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Last updateThu, 24 Apr 2014 2pm

Editorials

Bill Britt: Newspapers: State Sanctioned Monopolies

For years select newspapers in Alabama have enjoyed what many have referred to as state-sanctioned monopoly. This is because only certain newspaper are allowed to print “legal notices.” Meaning that only newspapers within a county that meet certain federal and state standards are permitted to print state and local public notices.

These notices included, but are not restricted to, foreclosures, local and state ordinances and laws, adoptions, probating of wills and more. Each public notice must be printed only in a newspaper that is published in that county. The newspapers that have such authority have enjoyed tremendous profits over the years because a flaw in the Alabama law.

City, county and the state government, by law, must advertise their legal notices in these newspapers. The government has no choice and the papers can make millions because they are a monopoly.

To meet the rigorous standards of this Alabama law a “start-up,” newspaper would have to spend tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollar just to acquire the second-class permit and publish for the required 51 weeks before ever having a chance to compete for the legal notice business.

Mayors, probate judges, county and state officials have pleaded with the legislators to end this state-sponsored robbery. It cost our state and local government tens of millions of dollars because they have to pay these newspapers whatever they demand of the government. Without competition, the newspaper can charge whatever they want to the government and they must pay because it’s the law.

Most news publication around the state have had their postal permits for 50 years or more, giving that newspaper a virtual monopoly of legal publications. Take one example in St. Clair County, ‘The St. Clair News-Aegis’ (which is owned by the Retirement Systems of Alabama) is just one of such papers in the 67 counties of Alabama. 

‘The St. Clair News Aegis’ is a newspaper that has had the right to publish legal notices for over 100 years. Perhaps as much as 60 percent of the publications revenue comes from its publication of legal notices.

By being the only newspaper in St. Clair County that has a state-given right to publish legal notifications this means that all city and county governments are force to purchase space in these papers by law. This also means that the newspaper can charge whatever it wants from the government for these publications because there is no competition. This is not to say that the St. Clair paper charges an unfair fee it just means it can charge whatever it wills.

However, it would be presumptuous and naive to think that there are not newspapers that do abuse their monopoly status.

For years the Alabama Legislature has seen one bill after another designed to put an end to such monopolies but these efforts have always met with failure.

With the rise on the Internet the case is being made that county and city governments as well as others who must run legal notices have an option to publish them on the Internet.

This has also been faced with tough opposition from the newspapers and the Alabama Press Association (APA).  While millions of dollars are made by newspapers with virtually no competition, the legislature has been held captive by cronyism on behalf of politicians with close ties to their local newspapers as well as editorial threats have been made toward politicians covertly and overtly.

It has been thought that the new Republican Majority in the government might put an end to this government-authorized monopoly.

Silly as it might seem, many newspapers have made the suggestion that putting the legal notices up for competition was simply retribution by Republicans against left-leaning news organizations.

In the past, very few politicians have had the courage to take on the editorial wrath of their local newspaper.

Sources within the next legislative agenda have emphatically stated that in this coming session there will be a bill passed that will allow legal notices to be published in local newspaper or on the Internet. However, the APA has said that this is not the case and that they have negotiated a better deal with powers within the government to maintain their state-sponsored monopoly.

The question arises, “ Is this good policy or convenient politics?

If this is true, the monopoly will continue punishing city and county governments while rewarding the publishers within these counties.

It is time for the Alabama Legislature to come into the 21st century. The Internet is everywhere and competition is the way our system works best.  It is known that at least one high-ranking legislator is co-owner of a prosperous newspaper that’s mainstay of income is legal notices.

It is known that the Retirement Systems of Alabama, RSA is heavily invested in small local papers in Alabama that live off legal notices. Is there a correlation or simply coincident?

Newspaper are a cherished and necessary part of insuring freedom and liberty in Alabama. Each newspaper is need as a voice within the community. It does not, however, mean it deserves to have a monopoly on government commerce. 

It is time to end the government sponsored monopolies of all kinds starting with newspapers.

Bill Britt: AEA Interview, If I Were Henry Mabrey

In the past week Henry Mabry met with the ‘Gadsden Times’ in which he held for the status quo positions. I wanted to imagine what the interview might have been like if someone with a hint of the current realities were to answer the ‘Times’ questions.


So, I decided to cast myself as the new head of the AEA and reply to the ‘Times’ inquires as a man who understands what day and what time it is actually. I have taken the basic questions asked and provide what I believe are the best answers as a start to working with the Governor and the Legislator toward a solution to the education problem as well as the state’s other problems.



Times; The Governor has mentioned trying to divert funds from the state’s education fund to be used to bolster the shortfalls in the general fund?

Me: I understand that the state is in serious fiscal trouble and I can appreciated the Governor’s positions, however I am not convinced that un-earmarking items in the Education budget is the best path for the state to take.  


I am reluctant to go down that path because the General Fund has been mismanaged over the years. Can we trust that the state will prove fiscally wise with more funds?


I don’t know all the answer to this situation and demands a great deal of consideration both pro and con. For now I am in the con camp.


But I commend the governor for his willingness to look at alternatives.


There are some very smart men in the new leadership in Montgomery and I would think we could all set together and look for ways to meet this crisis in a bi-partisan manner.


Times: The 2012 legislative session set to begin Feb. 7 will be tough. The state already is looking at a fifth straight year of budget cuts for education.


Me: We have been in a hole for awhile now, but I would like to let the Governor and the Legislators know that the AEA is in this fight to do what is best for education but this is not the past. I understand the problem and want to see how we can better offer education without crippling the state in the process. It is a new day.


Times: There are some who recommend increasing class sizes as a cost savings measure.


Me:  I have to admit we have gone a little overboard with the class size reduction. Currently our K-3 have one teacher for every 16 students and 4-12 it is 18. This was a goal to offer more hands-on education to our children. I have looked at the situation and the truth is we have many assistants and teachers that are not doing what we have hoped with reduced class size. I am certainly willing to look at increasing the number of students in a classroom to help with this situation.


When I was a child in school we had as many as 30 students in a class, that was a bit high but you know I received a good education. Let me point out that we at the AEA know we have to do more and the teachers are going to have to do more for the sake of everyone.


Times: The Governor and the Speaker of the House have made Charter Schools one of their top legislative agendas for the 2012 session.


Me: It has been the past policy of the AEA to oppose Charter Schools, I think my predecessors had their reasons, but the new AEA is going to be more than a union, we are going to work for what’s best for education and if that means Charter Schools then that is one of the things we will work with the Governor and Speaker on.


We have to be honest about where we are today, we can’t keep our heads buried in the sand. Alabama has had failing schools for the last 40 years, and do you know how many we have closed? None. We can stay with the same failed policies and hope that things will change.


Times: There are calls for cuts in every direction how do you responded to that?


Me: I live on a budget, my family lives on a budget, the state lives on a budget. So, we are going to have to see how we can live within our means and still provide the best educational system we can.


I received a great deal of criticism for sending my children to private schools, that question came at me fast and hard and at the time I was not ready to answer it honestly, I think I should now. The fact is I have done well in my life, I can afford to send my children to private schools, this is America, where if you have the means you can choose to send your kids to whatever school you want. I would like to have a state where all children could have the type of education my kids do, but not every parent has been as blessed monetarily as I have, so, we need to look at a voucher program that gives parents more choice.  


Times: As former finance director under former Gov. Don Siegelman you understand the problems facing the state's general fund. Your thoughts.


Me: I was proud to have served the state during that time but this is a different era and the challenges are greater. The first thing most people want to do is bring in more revenue, this would be nice but the reality is no one is in the mood to raise taxes during this period, raising taxes is actually a killer in tough financial times.


What we need to do is find ways of cost saving, I frankly don’t know what they all are but if we put our heads together down in Montgomery rather than butting head.We are going to get more done.


But let me makes this clear the AEA will not be stream-rolled by anyone, that is why I am offering the hand of friendship and an olive branch toward the future.


We may have to increase class sizes, cut benefits and other things but we can do this together. I will want firm assurances of good faith on behalf of those who have in the past opposed us but for now we will trust first and verify later.


We have made great progress in education in our state, I don’t want to see that go backwards. But the AEA has not always been right on education it is time to admit that. But we will fight for our teachers and our children without hesitation. 


I don’t want to make the mistakes of the past but work toward a brighter future for our children and our children’s children so that they too will know the full measure of success that their families have worked to give them.


Alabama is a great state and we all must work to make it even better.

I wish Mr. Mabry would be so reasonable.

Top Stories: Over-reported, under-reported and just right

by Bill Britt

This is the time of year that editors, writers and pundits try to list what they believe are the top stories of the past year. If the truth be known, people in the newsroom are not really all that concerned with the stories of the last year unless they hope to garner a prize or ask for a raise. Most are concerned with the next story, the big one that just might get away.

That is the life of a journalist, in that we are akin to hunters, it is the thrill of hunt not the trophy hanging on the wall.

Best Reporting


The story of the year for Alabama has to be the tornadoes of April 27, 2011. It is the sudden, heartbreaking loss of life, the furious, overwhelming destruction that places it at the top of the news. Nothing in life is so shocking as pointless, unmerciful killing on a massive scale.

Property can be replaced but the loss of so many souls shatters our peace, leaving us with the horror of how brutish life can be. Yes, the tales of giving, the willingness of stranger to help stranger is compelling, it is heartening to see the goodwill and works of humankind when our fellows are faced with tragedy.

Yet, in the dark when thunder cracks and lighting flies, it is not the helping hand that we remember but the terror by night and in our hearts we remember the helplessness of being human that make April 27 personal.  All of us should silently in prayer remember those who lost all and those who lost ones dear. 

Over-Reported


News organizations around the state have judged Alabama’s so-called tough immigration law as the second most important story of 2011, I differ. This is self-serving on their part and on a grand scale, mockery of all that journalist should hold dear.

The immigration story only became a top story because the mainstream media deemed it so. Only because editorial boards, writers and elitist promoted the story as if it were the new civil rights movement of our age.

To equate the plight of illegals, to the suffering, struggle and discrimination of generations of African-American citizens is an appalling, heinous and a damnable lie. It wholly dishonors the brave men and women who fought and yes, even, died to see the promise of our country fulfilled. African-American who were brought here in chains, worked the fields of our ancestors and clawed their way upward only to ask that the founding truths of our republic be applied to them.

They asked, “Is it not true, ‘That all men are created equal, endowed by their creator…?’” To which an angry mob in Anniston said, “Hell no, we will burn all the Freedom Riders out of the bus.” Terrible things were done to our fellow citizens and it remains a shameful blot on our history.

The insincerity of those who would compare the civil rights struggle to that of those who have entered our country illegally is a disgrace. They are foolish people who do not know the history of their own country or of their African-American brothers and sisters, at best they are as ignorant as they are wrong, at worst they trade in lies to inflame the crowds.

Under-Reported


My vote for second most important story of the year would have to be the retirement of Paul Hubbert and Joe Reed.

These two men have reined as power-brokers, kingmakers and giants of Alabama politics for 50 years. The minds, will and deeds of these two individuals have shaped our state in ways unimaginable to ordinary citizens. But politicians know, unions know, the press knows but little has been exposed about what has really transpire on their watch.

Recent stories of each man's rise from humble beginnings to visionary leaders would be heartwarming if it were not for some of the back story yet, untold.

Dr. Reed certainly deserves credit for being a dynamic leader in bringing equal justice to African-Americans in Alabama. I have often been in awe of the fight that was carried on in our state to undo the injustices visited upon our fellow citizens. But did Dr. Reed fight the long battle of the civil rights movement to reject its natural heir Artur Davis in favor or Ron Sparks? The shameful treatment of Davis at the hand of Reed was a terrible thing but typical of those who have amassed power and held on for too long.

And Dr. Hubbert, a man who welded power like a feudal lord, summoning the state’s leaders to his office as if a throne room and then handing down orders for them to obey.

They used men as tools, power as a weapon, for all the good Reed and Hubbert did it is their abuse of power that has left a sullied legacy.

But this is not new men of humble origins rising though the ranks, their promise to the masses, we will make things better. Perhaps they did make things better for a few but they failed the many.

Hubbert and Reed are wealthy men, men who came to power and used it to enrich themselves. And as they leave the halls of the AEA each man will take with him another bag of money, this time filled to more than a million dollars each.

It will take a generation to undo the error of their tenure.

Perhaps now a justice system and legislators who are not cowed by their presence, can clean the system of their legacy.

Farewell Doctors Hubbert and Reed, thank you for leaving.
 

Bad Reporting


The next story of the year is the federal trial over State House gambling corruption that ends in acquittals and mistrials.

It would be laughable if it were not such a miscarriage of justice that 12 jurors could not connect obvious dots that should have convicted most of the accused. This should not come as a surprise because O.J. walked, Casey Anthony walked, now these men and women were more like common grifters but still, once again we are given witness to the stupidity of jurors. The fact that the judge in the case was purely prejudicial and that the prosecution was less than stellar all led to the fiasco of the bingo debacle but the jury was hopeless.

Bad Reporting

As a result of the gambling corruption trial and the immigration law, Scott Beason has become the most vilified man in Alabama. Beason, a man who was trying to do the right thing, has received a beating in the press and in the courts.

The lawbreakers, media prostitutes and race baiters have come after Beason with a vengeance. In time-honored tradition, Beason has been called a racist, bigot and the embodiment of all that is bad about Alabama.

I have known Scott for around five years, I have never known him to be any of those things. I don’t know all that was on those tapes, I do not know Beason’s thinking on some of the actions he took. But I know that he is not deserving of the media punishment he has received. Freedom from the press is an editor’s responsibility as freedom of press is the editor’s right.

Under-reported

GOP promises kept.

The Alabama Republicans promised reform and better government in their Handshake with Alabama proposal. In 2011, they kept their word to pass legislation to help create jobs and economic opportunities for our citizens. They vowed to control wasteful spending, the President Pro tem Del Marsh’s office is a place to look for an example of ending waste.

The GOP also said they would work to end corruption in Montgomery. While that task has begun, years of institutionalized corruption is not swept away easily or quickly. I am not so foolish as to believe that there are not those within the Republican ranks that have not or will not want to keep a little graft for themselves.

Lastly, they pledged to voters that they would combat illegal immigration on which they kept their word and now fight the U.S. Department of Justice and the media.  On all these things, the GOP must be given high marks. There are many miles to go before they rest but for the first time in generations it feels like the government in Montgomery is working for the people and not itself.

Under Reported

Bingo is off the front page.

Since Luther Strange took office as Alabama’s Attorney General, bingo has nearly vanished as a front page news story. In one of his first acts as AG, Strange dismantled the gambling task force and instead took control of the situation in a straight-forward professional manner. Strange and his team have quietly and doggedly enforced the law, letting the bosses and operators of gambling establishment know that the law would be unequivocally enforced, that the new AG and his staff would not play games on the issue of law.

Little attention has been given to this matter as enforcing the law without fanfare does not make for bold headlines. Luther Strange and team are doing what his predecessor would not do.  Luther Strange put would-be law breakers on notice that there was a new lawman in town and he was not for sale or hire.

 For me 2011 was a trying year, one of heartache, loss and rebuilding.

My story of the year is how my wife and I started the Alabama Political Reporter to inform, educate and alert the people of Alabama about our government, its policies and how it affects our state. For me, 2011 will be the story of our friends who rallied with us and the strangers who have embraced our cause. It was a year to be thankful for all God has given us.

To be back at work, doing what I love with the ones I love, and for the state I love.

So, for me, these top stories are enough.

God bless Alabama and God bless you all. Let’s make 2012 even better.

Bill Britt: Freedom: Up in Smoke

It has been recently reported that Democratic Sen. Vivian Davis Figures of Mobile will introduce a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban smoking in places of employment, public places and private clubs. Figures has tried for a number of years to pass bills restricting smoking in public places, but she has not been successful. Her legislation passed the Senate several times but could not gain enough support to pass in the Alabama House.

I am sure Senator Figures is a well-intentioned legislator but that is the problem isn’t it?

We don’t need more lawmakers looking out for our welfare, that is a personal responsibility not a government one.

Since 2009, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University has released a yearly study called Freedom in the 50 States.

The purpose of the report is to rank the American states on their public policies that affect individual freedoms in the economic, social, and personal spheres.

The study is based on the idea that an individual is free to order their lives around the concept of individual freedom, to choose ones own destiny, to make ones own choices and to accept personal responsibility for their own lives.  A novel concept for sure in 2011.

Each year the project develops an index of economic and personal freedom in the American states. Specifically, it examines state and local government intervention across a wide range of public policies, from income taxes to gun control, from homeschooling regulation to drug policy.

The state of New Hampshire ranks number one in the study with New York State being number 50.

Alabama is ranked number 19 in the grouping mainly due to restrictions and high taxes on beer and spirits, the states marijuana laws and the courts.

We rate in the highest categories of personal freedom when is comes such policies as smoking bans, cigarette taxes, and gun control.

Of course if liberal Democrats and some so-called Republicans had their way smoking bans and cigarette taxes would put us in alignment with New York State. (Then there is Montgomery with its bizarre tobacco laws that the republican mayor has put in place.)

No one doubts that tobacco is bad, only an idiot or a smoker would think otherwise. However, a  look at WHO and CDC studies and others betray the often anti-smoking abolitionist speechifying. Do you know the average age of a person who dies from smoke relayed illness? I do. Go look it up. I did.

Fried catfish, Little Debbie cakes are bad for you too, but no one is yelling for a ban just yet.

For years my wife and I lived in New York City, I love that crazy place but it is a filthy city full of toxins that should kill everything other than rats, cockroaches and a few humanoid species that live in the Bronx. Yet, people adapt and even thrive in that putrid environment.

We lived in a very nice part of Manhattan on the 11th floor of an expensive apartment building, but during the summer if you opened a window in our apartment--even for an hour—the furniture would be covered in black soot. Now, that is pollution.

Soon after 9/11 the city council of that fair city wanted to ban smoking in restaurants and bars, because they want NYC to be a healthier place and European cities were banning smoking so, they didn’t want to seem less progressive. Then Mayor Rudy Gulianni said,  “No. The people of New York have had enough to deal with. Leave them alone.”

His predecessor Michael Bloomberg upon taking office made taxing and banning smoking a top priority and it passed. Bloomberg was later successful in having transfats banned in New York City as well. Do you know what transfats are? It is margarine.

Now, I don’t think the Alabama legislature is going to ban my Country Crock but someday they might.

Call me crazy—and some have—but I don’t want to government telling me what I can eat, drink or how I can be merry as long as my merriment is inflected only on me. Oh yes, but we must protect the waitress that works at The Heart of Dixie lounge, she might die of second-hand smoke.

Really? Working at a bar is hazardous duty and if Peggy Sue can’t handle a little second-hand smoke she needs to find a new line of work. No one is forcing people to work in bars or restaurants , they choose to work there.

Working as a lineman for Alabama Power probably has some risks too but I don’t see any of my liberal friends wanting to stop folks from working at the power company.

Passing laws like smoking bans are easy legislation and they make lawmakers feel good about themselves. But it is one more piece of legislation that chips away at personal freedom.

I don’t want lawmakers to feel good about themselves I want them to do what they can to balance the budget, stop spending foolishly and stay out of people’s business.

Come to think of it I don’t like standing in line at Wal-Mart behind people who smell like last weeks dirty clothes and weigh more than my refrigerator but I am not going to ban gravy and biscuits and mandate deodorant.

Why is it that the same people who want to stop government from interfering with their sexual choices are some of the first to want to put their two cents into other choices?

Well-intentioned people make the worst legislators, we need men and women whose intentions are to give individuals, business owners and property owners more freedom.

Legislators who understand what makes this state of ours great, that being personal liberty and personal responsibility. Some of us had parents that taught us that with freedom comes responsibility.

I remember one time this woman brought her young child over to our house, the child ran around crashing into things, picking up expensive trinkets and pulling on the dogs tail. All the while his mother kept making attempts to scolded him but he didn’t listen. Every minute or so the mom would show some effort toward correct the child to no avail. After awhile my wife looked at the mother and said, “Honey, if you’re not going to raise your child at your house don’t try to start in mine.”

So it is with some lawmakers they think they can change with laws what was never learned at home. Good luck with that idea.

The study suggest that Alabama should also move from elected to appointed judges in order to improve the quality of the state’s liability system. Eliminate mandatory minimums for marijuana offenses. Improve auto and road regulations: make the seatbelt law secondary rather than primary, repeal the motorcycle-helmet law for adults, and repeal the bicycle-helmet law.

If Alabama were to repeal the helmet laws I would suggest that those who ride without a helmet be sure to have their health insurance up to date because when they show up at the ER with their brains hanging out, “We the People” are not going to want to pay for your stupidity.

These all may have some merit, the reform of how we select judges is a very good suggestion in my opinion.

I am not against restaurant and bars or any public place banning smoking or even baggy pants in their own establishment. This is a private property issue not a government one.

What I am against is more government interference in peoples lives and in business.

I hear legislator barking all the time about Washington getting out of the way of business and off peoples back, no place better to start than sweet home Alabama.

Likewise it is always mystifying that even those who pledge, “No new taxes,” will raise taxes on tobacco and alcohol, is that not a new tax?

Like the premise of the ‘Freedom in the 50 States’ study I believe that a U. S. citizen is a self-governing, autonomous, individual that may dispose of their lives, liberties, and properties as they see fit, as long as they do not infringe on the rights of others.

Since the study began in 2009, Alabama has slipped only a fraction of a fraction of a percent. Let us pray even that trend reverses. I hope the legislator give the people more freedom not less.

But well-intentioned people wreak havoc on personal liberty by chipping away at little freedoms in the name of the greater good. 

 

Bill Britt: Laws and unintended consequences

As a general rule any law written by the hand of man is burdened with unintended consequences. Only the ten commandments handed down by God to Moses are without unintended consequences. Naturally a trial lawyer or the ACLU would sue God over the big ten but many don’t know Him or believe that He exists.


In light of this, it should come as no surprise that Alabama has laws that create problems beyond the imaginings of the lawmakers.


Lately, the Governor, Speaker of the House, the President Pro tem of the Senate have been beaten like a rented mule over the immigration law.


With close to 80 percent of Alabamians in favor of the immigration law, I would not encourage its opponents to hold their breath until the law is repealed.


The Governor and the legislature have more to consider than this one law, there is a need for unified attention on jobs, economic growth and the prosperity of our state.


Many times, lawmakers do too much lawmaking anyway and the unplanned challenges  come from a multitude of lawmaking without regard to the full extent of the policy. All laws will be used by the lawless as well as the lawful.


One such law with unintended consequences can be illustrated in the RSA’s investments is hundreds of newspapers.  Now I have worked in that industry for over twenty years and could have told Dr. Bronner  that backing CNHI (Community News Holding Inc.) to the tune of one billion dollars—yes billion with a “B”—was a bad idea but he didn’t ask me.


Buying newspapers like the Cullman Times (a pretty good paper) the Saint Clair News-Aegis (Hum) and the now shuttered Leeds News was in my view akin to fiscal malpractice. Why? Not just because anyone with a modicum of investment foresight knew at the dawn of the new century that putting that kind on money in small and medium sizes newspapers was not a bright idea but that these small newspapers lived on a flawed business model that could not survive.


Not only has CNHI been bankrolled by RSA it is a tenant of the RSA moving its headquarters’ from Birmingham to RSA Dexter Tower Building in Montgomery.


Add to that, the city and Montgomery County offered $300,000 in incentives to pay moving costs for the company. The people of Alabama have a lot invested in a dying business.


Dr. Bronner is often referred to as the smartest man in the room. Whenever, I hear that statement referring to anyone, I ask, was anyone else there?


The handwriting has been hanging on the wall for years, as most small newspapers in Alabama  only prosper because of  government-sanctioned monopolies.


The big money that comes to these small newspaper is derived from “Legal Advertising,” this type of advertising consist of public notices from state, cities and counties governments, probates notices, tax rolls, voters list, foreclosures, and more.  These can mean hundreds of thousands of dollars in profits for the newspaper and is mostly paid for with taxpayer dollars. By state law, only newspapers that meet certain federal standards for a second-class postal permit and other guidelines imposed by law may publish “Legal Notices.” There is usually only one such paper per county and because the law states that these notices must be run in a print newspaper this creates a monopoly. Therefore, the state, cities and counties are at the mercy of these paper who can charge whatever they please.


To start a newspaper to compete with these monopolies can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars., therefore there is seldom competition.  In recent years, there has been an urging by probate judges and others for the legislature to change the law allowing legal notices to be placed online under a low bid contract but these efforts have year after year been killed by the Alabama Press Association and the democratic legislature. It has been widely believed that the democrats cozy relationship with the editorial boards would keep their monopolies safe. It has been rumored that the republican led legislature might open up legal advertising for competition, however that remains to be seen. Lately, rumors have surfaced that a better deal is being offered by some in the legislature so that the newspapers can keep their monopoly.


This is all an example of a law of unintended consequences, when this law was passed there were many newspapers that could accept legal advertising so, there was competition. Of course, this argues the idea that most every law should have a sunset provision, while not perfect a sunset law could allow many bad laws to disappear in the dead of night.


The days of print newspapers is not dead but the bell tolls. Is it not time for the laws to catch up to the people or are local governments suppose to keep handing over taxpayer dollars to government sanctioned monopolies forever?


Surely, the free market would offer reduced cost to state and local government saving much needed revenue and even offering a  better delivery system via the internet?  Or will we watch as monopolies still hold their own thanks to lack of will. Are we the people to be  satisfied with unintended consequences? I think not.

Bill Britt: Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered

There are days when I find political maneuvering as baffling as Lady Gaga’s wardrobe.


While Gaga is obviously taking cues from her fairy godfather Elton John, is it not time for something new?


Shamefully, institutions and political organization are guilty of the same foolish imitation as the entertainment industry.


Michael Steele anyone? Did the GOP really think that having a man of African-American birth at the head of the RNC would give them standing alongside the first African-American president of the United States?


So, it was when Paul Hubbert and Joe Reed announced their retirement from the AEA. With Hubbert and Reed announcement there was a brief moment when many around the state thought that there might be a real change in the leadership at AEA.


But with the appointment of former business lobbyist and ex-state Finance Director Henry Mabry to replaced Hubbert and teacher-turned-AEA staff attorney Gregory Graves to take over from Reed it became clear that the AEA would not change of its own accord.


This selection reminded me of the switch-a-roo on the TV show Bewitched. In the sixth season of the show, Dick York was replaced by Dick Sargent in the role of Darrin, Samantha’s erstwhile mortal husband. There was never a public explanation for the change just poof, one day Dick York the next Dick Sargent. It has often been speculated that since TV audiences are sometimes not really paying attention, or worst, not very smart at all, that they would not notice the change. Perhaps the TV executives thought well, they are both named Dick so, maybe people won’t notice. So, it seems the genteel viewing public of the sixties was to be tricked when one Dick replaced another.


Is this what the AEA had in mind when it replaced the top guy with another white man and the number two with a black man? Did they think people would not notice?


Really, what is it with Alabama Democrats, always putting a white man at the head while keeping the black man at number two. In the Democrat leadership, there are many more capable men and women of color that should be leading the party. Why is there no one pointing out that this just might be racism?


I remember having a conversation with Dr. Reed at a Unity Breakfast a few years back when he recalled how every white man who wanted to be governor of Alabama came to his office to get his approval, Dr. Reed said to me that he was astonished by how dismissive these men were. Reed went on to lament that they never came to him and asked him to run for governor.


Sadly, this is at best soft bigotry, at worst full-blown racism.


The president of our county is a man of African-American decent, this shows that on whole the nation was ready for his leadership no matter of color. Why not in Alabama?


But once again the good old boys lead and smart and talented men and women of color are to follow at least according to the Alabama Democratic honchos.


Of course, the fact that Mabry was finance director under Gov. Don Siegelman, should scare the pants off any fiscal conservative. But this, while certainly troubling, is inconsequential next to the problems facing the AEA. Even with the Dick York/Dick Sargent conundrum the union is at a crossroads and is more than likely stuck on the tracks with a locomotive barreling like a cannonball down on them.


Mabry in his comment to the press has trotted out the same style of offense as Hubbert, making it sound like the AEA is all about the children.


The AEA has never been about the children, or education or even teachers. The AEA is built on the backs of custodians, cafeteria workers, bus drivers and maintenance personnel.


It is not a teacher’s union, it is a labor union!


Teachers are professional educators not cafeteria workers and should be rewarded as professionals. Teacher serve a more important position within our schools—than their support staff—that being educating Alabama’s children.


If the state really wanted to trim the budget, get education under control and reward teachers according to their professional accomplishments it would privatize all school food service, all custodial work, all maintenance jobs and bus drivers.


But the AEA for years has dazzled the state with propaganda that pales in absurdity next to a Gaga outfit.


What Democratic voters should find most outrageous is that Republicans that are the ones bent on cleaning up education excesses not Democrats.
Are not Democrats the party of education? Then why  is it that the GOP is standing up to fix education, because they have leadership.


Democrats you don’t have to be afraid of Hubbert and Reed any longer. They are out of power they can’t hurt you and they surely can’t help you. 


Why is a  party built on the votes of African-American citizens led by white men whose thinking, intellect and convictions are more attuned to the 50s than the realities of the 21st century. Today, good and equal education will be hard won if the African-American leaders within the Democrat Party do not stand up and be counted among leadership.


It is high time to awake from the past and not be tricked by the whirl and flourish of the same performers in different clothes.


Sometimes it really is about the children but with the AEA the change is not change.
    

 

Bill Britt: Political leaders must work together, but “No,” does not add to the solution

Benjamin Disraeli, one of Britain’s greatest prime ministers once said, “Desperation is sometimes as powerful an inspirer as genius.”
Now is a time for the Governor and Legislature of Alabama to be powerfully inspired. Faced with budget shortfalls, unemployment rates—while improving—are still too high for the present and an opposition not yet ready to face the realities of the present dilemma.


Over a year ago, the people of Alabama sent a message to Montgomery, we want a government with a plan, a conservative government that will make hard choices for hard times.


Having made great progress on ethics and immigration reform, Alabama’s elected leaders are still facing a Gordian knot of trouble.
Not the least of which is that the 2013 General Fund will experience a $400 million deficit.


Recently, the governor floated the idea of unearmarking some items in the Education Trust Fund to offset the growing deficit in the General Fund. At the time he said, “ I can already hear the arguments that I care more about the prisoners than I do about the children."


And as if on cue, Henry Mabry, the in-coming head to the Alabama teachers union said, ...well you guessed it…Mabry told the ‘Gadsden Times’ that the governor wanted to take money away from the children and give it to prisoners.


This is the same aged, well-worn patter that has been used as an incendiary bomb by the AEA and Democrats for years. Did Mr. Mabry miss the last election cycle? The people of Alabama have seen this play before. Does anyone really believe that Governor Bentley can be cast as benefactor of convicts and Ebenezer Scrooge to the children? I doubt it. Have you met Governor Bentley? The people are not going to believe the AEA this time; Bentley is a good man trying to tackle the seemingly insurmountable problems facing our state. Many Alabamans, even teachers, had hope Mabry would bring something new to the AEA, had hoped that the new boss would not be the same as the old boss. This is not a good start, sir.


Sadly, the Democrats who are used to carrying the AEA’s water echoed Mabry with Pavlovian zeal.


In contrast, the governor is looking for ways to work for all Alabamians, what about the AEA and Democrats offering more to the dialogue than “No?”


This is not to say that the idea the governor is talking about it necessarily the right one, as it would take several amendments to the Alabama Constitution to unearmark from one fund to the other, but the Governor is absolutely right to put every idea on the table in order to find a solution to Alabama’s fiscal crisis.


Of course, add to the current list of budget woes the RSA disaster, another $700 or $800 million to be made up by the taxpayers of Alabama. It seems the RSA can’t seem to make an investment that would not make Jon Corzine blush. With the RSA failure there will be more money coming out of the budget.


The Governor, the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tem are all successful business leaders, they will need to bring all the skill they have learned in the private sector to try and sort out Alabama’s budgetary failings. This will mean making tough choices, even politically risky ones as well. But now is the time for bold leadership, firm resolve, and a steady hand on the ship of state.


Trying to paint the Governor, as friend of prisoners and enemy of the kids is a sad, tired political trick.


One of the major things the Governor will have to save is Medicaid. Is that okay with the AEA?


Our poorest children rely on Medicaid to enable them to receive medical care. While the program is in dire need of overhaul, is this not a program that the Democrats want to save?


Alabamians are a great and good people, most of us know what it is to live within our means and those who don’t will someday learn a hard lesson.


Life is not fair and only people with rotten goods to sell will tell you differently.


Now is the time for the democrats to rise up and show that they are leaders not followers of the bygone status quo. There are smart and brave people in the Democrat Party but they have been held back, pushed down or told it is not your turn. The Alabama Democrats can do better than saying “No,” they can do better than their predecessors. The day of the bosses should be over, buried in the potter’s field of political history. 


There is a need for new, smart thinkers to step up, step out and make a difference.


Those Democrats who care about social equality, providing for the weakest among us must heed President Clinton’s views that if you want to be socially progressive then you must be fiscally conservative.


There is no swift sword to cut the complex knot of Alabama’s problems.


All legislators must come together with powerful inspiration and make tough choices to see Alabama through these difficult times.


All must work together in honesty and good faith to make Alabama even better.


We wish them all God speed.

 

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