therefore, we have not been devastated by the vacancy.

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If the Attorney General’s race is dependent upon name identification, the Lt. Governor’s post is doubly reliant on this precious commodity. There are three good people seeking the GOP mantle.

PSC President Twinkle Cavanaugh, Mobile State Senator Rusty Glover, and Sand Mountain State Representative Will Ainsworth.

Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh is the prohibitive favorite in this race. She is sitting in the catbird’s seat and could win without a runoff. She has run and been elected several times statewide. She has also been head of the State Republican Party and has built a statewide organization. Her statewide name identification dwarfs her two opponents.

Will Ainsworth is said to have personal money that he is willing to invest. If he does, he could challenge Twinkle. Ainsworth has received the Farm Bureau endorsement, which is a coup.

Anyone who has ever met State Senator Rusty Glover likes him. If he could meet every voter in the state, most would vote for him. However, that would be hard for him to do.

The race for Agriculture Commissioner will be a quiet contest. Veteran State Senator Gerald Dial, who has represented East Alabama well for four decades is the favorite. He is facing Lowndesboro Mayor and lifetime farmer, Rick Pate, who garnered the Farm Bureau endorsement. Tracey Crane is a former FBI agent from Jefferson County. He may benefit from being first on the ballot, which is an advantage in down ballot races where none of the candidates are known.

John Merrill will easily win reelection as Secretary of State. He is probably the best retail politician in the state and maybe the most popular.

Jim Ziegler is running for a second four-year term as State Auditor. He makes it interesting around the Capitol.

It will be a fun year.

See you next week.

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Opinion | Somebody, please, take the lead

Joey Kennedy

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Gov. Kay Ivey held a press conference to update the COVID-19 situation in Alabama Friday May 8, 2020 in Montgomery, Ala. (Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)

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.

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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.

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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Education

Analysis | There’s a better plan for reopening schools — if Alabama leaders will use it

Josh Moon

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Maybe there will be a plan for reopening schools after all. 

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is set to meet with Gov. Kay Ivey’s staff on Tuesday morning to discuss an ambitious and comprehensive plan to reopen Alabama’s public schools that would see every school in the state get a new, stand-alone nurses station, a testing machine, a full-time nurse and tools to test and check students’ temperatures. 

The plan, known as the Safely Opening Schools Program, or SOS, was put together by the Alabama School Nurses Association and has the backing of several doctors and the Alabama Education Association. It was presented to some lawmakers earlier this month. 

State Sens. Jabo Waggoner, Jim McClendon and Bobby Singleton — two top Republicans and the highest-ranking Democrat — have since submitted requests for funding out of Alabama’s portion of CARES Act money to pay for the various components of the plan. 

In a letter sent last week to Ivey, Singleton said he was “excited by the plan,” and believes it will “address, to some degree, the inequity (in his local school districts) and allow my constituents to feel that they are receiving the same support to reopen their schools as the more affluent districts of our state.”

The SOS program contains, essentially, three pieces: Building 500-square-feet nurses stations/isolation rooms at every school, purchasing testing machines and supplies and hiring approximately 300 nurses for the schools around the state that are currently lacking one. (Every school is technically required to have a school nurse, but the systems have circumvented that requirement by allowing a district nurse to cover multiple schools.)

In total, the plan is projected to cost roughly $150 million — almost all of it (around 90 percent) coming from the nearly $2 billion in CARES Act funds provided to Alabama by the federal government. (The remaining portion is projected to be covered by other grants.) Included in those costs are the nurses’ salaries for two years and the construction of more than 1,300 stand-alone nurses stations/isolation rooms — each costing a little less than $50,000. 

In addition, each school would receive its own testing device, which nurses would be trained to use, and testing supplies. If used as the program projects, Alabama schools would turn in more than 500,000 tests in nine months, with blind results being sent to the Centers for Disease Control for data collection purposes. The testing machines can also be modified to test for other ailments, such as the different types of flu.  

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To put the total cost in perspective, the state has already spent at least $150 million — it received $115 million in grants from the CDC and received part of the more than $450 million the federal government sent to Alabama earlier this year — to test less than 10 percent of the state’s population over the last six months. 

The SOS program could potentially test between 12-15 percent in far less time, and in a setting where early detection could prevent massive hotspots. 

It’s a good program, and it would likely be worth the costs if only for the things mentioned. 

But those things are only half of the benefits of this program. Maybe not even half. 

Consider this: Included in the costs, every school in every city in Alabama, regardless of income level or parental involvement or poverty rates, will get a state-of-the-art nurses station and a fulltime school nurse. 

To care for children who rarely see any sort of healthcare professional. To diagnose the early signs of disease or mental health issues. To spot the early warning signs of physical abuse or drug addiction. 

In every school in Alabama. For two full school years. 

“This is extremely important to my communities, as they lack school nurses and other critical health access,” Singleton wrote to Ivey. “The opportunity to have testing/screening on-site and nurses to address students’ health needs would be of tremendous assistance to the residents in my district.”

The same could be said for school districts, and for school children, all over the state. 

The simple fact is there is no better plan offered for reopening Alabama’s schools. The others, including the “roadmap” presented by state superintendent Eric Mackey last week, mostly fail to account for known shortages in teachers, staff and nurses, and they offer no assurances for worried parents. 

The SOS plan would take the burden of monitoring and quarantining sick students off the staff and faculty, would establish a clear protocol for dealing with the virus in our schools and would assist the state and federal government with accurate, real-time data. In addition, it could be a health lifeline for kids in rural and impoverished areas. 

There is no better plan.

 

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Opinion | Our sacred honor

Bradley Byrne

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This weekend America will celebrate its 244th birthday. Unfortunately, we do so in a time of a pandemic, a struggling economy, and violent protests.  But, it’s still our birthday, and we should both commemorate and celebrate it.

We usually do a good job in our celebration, although this year will be different since social distancing means we’ll be in smaller groups and public fireworks displays have been cancelled.  I suspect most of us will find a way to gather with family and close friends to cook out and show the red, white, and blue.

But, a commemoration is more than that.  Merriam-Webster defines “commemorate” as “to call to remembrance” or “to serve as a memorial of.”   How many of us will stop and remember what it meant for the Second Continental Congress to not only declare our independence from Britain but also to state our reasons for doing so in majestic language positing the highest ideals?

Let me make a suggestion.  This Fourth, get a copy of the Declaration and read it.  My extended family and friends usually get together and have several of us read the various portions of the Declaration out loud and talk about its meaning.  It doesn’t take much time and we always experience a renewed appreciation for the gift that is our country.  This year we will do it virtually, in smaller groups.

The Declaration was meant to be read out loud.  Indeed, on July 4, Congress not only voted to accept it but also provided for its distribution to the states and the Continental Army.  On July 6, John Hancock, as President of Congress, sent letters to the states and to General Washington enclosing broadsides of the Declaration requesting that they have it “proclaimed.”  It was read out loud to celebrations in dozens of cities and towns in July and August, and to the Continental Army on July 9 as it prepared for the British Invasion of New York.

To some extent these events were meant to inform and inspire the people of a newly independent nation.  But then, and now, the Declaration is a defining document.  It not only said we were an independent nation but also who we aspired to be.  Freedom and equality were to be at the heart of the nation’s character.  And the rights stated in the Declaration—life liberty and the pursuit of happiness—are clearly labeled gifts from God himself to all of us.

The story of our country is really the unfolding of the efforts to live up to these aspirations.  President Lincoln used it as a primary basis for arguing against slavery, as in the Gettysburg Address where he famously said, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”  As a result of the Civil War these ideals were enshrined in the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution.

Martin Luther King used it in his 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech, referring to the Declaration and the Constitution as a promissory note to all Americans which he and others in the Civil Rights Movement called upon the nation to honor.  As a result of the Movement, Congress passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act and in 1965 the Voting Rights Act.

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I know it is fashionable now among our nation’s elites to view America as evil from our birth, evil in our institutions, and evil in our character.  That view is a myth, untethered to the reality of our history.  This myth is just a false preamble to lay the groundwork for their efforts to radically reorganize our society and have government run every detail of our lives, all the while piling tax upon tax on us.  Isn’t this type of government what caused the founders to declare independence in the first place?  These elites call themselves “progressive,” but their plan is actually a regression to a tyrannical central government taxing us against our will.

Despite our faults, some of which have been grievous, we are a nation established upon the highest ideals and which has the strength of its character and institutions to self-correct as we strive toward those ideals.  Our history repeatedly demonstrates that is who we are.

David McCullough, the Pulitzer Prize winning author and historian, several years ago told a gathering of those of us in Congress that Americans would be more hopeful if we only knew our history.  How true.  Complicated and contradictory, yes, but it is also a history of spectacular success and of a major force for good, here and abroad.

So, this week let’s celebrate and commemorate who we are.  Let’s pause in the middle of our present troubles to renew our pride as Americans and draw lessons from our founding and history for the resolution of the issues of the day.  And let us, like our founders, “mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.

 

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