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Opinion | Please pay attention to Steve Marshall

Alabama’s AG loves a press release, but at what cost to the rest of us?

Attorney General Steve Marshall participated in the Alabama State Fraternal Order of Police 2021 Memorial Service Friday May 7, 2021 in Montgomery, Ala. (Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)

Steve Marshall filed a lawsuit on Wednesday. 

Well, to be more accurate, Steve Marshall, the guy playing the role of Alabama’s attorney general until he can get to a higher office, signed his name to a lawsuit that someone else wrote. He then had someone else at his office send out a press release proclaiming that Steve Marshall filed a lawsuit against President Joe Biden. 

It doesn’t matter what the reality is. All that matters is that Steve Marshall got to see Steve Marshall’s name at the top of a press release that Steve Marshall directed someone in Steve Marshall’s office to write, and that press release will now guarantee that newspapers and TV stations in Alabama will print and say the name Steve Marshall multiple times. 

The lawsuit that prompted the press release was the latest Fox News-inspired, liberal-indoctrination scaregasm – something about a directive from the White House to withhold federal school lunch funding for schools that implement policies that discriminate against LGBTQ children. 

(In all honesty, the scariest thing to anyone in Alabama’s public schools is the thought that we might lose federal funding for anything, because in this welfare state, federal funding is the only thing keeping our schools semi-functional.)

The lawsuit, filed by a group of attention-seeking AGs from red states, essentially says: “You can’t tell us who we can discriminate against!”

It’s dumb, and even the reddest of red voters knows it. But I bring it up because it’s the perfect example of why Alabama is in the shape it’s in. 

This is what we reward. 

Steve Marshall knows it, which is why he keeps doing it. He thinks you people are the dumbest bunch of redneck, backwoods bigots and rubes this side of Jim Crow. He thinks you’re stupid enough to fall for the sign-on lawsuits and shameless grandstanding, and that you’ll ignore the fact that his office is an utter disgrace. 

And so far, he’s been dead on right. Alabama voters, so hellbent on following the Republican team wherever it might lead, have voted for Marshall without a second thought. 

Here’s what that’s gotten you: An AG who files, or signs onto, frivolous lawsuits that mean nothing and usually go nowhere, while ignoring cases that do matter to Alabamians – cases that could protect the citizens of this state. 

For example, did you hear anything about Steve Marshall working up an investigation of Hyundai supplier SMART Alabama, over its use of child labor? 

I mean, we know for a fact that the Enterprise Police Department reported the child labor to the AG’s office back in February. Enterprise PD took the extraordinary step of saying so to a media outlet. 

That media outlet, Reuters, published a story about the child labor last week. It blew up quickly. The Alabama Department of Labor and the U.S. Labor Department, along with numerous other entities, announced investigations into the situation. A source at the Alabama Department of Labor told APR that the Reuters story was the first time it had been told of the child labor allegations. 

One current employee and one former worker at the SMART plant told APR that as many as 50 children were working at the metal stamping plant at one time. The employees, and other current and former employees, have made similar claims in other media outlets. 

On top of that, this whole thing started after Enterprise Police located a 13-year-old girl who had been reported missing. That missing girl was working at the plant and had decided to travel with a 21-year-old coworker to Atlanta. Her father reported her missing and the situation unfolded from there. 

It took a news outlet to finally do any sort of an investigation. To shine a light on this abuse. To finally get someone to do something. 

But then, Steve Marshall was plenty busy back in February. I know this because I get his press releases in my email inbox. So he’s easy to keep tabs on (unless he’s helping to fund an insurrection, then no one is entitled to see his calendar). 

Let’s see, February … ah, yes, Marshall “filed” a complaint against President Biden over a vaccine mandate for healthcare workers. A few days later, he was busy declaring “victory” over Biden – first for Alabama being allowed to move forward with a blatantly racist congressional voting map, and then for a Louisiana court staying Biden’s executive order attempting to slow the release of carbon from manufacturing plants. 

Things got even busier for Marshall at the end of the month, as he took the time to dictate an entire press release calling for the resignation of the Director of Homeland Security over border issues. And then he dictated another press release defending the Board of Pardons and Paroles – not because the board has been, in any way whatsoever, effective or even lawful, but because defending the board gave Marshall an opportunity to tout his tough-on-crime thoughts. 

In the meantime, a national scandal – a potential child trafficking situation and certainly rampant child labor violations – were occuring a few miles from his office. 

Look, maybe Marshall’s office was operating some super-secret investigation of SMART, or tried to pass it off to another law enforcement entity. That certainly doesn’t appear to be the case, given that several agencies announced new investigations following the Reuters report and employees said children were working at the plant as recently as two weeks ago.

But I’m not piling on over one miss. There’s a pattern of substandard work here, and it seems to originate from an extreme politicization of that office. 

That starts with gutting the AG’s special prosecutions division – effectively ending major political corruption cases and throwing a lifeline to shady lawmakers. Long gone are the days of going after the Mike Hubbards of the Alabama political world. 

Now, what few cases are brought are rife with problems and embarrassing outcomes. From hidden investigations of key witnesses to botched grand jury testimony to trying to violate a plea deal – it’s a mess. 

That’s not to mention Marshall’s fights with all sorts of entities and lawmakers. His recent fight with the Ethics Commission has been well documented. He also rankled the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office over his opioid settlement tactics. He’s been at war with city leaders in Montgomery and Birmingham. And he angered a number of lawmakers, including several Republicans, last year when he undercut sentencing reform efforts. 

At the end of the day, though, this isn’t really about Steve Marshall. Because figuring him out is simple. He’s going to do what all shameless self-promoters do. 

This is about you. About the Alabama voter. Is this what you want in an AG? Is this the sort of politician you want in higher office? 

Steve Marshall thinks so. And he’s been right so far.  

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 jmoon@alreporter.com or follow him on Twitter.

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