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Bradley Byrne's Bad Week Raises Questions About His Candidacy

by: countrycat

Fri Jan 08, 2010 at 15:52:39 PM CST

Former Democrat and GOP candidate for governor, Bradley Byrne, is widely considered to be the frontrunner for the nomination. (Danny at the Political Parlor says: "Favorite of the state's GOP establishment is still the one to beat.")

Bradley Byrne's bad weekYet Byrne has found himself pretty much beaten by the news cycle this week.  What's amazing is how self-inflicted the wounds are.  From PACT to the Bible, Mr. Byrne seems to be having trouble choosing a position and sticking with it.

Furthermore, he's proving to be a candidate who's not just full of what King Cockfight calls "gentle Caucasian charm," but a comparatively thinskinned one too.  You have to wonder how he'll stand up under the pressures of a hard-fought primary and/or general election.

It's been pretty amazing to watch Byrne pull off a political hat trick and alienate these three important constituencies... all in one week:

  • Approximately 45,000 PACT contract holders, their families, and friends.
  • The Biblical inerrancy crowd that seems to form the base of Alabama's Republican Party.
  • His own hometown paper - the Mobile Press-Register.
Learn more on the flip...
countrycat :: Bradley Byrne's Bad Week Raises Questions About His Candidacy

The Alabama PACT dust up.

C'mon, Bradley, is it a contract or not?  Is the contract "legally binding" or not?  

During numerous appearances before PACT parents and the Save Alabama PACT group, Byrne sounded all the right notes and said all the right things.

Yet, as we've reported this week here and here, his position has suddenly shifted.  There's nothing legally binding, he suddenly asserts.  Rather, Byrne adopted this position:

"Now, I am not telling you there is a legal obligation on behalf of the state to fix this problem.  There’s not.  But there is a moral obligation, and in my judgment, and the way I look at things, a moral obligation is actually a lot more important than a legal obligation.  So, I think the state does have moral obligation to fix this problem."

Imagine going before a judge and trying to argue that your contract isn't a legal but rather moral document.  That's a novel legal opinion on a par with the "unitary executive" theory that caused so much damage during the Bush Administration.

Biblical Truth or Consequences?

There are few issues more dangerous for a politician to argue about than religion and the Bible.  No matter what you say, somebody's doing to disagree with it.

That's bad enough, but when you appear to be arguing with yourself, it's even worse.

Nine weeks ago, Byrne told the Mobile Press-Register:

Among the Republicans, only Byrne, Johnson and Potts expressed some belief in evolution. All three said they thought God was ultimately behind the process.


Byrne was an exception, saying it is unimportant whether some details of the Bible, such as people living for hundreds of years, are factually correct.

"I think there are parts of the Bible that are meant to be literally true and parts that are not," Byrne said. 

Now, I think anybody could make a good case that this question should never be asked in a political campaign since it's a matter of faith, not policy.  But this is Alabama, where my daughter's biology book comes with an "evolution disclaimer" glued to the front page. 

The fact is, Byrne decided to answer the question and responded with an answer that sounded remarkably like sense - especially coming from an Alabama Republican politician.  But it was too good to last.  Just this week, he was singing from quite a different hymnal at an event held at the New Hope Piggly Wriggly grocery store:

"I believe the Bible is true," Republican gubernatorial candidate Bradley Byrne said here Wednesday. "Every word of it."

I've always seen Byrne as the least objectionable of all the Republicans running.  He seemed smart, reasonable, and not as likely as Moore, James, or Cowgirl Kay Ivey to make the state look ridiculous by mounting some quixotic quest to establish Christianity as the state religion, outlaw all abortions, or teach schoolchildren that humans and dinosaurs lived together during the same historical period.

Unfortunately, he's starting to resemble the first President Bush, who was quite happy to toss aside his lifetime of moderate political and personal beliefs in exchange for the Vice-Presidency and later the Presidency. 

Will the real Bradley Byrne please raise your Bible?

Poor Reporting or a Poor Sport?

Next, Byrne - the guy so concerned about "moral obligations" - decided to blame someone else for his Biblical flip-flopping: the Mobile Press-Register, his hometown paper.

Byrne said at Piggly Wiggly that he had been misquoted. The report has been used by his opponents in anonymous attacks since November, Byrne added.

But Wednesday night, Press-Register Executive Editor Mike Marshall said "There is no way that the Press-Register misquoted Mr. Byrne in that story."

Even if Byrne were misquoted, why did it take him this long to set the record straight?  He says that opponents have used it against him since November, but he waits until NOW to speak out?

As Kristopher at The World Around You noted:

What makes this story matter is integrity. 

I would submit that "integrity" is what makes all three issues matter.

  1. With PACT, if Byrne has been saying one thing to one crowd and telling another group something else, how can we believe any of his campaign promises?
  2. With the Bible, if Byrne changes positions when one isn't popular, what does that say about his core values - or lack thereof?
  3. Finally, if he's willing to snub his hometown paper - or any major Alabama media outlet - in such a public (and silly) way, what does that say about his political skills - or lack thereof?

Tim James, Roy Moore, Artur Davis, and Ron Sparks have to be breathing easier after Byrne's week of bumbling.

The race for the GOP nomination looks to be a lot closer than I had previously thought.


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Byrne has totally screwed up on this PACT thing (4.00 / 1)

It's one thing to come out and say that in his opinion, the PACT contracts are not legally binding -- that won't make him any friends with the forty some-odd thousand Alabamians who bought those contracts, but it may be legally defensible.  However, to then say that the moral obligation is somehow more important than the legal obligation is just crazy. 

What will this guy do if he's elected governor?  Certainly he won't be advocating the Legislature take action to make PACT solvent or face devastating legal actions because he's already convinced there's no legal liability.  That's a huge argument for dealing with the situation that he's just flat taken off the table.  And this "moral obligation" stuff?  Will he decide the "water wars" with Georgia and Florida based on some "moral obligation" not to deprive Atlanta of water, or will he defend Alabama's legal right to a share of that water?  Mind boggling.

Work harder and work smarter!

I don't know... (0.00 / 0)

I have been following this little dust up and I heard the audio, Davis seems to be painting and your quote...

Certainly he won't be advocating the Legislature take action to make PACT solvent or face devastating legal actions because he's already convinced there's no legal liability.

... seems to be implying Byrne is saying screw the PACT. He seems to be saying that the state of Alabama should make these contracts whole even though they are not legally obligated to do so.

Brian at flashpoint wrote about this and it seems there is no legal obligation

One would have reasonably thought it was a state program.  But that isn’t the case.  It is a “separate entity” according to Dr. Greg Fitch, the spokesman for the board that oversees PACT.  According to the Times article Alabama is one of four states that doesn’t actually guarantee PACT.  (Only 13 states offer such a program, indicating that most states realized that “guaranteed” programs were a bad idea.)

And just for fun, your ripping Byrne for his moral obligation comment when in the past you said...

Speaking of moral support, do you notice that all the outsiders speak of a "moral obligation" to PACT families that is conspicuously missing from insider statements?  

What is the problem here, other than Davis being a great politician?

Do better.

Dale, I have to say you were right - mooncat

You're an entertainer son! -Parker Griffith

[ Parent ]
Not the most reputable source. (0.00 / 0)

"It is a “separate entity” according to Dr. Greg Fitch, the spokesman for the board that oversees PACT"...the spokesman for the board that allowed PACT to disolve into the current mess.

And Flashpoint?  Just about as reputable as Newsmax or Fox.  Phfft!

[ Parent ]
I appreciate your endorsement! (0.00 / 0)

I don't blame you for not letting pesky facts bring you down because you don't like where you read them!

Two words about LiA's argument about Byrne's position on PACT. Mountain. Molehill.  Byrne appears as populistically resolute on the PACT issue as any other office seeker.  In fact, his comments could certainly be interpreted as being more in line with the interests of PACT holders.  By emphasizing the "moral obligation" he is saying that even if courts ruled that there was no legal obligation that he would still side with the contract holders.

However, the "clarification" on the Bible comment IS a credible point to raise.  I wasn't happy to see him backtrack on his original comment.  There is no benefit in trying to appeal to Roy Moore's base.  He ain't swaying those voters.  The standard follow up question from any reporter should be, "Do you believe Jonah was really swallowed and then vomitted out alive by a big fish?"

[ Parent ]
Actually, (4.00 / 2)

I have to put in a good word for Flashpoint. 

Brian's stuff is usually pretty fact based and well-written.  He gives good coverage to a lot of Madison County issues.  I don't often agree with the conclusions, but he's not given to making up his own facts.

Some of the commentors though, are way way out there so I generally read the posts but not the discussions.

"The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."  - John Kenneth Galbraith

[ Parent ]
Alabama Commission on Higher Education (0.00 / 0)

headed by Dr. Gregory Fitch has a Web site with a page titled "Paying for College."

According to the Internet Archive (which is an enmormously useful research tool), the Paying For College page had this description of PACT on May 5, 2008 - long after the news broke about the financial problems.  And long after Dr. Fitch, who was also spokesman for the PACT board denied any guarantees or legal obligations:

Alabama Pre-paid Affordable College Tuition Program (PACT)
Through the PACT Program, you can purchase a contract to prepay 135 semester hours of college tuition and 8 semesters of qualified fee payments at any Alabama public college or university. PACT may also be used at private or out-of-state institutions. Flexible plans are available to pay for the contract that is priced according to the age of the child. In essence, you are purchasing college tuition today for tomorrow’s use.

Here's what it said about the 529 program:

Alabama Education 529 Fund
The Alabama Higher Education 529 Fund allows you to participate in an investing program, managed by Van Kampen Investments, in which you select from a number of professionally crafted investment strategies. The beneficiary of the account may be a child, adult or even yourself. Withdrawals from the account can be used to pay for tuition, fees, books, room and board at any accredited college, trade or graduate school. 

hmmm.... prepaid tuition vs "investing program."

Forgive me if I don't consider him a credible source.  Like most PACT board members, he was perfectly willing to sell the program in marketing campaigns as "Prepay a Child's Tuition" and even have that information on the ACHE Web site.

But, when times got hard due to financial mismanagement and economic conditions, suddenly they're retreating behind legalese.

So that's why Byrne's "moral obligation" means nothing unless it's backed by legal requirements - which, remember, the RSA study did find.  But of course, nobody at RSA had ever been a PACT board member - like Fitch and Byrne were.

"The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."  - John Kenneth Galbraith

[ Parent ]
This Biblical kerfluffle (4.00 / 3)

Illustrates the problem Bradley Byrne has in an Alabama Republican gubernatorial primary.  He's not rightist enough and he's not holy enough and when he says he "is too!" he's not convincing.

My theory is that he thought that being anointed by Riley and being the new broom in the two-year college system was going to make up for his deficiencies with the base.  But is Riley's blessing enough to overcome a reputation of insufficient Bibliolatry?

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.
- John Adams

I had missed the original Press-Register story ... (4.00 / 2)
Not an SEC grad... so I had not seen the mention of the Republican candidates' statements of their belief vel non in the phenomenon of evolution.  I find it interesting that the licensed and practicing physician in the field - GOP State Representative Robert Bentley of Tuscaloosa - was not one of the Republicans who expressed acceptance of evolution.  I wonder if he's still treating his MRSA patients with beta-lactams?  And while the University of Alabama people are indulging in their football glory, I will point out that not only is this (apparently) ill-educated physician an alumnus of UA, his district includes the bulk of the UA campus.

UA campus (4.00 / 2)
Any idea how many of the UA students vote (or are even registered) in Tuscaloosa?  I hear over and over of confusion over where to vote (where they grew up or where they go to school) on the part of college students.

Work harder and work smarter!

[ Parent ]
College kids choose (4.00 / 2)

From what I remember when I was in college as well as looking up the question, college students have the choice to register either at their parent's house or their college address (at their hometown address, they generally vote absentee).  The US Supreme Court case Symm v. US (1979) made this ruling (it responded to this issue in Walker Cty, Texas, where Prarie View A&M is located).

The question did come up again in 2008 in Virginia, when Montgomery Cty, VA, home of Virginia Tech, issued a release that college students could only register at the school address if they declared themselves independent from their parents and could no longer be counted as dependents for tax purposes (and could lose scholarship money).  I'm not sure of the result, though it did crop up in other college towns Virginia as well.

For college students, my advice would be vote where you choose but, if you are torn, vote where you might have the most impact.

[ Parent ]
Well, I happen to know (4.00 / 1)

That you registered to vote in Georgia while a college student in order to vote against "Hummon" Talmadge, of cash-filled overcoat fame, although you were a resident of another state.

And it was perfectly legal.

For the most part, students can choose.

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.
- John Adams

[ Parent ]
If he's running for govenor (0.00 / 0)

then I'm guessing that seat is open.

Any idea who's expressed interest in running?

How on earth did this guy get through medical school?

"The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."  - John Kenneth Galbraith

[ Parent ]
That would be Susan Pace Hamill (4.00 / 1)
At least on the Democratic side.  Author of "The Least of These."  A vast improvement over Bentley.

Work harder and work smarter!

[ Parent ]
Also in H-63 (4.00 / 1)

At one time, I was told that Mary Harmon [how's that for a Bama name?] Rountree, a recent UA grad who was president of the UA College Democrats, was going to run for this seat. I don't know if that information is still accurate.

Looking at the map of the district, and the 2002 and 2006 results in the district, it's going to be a bit of an uphill pull for any Democrat.

Generally, the legal test of where someone is a resident for purposes of being allowed to vote is a complicated question of law and fact.  A freshman who hasn't pre-determined she's moving back in with her parents upon graduation is going to get to vote.  A student in his last semester who's never registered in the college town, and has already accepted a job out of town, is unlikely to find a judge sympathetic to him.  "The only constitutionally permissible test is one which focuses on the individual's present intention and does not require him to pledge allegiance for an indefinite future. The objective is to determine the place which is the center of the individual's life now, the locus of his primary concern." Ramey v. Rockefeller, 348 F. Supp. 780, 788 (E.D. N.Y. 1972).

[ Parent ]
Great piece country cat. (4.00 / 2)
I hope he keeps on screwing up. Keep on until someone the  teabaggers like wins the repug primary.  Then we can whip them good come November!

What's Byrne thinking? (4.00 / 1)

His conservative bona fides are suspect to the GOP base.  I don't see this flip-flop helping him at all. 

And there's an uneasy alliance between the Bible Belt crowd and the corporate Republicans. What will they think about Byrne's new-found "old time religion?"

Watching this play out in the primary is going to be interesting to say the least.

I'm looking forward to seeing Byrne spout the right wing stuff in person.  Will he look earnest and truthful?  Or like a man who's literally choking on his words?

"The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."  - John Kenneth Galbraith

[ Parent ]
Careful what you wish for melmel (0.00 / 0)
The teabaggers have been very successful so far, remember Phil Williams and Paul Sanford turned Madison County from blue to red and this is Alabama, the reddest of the red states, if any state identifies with the tea party it's this one..  According to a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll the tea bag party is more popular than democrats or republicans (now that's scary)  and the first ever national teabagger convention will be held right (pun intended) up the road next month.  I hope I'm wrong, but I'm not so sure we could whup them good come November.

The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dreams shall never die.~Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D. MA)

[ Parent ]
"Moral obligation" is meaningful in church, but will do nothing (4.00 / 1)

to make those students and parents whole.  I'd sooner look for a unicorn or a mermaid than a po;itician who responds to moral obligations.

Biblical inerrancy, Southern Baptists, Roy Moore, oh My! Such a triumverate poor Bradley has to deal with here.  If he doesn't publicly buy into the Old Testament mythology, he will fall prey to the huge minority of Alabamians who do believe in the regurgitation of great fish, and the ability of a boat to hold an infinite number of animals. Never underestimate the stupidity of the electorate. 

On the other hand, when the Repugs are finished with their selection process, he will have to face the general electorate, which includes literate, articulate and educted voters, who understand symbolism and figurative allegory. As Bradley's wheels come off, it looks real good for the "Honorable" Judge Moore, hence very good for Artur Davis.

As to alienating one's hometown newspaper, that is a poor strategy anytime.  But what it shows me is even worse, a candidate who, for the advantage of a moment's peace from a crowd of troglodytes at a Piggly Wiggly (I'm suing them for using that name, BTW), calls out a widfely read publication that could have been expected to show him support in the coming months.

Call this one "Byrne Burns Bridges"

Only after the last tree has been cut down. Only after the last fish has been caught. Only after the last river has been poisoned. Only then will you realize that money cannot be eaten. Cree Nation Tribal Prophecy

Not really (0.00 / 0)

Primary demographics still favor him and the fact that no candidate will run as strongly in their base area as he will also does. Come to think of it, of the GOP candidates, only Moore has a real base and even there his base is a Democratic county.

Even his insulting the paper is not a misstep. Mobile is Mobile. Their feelings might be hurt that he said it but all of Mobile is voting for Byrne (including the white Democrats who vote in GOP primaries for sheriff), the Mobile business community (which that paper is a mouthpiece for) also supports him and simply put, it will be bad politics for them to portray Byrne in any other way but the most positive and glowing unless he is one his way out due to some scandal and even then, there will be kid gloves in the whole thing.

Byrne remains the man to beat. No matter what he says he won't lose the urban/suburban moderates to James and James will have real problems running ahead of Moore in a primary as James has not found dominant traction in one of the wings of the state GOP.

 Byrne is the strongest in the general but will have the toughest time in a primary, like a lot of candidates who are strong in generals.







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