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Opinion | An absolutely awful Legislature

Joey Kennedy

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So Alabama is really going to do it. We’re going to agree to spend no telling how much of our scarce financial resources to argue a clearly unconstitutional proposal to all but outright ban abortion in the state is somehow legal.

It is not, and shame on the Legislature to make the move.

For the record, the financial boondoggle is not a done deal yet. But it’s much closer, and with the Senate leadership on board, it’s pretty near a sure thing. The bill, HB314, will go to the Senate. The House approved it 74-3 after most Democrats walked out of the chamber. That vote alone shows how little influence Democrats have in the State House. It doesn’t even matter whether they show up.

Sponsored by, of all people, a woman – Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur – the bill has only one goal, and it’s not to ban abortion. The law of the land allows abortion because it is a private decision between a woman, her doctor and her God, and the Supreme Court has upheld that right in numerous previous challenges.

But Collins and her cohorts know a hot-button issue when they see it. So they’re risking perhaps a couple million or more Alabama taxpayer dollars in the hopes the U.S. Supreme Court will take up the issue once the lower courts kick it to the curb, as they have other restrictive abortion measures passed in other states.

Instead of letting those other states fight the battle, Collins wants Alabama to be the tip of the spear on this issue, so the House passed the most restrictive abortion measure in the nation thus far: It literally makes doctors felons if they perform an abortion for any reason other than saving the life of the mother. Collins’ fatally flawed bill is crippled even further because it lets the crime’s co-conspirator, the woman deciding to have the abortion, off the hook.

There’s so much wrong with this bill, you know it just had to be written by an Alabama lawmaker.

And here’s the big risk: After all the losing legal fights in the lower federal courts so the bill can get to the Supreme Court, the High Court might simply refuse to accept the challenge, leaving the lower court rulings in effect.

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Collins’ bill is so awfully flawed, the Supreme Court might simply turn its back on it.

Yet, the House, and perhaps (likely?) the Senate, are going along with the costly charade. Gov. Kay Ivey could veto the bill — and absolutely should if this reaches her desk — but probably won’t. Backbone isn’t one of her known characteristics.

Sure, Ivey fronted a gas tax hike for infrastructure, but she’s refused to push for a Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act to save rural hospitals, provide health insurance to hundreds of thousands of her constituents, and create an even better economy across the state. She just doesn’t have the nerve. (But then, Ivey didn’t have the nerve to vote against child predator and Republican Roy Moore in his race against U.S. Sen Doug Jones, either.)

Bad decisions like the abortion bill are actually a feature of the Alabama Legislature, especially under these Trump-loving Republicans:

  • As my colleague Josh Moon pointed out Wednesday, a lottery bill is making its way through the Legislature. A lottery makes sense because a lottery can fund some important needs. However, Moon notes, this is an awful lottery bill because lawmakers “want this lottery bill to offset the costs of new prisons.” It’s also a giveaway to the Indian casinos, which pay no taxes to the state.
  • There are those in the Legislature who wanted to strip the state’s ethics law and ethics commission of most of their authority and powers. Fortunately, a Senate Judicial Committee, chaired by Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, tabled that idea, but don’t think it can’t resurface from another route.
  • A plan to let just about any person conceal carry a firearm was in play until just recently, when it was also tabled in committee. But again, a bill isn’t dead until it’s dead.
  • A huge hike in the state fuel tax has passed, but not a dime of it can go to public transportation, a real infrastructure need in most of Alabama’s urban centers, but especially in Birmingham.
  • An effort by the city of Birmingham to raise the minimum wage was blocked by the Legislature, and now state Attorney General Steve Marshall is in court defending the state in a suit by Birmingham to overturn the law. Alabama doesn’t want the feds interfering in state business, but it sure doesn’t mind interfering in local business. The hypocrisy is astounding. Except, as the record of this Legislature shows, it really isn’t. It’s SOP. Or maybe FUBAR.

So that unconstitutional, awful abortion bill moves forward. Toward a huge wall even Donald Trump would be proud of.

To what end? Certainly it won’t be a reason Roe v. Wade is overturned, if it ever is. There are other laws around the country — still awful but better written — the Supreme Court likely will use if it has a mind to do that. And, despite the court’s makeup, that’s a big IF.

The Alabama law will do nothing but cost us a lot of money and bring us yet more ridicule. Lawmakers are so used to that, they probably think it’s a good thing.

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

 

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Opinion | Some observations

Steve Flowers

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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.

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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.

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Fear not, fight on and don’t faint

Bill Britt

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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.

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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.

 

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Opinion | Groupthink voting is now literally killing us

Josh Moon

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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. 

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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.

 

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Opinion | Facing each day, finding hope

Joey Kennedy

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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.

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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 normalwill 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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