A quick dismissal should occur in a Macon County courtroom on Wednesday.
Circuit Court Judge Steve Perryman will hold one of the first hearings — including a hearing on a motion to dismiss — in Attorney General Steve Marshall’s public nuisance lawsuit brought against VictoryLand Casino.
Marshall brought this lawsuit, along with several other lawsuits against gaming establishments around the state, more than a year ago in an effort, he claimed, to stop “illegal gambling operations” in Alabama.
For Marshall, it was little more than a publicity stunt — a way for a virtually unknown and appointed AG to pick up some cheap name recognition. Illegal gambling wasn’t rampant around the state, and there was certainly no public outcry against what little there was.
But Marshall needed the PR, so he filed a few lawsuits.
To be clear, there is gambling, by way of electronic bingo, taking place at VictoryLand Casino in Shorter. As there should be.
There’s also electronic bingo gambling taking place at GreeneTrack in Eutaw.
And there’s gambling taking place at two establishments in Lowndes County.
All four of these establishments have the law on their sides. Each county — Macon, Greene and Lowndes — had constitutional amendments voted through the state legislature and later overwhelmingly approved by voters that legalized the electronic games.
There is no doubt that the voters and the lawmakers knew they were voting to approve electronic bingo machines. And there’s no arguing that the three counties followed the process for implementing constitutional amendments to the letter of the law.
What has occurred in the years following those amendments has been nothing more than political pandering and outright fraud, started by former Gov. Bob Riley and continued by a state Supreme Court that has placed far more emphasis on party politics than on following the law.
So, maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that Marshall — the reigning king of cheap political opportunism — is following in Riley’s footsteps, and pushing an issue that shouldn’t be — against the will of the people and against the letter of the law.
But at least he’ll be doing so without help from the governor’s office.
Before he was run out of office, former Gov. Robert Bentley signed an executive order that removed the authority from the AG’s office to prosecute gambling cases and instead put those cases in the hands of local authorities.
There’s a reason for that: In the constitutional amendments passed by the counties that approved electronic bingo, lawmakers put county sheriffs in charge of policing the establishments and ensuring the games are legal and fair.
Macon County Sheriff Andre Brunson has done so.
Brunson has inspected the machines in use at VictoryLand and approved those in operation.
And that’s the end of the discussion.
The state has no more standing to question Brunson’s authority on this than it does to question his authority on enforcing local liquor laws.
Legalizing the sale of alcohol in Macon required the same legislative process and voter approval as changing the gambling laws. The same sort of amendment was added to the state’s constitution and the responsibility for enforcing the new laws fell on the county sheriff.
It works the exact same for gambling.
If Brunson says the games are legal, they’re legal. And Marshall’s pandering lawsuit should be booted quickly on Wednesday.
Opinion | Some observations
Allow me to share some observations from the year thus far. First of all, I have never seen anything like the coronavirus shutdown of the country. Hopefully, it is a once in a lifetime disaster.
Governor Kay Ivey remains popular. Even though some people consider the defeat of Amendment One a personal rejection, it was not. Alabamians just like to vote to elect their political and, in this case, educational leaders.
As you recall, Amendment One was asking Alabamians to give up their right to vote on the State Schoolboard and to allow the governor to appoint them instead. When I was queried on whether Amendment One would pass, I quickly told them it would lose 60 to 40. I was wrong, it took more of a shellacking than that. It lost 75 to 25. Folks, that sends a message. You may not know who serves on the State Schoolboard, but Alabamians surely want to vote for them.
Governor Ivey’s people do a good job of looking after her and protecting her time. She is all business and is very scheduled. She and her staff treat the office with a dignity I have not seen in decades. She is focused on the job at hand and an audience with her must be for a purpose, even with legislators. Her staff gets her in-and-out and protects her time and health. She has been especially isolated since the coronavirus epidemic. She will more than likely not run for a second term in 2022.
Waiting in the wings to run is Lt. Governor, Will Ainsworth. He just turned 39 and will be in the race for the brass ring in 2022. If being an outstanding family man is a prerequisite, he will be a contender. He has a genuinely sweet and pretty wife named Kendall. They have fraternal twin boys, Hunter and Hays, who are 10 and a little 8-year-old girl named Addie. I met the boys the night of the State of the State Address. Will brought them over to where I was standing and wanted us to meet. The little boys were the most polished ten-year-old’s I have ever met. They very politely, yet confidently looked me in the eye and shook my hand and said, “It’s nice to meet you Mr. Flowers.” They exuded manners.
Kay Ivey only attends the most important events and she does not lollygag around conversing afterwards. Therefore, it was apparent when she came to Birmingham earlier this year to the Grand Opening of Dr. Swaid Swaid’s, state-of-the-art medical facility, that Swaid was special.
Dr. Swaid has been a friend and supporter of almost every governor, going back to George Wallace. Governor Wallace came to UAB to see Swaid and would not only want the famed physician to treat him for his numerous afflictions and ailments, but also enjoyed visiting with the jovial Galilean doctor. Swaid has many great stories from his and the governor’s visits and friendship.
Swaid’s best friend is State Senator Jabo Waggoner. They are really like brothers rather than just best friends. Jabo is the longest serving member in the history of the state legislature. He chairs the State Senate Rules Committee.
Jabo and Swaid and their families spend almost every weekend together, either at their homes in Vestavia or Smith Lake. However, they make it to their church, Homewood Church of Christ, almost every Sunday. Jabo and his beautiful wife, Marilyn, have attended the church for 45 years. Swaid has attended for 40 years. Jabo and Swaid are leaders in this mega church.
Recently, Jabo and Marilyn and Swaid and his lovely wife, Christy, invited me to join them for their church service and lunch afterwards. It was an enjoyable visit. The most rewarding part was meeting Swaid and Christy’s two sons, Christian and Cason. They are absolutely the politest and quality young men I have met. They are being raised right by an obviously good Christian father and mother.
Swaid built his state-of-the-art surgery hospital on well-traveled, easily accessible Highway 31 in Vestavia. He chose the location because he knew from his work over the years, that people from all over the state, especially rural areas, come to Birmingham for major surgery. Most of these patients are older and not familiar with Birmingham traffic, especially with maneuvering the labyrinth around UAB. It will make it much easier to see the world-renowned doctors in Swaid’s group.
If Swaid’s boys are an example of the next generation, our state may be in better hands than we think.
See you next week.
Steve 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.
Opinion | Fear not, fight on and don’t faint
The spread of COVID-19 in Alabama is worse today than it was yesterday, and in all likelihood, it will be more devastating tomorrow.
The realities of the moment challenge us to be strong, resilient and persistent.
On Sunday, the number of confirmed COVID-19 infections in the state passed 1,800, with 45 reported deaths. Those numbers represent real people, our fellow citizens, friends and loved ones.
The latest figures coming from the state may be only a hint of what’s next.
More of us will survive this disease than succumb to it, but we will all feel it, even naysayers and deniers.
The fight against this pathogen is not a sprint that will end swiftly; it is a marathon. Therefore, perseverance is critical. In sports, as in life, perseverance separates the winners from the losers.
Winston Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
As a state and a nation, the times demand we keep going without fear.
These are not the worst of times; these are trying times that will pass. This is not a happy talk but a message from history. History teaches that humans are adaptive and, therefore, survivors.
It doesn’t mean that horrible things aren’t happening; they are.
People are sick, some are dying, but all the while along with doctors, nurses and health care providers, there is a legion of ordinary Alabamians doing simple things that in the context of this calamity are extraordinary.
Individuals who deliver groceries, stock shelves and cook take out are putting themselves at risk so others can eat. The same can be said of thousands that are keeping essential services open.
These individuals are displaying the very essence of perseverance — the will to push forward when it would be easier to quit.
In George S. Patton’s speech to the Third Army during World War II, he delivered many memorable lines that are not easily quoted in a general publication. Patton was fond of profanity. But many apply to our current situation.
“Sure, we all want to go home. We want to get this war over with. But you can’t win a war lying down,” Patton said.
We will win if we don’t give in and don’t quit.
This isn’t hell for all, but it is for some.
Now is a time for each of us to do what we can to ensure that we all survive.
My mother was fond of quoting scripture and sometimes with her own unique twist.
Galatians 6:9 was one of her go-to verses.
“And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap if we faint not.”
She would say, “Now, that doesn’t mean you won’t get woozy, or that you won’t need to take a knee. It says don’t faint — never give up.”
Then she would round it off with, “‘Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,’ to heck with the flesh, it will follow where the mind tells it to.”
What we do now will determine who we will be as a state and nation once this pandemic subsides. Will we be better, stronger, and more humane, or will we further cocoon into tribes who are weaker, disparate and frightened?
Fear not, fight on and don’t faint.
Opinion | Groupthink voting is now literally killing us
I have many friends who can tell you the names of the offensive linemen who started last year for their favorite college football team. And most of them can also tell you who their backups are.
Very few of these people can name off their state senator, their state representative, the city councilmen or their county commissioners. I’d bet an embarrassing percentage couldn’t tell you who their U.S. senators and congressmen are.
And today, that disparity in knowledge is killing us.
As the coronavirus rips through this country, and as it rips through this mostly hospital-less state, it is exposing the absolute buffoons who have been elected to public office. Folks who few of us would allow to walk our dogs are being forced to confront an unprecedented national crisis, and they are failing miserably.
Nowhere is that more true than in the state of Alabama.
Where our governor hasn’t taken a live question from media or scared-to-death voters in going on a month now. Where our House leader and Senate president have apparently been sheltering in place in a bunker in the hills. Where the only people with plans and ideas and straight talk are the powerless lieutenant governor and the super-minority party.
And where we still — STILL! — are left without a shelter-in-place order.
From one end of this state to the other, the people on the frontlines of this crisis are screaming for help. They’ve been sounding alarms for weeks now, and they’ve caught the attention of no one in state leadership, it seems.
If not for this state’s proactive mayors, God only knows what shape we’d be in right now. Behind the scenes, those mayors — Randall Woodfin in Birmingham, Walt Maddox in Tuscaloosa, Steven Reed in Montgomery, Tommy Battle in Huntsville and Sandy Stimpson in Mobile, along with others — have been communicating with each other, bouncing ideas of one another and sharing plans.
We will never know how many lives they’ve saved by taking proactive measures before their state government did — and in a couple of cases, in defiance of state leaders — but it will be many.
As for our state leaders, hopefully this catastrophic failure will be a wake-up call for Alabama voters. But I have my doubts.
And the reason I have my doubts is what I mentioned above — too many people simply don’t place a value on educated voting.
Don’t get me wrong. These are not dumb people. It’s not that they’re too stupid to understand the issues that affect their lives and select a person who would best represent their interests. They’re absolutely smart enough to do that.
But they don’t want to.
They go to work. They take care of their kids and their house. They try to get some exercise in. And then they’d like to watch a ballgame and have a decent time.
And so, voting — if they vote at all — becomes a group-think exercise in which most of these people just vote like their friends. They follow their lead and vote for the popular candidate, who is only popular for superficial reasons.
They’re swayed by cheesy pandering using religious issues or guns or racism or some phony patriotism. Simple pitches work best, because they’re not really paying attention anyway.
That’s why the guy who offers up a detailed explanation for how taking slightly more from you in tax dollars will actually put considerably more money in your pocket on the back side always loses out to the “conservative” who just says, “No new taxes; I’mma let you keep yo money.”
This dumb pitch works on even people who aren’t dumb simply because they’re not interested enough to appropriately weigh the two arguments.
The growth of social media has made things worse. Now, in a matter of 15 minutes, the average person in Alabama can scroll through 100 political memes about libtards and MAGA from their friends, and they’re not going to be on the outside of the circle looking in. They want to laugh too. They want to be part of the group.
But very few are laughing now.
Because inevitably, what that group-think voting does is remove the requirement that a candidate actually try. That a candidate present an understanding of the complicated issues and then present solutions to solve them. That a candidate demonstrate an ability to think on his/her feet. That a candidate demonstrate any aptitude for problem solving.
You’ll do things like elect a woman governor who refused to debate any challenger.
When you know you’ve got the election in the bag simply because you’re running for the right party, who needs to try?
And when you’re voting without demanding that effort — and Alabamians have been doing so for decades now — you’re assuring that incompetent, unprepared, useless politicians are going to be put into positions of power.
On a good day, those sorts of politicians are a burden on all of us. On really bad days, like we’re experiencing now, they’re basically grim reapers.
It would be nice if on the other side of this crisis we placed a higher premium on educated voting that produces better, more qualified public officials.
But given our history, I have my doubts.
Opinion | Facing each day, finding hope
People text me news tips all the time. Most of them are unfounded rumors. I’m sure my other colleagues at Alabama Political Reporter get their share.
We should never simply pass on a rumor or, as Donald Trump says, “fake” news. And the vast majority of us in journalism understand our responsibility in this.
But if we have a person in authority telling us something credible, whether it be about the COVID-19 pandemic or a completely unrelated issue, on-the-record or off, we’re careless if we don’t start looking into it. Often, these embryonic stories go nowhere. Sometimes, they give birth to real news.
All of these tips are valuable, even the clearly obvious ones that fall simply under “unfounded rumor” or “conspiracy theory.” We have an obligation to stop a story if it’s wrong, or to intervene in the telling of that story if somebody is spreading it on social media or the mainstream media.
Lately, I’ve been getting texts and videos on unfounded cures for the novel coronavirus. I’m going to leave that up to the scientists and doctors. I tell stories and write informed opinion; I don’t have much of a brain for science and math on my own.
As I’ve often said, I’m kind of a one-trick pony: I speak and write in the only language I know. And writing, really, is all I know. I can become a half-hour expert if I have to, cramming credible research into a short amount of time so I can produce a story.
I do make mistakes, though, and I try to correct them as quickly as possible when I do.
When I’m teaching one of my English or Honors classes at UAB and a student asks a question I can’t answer on the spot, I just admit it. Then I promise to look into the question so that I can get the student an answer. And then I do.
I’ve been corrected by a student in real time in class. The Internet is right there, on their smartphone or their smartpad or their laptop. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I don’t get flustered. I get smarter.
I’m also far more disciplined on social media than I once was. If we don’t learn from our mistakes, we don’t learn.
I hope, as a nation, we learn from the huge mistake we made when the coronavirus pandemic first started. We had two months to prepare before it got out of control in the United States and Alabama. It’s not as if the experts and intelligence agencies didn’t send a “heads-up” to the White House months ago. Yet, we were terribly, irresponsibly unprepared for this, and people have died because of that.
We have a president ill-equipped to instill confidence and calm into most of the people of his nation. We have a governor and a controlling political party that often stand around seemingly twiddling their thumbs.
But, then, appearances can be deceiving.
APR Editor in Chief Bill Britt reported Wednesday that a lot more is going on behind the scenes in Alabama than we’re aware of.
Writes Britt: “The Governor’s office is working in partnership with the state’s universities, businesses and others in an ongoing battle to curb the COVID-19 outbreak in the state.
“In times of crisis governments always stumble getting out of the gate; that’s what happens.
“The work presently being coordinated by the Governor’s staff and volunteers is not currently seen by the general public, but the efforts of these groups will affect the state now and in the future.”
Yes, we want to know our government is working to help end what very well may be the biggest crisis in generations.
We are a social society, and we want to be with our friends, and to take part in the organizations we support, and to hold an election this year. We want to attend sporting events and concerts and the symphony and the theatre.
The reality is that we don’t know how long this “new normal”will last. Axios reported this week that the NFL and college football seasons now are in jeopardy. We’re already without any of the spring and summer sports. The Olympics has been moved to next year, so Birmingham, the 2021 host of the World Gameswill now host them in 2022.
Still, thank God we live in a city and state that has a world-class research university, strong tech businesses, and top-notch hospitals to help find cures and treat people sickened from COVID-19.
I passed by one of our hospitals in Birmingham this week, and a big sign out front said: “Heroes Work Here.”
And they do.
UPDATE: Last week, I interviewed Pamela Franco, who was at University Hospital with a pretty vicious case of COVID-19. She is recovering and was released from the hospital over last weekend. She and her fiancé, Tim Stephens, are continuing to improve in quarantine at their home on Birmingham’s Southside. We wish them all the best.
Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]
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