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Opinion | Montgomery is broken: A cautionary tale for the rest of Alabama

Josh Moon

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There was a mayoral forum on Wednesday night in Montgomery, where the 11 candidates for mayor presented their strategies for saving the town and restoring law and order. 

It is hopeless. 

Chances are, if you don’t live in Montgomery, you don’t care much about who is elected mayor or about the everyday problems that plague the city. But you should, if only because the current state of Montgomery is a cautionary tale for every city and town in Alabama. 

Montgomery is the story of what can go wrong when you do wrong. It is the story of how racism and indifference can forever scar a town. It is a story of the way racism slowly morphs into classism and destroys any city. 

Because Montgomery became what it is today by doing exactly the sorts of things people in towns all across Alabama are trying, as they form breakaway cities and breakaway school districts and isolate communities and stifle public transportation and generally insulate the upper-middle class-and-above sections of town from anyone and everyone beneath that social standing. 

Montgomery did all of that long ago — in the 1950s and 60s — and then just kept sequestering and segregating and isolating right up to today. 

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Which is why the town is hopeless. And why every candidate who spoke on Wednesday night doesn’t have a prayer of fixing the issues that plague that city — the crime, the stupid violence, the broken school system, the unwillingness of businesses to locate there, the citizens fleeing to any other city at the first opportunity. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, Montgomery could be fixed. It would take time and devotion and lots and lots of money to do it, but it could be fixed. 

It won’t be fixed. Because fixing it would require a whole lot of people who have played a role in breaking that city admitting that they were wrong and then forking over cash to pay for the repairs. 

They’ll never do it. 

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So, the best we can hope for, I think, is to learn from Montgomery. To take its lessons and its current-day examples and prevent other cities from suffering similar fates. 

And the most important lesson is this: The education of ALL CHILDREN is the key to your city’s success. 

Pay for it now. Or your children and grandchildren will pay tenfold. 

The white fathers and grandfathers of Montgomery did not do this. Instead, in the 1950s, faced with the forced integration of public schools, the wealthy in Montgomery essentially set up their own segregated school systems by establishing private schools. 

At one point, Montgomery had more private schools than any other city in America. All so little white kids — rich, white kids — could avoid attending schools with black kids. 

Over time, thanks to various zoning issues, the placement of an Interstate, racist mortgage lending practices and sketchy public transportation routes, that racism slowly morphed into classism. Because poorer whites couldn’t move out of the “bad” neighborhoods fast enough, as Montgomery’s white, upper-middle class slowly drifted east. 

And so, what was left behind were public schools and neighborhoods filled with poor people. 

With poverty comes the crimes of opportunity, the drug use and drug sales and the poor academic performances of students who live tough lives and receive little guidance. 

Gangs and drugs and petty street crime become a way of life. And every day the violence slowly and steadily increases, and spreads, as angry children who are desperate to achieve anything in life embrace the goals of gang leaders and criminals. 

None of this was too big of a problem, of course, when the violence and crime and death were mostly contained within the black/poor communities of Montgomery. But today, after generations have been denied a decent education and have turned to the streets to make a life, it can’t be contained. 

Now there are daily shootings. A couple of weeks ago, there was a full-fledged gunfight on a street near several popular restaurants. On Thursday night, there was a shooting near the campus of Alabama State University that left two dead and three more injured. 

Every year, Montgomery’s murder rate hovers around a record high. And even with the cops in the town fixing crime stats, the crime rates are atrocious. 

But this is the penance for Montgomery’s sins. For believing that you could throw away thousands of young kids, simply because they were black or brown or poor or some combination, and deny them hope and love and a dream, and that there would be no consequences for it. 

And it will be the penalty for any community that is heartless enough to take such actions. 

Eventually, you will run out of schemes. You will run out of places to run. 

If you doubt this, just remember Montgomery.

 

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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Opinion | No peace, no calm, but that’s “normal”

“My students and I are on a first-name basis. But when I can’t call their names, it leaves me confused and frustrated. Like the world we live in today.”

Joey Kennedy

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(APR GRAPHIC)

I have more than 100 students in my classes at UAB, and I can call only a few by name. Masks are important, but I haven’t yet learned to memorize foreheads, and that’s really all I see when I look at a student’s face. A few, with either a distinctive hair cut or color, or who have other identifying features in the upper half of their faces, I can name. Not many, though.

My students and I are on a first-name basis. But when I can’t call their names, it leaves me confused and frustrated.

Like the world we live in today. Like these United States. Like Alabama.

A worsening pandemic, unrest across the country, a chaotic election a few days away, an economy in the tank, it is difficult for me to feel settled. Grounded. Peaceful. Calm.

The 300th or so hurricane just zipped through Alabama this week. The storm was named Zeta because we’re out of names for hurricanes. And there’s still fully a month remaining in the hurricane season. Eta is next.

We may not know who the next president will be even by the end of next week. Or we could know Tuesday night if it’s the blowout for Democrats that predictions say it will be. If former Vice President Joe Biden wins Florida, Michigan, or Wisconsin, it’s pretty much over for President Donald Trump.

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But, then, we know how well the heavily favored candidates sometimes do, right Hillary?

Remember, if Trump does lose in Jimmy Carter proportions, he’s still going to be president for another two-and-a-half months. There’s no predicting what he’ll do during that time, but we know this for sure: No peace. No calm.

Our hope in Alabama has to be that U.S. Sen. Doug Jones is re-elected. That’s the only choice that makes sense. A washed-up, mediocre football coach who doesn’t have a clue about government and who has spent most of his time in Florida will not represent the state well, especially if the Senate goes Democratic, as expected.

Jones is no “California liberal,” as one columnist with Alabama Political Reporter described him. That’s just a plea to the uninformed voter in a typical Republican effort to falsely spin Jones as something he is not. Hell, I wish Jones was a California liberal. We could use some of that in Alabama. Instead, for the most part, all our elected officials are simply philosophical clones of each other.

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There are no new ideas. No effort to take the state forward. In most every quality-of-life category, Alabama ranks at the bottom or near it. Our current leadership seems determined to keep us there.

Our elected officials don’t even learn from their mistakes. Anti-masker Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth contracted the coronavirus, and, thankfully, he recovered. Still, he remains against the mask mandate.

Trump contracted the coronavirus, too, and after being surrounded by a grumble of the best doctors at one of the best hospitals, he came back, snatched that mask off his face, and almost immediately began holding those foolish superspreader political rallies again.

The cult members attend, many without masks or social distancing, and some of the cult members die.

Meanwhile, Trump flies away in that fancy jet we taxpayers own, and, in at least one case, leaves his supporters stranded outside in the bitter cold for hours. Loyalty to the cult of Trump pays huge dividends, I write sarcastically.

There is no peace. No calm. This is not to be had in the America Trump made “great” again.

And I don’t know my students when I see them. I must memorize foreheads.

Even so, the masks are important, as is social distancing. I can ask a student what her name is, and when it’s one I have known for years, I can apologize. A small inconvenience to stay well.

The student always offers grace, always tells me it’s OK.

We both pretend that’s just normal.

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Opinion | Election Day is next week

This will be a memorable and historical election year. This 2020 pandemic year is hopefully only a once in a century event.

Steve Flowers

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Well, folks, it is finally here. The presidential race is next Tuesday. However, a good many Americans have already voted. True early voting is available in a half dozen states and every American can vote by absentee ballot and a good many have taken advantage of that right. A record number of Alabamians have voted absentee. However, the election for president will be decided next week when most voters go to the polls.

This will be a memorable and historical election year. This 2020 pandemic year is hopefully, only a once in a century event. 2020 is a pivotal presidential year. Never before in my lifetime have I seen our country more divided politically into extremely partisan corners. We are really two nations, and we are split almost 50-50. This is understandable because the country is truly divided philosophically.

Back in the day our own George Wallace would run around the country running for president as a third-party candidate in a Don Quixote mission espousing the rhetoric that there is not a dimes worth of difference between the national Republican and Democratic parties. Nobody could say that, even in demagogic form, today.

Folks, there is a world of difference today. The Republican Party is very conservative, and the Democratic Party is extremely liberal. This divide between the two parties is enhanced and perpetuated by the media, especially, the television networks. If you are a conservative Republican you watch Fox News. If you are a liberal Democrat, you watch CNN. It is like seeing the nation’s politics and dogma through two different prisms.

The two parties should and could more aptly change their names. Republicans should be labeled the Conservative Party and the Democrats the Liberal Party. CNN, and to a large degree ABC, NBC and CBS, should take down any pretense of being impartial and simply have their broadcast from the Democratic National Headquarters. Conversely FOX News should broadcast from the Republican National Headquarters. MSNBC should be broadcast from Moscow

We in Alabama are definitely in the conservative Republican tribe as are most of the other southern and midwestern and rural states. The left coast of California and the eastern urban coast of New York are the bastions of liberalism and the Democratic party.

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We do not elect our president by direct popular vote whereby the person who gets the most votes nationwide wins the presidency. Under our Electoral College system, the person who gets 50 percent plus one vote gets all of that states’ electoral votes. The number of electoral votes is determined by the number of congressional seats plus two senators. For example, California has 53 seats in Congress plus two Senators for 55 electoral votes. We in Alabama have seven congressional seats plus two senators which gives us nine electoral votes. Therefore, it does not take a math genius to tell that the liberal Democratic states like California, have more votes than rural, conservative states like Alabama.

President Donald Trump, who has been a proven conservative Republican, has been behind the eight-ball having to fight through the coronavirus disaster. It is not his fault that the Chinese sent this pandemic to the world and the United States, but voters will want to blame someone and he is the one in the Whitehouse and the one on the ballot.

In mid-September Trump’s reelection numbers and chances were dismal. However, in late September the much-discussed October surprise occurred. The death of liberal U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg gave the conservative President the opportunity to appoint a conservative to the Supreme Court. Trump is blessed to have a Republican majority in the U.S. Senate.

This opportunity for President Trump to place a third conservative Justice to the nine-member Tribunal could be a game changer. This will energize evangelical voters throughout the country as well as devout, mainstream, Catholic voters in the crucial battleground states like Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Arizona. The election will be decided in these six key battleground states.

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The hay is in the barn in most other states. California will vote Democratic and we in Alabama will vote overwhelmingly Republican. President Trump will carry Alabama in a landslide. This third conservative appointment to the Supreme Court is like manna from Heaven and icing on the cake for Trump in the Heart of Dixie.

The Trump train will provide some long and heavy coattails, which will prove disastrous for our anomaly, liberal, national Democratic senator, Doug Jones. The crescendo Republican wave in Alabama will drown Democrat Jones into a watery grave. It has not helped Jones’s cause that during his short tenure he has voted right down the line with the left-wing Democratic leadership.

We will see next week.

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Elections

Opinion | Doug Jones’s pathway to victory: Substance over lies

Jones said his work in the Senate should prove to the people of the state that party matters less than productivity. 

Josh Moon

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Alabama Sen. Doug Jones speaks during the Democratic National Convention.

Alabama Sen. Doug Jones believes voters will ultimately see through Tommy Tuberville’s lazy campaign and lies, and that enough of them will be moved by his work over the last two years to send him back to D.C. 

Jones’ comments came during a lengthy interview on the Alabama Politics This Week podcast. He also discussed his plans to address some of Alabama’s most pressing issues and also praised Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican.  

But it was Jones’ comments about Alabama voters — and whether too many of them are incapable of moving away from the Republican Party — that were most interesting. Jones still believes there are open-minded voters in the state, and that there isn’t enough attention being paid to polls showing a growing dissatisfaction in Alabama with President Donald Trump. 

“There are a number of things that Donald Trump has done that people (in Alabama) don’t agree with,” Jones said. “There are a number of things that he’s done that’s hurt Alabama and that they’re not OK with. That’s where I come in.”

Jones said his work in the Senate, where he’s sponsored the most bipartisan legislation over the last two years, should prove to the people of the state that party matters less than productivity. 

“I tell everyone, you owe it to yourself to look at every candidate and every issue,” Jones said. “I do that. I’ve been a Democrat all my life but I don’t think that I have ever pulled a straight lever. Because I look at every issue. I will tell you that there have been times that I didn’t vote for people who are Democrats for whatever reason — I just couldn’t do it. I think we owe it to ourselves to do that.”

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Jones had the perfect example to drive the point home. 

“Y’all all know our state auditor, Jim Zeigler? Jim wasn’t always a Republican. Jim’s first runs for office were as a Democrat. 

“I rest my case.”

You can listen to the full interview at the Alabama Politics This Week website, or you can subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. 

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Opinion | Counting on good Neighbors

Even though Neighbors is likely a long shot, he’s at least got a shot. The people of District 4 need to vote in their best interest this year, not to help Aderholt get richer off the taxpayers’ hard-earned money.

Joey Kennedy

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Congressional candidate Rick Neighbors at a campaign stop. (VIA NEIGHBORS CAMPAIGN)

There’s a lot of reasons we know it’s an election year — political ads on television, presidential debates, Donald Trump super-spreader campaign rallies.

Oh, and Republican U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt is back in his congressional district. Every couple years, Aderholt shows up. So he can “appear” connected to Alabama’s 4th Congressional District.

The 4th Congressional District starts just north of Birmingham and stretches horizontally across the state. The district includes Colbert, Cullman, DeKalb, Etowah, Fayette, Franklin, Lamar, Lawrence, Marion, Marshall, Walker and Winston counties as well as parts of Blount, Cherokee, Jackson and Tuscaloosa counties.

Aderholt pops in for a few campaign events, and then pops out to his real residence in suburban Washington D.C. He’s no more an Alabamian than Florida’s Tommy Tuberville.

Aderholt does have opposition this year in Democratic nominee Rick Neighbors, a Vietnam veteran who truly helps his neighbors. Early in the pandemic, Neighbors was passing out masks door-to-door in the district. He’s continued to help his neighbors throughout the pandemic with anything he can do.

“Being in Congress means being here and working with the people,” Neighbors says on his website. “In 24 years, Rob Aderholt has left us behind to focus on his radical agenda and gotten rich in Congress.”

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That’s from a campaign website, but it’s absolutely true. Aderholt is still talking about expanding broadband access in his rural district. It’s one of the few issues he talks about every two years, for 24 years, without ever getting anything done.

Seriously. Name something Aderholt has done for his district or Alabama in the more than two decades he’s been in Congress. I won’t hold my breath.

And if you don’t think Neighbors’s campaign isn’t a little worrisome for Aderholt supporters, why are all the Neighbors signs disappearing from his district?

Adults, acting like sixth-graders, love to pull up political signs. Even in my comfortably Democratic neighborhood, some Doug Jones for Senate signs disappear. And, oddly in my neighborhood, I saw an actual Tommy Tuberville sign that had been pulled down in front of some misplaced person’s yard. It happens on both sides.

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But in the 4th Congressional District, and especially in the Cullman County area, it’s hard for Neighbors and his staff to keep signs in place.

“Cullman has come down, and we have had to replace almost all our signs in Winston County,” said Neighbors’s campaign manager Lisa Ward. As for Winston County, Ward said, “we were told those are gone again.”

Can anybody be more junior high?

“We’ve seen places where our sign was, and it’s been replaced by Aderholt signs,” Ward said. “When we put signs out, we leave his and put ours next to his. We joke and say everyone needs friendly neighbors around.”

The Neighbors campaign does have the right spirit. They just work to replace the signs that disappear. But it is aggravating, to say the least.

“Someone told us that Aderholt is really worried if people find out he has an opponent or doesn’t live here he could struggle,” said Ward. “That’s why he’s not mentioning (Neighbors’s) campaign. And why we think they’re taking his signs down. So people don’t know. It’s really about people not getting a chance to know they have a choice. And there is no time to hear who he is.”

Well, here’s who he is: Neighbors served three tours in Vietnam during that war, enlisting when he was 17 years old. After the service, he got a college degree, then spent 35 years in the apparel business in North Alabama.

Neighbors and his wife, Judy, have three children, and Neighbors recently earned an MBA from the University of North Alabama.

Neighbors would be a breath of fresh air for Alabama in Washington. He won’t live there. He’ll be grounded in the 4th Congressional District.

If Aderholt wins, we won’t see him again until 2022. Twenty-four years in Congress is plenty of time to get something done. But with Aderholt, there’s not much to show for all that time.

And even though Neighbors is likely a long shot, he’s at least got a shot. The people of the 4th District need to vote in their best interest this year, not to help Aderholt get richer off the taxpayers’ hard-earned money.

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