Track­ing Al­abama pol­i­tics un­der the radar

Cherokee County Herald - - VIEWPOINTS -

While the pres­i­den­tial race played out this year, sev­eral things hap­pened in Al­abama pol­i­tics that went un­der the radar.

First, a fed­eral ap­peals court up­held the leg­is­la­ture’s ban­ning PAC to PAC trans­fers. The new Repub­li­can leg­isla­tive ma­jor­ity that marched into the State­house in 2011 set out to de­stroy and bury the last bas­tion of Demo­cratic power in the state — the once om­nipo­tent Al­abama Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion. They suc­ceeded.

One of the legs they sawed off was the PAC to PAC money laun­der­ing scheme that AEA so adroitly used to fun­nel and hide their cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions. The pri­mary ben­e­fi­ciary of the AEA trans­fer was to Joe Reed’s Al­abama Demo­cratic Con­fer­ence. The three judge panel’s rul­ing does not limit the amount of money that the ADC can raise, it just dis­al­lows the AEA from trans­fer­ring money to their sis­ter or­ga­ni­za­tion.

The AEA/ADC coali­tion was not the only group us­ing this PAC to PAC shell game of hid­ing cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions. The prac­tice was per­va­sive. How­ever, the ADC was the one that sued to say that the PAC to PAC pro­hi­bi­tion was un­con­sti­tu­tional be­cause it banned free speech and due process.

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Luther Strange praised the rul­ing say­ing “the PAC to PAC trans­fer ban has been in­stru­men­tal in lim­it­ing cam­paign cor­rup­tion while adding greater trans­parency to the elec­tion process.” This fed­eral court rul­ing has ham­mered an ad­di­tional fi­nal nail in the cof­fin of the once vaunted AEA.

In early Oc­to­ber, the U.S. Jus­tice De­part­ment launched a statewide in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the safety and san­i­tary con­di­tions of Al­abama’s men’s pris­ons. It has been com­mon knowl­edge that Al­abama’s pris­ons are over­crowded. It is prob­a­bly a fore­gone con­clu­sion that there is a very real pos­si­bil­ity that the fed­eral courts may in­ter­vene and take over con­trol of our pris­ons.

The state al­ready set­tled a suit with the De­part­ment of Jus­tice over prob­lems with the Ju­lia Tutwiler women’s prison in We­tumpka aris­ing out of al­le­ga­tions of phys­i­cal and sex­ual vi­o­lence. This set­tle­ment oc­curred about a year ago. The Jus­tice De­part­ment is now say­ing that the same prob­lems ex­ist in the men’s pris­ons. The DOJ inves- tiga­tion may very well be the pre­cur­sor to fed­eral in­ter­ven­tion.

The prison prob­lem will have to be front and cen­ter when the leg­is­la­ture con­venes in Fe­bru­ary. State Se­na­tor Cam Ward of Shelby County, who chairs the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee and has been at the fore­front of the prison is­sue, says, “At the end of the day you have to change the fa­cil­i­ties to some de­gree not just for the safety of in­mates but for the safety of those who work there.”

Al­abama’s pris­ons were at 178 per­cent ca­pac­ity in July. This se­vere over­crowd­ing is the pri­mary con­tribut­ing fac­tor to vi­o­lence in pris­ons. There have been six homi­cides at the St. Clair Cor­rec­tional fa­cil­ity be­tween 2011 and 2014. There have been ri­ots at Hol­man prison in Atmore. The Bibb and Besse­mer cor­rec­tional fa­cil­i­ties have seen nu­mer­ous al­le­ga­tions of phys­i­cal and sex­ual abuse. All three U.S. At­tor­neys in the State have tac­itly agreed with the Jus­tice De­part­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The Gover­nor’s Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil on gam­bling is meet­ing and will for­mu­late a plan of ac­tion to pro­pose to the leg­is­la­ture when they con­vene in Fe­bru­ary. This seven-mem­ber ad­vi­sory panel will ex­am­ine the en­tire gam­bling gam­bit. Hope­fully, this coun­cil will pro­mul­gate a plan of ac­tion for gam­bling in Al­abama.

This is­sue of gam­bling has plagued the state for decades. In fact, it has ex­isted since the state’s found­ing. Gam­bling rev­enue is prob­a­bly the state’s largest po­ten­tial rev­enue source. Our state is los­ing mil­lions of dol­lars to our sur­round­ing states.

Hope­fully, this coun­cil will look at all as­pects of gam­bling in­clud­ing the lot­tery, how to ex­tract some money from the Poarch Creek In­dian casino mo­nop­oly, and also al­low­ing the lo­cally sanc­tioned fa­cil­i­ties in Greene, Ma­con and Lown­des coun­ties to ex­ist and pay some state taxes.

The coun­cil should have a rec­om­men­da­tion to give the leg­is­la­ture by Jan­uary 31, 2017, in time for the leg­isla­tive ses­sion in Fe­bru­ary.

The race for our open U.S. Se­nate seat is be­gin­ning to per­co­late. Can­di­dates will be wise to avoid the in­terim ap­point­ment to the seat by Gov. Bent­ley. The early fa­vorites to win elec­tion to the seat are At­tor­ney Gen­eral Luther Strange and Con­gress­man Robert Ader­holt. A host of vi­able can­di­dates will en­ter the fray.

Steve Flow­ers is Al­abama’s lead­ing po­lit­i­cal colum­nist. His weekly col­umn ap­pears in over 60 Al­abama news­pa­pers. He served 16 years in the state leg­is­la­ture. Steve may be reached at www.steve­flow­ers. us.

By Steve Flow­ers

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.