January 16, 2015
"Why Obama Should Pardon Don Siegelman"
Jeffrey Toobin writes in the New Yorker: Since the midterm elections, President Barack Obama has been acting as if he feels liberated from parochial political concerns. After taking action on immigration, Cuba, and climate change, he should take on another risky, if less well-known, challenge by commuting the prison sentence of Don Siegelman, the former governor of Alabama. ...
Through six years in office, President Obama has been especially stingy in granting pardons and commutations. But the power to grant clemency is an important one; it should be wielded with care, but it should be used. Our prisons are nearly full. Not everyone who is there belongs there. Don Seigelman is one person who should not be incarcerated anymore, and the President can and should make sure that he is freed. -- Why Obama Should Pardon Don Siegelman - The New Yorker
January 12, 2015
The slow drip to one less Congressperson
AL.com reports: Alabama currently has seven Congressional districts, each represented by a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. It's had seven seats since 1973 after they were carved out based on data following the 1970 census. The number remain the same following the 2010 Census, but a new study by Election Data Services shows a possible change could be coming in 2020.
If Alabama's rate of population growth remains the same through 2010, EDS projects it would lose a House seat after the next census, dropping from seven to six. -- Alabama could have one less Congress member after 2020: Sunday's Wake Up Call | AL.com
January 8, 2015
"AP's Alabama political reporter Phillip Rawls retiring"
The Montgomery Advertiser reports: Associated Press reporter Phillip Rawls, the longest-serving member of Alabama's Capitol press corps and a recognized expert on state politics, is retiring after more than 35 years with the news cooperative.
Rawls, 63, developed a reputation for fairness and accuracy during a 40-year career in journalism, nearly all of it spent with the AP covering politics and government in Montgomery.
Rawls' tenure spanned seven Alabama governors, from George Wallace to Robert Bentley, and 35 regular sessions of the Legislature. His retirement takes effect later this month. -- AP's Alabama political reporter Phillip Rawls retiring
January 4, 2015
2014 Election is over, but fundraising goes on
The Decatur Daily reports: Alabama's 2014 elections are in the books, but fundraising is not over for some elected officials and those who had hoped to be elected.
State law gives candidates 120 days after elections to collect money from individuals and political action committees to cover debts, including repayment of loans to their campaigns. ...
Candidates can loan themselves money regardless of their account balances. Stewart said a confident candidate could use a loan — knowing they're going to get the money back — to get a jumpstart on fundraising in four years.
"Once one election is over, candidates are immediately thinking about the next one," Stewart said. "(Having additional money) would be the most desirable situation from the candidate's point of view." -- Fundraising for ?14 politicians ongoing - Decatur Daily: News
December 28, 2014
The Washington Post has two articles on the movie "Selma." The first -- Rep. John Lewis on "Selma" and the memories it brings to life -- explains why I have to go see the movie. The second -- The movie ‘Selma’ has a glaring flaw by Joseph Califano -- explains why I may be somewhat upset when I leave the theater.
The Montgomery Advertiser editorializes: Voters often complain about what they see as a lack of meaningful choice on the ballot, about rarely having the chance to vote for someone other than a Republican or a Democrat. Because Alabama has some of the most stringent ballot access laws in the country, that's not likely to change without an overdue revision of the rules.
Those rules protect the interests of the two major parties, not the interests of the voters and certainly not the interests of third-party or independent candidates. Readers of a certain age may recall Gov. George Wallace's derisive snarl that there wasn't "a dime's worth of difference" between the major parties. That may no longer be true philosophically, but it's definitely true in terms of ballot access.
In order to get a spot on the statewide ballot, a third-party or independent candidate faces unjustifiable obstacles. Candidates of the Democratic and Republican parties appear automatically on the ballot, but a third-party candidate enjoys that privilege only if his or her party received at least 20 percent of the vote in the previous general election. That's all but impossible, given the dominance of the two major parties and the difficulty in getting on the ballot in the first place. -- Alabama's ballot access laws too restrictive
December 25, 2014
Should Alabama join the "Super SEC" presidential primary?
The Montgomery Advertiser opines: In presidential election years, Alabamians rarely catch sight of the contenders. There's the occasional fund-raiser or quick press conference at an airport, but the candidates don't spend much time here.
That might change in 2016, however, if our state becomes part of a "Super SEC" presidential primary proposal that would move the balloting in several states linked to the football league to the same date. Alabama's political influence likely will never match its football influence, but the plan could make the state a bigger player in the process.
The idea is being pushed by Brian Kemp, Georgia's secretary of state. Jim Bennett, Alabama's outgoing secretary of state, has called on his counterparts in Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana and South Carolina to support the plan. Although Bennett won't be in office when the Legislature convenes next year, he has said he will urge his successor, John Merrill, to support it as well.
Alabama's 2016 primary is scheduled for March 8. Action by the Legislature would be needed to move it to the "Super SEC" date of March 1, the scheduled date for presidential primaries in Tennessee, Florida and Texas. It's a step worth taking to bring at least some of the big day's action to Alabama, and Merrill should support it. -- Joining the 'Super SEC' primary would help state
Alabama Supreme Court guilty of sloppy bookkeeping
AL.com reports: A state audit accused the Alabama Supreme Court of years of sloppy financial practices, including leaving thousands of dollars in checks uncashed, and underpaying its own members.
The report, released by the Department of Examiners of Public Accounts this month, said the clerk's office failed to deposit $61,050 in checks from October 2009 through September 2013. ...
The Supreme Court routinely failed to make deposits and reconcile its two checking accounts for four years ending in 2013, the audit said.
"Performed correctly, monthly bank reconciliations allow entities to compare their accounting and banking records in order to expose any discrepancies. Not performing regular bank reconciliations increases the possibility of undetected loss due to error or theft," the examiner report said. -- The Alabama Supreme Court isn't too good with handling money, audit finds | AL.com
December 24, 2014
"What 'Selma' Gets Wrong"
Historian Mark K. Updegrove writes in POLITICO Magazine: For historians, watching a movie "based on" historical events often is an exercise in restraint. While the historian and filmmaker are both, by nature, storytellers, the former builds a narrative based on fact while the latter often bends truth for the sake of a story's arc or tempo. Historians are wise to resist their pedantic urges and yield to a film's creative license--as long as it doesn't compromise the essence of the subject at hand.
To that end, Paramount Pictures' ambitious "Selma," depicting the bloody civil rights campaign in Selma, Alabama, gets much right. The film humanizes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the colossal burden he faced in 1965 leading a fractious movement that was so perilous for his flock. But "Selma" misses mightily in faithfully capturing the pivotal relationship--contentious, the film would have you believe--between King and President Lyndon Baines Johnson.
In the film, President Johnson resists King's pressure to sign a voting rights bill, which--according to the movie's take--is getting in the way of dozens of other Great Society legislative priorities. Indeed, "Selma's" obstructionist LBJ is devoid of any palpable conviction on voting rights. Vainglorious and power hungry, he unleashes his zealous pit bull, FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover, on King, who is determined to march in protest from Selma to Montgomery despite LBJ's warning that it will be "open season" on the protesters.
This characterization of the 36th president flies in the face of history. In truth, the partnership between LBJ and MLK on civil rights is one of the most productive and consequential in American history. -- What ?Selma? Gets Wrong - Mark K. Updegrove - POLITICO Magazine
Comment: Read this short commentary before you go see "Selma."
Alabama plans to require citizenship-proof fromr voter-registration applicants
AL.com reports: of Alabama Secretary of State Jim Bennett's last acts will be to try to implement one of the last provisions of the state's controversial immigration law that has not already been resolved - a requirement that voters show proof of citizenship to register.
Under that provision of the 2011 law, known as HB 56, people must show a driver's license or some other valid form of identification in order to register to vote. But the state never implemented it while lawyers fought over the legality of the law's broader measures, which sought to crack down on illegal immigration.
The federal courts invalidated most of that law, and the state last year reached a permanent settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, agreeing to permanently black enforcement of seven provisions. Bennett announced last week, though, that the state will press ahead with the citizenship requirement now that the U.S. Senate has confirmed nominees to fill long-vacant seats on the Election Assistance Commission. That is the organization that must agree to change the federal voter registration form to comply with the state requirements.
Under the law, birth certificates, Star Alabama driver's license or nondriver ID cards, passports, naturalization documents or other documents showing U.S. citizenship would be acceptable. -- ?One of last vestiges of gutted immigration law, Alabama pushes voters for citizenship proof | AL.com
December 23, 2014
"Hubbard Files Three Motions To Dismiss"
Alabama Political Reporter reports: Last week, Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard's attorneys filed three motions with the court to have his 23 Felony indictments dismissed.
On December 19, Hubbard asked Lee County Circuit Judge Jacob Walker III to dismiss the charges because he claims the Grand Jury was improperly empaneled, the Grand Jury exceeded its authority in regards to Deputy Attorney General Henry T. "Sonny" Reagan, and that the media had violated the State's Grand Jury Secrecy Act. -- Hubbard Files Three Motions To Dismiss (Motions Provided)
Note: The story has links to the PDF of each motion.
December 18, 2014
Three small parties lose appeal against 3% rule
AP reports: A federal appeals court has upheld Alabama's ballot access law that was challenged by third-party presidential candidates trying to get their names before voters in 2012.
The Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld the decision of a trial court dismissing the lawsuit.
Alabama requires third-party candidates to collect signatures equal to 3 percent of the votes cast in the last governor's election in order to be listed on the ballot with their party affiliation. Candidates had to collect 44,828 signatures in 2012. -- Alabama Libertarians, Green Party and Constitution Party suffer setback in ballot access fight | AL.com
NOTE: A copy of the opinion is here
December 17, 2014
The Anniston Star reports:
An Alexandria man is at the heart of the latest power struggle over the leadership of the Alabama Republican Party.
Jon Coley, who runs a direct-mail political advertising firm from his farm on U.S. 431, was the largest single recipient of contracts from the Alabama Republican Executive Committee during the 2014 election. According to a report in The Montgomery Advertiser last week, those contracts were a topic of increasing dispute among the Republican Party's steering committee in the months leading up to party chairman Bill Armistead's decision not to seek another term. ...
Coley is the owner of Winning Edge Communications, a direct-mail marketing firm that sends mailers for candidates, all of them Republican, in political races from North Carolina to Oregon.
That includes about $239,000 in business in Alabama during the 2014 elections, according to campaign finance reports. Some of that came directly from candidates, including state school board member Mary Scott Hunter and Attorney General Luther Strange, while some is from Forest PAC, the political action committee of the Alabama Forestry Association. But his biggest Alabama customer, paying $134,000 for ads in 2014, was the Alabama Republican Executive Committee. -- Alexandria man?s political ad firm at center of GOP leadership struggle - The Anniston Star: News
December 14, 2014
Conflict between ALGOP chair and committee members over payment to direct-mail firm
Montgomery Advertiser reports: Alabama Republican Party chairman Bill Armistead's decision to not seek another term as party chairman was preceded by an increasingly heated dispute with the GOP's treasurer and members of the party's steering committee over payments he made to a direct mail firm in the closing days of the general election.
The dispute culminated in a special meeting at the end of November where, according to emails and to four members of the steering committee, a no-confidence motion was brought up and an audit of spending over the 2014 cycle was approved. The no-confidence motion did not succeed.
Armistead declined Friday to speak in detail about the dispute, saying the motion was from a group of "disgruntled people" on the steering committee. "There's no issue here other than an issue of a treasurer not willing to sign off on invoices for various reasons," he said. -- Conflict erupts between GOP chair, committee members
December 12, 2014
Don't steal or appear to steal: Ethics rules simplified
The TimesDaily reports: Don't do anything you wouldn't want to see reported in a newspaper. And be careful what you Tweet.
Those were a few of the takeaways from a daylong orientation for state lawmakers Wednesday. Topics included an explanation of the state's ethics law as it applies to legislators and how to deal with the media. ...
The Republican-led Legislature updated the state's ethic rules in 2010. John Caroll, director of the Alabama Ethics Commission, said there is one over-arching rule for lawmakers to keep in mind: Don't attempt to use your office for personal gain.
Similarly, he told lawmakers not to use office resources for personal benefit or business and don?t vote on legislation if they have a conflict of interest. -- Lawmakers receive tips, ground rules - TimesDaily: Local News
December 6, 2014
Alabama Voter ID Successful in Vote Suppression
AL.com reports: A report today by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and two other groups today says 119 absentee ballots were not counted in Jefferson County in the Nov. 4 election because voters did not submit the required photo ID.
The report says 21 absentee ballots in Choctaw County were not counted for lack of photo ID. ...
Ross said the new law can suppress the vote because it's hard for some to get the proper ID, some don't know about the requirements and some are discouraged from trying.
While it might seem easy to the average working person to have a valid ID, Ross say it's not easy for the poor, elderly and people who don't drive. -- Report says 119 Jefferson County absentee ballots not counted because of Alabama's photo ID law | AL.com
December 5, 2014
"State prosecutors object to Mike Hubbard's request for records of conversations with reporters"
AL.com reports: State prosecutors have objected to the request by lawyers for House Speaker Mike Hubbard for records of conversations between the attorney general's office and news reporters about the case.
Prosecutors say the defense is not entitled to those records under criminal procedure rules.
Hubbard's defense lawyers filed a motion last month asking for "any written or recorded conversations between any members of media and any members of the Attorney General's office." -- State prosecutors object to Mike Hubbard's request for records of conversations with reporters | AL.com
Probation officer fired after winning election
An Alabama legislator asked a judge Thursday to block a newly enforced state law that caused him to get fired from the state job he held for 19 years.
Montgomery County Circuit Judge William Shashy held a hearing Thursday on Rep. Dexter Grimsley's legal challenge to Alabama's "double dipping" law.
The law prohibits legislators from having a second state job. It took effect the day after the legislative elections Nov. 4. Because of the law, the state court system fired Grimsley as the state's chief juvenile probation officer for Henry County.
He was the only person to lose his job immediately. -- Alabama legislator asks judge to block 'double dipping' law | AL.com
November 28, 2014
Split precincts cause problems
Rep Craig Ford writes about the consequences of the Republican gerrymander of the Legislature: But under our new district lines, the Legislature took this a step further by "packing" the districts represented by African-American legislators with as many black voters as possible. Legislators again claimed the purpose of this was to ensure that an African-American would be elected to represent that district. But African-Americans were already representing these districts at their previous levels. There was no need to add black voters to these districts. The second argument, and the one that is most relevant to what happened in District 89, has been that these districts divide "communities of interest." Communities of interests can include counties, cities and towns. But most importantly, the new districts split voting precincts.
Splitting these communities dilutes their voice in government. For example, the more times a county is divided the less influence it will have with a particular legislator. This also causes problems when trying to get local bills passed, since local bills have to be signed off on by every member of the delegation. The more divided the county, the more legislators who have to approve of the legislation, even if that legislator only has a small portion of that county in his or her district.
In House District 89, poll workers at one of the split precincts unintentionally gave the wrong ballot to more than 200 voters. But even though it was an honest mistake, that mistake now means that those 200 voters will have to spend the next four years with a representative they did not vote for.
Making this situation even worse, the difference between the candidates in this race is less than 100 votes. Meaning, the voters who received the wrong ballot could have completely altered the outcome. -- Case shows redistricting damage
Disclosure: I am one of the plaintiffs’ counsel in the case, Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama, now pending in the US Supreme Court.
November 27, 2014
Mobile license commissioner indicted for misuse of public funds
AL.com reports: Mobile County License Commissioner Kimberly Hastie is accused in a federal indictment of using public money to finance her political aspirations.
The indictment alleges Hastie illegally used the money in connection with her effort to be revenue commissioner and run a combined licence and revenue commission office. Deputy Licence Commissioner Ramona Yeager is accused in the indictment of helping Hastie misappropriate the public funds. ...
Neil Hanley, Hastie's attorney, held a news conference Wednesday afternoon outside his Mobile office. He said the allegations against Hastie are not true.
Hanley said money was spent on Hastie's effort to combine her office and the Mobile County Revenue Commission office, but it was done legally.
"Unbeknownst to the County Commission, the defendants instructed a political consulting firm to falsify their invoices and have them contain false and misleading statements," the indictment alleges. "Specifically, the defendants signed off on false invoices knowing they contained lies to trick the County Commission." -- Mobile County license commissioner accused of using public funds to finance her political aspirations | AL.com
November 25, 2014
AL.com reports: Secretary of State Jim Bennett said today that Alabama's new photo voter ID law caused only a few inquiries to his office during the Nov. 4 election.
The general election was the biggest test yet of the law, with 1.2 million people voting. It was in effect for the first time during the primaries in June. ..
Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, an outspoken opponent of the law before the election, said it was a factor in the 40 percent turnout, lowest for a general election since at least 1986. -- Alabama's photo voter ID law declared a success; not everyone agrees | AL.com
November 20, 2014
Taking contributions may be legal under the campaign-finance law, but illegal under the Ethics Act
The Montgomery Advertiser reports: State Sen. Clyde Chambliss is facing a complaint filed with the State of Alabama Ethics Commission alleging a conflict of interest in actions he took as a Prattville city councilman.
The Prattville Republican resigned from his post on the city council on Nov. 5, the same day he was sworn in to the Legislature. Prattville resident Jon Lee Finnegan filed the complaint.
Her complaint stems from Chambliss' Senate campaign receiving contributions from AUTO PAC, a political action committee of automobile dealers in the state. According to campaign finance disclosure forms filed with the Secretary of State's office, Chambliss receive a total of $13,500 in contributions from the PAC.
While on the council, Chambliss voted for an incentives package used to keep Long Lewis Ford of the River Region's dealership in Autauga County. Long Lewis Ford of Muscle Shoals contributed $2,500 to AUTO PAC on Feb. 2, finance disclosure forms show. In August, Long Lewis Ford of Muscle Shoals purchased the former Gilmore Ford in Prattville, and the business was renamed Long Lewis Ford of the River Region. -- Chambliss faces ethics complaint
November 19, 2014
Study argues switching to elected judges will help Alabama's economy
AL.com reports: For years, voices from the left have called for an end to partisan judicial elections in Alabama. Now, a free market think tank at Troy University has added support from the other side of the political spectrum.
The Manuel H. Johnson Center for the Political Economy on Tuesday released a study examining Alabama's judicial system and draws two main conclusions:
• Using partisan elections to select judges results in a lower-quality judiciary.
• Holding all parties in multi-defendant civil cases responsible for the entire judgment - even when some are far more responsible for the harm in question - hurts economic vitality by discouraging investment by bigger companies. -- Should Alabama switch to appointed judges? Study argues it would improve economy | AL.com
November 12, 2014
Roundup of stories on Alabama redistricting argument
Thanks to Rick Hasen for collecting these.
Disclosure: I am one of the counsel for the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus plaintiffs.
November 5, 2014
"Alabama Democrats take redistricting fight to the Supreme Court"
Kyle Whitmire writes a "curtain raiser" on ALcom: When state Rep. Daniel Boman ran for the legislature in 2010, it was a lot easier for him to picture Alabama House District 16 in his head. You could pretty much pull any Alabama History text book from a high school library shelf and see the boundaries - Lamar and Fayette counties - on the map on one of the first few pages.
But when running for reelection four years later, after the Alabama Legislature redrew the lines in 2012, he had to learn a different district.
Half of Lamar County has been cut from the district. In its place was added northeast Tuscaloosa County and northwest Jefferson County. Boman lives in Sulligent, about three miles from the Mississippi line, but his district now stretches half the width of the state, all the way to Gardendale.
"For me to cover that much geography is tough," Boman said Tuesday going into a an Election Day fight he would ultimately lose. "The other part is just trying to figure just what part I represented." -- Alabama Democrats take redistricting fight to the Supreme Court | AL.com
Note: the story talks generally about the ALBC v. Alabama case set for argument one week from today. I am one of the plaintiffs’ counsel in the case.