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Alabama Supreme Court Hits A New Low - Bans All Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

by: countrycat

Tue Mar 03, 2015 at 19:04:15 PM CST

Lady Justice on a four-man bobsled.... The poor girl is headed straight to judicial perdition. Chief Justice Roy Moore today ordered Alabama Probate Judges to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

lawsuits welcome in Alabama 

The entire ruling is 144 pages (PDF). Moore must have too much time on his hands. WAFF-TV in Huntsville posted this excerpt:

Every day, more and more purported "marriage licenses" are being issued to same-sex couples by some of the probate judges in this State. Every day, the recipients of those licenses and others with whom they interact may be, and presumably are, relying upon the validity of those licenses in their personal and business affairs. Every probate judge in this State, regardless of his or her own stance on the issuance of such licenses, will soon enough be faced, in his or her judicial capacity, with a universe of novel derivative questions unprecedented in their multiplicity, scope, and urgency. The circuit courts of this State will confront a similar experience...

It is clear that no other court in this State has the jurisdiction to provide the relief necessary in this most unusual of cases. There is a need for immediate, uniform relief among all the probate judges of this State, and no circuit court has jurisdiction over any probate judge outside its territorial jurisdiction...

The "magnitude and importance" of the issue before us is unparalleled. And the "special reasons" that compel us to act are unlike any other in the history of our jurisprudence... we are clear to the conclusion that this Court has the authority to act in this matter to maintain and restore order in the administration of our laws by the probate judges and the courts of this State.

Judge Moore has proved over and over that he's never heard of the Supremacy Clause, and apparently can't learn from experience.

We're probably headed for more litigation, and the GOP legislature that has given the state a $290 million budget deficit for 2015 no doubt stands ready to increase the total as part of its "full employment for lawyers" initiative.

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HB-56 ANOTHER Bill That Makes Bigotry & Ignorance An Excuse For Not Doing Your Job

by: countrycat

Tue Mar 03, 2015 at 17:32:18 PM CST

Indicted Speaker Mike Hubbard brags about the GOP super-majority's "business-friendly" legislation, but you'd never know it to look at some recent bills and one that's scheduled for a committee hearing tomorrow. Predictably, it's on the "fast track," and it's probably too much to hope for a head-on collision with the other "fast track" bill for charter schools.

 

HB-56 would allow Alabama Probate Judges & public officials to refuse to officiate at any wedding they find religiously objectionable. Although specifically targeted at GLBT couples, the bill is (in traditional Alabama fashion) written so badly and broadly that we know lawsuits will follow. 

Other than same-sex weddings, what other types of unions might someone find "religiously objectionable?"

  • Interfaith weddings. An observant Jewish public official refuse to perform a civil ceremony for a couple with one Jewish & one non-Jewish partner.
  • Inter-racial weddings. Yes campers: some people still haven't entered the 21st century (or even the 20th) with the rest of us.
  • Couples with a divorced partner. It's not just Catholics who take a hard line on this.
  • Couples who plan to use birth control - or who don't plan to have kids or whose union would violate any damn thing the officiant wants to use to deny them a wedding.

See the problem with writing legislation meant to discriminate against one particular group is that sponsors usually try to hide their true intent, which makes the scope of the law much broader than expected. Supporters always expect that their "wink, wink... you know who we're really aiming at" legislation will have a narrow impact anyway.  But then some whining busybody decides to test it and the state ends up in court, on the news, and taxpayers foot the bill yet again.

In this case, these guys would still be getting their full, taxpayer-funded salaries, but picking and choosing items from their job description. Don't you wish we all had that ability, campers? Imagine having this conversation with your boss:

"Hey, glad to be working here, but you need to understand that this 7am start time is a non-starter. I attend morning minyan every day at my synagogue, so I can't possibly make it work by 8am.  I'll roll in at 9 most days - but will need to leave each day for afternoon services.  You see, it violates my religious beliefs to miss a prayer service."

But our Alabama Republican majority won't give us that sort of handy legislation. They're only worried about someone's freedom of conscience and religious beliefs in certain circumstances: performing gay weddings or providing any sort of health service that involves womens' reproductive systems.  From the 2014 session:

So says HB31, sponsored by Rep. Becky Nordgren and passed out of committee yesterday.  The bill would allow health care providers to refuse to "perform or participate in any medical health care service" that violates their "moral, religious, or ethical principles," as long as the health care "service" is related to:

Any phase of patient medical care, treatment or procedure that is limited to abortion, human cloning, human embryonic stem cell research, and sterilization, and is related to: Patient referrals, counseling, therapy, testing, diagnosis or prognosis, research, instruction, prescribing, dispensing or administering any device, drug, or medication, surgery, or any other care or treatment rendered or provided by health care providers.

It's pretty clear that Rep. Nordgren is far more worried about ladyparts than she is anyone's conscience.  Otherwise, why limit this medical conscience clause to reproductive procedures?

Here's a solution to the problem that doesn't require any more "burdensome" government regulation.

If you're opposed to providing legal health care services to patients, don't go into the health care profession.  If you're opposed to marriage equality, don't run for Probate Judge because marriage licenses & weddings are part of your job.

Hey! Problem solved.  No bills or lawsuits required.

As an aside.... Does it surprise any of us that this legislation shares a bill number with 2011's notorious anti-immigration HB-56? Sometimes history has a wicked sense of humor.

 

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Don't Look, Ethel! Alabama Legislature's 2015 Session Opening Day

by: countrycat

Tue Mar 03, 2015 at 11:02:30 AM CST

We've dreaded this day for a long time - and with good reason. It's the opening day of the 2015 Alabama legislative session and the GOP agenda can best be described as "more of the same, only worse."

We have a charter school bill on the fast track - perhaps indicted House Speaker Mike Hubbard needs to get some contract kickbacks before his corruption trial begins.

In the House, Republicans announced their legislative priorities under the title of "Alabama First." Wow. After 4 years in a supermajority, they're finally going to put Alabama first?  What a concept. Oops... no. The agenda is just what we described above. More of the same - only worse:

  • Charter schools
  • More corporate welfare payments (the GOP calls them "economic incentives) with still no oversight or review to see if the companies who receive them keep their promises.
  • Fewer regulations - because in Alabama, business are run by angels who would never, ever pollute, over-charge, or fail to pay their fare share of taxes, right?

There there's the usual assortment of "we're going to pass unnecessary laws to make stuff legal that's already legal, but we'll make it even more legal and distract the public from our real work of selling the state government to the highest bidder." From the Web site:

  • House Republicans will pass legislation to protect judges, ministers, and others from being forced to participate in wedding ceremonies that violate their fundamental religious and moral beliefs.
  • House Republicans will re-establish the freedom of student-led prayer and religious expression in our schools by enacting the Student Religious Liberties Act during the 2015 Legislative Session.
  • House Republicans will allow the Department of Corrections to once again utilize the electric chair as the primary method of execution

It's going to be a long, expensive 30 days for Alabama.

 

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Part 5: Picking Up The Pieces To Rebuild The Alabama Democratic Party

by: countrycat

Mon Mar 02, 2015 at 10:16:41 AM CST

When a patient is on life support, loved ones are often forced to decide if there's any hope for recovery. The same applies with the Alabama Democratic Party.  What's gone wrong? Is it worth saving?  If so, what's the cure? Today, we wrap up our series on the recent history of the ADP and tangentially, the AEA. 

Alabama Democratic Party 

Symptom #1: Out of Touch & Insular Party Leadership

The political landscape in Alabama didn't change because of the ADP leadership, but they've done little or nothing to bring the party back from the brink. How can it be that the party has suffered massive losses at every level of state and local government, but nobody in leadership lost their job?  Paul Hubbert, remember, left voluntarily so that he could more openly support Republican candidates. The State Democratic Executive Committee is currently structured to preserve the power of individual leaders, not as an open, transparent governing body. 

Don't believe it?  Just attend the next SDEC meeting and watch the spectacle as Nancy Worley & Joe Reed use the politics of raw power and poor parliamentary procedure to humiliate opponents and table/block votes on motions. The August 2014 meeting is a perfect example:

Over the past few years, I've watched as Roberts Rules of Order were twisted beyond recognition, motions ruled out of order simply because the ADP leadership didn't want to discuss them (example 1, example 2), and seen the leadership display a simultaneous slavish devotion to the letter of some of the by-laws - and a distinct disdain for some of the more inconvenient portions.   For instance, the party by-laws say that this meeting has to take place between August 1 & August 15.  Saturday is the 16th.

In the case of the August meeting, past performance on the part of the SDEC did indeed predict future results. 

Traditionally, the first order of business during an SDEC meeting is to fill vacancies, and the party at the time had 56 vacancies for elected positions.  Dr. Joe Reed informed the committee that he and the minority caucus had filled an additional 55 vacancies at its meeting prior to the SDEC meeting.  How those vacancies are determined is anybody's guess.

Many prospective members attended, hoping to fill an open slot in their district.  Most went home angry and disappointed - for no good reason other than Reed/Worley knew they could gum up the works and have a little fun: 

In previous meetings, the chair went through the list district by district asking for nominations.  Yesterday however, Chairwoman Worley recognized Dr. Joe Reed first and he made a motion to fill just 7 of the 58 open positions (he already had the names available to read aloud) and "hold over" the remaining vacancies.

Repeatedly, Worley made reference to the committee's "long agenda" and taking some shortcuts "in the interest of time," but what many attendees saw was an effort to restrict committee membership for no good reason.  Although members repeatedly asked WHY Dr. Reed made the motion to change the standard meeting procedure, he declined to speak on the matter again.

If they were indeed trying to "save time," let's just say that strategy didn't work and caused a huge amount of ill will on the committee for no good reason.  The committee spent nearly an hour fighting over this when the actual elections for all the slots could have been done in half that time. Not only that, it embarrassed the members who had worked to recruit new committee members and wasted the time of those hopefuls who had attended the meeting, but who were somehow left off Dr. Reed's list - the one that only a few knew in advance that he was making. 

What was the big secret? If there's a good reason to change meeting procedures, the dish. Don't give some lame excuse about being "pressed for time," because people were perfectly happy to take the time to fill open positions. The silence from party leadership only fed suspicion and created ill-will.

Remember in Part One, we noted that historically Alabama Democrats are better at fighting each other than fighting Republicans. That's a perfect description of the State Democratic Executive Committee.  The party has a failed, but entrenched, leadership that doesn't feel the need to justify its actions - or even deign to explain them - to the membership.

The Cure: The party all but burned to the ground in the 2010 elections and the GOP drove a bulldozer through the remains in 2014. And yet the same crew is still in charge of the party, sitting huddled over the sad embers that remain.  As long as the ADP's leadership style is "rule by autocrats," the only possible outcome is failure. We won't grow the party until we grow our contributor and voter base.  That's just not possible with the current leadership.

Symptom #2 - Lack of Financial Transparency

In the years that I've attended SDEC meetings, I have yet to hear the party treasurer give a report to the membership.  In fact, the treasurer rarely even attends meetings and seems to pay little or no attention to his duties. For instance, qualifying checks for the 2014 primary election were due by the close of business on February 7, 2014.  Yet the February FCPA report from the SDEC shows NO INCOME AT ALL during that month, and the "amended" form shows $1102 in contributions. The SDEC didn't report the qualifying fee income it received in February 2014 until the April 2014 report - and some candidate & SDEC membership qualifying checks weren't cashed until May. Look at the details in the reports and you see that some of those months-old checks bounced and subsequent reports don't show the money being redeposited or recovered.

This was less than a year after party chair Nancy Worley made her "broke, broke, broke" comments.  Maybe the Treasurer just never bothered to cash contribution checks.... 

But nobody on the SDEC would know that because the committee is routinely kept in the dark about financial matters. No written financial reports are sent to SDEC members (although the by-laws require it) and SDEC member efforts to get more detailed information during meetings get quickly shut down by the chair.  At the October 2013 meeting, there was no treasurer's report because chair Nancy Worley said she wasn't able to open email attachments.

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The Time Is NOW To Request Public Hearings On 2015 Pre-filed Bills

by: countrycat

Sun Mar 01, 2015 at 18:17:11 PM CST

A charter school bill isn't the only GOP agenda item on the legislative "fast track" for the 2015 session that opens on Tuesday. There are over 100 bills pre-filed and a number of them could have a substantial impact on the state. We know that the Republican super-majority's modus operandi is to "vote first, read later, then maybe fix the mistakes." Unfortunately, there's little chance of stopping any bills that Hubbard/Marsh want passed, but a public hearing in committee will at least alert responsible legislators to  problems with the legislation.

 

One of Alabama's premiere progressive Democrats and legislative watchdogs, Joann Cummings, posted this alert on the Wake Up Alabama Facebook page:

The FIRST bills have been pre-filed in the AL legislature for the 2015 session!! There are now 105 bills pre-filed in the House (60) and Senate (45), and many of the "Alabama First" GOP Agenda items are showing up now. The leadership will FAST TRACK most of these bills and try to have them completed within the first 3 weeks of the session. Unfortunately, they have the majorities to do whatever they want.

If you have been a VOCAL participant in this FB group, but have not yet gotten actively involved participating in the legislative process, then NOW is the time to begin to educate yourself so that you can JOIN US fighting in Montgomery.

The ALISON system has been redesigned and still has many flaws in it, but I have had luck accessing it using this link.

http://alisondb.legislature.state.al.us/Alison/PrefiledBills.aspx

If YOU want to have a VOICE about a bill, the ONLY way for the public to provide input is to TESTIFY at a PUBLIC HEARING. Anyone can submit a request for a Public Hearing in writing (email) to the CLERK of the Committee the bill is in. BUT... this MUST be done BEFORE the bill is scheduled on a meeting agenda.

Committee meetings and their agendas can be accessed by clicking that button on the LH column.

More than one person can request a public hearing: it's no big deal. So don't assume that "somebody else will do it."  If any of these issues are important to you - send an email.  TONIGHT!

Here's a list of bills of particular significance:

HERE are some AL bills that NEED to have Public Hearings REQUESTED.. I've listed the Bill number and Committee.

SB14 - Judiciary - Possession of firearms NOT misconduct, possession of LOADED firearm in vehicle w/o license OK.
SB44 - Transportation - Increase Driver's License fees
SB7 - Education - Schools can educate about "traditional winter holidays"
SB18, SB43 - Education - State Bd of Ed can intervene in Local BOE
SB12 - F&T Ed - Diverts recurring funds from ETF for dispersion by %

Support:
HB3 - Public Safety- Firearms prohibited in churches
HB47 - Public Safety - Firearms prohibited at polling places, prohibits guns for convicts, dom. violence offenders, unsound minds
SB21 - Judiciary - AL Open Meetings Act to prohibit serial meetings
SB29 - Banking - Consumer protection for abusive debt collection
HB42 - Commerce - Establish AL Min. Wage Act
HB13 - W&M Ed - Cost of Living raise of 4% for 2yr college employees

Here are detailed instructions on how to request a public hearing.

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SB-45 Alabama Senate Committee Set To Fast Track Charter School Bill

by: countrycat

Sat Feb 28, 2015 at 15:47:49 PM CST

Here is where Alabama voters need to stand up & say "Hell No" to legislative tricks.  If Alabama is going to experiment with charter schools, the bill - SB-45 - pre-filed by Senate leader Del Marsh needs to be carefully written, debated, and the public needs plenty of input.

Alabama Charter Schools 

Oh, and it would help if the legislators actually read the bill before voting.  We learned from the Alabama Accountability Act what a train wreck you get when legislators get steamrolled by a bill that nobody has read & that has numerous problems that require additional "tweaks" and explanations.

The establishment of charter schools in the state is an issue that needs careful study, debate, and input from every stakeholder. Other states have tripped merrily down the charter school path and got caught in a morass of corruption, and buddy contracting that sucked money out of public education and lined the pockets of private industry.

Does anybody really believe that a bill Mike Hubbard & Del Marsh are trying to slam through the legislature as quickly as possible will be any different?  We live in Alabama, remember, a top state for public corruption, but Michigan is giving us a run for our money:

In one case, the president of a school’s management company and the husband of its top administrator bought a piece of property for $375,000 and less than a week later sold it to the school for $425,000. This appears to have been completely legal. The two men would also go on to collect millions in contracts from the school. This is not an isolated case. See here and here.

Cozy relations have also led to exorbitant compensation, including one case where a school with less than 500 students spent more than a half million dollars on its top school administrator’s severance package.

Think that won't happen in Alabama?  Our state handed out no-bid contracts that paid private companies tens of thousands to build a WordPress site and look up information on Google.  Think what will happen if these guys get their hands on education funding.

Here's the info from a Change.org petition:

Feb 28, 2015 — Our legislative session begins this Tues.,March 3rd. SB45 was pre-filed two days ago. (Feb. 26) Because folks called as soon as the bill was filled we were granted a Public Hearing. It will be at the Statehouse in room 727 at 8:30AM. The GENERAL practice is, if there is a Public Hearing, they DO NOT VOTE on the bill until the following committee meeting (the next week) but they actually plan on voting the very next day, March 5th. They have been known to do this in the past but it is NOT a general rule. They only do it if they want to PUSH the bill through, and they want to push this through before the public can get involved. Our voice MATTERS! Raise it.....write them, tweet them, call them.....tell them to say #NOonALSB45

I ask you to read and sign it. Not because it will make any difference to the Legislature.  Hubbard & company don't give a damn what voters thing.  But because we need to educate the public about what's happening start making some noise.

 

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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.

There's More... :: (1 Comments, 252 words in story)

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.

There's More... :: (0 Comments, 720 words in story)

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:

 

Discuss :: (3 Comments)

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
 

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