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Opinion | Inside the Statehouse: Entering the home stretch

Steve Flowers

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Folks, we are less than three weeks away from our June 5th primary. Besides the governor’s race, all of our secondary constitutional races are on the ballot.

As we head into the home stretch, there appears to be very little interest in the primary elections. People seem disinterested and disillusioned. There have been a good many scandals and ethics convictions over the past quadrennium, which has put a damper on the enthusiasm generally associated with a gubernatorial election year. Even fundraising has been down considerably.

This voting ambivalence will result in a lower than normal turnout. This accrues to the advantage of incumbents and those with name identification.

The governor’s race has not been that interesting. However, the Democrats have fielded quality candidates in that race. The winner of the June GOP Primary will have to mount a campaign in the fall against either Walt Maddox or Sue Bell Cobb.

The secondary races are being lost in the shuffle of the avalanche of races on the ballot. The best race, as was expected, has been the Attorney General contest.

Former Governor, Robert Bentley, during his last days as governor, appointed an obscure former District Attorney named Steve Marshall, as the acting Attorney General. As expected Marshall did the bidding of Bentley and allowed him leniency in any further prosecution. Marshall has used every tool of incumbency to strong arm campaign contributions for his race for a full term. However, polling indicates that his efforts will be to no avail.

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With so little interest in the secondary statewide races, former Attorney General Troy King, is perceived as the incumbent and enjoys a comfortable lead in this race due to his name identification. As we head to “Amen” corner, my guess is that King leads the race and former U.S. Attorney Alice Martin is in a runoff with Troy King.

Birmingham attorney, Chess Bedsole, could be a late surprise if he spends a significant amount of his own money. He is not a political novice. He was an integral part of the Donald Trump presidential campaign.

The winner will probably face off against Joseph Siegelman, a handsome, progressive, young heir to an iconic Alabama Democratic name.

The Lt. Governor race has changed very little since the beginning of the campaign season four months ago. Public Service Commission President, Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, holds a commanding lead in all polls. She knows how to run statewide and has headed the state Republican Party. Even though her polling lead is daunting, her results in three weeks may even exceed her formidable lead in the polls. She has built a statewide grassroots campaign organization over the years, which her two challengers lack.

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The last polls reveal that Twinkle Cavanaugh leads Mobile State Senator Rusty Glover and Sand Mountain State Representative Will Ainsworth. Polls reveal that Glover will get a good friends and neighbors vote from his home Mobile region. This may hold him in good stead in a race for Congress in two years, if Mobile-Baldwin Congressman Bradley Bryne runs for the U.S. Senate in 2020.

Will Ainsworth has made a significant television buy in the lieutenant governor’s race, which should propel him into second place in that contest.

Secretary of State John Merrill will waltz to a second term as Secretary of State. He is the best retail politician on the Alabama political scene. Even though he has token opposition, he has probably outworked every candidate on the ballot. When his office counts all the ballots on June 6, Merrill will probably be the top vote getter in all statewide races.

Right behind Merrill winning in a landslide, will be Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan, who will have an overwhelming victory as State Treasurer.

Rick Pate has gotten a lot of traction in the Agriculture Commissioner race. He has garnered most of the major endorsements, including ALFA and BCA.

Jeremy Oden and Chip Beeker should coast to reelection victories as members of the Public Service Commission for another four years.

Beeker, Oden and Twinkle Cavanaugh should benefit from their recent vote to save Alabama Power customers $337 million over the next two years, a cut made possible by the Trump administration and Republican Congress’ passage of federal tax reform.

Folks, that is a big win for Alabama’s economy. It is sure to put a smile on the faces of families and small business owners across the state. Cavanaugh, Beeker, and Oden deserve credit for making it happen.

See you next week.

 

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Opinion | The blackest Black Friday ever

“The coming weeks are going to be difficult, no doubt about that.”

Joey Kennedy

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(APR GRAPHIC)

Thursday was Thanksgiving, and it’s understandable that many people didn’t have a lot to be thankful for. More than 260,000 people are dead because of the COVID-19 pandemic that Donald Trump simply ignored. Around 3 million people have been infected, with many of those suffering lifelong health complications from the virus.

A first Thanksgiving without loved ones. A first Christmas without loved ones bearing down.

Millions of people lost their jobs because of the pandemic. Hundreds of thousands are in danger of being evicted from their homes. Many don’t have water or power or heat as the winter settles in.

Thanksgiving? Really?

Except …

Yes, there are many things to be thankful for. Our families, if we have them. Our friends, and we all have them. Our animals, and many of us have them.

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We can be thankful that the long, horrible tenure of Donald Trump is nearly over. It’s the end of an error.

We can hope that racism will be wrong again. That homophobia, misogyny, xenophobia, and cruelty will fall from the everyday ordinary to the awful extraordinary. Kids in cages, separated from their parents, no more. Chaos in government simply an anomaly at last.

We can hope. That alone is something to be thankful for.

The year 2020 has been a hot mess. Masks, social distancing, hand washing and sanitizing are the norm now. They may be forever.

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We should be thankful that COVID-19 vaccines are on the horizon. But that’s a strange thankfulness, and we cherish a vaccine for a disease that didn’t have to spread as far and wide as it did. It was mismanaged as badly as a crisis can be mismanaged.

There still are people out there who refuse to wear masks or who believe the virus is a hoax. A doctor described people she was caring for who were dying, and all the time denying the virus existed, even to their last breaths.

That’s certainly nothing to be thankful for.

Our health care workers, those on the front lines, deserve our thanks and our love. As do grocery store workers, first responders, teachers, and delivery people. Heroes work there.

I’m personally thankful for my wife of 41 years. My daughters in San Diego. My friends here and elsewhere. My pugs and other dogs and animals. I’ve got plenty to be thankful for, when we pare life down and don’t expect so much.

The coming weeks are going to be difficult, no doubt about that.

Too many people traveled this Thanksgiving, and there’s going to be a price to pay. Too many people are making plans for Christmas, and there’s going to be a price to pay. Too many people are planning New Year’s Eve celebrations, and there’s going to be a price to pay.

Oh, I’ll have some champagne and stay up until midnight on New Year’s Eve, if only to witness that this damn year doesn’t hang around for one second longer than is allowed.

Perhaps we can see a light at the end of this 2020 tunnel. Maybe by spring, we’ll all be vaccinated, and this pandemic will be at the beginning of its end.

But if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we can’t count on, yes, anything.

This is Black Friday. The blackest Black Friday ever. Be careful out there. Wash your hands and wear a mask. Take care of each other. Believe in science. Don’t trust a reality show president who, fortunately, finally has been fired.

Do your best to do your best. Let’s have a new year that at least promises hope.

Dig deep and find what you’re thankful for. Then hug it close with all your might.

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Let’s hope for Reed’s success

Reed’s temperament and style appear right for this moment in Alabama’s history.

Bill Britt

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State Sen. Greg Reed has been chosen as the next president pro tem of the Alabama State Senate.

State Sen. Greg Reed, R-Jasper, will lead the Alabama Senate as president pro tem during the upcoming 2021 legislative session. What changes will Reed bring to the upper chamber, and how will his leadership differ from his predecessor? No one knows for sure.

Reed succeeds Sen. Del Marsh, who has served as president pro tem since Republicans took control of the Statehouse in 2010. Marsh, along with then-Gov. Bob Riley, current felon Mike Hubbard and ousted BCA Chair Billy Canary orchestrated the 2010 takeover that saw the Republican rise to dominance.

Reed, who won his Senate seat the same year, was not a charter member of the Republican ruling class, but he benefited from the power sift.

Mild-mannered and studious with a quiet charm, Reed has steadily ascended the ranks of Senate leadership. His silver hair and calm determination have served him well. Reed is a senatorial figure straight out of Hollywood’s central casting.

In all, Reed is nearly universally liked and respected, which in the near term is a hopeful sign of potential success. But political leadership always comes with a warning: “Friends come and go, enemies accumulate.”

Reed’s relationship with Gov. Kay Ivey is certainly less contentious than Marsh’s and gives rise to the belief that there will be greater cooperation between the executive and the Senate.

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With the economy and public health under dire stress due to the ravages of COVID-19, legislative priorities are fixed: get people back to work and eradicate the coronavirus.

However, one of Reed’s first tests will be whether he can cool the smoldering anger of those senators who still feel the sting of Ivey’s rebuke over the allocation of CARES Act funds. He will also need to resist those who want to punish the administration over its use of public health statutes to implement mask mandates and other safety measures to prevent the deadly coronavirus spread.

Despite outward declarations of a unified body, the State Senate is a small, insular and unwieldy beast where egos loom large and consensus on policies is often tricky to achieve except on “red meat issues.”

Building a coalition on policy in the Senate is often a combination of horse-trading, cajoling and carefully applied pressure. The way forward in the near term is exact: pass legislation that spurs economic recovery and mitigates the health crisis at hand.

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But Reed will also simultaneously need to recognize what comes next for justice reform, prison construction, gambling and a myriad of other pressing issues. His job will be to understand the prevailing winds, which are evolutionary, not revolutionary.

As author Doris Kearns Goodwin noted in Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream: “For political leaders in a democracy are not revolutionaries or leaders of creative thought. The best of them are those who respond wisely to changes and movements already underway. The worst, the least successful, are those who respond badly or not at all, and those who misunderstand the direction of already visible change.”

Reed’s temperament and style appear right for this moment in Alabama’s history.

As President Abraham Lincoln said, “If you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

Let’s all hope that Reed passes the test.

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Opinion | The enduring legacy of Margaret Thatcher

“In the winter of British discontent, Thatcher emerged to lead the minority Conservative Party into the majority.”

Will Sellers

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Margaret Thatcher was Britain's longest-serving prime minister. (WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Thirty years ago, this week, the longest-serving British prime minister of the 20th century resigned. Margaret Thatcher, having governed since 1979, saw her leadership challenged, but rather than continue to fight, she was gaslighted into believing she was losing her grip on her party and would lose her office in an embarrassing vote.

None of that was true.

In fact, the very men who rode to leadership positions on her coattails and hid behind her skirts during controversy allowed their greed for power to debase their loyalty to the Iron Lady. Dejected, she resigned and thus, quietly exited British politics.

Prior to Thatcher’s leadership, Britain was in decline and, by all economic measures, sliding into second rate status. Rather than control its financial destiny, the International Monetary Fund was needed to help the Empire shore up her accounts. Socialism dominated with anti-capitalist trade unions and nationalized industries weighing down any real economic growth.

But in the winter of British discontent, Thatcher emerged to lead the minority Conservative Party into the majority. For more than a decade thereafter, she was the face of the party, and even when she left the scene, the imprint of “Thatcherism” would remain a dominate political ideology.

Thatcher’s political program relied upon a simple appeal to the British sensibilities. She believed in limited government, liberty of the individual, and the rule of law. But rather than relying solely on rhetoric, she acted on her beliefs and ushered in a golden age that changed not only Britain, but the entire world. Indeed, the world she inherited in 1979 stood in stark contrast to the world in 1990. She caused the contrast.

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Unlike many political leaders who espouse high minded principles, she pursued hers with what some considered reckless abandon. Thatcher took significant steps to push back the suffocating hand of state control and return the economy to a true free market. Government intervention was replaced with individual responsibility and human action.

There are five significant events revealing what Thatcher believed by how she acted. And the impact of her actions had ramifications that still affect both British and international politics.

Thatcher organized her government to firmly oppose state-sponsored terrorism and declined to allow the cloak of diplomatic immunity to cover subversive activities. When the Libyan Embassy in London was used to harbor snipers to shoot protestors and ended up killing British policewoman Yvonne Fletcher, the prime minister terminated diplomatic relations and used special forces to clear the embassy and send the terrorists masquerading as diplomats packing.

She would similarly send a large contingent of Russians home when it was clear their embassy was a cover for supporting domestic terrorists and spying on military and industrial targets. These actions rankled some in the diplomatic community who wanted her to be more deferential, but by sending a message of British resolve, she earned the respect of the world community.

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Perhaps the one thing cementing Britain‘s return to power was the Falkland Island campaign. While it was only a small British outpost near Argentina, Thatcher recognized that the Argentine invasion was not simply a threat to the islanders but also a challenge to international British interests. Unwilling to concede anything, she ordered the unequivocal liberation of the islands and effectively threw down a marker that she would defend and protect British subjects and interests anywhere at any cost.

Accepting the Argentine invasion would have been the easy course, but while some in Britain were embarrassed at her saber-rattling and projection of military power, the vast majority saw her actions as patriotic and a reminder of the former greatness of the empire. After the Falkland’s victory, Thatcher’s popularity soared, and when a general election was called, she achieved a landslide victory establishing a conservative majority that lasted until 1997.

On the domestic front, Thatcher knew from the beginning of her administration that she had a dead reckoning with trade unionism, whose power had grown so strong and influential that strikes could paralyze the country. But rather than take them on directly, the wily strategist first worked to pass laws that prevented union corruption and inappropriate strikes.

Once those laws were in place, she realized that the first challenge would be with the coal miners’ union. At that time, coal miners in Britain were a larger part of a socialist network that had grown in influence because coal was so critical to energy and the economy. But a minority of the unions were not part of this network and Thatcher allied herself with them, stockpiling coal to outlast the socialists.

So, when the coal miners decided to strike, she was prepared. First with lawsuits that prevented sympathy strikes from other unions by exacting fines and then with resources to close unprofitable mines and wait until the unions were unable to hold out. The coal miners were the first step, but gradually she reduced the unions’ economic stranglehold and began to privatize state-owned industries, which made the British economy more dynamic and competitive.

With an established Church, the parameters for separation of church and state are not debated in Parliament. In fact, the prime minister was involved in approving ecclesiastical promotion. Unlike other politicians who rarely addressed religious issues directly, Thatcher had no such reticence. When she became alarmed at the liberal bent of the established Church, she found an opportunity to explain to the professional clergy exactly how she viewed their role in society.

Addressing the General Assembly of Scotland, she boldly stated, “Christianity is about spiritual redemption, not social reform.” She chastised church leaders for failing to appreciate capitalism and the spiritual benefits it provided. It is hard to imagine a political leader who would have the intestinal fortitude to attend a denominational gathering, articulate a theology and take ministers to task for in essence failing in their mission.

Her speech, known derisively as “The Epistle to the Caledonians” is readily available on the internet. Some Sunday when virtual church is off, watch Thatcher explain her version of Christianity and see her sense of faith boldly defended and publicly exhibited.

Perhaps the one thing that both defined Thatcher and also led to her resignation was her idea of Britain’s place in the European community. Her view of Europe was with an eye toward free trade and removing regulations and restrictions on the free flow of goods and services. She saw Europe not as a melting pot where states and people lose their currency and cultural identity, but, rather, as a mosaic where nations and people maintained their unique culture within a framework of collaboration centered on trade.

As the idea of a united Europe moved toward a common currency, democratic socialism and a heightened regulatory environment, Thatcher stood her ground and refused to participate. Her speech to the College of Europe at Bruges explained succinctly her concerns and her vision of developing a strong capitalist Europe. Like her speech to the Church of Scotland, this speech, too, is worth a listen as it is prescient considering the current status of Europe, Brexit and NATO.

Lady Thatcher’s political demise was ushered in by disloyal cabinet members who were willing to subjugate British hegemony to an amalgamated Europe. Nothing they would say or do could detract from her legacy. In her retirement, as she traveled to the former Warsaw Pact countries, throngs of people venerated her as the force that helped liberate them from Soviet domination.

If Thatcher was not honored in her own country, the voices of the children freed from totalitarianism offered honor enough to the Iron Lady who held to her principles, saved her country from irrelevance, and ushered in a new world order based on liberty of the individual and the rule of law.

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Josh Moon

Opinion | Alvin Holmes pulled no punches

“A tireless advocate for the Black community and the most purposefully underestimated man in the history of Alabama politics.”

Josh Moon

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State Rep. Alvin Holmes

By the time State Rep. Alvin Holmes reached someone in the office of Gov. Jim Folsom Jr., it was far too late. Or, at least, that’s what they thought in Folsom’s office. 

Mercedes Benz was on the way to Tuscaloosa County. The deal had closed, the site work was underway, and to sweeten the pot from the state’s end, Folsom had sent the Alabama National Guard to Vance to help with site prep. 

That was a serious misuse of the Guard, in the eyes of Holmes (and of many others). The Guardsmen aren’t pawns for business deals. So, Holmes, who already had raised hell about the behavior of state lawmakers and Mercedes officials, called Folsom’s office to tell them it wasn’t right and to put a stop to it. 

They laughed at him and hung up. 

Bad move. 

“The next thing Alvin does is call up Ron Brown, who was the Secretary of Commerce at the time,” said former state Sen. Dick Brewbaker, who also served with Holmes in the House. “He tells Ron he wants to speak to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.”

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Holmes didn’t get quite that far to the top, but he got high enough. Before the night was over, a phone call was placed from a 3-star general to the head of Guard in Alabama. 

“Word came down that there shouldn’t be a single man or a single piece of equipment at that site at daybreak,” Brewbaker said, chuckling. 

Holmes called the governor’s back. 

“They weren’t laughing then,” Holmes told Brewbaker. 

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That, in a nutshell, was Alvin Holmes: a master of the rules, a pain in the backside to anyone he thought had strayed, a relentless debater, a tireless advocate for the Black community and the most purposefully underestimated man in the history of Alabama politics. 

Holmes passed away Saturday, at the age of 82. But during his 44 years in the Alabama House, he provided endless stories of his epic rants on the State House floor, bemoaning the treatment of Black citizens or the working poor or even that dastardly foreign beer from Germany. 

He often said outlandish things and made biting, personal attacks on his fellow members — most of it aimed at drawing attention to the larger point he wanted to make. But those moments at the mic also had another effect, serving to paint Holmes, especially in the minds of white people, as a blustering, ranting imbecile. 

And that’s exactly what Holmes wanted.   

“I’ve never met another politician in this state who wanted to be underestimated — who worked to make people think he wasn’t as smart as he was,” Brewbaker said. “Alvin loved it. He wanted people, especially those in the Legislature, to underestimate him. And then he’d tie them in knots.”

Holmes underplayed his intelligence better than anyone I’ve ever known, baiting his foes and luring them into the trap over and over again. To watch him work his marks on the House floor was like watching Greg Maddux pitch.

“Help me understand,” Holmes would start, as he questioned a bill’s sponsor about some specific language buried deep in a lengthy piece of legislation, and in a matter of seconds, the backtracking and stammering would begin. 

When he sensed fear or uncertainty, Holmes was merciless.     

“It’s not my job to be nice,” Holmes told me once. “It’s my job to make sure the people know the racism and disenfranchisement many of my white colleagues want to codify into law.”

And Holmes was very, very good at his job. 

Over the course of his 44 years in office, it’s fairly safe to say that Holmes called out more racists and challenged more discriminatory laws than anyone. And the way he did it — so boldly, so unapologetically — was, especially in the 1970s, a shock to an Alabama system that had only recently emerged from Jim Crow. 

In 1975, his second year in office, Holmes tricked lawmakers into approving a bill on a voice vote that required the state to hire more Black people. When the white lawmakers complained, Holmes brushed them off and said, “I think they’ll pay more attention next time. If they want to sleep, let them sleep.”

 In the early 1990s, during a fight over the Confederate flag flying above the state capitol — a fight that would make Holmes one of the most hated men in the state — Holmes pulled no punches. He called then-Gov. Guy Hunt “one of the most notorious racists who ever served the state.” And then he added: “Not only a racist but a stupid racist.”

In his later years, Holmes could still bewilder his Republican counterparts and his rants — while fewer and often more humorous than biting — were still newsmakers, but Holmes had clearly grown tired.

By the time he was defeated by Kirk Hatcher in 2018, Holmes barely put up a fight and agreed it was time to move on. 

Who could blame him if he was a bit tired? For more than four decades, Alvin Holmes withstood a barrage of hatred and anger that most can’t imagine. For years, he was the solitary focus of many white supremacists and the mascot that conservatives in the Alabama Legislature used to push through hateful, racist bills.  

While Holmes always seemed to court such hostility — to invite it and embrace it, at times — such a life was undoubtedly lonely and exhausting. 

Here’s hoping that wherever Alvin Holmes is today, the beer drinks plenty good, the injustices are solved and there’s finally time to rest.

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