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.
Rep. Joe Hubbard (D, HD73) now lives in Rep. John Knight's (D, HD77) district. Hubbard's district was moved to Shelby county and "is expected to become a Republican district."
There will be one more majority-minority House district, for a total of 28 out of 105.
The maps passed out at the meeting were small, "So, viewing the details of the districts is difficult." They are now available for download online. It's still very hard to make out the districts, but you can at least zoom in to see more detail.
The committee voted overwhelmingly (it is overwhelmingly Republican) to approve the Dial/McClendon maps.
The meeting lasted less than 20 minutes.
Stay tuned, this was just the first act of the reapportionment circus. Next week the Governor will call a special session (yes, in the middle of the regular session) so the Legislature can turn it's full attention to approving these new district lines. Given the Republican supermajorities in both houses and the way yesterday's meetng was conducted, that should take about an hour.
Look out, Alabama voters! It's nowhere near Halloween, but there's at least one zombie on the loose & it's controlled by Sen. Gerald Dial & Rep. Richard Laird. Not willing to admit defeat after Gov. Bentley vetoed their Slush Fund Bill, Laird reintroduced the legislation (HB785) last week!
A new wrinkle appeared in the tobacco tax bill fracas in Randolph County, with a public hearing set for Tuesday in Montgomery on a second version of a bill addressing the distribution of tobacco tax funds in Randolph County. This one, like the one that passed the legislature only to be vetoed by Gov. Robert Bentley, had been advertised as required by law.
Georgia Arrington, local legislation committee clerk, informed interested parties Friday morning that a public hearing on the new bill will be held Tuesday, May 8, at 10 a.m. in Room 622 at the Alabama Statehouse.
This will be for a newly introduced bill, HB785, by Rep. Richard Laird, (D-Roanoke). Laird did not respond to repeated telephone calls Friday. This bill was the same as the one the governor vetoed but with a different distribution formula for the funds.
Maybe, like his cohort, Gerald Dial, Laird is just "too busy" to respond to constituents.
There's another interesting tidbit in the Randolph Leader article about the zombie bill. At least Laird can read the handwriting on the wall & is trying again. But Dial wasn't ready to throw in the towel because he has Jesus on his side:
"I met with the governor at 11:30 yesterday. He said he would not veto them. I haven't heard anything different from him. He is a good Christian man, a Sunday school teacher, and he said in front of 30 schoolchildren, Richard, and myself he would not veto them," Dial said.
"I assume someone in the governor's office made a mistake," Dial said. He said he would resolve it Tuesday when he returns to Montgomery.
Responding to this, King said the vetoes were not a mistake and the governor's office expects the veto will stand.
Our thoughts are with the people in Randolph, Clay, & Chambers Counties who are being so used and abused by their so-called Representatives in the legislature. Will they remember in November 2014?
Hopefully, the only "walking dead" after that election will be the political careers of Dial & Laird.
I don't often get to say this, but: "Nice work, Governor Bentley!" Yesterday, he vetoed all three of Senator Dial's slush fund bills, with a spokesman describing them this way: "Sen. Dial's bill was basically creating a slush fund for campaigns. There was enough (for a veto) right there."
How often does good sense prevail in Alabama politics?
Not as often as we'd like. Give a huge amount of credit to the people of Randolph, Chambers, & Clay Counties who have been fighting their own legislative delegation for months. They seem to be feeling pretty good this morning:
"The fact that Governor Bentley listened to the people when our local legislators have absolutely refused to do so, has certainly helped to restore our faith that government is supposed to be ‘for the people and by the people,’” said Todd Freeman and David Meddick, chairpersons of the Randolph County Republican Party and the Randolph County Democratic Party, in a rare joint statement.
The Randolph County Republican and Democratic party chairs are among the Randolph County leaders and citizens who have spoken out against these tobacco tax redistribution bills which would have taken funds and local control away from local agencies currently receiving them.including clean water for rural residents and ongoing county economic development efforts – and put the money into a blatant “grant authority” slush fund under the exclusive and unregulated control," the statement continues of Dial, Laird and DuWayne Bridges (R-Valley).
The battle isn't over. Alabama's constitution requires only a majority vote to over-ride the Governor's veto. But with very few legislative meeting days left and still no budget, we certainly hope that the legislature will focus on important issues - not Dial & Laird's pet projects.
There has to be a lot of anger this morning in Randolph & Clay Counties. Rep. Richard Laird (D-HD37) stepped in to save the day for his buddy, Senator Gerald Dial (R-SD13). The public hearing that had been scheduled for today was abruptly canceled yesterday, according to this email from the House Legislation Committee clerk:
This is to inform you that Rep. Wren has cancelled the Public Hearing on SB486. The Signee on the bill from the House is Rep. Richard Laird, and he had signed the bill before the requests were made. Mr. Wren informed me House Rules 74 which states “Rule 74. The chair of a standing committee shall honor a written request for a public hearing on a bill if such request is received by the chair prior to the posting of the notice of the committee meeting at which the bill is to be considered.”, and 77 which states “Rule 77. The chair of the Standing Committee on Local Legislation may report any bill out of the Committee without a meeting of that Committee if he or she has the unanimous consent of all members whose districts are affected by the proposed legislation.”
I sincerely hope the cancellation of this meeting has not caused you any convenience. If you have questions, you may call me at 334-242-7625.
So, what appears to have happened here is that Rep. Laird is willfully pushing the bill through because he, Gerald Dial, and the delightfully named Rep. Duwayne Bridges (R-HD38) all prefer to divert badly needed county funds into their personal accounts to dispense as they see fit. While there's unanimous agreement between them, that's certainly not the case in their districts.
Imagine their grinning beneficence during election season as Dial, Laird, & company - with checks in hand - visit every senior center, attend every little league game, stop in at every volunteer fire department, and contribute to every local project suggested by campaign donors..... as much as $400,000 of political pork handed out with no oversight and no discussion.
"What great guys!" voters will marvel and mark their ballots accordingly. Or that's what this dodgy trio of public servants (who are only serving themselves) hopes will happen.
GOP chairman Freeman said the county isn’t just worried about the lack of oversight in how the legislators spend the grant money, but also what the revenue cut will mean for water and economic development in Randolph.
“You take $50,000, $60,000 away a year, that’s water lines feeding dozens of families, at least,” Freeman said. “On the economic development side, we’re trying to entice businesses to come in, and that kind of cuffs our hands on that.”
We've sadly grown used to Alabama legislators selling out the state as a whole, but they generally have enough sense to take good care of their districts, listen to local concerns, and fight for them - not against - in Montgomery.
This takes political tone deafness to a whole new level.