Sweet Home Politics

Wednesday, December 13th, 2017   |   Español

Author Archives: John Hammontree

  1. Alabama Businessman Upends 40-Year-Old Campaign Law

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    A Hoover, Ala., businessman successfully challenged existing campaign contribution limits in the Supreme Court on Wednesday. Shaun McCutcheon, CEO of Coalmont Electrical Development, argued against the $123,200 cap on contributions an individual can give to all federal candidates, parties and PACs in a two-year election cycle.

    The 5-4 decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission rules that limits on the aggregate total of contributions donors can give to all candidates, committees and political parties are unconstitutional.

    The ruling removes 40-year-old contribution barriers to the country’s wealthiest donors, arguably affording them greater influence in federal elections.

    “The government has a strong interest, no less critical to our democratic system, in combatting corruption and its appearance,” Chief Justice Roberts states in the majority opinion. “We have, however, held that this interest must be limited to a specific kind of corruption — quid pro quo corruption — in order to ensure that the government’s efforts do not have the effect of restricting the First Amendment right of citizens to choose who shall govern them.”

    The decision is considered to be the most significant campaign-finance decision since the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling, which enabled corporations and unions to spend unlimited funds independently in order to influence elections.

    The decision split largely along ideological lines, with the court’s four most liberal justices offering a dissenting opinion.

    “Taken together with Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, today’s decision eviscerates our nation’s campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve,” Justice Stephen Breyer writes.

    The decision does not affect the existing $2,600 limit a donor can give to an individual federal candidate in each primary and general election or the $32,400 limit that can go to a national party committee.

    McCutcheon is currently finance director of the Jefferson County Republican Executive Committee and chairman of Conservative Action Fund, a conservative Super PAC. McCutcheon argued in his suit against the Federal Election Commission that lifting the ban on aggregate contributions could help candidates and parties counter the influence of Super PACs.

  2. Stop Waiting on the World to Change, Asshole

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    “Maybe in ten years.”

    It’s the worst kind of phrase because it offers pessimism and cynicism wrapped in a cloak of hope. It’s a casual way of saying, “I’m not completely opposed to the idea; I just think the majority of my peers are.” It’s a close cousin of the slightly worse “things will be better when our generation is in charge,” or to put it bluntly “when the people who disagree with me all die off.”

    It’s phrases like these — spoken by Alabama’s alleged liberal elite — that hold the state back time and time again. In fact, Alabama Democratic Conference Chair Joe Reed is so averse to challenging the status quo, that they might as well change their name to “The Maybe in 10 Years Party.”

    An example: Michael Sam has earned headlines recently for becoming the first openly gay athlete in the NFL. It’s a happy mark of the times that his announcement was generally met with praise and encouragement — from both the media, as might be expected, but also from NFL players. However, a few anonymous NFL executives offered up that little dagger, “maybe in ten years.”

    It’s telling (and typical) that Sam’s detractors are largely anonymous.

    When a large contingent of NFL athletes embraces diversity and acceptance, fewer people are willing to publicly side with bigotry. Plenty has already been written about the importance of Sam’s announcement and a cottage industry of think-pieces has emerged to discuss reactions, so I won’t dwell on the subject too much longer but I do want to pivot back to the phrase “maybe in ten years.”

    John Mayer wrote a song about it a few years ago — “Waiting on the World to Change,” the perfect song for armchair activism, admittedly catchy and oddly empowering. We all like the idea that someday our generation will be in charge and will (hopefully) run things a little better than all these assholes writing blasé op-eds about lazy millennials. But at the crux of this mentality is the idea that rather than engage those that disagree with us in a discussion of ideas — right here, right now — we’ll wait until they die off.

    Somewhere a Blue Dog Democrat or a “New” Republican is saying to a friend of theirs, “Alabama will be a lot better once the older, racist generations are gone.”

    This could be your grandfather they’re talking about. Your grandmother. Even your parents.

    But rather than engage them in a conversation about Alabama’s shared history and future, we’ll just wait for them to die; thank you very much.

    If you were raised in Alabama (and aren’t a complete asshole) the odds are high that your worldview is slightly more progressive than your parents’ were at your age. The flipside to that is that your parents’ worldview is slightly more progressive because of the impact that you have had on them.

    Your black friends. Your gay friends. Your white friends. Your bilingual friends. Your bisexual friends. They’ve not only altered your perception of the world but, in all likelihood, your parents’ as well.

    A few years ago, I moved to Washington, DC. I didn’t have a job offer, or even many prospects, but after a few months I wound up working as an unpaid intern at America Votes, an organization tied to pushing progressive ideas on a state level.

    The campaign had compiled overviews of each state’s prospects and the potential return on investment for money spent generating ideas and change. North Carolina’s hopes were slightly better than Georgia’s and slightly less encouraging than Colorado’s.

    Alabama, I noticed, didn’t even have a dossier. The state was considered too much of an obvious drain on investments. Now, as a recent expat, I was immediately insulted and astonished that they’d skip over one of the states so in need of a progressive jolt. However, after hours spent on fundraising calls and gaining an understanding of our budget, I began to think, “It probably isn’t the best use of our funds. Alabama isn’t really ready for most of this stuff anyway.”

    Perhaps even more troubling now is my work with corporate clients looking to place pilot programs for small businesses in up-and-coming communities. Despite the fact that Alabama is home to pivotal members of both the Senate Banking Committee and  House Financial Services Committee, I have found that large banks, credit card companies and technology firms view Alabama as a poor return on investment for dollars in the near term.

    And so many Alabamians are content to wait and hope for a better tomorrow. We’ll champion and laud major manufacturing wins for the state and cross our fingers that they’ll set us up for bigger and better things down the road.

    But, the fact is that “waiting on the world to change” is lazy, dishonest and counterproductive.

    There is substantial evidence that one person can have an immediate and profound impact on the world. See Rosa Parks. See Jackie Robinson. See Michael Sam. And see this overlooked, unnamed juror recently profiled in Slate.

    One year ago, nine states recognized marriage equality. This year 17 states encourage unions between loving couples. That particular fight is coming to Alabama. Not ten years from now. Not one year from now. Today.

    But there are more fights to be had. While our state representatives are squabbling over whether we should be ruled by the Old Testament, our near neighbors in Nashville and Atlanta are lobbying for high speed infrastructure from Google. Even smaller cities, such as Chattanooga, have shown vision in this arena while Birmingham patiently bides its time.

    For Alabama to turn the corner, we need to adopt a culture of confrontation and discussion about our past, present and future. We value family, stories and tradition in Alabama. We’re a state steeped in history that has a rich and troubled past to learn from.

    Our future shouldn’t be based on washing that slate clean and starting over. It should be built on the faith that we can share our stories with the generations before us, they can share their pains and their fears with us, and that we can learn from them moving forward.

    So stop waiting on the world to change, asshole. Get out there and share your beliefs with someone new.

  3. State of Alabama Sued Over Marriage Equality

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    The Southern Poverty Law Center announced today that it will bring suit against the State of Alabama challenging the constitutionality of Alabama’s prohibition against recognition of out-of-state marriages of gay and lesbian Alabamians.

    SPLC’s lawsuit, on behalf of Alabamian Paul Hard, will be filed in federal court. Hard married his partner, Charles David Fancher, in Massachusetts, which passed a law granting same-sex marriage rights in 2004.

    Because Alabama does not legally recognize same-sex marriages granted in other states, Hard has been prohibited from receiving benefits from a wrongful death lawsuit after Fancher was killed in a 2011 car crash.

    “Alabama has created two classes of marriages within its borders and deemed one of those classes – marriages between people of the same sex – to be inferior to the other,” said David C. Dinielli, SPLC deputy legal director. “This is unconstitutional.”

    Hard, a lifelong Alabamian who once was a Baptist preacher, believes he will find support in fellow Alabamians.

    “Southerners are generally good-hearted people and will recognize when a person is being unfairly treated in life’s worst moments,” he said. “Most married couples take for granted that if tragedy strikes they can proceed through the worst of times without the state saying at every turn that their marriage doesn’t even exist. Marriages are significant, and my marriage is due the same respect as any other.”

    Equality Alabama, a statewide organization dedicated to advancing the rights of LGBT individuals in Alabama, applauded SPLC’s decision to take up this case.

    “Equality Alabama emphatically supports the freedom to marry as well as the SPLC’s lawsuit challenging Alabama’s prohibition against recognition of out-of-state marriages of gay and lesbian Alabamians,” stated Ben Cooper, Equality Alabama’s Chairman. “Marriage is a fundamental freedom that should not be denied to anyone. We should protect such rights, not limit them.”

    The SLPC suit follows a pattern established recently in states such as Kentucky, where a federal judge struck down the state’s “traditional or faith-based limitation” of marriage. The ruling forces the state to recognize out-of-state marriages of gay and lesbian couples, but “does not deal with the question of whether the state can be required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, as that issue wasn’t brought up in the four lawsuits that triggered the ruling.”

    Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard responded to the lawsuit on Twitter.

  4. Adam Thompson Qualifies for State Auditor Race

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    Adam Thompson filed papers with the Alabama Republican Party yesterday, effectively making him the first candidate to qualify for the office of State Auditor. Current State Auditor Sam Shaw is unable to pursue reelection due to term limits, so Thompson is the first entrant into an open field.

    “I’m proud to be the first one to qualify,” Thompson said in a press release. “I’ve been honored to work for the people of Alabama and I hope they will allow me to continue to do so as their next State Auditor.”

    Thompson served under Beth Chapman in the State Auditor’s Office as a senior aide. He currently serves as Deputy Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Jim Bennett.

    Since announcing his candidacy last year, Thompson has conducted 70 meetings with GOP chapters across the state. He told Sweet Home Politics that the meetings confirmed his belief that “Alabamians are some of the best people in the country.” He also noted statements from a likely challenger, Anniston attorney Ray Bryan, that the office of the State Auditor should be eliminated and the duties transferred to the Legislature to streamline government.

    Thompson questions the impact that removing the independent watchdog agency could have on transparency in Montgomery. “Giving the State Auditor’s duties to the Legislature is like letting the fox guard the hen house,” he said. “It just doesn’t make good sense.”

    Among Thompson’s campaign pledges are promises to put the entire state property database online including price, date of purchase and the agency to which it belongs; removing redundancies in paperwork; and increasing government accountability and reigning in spending.

    In an amusing but telling story about a “lost” $10,000 Xerox machine, Thompson illustrated the need for greater accountability. “How do you ‘lose’ a copy machine the size of a kitchen table?” Thompson questioned.

    Thompson and presumed challenger Bryan will face off in the Republican primary on June 3. The filing deadline for candidacy is April 4.

  5. Business Council of Alabama Signs Agreement with Nation’s Largest Manufacturing Association

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    The Business Council of Alabama signed an agreement yesterday with the National Association of Manufacturers, pledging “to strengthen manufacturing advocacy, to deliver increased visibility for both organizations and to help grow the manufacturing army,” the BCA said in a statement. The NAM is the largest manufacturing association in the United States.

    The agreement establishes a vehicle to expand manufacturers’ voice in policymaking and to increase training and development opportunities for state manufacturers. The two organizations have already partnered on advocacy matters in the past, but the signed agreement deepens the relationship.

    “Our partnership goes back decades, and this effectively enhances it by expanding our abilities to brand our work and advocacy for the manufacturing community,” said BCA President and CEO William J. Canary. “We envision this will give us a powerful way to benefit both organizations and leverage our abilities to fight for issues that are important to our members and important to general manufacturing. We’re both in the business of creating jobs.”

    The BCA, formed in 1985, is Alabama’s exclusive representative of the NAM and claims to represent about 750,000 working Alabamians in Montgomery and Washington, D.C.

    “The NAM’s partnership with the BCA is among our strongest alliances,” said NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons. “Together, we are more influential in the pursuit of pro-growth policies that increase manufacturers’ ability to compete and create jobs. Growing this important partnership is key to accomplishing our mutual goals and putting our economy on the right track.”

  6. A Southern Apologist Apologizes, Sort Of

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    For me, to be Southern is to fight a constant, wearisome civil war of the soul. There is a delicate balance between a love of country; a desire for progress and the occasional frustration and self-loathing that comes from the lack thereof; a fierce pride of place, dialect and willingness to defend your friends and neighbors; a bird’s eye view of the ridiculousness inherent in all the bickering; and the occasional bouts of anger that stem from feeling looked down on by outsiders.

    Most of us don’t figure out the balance very well. We shut down, reject our upbringing and run to New York. Or we shut out opposing viewpoints, clamp down, and unilaterally declare that the North may have won the War of Aggression, but in the 21st Century these “lowly” Southern states are more American than those Yankees could ever hope to be.

    We lost the brief war on the field but won the century-long slog of perception. Why else would Hoosiers flock to gas stations to buy stars-and-bars bandanas? Why would pubs of Englishmen sing along to Lynard Skynard or Randy Newman win so many damn Oscars?

    For some people down here, it doesn’t matter what any “educated” sum’bitch says about our obesity, our reading level, our racism or our hygiene. You wanna know who lives life the right way? Then you look at a scoreboard one Saturday afternoon in October.

    For some of us, myself included, the war-between-the-states-of-mind has never been that easy. It’s been a long Texas Two-Step of righteous indignation at the willful ignorance of the more prominent and stereotypical voices of the South and furious anger at the oblivious condescension of the  Northern elite. I can shake with frustration at another movie featuring an ignorant cop with a Southern drawl, and then flip on the television the next day and see five Birmingham police officers beating an unconscious black man on the side of the highway.

    People can sit around at the dinner table and talk about just how silly that Reese Witherspoon movie really was, while feeding their dogs named Bear and Bryant scraps under the dinner table. At some point, you have to make a few great compromises with yourself, if only for the sake of some inner peace.

    I was born in Memphis and raised in Birmingham — two towns known for the “Southern hospitality” that they showed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The former being the place of his assassination and the latter of his incarceration. There’s a certain level of personal disgust that I always felt for that. Shame, I guess.

    Visit Chicago, New York or Washington, D.C., and say, “I’m from Birmingham, Alabama” and see a look of revulsion and pity flash briefly across the face of some Morally Superior employer — someone that grew up in 60s and will never forgive my hometowns for their sins.

    Of course, in the long run, it wouldn’t have mattered whether I’d been born in Memphis, Birmingham, Scottsboro, Selma, Charleston, Atlanta, Camden, Greensboro, or Little Rock — every town or city has some specter of prejudice hanging over it. How could I possibly be proud to grow up in the culture that has produced Nathan Bedford Forrest, George Wallace, John Wilkes Booth, Bull Connor, Pat Buchanan, faceless Klansmen, nameless lynch mobs, and thousands of men of illiterate, smug, racial superiority?

    Junior high and high school were times of personal Dixie-land frustration; times marked with occasions to visit “meccas of tolerance” like New York, Chicago, San Francisco. It didn’t occur to me as I read “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” — so that I might be more “compassionate” and “understanding” unlike my peers, I thought unfairly — that Malik El-Shabazz was gunned down and stepped on as violently in New York as Dr. King had been in Memphis. The award-winning “The Warmth of Other Suns” also portrays how Northern and Western cities didn’t necessarily receive black Americans with open arms during the Great Migration of the 20th Century.

    I wasn’t yet mature enough to understand that Chicago’s Cabrini Green wasn’t exactly the ideal final destination for the Underground Railroad. I simply knew that I didn’t want to be associated with what Neil Young had so succinctly and derisively labeled “Southern Man.”

    Of course, when I finally reached DePaul University in Chicago — a Catholic university melting pot — I realized my glaring mistake. There I was faced with questions of whether or not my friends wore shoes (full disclosure: one doesn’t but it’s a personal choice), whether I knew any black people (of course I do, probably more than you do in Maine, my friend), why I didn’t sound like the Southerners on television (the stock answer was “theatre knocked it out of me” but the more accurate answer was that TV-Southern voice was by and large a myth), and the general attention lavished upon me during the dorm room blaring of “Sweet Home Alabama.”

    I became much more defensive and passionate about my home state than I’d have ever imagined as a result.

    Suddenly, I realized that, by and large, things aren’t always as different in Birmingham as the national narrative leads us to believe. I reached another stage in my development as a Southerner: I was suddenly willing to go to bat for and defend the actions of the South at all costs — “Oh, yes, you’re right; thank god there were places like Harlem and Watts for black people to run to and escape the racial prejudice of the South; it’s wonderful that there are such meccas of diversity in Wisconsin, I mean you’ve got Polish and Danish people living in the same neighborhood.”

    Obviously, this back and forth was usually light-hearted, but it became something of a mission to bring people home to visit Birmingham and make them realize what they were missing.

    Inevitably, my self-appointed position as the Alabama Ambassador to Chicago grew into a desire to return home myself. Sophomore year I enrolled at the University of Alabama with the intent of better understanding and hopefully transforming my home state and city.

    Once in Alabama, I experienced something of a Northern resurgence in my inner civil war; the aura of invincibility that I’d developed about Alabama in Chicago suffered a few blows when I realized that the all-white greek system at the University had effectively kept black students from engaging in the social and political process for years.

    Poll taxes hadn’t disappeared, they’d just transformed into sorority and fraternity dues. I realized more and more that working class whites and blacks were both at a disadvantage and that the obvious angry chasm between the two didn’t do much to help their station. On a lighter note, I also developed a deeper love and appreciation for Southern food and culture.

    The Northern-fueled Southern apologist may have been advancing, but the barbecue-fed Southern pride had a nice counter punch. The South may have produced some ignorance but we were also the home of Tennessee Williams, Harper Lee, Bill Clinton, Pat Conroy, Rosa Parks and the Civil Rights movement, “Bear” Bryant and the integration of a football dynasty, favorite political commentator Charles Barkley, William Faulkner, Truman Capote, and thousands upon thousands of earnest, eager Southerners that worked side by side every day regardless of skin color.

    Travels through Europe and moves to Washington, D.C., and current residence in San Francisco, and the continuing exploration of American and World Literature, has made me revisit a passage of Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird,” which should by all accounts be considered the thesis, but is typically overlooked in exchange for the more obvious and simple story of racial prejudice:

    “No, everybody’s gotta learn, nobody’s born knowin’. That Walter’s as smart as he can be, he just gets held back sometimes because he has to stay out and help his daddy. Nothin’s wrong with him. Naw, Jem, I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.”

    There’s obvious prejudice in the South that I still detest and struggle with, but the same prejudice is a fight everywhere else in America as well. Progressives do themselves a disservice if they over look Southerners as too ignorant to be worthy of engagement; that’s the same mentality that they hated to see in Southern whites of the 1960s.

    There’s a negative perception of the South that is both merited and also unwarranted. A better personal understanding of the South has helped me figure out how to better straddle the Mason-Dixon line, and it might finally help America figure out how to erase that line.

  7. Montgomery Operatives Launch New Political Agency

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    Longtime politicos Jack Campbell and Baron Coleman have partnered together to launch Montgomery’s newest political agency, Spot On Strategies Group, LLC. The group’s website, www.spotonstrategiesgroup.com, lists only a logo and mailing address, though sources close to the firms’ partners suggest they have already signed several Republican candidates.

    Campbell, formerly of Public Strategy Associates (PSA), left his former business partner Brent Buchanan in November to start the new firm. The two founded PSA in October, 2007. He appears to have departed from PSA on good terms.

    According to an email sent by Campbell on Thanksgiving Day announcing his departure, Campbell stated that he only wanted to distance himself from the lobbying business and consequential conflicts that it created for working on political campaigns.

    Campbell added in his email that he would not take on any direct opposition to candidates he had worked to get elected while at Public Strategy Associates.