I'm running because I'm tired of feeling like I have no one to call in Montgomery to express my concerns. Over the past four years of a supermajority in the legislature, working people have been made second-class to big-business, children's educations have been turned into a profit-making venture for a few wealthy individuals and bills have been passed behind closed doors in the middle of the night.
I'm not going to stand for that. Our current state senator is running for his tenth term in the legislature, and I believe it's time for new leadership who will stand up for hard work, protect public education and do the work of government with honesty and integrity.
The governor's race is the high-profile race in this state and will get a lot of attention from voters. But understand this very important fact: Alabama's governor has very little power over legislation. The state constitution allows the legislature to override the governor's veto with a simple majority vote. Sure, having a good governor who won't embarrass the state and who can use the bully pulpit to push for good legislation is important. But the real fight in 2014 is in the Legislature. If we don't break the power of the GOP supermajority, we're at the mercy of Mike Hubbard (or whomever takes over after he takes a field trip to the Big House) & other GOP big business lackeys.
Real progress in this state will only come about if we get busy in our local legislative races. Darrell Turner & other Democrats like him need our help.
Now that the primary runoff races are over, here at LIA we'll be focusing on these important races and interviewing as many candidates as possible. All Democratic campaigns are welcome to create accounts and post about their campaign issues and events.
Yes... the BIG TEN. There's only TEN. MOST people can count that high using their fingers, but it's apparently too difficult for bill sponsor Rep. DuWayne Bridges. He felt the need to ADD to the list during last week's House floor debate. AL.com's Kyle Whitmire captured the debate in a delightful - if depressing - column. Here are some choice excerpts:
Should Alabamians be able to hang the Ten Commandments in public buildings, including schools and courthouses?
Rep. DuWayne Bridges, R-Valley, wants to give Alabamians an opportunity to decide at the ballot box, and this week he again introduced a bill to send an amendment of the Alabama Constitution to voters.
- School shootings, patricide and matricide are due to the Ten Commandments not being displayed in schools and other government buildings. – Rep. Bridges. [...]
- The 10th Amendment was adopted before the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea because Moses didn't get to cross the Red Sea. – Rep. Bridges responding to a question from Rep. Holmes.
- "Love thy neighbor" is one of the Ten Commandments. – Rep. Bridges, responding to a question from Rep. Holmes.
- "Love thy neighbor" is not one of the Ten Commandments but has something to do with coveting. – Rep. Bridges correcting himself a few minutes later. [...]
- "Two thousand fourteen years ago, and he was 33 before that." – Rep. Bridges on when Jesus was born.
- The annotation "AD" stands for "after death," (not "Anno Domini"). – Rep. Bridges.
Now, I'm sure we could be forgiven for wondering if Rep. Bridges is actually some legislative doppleganger for the hapless Senator Shadrack McGill - who may or may not have been consorting with women on Facebook.
We could also be forgiven for wondering if we missed just how the Legislature managed to miraculously solve every other pressing problem in the state without us noticing!
It was funny, sure. Like it’s funny watching a guy on America’s Funniest Videos swing for the piñata and hit himself in the groin instead. [...]
We ought to file a restraining order just to keep the Alabama House from coming within 200 yards of anything that matters.
I mean come on. Rep. Bridges presumably goes to Sunday School every week. He was raised a Christian and campaigned as a Christian and thinks enough of his religion to post his proud Assembly of God membership on his short bio.
Yet when he comes to argue his point on his bill in the House, he speaks as if Moses brought a copy of Gideon’s New Testament down Mount Cheaha. [...] Dear God – and I say that as a prayerful plea, and not in vain – please keep these men and women away from our children and our healthcare, away from justice and punishment and the general welfare, away from our wallets and our pursuits of happiness.
AMEN, Mr. Archibald, AMEN!
But campers... just in case you think the humiliation is over, just remember this: the bill now goes to the Senate. Just wait until Shadrack McGill takes the stage to share his version of "God's will" with the State of Alabama.
Y'all... you can solve this problem in November. Just sayin....
State Senator Vivian Figures nailed it yesterday when she described SB1 (the Alabama Ahead Act): "This is another bill that should be entitled, 'the haves and the have-nots.'" SB1 is Senator Gerald Dial's bill to fund a $100 million bond issue to switch to digital textbooks in Alabama public schools.
As we've written previously (here & here), the issue facing school systems isn't just textbooks. Unlike a paper book, a digital textbook requires a piece of technology to access it, be it a tablet, laptop, PC, eReader, etc. Furthermore, most also require students to have broadband internet to access homework assignments, take tests, & do additional research.
The Huntsville City Schools system abruptly changed to digital textbooks in 2012. The rollout was anything but smooth:
There's no debating that it's been a debacle. And it's unfair to ask for much patience. There were issues that should have been anticipated and corrected. The system should have been up and running smoothly. Bugs should have long ago been exterminated. The first month of the school year is not like exhibition football games that don't count.
"We are aware of the challenges and technical issues that have been experienced thus far and we are focused on solutions as we move through this transition period," says the school district's Facebook page.
How nice for them if the state were willing to take over part of that cost! Because SB1 will do just that:
Dial also said local systems would not be able to receive grant money to buy devices if those systems don’t have the infrastructure in place to use the devices. The bond money can be used to help pay for that infrastructure, he said.
He left out a signifigant point though: SB1 will only pay 25% of the cost of technology upgrades, so we're left to believe that Senator Figures is exactly right about the impact of this $100 million. It's simply not enough if the real goal is to provide digital textbooks & technology to every public school student.
Alabama certainly needs better broadband access - particularly in rural areas. In Cullman, the CEO of the electric co-op described its importance:
I do not believe it is an exaggeration to say that broadband service is the single most important technological issue of this generation, and that it will have the greatest impact on society since basic electricity and telephone service.
Still, rural electrification wasn't cheap and it didn't happen quickly. Bill sponsors don't seem to understand that this, preferring to paint opponents as luddites. Rep. Phil McClendon, who's sponsoring the House bill, mocked opponents: "I guess he thinks we need to stick with Gutenberg technology."
I guess we should be used to legislators who seem to be clueless and incurious about the actual impact of bills they sponsor, but it does get old. In this case, they certainly don't understand the technological challenges facing schools and totally underestimate the cost of the infrastructure and technology needed to implement this bill.
As it's written now, the Alabama Ahead Act is yet another transfer of state resources to wealthier school systems. The House & Senate either need to fix it or vote it down.
So in Alabama, students may not have a "right" to a publicly -funded education, but if Shelby County Rep. April Weaver has her way (via HB15), they'll have the "right" to say "Merry Christmas" - and presumably ask Santa to fund their schools.
Now naturally, Weaver sas couched this bill using "non-sectarian" language because of course that will fool everyone about her actual intent:
Existing law does not expressly allow a school district to educate students about the history of traditional winter celebrations and allow students and district staff to offer traditional greetings regarding the celebrations.
This bill would allow each school district to educate students about the history of traditional winter celebrations and allow students and district staff to offer traditional greetings regarding the celebrations.
The Alabama Legislature's unofficial motto seems to be "We Ignore Unintended Consequences," and this bill is no exception. First, it addresses something that is not a problem. So nothing expressly allows "happy holidays" or "Merry Christmas" or other greetings in schools? Nothing expressly allows "aquariums in classrooms" either, but I haven't seen that burning problem addressed yet.
The bill also allows schools to set up "traditional winter holiday displays" as well, so I really can't wait for the profusion of Festivus poles and Solstice, Bodhi Day, Saturnalia, Yule, Yalda, Pancha Ganapati, and other "traditional" winter holiday displays.
Next, we have the Alabama's perennial favorite distraction from actual issues: the Ten Commandments!
Two of our favorite dim bulbs from the 2013 session, Senator Gerald Dial & Rep. DuWayne Bridges, have teamed up again! They hope to bring back those halcyon days of Roy Moore's Ten Commandments, national ridicule, and unnecessary legal fees with their "Ten Commandments" bill (HB45 & SB64):
This will be yet another silly, unnecessary constitutional amendment, but one that actually has one good thing going for it:
No public funds may be expended in defense of the constitutionality of this amendment.
Still this is yet another "solution in search of a problem," because the bill also says this:
The Ten Commandments shall be displayed in a manner that complies with constitutional requirements, including, but not limited to, being intermingled with historical or educational items, or both, in a larger display within or on property owned or administrated by a public school or public body.
So, if the Constitution already allows the display of the Ten Commandments in this manner, why is yet another amendment to Alabama's overloaded Constitution needed? And why would the Legislature waste time on it?
I'm not sure Alabama is ready for a "Satanist statue," but if it's OK for Oklahoma, Senator Dial may be opening that door:
The Satanic Temple maintains that the Oklahoma Legislature's decision to authorize a privately funded Ten Commandments monument at the Capitol opened the door for its statue. The Ten Commandments monument was placed on the north steps of the building in 2012, and the Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has sued to have it removed.
Similar requests for monuments have been made by a Hindu leader in Nevada, an animal rights group and the satirical Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
The Alabama Ahead Act established a state board responsible for replacing paper textbooks with eBooks & helping districts purchase computer equipment. However, the Legislature neglected to actually fund the act. That's why the co-sponsors are back again this year, pre-filing an updated bill to authorize a $100 million bond issue to provide for laptops & tablets for students in all grades in Alabama public schools.
One hundred million dollars sounds like a heck of a lot of money, but the sponsors say that it could save the state $15 million a year. In Part 1 of this series, we looked at the technological challenges facing school districts and focused on the Huntsville City Schools, which implemented this program beginning with the 2012/2013 school year.
Today, we'll address the issue of cost – which in this case is inextricably linked with technology. If you haven't already read Part 1, consider reviewing it because we'll build on the issues discussed there in this article.
This year, Alabama legislators passed the Alabama Ahead Act, which established a state board responsible for purchasing digital equipment for high school students and replacing paper textbooks with eBooks. As with so many laws passed recently in Alabama though, there was a glitch: the Legislature neglected to vote to actually pay for the plan.
Republican state Sen. Gerald Dial of Lineville and Rep. Jim McClendon of Springville told the Anniston Star that textbooks are obsolete and they estimate the state could eventually save $15 million by replacing them with laptops or tablet computers.
Nice word, that. Could.
We're going take some time to evaluate that claim in a series of posts. This one will focus on the technical challenges with this switch. Second, we'll explore the cost factors (a lot of which have to do with technology, but not totally). Finally, since we're talking about public schools, let's look at whether this change will actually do anything to enhance student learning and performance. If that answer is "no," then it wouldn't matter if the digital initiative saved $150 million; it wouldn't be worth it.
Remember the Richard Laird/Gerald Dial set of political slush fund bills from last year? They were so bad Governor Bentley called them "slush funds" and vetoed them. The legislature promptly overrode the veto and only the timely intervention of Attorney General Luther Strange killed them for good.
From the East Alabama Bipartisan Coalition - a group of county Democratic & Republican leaders who led the fight against the slush fund bills last year:
The almost universal response of Randolph County and East Alabama citizens to the bill currently being advertised by State Rep. Richard Laird (I-Roanoke) has been: “Here he goes again ………….. Will he never cease trying to stop progress in Randolph County and East Alabama?”
We have analyzed this latest bill and reached the conclusion that it will be extremely damaging to economic development and to general progress in Randolph County. With regard to the Randolph County Economic Development Authority/Randolph County Industrial Development Council, this bill would be devastating. Much of the progress of the Development Authority over the past two years has been due to having a full-time professional Executive Director; yet the bill states that “None of the proceeds can be used for salaries….” Not one other county economic development authority in Alabama has this restriction. [...] How is Randolph County going to compete for jobs with not one single staff member? [...] Mr. Laird needs to explain how this restriction on having even one professional staff person is going to benefit jobs and economic development in Randolph County.
On the subject of the decision by Mr. Laird to take all Tobacco Tax money away from the Randolph County Water Authority and to give it instead to a new and previously unknown organization called “The Randolph County Equine and Agricultural Association,” we feel that our legislator owes the citizens an explanation on this also. Who is this association? What is this association’s purpose? Who controls it? Who will get any profits from it? Is it a public entity or a private entity? Why should Mr. Laird alone be able to hand hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to one of his political supporters?
The message is clear here: go along with what the legislative delegation wants or suffer the consequences. When even the Republican Governor and Attorney General recognize this for what it really is - a personal slush fund with no transparency or accountability that's used to reward supporters - then the big stink of corruption is overwhelming.
Especially this part about the "new organization" hoping to purchase land:
The major change to the distribution formula now in place is elimination of the funds that have been going to the Randolph County Water Authority. These funds, 10 percent of the total available, will instead go to the newly established Randolph County Equine and Agricultural Association, which has announced plans to build an ag center with show barn and rodeo arena on an 18-acre parcel of land across from Crystal Lake.
BIG questions here about what this organization is - Randolph County's not that big, y'all. It's unbelievable that a group hoping to put together a project of this size is totally unknown to county officials and residents.
Will the legislature go along with this "local bill" again this year? We certainly hope not.
Our GOP supermajority has been busy granting tax breaks this session, but as far as getting the state out of debt and perhaps even creating a better environment and better services for the people who live here - not so much.
We have on the state minus sheet a large tax break for corporations, a tax break for Big Coal, a law enforcement consolidation, ALEC-sponsored Education bills which will result in great rafts of public money floating OUT of Alabama and into the pockets of "distance learning" providers, a rebate for Hollywood, a three year carryover for capital losses, a new program for drug testing welfare applicants and at least three major pieces of legislation that will cost the State millions to defend.
On the plus side we have a rise in licensing fees, a new tax on boats and their trailers, and an increase in the tobacco tax. Even at the proposed 75 cents per pack, I hardly think it will make up for the shortfall if all these measures pass.
There have been two suggestions for raising some revenue: Arthur Orr (R-Madison) floated his idea to privatize liquor sales and do away with ABC stores which might net the state some additional income, but he hasn't introduced a bill to that effect yet. Craig Ford (D-Gadsden) is sponsoring HB 172, which would establish an Alabama lottery for the purpose of adding to the education budget.
Now the GOP will justify all their Big Business tax breaks by saying they "create jobs" and "make the state more attractive to business". I say malarky.
If your education system stinks, and your cultural offerings consist of Nascar, football and barbeque, and your state parks are being fracked, your roads are full of holes and your woods are full of Talibangelists, Teabillies and Tenthers - NOBODY WILL FREAKING MOVE HERE. Oh and lest we forget, there's an excellent probability that Alabama will become VATICAN SOUTH (HB57 and 'fetal personhood') in the near future, so THEY WILL STAY AWAY IN DROVES.
If the GOP is truly serious about making Alabama more attractive to business (as opposed to survivalists and the Religiously Challenged) they might look at Alabama's Business Climate Score from the Tax Foundation. We rank a respectable 17th on corporate tax rates and a positively electrifying 8th on property tax, but the number that keeps us out of top ten range is the sales tax. Alabama ranks 37th.
It would seem that the solution is not lower corporate tax rates, but more Democrats in the Legislature. Only the Democrats have a proposal to improve that terrible 37th, and it's HB 202. Sponsored by John Knight (D-77) and co-sponsored by almost every Dem. in the House, it repeals the sales tax on food and OTC medicines. Ain't life strange? Relieving the burden of the poor might actually result in more job creation than simply cutting taxes for the rich.
Alabama does make one Top Ten list: of the most regressive tax rates in the country. Alabama takes from the poor and gives to the rich. We've been doing it for a long time, but somehow we still remain a backwater. If these policies created a thriving economy, WE'D HAVE SEEN SOME THRIVE ALREADY.
Lest I be accused of yet another minus sign, let's consider this:
...personal incomes as low as $4,600 for a family of four were being taxed by the state, while timber owners holding 71% of the land of Alabama were paying less than $1 per acre in property taxes. ---Who Would Jesus Tax? by Alanna Hartzok
Get that? Less than a dollar an acre on 71% of the land means that these landowners have an excellent reason not to develop or create jobs.
Over the years several proposals to offset that food tax have been offered: Gerald Dial tried to do it by raising sales taxes on everything else - which was rightly defeated. Knight's bill offers a huge sop to the rich by allowing a married couple with income up to $800,000 to deduct all their Federal income tax. hm. Personally, I'd go after the timber land. If all that unused land becomes an inconvenience, it will be sold for development - and development means jobs.
"The Democratic Committee voted to condemn this action as a gross dereliction of their legislative duty," Walton said. "It was felt that a recent newspaper editorial depicting Sen. Gerald Dial (R-Lineville), Rep. DuWayne Bridges (R-Valley) and Rep. Richard Laird (D-Roanoke) as the 'Three Little Pigs' was entirely correct," she said. "The Democratic Committee was especially embarrassed and humiliated by the action of Rep. Laird, who ran as a Democrat," she continued. "The general consensus of opinion was that Laird should do the only decent thing and consider resigning from the party. "
He's finally done that, but has officially become an "independent." Guess his local GOP didn't want him either.
Laird's reasons for his party switch? "blah, blah, blah... Obama... blah, blah.... gays!...blah, blah, blah... liberals!"
He'll fit right in with the no-nothing wing of the Alabama GOP - which is to say, the majority. Laird displayed his utter contempt for his district and the wishes of those he purported to represent during last year's battle over local control of funds:
Laird didn't bother to attend a local public hearing about the bill either. Neither did Gerald Dial, but while Dial explained that he was "too busy" to meet with constituents, Laird's explanation was that he "didn't know about it," which was an assertion that local leaders vigorously rebutted.
He said he hopes the three original bills would go into law but this is new territory and he has not looked into the way a vetoed bill becomes law. [...] Rep. Laird, however, said, "It is local legislation. It is unheard for a governor to veto local legislation. All local legislation passes by a low vote. Legislators who need votes on other issues do not want to vote on local legislation. Nobody voted against it," he said.
Here's what the local coalition opposed to the Dial/Laird Slush Fund had to say at the time:
The Randolph County Bipartisan Coalition in Opposition to the Dial-Laird Legislation is disappointed that Sen. Gerald Dial, Rep. Richard Laird and Rep. DuWayne Bridges were willing to use any deceptive tactics necessary in order to override Gov. Bentley's vetoes of the tobacco tax bills for Randolph and Chambers counties. The Coalition is in the process of evaluating its next actions and wants to emphasize to all citizens that the fight against this tyranny is not over. Citizens should also remember that Laird's even worse HB-785 is still pending before the Senate and everyone should continue contacting Senators to vote against it.
Yep. This is Laird's recent history in the Legislature as a so-called Democrat. He's so disliked by both parties in his home district that he couldn't really "switch" parties. He's "officially" an Independent and politically homeless.
While the GOP is giving him temporary shelter in their caucus, Laird is fooling himself if he expects any better treatment from Republicans than they gave Howard Hawk, Tom Butler, and many other party switchers.
Gerald Dial is a well known fixture in the Alabama Legislature, where he is currently serving his 9th term. A lot of us think that is nine too many. You may agree when you look at his legislative efforts.
Gerald is a busy boy this year: he has sponsored nine bills so far - one for each term he has served, and a bigger collection of high handed, repetitive junk would be hard to find. Allen is a serious contender in the junk category, but Dial is way out front on sheer volume.
Let's have a look:
First up is SB3, known as the "Overdose a Preemie Act". Our own Dr. Abston has devoted considerable time and effort explaining to our lawmakers why this bill is a terrible idea. She and her colleagues did such a good job of that last year that it was voted down. In a nutshell, it would require physicians to administer unsafe dosages of unneeded medications. Somehow, Senator Dial failed to get the memo.
If Medicaid is forced by SB 3 to ensure the use of FDA guidelines, we would be required to commit outright malpractice.
Moving along to SB41, we have an effort to enshrine Right to Work laws into the Alabama Constitution. This is redundant because Alabama is already a Right to Work state. Union members account for only 10% of the state's workforce, which is slightly lower than the number nationwide. The unions are dying already - Dial just can't wait to put the last nail in their coffin. That's a little strange, when you consider legislators are supposed to work for the good of all the people and not just the 1% who are 'job creators'.
...workers in states with these [Right to Work] laws earn an average of $5,680 less a year than workers in other states. Because of the higher wages, working families in states without these laws also benefit from healthier tax bases that improve their quality of life. “Right to work for less" is closer to the truth.
Sen. Dial may not care about working families, but he cares a LOT about churches. He cares so much he wants to enhance the penalties for hate crimes against buildings in SB 50. Not ALL buildings, mind you - just the ones with a cross or a star on top. Abortion clinics, advocacy, political, and legal offices - those are fair game still. Women's clinics are conspiciously absent from the scope of the Senator's concern, but I'd say they are more frequently victimized by hate crime than churches are.
Anti-abortion violence:...Incidents of violence have included destruction of property, in the form of vandalism; crimes against people, including kidnapping, stalking, assault, attempted murder, and murder; and crimes affecting both people and property, including arson and bombings. --wiki
The Senator is making a stab at bringing a few part time jobs to the State, using the standard GOP formula of giving huge tax write-offs to interested parties. Interested parties may be in short supply in this instance though, because it is a write-off for movie producers. Does the Senator have a secret hankering for stardom? Perhaps that provided the inspiration for SB49. Alabama hasn't exactly been a Hollywood mecca - the only film that featured Alabama in recent memory was "My Cousin Vinny" - and that was filmed in Georgia. Unless you are New York, Chicago or some similar famous place, you are unlikely to get enough interest to make the write-off pay for itself.
Connecticut actually bothered to have a study done, and the results weren't encouraging.
An analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston reached a different conclusion when reviewing the tax incentive program in 2009, finding that the program does not pay for itself and that the economic benefits are short-lived and easily lost if the program is discontinued.
And speaking of stardom, let's look at the real centerpiece of Senator Dial's legislative agenda this year: SB40 , affectionately (among trial lawyers, anyway) known as The Ten Commandments, Round Two. Yes, the $600,000 the state spent fighting all the way to the Supreme Court on behalf of Roy Moore isn't enough. Senator Dial does not believe in letting sleeping dogs lie or dying unions die. No, they should go out with a bang - hopefully with Senator Dial in a starring role. Maybe they'll make a movie.
Forever Wild, one of Alabama's most successful conservation programs, is up for renewal this year (Amendment 1 on your ballot) and has brought together a diverse coalition of supporters - hunters, environmentalists, tourism officials, and business owners. Pat Byington, a member of the Forever Wild Board of Trustees, tells the story in a Birmingham News op/ed.
As director of the Alabama Conservancy at the time, I had a front row seat at the birth of Forever Wild. For example, I witnessed the hard work of Bill Satterfield, former deputy general counsel for the Department of the Interior in the Reagan administration, and an attorney at Balch and Bingham, representing the business community. He drafted and negotiated the Forever Wild legislation with an equally dedicated attorney, Bob Reid, a partner at the Bradley, Arant law firm and avid birder representing the Birmingham Audubon Society. It wasn't an easy process. This kind of effort was unheard of in 1992, but it was the spirit of Forever Wild.
Months later, in the Legislature, Mobile's Republican state Sen. Ann Bedsole worked closely with freshman Anniston Democratic Sen. Doug Ghee, the sponsor of the Forever Wild constitutional amendment in the Senate. There was no inkling of partisan politics. Not one interest group got everything they wanted in the legislation.
Once the legislation passed, it appeared on the November 1992 ballot. Led by Bill Ireland, the Birmingham industrialist, outdoorsman, conservationist and philanthropist, all the groups came together to promote and support the amendment to the general public. Alabama voters approved the Forever Wild constitutional amendment with 83 percent of the popular vote. [...] The spirit of Forever Wild still lives today. More than 195 organizations from every walk of life, including the same unlikely allies, have once again joined together to support the renewal of Forever Wild. They unanimously recognize we need to continue Forever Wild.
The Forever Wild constitutional amendment is number 1 on the ballot November 6 and it needs your support. Byington isn't kidding when he talks about the broad support for the program - everyone from the NRA to the Sierra Club has endorsed it!
However, supporters face a formidable opponent - ALFA (who tried to kill the amendment last session) - and some not-so-formidable ones as well. State Senators Shadrack McGill & Gerald Dial worked against it. Dial even tried to filibuster the bill. Those poor schmucks can't seem to be on the right side of any issue.
Attorney General Luther Strange gave residents of Clay, Randolph, & Chambers Counties a reason to celebrate last week when he ruled that passage of the bill was improperly handled by Dial and was therefore unenforceable. This interesting development came after bill authors Sen. Gerald Dial & Rep. Richard Laird publicly boasted that the AG's office would defend the bills in court.
The Randolph County Bipartisan Coalition that opposed the bill was exultant. A court hearing had been scheduled for Friday on the lawsuit filed to challenge the bill. But it never even got started. Here's how the group's press release described the scene:
A hearing on Friday morning (June 22) before Circuit Judge George C. Simpson was scheduled for the Clay County Courthouse, with Ashland attorney Greg Varner representing the plaintiffs. Dial and Laird had boasted publicly that they would be defended by the Attorney General of Alabama, Luther Strange.
However, once the hearing was called to order and before any arguments began, plaintiffs' attorney Greg Varner stated to the court that, not only was the Attorney General's office not defending Dial, Laird and Bridges and their controversial bill, but rather the Attorney General had ruled already that the passage of the bill was improperly handled by Dial and would not be enforced. Therefore the temporary injunction being sought by Varner for the plaintiffs was not even necessary. A representative of the Attorney General who was in attendance at the hearing confirmed this stunning development.
Since the tobacco tax bills for Randolph County (SB-486) and Chambers County (SB-487) were handled by Dial in the same manner as the Clay County bill (what was passed was different from what was advertised), it is obvious that those bills will be voided also, meaning that the whole estimated $750,000 slush fund for Dial, Laird and Bridges has evaporated. Rep. Laird was the only legislative defendant present at the hearing but did not participate or make any public comments. Laird did, however, make some rather caustic remarks to some attendees who he knew had been opponents of his tobacco tax bills.
The LaFayette Sun newspaper reported on the statement from Gerald Dial's office reacting to the AG's decision:
When the bill was originally advertised in each county, it noted that a local district service office would be created to administer the funds. After some residents expressed displeasure with the move, the legislators removed the language about the district service and instead choose to create a grant authority. That change was never advertised as required by law.
Originally the bill passed the House and Senate without opposition, but Gov. Robert Bentley, in an unprecendented move, vetoed the local bills. The House and Senate, however, overrode Bentley’s veto and the bill went into effect the second week of May.
Um.... how is a Governor vetoing a bill an "unprecedented move?" And don't you love the "straw voters" who Dial says were "displeased" about a district office? I never heard anyone complaining about a district office, but local officials did express concern about legislators raiding county coffers and taking money used to expand water services & fund economic development.
Based on population shifts, District 22 required very few changes to be made to its boundaries to meet the desired population of people. However, the Dial plan divides Clarke County into three separate Senate districts and shifts a majority of the county out of District 22.
I know that Dial's plan also split rural Clay County down the middle -- clearly for partisan reasons -- and have also heard complaints from DeKalb County in the northeast and the Shoals area in the northwest.
It seems obvious to me that splitting up these small rural counties makes it harder for their residents to get their concerns heard in Montgomery. Half of tiny Clay county or a third of Clarke county just won't be a very important bloc of voters in a district mostly made up of people from other counties.
Am I looking at this the wrong way? Or did the Republicans, who owe much of the credit for their current supermajorities to rural voters who went overwhelmingly GOP in 2010, just poke those same rural -- mostly white -- voters in the eye with a sharp redistricting pencil?
You can -- sort of, if you use the little thermometer to zoom in -- compare the current vs. new districts at Alabama.gov. To the right is a county map if you need a refresher as to where the boundaries are.
It seems to me that the 2001 map did a much better job of keeping rural counties together -- what has been done in 2012 is often to connect parts of rural counties with big blocks of suburban voters. I'm not convinced those two groups actually have the same needs and interests or that the rural voters will come out ahead in the trade.
Good government advocates in Randolph County have been vocal in opposition to the Dial-Laird slush fund, and now Chambers County is also getting involved. The Chambers County Democratic Executive Committee wants their Democratic State Rep., Richard Laird, to just go ahead and switch parties. Monday's Valley Times-News said the efforts of Laird, Sen. Gerald Dial (R) and other members of the local delegation to divert tobacco tax revenues to a personal slush fund dominated discussion at the May 14 CCDEC meeting.
The article quotes chairperson Katie Walton:
"The Democratic Committee voted to condemn this action as a gross dereliction of their legislative duty," Walton said. "It was felt that a recent newspaper editorial depicting Sen. Gerald Dial (R-Lineville), Rep. DuWayne Bridges (R-Valley) and Rep. Richard Laird (D-Roanoke) as the 'Three Little Pigs' was entirely correct," she said. "The Democratic Committee was especially embarrassed and humiliated by the action of Rep. Laird, who ran as a Democrat," she continued. "The general consensus of opinion was that Laird should do the only decent thing and consider resigning from the party. Then all three should do the only decent thing and consider resigning from the legislature in total disgrace."
Good for the Chambers County Democrats for holding Laird to a high standard! What Laird, Dial and their cohorts did, with aid from their colleagues in the Legislature, is nothing short of robbery. Such shenanigans shouldn't be welcome in either party.
As predicted, the legislative redistricting plan that Gerald Dial & company cooked up is facing lawsuits. After the legislature accepted "tweaks" to the plans yesterday, Montgomery lawyer, Juilian McPhillips, Jr. filed suit asking for a temporary restraining order to prevent implementation on technical grounds:
The complaint, filed on behalf of Montgomery County residents Landis Sexton and Cubie Rae Hayes, noted that the state constitution requires the Legislature to undergo redistricting "at its first session after the taking of the decennial census."
The first legislative session after the census was the regular session that concluded Wednesday night, McPhillips said in a telephone interview.
"Any reapportionment must be done in the legislative session immediately after the census is done, and that did not happen," he said. "It would be unconstitutional to take it up in a subsequent legislative session."
So when has passing unconstitutional legislation bothered the Alabama Legislature?
In any case, Gov. Bentley was happy to blame the Legislature:
In a written statement, Jennifer Ardis, a spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Robert Bentley, said the governor didn’t have control over what lawmakers chose to act on in the just-completed regular session.
Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, said that Republicans behind the redistricting plans are trying "to make it: If you’re African-American, you’re a Democrat; if you’re Caucasian, you’re a Republican."
"It doesn’t pass the smell test. It’s going to fail in the Department of Justice," Ford said.
And Senator Gerald Dial showed once again that he never tells the truth when a couple of lies sound better:
Dial and McClendon said that the initial plans unintentionally drew some lawmakers out of the districts they currently represent, including Sen. Marc Keahey, D-Grove Hill; Sen. Jerry Fielding, D-Sylacauga; Rep. Barry Mask, R-Wetumpka; and Rep. A.J. McCampbell, D-Linden. Each would remain in his current district under the revised plans, they said. [...] Later in the day, McClendon and Dial discussed the proposed changes with lawmakers and citizens during a public hearing. The plan was met largely with skepticism and anger.
We wonder if some of those expressing "skepticism & anger" are the folks in Dial's own district who have been fighting him on his personal slush fund bill and his plan to split the district to avoid having to run against a strong Democratic challenger in 2014.
Oh, and it's also worth noting that - as part of their campaign to increase transparency, accountability, and citizen input - this "public hearing" was held with about 90 minutes' prior notice.
It's going to be interesting to watch this play out.
The guidelines of the Permanent Legislative Committee on Reapportionment call for public participation ...
The Reapportionment Committee seeks active and informed public participation in all activities of the Committee and the widest range of public information and citizen input into its deliberations.
... but so far there has been no word of a public hearing on the maps that are actually on the table. The PLCR conducted a series of public hearings, sort of a "listening tour," last fall where citizens could comment on reapportionment, but the committee members obviously didn't take those comments -- usually along the lines of "please don't split up our city/county/region" -- into account when drawing the new maps.
Given that they didn't listen to the public input the first time, what are the odds they'll give the public another shot at convincing them not to split communities of interest?
I predict more business as usual in Montgomery where Legislators pat us on the head and croon, "No need to worry your head commenting on reapportionment. Just trust us. We'll handle it."
Former State Sen. Lowell Barron has $464,000 in his campaign account. Thanks to Republican "reforms" he can't spend it on much of anything ... except running for office, himself.
In the Republican wave of 2010 Barron lost by 500 votes to Shadrack McGill, possibly the least bright Republican among a flock of not very bright GOPers swept into office two years ago. Up in northeast Alabama, it's widely expected that Lowell will be running to reclaim his old seat in 2014, and will have a boatload of money to spend doing it.
That's an unpleasant prospect for Alabama Republicans.
So, did Sen. Gerald Dial (R, Lineville) and his GOP cohorts running the redistricting try to draw Barron out of his old district with their new reapportionment map? Barron is usually listed as residing in Fyffe and I noticed this morning the SD8 line on Dial's map runs right up to Fyffe. It used to take in all of DeKalb county, but now the part of DeKalb county southwest of Fyffe would be in (also not very bright GOPer) Clay Scofield's District 9 along with Marshall County. All the Barron's listed on Whitepages.com actually live outside of Fyffe ... probably in SD9 according to Dial's new map.
Brilliant electioneering cartography, huh?
But hold on a minute, did Gerald Dial forget to check Barron's current residence? According to Lowell Barron's facebook page, he now lives in Rainsville, squarely inside SD8 even on the Dial map.
So, did the Republicans try to draw Lowell Barron and his $464,000 out of his old district? And, if so, did they get it wrong the first time?
Here's how to tell:
Watch what ends up on the final map. The maps we've seen so far (download a copy here) are just proposals. There will be considerable tweaking and horse-trading before they're actually approved. If the GOP starts playing whack-a-mole with Lowell Barron, watch for Rainsville to suddenly turn up in District 9 along with Barron's old stomping ground of Fyffe. Then we'll know Gerald Dial was aiming to eliminate a powerful political opponent the first time, but forgot to check his current address.
Of course, the more of DeKalb county they take out of this district, the less Democratic it becomes. According to the current State Senator, Shadrack McGill, that was the whole point:
“The goal by Sen. Dial was to make it a stronger Republican district.”
The real goal by Senator Dial is to make as many Republican districts as possible. Caging Democratic voters, splitting up Democratic areas and drawing strong Democrats out of their home turf are the tools he uses in the redistricting electioneering process. Lowell Barron ought to announce he's moving to Lineville and see what happens then.
Senator Gerald Dial (R SD13) had a problem in 2010. Many of the people who know him the best - including his own hometown of Lineville - voted for his Democratic opponent. In a year where many long-serving Democrats were tossed out of office, Dial won by a whisker-thin 357 votes.
Lesson for the day, campers! The "GER" in Dial's first name stands for "GERRYMANDER."
The chair of the Senate Redistricting Committee presented him with an excellent opportunity to rid his district of those pesky folks who find his antics tiresome at best and corrupt at worst. For those who thought Dial's political payback was limited to this:
A special bill designed to allow one of his cronies to buy into the state retirement system.
A set of zombie bills that set up a personal $500k slush fund for Dial & Rep. Richard Laird. Dial will be able to take money appropriated for counties in his current district and use that totally unregulated cash to curry favor with his new constituents.
That some "new" constituents got added to District 13 and some existing ones (who live a heck of a lot closer to Dial than Opelika) got excised is no surprise to anyone who looks at the map on the flip. It's pretty big & I afraid it would break the home page layout.
And if the GOP supermajority approves this monstrosity of a district, then we have absolute proof that their promise to bring a "new way of doing business" to Montgomery was actually a threat - and one that they're quite ready to follow through on.
The new district line runs through the backyard of his 2010 opponent Greg Varner.
Eight precincts won by Varner by 55% or more in 2010 got moved out of District 13.
Precincts won by Dial by more than 55% stay in District 13.
Desperately searching for more reliable - and less knowledgeable voters - Dial had to give his new District 13 a long Southern-stretching tentacle that tickles the tummy of Opelika.
While it may be a political coup for Dial, it's a disaster for mostly-rural Clay County. There's a new FB page - Don't Divide Clay County - urging the legislature to reject Dial's district. Why is this an issue?
Dial split his own home county - Clay County - that has about 14,000 people into two districts. The unfriendly half with the towns of Ashland, Millerville, & Hollins will be severed & placed in a Senate district dominated by Calhoun County (with about 118,000 people). This splits an already politically weak rural county into two parts.
To add even more insult, Dial's slush fund bill takes more money per capita from Clay County than from Randolph & Chambers counties. Clay loses $60,000 in funding ($4.28/resident) compared to Randolph County's $2.17 per capita loss & Chambers County's $2.64 per capita loss. Dial will be able to use that money for the next 2 years and lavish attention on the district he'll have in 2014.
The bills set up a "District Community Service Grant Fund" and say this:
"Section 5. There is hereby created the District Community Service Grant Authority consisting of the Senator from Senate District 13 and the House members from House Districts 37 and 38. The District Community Service Grant Authority shall allocate funds distributed to the authority."
There's nothing in this authorization that says the money collected in the county has to be spent in that county. Expect Chambers County & even the good folks in Lee County to enjoy some financial windfalls over the next 2 years.
Meanwhile, the people of District 13 have experienced nothing but a dismissive attitude on the part of their Senator, betrayal by their State Representative, and indifference on the part of the entire Legislature. They're more interested in not rocking the boat than they are in actually fairness, transparency, and good government.
“I would say the overall plan is political gerrymandering by the Republican Party to increase Republican districts and reduce Democratic seats,” said Senate Minority Leader Roger Bedford, D-Russellville.
“It’s just designed to get rid of Democrats,” [Rep. Bobby] Singleton said of the GOP plans. “It will have some challenges on the floor and in court.”
“The goal by Sen. Dial was to make it a stronger Republican district,” said [GOP Senator Shad] McGill.
All legislative and congressional districts will be composed of contiguous and reasonably compact geography.
Each House and Senate district should be composed of as few counties as practicable.
The integrity of communities of interest shall be respected. For purposes of these Guidelines, a community of interest is defined as an area with recognized similarities of interests, including but not limited to racial, ethnic, geographic, governmental, regional, social, cultural, partisan, or historic interests; county, municipal, or voting precinct boundaries; and commonality of communications.
Senator Gerald Dial (R) co-chairs the committee charged with drawing the new boundaries. After a near loss to political newcomer Greg Varner in 2010, Dial's effort to make stronger Republican districts started at home. He has literally cut his home county (Clay) in two and run the dividing line through Varner's backyard to draw himself the safest of all safe districts. A "Don't Divide Clay County" group has sprung up to counter Dial's naked display of political ambition.
He has relegated each precinct which voted for Greg Varner and against him in Clay County (except Dial's hometown of Lineville) to another State Senate district dominated by Calhoun County and their 118,000 people, for which we have no common political interest.
In the Shoals area, Dial and friends took a Senate district that only needed 1500 more residents and completely reshaped it so that it will now lean Republican. In fact, they reshaped most of the districts in the Shoals to dilute the political power of that traditionally Democratic leaning corner of the state.
In Montgomery, they also moved Rep. Joe Hubbard's district north ... 75 miles north to deep red Shelby County. You may recall that Hubbard has been called "the young face of the Democratic party" in Alabama. GOP gerrymanderers can't have a dangerous guy like that in office, now can they?
Freshman Democratic Senator Jerry Fielding's districtwas literally divided 6 ways. Seriously. I'm sure that will preserve the political influence of Talladega and Coosa counties ... NOT.
In addition to these redistricting tricks, Democratic Senators Marc Keahey and Democratic Rep. A.J. McCampbell were drawn out of their current districts.
The Reapportionment Committee's guidelines also state that "Sovereignty resides in the people of Alabama, and all districts should be drawn to reflect the democratic will of all the people concerning how their governments should be restructured." If you don't like the level of politics apparent in these newly gerrymandered legislative maps (which will become law until after 2020) contact your legislators today.
It was not clear why, but there was speculation that supporting legislators were looking to the time when they could create a “district community service office” fund of their own. [..] Legislators who supported the first bill, and who are being called on to support the second, need to seriously consider what they are doing. The new Republican majority vowed to end practices such as this. It is time it did.
The legislators themselves have given conflicting accounts of their motives & actions throughout this entire process.
Why didn't either man attend the local public hearing on the bill? Senator Gerald Dial is content to look like an out-of-touch, entitled pol who "doesn't have time" to meet with constituents when the legislature is in session. And anyway: "Dial and Laird said they were not told about a heavily attended town meeting in Wedowee several weeks ago where opposition was expressed, and they were busy with the legislature."
Not told?The whole darn state knew about that meeting!
Why did Richard Laird shut down the public hearing scheduled on SB486 (the Randolph County bill)? A little more sunshine might have made these bills more toxic. Oh... that's why.
Why did Richard Laird reintroduce a worse bill after the veto? He prefers to look like a clueless doofus instead of corrupt pol.
Rep. Richard Laird, D-Roanoke, who after the veto introduced what is viewed by opponents as an even harsher bill, said, "Well, I just want to drop it (his new bill). It is in a position to pass tomorrow. I may go ahead and send it up to Sen. Dial."
He said he hopes the three original bills would go into law but this is new territory and he has not looked into the way a vetoed bill becomes law.
Maybe we need an Alabama version of "Schoolhouse Rock" for the Legislature.
But really, what both men are doing here - along with their Legislative buddies - is showing Gov. Bentley for once and for all that he is not in charge. They seem really indignant that a mere governor would veto the will of our all-powerful legislators:
Rep. Laird, however, said, "It is local legislation. It is unheard for a governor to veto local legislation. All local legislation passes by a low vote. Legislators who need votes on other issues do not want to vote on local legislation. Nobody voted against it," he said.
I say it again. If these guys don't get voted out, even more legislators will copy these antics. Just imagine all the fun, creative ways they can come up with to funnel state and local money into their own pet projects - and pockets.
The Randolph County Bipartisan Coalition isn't giving up. Their press release is on the flip.