27 Feb 2014
By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) sponsored a two-percent Alabama Teachers pay raise for the 2015 Fiscal Year Budget. This was the same as Governor Robert Bentley had requested. However, the Senate Education Budget Committee instead approved a one percent/one-time bonus for teachers.
“So goes education, so goes Alabama,” Ward said. “We need to make sure our teachers are well compensated, and appreciated. Though they received a two-percent raise last year, we are still $9,000 below the National average, and rank 39th among states in terms of teacher compensation.”
Senator Trip Pitman (R-Daphne) said that the reason educators would not received the two-percent pay increase proposed by Ward and the Governor was because “the economy has remained stagnant and has not rebounded.”
But, Republican lawmakers, who would not speak on the record because of concerns of retaliation, tell a different story.
These lawmakers agree that the biggest barrier to giving teachers a pay increase is not the economy, but three men: former Gov. Bob Riley, Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard and Billy Canary, the head of the Business Council of Alabama (BCA). Because he takes his marching orders from the three other men, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) should be included in this group.
Canary has said privately on several occasions that he wanted to destroy the Alabama Education Association (AEA). This has been a goal of many in the Republican Party for years. Bradley Byrne, who was Bob Riley’s handpicked successors, ran his gubernatorial campaign almost solely on dismantling the education organization. He was defeated by the AEA and the race was cleared for the rise of Robert Bentley.
There are basically three reasons why some in the ALGOP and the BCA want to ruin the AEA, and it has little to do with ideology. The reason is a simple political calculation. In the past, the AEA financed mostly Democrat candidates for public office. Because of the steady flow of contributions from it members, it was one of the largest power blocks for electing lawmakers.
Canary, an acolyte of Karl Rove, wanted to be the central power broker in the State and the AEA was his nemesis. For Hubbard, the same was true: defeat the AEA and control to State.
For Riley, who took hundreds of thousands from the AEA, the choice was much simpler. Riley wants money and privatizing education is a quick and easy way to make millions of dollars.
Over the last three years, Republican representatives and Senators have complained that they have become pawns of the BCA. Some have come to the point of saying privately that the BCA is even worse than the AEA.
From the “Gun Rights Bill” to the fight against “Common Core,” it has been the BCA who has stood in the way of a Conservative agenda. And it is not just the millions in corporate giveaways, or the recent so-called Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights that has troubled conservatives. It is the steady building of a Big Government Republican apparatus controlled by Big Business.
Riley, Hubbard, Canary and Marsh are not small government Republicans, they are big government corporatists. They believe in government control and the privatization of the arms of government that can make them and their cronies wealthy. The resistance to give educators a raise is because they want to eliminate public education and privatize it for profit. The only road block to their dreams of total business control of government are the teachers and support personal who have united under the AEA.
Canary has been the prime mover behind insuring the implementation of Common Core Standards. Hubbard and Marsh do his bidding.
Riley, with the support of the other three, has pushed for privatizing education so he and his business partners can make big money. Is it surprising that both of Riley’s chiefs of staff are lobbyists for the big corporate education brokers? Or that Hubbard and Marsh have become chummy with the biggest names in education privatization?
Of course, this scheme may soon unravel, as the Special Grand Jury in Lee County is heavily invested in finding all the criminal machinations of Hubbard and his fellow travelers.
Carney, Riley and Marsh are names that have surely become familiar to those gathered at the Lee County Courthouse.
What their future holds is uncertain, but, what is sure is that these men are the biggest problem facing the State, not teachers and until they are vanquished from power, Alabama will rank near the bottom in everything except public corruption.
So, when you hear that teachers are getting a one-percent bonus instead of a two-percent raise, remember: it is not about lack of funds...it is about power and who gets the spoils.
10 Feb 2014
By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Over the last eighteen months or so, the Special White Collar Crimes Division of the State’s Attorney General’s Office has been conducting an investigation into the possible wrongdoings of Alabama’s Speaker of the House, and those surrounding him.
This investigation is being led by Special White Collar Crimes Prosecutor Matt Hart.
Hart a career prosecutor is widely known as a dogged agent of law-enforcement whose integrity is unimpeachable.
He is also appreciated for his intense investigative skills, fact gathering efforts and willingness to follow the long-winding trail of with systematic examination.
This all means that justice is not necessarily swift but it is thorough.
Generally, we don’t think of a year and a half as a long time, but we have become so accustomed to television crime dramas being neatly wrapped in a bow in under an hour that we forget that real white collar crimes take painstaking research and scrutiny.
It is said that the wheels of justice grind slowly but grind exceedingly fine; this is what we should understand and hope. We should desire the millstone of justice to move in such a way, that it ensures that all crimes and guilt are verified and that all parties concerned stand before the high court. We should wish above all else that justice is served. In a case as complex as the one surrounding Speaker Hubbard, time is required, and patient, slow investigation is a necessity. Hubbard’s career is a long and shadowy one, with layers of activities under multiple schemes, involving many people.
In such investigations, generally, documents are the the first vital pieces assembled. Then people must be challenged in a grand jury to corroborate or deny the information. Again, all of this takes precious time to verify. Grand Jury testimony almost always leads to an expansion of the investigation, because more evidence usually comes forward and some people have a tendency to lie...even to a Grand Jury. It is important to remember in public corruption cases it is often the cover-up that puts so many people behind bars.
It has been said that Hubbard told his soldiers to stand firmly together, and that they will all survive through solidarity. Of course, human nature demands self-preservation and that means that people are talking. Hubbard is a bully, a thug and an evil man, but he is also a cunning politician. He knows how to win a campaign.
First he attacked the messenger, that being alreporter.com.
Then he quieted other media that might follow on with threats from his clever criminal defense attorney, J. Mark White.
Hubbard has even tried to smear the lead investigator, Matt Hart, by saying he was fired from the US Attorney’s office (which he was not) and by saying he was “unstable.”
This style of aggression has not served to help Hubbard, so recently, the rumor has been floating that there was something amiss about Hart’s military service.
It is certain that Hubbard has called in every political favor he is owed to save his skin.
The political pressure being placed on Hart and his team must be beyond what any citizen could imagine.
It is also been rumored that pressure is being brought to bare of Attorney General Luther Strange to put a swift and favorable finding for Hubbard and his minions.
Rumor is that Hubbard and his boys have a “Second Act” for Strange. Indicating that they have a plan to damage the popular Attorney General. It is worthy to note that Luther Strange has recused himself from this case and to reinsert himself in anyway could be considered a crime.
But, the most persistent rumor is that law-enforcement would never dare arrest Hubbard, because he is too powerful. There are many who believe that the Alabama Justice system is so corrupt that it will whitewash this investigation and that Hubbard will be exonerated. It is enough to worry about what devious men like Hubbard might do but it is perhaps more frightening to think that perhaps “the good guys” are cooperating to protect the guilty.
People say that Hubbard is the most powerful man in Alabama politics. I disagree. I believe he is the weakest man. Thuggery, dishonesty and using your office for personal gain is not power, it's extreme cowardice.
Hubbard’s dealings are at once complex and yet simple. His book, Storming the State House, serves as a roadmap to many of his corrupt activities because, like so many with narcissistic personality disorder, Hubbard can’t help but brag about his accomplishments. (Not being a specialist in personality disorders I cannot say with absolute certain what might be Hubbard’s exact pathology but NPD is one that fits in my opinion.) But, there is no doubt that the wheels are turning and Hubbard and his allies are under the heavy millstone of justice.
One day soon, Mike Hubbard will have to stand before the court and bear witness of himself.
And anyone who aids Hubbard by hindering prosecutions will be found out and exposed for the their treasonous behavior.
28 Jan 2014
By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
This session, there are three bills before the Legislature that will cause irrefutable harm to the people of Alabama, while placing more control into the hands of a chosen few. These bills are examples of Right Wing rhetoric and Left-Wing policies.
The bills are SB11, SB178 and HB350. These bills were presented last session as one bill, SB122, carried by Republican Senator Jimmy Holley. This year they have been broken into three bills, with HB350 carried by Ed Henry and Mike Hubbard in the House.
SB11 will consolidate power over the entire legislative apparatus, giving the Speaker of the House and Senate President Pro Tem powers never even envisioned by the Democrats.
This bill, which has already passed the Senate, would abolish the Legislative Fiscal Committee, the Legislative Building Committee and the Permanent Legislative Committee on Reapportionment, combining them into a Legislative Council under a junta of 20 politicians, who can be placed or removed from the committee at the will of the Speaker of the House or Senate President Pro Tem. Even the Press would be forced to go before this political junta to be granted press credentials at the State House.
This would politicize the whole process of who can report and what they can report from the State House. The Republican leadership under Hubbard and Marsh has repeatedly tried to have the press credentials of the Alabama Political Reporter revoked. To this day, the office of the Speaker and Senate President Pro Tem do not send press notification to Alabama Political Reporter.
Currently, the right to grant press credentials is in the hands of the nonpartisan offices of the Secretary of the Senate and Clerk of the House. But even these jobs will now be at the whim of a powerful few.
Just one of the many problems with SB178 is that it will return expansion of hospitals or nursing homes to the slow track.
Another "bonus" under SB178 is that the Lieutenant Governor will have veto power over changes within agencies. So, we should alert lobbyists, booze distributors, big tobacco and a host of others that there will be more campaign coffers to be filled.
Of course if power grabs and slowing down the Certificate of Need process isn’t enough, just take a look at HB350.
The House Bill 350 would do away with the Office of Examiner of Public Accounts placing its responsibilities under the Office of Alabama State Auditor. This would turn the Public Examiner’s Office into a political arm of the government and not an independent agency.
One of the key responsibilities of the Examiner of Public Accounts is to assist Law Enforcement Agencies with investigations of public corruption.
The convictions in the Jefferson County sewer debacle or the corruption into the two-year college system would have never been prosecuted without the Public Examiner’s office.
Another bad idea by our Central Planners at the State House.
Over the last three years, Republican House Speaker Mike Hubbard and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh have presided over a major increase in government bureaucracy, under the guise of streamlining government to save taxpayer dollars. Like the political elites that have gone before them, they seek to consolidate power into the hands of a select few, to ensure their continued control over State government. Following the path of the bureaucratic elites, they have used Central Planning to achieve their idea of progress.
Hubbard and Marsh are too cleaver to call it what it is: Big Government and Big Brother. So, they use coded terms such as, pro-business reform, streamlining and smaller government.
People all too often mistake the size of government for the power of government. Hubbard and Marsh may have reduced the number of government employees, but they have significantly increased government’s power. They have reduced the size of government personnel, but have not limited the scope of government meddling. What they want so dearly is an all-powerful central government, with power in the hands of a junta, led by would-be dictators.
Last year, a few courageous politicians put a stop to the Hubbard-Marsh power grab.
Marsh and Hubbard have made it clear that this year they will take-no-prisoners in their attempt to recreate the State of Alabama in their own political image. An image more aligned with Leon Trotsky and Benito Mussolini, than George Washington or Thomas Jefferson.
31 Jan 2014
By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Our State will never reach its potential until we elect leaders who care more about doing what is right than winning the next election.
We will never see greatness until men and women of integrity are willing to do the very thing that might cost them their next campaign.
Of course, it could be that if politicians did risk it all to make our State a better place to live, they may find that the people would reward them in greater measure than they could ever imagine.
The other day, a man who was making his first run for the legislature told me that he was running because he wanted to represent the people of his district. I had to say “You’ve come to the wrong place,” because the current leadership of the Alabama State House will not let him place his district above their singular agenda.
The Republican supermajority, under the leadership of Speaker Mike Hubbard and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, is only interested in doing what is best for themselves and the moneyed class. These self-proclaimed, pro-business Republicans are little more than money changers in the Temple of State. They have turned the State House into a den of thieves and put a “FOR SALE” sign on the Capitol lawn.
There is nothing wrong with being pro-business, but government is supposed to be about the business of the people, not the people of business.
We hear the refrain of "Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!" But, what the people need are good paying jobs.
The very people that many of our politicos complain about—being burdens on the State—are the working poor.
They try to feed their children, pay their rent and live on meager wages paid by the worst of the big box stores and fast food restaurants.
Many of those receiving food stamps SANP are the working poor.
Our leaders decry the culture of dependency, yet continue to give big tax breaks to the companies that will not pay our people a living wage.
Wal-Mart will not leave the State if they are made to be good corporate citizens.
Our state is filled with many smart, honest, and patriotic individuals. However, we have too many citizens that are poor, undereducated and unhealthy. These too are smart, honest and patriotic Alabamians. But, too often the State’s political class doesn’t see them at all. And if they do see them they see them as a drain on State resources or another needed vote.
A few years ago, I watched as a poor family celebrate the Fourth of July. They had built a bonfire outside of their mobile home and their kids were running around the fire waving tiny American Flags shouting, "USA! USA! USA!"
As I spoke with the mother and father, I learned that the father had lost his job due to a construction accident and he was not receiving compensation because he had been an independent contractor. His wife had left school at sixteen and could not find a job beyond house cleaning for cash.
The kids received Medicaid benefits and his wife had applied for food stamps. They both told me of their hatred for the Liberals in the Federal government and they were afraid of the Communist/Muslim running for president. They said they were Conservatives and were hoping that change would come to the State House.
I never saw those people again. I heard things had gotten worse for them and they were living with family.
I wonder if they know what kind of change actually occurred when Mike Hubbard and his people stormed the State House. I wonder if they know about the corruption of Hubbard, Marsh and their friends.
Those people deserved better than what they got. They were not poor because they deserved it, they were not lazy or drug users or wanting the State to give them womb-to-tomb aid. They wanted honest government, but what their vote got them was a Republican leadership that only cares if you are one of them.
The people of Alabama deserve better.
I am not a bleeding heart liberal, but our hearts should bleed for those less fortunate.
Our leaders have trampled the Gospel of Christ under the heels of their fine Gucci loafers and custom cowboy boots. They have corrupted the teaching of “do unto others,” by turning it into “what’s in it for me?”
Not all of our men and women at the State House are bad; most are very good people.
But the leadership stinks like a rotting corpse.
I voted for many of the Republicans who now run the State, I will vote for some of them again. But we need to find men and women who will come to the aid of our State, not just for the rich, not just for themselves, but for every man, woman and child who lives in the State.
Alabama was once known as the Heart of Dixie, a term that has fallen into ill repute because of our racist past.
Dixie is gone and now it appears the heart has gone from the State House as well.
27 Jan 2014
By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
One case of prisoner abuse is one more than should be tolerated within the walls of our State’s penitentiaries.
One act of sexual violence against a woman or a man under custodial care of the Alabama Department of Correction in unacceptable.
These same sentiments have been expressed by ALDOC Commissioner Kim Thomas and Governor Robert Bentley.
The rush to sensationalize the U.S. Department of Justice report on Tutwiler Prison has betrayed the fact that the findings are old, and that much of the work to correct the problems cited has already begun.
The DOJ findings mirror many of those by the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) report requested by Thomas over a year ago. While both reports are extremely disturbing the failure of the media to give equal time to the sweeping changes, Thomas and his staff have established at the aging institution is also concerning.
But as any good editor knows anytime you can marry sex, women and prison in a headline, you are sure to attract an audience. None of this is meant to minimize the seriousness of the problems at Tutwiler, but to emphasizes that in this instance, the ALDOC leadership is in front of the problem, not behind.
Someone recently suggested that Tutwiler be bulldozed, as if that would solve the problem.
The problem is as old as human nature and how to deal with those individuals in society that choose to break the law.
Prisons are a tool of the State used to punish those who commit crimes. They are also the way that the government keeps criminals separate from the law-abiding public, ensuring some modicum of public safety. Lastly, they are institution that provided rehabilitative education for those who are willing to improve their lives. But let’s be clear, their primary purpose in to punish.
Our State’s prisons are woefully ill equipped to do little more than warehouse inmates, but Commissioner Thomas is trying to do more.
Alabama spends on average $42.00 a day per inmate. That is the lowest cost of any state prison system in the country. There is little appetite among our lawmakers or citizens to raise taxes to fund more or better prisons.
As for bulldozing Tutwiler, it might be a good idea but where is the money to be found to replace it; where is the willingness among the people of Alabama to accept a tax increase to fund such an building project? Few politician are willing to risk the next campaign by announcing a tax-increase to fund better living conditions for prisoners.
So, our prisons stay over crowded, operating at almost 200 percent of capacity.
There are only two ways to reduce prison population:
One is to limit the number of individuals who enter the system.
The other, is to increase the number of prisoners released.
Again, neither of these ideas are popular campaign platforms.
Alabamians are law and order constituents; therefore, so are their elected representatives. We know how to be tough on crime, but we need to learn how to be smart on crime. This is not only risky for a politician, it also requires an informed electorate.
The media has a responsibility to educate the public as to the problems within the system, but it should also support the lawmakers and officials who are trying to improve this difficult situation.
Politicians like State Senator Cam Ward, Republican from Alabaster, has come forward to champion many reforms to our judiciary system that would lead to alternative sentencing. Testing on offenders before they enter the prison system is also a way to evaluate what type of punishment and what resources should be allocated to an inmate.
What may be surprising to die-hards on the right is that individuals like Susan Watson, the new Executive Director of the Alabama ACLU, are offering a helping hand to find good solutions to this most challenging of problems. In a written statement to the Alabama Political Reporter Watson said, “We really look forward to sitting down and working together with legislators and prison officials to find realistic and tangible solutions to the problems at hand.”
Tutwiler is just a symptom of a much larger problem. ”
This is a case were the left and the right need to sit together to establish a plan to do with is best for all.
As for finding realistic and tangible solutions, the state could not find a better man to lead the way than Commissioner Kim Thomas.
Thomas, is a man of advanced degrees, who has given his working life to the correctional institution. Working his way up from a rank-in-file correctional officer to commissioner over the entire system, Thomas has spend 30 years on the frontline of corrections. An individual of Thomas’ intelligence, character and drive would have been a success in any field but he unselfishly choose to serve in the most dangerous, thankless job one can find in state government. Those who call for Thomas’ head over the Tutwiler situation are as ill informed as they are wrong. The State would be hard pressed to find any individual more suited or more committed to those in the prison system be they inmate or staff, than Thomas. There are a great many things wrong with our state’s overcrowd prisons however, Thomas is not one of them.
Tutwiler is a real and pressing dilemma for our State.
We need more dialogue and less demagoguery.
This is a situation that calls for alacrity of mind, prudent judgement and a brave heart...
not a bulldozer.