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Bill Britt

Opinion | Can Alabama’s one-party system deliver for all the people?

Bill Britt

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Alabama is a one-party state.

For 136 years, the Democratic Party was the sole governing body which ruled the state under a one-party system. Voters switched sides in 2010, and now there is one-party control by Republicans.

Of the many problems created by a one-party system are the elimination of checks and balances, disregard for the minority population, a tendency for tolerating corruption within the controlling ranks and ignoring best practices because they may be ideas that come from the opposition.

Alabama is in dire need of men and women in positions of political power and influence who can see beyond the second ripple in the pond and who will do what is right, not based on party, but a deep abiding loyalty to our state.

Far too often policy items are ill-conceived, half-baked-by-products of some other state’s solutions or a national narrative that isn’t in the best interest of the people of our state.

Best policy is written using fact-based information tailored to the needs of the state.

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As lawmakers gear up for the 2019 Legislative Session, it might be fair to ask, “What do in-coming Republican lawmakers stand for today?”

One freshman legislator recently said that he is coming to Montgomery to help President Trump build the wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Far be it from me to question the gentleman’s motivation or IQ, but if I’m correct, the state Legislature does not have any say over a border wall, unless he thinks we need one in Mobile.

We have some excellent women and men at the State House, but there are a few who have no business deciding what’s for lunch, much less what is best for the people.

The state has many challenges which include weak income growth which is only improving because the national economy is rolling along, prisons that are a disgrace and under federal lawsuits, an infrastructure which is crumbling and self-dealing that is on the rise.

Republicans, like the Democrats before them, have not adequately addressed these systemic problems because with one-party rule, no one is pushing them to do better.

Perhaps the lack of real change is understandable given that for six of the last eight years, the Republican-led government was controlled by a delusional governor and a crooked Speaker of the House.

Former Speaker Mike Hubbard is going to prison, Gov. Robert Bentley is out of office and still out of his mind, so going forward, the state will know if Republicans can actually lead.

Republicans have a chance to lead; will they?

Without a strong opposition party, Republicans, like Democrats of the past, have no reason to compromise or build a coalition between the two parties. Therefore, in many instances, what is best for the state is hampered by groupthink or a slavish devotion to a national party orthodoxy that offers scant solutions to Alabama’s most pressing problems.

The state’s voting population is arguably at 60/40, with Republicans holding a commanding majority over Democrats as evident by the state’s last general election.

In his essay “Party dominance ‘theory’: Of what value?” Raymond Suttner notes, “The notion of a dominant party, usually described by those who deploy the concept, as a theory or a system, refers to a category of parties/political organizations that have successively won election victories and whose future defeat cannot be envisaged or is unlikely for the foreseeable future.”

Republicans occupy all 29 statewide offices and control more than two-thirds of both the House and the Senate; Alabama is a one-party state.

If the state succeeds, Republicans can take credit. If it continues near the bottom in every meaningful measure of success, then they should be held accountable.

One-party government is fraught with problems, not the less of which is a failure to deliver good government for all the people because they don’t have to worry about reelection.

Alabama should expect more, but do we?

Bill Britt

Opinion | Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the social gospel

Bill Britt

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As people around the nation and even the world pause to remember the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., it is essential to understand that his message went far beyond civil rights; it also embraced the social gospel which held that Christians must work to improve economic, moral and social conditions here on earth.

When advocating for civil rights, Dr. King only asked for those things promised in the country’s founding document, namely equality of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

However, some were shocked and appalled that King also called for economic fairness, an end to war and mending of the social fabric that divided not only along racial lines but also among the haves and have nots.

King, like social gospel reformers before him, saw Christ’s teachings as a means to bring about political, social and cultural change.

In a 1952 letter to his future wife, Coretta Scott King wrote, “Let us continue to hope, work, and pray that in the future we will live to see a warless world, a better distribution of wealth, and a brotherhood that transcends race or color. This is the gospel that I will preach to the world.”

According to The Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute at Stanford University, King was a self-described “advocator of the social gospel.” King’s theology was concerned “with the whole man, not only his soul but his body, not only his spiritual well-being but his material well-being.”

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As historian and professor, Vaneesa Cook observes, “His message was global, and it was revolutionary. However, when depicting him exclusively in the context of black radicals during ‘the long civil rights movement,’ or the labor movement, these scholars have a tendency to downplay the most fundamental component of King’s activism – his religion.”

Over the years, King’s critics have painted him as a radical socialist without understanding that his thinking was grounded in the social gospel.

King was greatly influenced by the teachings of Walter Rauschenbusch, a pastor to a Baptist congregation of German immigrants in the Hell’s Kitchen section of New York. In his 1907 book, “Christianity and the Social Crisis,” Rauschenbusch proposed, “Whoever uncouples the religious and the social life has not understood Jesus. Whoever sets any bounds for the reconstructive power of the religious life over the social relations and institutions of men, to that extent denies the faith of the Master.”

According to Christopher H. Evans, Professor of the History of Christianity at Boston University Rauschenbusch, “asserted that religion’s chief purpose was to create the highest quality of life for all citizens.”

Evans points out that in King’s book “Stride Toward Freedom,” he writes, “It has been my conviction ever since reading Rauschenbusch that any religion which professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the social and economic conditions that scar the soul, is a spiritually moribund religion only waiting for the day to be buried.”

The social gospel movement was primarily based on what is known as the Lord’s prayer and the idea of God’s Kingdom on Earth.

The movement’s most pressing question was ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ as first posed by minister Charles Sheldon in his 1896 novel, “In His Steps.” Sheldon’s book has sold more than 30,000,000 copies and ranks as one of the best-selling books of all time. For a brief period in the 1990s, the phrase gained pop culture status with WWJD bracelets.

However, the social gospel movement based on “love thy neighbor” and “What would Jesus do?” was swept away by mid-20th century as a type of anti-capitalist, anti-government radicalism which was subversive to the American way of life.

King tied his faith in the social gospel which led to the nonviolent protest that characterized the Montgomery bus boycott, noting that “Christ furnished the spirit and motivation.”

Gov. Kay Ivey in her 2019 inaugural speech said, “But we would be less than honest with each other if we did not acknowledge that change has not always come easily. Standing here on Dexter Avenue, we are reminded of two different chapters in Alabama history: a time when the Civil War raged and 90 years later when the Civil Rights movement was inspired.”

She further stated, “It is important for all of us to acknowledge our past; after all, it was at a pulpit just down the street that Doctor Martin Luther King Junior so powerfully taught us how to confront struggles with honesty, courage, and love.”

Gov. Ivey confirmed her mettle by invoking King’s spirit in her inaugural address because Alabama is one of the two remaining states to celebrate King and Confederate general Robert E. Lee on the same day.

King’s vision for America was radical at the time but in looking back at history Rauschenbusch wrote that Christianity itself was revolutionary and that “the progressive reign of love in human affairs” will bring about “the progressive unity of mankind.” A thought not dissimilar than the reformist ideas preached by King.

As professor Cook writes in “Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Long Social Gospel Movement,” King’s “image and significance” over the last decade has been recused “from the safe, sanitized, and largely national narrative of incremental racial progress in the 1950s and 1960s.”

Remembering Dr. King demands a look at the broader context of the social change he championed. Love him or hate him, King, like social reformers before him, asked for social equality but in many ways only asked “What would Jesus do?”

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | In God we trust; all others will be scrutinized

Bill Britt

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After being elected Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives for his first full quadrennium, Mac McCutcheon addressed the body to offer his vision for the next four years.

“I want this quadrennium to be defined by four simple words — building a better Alabama,” McCutcheon said.

Building a better Alabama is a goal most can agree upon but what constitutes a better Alabama means different things to different people even within the lower chamber.

The speaker offered concrete examples of what he sees as the building blocks for a better state which comprise his agenda for the upcoming legislative session.

Better roads and bridges, an even better economy, a better education system and a better standard of ethics are all part of McCutcheon’s plan.

No one can legitimately argue that improved infrastructure, a robust economy, higher education standards and strict ethics laws are not foundational to a healthy and prosperous state. But it is also wise to acknowledge that policy must be judged on results and not merely on intentions.

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There is little doubt that McCutcheon is an honest man with a sincere desire to make Alabama even better. As he said in his remarks to the House, “We are here to govern with honor, and we are here to follow the rule of law.” But McCutcheon knows as does anyone who understands the nature of politics that honor is its own reward but also a virtue that is not always rewarded by those who seek power.

This he addressed in his speech by saying, “As a legislator, you have two choices before you. You can choose to be guided primarily by your own ambitions, desires, and personal interests, or you can choose to be led by a desire to make Alabama a better place for the constituents you represent.”

As McCutcheon is given broad powers constitutionally to set the state’s agenda, the ambitions, desires and personal interests of hundreds of special interests will bear down on him as well as other members of the House.

McCutcheon and other lawmakers should recognize that to stand on principle often means you stand alone.

Most legislators do come to Montgomery with a desire to make Alabama a better place for the constituents, but the capital city has a way of blurring that desire. It is the sad state of human nature to believe what is best for oneself is good for everyone else. In Montgomery, there are a hundred of individuals roaming the State House that will convince the gullible of that mistaken notion.

And so the die is cast, McCutcheon has laid down his markers. He deserves a fresh start and strong support, but as with an immense responsibility comes an even greater burden.

The speaker closed his statements to the House by saying, “We are here to serve the people of Alabama to the very best of our abilities…so help us, God.”

In God we trust; all others will be scrutinized.

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Poarch Creek leadership keeps taking from state while giving nothing in return

Bill Britt

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According to the U.S. Department of the Interior Indian Affairs, federally recognized tribes like the Poarch Band of Creek Indians are protected against encroachment by other sovereigns, such as the states.

So, why does the Alabama State Legislature show submissiveness to the Poarch Band of Creek Indians?

For at least ten years, PCI has slowly impressed its will on state government in Alabama to bend it to the tribe’s wishes without offering any concessions to the state.

PCI pays no state taxes, gets special consideration on its use of state roads and is operating a gaming monopoly that falls outside of the legal bounds of the Indian Gaming Regulation Act (IGRA). According to IRGA, a tribe is not permitted to operate any games that are illegal in a state.

Three years ago, U.S. Attorney for the middle district, George Beck, sent a letter to then-Gov. Robert Bentley and Attorney General Luther Strange to raise serious questions about the state’s inconsistency on the legality of bingo machines.

While the letter seeks clarification on what might appear to be a complex issue, it can be distilled down to a question: How can the machines played at VictoryLand be slot machines and the ones played at facilities owned by PCI not be slots? Or even more simply put, how can one be illegal and the other not?

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US Attorney Asks Bingo or Slots?

Beck’s question has never been answered, and PCI continues to operate its billion-dollar gaming operations.

Federal courts have held the state has no power over PCI because of its sovereignty.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs says that “federally recognized tribes possess both the right and the authority to regulate activities on their lands independently from state government control.”

States are considered sovereign entities and can engage in a government-to-government relationship with other sovereigns states, but this is not mandatory.

The State of Alabama has no government-to-government relationship with PCI; yet each year, PCI marshals its lobbyists in Montgomery, under the direction of Tribal Vice President Robbie McGee, to persuade state lawmakers to protect its gaming operation by denying the state’s citizens an opportunity to vote on a lottery, or gaming in general.

PCI rigorously pushes the State Legislature to do its bidding but would never let lawmakers come and lobby its tribal council for privileges that would benefit the state of Alabama.

Why should state lawmakers continue to protect any business that refuses to play fair?

One could even question how a sovereign nation is allowed to elect a representative to the Alabama Legislature, but they do.

The bigger question is why does the Legislature continue to bow to the Indians’ wants and needs while the tribe gives nothing in return?

Why should McGee be allowed to stand in a committee meeting at the Alabama State House and arrogantly tell state lawmakers what they should and should not do? Would lawmakers show such deference to an ambassador from Latvia, El Salvador or Mexico?

PCI has a unique dual status within the state, but they demand this special relationship while siphoning off hundreds of millions of dollars from the state without paying a dime in taxes. PCI is currently investing money earned in Alabama to support its operations in Nevada, Pennsylvania and the Caribbean.

Whenever anyone says, the tribe is a good neighbor because they give back to communities, they are simply buying into PCI’s propaganda. PCI gives trinkets to pacify cities and counties so the tribe can reap millions for themselves.

The U.S. Supreme Court in its 2009, ruling in Carcieri v. Salazar, held that the term “now under Federal jurisdiction” referred only to tribes that were federally recognized in 1934, when the Indian Recognition Act became law. The court ruled that the federal government could not take land into trust from tribes that were recognized after that time. PCI was not federally recognized until Nov. 21, 1984, some 50 years after the cutoff date.

Several bills have been introduced in Congress to offer PCI a Carcieri “Fix,” but the latest bill was rejected by Alabama’s senior U.S. Senator Richard Shelby.

This last election cycle, PCI, unlike in the past, didn’t heavily invest in political campaign. The reason the tribe is laying low is partly out of fear that President Donald J. Trump’s administration might decide to challenge PCI’s status as a federally recognized tribe. The other reason is that the tribe, under direction from McGee, has made common cause with former Gov. Bob Riley and former BCA head Billy Canary to run a candidate against Senator Shelby, should he seek re-election in 2022.

PCI is targeting the U.S. Senate in hopes of finally obtaining a Carcieri “Fix” guaranteeing its continuing status as a sovereign entity within Alabama’s borders, not bound by state law.

There is little doubt that, historically, members of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians were rudely treated, but this is an ancient grievance that PCI’s gaming profits will not satisfy.

State lawmakers must decide to do what’s right for the state and not a sovereign entity that only takes.

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Bill Britt

Opinion | 2019: Great things or one damn thing after another?

Bill Britt

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As we look forward to the new year, on the one hand, there is no compelling reason for exuberant optimism, but on the other, there is no cause for debilitating pessimism as 2019, like other years, will offer opportunities where the state can grow and prosper and still experience yet unimagined problems and scandal.

Politics, like life, can sometimes be just one damn thing after another.

Crucial to any success in government, business or most human endeavor is leadership. In this sense, Gov. Kay Ivey, Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh and Chief Justice Tom Parker will hopefully commit to moving the state forward with clarity and purpose.

Parker may prove to be the singular individual who can save the state’s tittering ethics laws. But more on that in a minute.

Republicans securely command every branch of state government, which also places an ideological burden not just on those elected officials but also on the state party.

ALGOP Chair Terry Lathan must guide the party to support policies that are best for Alabama even if they do not fit neatly into a national narrative.

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There is also reason to believe an opportunity for Democrat House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels and Senate Democrat Leader Bobby Singleton to challenge the Republican status quo in a rational discussion of ideas.

Singleton’s relationship with Marsh and Daniels’ closeness to McCutcheon bodes well for some bipartisan dealmaking. But Daniels and Singleton must be willing to stand in front of the media and offer alternatives and criticism every time Republicans push cockamamy ideas or try to run them over for purely partisan gains.

As a minority party, the press is the Democrats best weapon and should be used to paint a big picture of where they stand and how they are different from Republicans

Republicans have been successful at winning elections, but their record of governing for all the people is no more stellar than the Democrats they replaced in 2010.

Any thinking individual knows there is more to governing than winning an election. Governing means enacting sound policy that produces meaningful results. Sloganeering, PR stunts and homespun bromides might equal electoral victory but only workable, principled actions result in legislative success.

The best leaders are those who upon election act as if the last election was their last campaign so they can serve the interests of their constituents and not the next election.

Gov. Ivey has signaled that she is going to do the difficult things that her predecessors refused to do. Now we must hope the Legislature will follow suit and not merely nibble around the edges of the state’s most pressing needs.

There is inherent in each new year the promise of a fresh start, a do-over if you will, where we can wipe the slate clean and began anew.

But dark omens are already evident and will come into sharp focus as the year unfolds.

Most apparent is the cloud hanging over the head of Attorney General Steve Marshall, who came to power after making a devil’s pact with then-Gov. Robert Bentley and his muse, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, to keep them safe from Special Prosecution Divison Chief Matt Hart. Marshall reneged on his agreement with Bentley but kept his promise to big donors to remove Hart once he won his election. Not only did Marshall sellout Hart to win an election, he also took nearly a million dollars in illegal campaign contributions.

Marshall should be under indictment for illegally accepting $735,000 in dirty money from the Republican Attorneys Generals Association. Instead, he and his sidekick, Katherine Green Robertson, are pushing a watered down version of the State’s Ethics Act to curry favor with the state’s elites.

Commissioners Jerry L. Fielding, Frank C. “Butch” Ellis, Jr., and John Plunk gave Marshall his get out of jail free card, proving they are as corrupt as Marshall.

The Ethics Commission and lawmakers were warned about offering Marshall cover for willingly and knowingly accepted illegal campaign contributions to win his election, but those warnings were ignored for political considerations.

Once Marshall’s moral failings and false image is exposed to lawmakers, and those who helped him win the election will be as shocked and humiliated as those who backed one of North Carolina’s most notorious politicos, John Edwards.

Perhaps the most dire and dangerous problem facing the state is the lawless Ethics Commission, which under the leadership of Judge Fielding has used extraordinary means to subvert the rule of law by becoming a law unto themselves. Chief Justice Tom Parker is most capable of using his bully pulpit to champion an ethics commission and ethics laws that don’t reward elite-lawbreakers but holds them accountable like everyone else.

Ancient thinkers understood that character is destiny so it is that if those of good character lead with clearness of purpose and honesty of thought, then 2019 will be better than the year that will soon pass into memory.

Alabama’s state leaders both in government and the private sector can do great things, but the question is, will they?

 

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Opinion | Can Alabama’s one-party system deliver for all the people?

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