In a state where political news comes fast and furious, and where newspaper and TV news staffs are steadily declining, it’s easy for a few stories to slip through the cracks.
At this time each year, APR tries to go back and catch a few of those and give them the attention they deserve. And so, here are the top 5 under-reported stories for 2018.
5. Marshall suicide
The death of Bridgette Marshall, wife of Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, was a statewide news story the day it occurred, and even a few days later when the initial police report was made available.
But after an emotional press conference, at which Steve Marshall chastised the media for reporting the basic facts contained in a public police report — mainly that his estranged wife had committed suicide at an apartment in Murfreesboro, Tennessee — most reporting on the matter stopped.
To this day, basic details about the death of Bridgette Marshall — details that are routinely reported in similar death investigations — remain unknown and unreported.
4. Ivey health issues
While Kay Ivey’s health issues became a major focus during her campaign for governor, a story that gained little statewide attention was her attempts to cover up a 2015 health scare in Colorado and her retaliation against a state trooper.
Ivey suffered “stroke-like symptoms” while at a conference in Colorado and spent several days in a hospital. When one of the troopers on her security detail reported the hospital trip, according to the former head of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, Ivey had the trooper transferred and his pay cut.
The move was petty and punished a law enforcement officer for simply doing his job correctly (reporting the incident was required), but the incident never gained traction with the media statewide. And a couple of simple explanations from Ivey’s team were sufficient.
3. Ethics fights
Explaining complicated laws and even more complicated bills seeking to change those laws isn’t easy in a time when the general public is being inundated by information from all angles. So, maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that Alabama politicians’ attempts to rewrite and weaken the state’s ethics laws was met by general disinterest from the public at large.
Still, it was disappointing to watch Republicans — led by Marshall — work to overturn ethics reforms put in place by other Republicans, and pay absolutely no political price for their misdeeds.
From HB317, which opened up a giant loophole in ethics laws allowing for the wining and dining of lawmakers, to Marshall and the state “Ethics” Commission creating another loophole in the ban on PAC-to-PAC transfers in campaign donations, it was open season this past year on laws meant to protect the public from the ridiculous corruption that has plagued this state for decades.
2. Bentley lawsuits
Did you know that the state of Alabama is still paying thousands of dollars monthly to defend former Gov. Robert Bentley in multiple lawsuits? If you said no, you’re not alone.
In one of those lawsuits — filed by former Finance Department official James Nolin — the state has already apologized to Nolin and admitted Bentley was wrong for the actions he took. In the other, filed by former ALEA secretary Spencer Collier, officials from Gov. Kay Ivey’s office have privately admitted that Bentley was wrong.
Still, the lawsuits go on, costing state taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars to this point. And there is little attention being paid to any of it.
1. BCA debacle
It is the most powerful lobbying group in the state — a group so powerful that it has shaped state politics for the past decade through its lobbying efforts. Yet, when the BCA went into a tailspin earlier this year, and its top members looked to push out longtime director Billy Canary, there was little statewide attention paid to the fallout.
The fight pitted some of the most influential businesses and business leaders in Alabama against each other, and against the BCA leadership. Those groups felt the BCA had suffered in recent years because of Canary’s heavy-handed approach to lobbying. And to their point, numerous lawmakers had snubbed the BCA’s wishes in recent sessions, with some going so far as to vote against bills simply because the BCA was backing them. In the 2017 session, BCA-backed legislation was essentially shut out. In the 2018 session, several top-priority bills failed to pass.
In response, seven top businesses in the state pulled out of the group, and two of its top officials and board members resigned, as leadership resisted ousting Canary.
But money, as always, does the talking. And after losing hundreds of thousands in annual donations from the defections, the BCA board acquiesced.
Canary got the boot and the leadership structure was reshuffled. The defectors rejoined and a new director, Katie Britt, was hired.
Governor announces auto supplier IAC plans Alabama expansion
IAC is committing $34.3 million in new capital investment to expand its new manufacturing facility located in Tuscaloosa County.
Gov. Kay Ivey announced Monday that International Automotive Components Group North America Inc. plans to invest over $55.9 million in expansion projects that will create 182 jobs at two Alabama facilities.
“International Automotive Components is a leading global auto supplier, and I am pleased that this world-class company is growing significantly in Alabama and creating good jobs in Cottondale and Anniston,” Ivey said. “IAC’s growth plans show that Alabama’s dynamic auto industry continues to expand despite today’s challenging environment.”
Nick Skwiat is the executive vice president and president of IAC North America.
“Alabama was the logical choice due to its skilled workforce and proximity to the customer,” Skwiat said. “We are excited to see the continued growth of the automotive industry in Alabama and we plan to grow right along with it. We thank the Governor and Secretary Canfield for their leadership in this sector.”
IAC is committing $34.3 million in new capital investment to expand its new manufacturing facility located in Tuscaloosa County. This facility will produce door panels and overhead systems for original equipment manufacturers. That project will create 119 jobs at the production site in Cottondale.
IAC also plans to invest $21.6 million at its manufacturing facility located in the former Fort McClellan in Anniston. That East Alabama project will create another 63 jobs.
This project builds on a milestone 2014 expansion that doubled the size of the Calhoun County facility. There IAC manufactures automotive interior components and systems. Key components produced at the Anniston plant include door panels, trim systems and instrument panels for original equipment manufacturers.
IAC Group is a leading global supplier of innovative and sustainable instrument panels, consoles, door panels, overhead systems, bumper fascias and exterior ornamentation for original equipment manufacturers.
IAC is headquartered in Luxembourg and has more than 18,000 employees at 67 locations in 17 countries. The company operates manufacturing facilities in eight U.S. states.
“With operations around the globe, IAC is the kind of high-performance company that we want in Alabama’s auto supply chain to help fuel sustainable growth,” said Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield. “We look forward to working with IAC and facilitating its future growth in this strategic industrial sector.”
Danielle Winningham is the executive director of the Tuscaloosa County Industrial Development Authority.
“International Automotive Components is a valued part of Tuscaloosa County’s automotive sector,” Winningham said. “We are grateful for IAC’s investment in our community and the career opportunities available to our area workforce as a result of their investment.”
“The City of Anniston is excited that IAC has made the decision to expand here. I have enjoyed working with the leadership at IAC, the Calhoun County EDC, and the state of Alabama to get this project finalized,” said Anniston Mayor Jack Draper. “This is even further evidence that Anniston is indeed open for business.”
Only Michigan has more automobile manufacturing jobs than the state of Alabama. Honda, Mercedes, Hyundai, Polaris, Toyota and soon Mazda all have major automobile assembly plants in the state of Alabama.
Opinion | Prisons, justice reform and the art of the possible
Politics is bound by the art of what’s possible. It is also true that those who never dare the impossible rarely achieve even the possible.
For years, prison reform advocates, media outlets and even a few public officials have called for new correctional facilities to address Alabama’s dangerously overcrowded prisons.
Now that it’s happening, some aren’t happy with how Gov. Kay Ivey is addressing the problem.
Is the Ivey Administration’s plan perfect? No. But building new facilities along with criminal justice reform — while all imperfect — is the last best hope to correct generations of cruel treatment, endangered correctional officers and corrupt practices.
German chancellor and statesman Otto von Bismarck said “Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best,” this is the state of a workable solution to Alabama’s prison needs and criminal justice reform.
Yet, there is a concerted effort underway to stop the Ivey Administration from acquiring three new men’s prisons under a build-lease agreement.
Some lawmakers want another crack at financing additional facilities through a bond issue, and others want more say in the process. Still, the fact is that Ivey’s actions are the result of decades of legislative indifference and inaction to adequately address the appalling conditions at Alabama’s correctional facilities.
Even some advocates are working against the prison plan and while their intentions may be good it seem to their hand wringing is almost as disingenuous as lawmakers whining.
What’s worse are those who spread disinformation to discredit process.
Many good people have worked hard to bring about an end to the state’s barbaric prison system and unfair justice, but lately it seems there is an outright movement to derail much needed change— simply because it’s not enough. As the saying goes, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
There have been so many false claims and sly manipulations of facts about the prison plan as to make even a hardened journalist want to cry “fake news.”
But as for Ivey, frankly, my dears, I don’t think she gives a damn.
Here’s the hard truth. The Ivey Administration is building three new men’s prisons, and nothing will stop it. The fact is that three prisons are not enough; the administration should move forward to build a new women’s facility as soon as practicable.
Politics is bound by the art of what’s possible. It is also true that those who never dare the impossible rarely achieve even the possible.
Failing to recognize when the once impossible is coming to fruition is a sad reality. Still, in politics, as in life, good things happen while most people are navel-gazing or complaining.
Having visited three state prisons, St. Clair, Elmore, and Tutwiler, I can say without a doubt, the conditions in those places are a living hell.
A report from the U.S. Department of Justice released in April 2019, found “reasonable cause to believe that Alabama fails to provide constitutionally adequate conditions and that prisoners experience serious harm, including deadly harm, as a result.”
DOJ’s investigation revealed that prisoners were susceptible to “an enormous breath” of sexual abuse and assault but other types of violence as well, including gruesome murder and beatings that went without intervention.
When the state incarcerates a criminal, it assumes custodial care for that individual. No matter how heinous the crime or foul the person, the state has an obligation to feed, clothe, house and provide essential human services for their care and welfare. Another element is often overlooked; when a person is committed to prison, they lose their freedom, not their humanity. Therefore, under the law, they cannot be subject to cruel and unusual punishment.
Building three new men’s prisons is just the start; it must be accompanied by criminal justice reform.
“We are able to have a serious discussion about prison reform in Alabama because we have a governor who is serious about putting solutions into place,” Ivey’s press secretary Gina Maiola recently told APR. “Prison infrastructure is a key part of the equation, but criminal justice reform is also needed,” Maiola said.
The Study Group entered its mission with one pressing question; “What policies and programs can the State of Alabama implement to ensure the long-term sustainability of our prison system without jeopardizing public safety?” according to Supernumerary Associate Supreme Court Justice Champ Lyons, Jr., who led the effort.
In a letter to Ivey on the Study Groups finding, Lyons wrote [T]he challenges facing our prison system are exceedingly complex—ranging from the elimination of contraband weapons and drugs to the recruitment, retention, and training of correctional staff to the size of the inmate population and to the physical condition of an aging and far-flung prison infrastructure.” He further wrote, “But having thought through many of these issues with my Study Group colleagues, especially our legislative members, I can report to you that some meaningful answers to this question are not just possible; they are within our grasp.”
Prisons without justice reform is a hollow victory, and the Ivey Administration is committed to bringing about reasonable reforms.
“Prison infrastructure is a key part of the equation,” said Maiola, “but criminal justice reform is also needed.”
The issues facing Alabama’s prisons and criminal justice system are complex, and generations in the making; therefore, arriving at a universally acceptable solution is not imaginable for the moment if ever. But what once seemed impossible is soon to be realized.
No one gets everything they want, but it’s a great step toward getting what is needed simply because it’s possible.
Federal judge refuses to temporarily block governor’s mask order
Following the issuing of those orders, the state saw noticeable drops in both COVID-19 positive cases and deaths.
A federal judge on Wednesday denied a petition for a temporary restraining order that would have blocked Gov. Kay Ivey’s statewide mask ordinance and a prohibition on large, non-work gatherings.
U.S District Court Judge Keith Watkins said, essentially, that the plaintiffs in the case had waited too long to file the request. In his order, Watkins said that a key component in determining the necessity of a TRO is “a need for speedy and urgent action to protect a plaintiff’s rights” while the case as a whole works its way through the legal system.
The seven plaintiffs in this case, Watkins noted, didn’t file their complaint until late last month — some five months after the initial ban on large gatherings was issued in May and two months after Ivey, along with State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, issued the mask ordinance.
The time discrepancy, Watkins said, indicated that there was no “imminent irreparable harm” that could come to the plaintiffs without immediate action.
“Plaintiffs waited an impermissible amount of time to seek … a temporary restraining order,” Watkins wrote.
The lawsuit specifically challenges Ivey’s and Harris’s authority to issue health orders that ban all non-work gatherings of more than 25 people, order certain businesses and houses of worship temporarily closed and require that people in public areas in the state wear facial coverings. The plaintiffs claim the orders violate their constitutional rights, specifically their First, Fifth and 14th Amendment rights.
Following the issuing of those orders, the state saw noticeable drops in both COVID-19 positive cases and deaths. So far, the state has more than 140,000 cases and nearly 2,500 deaths.
The lawsuit will move forward, with attorneys for Ivey and Harris expected to file a motion to dismiss in the coming days.
Former Alabama chief justice Roy Moore is representing the plaintiffs.
Opinion | Gov. Kay Ivey didn’t cave
Ivey stood her ground on Wednesday, refusing to cave to those who want to end the mask order.
Gov. Kay Ivey extended the statewide mandatory mask ordinance on Wednesday despite pressure from her party’s right-wing. Nationally and here in Alabama, many Republicans have complained that any restrictions on their behavior during the COVID-19 outbreak is a violation of their individual liberty.
Ivey stood her ground on Wednesday, refusing to cave to those who want to end the mask order. For most of the COVID-19 pandemic here in the state, Ivey has followed health experts’ advice rather than politicos. Standing up to the Republican Party’s right-wing is not an easy task even in the best of times, but these days, with the party more radicalized than ever, Ivey is taking a huge political risk.
But like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, she hasn’t bowed, she hasn’t bent, and she hasn’t burned.
These are divisive times when even the best of people seem to be at war over the nation’s direction.
“Give me liberty or give me death” may have been a great rallying cry in 1776; it’s less persuasive as a public health policy.
Lately, some Alabama conservatives sound more like the John Birch Society members than the Republican Party of just a few years ago.
“In the name of fighting the coronavirus, more and more state governors are ruling by decree, curtailing freedoms and ordering residents to stay at home,” says the Birch website.
The Republican Party in the 1960s deemed Birchers dangerous and severed ties with the group. But like 60s racism, Red-baiting and a fear that socialist are lurking behind every corner, all that’s old is new again.
Not surprisingly, former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore is one of the leading voices in the fight to discredit the Ivey administration’s COVID orders.
Senate President Pro Tem Republican Del Marsh is part of the anti-masker movement and has suggested he’d like to see more people become infected to build the state’s overall immunity to the virus.
Marsh is certainly not alone; there is a motivated mop of miscreants who sees any restriction as an affront to them doing anything they please. Perhaps they can refuse to wear a seatbelt or maybe light up a cigar the next time they are dinning at the county club and show some real radical resistance.
The truth is many of those who condemn masks as an intrusion on personal freedom would happily compel their fellow citizens to pray at school and stand for the national anthem. They are more than willing to regulate liberties when it contradicts their opinion of what is good and wholesome. But heaven forbid they wear a mask to protect others—that is one regulation too far.
Like a pubescent boy, they live in a fantasy world; without consequences.
Anti-maskers are given to a form of herd mentality, which is part of a broader movement to discredit science for political purposes.
Perhaps the most critical job of a governor or lawmaker is the heath and safety of the public.
Masks protect others more than the wearer, and where the “Golden rule” should apply, it is trampled on just like Jesus’ admonition to love our neighbors as ourselves.
But I suspect that many of those who continuously espouse conspiracies, apocalyptic nightmares, and end time prophecies actually don’t like themselves very much and therefore don’t really care about the shared responsibilities we have toward others.
Writing for Business Insider, George Pearkes explains the four different types of liberty, according to David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed to explain mandatory mask orders.
“Efforts to require masks are a straightforward expression of ordered liberty,” writes Pearkes. “The concept of ordered liberty argues that without structure and a set of rules which are enforced for the common good, society would devolve into chaos.” He further concludes that “Mask orders are quite literally saving society from itself, so that we can be more free than we would if COVID spread even further and faster.”
Ordered liberty can be seen at the heart of Ivey’s policies during the coronavirus plague.
But for anti-maskers, “Live Free or Die” means they are free to do what they want, even if it kills you.
Ivey is putting people ahead of politics. We should wish more would follow her example.