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Opinion | Ivey, Bentley have been robbing bridges to pay judges, and this shell game has to stop

Josh Moon

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Want to know how broke Alabama is under its current Republican leadership?

For the past nine years, GOP lawmakers, at the request of the Govs. Robert Bentley and Kay Ivey, have moved more than $300 million out of funds earmarked for road and bridge repairs and deposited it into an account that covers the costs of our court system.

And the court system is still so broke that it takes two years to get a case before a judge.

That’s governance, baby.

It’s also illegal.

Or, at least, it sure looks like the shifting of those funds — which was pointed out in a press release on Wednesday by Walt Maddox’s campaign — violates the state constitution.

Those road and bridge funds, according to the state constitution, must be used for purposes at least somewhat related to the maintenance of roads and bridges. I don’t believe the courts qualify.

But illegal or not, it’s no way to fund government.

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This is what Republican leadership has brought to Alabama.

This shell game, where we take a little from this fund to give to partially fund that fund because we took from that fund last year and now need to take from another fund.  

College kids manage their finances better than this. At least they would go out and find more money.

ALGOP just keeps pretending that all is well, and that our regressive tax structure, which leaves custodians paying a higher percentage of taxes than CEOs, is working out for us.

In the meantime, our roads and bridges are crumbling. Our roads are routinely rated as some of the worst in the nation. Our bridges, in some areas, are shockingly unsafe. And as comedian John Oliver once joked, “Alabama the state has as many dam inspectors as Alabama the band.”

Now we know why.

For nine years, beginning with Robert Bentley, we’ve been robbing bridges to pay judges. It started with $25 million in 2011. It has reached $35 million each of the last nine years, including the last two years under Ivey.

The truly shameful part: The courts are still broke!

If you doubt this, ask any judge. Anywhere. From any party.

Or hell, just walk around almost any county courthouse and count the empty offices.

But it’s actually even worse than it seems.

Actually, no, let me take that back. It’s actually dumber than it seems. Because here’s what very few people realize about the court system: It is a revenue generating system.

That means that our legislature, in all of their financial wisdom, are taking money from the courts to fund various non-court things within our general fund budget, to the point that the court system is at least $35 million in the hole every year. (It’s actually much, much more than that, but $35 million is what they’ve stolen from roads and bridges each of the last seven years.)

Then, our lawmakers are taking road and bridge money and diverting it (illegally) into the court system to the fill the hole they created.

That is, of course, on top of the courts jacking up fines and fees and costs to the point that a ticket for rolling through a stop sign now costs more than a monthly power bill and the average Alabama citizen can’t afford to participate in the Alabama legal system.

And not a single system, despite massive reductions in employees and expenses over the past eight years, is financially sound. Most of them are teetering on the verge of financial collapse.

Seriously. There’s a hole so big in the general fund budget in 2019 that Alabama Republicans are praying that an oil well explodes somewhere in the Gulf. There is serious talk among some judges — Republicans and Democrats — about filing a grievance with the feds over Alabama’s backlog of cases and inadequate funding. And one of the biggest GOP talking points this election cycle is their candidates’ willingness to get behind a tax increase to pay for — you guessed it! — repairing roads and bridges.

Honestly, what are we doing here?

For the past six months, every Republican candidate that’s popped up on your TV has rambled on and on about “responsible governing” and “living within our means” and treating our state budgets “like you and your family handle your budgets.”

So, maybe these are analogies that are understood among the voters. In which case, let’s try this.

Alabama Republicans have been paying only part of the power bill so it could pay the mortgage and then paying only a small portion of the car payment in order to send enough to keep the lights on. All because some members of the family aren’t putting in a fair share or they’re pretending that the property they own is worth way less than it is. You probably haven’t realized any of this because they keep distracting you with scary fairytales about evil non-white people.

The only good news is that there’s a nice Native American family that has its eye on the place once we go through foreclosure.

 

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Marsh hurls accusations at Gov. Ivey. Is he barking mad?

Bill Britt

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Appearing on the latest edition of Alabama Public Television’s “Capitol Journal,” Sen. President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, blamed Gov. Kay Ivey for the loss of some 450,000 jobs in Alabama.

It’s an absurd accusation that any thinking Alabamian knows is a lie. But Marsh wants to hurt Ivey because she exposed him as little more than a petty, greedy-gut politico.

Still stinging from the public humiliation he suffered after Ivey revealed his “wish list” — which included taking $200 million in COVID-19 relief money to build a new State House — Marsh is leveling a cascade of recriminations against the popular governor.

However, what is astonishing is that he would spew brazen lies about Ivey during raging loss and uncertainty caused by a worldwide pandemic. This latest fiction about Ivey creating widespread economic calamity is the unseemly work of a hollow man without empathy, wisdom or decency.

This insane assertion that Ivey is somehow responsible for thousands suffering is as cravenly evil as it is politically stupid.

“The policies that have been put in place by the [Ivey] administration have 450,000 people out of work,” Marsh told show host Don Daily.

Only a fool, a nutjob or a politician would blame Ivey for losing some 450,000 jobs, but there was Marsh, on public television, showing he is perhaps all three.

In the middle of his barking-mad comments, Marsh somehow forgot to mention that he was a member of Ivey’s Executive Committee on the COVID-19 task force and helped make the very policies he now claims led to joblessness and financial ruin for many Alabamians.

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Marsh is merely making it up as he goes because his fragile ego, pompous character and rank inhumanity suddenly became fully displayed for every Alabamian to see when he doubled down on building a new State House.

And so, like a guy caught with his pants down, Marsh is pointing his finger at Ivey to distract from his naked indifference toward the struggles of his fellow Alabamians.

Marsh’s plan to spend the CARES Act funds on a State House and other pet projects ignored the sufferings of hundreds of thousands of the state’s most vulnerable citizens and businesses.

Ivey wanted the nearly $1.9 billion in CARES funds to go to help those individuals, businesses and institutions affected by COVID-19. Marsh wanted it as a Senate piggybank, so, he lashes out at her rather than reflect on how he and the State Senate could do better in the future.

Anyone who blames others for their failings is a weakling, not a leader.

Marsh came to power under a scheme hatched around 2008, by then-Gov. Bob Riley. The plan was to make Mike Hubbard the speaker of the House, Marsh as pro tem and Bradley Byrne as governor. Riley would act as the shadow puppet master pulling the strings of power from behind a thin curtain of secrecy, allowing him to make untold riches without public accountability.

Byrne losing the governor’s race to the hapless State Rep. Dr. Doctor Robert Bentley was the first glitch in the plan (yes, during the 2010 campaign for governor, Bentley changed his name to Doctor Robert Julian Bentley so the title Doctor would appear next to his name on the primary ballot).

The second problem for the venture was Hubbard’s avarice, which landed him on the wrong side of the ethics laws he, Riley, Byrne and Marsh championed. Of course, the ethics laws were never meant to apply to them. They were designed to trap Democrats.

Marsh has floundered since Hubbard’s grand departure and with Riley sinking further into the background, it is now apparent that Riley was the brains, Hubbard the muscle and Marsh the errand boy, picking up bags of cash to finance the operation.

Gofers rarely rise to power without the public noticing they’re not quite up for the job, and so it is with Marsh that his office has shown the limits of his abilities.

Marsh wanted to control the COVID-19 relief money to spend on pork projects as he’d done in the past, but Ivey didn’t allow it. To be outsmarted is one thing, but to be beaten by a woman is too much for a guy like Marsh.

Ivey burned Marsh like a girl scout roasting marshmallows over a campfire.

Senator Marshmallow, anyone?

Poor Marsh, with his political career in turmoil, picked the wrong target in Ivey.

Some look at Ivey and see a kind, grandmotherly figure. Ivey is as tough as a junkyard dog, and now Marsh knows what her bite feels like.

Ivey didn’t cause massive job losses. COVID-19 did that. But Marsh got his feelings hurt, bless his heart, so he wants to take Ivey down.

Just like his scheme to commandeer the COVID-19 funds from the people didn’t work, his attack on Ivey won’t either.

People see Marsh for what he is, and it’s neither strong nor competent; it’s weak and ineffectual.

Marsh stood behind Ivey when she announced the state’s health orders wearing an American flag style mask.

He voted for her executive amendment.

And now he lies.

In times of real crisis, true leaders emerge while others of lesser abilities whine. Marsh is complaining. Ivey is leading.

And so the public watches as The Masked Marshmallow takes on Iron-jawed Ivey. It’s not tricky to see how this cage match turns out.

Marshmallow, down in three.

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Opinion | It should be clear by now: Kaepernick was right

Josh Moon

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A lot of people owe Colin Kaepernick an apology. 

If nothing else, surely the last few weeks of horrible, horrible racial incidents have left even the most adamant Kap haters reconsidering their positions.

Maybe, just maybe, they’re thinking the man has a point: That justice in this country isn’t color blind.

And that the promises of justice and equality, represented by the United States flag and anthem, often fall well short for black men in this country. 

Then again, if you didn’t understand before now, there’s a good chance that watching ANOTHER black man be choked to death in broad daylight on an American street by a police officer — as three other police officers defended him — then you’re probably not inclined to understand now. 

George Floyd, the man we’ve all now witnessed dying on a Minneapolis street, as he begged a cop to let him breathe, did not deserve to die. Hell, he didn’t even deserve to be handcuffed and tossed down on the street, much less to have a cop put his knee on his throat until he died. 

A store thought Floyd was forging a check. A person at the store called the cops. And a few minutes later Floyd was dead. 

This, in a nutshell, is why Kaepernick began his protest several years ago. Why he sacrificed his NFL career. Why he has endured the death threats and vitriol. 

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Because these sorts of awful acts are far too common for black men in America. The prevalence of the cell phone camera has made that abundantly clear over the last several years. 

It’s hard to imagine how many of these incidents were swept under the rug in years past. Especially after the actions of other cops, district attorneys and judges to protect the dirtiest of cops have also been exposed. 

That sad fact was highlighted in the Ahmaud Arbery shooting in Georgia in February. Even with video evidence, it took a new DA and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation becoming involved before the two men who hunted Arbery down were arrested. 

All because one of the men was a retired investigator who worked for the DA’s office. 

Because why mess up the life of a white man simply for shooting one black man who might have done something at some time? 

But the deck stacking won’t stop with the arrest. 

If the murder of Greg Gunn in Montgomery back in 2016 taught us anything, it’s that the entire system is rigged to ensure the bad cops never face full justice for their crimes. 

After Gunn, who was walking home after a poker game in his neighborhood, was murdered steps from his own front porch by a white cop who thought he looked suspicious, the cop was — to the shock of almost everyone — arrested within a week and before a grand jury could rule. 

Other cops — even ones who privately admitted to me that the cop, Aaron Smith, was in the wrong — pitched one hell of a hissy fit when the arrest warrant was issued. They threatened a walk-out. They showed up to sit in the courtroom during one of Smith’s early hearings. The mayor of the city vowed to keep Smith on the payroll. 

And then the real shenanigans started. 

Judges started to bail on the case — eight in all. The Alabama Supreme Court issued an unprecedented ruling that removed a black judge from the case. The appointed judge moved the trial from 70-percent-black Montgomery to 70-percent-white Dale County. 

After all of that, and even with Smith admitting to investigators that he never had probable cause to stop, chase or shoot Gunn, the best prosecutors could do was a manslaughter conviction. 

And in one final slap to the faces of Gunn’s family, Smith was released on bond while he appeals his conviction. He’s out today, having served only a few weeks to this point for a murder committed more than four years ago. 

This is the system that black Americans must traverse in this country. One that leaves black parents rightfully concerned that the men and women all of us white people call for protection might just be the executioners of their children. 

The rights guaranteed to us in the Constitution are not based on skin color. But too often, the protection of those rights by cops, DAs and judges is. 

That’s not right. And all of us should be willing to say so. 

And maybe admit that Kaepernick had a point.

 

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Opinion | Mike Hubbard conviction finally upheld

Steve Flowers

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Over the past four years during my travels and speaking events over the state, the most asked question posed to me has been, “Why in the world is Mike Hubbard not in jail?”

It was four years ago in June 2016 that the Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives, Mike Hubbard, was convicted by a jury of his peers in Lee County of a dozen counts of violating the State Ethics Laws.

The most inquiring and astonished groups have been Republican laden clubs like Rotarians.  They have been very indignant, vocally, about the imbalance of the criminal justice system towards white collar political criminals, as opposed to those who are general thieves and assailants.

These comments were generally laced with indignation and skepticism that Hubbard would never serve a day in jail.

Well it looks like his day of reckoning may be coming near.  He will eventually serve four years in an Alabama jail.  Folks, that is not quite the ride that serving four years in a federal “country club” prison would be.

In April, the Alabama Supreme Court finally gave a clarified verdict on the 2016 Hubbard conviction. The Alabama Supreme Court upheld six of the 12 verdicts handed down in Lee County.  It reversed five others and remanded the case back to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, which had previously reversed one of the convictions.

Chief Justice Tom Parker wrote in the majority opinion, “We must interpret and apply the law.  And, every person accused of breaking the law – even one who had a hand in creating that law – is entitled to the same rules of legal interpretation.  When charged with a crime, public officials must be treated no better and no worse than other citizens in this State where all are guaranteed equal justice under the law.” Hubbard may find further routes of delay; however, he will go to jail.

This ends an era of corruption inherent during the Bob Riley era as governor.  Hubbard and Riley were well known to be best friends.  There were numerous taped conversations between Riley and Hubbard used by prosecutors during the trial.  During that reign, it appeared that it was open season on lobbyists in pay to play scenarios.  Part of the team was the BCA backroom power player, Bill Canary.  

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This Hubbard/Riley/Canary triumvirate is forever gone from Goat Hill.  There is still a lingering perception that Bob Riley is still calling shots from the sidelines of today’s political campaigns and world.  Folks, that is a misnomer.  As a lobbyist,Riley is able to get some campaign money for certain candidates from his friends and benefactors, the Indian gambling interests.  However, his influence in state politics is insignificant.  He is not the power behind the throne that is sometimes perceived.  There were whispers that he had influence and even control over the State Supreme Court.  This Hubbard decision dispels that myth.

As unsavory as Bill Canary had become, the breath of fresh air brought to the Business Council of Alabama by Katie Britt is significant to say the least, if not monumental. Katie Britt, the young, vibrant CEO of the Business Council exudes not only energy but vast integrity and openness.  She is twice as smart as most people on the block and ten times more honest and upfront with folks. She projects an image that makes business folks in Alabama proud to be a part of government in our state.

Katie revealed brilliant leadership, recently, when she initiated and orchestrated a BCA telethon on Alabama Public Television.  They had volunteer lawyers, accountants and other experts on the phone answering questions about how to apply for federal programs in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.  The Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General appeared as guests on the show with Katie.  Also appearing was the legendary leader of the National Federation of Small Businesses in the state, Rosemary Elebash, who has been a brilliant, hard-working leader for Alabama’s small business owners for decades.

See you next week.


Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at
www.steveflowers.us.

 

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Opinion | With reckless abandon

Joey Kennedy

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This is Thursday. Since Sunday, we’ve had more than 1,000 new cases of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 in Alabama. Let that number sink in. Some of those 1,000-plus new cases will end in death or permanent damage. Our caseloads are going up. They’re not on a plateau. They are increasing, by more than 1,000 in four days.

Open up!

As I travel to the undisclosed location on UAB’s campus where I work on my upcoming classes, write recommendation letters, and prepare for school in the fall, I’m seeing more and more people on the streets. I don’t think I have ever seen as many people out walking their dogs or just walking, period. When I visit my corner convenience store to buy a bottle of wine or an emergency bag of dog food, I don my mask and disposable gloves. Yet, even though the store’s owners are responsible, requiring social distancing and masks, about half the people I see in the store don’t wear masks. I get in and out quickly, throw my gloves in the garbage can outside and sanitize my hands and car surfaces.

As I was driving around working on this story, fewer than half the people I see on the street or entering big-box stores like Wal-Mart or grocery stores, are bothering to wear masks.

Is it simply cabin fever leading desperate people out onto the streets without protective gear during a world pandemic? Have we just decided that more deaths are worth it to restart the economy? We’re getting close to 100,000 people killed since February across the country.

The feeble response to the pandemic in Washington, D.C., has caused many unnecessary deaths. This is the legacy of the Trump administration: A wrecked economy, and, before it’s over, hundreds of thousands of wrecked families.

I remember Ronald Reagan speaking to the nation after the Challenger explosion, Bill Clinton’s response after the Oklahoma City federal building was bombed, George W. Bush’s empathy after 9/11, Barack Obama’s grief after mass shootings at Sandy Hook in Connecticut and at a church in Charleston, S.C.

Donald Trump lacks any empathy whatsoever. Mostly, he tries to redirect blame to anybody but his administration. Truman’s “the buck stops here” has no place in the Trump White House. Maybe “nothing stops here” would be more suited. Trump is so petty that even during a deadly pandemic, he refuses to schedule the long tradition of unveiling his predecessor’s White House portrait. (Nothing gets under Trump’s orange skin more than a black-skinned man who is far more popular with people in this country than Trump will ever be.)

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Parts of all 50 states are reopening; at one point, it seemed Gov. Kay Ivey was taking it slow, but apparently no longer. People are gathering right here in Birmingham and in Alabama, violating social distancing and mask requirements because apparently they don’t care.

In too many ways, it appears Trump’s pathological narcissism is a novel coronavirus, too, infecting many Americans with anger, hate, and reckless abandon. They swallowed the bleach, so to speak.

That, too, will be this awful man’s legacy.

Make America great again? What a joke. It’ll take a Democrat to do that. Again.


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

 

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