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Indicted Speaker Mike Hubbard Can't Manage His Own Finances, Much Less State Budgets

by: countrycat

Fri Feb 27, 2015 at 16:26:27 PM CST

It's beginning to look like indicted Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard may soon be moving to a "secure gated community." AL.com columnist John Archibald has offered up an explosive assortment of emails that protray Hubbard as a lazy whiner dependent on his well-connected buddies for a job - even if doing so violated the new ethics laws that Hubbard himself helped push through.Mike Hubbard

Read the entire article and prepare to be astounded at what they reveal: a breathtaking culture of influence peddling and baldfaced begging for money headquartered in the Alabama Speaker's office.

One tidbit jumped out because it recalls a story we covered at LIA last year, concerning a no-bid contract snagged by former Governor Bob Riley's daughter, Minda.  It paid her company $72,000 to look up information on Google:

Quick! Someone asks you a simple question: "What's the median income in Alabama?"  Would you... A: Use Google to find the answer on the US Bureau of the Census Web site or B: Set up a no-bid contract suggested by Bob Riley's daughter and commission a $72,000 study with a Birmingham law firm that inquired about why they weren't getting any state business

If you selected B, you may be a member of the GOP supermajority, because that's exactly what happened.  Not surprisingly, a member of the Riley clan is slurping at the public pork trough.

The Alabama Personnel Department entered into a $72,000 contract with Birmingham-based Baker Donelson Bearman in June to handle legal services and determine the median household income in the state, which will determine lawmakers’ salaries in the coming year.

The contract, was negotiated in part by Minda Riley Campbell, a lobbyist who is also the daughter of former Gov. Bob Riley. It is the first Alabama government contract the law firm has received since 2009, according to state records.

This old contract story is relevant because of this:

Riley helped Hubbard get a $12,000 a month job as a consultant with Southeast Alabama Gas District, but Hubbard continued to ask him for help with that job.

"I hope you can help me with the suppliers in locating in SEAGD areas," Hubbard later wrote. "I need to deliver something in order to justify my existence."

After SEAGD cut his monthly pay to $7,500, Hubbard pleaded with Riley.

"I desperately need to get some site visits set up to show I am generating interest," he wrote Riley. "Any help or advice would be appreciated." He went on to write "I need to visit with you and try to figure out what I need to be doing. I don't want SEAGD to cut me loose."

As the filing puts it, Hubbard "violated the ethics law by soliciting and receiving things of value from lobbyist Bob Riley. It argues he did the same with Riley's daughter, Minda Riley Campbell and BCA lobbyist Billy Canary.

Reading this article, what's most entertaining is the response from Hubbard's legal team:

By design, Alabama has a citizen legislature, not a full-time legislature. It’s no secret that Mike Hubbard is a longtime businessman. It’s not improper for him to conduct personal business.

He's a "longtime businessman" who can only be successful by trading on his position as Speaker to get and keep a job. He can certainly "conduct personal business," but he can't hand out state contracts in exchange for favors or work for companies that he has a hand in regulating.

Keep in mind that this is the same guy who thinks "double dipping" for teacher legislators is a conflict of interest.  Isn't a legislative leader who "double dips" with private industry - and who spreads around public money without bids - an equal problem?

This trial is going to be terrific entertainment. Cheer up, Mike! In jail, you'll have a great opportunity to learn a trade.

 

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SCOTUS Decision Reminds State Professional Boards To Serve The PUBLIC Interest, Not Their Own

by: countrycat

Thu Feb 26, 2015 at 12:19:34 PM CST

Yesterday, the US Supreme Court may have helped decide a pending Alabama lawsuit against the state dental board. At the same time, this decision could be a blow to another state professional board: the Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners (ASBVME). Advocates of the state's low cost spay/neuter clinics should rejoice in the language of the Court's decision, because much of it as as applicable to the anti-competitive activities of the ASBVME as it is to the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners.

NC dentists had used the power of the state oversight board to stop private businesses from offering teeth whitening services.  Before the businesses opened, private practice dentists had been raking in big bucks offering the service, but the new businesses undercut the dentists' pricing. Outraged dentists complained to the state board about "unfair pricing" and the board forced non-dentist operators to close.  The Federal Trade Commission sued on anti-trust grounds and won.

Read the entire opinion here in PDF and review some particularly relevant excerpts below. 


Kind of like when the ASBVME shut down a low-cost vaccine clinic (not conducted by a spay/neuter clinic) because another vet complained about "unfair competition."  Or when an Alabama state legislator spoke against the spay/neuter clinic bill, and left out an important tidbit:

Rep. David Standridge, R-Hayden, said the clinics have an unfair advantage over veterinarians who provide the same services, and he argued vociferously against the bill. Standridge said he had spoken to many veterinarians who were opposed to it. Standridge did not mention in the debate that, according to his profile page on the Alabama House's website, his son is a veterinarian. 

 

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Part 4: AEA & ADP Leadership: Divided Loyalties & Dramatic Losses

by: countrycat

Thu Feb 26, 2015 at 09:00:00 AM CST

Bizarre campaign spending choices in 2010 weakened the AEA politically and financially, and they hurt the ADP as well. The leaders of the two organizations were so connected that it was difficult, if not impossible, to separate the two.  AEA Executive Secretary Paul Hubbert resigned as vice chair of the Alabama Democratic Party in July 2010, but the damage to Democratic candidate recruitment was already done.  As reported at the time: "Hubbert said today it would be in the best interests of AEA for him not to be active in the Democratic Party." 

That was a decision Hubbert should have made years before. Alabama Democratic Party

This is Part 4 of our series on the recent history of the Alabama Democratic Party & AEA.  Catch up with Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.

Paul Hubbert's Primary Loyalty Was To AEA
His main job was to run AEA and advocate for public education, teachers, and support personnel. He did it well and I admire him for his skill and commitment. My mother, a retired teacher, has nothing but good to say about Hubbert and AEA: thanks in part to his work, she earned a living wage and now has a secure retirement and access to affordable health care.  That is no small achievement, and Hubbert & Reed deserve much of the credit. His legacy is nothing to scoff at, at Charles Dean reminisced after Hubbert's death:

"You changed the world for my family," the teacher told Hubbert. "My daddy and mother were teachers having to work two and sometimes three other jobs to make enough money and then it wasn't enough. They couldn't afford a good car or a nice home to raise my bother and me. You changed all that for them. You gave them dignity and you helped to send my brother and me to college because they finally made a decent wage. I just wanted to tell you that," the teacher told Hubbard with tears in her eyes.

But there was a downside to AEA's power.  From the same article:

Politics is usually complicated. With so many strong personalities, agendas and parochial interests, building the consensus needed to truly shape legislation or regulation in any coherent fashion is amazingly difficult. The political machine that Hubbert created made Alabama politics elegantly and brutally simple at the same time.

He clearly understood that results rather than tactics measure political success. The AEA's agenda and priorities were paramount, and he knew how to win bare-knuckle political fights with a smile. Whether or not politicians liked his goals, they always knew what they were and the consequences for opposing them.

That's not a criticism.  Politics is a contact sport & AEA has never minded making the hits. However, the old saying that "a man can't serve two masters" is correct. Hubbert got paid to protect AEA's interest and move its legislation.  AEA's interests came first: Hubbert may have been a loyal Democrat and was willing to serve in an  unpaid position as vice-chair of the party, but it was never his priority.

For example: about 10 years ago, a well-connected lawyer in Madison County wanted to challenge Rep. Howard Sanderford and had supporters and contributions lined up, but needed AEA support to prove that she was a serious candidate.  So she made the trek to Montgomery to meet with Hubbert, who waved her off, noting that "he (Sanderford) always votes with us, so why make a change?"  Other Democratic legislative hopefuls from the past decade report similar encounters.

People tend to confuse AEA, which is a labor organization (not a union), with an educational advocacy & reform group. Although the two interests often intersect, the group's leaders have an obligation to protect their membership first.  It's their job, after all.

The problem for the Democrats was that having two high-ranking AEA members in equally high-ranking positions in the ADP constituted a massive conflict of interest.

The dreadful "True Republican PAC" ads we highlighted in Part Three were funded by the AEA while Paul Hubbert was a vice-chair of the Alabama Democratic Party. Months before Hubbert resigned, AEA was funneling money to candidates from both parties.  Mooncat warned about the danger of a strategy that ignored legislative races in May 2010. Her warning went unheeded:

Maybe that's why they decided to stop fooling around with funding opponents and do the job themselves through the "True Republican" PAC.  Which begs the question: Does AEA care who ends up in the Governor's Mansion as long as it isn't Bradley Byrne?  And:

According to Follow the Money, in 2006 AEA spent $3.3 million, played heavily in legislative races and the Lt. Gov. race (on behalf of Folsom) but spent essentially nothing on the governor's race.   They spent a similar amount in 2002, again largely on the Legislature, with only small contributions to Democratic incumbent Don Siegelman and Republican Steve Windom, who lost the primary.  Their overall win/loss percentage was somewhat worse in 2006 than in 2002.  Obviously, they're going forward with a very different strategy in 2010, having already spent around $800,000 in the governor's race, mostly to prevent Bradley Byrne from winning. 

This strikes me as a very reactive strategy and indicative of an entrenched power trying to hold what they've got, but why so much on the governor's race?  What about the Legislature?  Have they written it off, or are they that sure their allies (in both parties) can win with considerably less help than in the last two cycles?

Other observors agreed. After Hubbert declined to take sides in the governor's race between Sparks and Bentley, a Gadsden Times article noted:

“If voters switch to a Republican-dominated Legislature, obviously the AEA won’t be as well off,” Stewart said. “He’d be wise to look at the Legislature because that’s where the appropriations come from.”

The Republicans were already gunning for the AEA, even without the organization's GOP primary participation.  When they took the legislature, outgoing Governor Bob Riley didn't even wait a month before pushing "ethics reform" that was a blatant attempt to hurt AEA's fundraising.  For those new to Alabama politics, understand that there's no "lame duck session" possible in the Alabama Legislature. If you lose your seat on election day, the winner of the race takes office immediately. Thus, outgoing Governor Bob Riley was able call a special session and use the new Republican majority to push through "ethics reforms" before he left office.

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What's Going On With The Legislature's Database & State's IT Accounting System?

by: countrycat

Wed Feb 25, 2015 at 11:28:51 AM CST

As Kyle Whitmire noted today, the Alabama Legislature has "upgraded" ALISON, the online tracking tool for legislation, and the upgrade rollout, "makes Healthcare.gov look good."

It's no surprise that people have problems navigating ALISON: the original site had been a joke for years, with a clunky design, totally non-intuitive navigation structure, and browser compatibility problems.  It was designed with Internet Explorer-only functions, and last session, I still had problems accessing the site using Firefox.

And now they've made it worse!  Whitmire noted his experience with the "Find your Legislator" function:

According to the site, my lawmaker could be Dickie Drake, David Faulkner, Jim Carns, John Rogers or Patricia Todd (Could I just pick?) Click on any of those names, and you'll get a 404 Error, which according to Google Translate means, "I don't know. Go to hell."

That isn't to say the site isn't packed with useful information. If you want to read what constitutional amendments will be on the 2014 ballot, the Legislature's website is there for you. (Time machine not included.)

You want to laugh, but the 2015 legislative session starts next Tuesday. Bills will be dropping like bombs, and if ALISON is non-functioning, citizens and the media will have lost a crucial tool to track bills, public hearings, vote counts, and the progress of legislation.

You have to wonder if this is a feature, not a bug. Indeed, the GOP super-majority's leadership has given good government advocates zero reason to trust their motives or give them the benefit of the doubt. Witness the midnight passage of the Alabama Accountability Act with no notice, no public hearings, and almost no opportunity for debate on the floor. Even Republicans who voted for it said they'd have voted no if they'd "had a chance to read the bill." 

But before we put on our tinfoil hats and concoct a grand conspiracy theory, let's remember the state's history of IT screw-ups brought about by crony contracting:

Paragon Source built... nothing the state could use.

"Bob Riley gives $13 million no bid contract to Paragon Source, a company with no business license, no phone listing and no website, with a resulting work product so irrelevant the Bentley administration has thrown it out."

This was an important contract to some in the Riley Administration, and they fought tooth and nail to keep it going, even as legislators demanded specifics:

The joint Legislative Contract Review Committee, which could only delay the contract for 45 days, went through several legal battles with the Riley administration before Riley signed the contract in November 2009.

The committee subpoenaed Janet Lauderdale, CEO of Paragon Source, but she refused to appear. The committee sought the names, addresses, job descriptions, salaries of people and subcontractors hired by Paragon since 2007, but the Riley administration blocked the committee by going to court.

BIG Communications used $99k in education money to create a WordPress site.

The Web site is built around a single template page, so after the initial layout was designed, there wasn't a lot of "programming" involved. It's a matter of filling in the blanks in the template and saving the new page.  A quick glance at the underlying code shows that the site uses WordPress for its content management system (CMS) and relies on WordPress plug-ins for specific site functions.  Hmmm.... sounds like a lot for "programming" that was actually off-the-shelf plug & play code. 

And now we have a new group of hogs at the IT trough who have managed to render ALISON almost useless. Who are they?  Your guess is as good as anyone's.  Indicted Speaker Mike Hubbard's office is no help & all the state helpline can offer is:

According to Angela, there are lots of vendors (people the state pays to do stuff) that have to work together (which they aren't).

So I headed over to the Alabama Checkbook, thinking it shouldn't be difficult to figure out who got awarded what must be a pretty large, complex project.  Somehow, BIG Communications missed out on this opportunity: the state paid the company over a million dollars last year, but it was all for "advertising."

Next, I searched by category, planning to look through all the payments made for IT-related contracts.  Let's just say that it's about as easy to track state contracts as it is to follow legislation.

While I still have no idea who the contractors are, I did find some really bizarre entries that total over a million dollars - just from this month.

If our State Auditor can stop filing lawsuits long enough to do his job state job, he might have meaningful work at last.

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Part 3: So Many Opportunities Squandered To Defend The Status Quo

by: countrycat

Wed Feb 25, 2015 at 08:00:00 AM CST

2010 was going to be a tough year for Democrats in Alabama. With a lot of disgruntled voters nationwide and President Obama unpopular in the state, the GOP worked hard to nationalize state & local races. With enough money for ads and a record to run on, the ADP & its candidates could at least have been competitive. Unfortunately, the Alabama Democratic Party lacked money, message, and our legislative majority lacked tangible accomplishments. Yes, they blocked a lot of bad legislation over the years. The problem is that they leadership was equally as hostile to good legislation and reform efforts.

Alabama Democratic Party 

Note: this is Part 3 of or series on the ADP and AEA. Get caught up with Part 1 and Part 2

Accomplishments
Looking back, it's heartbreaking to consider what Alabama could be like now if the Democrats had used their legislative majority to address systemic problems in the state.

For instance, Democrats could have:

  • Removed the sales tax on food
  • Implemented real ethics reform
  • Enacted home rule for local governments
  • Dumped the 1901 state constitution
  • Created a less regressive tax system.

But they didn't. Session after session, one house would pass a reform bill - often unanimously - and then it would die in the other chamber.  Rep. Jeff McLaughlin from Guntersville was a tireless advocate of ethics and campaign reform.  And his House colleagues were happy to go along with his bills, secure in the knowledge that State Senate leaders would block a vote in that chamber. From a 2010 profile:

For eight consecutive years, McLaughlin has introduced legislation that would ban the practice of PAC-to-PAC transfers, which are used to hide the movement of money from donors to candidates.

For eight consecutive years, the bill has passed the House with barely a word of opposition. And, in a yearly ritual, the bill dies quietly in the Alabama Senate. But McLaughlin remains unbowed.

“I’ve made progress,” he said. “Before I went to Montgomery, this issue was ignored, but not anymore. I’ll continue to push for it as long as I’m there.” 

The hostility to constitution reform & home rule can be summed up in Gerald Dial's campaign announcement speech.  Dial was previously a Democratic State Senator, but switched parties to run in 2010:

He contended that “home rule” was a dangerous principle. For example he argued that, “if we had had home rule, Lowndes County would not have any white land-owners.” 

Dial won his seat back in 2010, but barely. He ran against Greg Varner, a young, whip-smart Democrat who I fervently hope will run again. Varner lost by just a few hundred votes.  While Dial may be in the Senate now as a Republican, there's no tangible difference in his behavior and priorities now than when he was a Dixiecrat... ahem... Democrat.

When the majority party leaders routinely kill reform legislation - without even a vote - they're handing opponents a perfect campaign issue.

McLaughlin also lost in 2010 and failed to regain his seat in 2014.  His opponent followed the GOP playbook: "when you got nuthin, run against Obama."

And we offered nothing to counter that.

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Part 2: ADP Missteps Leading Up To The 2010 Midterms Were Devastating

by: countrycat

Tue Feb 24, 2015 at 08:00:00 AM CST

The day after the 2010 election, Alabama woke up to a new political reality. For the first time in over 100 years, Republicans controlled both houses of the legislature, all executive branch offices, and the state judiciary. Even worse, the GOP gained a super-majority in the legislature, meaning that the remaining Democrats were powerless to even slow down legislation and had zero influence on the content of the bills.

Alabama democratic party

This is Part 2 of our series on "the decline and fall of the ADP and AEA" series.  If you missed Part 1, it's here.

There were many contributing national factors to the electoral debacle:

  • The scary maybe-Kenyan, closet Muslim, black guy in the White House.
  • ObamaCare
  • Republican voters' newfound outrage over deficit spending - after Bush put two wars on the national credit card.
  • General voter apathy & the inability of Democrats to turn out their base voters in non-presidential years.
Throw in Alabama-specific problems, and the 2010 election was the perfect storm. Alabama Democrats handed the Republicans the bat & the GOP knocked us around with it.
  • Corruption: Real and perceived corruption in state government - particularly among powerful Democratic legislators.
  •  Messaging: An effective, coherent (if totally disingenuous) message from the Alabama GOP: the "Handshake with Alabama" at a time when the state Democratic Party candidates were content to hunker down and hope people would vote out of habit, not noticing the "D" after their names.
  • Money: Democratic candidates had precious little of it, no help from the state party, and the AEA piggybank was dry because the organization dumped a bundle in the GOP primary.
  • Accomplishments: There were few. Alabama Democrats in the legislators were conservators of the status quo, not proponents of progressive legislation. While we had some good committee chairs who blocked bad legislation (like the annual anti-choice bills), party leadership often blocked good reform legislation.

These four state party problems didn't start in 2010, but did help push the party over the cliff in that election.  Let's look at each one individually.

Corruption 

Yes, since taking power, the GOP supermajority has engaged in much more high-level corruption than Democrats ever dreamed of. A friend & fellow political junkie put it this way:

"The Democrats? Their stuff was the equivalent of knocking over a convenience store. They got a little cash and passed some of the bread around the neighborhood. But the Republicans? They backed the armored truck up to the state treasury and emptied it in broad daylight."

But the problem is that venial stuff like getting a speeding ticket "fixed" or not being hauled in for reckless driving when you obviously are things that people can easily understand. They know that they don't get special treatment, so the news that lawmakers got to flash their ids & drive off (at the same speed as before) ticked off everyone who ever paid a speeding ticket.

Higher-level corruption is more corrosive to the state, but the story is harder to uncover and explain to voters.

For instance, ticket fixing is easy to understand. It's harder to make voters realize that their power bills are higher because the PSC is packed with Republicans who are bought and paid for by Alabama Power.

When indicted Speaker Mike Hubbard told former PSC Commissioner Terry Dunn to "stop taking his job so seriously," nobody blinked an eye.

And there was silence when the GOP's solution to the "power rates" issue was to push a bill that would legalize unlimited contributions from utilities to state candidates

Those stories are hard to tell to an electorate with a short attention span (unless it's football) and with a mainstream media that's being systemically gutted by corporate bean counters.

All these GOP shenanigans took place after they became the majority, but the party strategists gleefully used tales of Democratic corruption as a potent issue in 2010. The following stories/events played on an endless loop and were mercilessly recounted on comment threads, party meetings, and mailers.

A lot of it was BS, but there were enough examples of stupid stuff to lend credence to the bigger allegations:

  1. Didn't win the game? Change the rules: Democrats rightly criticize Republicans who change the rules in the middle of the game, but they weren't immune to the temptation. Just ask former Lt. Governor Steve Windom about that. When he astonished Democrats by winning the 1998 race, Democrats stripped Windom (and future Lt. Governors) of much of the power the office held previously. This battle was part of the imfamous "peeing in a jug on the House floor" episode that entertained late-night comics for weeks.
  2. When the rules don't apply to individuals: Powerful Democratic State Senator Roger Bedford  was found not guilty of extortion in 2003, but that didn't keep the GOP from talking about it. Bedford called the charges (brought by Republican AG Bill Pryor) "political," but they fed into public perception. A history of speeding tickets dating back to the mid-1980's didn't help - how many average Joes could just walk away after being caught driving 91 mph?

    Then there was a state senator with even more power than Bedford - Lowell Barron - who also had "issues" with traffic tickets.  So much so that, in 1996, he sponsored legislation to prohibit small-town police departments from patrolling Interstate highways. This was after he was stopped for speeds topping 90 mph - and showed his legislative id to get out of a ticket.
  3. Heavy-handed election tactics: Elected Secretary of State in 2002, current ADP chair Nancy Worley was indicted on corruption charges in 2007 after an employee in her office complained that she sent campaign materials and solicitations for contributions to SOS employees. It wasn't the first time Worley was tone-deaf in a letter & it wouldn't be the last. Coupled with the indictment of Governor Siegelman, the incident helped feed the GOP's narrative.

Was any of it as bad as what's happened since 2010? No. But the low-level stuff was a symptom of a leadership that had grown comfortable and a bit out of touch. They weren't ready for the fight that was coming.

Messaging

Other than "we're not Obama!" do you remember a single coordinated message from Alabama Democratic candidates in 2010? How about 2006 or 2002?  The last time the party candidates ran on a single big issue, it was in 1998 with the education lottery.  Note: we won that election!  1998 was also a year national issues dominated many state races: voters punished Republican candidates for Clinton's impeachment.  On election night, NBC anchor Tom Brokaw called it "a good night to be a Democrat."

2010 was NOT a good year to be an Alabama Democrat.  The party was MIA & AEA was busy playing in the Republican primary. 

Left to their own devices, many Democratic candidates hired consultants who convinced them that running as "Republican lite," anti-Obama was the key to victory.  Surprise!  Alabama voters aren't that stupid.  You can put an elephant's trunk on that donkey, but it's still a donkey.  Sending out dreadful mailers that trashed the President didn't help Democratic candidates, but it did depress Democratic base voters.  Let's look at my own (former) State Rep. Butch Taylor as an example.

  • In September 2010, a mailer reassured us that he was a "leader, not a liberal" who would "... keep liberals like Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama in Washington, where they belong." The back of the mailer was even worse with crazy anti-immigrant rhetoric that could have been lifted from a Mo Brooks speech.

  • It got worse in October, when Taylor assured voters that he lived in a "brick house," not the White House. Like any voter would confuse a Madison County coach with a former Constitutional Law professor and President of the United States?

In 2010, many Alabama Democratic candidates forgot their base, ran from their party, and failed to run on any issues that mattered to Alabama families.

Tomorrow, we'll look at the last two problems: the failure of fundraising and lack of accomplishments. If you've been in power for over 100 years, you should have something to show for the last two decades.  Simply "keeping things like they are" doesn't inspire anyone but the people who benefit from the status quo.

Follow the rest of the series:

 

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Who Really Benefits From The Alabama Accountability Act? Get The Scoop Tuesday 2/24

by: countrycat

Mon Feb 23, 2015 at 15:37:35 PM CST

The Alabama Accountability Act (aka the Great Private School Giveaway) was controversial from the moment the bill dropped with no notice in the Legislature and passed late at night with little or no debate or public input.  And the effect on education in Alabama has been even worse than you think.Alabama Accountability Act

Learn more tomorrow night in Birmingham.  The following is the text of a press release from organizers.

Dr. Craig Pouncey, superintendent of the Jefferson County Schools, and Larry Lee, former Director of the Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries’ Center for Rural Alabama, give the inside scoop on Alabama’s controversial school accountability act Tuesday, February 24th at the Vestavia Library at 6:30 pm.  How many young people actually received scholarships?  Were they in failing schools?  Did they already attend private schools?  Who is the legislation helping??  

Dr. Pouncey, formerly Chief of Staff to Alabama Superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice, has handled legislative and financial matters that impact K-12 education statewide and oversaw day to day operations of the state department of education.   From Dr. Bice, Pouncey has a “wealth of institutional knowledge.  He is a champion for the accountability of schools and school systems.”  Dr. Pouncey said:

“These are exciting times as it relates to public education.  The top 10 ‘in demand’ jobs for 2014 did not even exist 10 years ago.  Our task is to prepare many students for jobs that currently don’t even exist.  Never before have school districts been allowed to implement new and innovative strategies toward teaching and learning.  We must embrace new ideas as we move forward for the betterment of the county, region, and state.” 

Dr. Pouncey still considers himself a teacher with his primary goal being to teach people daily about Alabama's school funding system. He believes that "the more people know, the more they understand."

 Larry Lee is a frequent columnist in al.com and Weld among others on education issues and is author of Lessons Learned From Rural Schools, which highlights ten schools in low-income communities that have been successful by creating a positive culture and finding creative ways to work together.  

If you are interested in the education of Alabama’s children, you won’t want to miss this.  Sponsored by Over the Mountain Democrats, whose purpose is to advance, through grassroots efforts, values of fairness, integrity, compassion, and economic opportunity for the benefit of every citizen.

Who: Dr. Craig Pouncey & Larry Lee
What: Speaking on the Alabama Accountability Act
When: 6:30 pm  Tuesday, Feb. 24th, 2015
Where: Vestavia Library 
How: FREE & Open to the Public

For more information contact Linda Verin  adsthatworkreally@gmail.com 

 

 

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Part 1: The Decline & Fall Of The ADP & AEA

by: countrycat

Mon Feb 23, 2015 at 11:58:13 AM CST

It was a busy weekend in Alabama politics. The Republican Party finally said goodbye to Bill Armistead, the outgoing party chair and Obama conspiracy theorist. Armistead & the party's Executive Committee had been fighting a low-level war with each other for the past few years, but that's nothing compared to the battles going on in the Alabama Education Association (AEA).

ADP: just resting

Executive Secretary Henry Mabry's ouster stunned some and thrilled many, but it's unlikely to strengthen the AEA.  I had already started to write a long post about the decline and fall of the Alabama Democratic Party, and what we can do to bring it back. As I worked on that article, I realized that the relationship between the ADP and AEA makes it impossible to talk about one without mentioning the other.  So bear with us here at LIA over the next couple of days as we review what went wrong for both organizations and talk about a strategy to reinvigorate Alabama Democrats.

The 2010 and 2014 midterm elections pushed the party over the cliff, but we'd been driving towards the edge for quite a while, and nobody applied the brakes.

Historically, Alabama Democrats have fought each other, not Republicans

After 100+ years in power, it's tempting to assume your position is permanent. In 2010, a number of Democratic incumbents had been in office for decades, when winning the Democratic primary was tantamount to winning the general election. Cycle after cycle, the "real" campaign played out in the Democratic primary, and those fights were vicious. The 2010 primary battle between Sparks and Davis was nothing compared to Baxley/Graddick in 1986 or Wallace/Brewer in 1970:

With support from a coalition that combined blacks, upper-class whites, and educated middle-class whites, Brewer shocked Wallace by running first in the Democratic primary. In the runoff campaign, the contest turned vicious. The Wallace camp whispered claims ultimately proven true of Republican support for Brewer, spread nasty and untrue rumors about Brewer's family, and spread doctored photographs of Brewer in friendly poses with controversial black activists. Wallace supporters covered Brewer bumper stickers with their own that read, "I'm for B & B: Brewer and the Blacks."

Historical note: I was in first grade during that campaign, and I had an Albert Brewer bumper sticker on my book satchel.

As a result, Alabama Democrats were much better at fighting each other than they were at fighting Republicans.  Kind of like the Alabama & Auburn football teams spend a lot more time preparing to play each other than they would if the game were against a high school team. Well, in the 1990's, the Alabama Republicans started playing college ball and the Democrats didn't notice until it was too late.

As has been reported before, Republican Dark Lord Karl Rove tried out his dirty tricks in Alabama State Supreme Court races in 1994 when his allies tried to brand Judge Mark Kennedy as a pedophile.  And ask Don Siegelman what happens when a Democratic governor rewards contributors with appointments to state boards - an activity that every Alabama governor has always done.  US presidents can hand out ambassadorships, but governors have more limited options.

Alabama Republicans were patient, gaining legislative seats bit by bit over time, winning some surprise statewide races, and using corporate money to take over the state court system. Once a party starts winning elections, it's easier to recruit candidates for other races.  Candidates who might otherwise have reflexively run as Democrats started giving the GOP a chance.

Meanwhile, party building in the ADP was non-existent. The party and its candidates were almost wholly dependent on big-money donors for funding, AEA members for campaign workers, and voters who reflexively voted for state and local Democratic candidates - even if they voted Republican for national offices. That strategy had always worked in the past, but while inertia is a powerful force, it's not invincible.

AEA became the ADP's biggest asset and liability
Ironically, the Alabama Democratic Party's biggest asset - support from AEA - was a huge liability in the long term when the relationship became the issue for the GOP.

There's More... :: (6 Comments, 688 words in story)

The Jason Childs Show

by: Jasonisus

Fri Feb 20, 2015 at 14:06:23 PM CST

(A great way to spend Sunday aftenoon! - promoted by countrycat)

Mike Halterman is a 29-year-old journalist who was born in Jacksonville, Florida. He considers himself "a Southern boy" and grew up in Warrington, Florida. He graduated from the IB Diploma Programme at Pensacola High School in Pensacola, Florida in 2004.
Since then he has pursued a degree in journalism and a minor in French language at the University of South Florida. He interned with the Wikimedia Foundation offices as a public relations consultant during the summer of 2007, and was under freelance contract in 2008 for the Gannett Company, providing nightlife correspondence in the Tampa area. He worked as writer and later editor of OMG! Magazine, an GLBT magazine serving Tampa Bay, Orlando, Key West, Miami, and Fort Lauderdale. He currently owns and publishes Out on the Town Magazine, a GLBT magazine for the Florida Panhandle, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana. He has also freelanced for the Pensacola News Journal, another Gannett property. In August 2011 he moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas, where he ran his magazine. As of June 2013 he has relocated to Tampa Florida and is an editor at Hot Spots magazine, the hottest weekly events in review for Tampa Bay, Lakeland, Orlando,  and the southern Suncoast. Email questions or comments to jasonisus@gmail.com or call the show at (347) 945-7388.
Listen online at: http://tobtr.com/s/7369065
 

Discuss :: (0 Comments)

Animal Welfare In Alabama: AVRAL Needs Support For Legislative Session

by: countrycat

Thu Feb 19, 2015 at 15:00:44 PM CST

Will this be the year that the Alabama Legislature finally passes legislation to protect the state's low-cost spay/neuter clinics? Or will disappointed clinic advocates watch once again as the ASBVME allies in the legislature run out the clock? The answer, in part, is up to us. But that's not the only animal welfare issue that deserves attention and action.  Unfortunately, mere citizen concern and letter-writing only goes so far with the legislature: if you want to really succeed on an issue, you need a lobbyist to advocate for it. AVRAL

Alabama Voters for Responsible Animal Legislation (AVRAL) is in the middle of its annual membership drive and raising money to hire a lobbyist for the upcoming legislative session. It's one of the organizations that the Alabama Veterinary Practices Owners Association (ALVPOA, or, as we prefer: the "Greedy Vets Club") has dubbed "Communists" with "vet envy."

Communists?  Well of course: just look at the group's "radical" 2015 legislative agenda! In addition to supporting a coalition that is working with Rep. Patricia Todd to pass the spay/neuter clinics bill, AVRAL also has two of its own bills.  From a membership letter written by Dr. Rhonda Parker, the state chair:

  1.  The first is one we have introduced before:  the animal shelter reporting act, which would require shelters to make their data public (animal intake, adoptions, euthanasia rates, etc.).  This is needed so that we can assess the various aspects of pet overpopulation in Alabama. 
  2. Our second bill is one that many AVRAL members have been extremely concerned about for quite some time:  dogs who spend their lives at the end of a chain with little to no outdoor shelter. They suffer miserably. It's a very complicated problem.  We see it all over Alabama.  I have hundreds and hundreds of letters sent to me by people asking what can be done.  The Tethering and Adequate Outdoor Shelter Act will be challenging for us.  We need to launch a marketing campaign to let legislators know that continuous chaining creates unsocialized dogs that can become aggressive and actually pose a threat to people.  And of course, we have to let them know what chaining does to dogs both emotionally and physically.

AVRAL is 40% of its way towards a $20,000 goal that will enable them to mount a multi-media campaign to educate the public on these issues and hire a lobbyist. The organization is all-volunteer, so 100% of your donation goes to support education, outreach, and lobbying.

From Dr. Parker:

I hope you will donate by going to www.alabamavotesforanimals.org and hitting the "donate" button.  Checks can be mailed to P.O. Box 1868, Alabaster, AL 35007.  BEFORE YOU SEND ANY MONEY, please watch this brief video we've created that shows you why your contribution is needed so desperately:

"Love of animals is a universal impulse, a common ground on which all of us may meet. By loving and understanding animals, perhaps we humans shall come to understand each other."
-- Louis J. Camuti

"The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them; that's the essence of humanity."
-- George Bernard Shaw

 

 

Discuss :: (0 Comments)

SB-29 Would Protect Consumers From Deceptive & Fraudulent Debt Collectors

by: countrycat

Wed Feb 18, 2015 at 08:04:03 AM CST

"Stale debt" collection is a booming national industry that's full of fraud and abuse. State Senator Linda Coleman has prefiled a bill (SB29) that would offer protection to Alabama residents. The bill requires debt collectors to verify that the information is accurate before attempting to collect, extinguishes debt liability after the statute of limitations has passed, allow consumers to record abusive phone calls from debt collectors, and more.

Sb29 debt collections bill
Other specific provisions taken from the legislation:

  1. This bill would require debt buyers and other debt collectors to possess certain basic information about the debt before initiating collection efforts, including proof of indebtedness by the consumer, date of the debt, identity of the original creditor, and itemization of all fees, charges, and payments. 
  2. This bill would prohibit consumers from arrest or imprisonment for failure to pay a consumer debt.
  3. This bill would provide that any changes to a consumer form contract involving financial services shall be agreed to by the consumer in  writing.
  4. This bill would prohibit "choice of law" provisions in consumer form contracts that select laws of states other than the consumer's home  state.
  5. This bill would provide that any consumer credit obligation is void if the entity extending the credit did not have a license required by state law.
  6. This bill would provide a single uniform, reasonable statute of limitations for consumer debts.
  7. This bill would provide that the statute of limitations cannot be voluntarily given up or waived.
  8. This bill would extinguish the debt after the statute of limitations passes.
  9. This bill would prevent any collection activities for stale debt.
Points 6 - 9 are particularly important parts of the bill. There is a nationwide problem with abusive and/or fraudulent collection practices brought about by recent changes in the industry:

The debt collection industry has undergone a transformation in the last decade. Credit card issuers, health care providers and cellphone companies now routinely sell debt that they deem uncollectable to debt buyers, who then either try to collect it themselves, turn it over to a collections law firm or sell it again.

The price of secondhand debt depends on factors like the age of the debt, average balance, how much documentation is available to prove the debt and where the debtors are located.

Out-of-statute debt is readily available on various Web sites that cater to the collections industry. For instance, a Chaska, Minn., company called Credit Card Reseller is offering an $8 million portfolio of Bank of America credit card accounts, which on average have a balance of $4,981 and were written off by the bank in 2003.

The expected asking price is $16,000, or two-tenths of a cent for every dollar owed.

With debt that cheap, companies can make a good profit, even if they only collect 10% of the total. Other state AGs are investigating abuses while Alabama's Attorney General is too busy suing the President to worry about consumers. New York's Attorney General is pursuing numerous cases against fraudulent debt collection practices.

 
There's More... :: (5 Comments, 709 words in story)

SB-15 - Roy Moore Can Run For Re-election If This Bill Passes

by: countrycat

Tue Feb 17, 2015 at 10:45:48 AM CST

State Senator Tom Whatley (SD-27, Auburn) has pre-filed a bill in the State Senate to raise the maximum age for a state judge to be elected or appointed to office.  Currently, the limit is 70, but SB-15 would raise it to 75. Is this an effort to keep Chief Justice Roy Moore on the bench and out of the 2018 race for governor? 

Alabama Legislative Session 

Moore is 68, which would make him ineligible to run for re-election for the court in 2018. Many have speculated that his next goal is the brass ring that's eluded him for years: Alabama Governor. His last run for that office in 2006 though didn't go well. Riley got 67% of the vote - with a lot of help from Democratic primary voters.

However, if the SPLC ethics complaints against Moore result in the his removal (yet again!) from the bench, he might be tempted to ride his martyer status all the way to the governor's mansion. UNLESS, SB-15 passes and gives Moore another shot at the Alabama Supreme Court, which could be an easier win for him than mixing it up in the GOP primary with Luther Strange and assorted other candidates.

The 2015 legislative session begins March 3rd, and this bill's progress and supporters will be interesting to watch.

 

Discuss :: (3 Comments)

The Jason Childs Show

by: Jasonisus

Thu Feb 12, 2015 at 15:49:12 PM CST

(A timely topic indeed! - promoted by countrycat)

Join us this Suday at 4pm for an in depth interview with Joe Openshaw, the author of Those Others : Navigating the Riddle of Homosexuality in 1965. Joe has worked as a freelance writer, author, and as a board member of Equality Alabama. He is also the voice behind the popular blog Bessemer Opinions. Mr. Openshaw has worked for years to protect the rights of the LGBT community in Alabama, and by doing so has championed the cause of human rights for all of us. We will also have progressive news you can use, and the most important thing- You. Call in during the show with your questions or comments 347-945-7388, or email your questions to jasonisus@gmail.com
Discuss :: (0 Comments)

Democratic National Committee Selects Philadelphia For 2016 Convention

by: countrycat

Thu Feb 12, 2015 at 10:04:59 AM CST

The City of Brotherly Love got a boost from the DNC today with the announcement that Philadelphia will host the  Democratic National Convention the week of July 25, 2016.DNC Philadelphia

Philadelphia was one of three finalists under serious consideration.  Columbus, OH and Brooklyn, NY were the other two, but Columbus probably suffered because the Republicans selected Cincinnati for their convention location.  That's a shame, because Columbus is within driving distance.

Birmingham made a quixotic bid, but there was little chance of it being selected.  It's a great city, but just didn't have the facilities to host such an event.

Hopefully, LIA will be covering the convention from Philadelphia. 

 

Discuss :: (0 Comments)

Video Of One Of Huntsville's First Public Same-Sex Weddings

by: countrycat

Tue Feb 10, 2015 at 11:25:37 AM CST

The Madison County Courthouse yesterday was filled with happy couples, their friends, families, and lots of strangers who wanted to celebrate with them and be a part of history.  After receiving their licenses, many of the couples walked (through cheering crowds) to Big Spring Park where an assortment of ministers and wedding officiants were gathered to perform weddings.

Here's the video from the park's first wedding.  Minister Ellin Jimmerson of Weatherly Heights Baptist Church officiated. 

Congratulations to all the happy couples who married yesterday, today, tomorrow.....

Apologies for the shaky parts of the video. There was so much happening so quickly & with so many people around, using the tripod just wasn't an option.

 

Discuss :: (3 Comments)
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