Our 1901 Alabama Constitution has been rightfully criticized as being archaic. However, it was simply a reflection of the times. The authors and crafters of our document were well educated gentry. Therefore they appreciated and realized the importance of having a prized capstone university.
The University of Alabama was founded in 1831 and had become one of the premier southern universities by the time of the Civil War. It was not by coincidence that one of the primary missions of the northern Union invasion of the South was to burn and raze the University of Alabama campus. They knew the importance of a state having an exemplary institution of higher learning.
Therefore, when the authors of our Constitution crafted their document, they chose to place the University of Alabama above politics and keep the institution in the auspices of high-minded individuals who would be above reproach and petty politics.
The Constitution created a self-appointing, perpetual Board of Trustees to guide and govern the university. This concept has played out magnificently throughout the years. The Board of Trustees has been made up of men and women over the past two centuries who have been leaders of our state. These board members have not only been the most distinguished, erudite people in Alabama, but also those known for their integrity and humility.
Thus it was a unique and yet brilliant decision to choose someone from the Board of Trustees to head the University of Alabama System. In July 2018, Finis E. St. John IV, who had served 17 years on the University System Board was named Chancellor.
He became the Chief Executive Officer of what would be comparable to a Fortune 500 company. The University of Alabama System is not only Alabama’s largest higher education enterprise, it is Alabama’s largest employer with over 45,000 employees and an economic impact of over $10 billion per year.
The Alabama System is comprised of three dynamic institutions: The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, University of Alabama at Huntsville and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, which comprises our world renowned UAB Health System. UAB alone is by far Jefferson County’s largest employer and economic engine, it is indeed the State of Alabama’s number one employer and economic ingredient.
It would have been an easy choice for the Board to choose to bring in an academician from an Ivy League school to head this prestigious institution. The choice of Finis St. John reflects the collective wisdom of this austere body. Why not select someone who has been an integral part of the governing and spearheading of the unparalleled growth of our state’s crown jewel and most significant financial and educational and research institution.
Finis St. John IV, better known by colleagues and older acquaintances as Fess, is widely respected. He knows Alabama, its history, and its attributes. His family settled in Alabama in 1838 and have been leaders in our state throughout the state’s history.
Chancellor Finis “Fess” St. John was the most outstanding leader on campus during his four years at the University of Alabama in the 1970s. He graduated magna cum laude and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa and ODK and graduated with honors.
After his undergraduate process at the Capstone, he was accepted and proceeded to the prestigious University of Virginia School of Law. He graduated at the top of his law school class in 1982 and clerked for a federal judge for a while beforecoming home to Cullman to join his family law firm.
The St. John law firm in Cullman, that Fess joined 36 years ago, is one of Alabama’s oldest law firms. The St. John family has a long and distinguished history of service. His father, grandfather and great grandfather served in the Alabama Legislature. His mother was the first female attorney in Cullman and his great great grandfather, who arrived in Cullman in 1838 and was soon elected to the Alabama General Assembly, was instrumental in creating our state’s publiceducation system.
Chancellor St. John understands and knows the history and potential of our state in a very unique way. This, coupled with his brilliant intellect, makes him ideal. If anyone was ever born to lead the current University of Alabama System, it is Finis “Fess” St. John, IV.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers 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 | Alabama’s budget year begins this week. COVID-19 has played havoc
The coronavirus pandemic has left a half billion dollar cut to Alabama’s state budgets for the upcoming year, but the debacle has decimated other states much worse than Alabama.
The new fiscal year begins this week for Alabama government. We have two budgets, a General Fund and an Education Budget. Both budgets have seen devastating havoc to their revenues due to the coronavirus. The Education Budget was drastically destroyed from what was originally expected at the beginning of the calendar year in January.
The Education Budget receives the revenues generated from our sales and income taxes in the state. Therefore, the downturn in the economy is especially heartbreaking for educators, teachers, schools, and universities.
The Education Budget was poised in January to be by far the largest and robust in state history. There was money for a 6 percent increase over the $7.1 billion 2020 Education Budget. However, that was eliminated and the budget is level funded.
Altogether, the coronavirus pandemic has left a half billion dollar cut to Alabama’s state budgets for the upcoming year.
The pandemic debacle has decimated other states much more than Alabama. Indeed, our legislative budget committees have done such a good job as stewards of our tax spending and of budgeting that, unlike other states that are deficit spending and headed towards bankruptcy, there is a slight increase in our two budgets.
In fact, all surveys nationally rank Alabama in the top five of the 50 states when it comes to how well states are handling and are able to absorb the staggering blow to state’s budgets.
Our state budget chairmen, Reps. Bill Poole of Tuscaloosa and Steve Clouse of Ozark and Senators Arthur Orr of Decatur and Greg Albritton of Escambia, have done a yeoman’s job of keeping Alabama afloat by passing conservative budgets and implementing rainy day funds.
The Education Budget will be about $7.2 billion. The General Fund will be about $2.2 billion. The difference in what was expected in January is about $500 million.
However, Alabama’s share of the Federal Stimulus money is said to be $1.8 Billion. This is like manna from Heaven.
The General Fund budget still includes increases for the Alabama Medicaid Agency. The Department of Public Healthalso got an increase to cover a larger share of the costs for The Children’s Health Insurance program. The Department of Mental Health got an increase to setup three regional crisis centers for folks with mental illness caused by the epidemic.
The Department of Corrections will get about a $20 million increase, but it may not be enough to satisfy the feds. Within the Education Budget, the Legislature was able to fund a bond issue for school and capital projects. All-in-all, it could be a lot worse. Again, Alabama is in better shape than other states.
One of the best things the crafters of our 1901 Constitution did was to make it unconstitutional to have a deficit budget. We have a constitutional mandate that we cannot spend more than we take in. We cannot print money in Alabama like the Federal Government does. The amount of red ink that the federal government is stacking up is staggering.
The federal government with the printing of new money sent over $1.8 billion to the state in the 2020 Cares Act bailout. This money was sent to the states to pay for expenses incurred from the coronavirus epidemic.
That is a lot of money and it did not take lawmakers and the governor’s office long to start salivating and feuding over the use of the pandemic relief manna from Heaven from the good old debtor Uncle Sam.
Indeed, the fight over the windfall money caused quite a brouhaha between Governor Kay Ivey and the Legislature. It is a natural spat because it is a gray constitutional interpretation of power between the Legislative Branch, which is given the power to appropriate money, and the Executive Branch which administers state government.
The Cares Act of 2020 passed by Congress, which appropriated a total of $105 billion of which Alabama received $1.8 billion, is different than the federal bailout funds during the Great Recession. This relief money for this year cannot be used to aid in current or long-term expenses. It can only be used for expenses directly related to or incurred for expenses directly caused by the coronavirus.
We are in the waning days of the census count. If you have not been counted, be sure you are.
See you next week.
Opinion | For Coach Tub, no thinking required
Has Tommy Tuberville ever had an original thought? It doesn’t sound like it. Coach Tub basically spews Republican talking points and keeps his mouth firmly locked onto Donald Trump. He disrespects Alabama voters so much that he thinks that’s all he needs to do to win a place in the U.S. Senate.
Tuberville recently addressed the St. Clair County Republican Party at its September meeting. As reported by APR, Tuberville is quoted as saying the following, and I’ll offer a short rebuttal. I’m doing this because Tuberville is clearly afraid to death to debate his opponent, U.S. Sen. Doug Jones.
So here goes:
Tuberville: “America is about capitalism, not socialism. I think we are going to decide which direction we are going to go in the next few years.”
Me: We decided which way we were going to go years ago, when the federal government started subsidies for oil and gas companies, farmers and other big industry and business. That, coach, is your so-called “socialism.”
I’m not necessarily opposed to subsidies to boost business, depending on the cause, but I’m not going to let a dimwitted, know-nothing, mediocre, former football coach pretend we don’t already have “socialism” in this country.
What Tuberville really means is that he’s against “socialism” like Medicare or Medicaid or Social Security or food assistance or health insurance. He’s a millionaire already, so there’s no need for him have empathy for or support a safety net for people who are less fortunate socially and economically. That’s Tuberville’s “socialism,” and the Republican Party’s “socialism,” and Trump’s “socialism.”
That’s a cruel, mean perspective that would cast aside the great majority of Americans for the rich (Tuberville, Trump) and connected and, where Trump is concerned, the fawning.
Tuberville: “I am not a Common Core guy. I believe in regular math. We need to get back to teaching history.”
Me: I would love to ask Coach Tubby, one-on-one, exactly what he thinks “Common Core” is. I’ll guarantee you he can’t explain more than he already has. “I believe in regular math?” There is no other math. It’s math. Does he think there’s a math where 1+1=3? There isn’t one. There are a variety of ways to teach math, but there’s only math, not a “fake” math or a “Republican” math or a “Democratic” math or, God forbid, a “Socialist” math.
And when Coach Tommy said, “We need to get back to teaching history,” one wonders if he’s ever been into a classroom. We know more than a few of his former players weren’t in many classrooms, if reports are correct. But they always played the game under his uninspired coaching.
Of course schools teach history.
The history Coach T. is talking about is Donald Trump’s “white” history, the one we’ve been teaching in our schools forever. Not real history; you know, the one where the United States was founded as a slave-holding nation, where Native Americans were massacred and starved by the hundreds of thousands, where white supremacy was codified within our laws, where any color but white was subjugated. That history. The history that is finally fading away, so we can really see where we’ve been as a nation—so we know where, as a nation, we need to go.
Tuberville: Tuberville said he supports following the Constitution and appointing a replacement for Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Friday.
Me: Well, of course he does. Tuberville doesn’t have an independent thought in his body, and Donnie told him this is what he’s supposed to think. The big question: How much will a Senator Tuberville be able to function as a member of a minority party in the Senate — with no Papa Trump in the White House to tell him what to do?
Both scenarios are real possibilities, if not likelihoods.
There is no question that Doug Jones is far more qualified than Tuberville. Jones can work across the aisle, which will be vitally important if Democrats take control of the Senate. Jones has his own thoughts, which sometimes go against the Democratic Party’s wishes. Jones is independent, smart and represents Alabama well.
Tuberville is a failed football coach who lives in Florida. That’s about it.
Opinion | All politics is local. All of Alabama’s mayors races this year
With it being a presidential election year and an election for one of our United States Senate Seats and all of the interest that goes along with those high-profile contests, it has gone under the radar that most of our cities in the state had elections for mayor and city council last month.
Mayors serve four-year terms and to most Alabamians they are the most important vote they will cast this year.
The job of mayor of a city is a difficult and intricate fulltime, 24-hours-a-day dedication to public service.
They make more decisions that affect the lives of their friends and neighbors than anyone else. The old maxim, “All politics is local,” is epitomized in the role of mayor. Folks, being mayor of a city is where the rubber meets the road.
In looking all over the state, it appears that most Alabamians are content with the jobs their mayor is doing. In almost every contest around the state, the incumbent mayor turned away the challenger usually by a wide margin. Indeed, a good many of the incumbent mayors in the Heart of Dixie had no opposition.
Many of these incumbent mayors were reelected without opposition. Gordon Stone, the mayor of Alabama’s fastest growing community, Pike Road, will be entering his fifth term as mayor. Pretty soon Pike Road will have to start calling themselves a city.
Vestavia’s Mayor, Ashley Curry, won a second term without opposition. This former retired FBI agent has done a yeoman’s job managing this upscale, Jefferson County suburb.
Jasper Mayor, David O’Mary, who escaped opposition, will begin a second term. He has run Jasper like a well-tuned engine. Albertville mayor, Tracy Honea, garnered a third term without opposition. Luverne Mayor Ed Beasley was also unopposed.
In the contested races, most of the matchups were no contest. Two of Alabama’s largest and most prosperous cities, Huntsville and Hoover, had mayoral races. Tommy Battle coasted to an easy 78 to 22 reelection victory in Huntsville. If Kay Ivey opts to not run for reelection in 2022, Battle will be favored to win the governor’s race. However, being Governor of Alabama would be a demotion to being Mayor of Huntsville.
Hoover citizens must approve of Mayor Frank Brocato’s job performance. Brocato trounced Hoover City Council President Gene Smith by a 76 to 24 margin.
Opelika’s popular and effective, longtime mayor, Gary Fuller, turned back his challenger 66 to 34 to win a fifth term.
In Cullman incumbent mayor, Woody Jacobs, won a second term overwhelmingly. Hamilton Mayor Bob Page won a second term. Troy’s 48-year-old mayor, Jason Reeves, won reelection to a third four-year term with 74 percent of the vote. Incumbent Eufaula Mayor Jack Tibbs won an impressive 68 percent victory for reelection over two opponents.
Prattville Mayor Bill Gillespie may have turned in the most impressive showing. He shellacked former City Councilman Dean Argo 70 to 30. His fellow citizens must approve of frugality with their city finances. Wetumpka’s popular and hardworking, longtime mayor, Jerry Willis, turned back his challenger by a 69 to 31 margin. In neighboring Millbrook incumbent mayor, Al Kelley, won reelection 67 to 33. Mayor Kelley has overseen the growth of his city from 6,000 in population to over 20,000. Tallassee reelected Mayor John Hammock to a second term.
Clanton lost their mayor of three decades, Billy Joe Driver, to COVID-19 this year. His successor will be Jeff Mims, who won the election in the Peach City. Mike Oakley won the mayor’s race in Centreville with a 60 percent margin. It is proper and fitting that an Oakley will be Mayor of Centreville.
Bessemer Mayor Kenneth Gulley won a landslide reelection garnering 68 percent of the vote. Incumbent Pell City Mayor Bill Pruitt won reelection by an impressive 73 to 27 margin.Longtime Greenville Mayor Dexter McLendon won reelection in the Camellia City. Opp’s first female mayor, Becky Bracke, won a second term with 60 percent of the vote.
There were two mayoral upsets on August 25. Scottsboro’s incumbent mayor was defeated by challenger Jimmy McCamy.In the thriving, growing city of Fairhope challenger Sherry Sullivan trounced incumbent mayor Karin Wilson.
There are runoffs for mayor in several major cities, including Enterprise, Ozark, Selma, Tuskegee, Alexander City and Northport. These cities will elect their mayors on October 6 in runoff elections.
Some of you may be wondering about two of the most populous cities. Tuscaloosa and Dothan have their mayoral races next year in August 2021. Tuscaloosa’s Walt Maddox and Dothan’s Mark Saliba will be tough to beat. All politics is local.
If you have not been counted in the census, you have not got many more shopping days to Christmas.
Opinion | That climate change hoax is killing us
I grew up with hurricanes. For my first 11 years, my parents and I lived on the Texas Gulf Coast, near Beaumont. My father was transferred by the company he worked for, Texas Gulf Sulfur, to deep South Louisiana in 1967. We lived in Houma, in Terrebonne Parish, but Dad worked near Larose, in Lafourche Parish.
Hurricanes were regular events in Southeastern Texas and South Louisiana. Still are, but in much more frequent numbers. And Alabama gets clobbered every so often, most recently yesterday and today. Sally made landfall near Gulf Shores, and you can be assured the damage will be extensive, especially from flooding.
Flooding was a big factor in Texas hurricanes too, when I lived there. Hurricane Carla, in 1961, devastated High Island, not far from our home. Flooding was widespread. Carla was a Category 4 storm. But notably, that September, Carla was only the third named storm of the hurricane season.
This year, we’re running out of names. Striking Alabama this week, only a few days after Carla struck Southeastern Texas in 1961, Sally is toward the end of the hurricane alphabet. The National Hurricane Center and World Meteorological Organization are literally running out of names for storms this year.
Earlier this week, and maybe still, there were five named storms in the Atlantic. This is only the second time on record that five named storms are in the Atlantic at the same time. And they’re using up the Alphabet. The first time this happened was 1971, at a time when humans were first becoming aware of climate warming.
Little do we know, that before Sally decided to squat on Alabama, Hurricane Paulette made landfall in Bermuda on early Monday morning. There are so many hurricanes around, we can’t even keep up with them.
They’re like Republican scandals.
Probably more than any other indicator, hurricanes tell the story of climate change, the very real climate change that Donald Trump and many Republicans deny or call a hoax.
Like the COVID-19 Pandemic. Like so many events that Trump and Trump Republicans can’t (or won’t) believe. Like the corruption that permeates the Trump administration. Like the wildfires destroying the far West Coast states.
That’s not climate change, claims Trump. It’s because California won’t sweep the forests. I call BS. Even on California being responsible for sweeping. Most of the forestland in California is federal land. Most of the burning areas are on or near federal trees. Yet, the state of California spends more money on forest management than the federal government, which owns most of the land. That’s the truth. No hoax.
Trump should order secret federal teams of ICE forest sweepers to do their jobs.
The hoax from Republicans and the Trump administration is that crazy antifa hit squads are invading the West Coast to reign terror on the populations there. National security experts continue to assert that white supremacists and nationalists are the most dangerous domestic terror threat. But Trump defends those radicals – “they are very fine people” — because they hold up some mysterious white heritage above all others. If Trump is anything, he’s the whitest Angry White Man ever.
Climate change is real. The coronavirus pandemic exists. White nationalists are the most serious domestic terror threat in this country.
Black lives do matter.
Yet, once again and often, Trump shows the orange-hued emperor has no clothes. As Stormy Daniels has previously said, that is not a good look.