Sweet Home Politics

Monday, October 22nd, 2018   |   Español

Author Archives: Steven Boydstun

  1. Welcome to Shawshank: Prison Reform in Alabama

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    We can’t talk about prison reform without a quote from the iconic Shawshank Redemption, the 1994 film starring Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins. If you’ve ever watched TNT on any given weekend, you’ve seen it. So here’s a fitting quote from Morgan Freeman’s character, Red:

    “These walls are funny. First you hate ’em, then you get used to ’em. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on them. That’s institutionalized.”

    Alabama’s prison system has been the subject of investigation and debate the past several months, starting with Julia Tutwiler prison for women in Wetumpka. Recently, the Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections, Kim Thomas, stated Alabama spends $43 per day per inmate to house prisoners. This is well below the national average of $70 per day. With only $43 per inmate per day to work with, Thomas said that leaves no room to fund rehabilitation programs to help prisoners assimilate into society as law-abiding citizens after their release.

    In January, the U.S. Department of Justice released investigation results which found Tutwiler prison’s conditions were in violation of the Constitution and cited “a history of unabated staff-on-prisoner sexual abuses and harassment.” Not to mention Tutwiler prison currently houses almost 300 more inmates than it was designed to hold. This is deplorable in the fullest sense of the word.

    Without opportunities for rehabilitation prisoners go back into society at a huge disadvantage and much more likely to end up back in prison. If they have no skills and haven’t been counseled on how to get their life back together after prison and obey the law, they will – just like Red on Shawshank said – eventually depend on the walls of prison because it’s all they know. It’s not that all these ex-cons want to keep breaking the law — though I’m sure some do — but for the most part they need someone to show them they care and that there’s a better way to live.

    Ministers and volunteers can only do so much. We need more education, rehabilitation, and better conditions for our state inmates. I’m not suggesting we give inmates a pillowtop mattress, plush bath robes, and concierge service. I’m talking about basic human dignity and basic human living conditions, which we are not currently meeting.

    Prison reform is not a “sexy” issue for politicians to work on. It’s not a big vote-winner, either, and it requires upsetting some people as a result of diverting more funds to prisons and away from other things. This could be why so many legislators only give the need for prison reform lip service – “Oh yes, prison reform is definitely needed. Next question.” But, thankfully Senator Cam Ward is one of the few in our legislature to step up to the plate and be an advocate for this issue.

    The Alabama State House is not known for being a showcase of our brightest and best, but Senator Ward (R – Alabaster) is an exception, bringing a refreshing combination of competence and good sense to a body badly in need of both. He has become the legislature’s “face” on this issue, which is encouraging as reform might actually happen with his leadership. Senator Ward said recently it will take more than him, though, for real change to take place, noting that public support must be present for it to really be successful. He also noted if we do nothing the federal government will fix our prisons for us.

    We certainly don’t want the feds messing with our prisons… that would be a disastrous and an unconstitutional overreach of this increasingly-tyrannical federal government (that’s sarcasm). Governor Bentley’s inauguration speech in 2011 included a “screw Washington”-type passage, including the quote, “I will defend our right to govern ourselves under our own laws and to make our own decisions without federal interference.”

    Ok, that’s great. We want to be self-sufficient. We should want that. “We dare defend our rights,” as our state motto says. Why is it, though, states like Alabama (which was recently ranked 49th out of 50 for most federally dependent states) are the most vehemently anti-Washington? If Washington, D.C. said “no more funding for you, Alabama,” we would quickly fall on par with third world countries.

    So this basically has two points. First, we should reform our prisons on our own, and thankfully, we have some competent leaders working on it. However, we still have a long way to go. Second, we should chill with the anti-Washington rhetoric, lest we be reminded how poor we really are when on our own. If Governor Bentley and our legislators really want to demonstrate that we don’t need Washington to help us run our affairs, this is a prime opportunity for them to put our money where their mouth is.

  2. Marriage: Civil vs. Religious

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    Last summer the Supreme Court of the United States struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law which allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages which took place in states where it is legal. It also prevented many married gay couples from receiving benefits like insurance and healthcare that their straight counterparts were entitled to by virtue of being married. The interesting thing about the DOMA ruling is that they cited the 14th Amendment which contains the Equal Protection Clause as their rationale for striking down DOMA.

    Now, I’m not a lawyer…yet. But when the ruling was issued last year it seemed that by using the 14th Amendment as a rationale, SCOTUS was painting with a rather large brush stroke which many rightly predicted would open up more legal challenges as a result of DOMA’s demise. If each state’s ban on same-sex marriage were a domino, the Supreme Court flicked the biggest one first and the rest are tumbling down one by one.

    Since DOMA was struck down, no ban on same-sex marriage or benefits has survived when challenged in court. Zero. Nada. None. As of today, 19 states recognize same-sex marriage with several others in limbo. A classic talking point for those opposing same-sex marriages was that only a few crazy liberal states on the northeast and “left” coasts recognized it and they were a secular minority that would never infiltrate the traditional Midwest or pious South.

    They were wrong.

    Only 2 states either do not recognize same-sex marriage or are not currently facing legal challenges to its ban on it: North Dakota and South Dakota. 48 of our fifty states either recognize same-sex marriage or are in legal battles which will likely result in the overturning of most if not all of the remaining states’ bans. Which brings me to the Heart of Dixie.

    When asked about it last week, Governor Robert Bentley gave a diplomatic and respectable answer. He said he and Attorney General Luther Strange would defend Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage, telling one reporter, “I have to defend the constitution…I don’t pass the laws. The legislature passes the laws, the people vote on the constitutional amendments.” He added, “Laws change; people’s ideas change. The people of Alabama voted 81 percent to have the ban on same-sex marriage, and it’s in our constitution. Whatever the people vote on, I support. I believe in the people’s right to vote and this is how they feel, so I support the people.”

    Governor Bentley’s statement, even if you disagree with him, made his position clear while respecting people on both sides of the issue. He didn’t turn into a holy roller or predict the impending doom of the republic; and for that, I am relieved. Our state’s Chief Justice could learn from him.

    A similar response came from Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, also a Republican, last week when a federal judge struck down that state’s ban on same-sex marriage. He issued a statement, saying, “Given the high legal threshold set forth by Judge Jones in this case, the case is extremely unlikely to succeed on appeal.” The Governor included a distinction between his personal views and his duty as Governor by noting “As a Roman Catholic, the traditional teaching of my faith has not w​​avered. I continue to maintain the belief that marriage is between one man and one woman. My duties as Governor require that I follow the laws as interpreted by the Courts and make a judgment as to the likelihood of a successful appeal.”

    Thankfully, another high-profile conservative whose words and acts can explain to the rest of us the difference between civil and religious marriage has come forward. After all, as I’ve pointed out before, using the government to usurp people’s rights is anything but conservative.

    There are two sides to a marriage: legal and spiritual. Civil marriage just means that it’s recognized by the government and you receive the legal benefits of marriage such as joint insurance, next of kin status, etc. Religious marriage means your faith recognizes and celebrates your union in accordance with the teachings and traditions of that faith denomination. You can have one or both aspects in a marriage.

    In the United States, a couple can get a marriage license at the courthouse, have a minister officiate the wedding, and both the civil and religious entities recognize the marriage as a result of one ceremony. But, in many European countries all couples are required to first go through a civil marriage officiated by a government official and after that a religious ceremony is at the couple’s discretion.

    If one’s religious beliefs prohibit same-sex marriage, my only suggestion would be to attend a church and a denomination that does not perform them. That’s a religious matter. As a legal matter, two consenting adults should be able to do just about whatever they want as long as it does not infringe upon the legal rights of others.

    That’s freedom. That’s America.

  3. Where are the Big Jims of Today?

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    Thanks to the Electoral College, Alabama plays a pretty insignificant role in presidential politics. Only a handful of states actually matter in presidential elections. This is one area in which we are in the same boat as California and New York. What could we in Alabama possibly share in common with those two states? We are token votes for the respective parties our states as a whole vote for.

    The Democrats know they can count the electoral votes along the East and West coasts. Republicans know they will do well in the Midwest and will sweep the Deep South. That’s just how it is today. If Alabama would become a two-party state, as I talked about before, we might actually have more influence not just in elections, but in reaping the benefits associated with being a swing state.

    As a result, presidential elections are usually an interesting, but not captivating experience for us in Alabama. Instead, the governor’s race is the real marquee event. Alabama has been home to some of America’s most colorful politicians. Few would argue the most colorful governor to date would be James “Big Jim” Folsom, Sr. Big Jim was completely uninhibited. He made the average person take an interest in campaigns and go out and vote for him. As a populist, his famous slogan was that he was “the little man’s big friend.”

    Even contemporarily, we’ve had some great election drama and campaign ads. Not to be outdone, in 2006 Big Jim’s son, James “Little Jim” Folsom, Jr. ran an ad in which he enumerated the number of shotguns he owned, how many children he has, and how long he’s been married. He did this while not-so-subtly painting his opponent, Luther Strange, as an elitist, claiming he does not “play tennis at the Mountain Brook Club” and that he’d “rather be hunting instead.”

    And we can’t forget Little Jim’s claim to fame – he brought “Muh-say-dehs” to Alabama!

    But as we near the end of the current electoral quadrennium and face a new statewide election cycle, it can really only be summed up in one word: boring.

    Gov. Robert Bentley will easily win the governor’s race with plenty of percentages to spare, as will most any Republican incumbent. “Back in the day” there was not as much to do for entertainment and campaign season was more like campaign theater for people, as candidates would drive into a town square, stand on the back of a tailgate, and get the crowd all excited to go out and vote for them.

    With that in mind, I often forget this is an election year. Maybe things will get more interesting as the primaries approach, as winning the Republican primary is tantamount to winning the election these days. But I don’t have much hope. Bentley will run on his platform of creating jobs and not taking a salary.  Dr. Parker Griffith will run a respectable campaign challenging Bentley’s record. Vanilla, party of two.

    However, in the vanilla scene that is Montgomery this election cycle, there is one colorful politician that we are going to have to depend on to throw her rouge into the mix: Kay Ivey.

    Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey is facing a Tea Party Republican named Stan Cooke in the June primary, and will face Democrat James Fields in November. This will likely cause her to spend a significant amount of time and money in campaigning and advertising. I for one am glad she is facing opposition. Not because I don’t like her, but because that fuels the best campaign ads.

    We need Kay Ivey to dust off the campaign ad cobwebs around here and throw out some homespun Wilcox County realness all the way from the shoals to the shore. After all, “the People’s Business” is at stake. The People’s Agenda must be fulfilled. The People’s Lieutenant Governor must prevail. The People’s Bourbon must be had neat with the rap of a gavel.

    Honorable mention for campaign ads goes to Dale Peterson, for one of the most epic campaign commercials ever during his campaign for Agriculture Commissioner in 2010. Dale has entered the race for State Auditor, but I feel like the gusto which propelled him to jump off that horse and swing around his rifle may have gone out of him in the intervening years. But I could be wrong.

    Alabamians love a good Governor’s race. We even love a good Lt. Governor’s race if it’s interesting enough. The people deserve more from state government in many ways, but if they are not going to adequately fund our schools and spend their time in session debating about the Ten Commandments, we should at least deserve a fun and dramatic election cycle. Where are the Big Jims of today?

  4. Not Putin Up With It: Why Americans Should Care About the Ukrainian Situation

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    In American Foreign Policy class in college I said to my professor, “This may be a dumb question, but is Russia part of Europe or Asia?” He grinned and said “Well actually the state department and scholars have been wrestling with that question for decades. ‘Eurasia’ is the term we finally came up with.”

    Meanwhile in America, living in such a big country sharing borders with only two other countries, we can at times forget just how interconnected countries in Europe are geographically, economically, and culturally. It is easy to look at the situation in Ukraine and think “That’s their problem,” but that would be a short-sighted and frankly naïve position to take. I’m not suggesting the United States should be involved in every tiff that happens overseas. What I am saying is we should always ask ourselves how foreign affairs affect our national interest and how they align with our ideals as Americans.

    So what’s Crimea all about?

    In short, Crimea is a peninsula in Ukraine which serves as a strategic military post for Russia. It was given to Ukraine by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1954, which was fine at the time because Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union. However, with the end of the Cold War came a liberated Ukraine, which put the Crimean region of Ukraine under independent Ukrainian control.

    Interestingly, residents in Crimea overwhelmingly identify as Russian rather than Ukrainian. This may suggest Russian takeover in Crimea is welcome, and several on-the-street interviews with residents have reflected that. Knowing he would be well-received, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops into Crimea to take back the region for Russia.

    This resulted in condemnations from world leaders and organizations basically saying “You can’t do that!” To which Putin in essence replied “Psh, yeah whatever.”

    Putin points to the American invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan to highlight the alleged hypocrisy of the West on issues such as this. This difference is – opinions on the wars in those respective countries aside – the United States did not enter those countries to acquire new territory or engage in empire building.

    Putin has demonstrated by his actions a few years ago in Georgia and his current actions in Ukraine he is interested in reabsorbing many of the old Soviet countries to make Russia bigger and more powerful than ever.

    So why should we care?

    We should care anytime an elected dictator uses his country’s military to subjugate other countries in order to consolidate his country’s power and geopolitical advantage. Eastern Europe rightly gets more nervous by the day as Putin wields absolute power and faces little opposition. So why aren’t more countries making anything more than political statements condemning these actions?

    Here’s a hint: according to the CIA World Factbook Russia is second only to Saudi Arabia in crude oil exports. You mean leaders wouldn’t stand up for democratic principles if it means an interruption in oil supply? Say it isn’t so.

    I talked with former classmate Kaitlin Conway, who earned her bachelor’s degree at Troy University in political science and is currently a master’s student in international conflict analysis and resolution at George Mason University. Kaitlin points out Russia is operating under a Cold War model that was thought to have shifted, changed, or been replaced entirely after 9/11. The post-9/11 model is the idea that modern wars were not going to be between nations, but within nations and with smaller, unorganized groups, e.g. the Taliban.

    But that’s not what’s happening in this modern conflict. This is vintage soviet.

    I asked Kaitlin why Americans and Alabamians in particular should care about this. She said, “In a sense this conflict shows us the world really has not changed much. I think it’s more about how the US should be perceived. Are we still the defenders and promoters of economic freedom? Some would argue we never were, nor should we ever be. Many, however, see the US as being the champion of this.”

    Because Europe is so connected with Russia economically it is going to be hard for many European states to act in stopping Russian invasions. This is just the latest example of the need for energy independence, but that’s a whole other column.

    So why is Putin going to keep doing this? Because he can. Because we (the United States and our allies) let him. If Putin knew Europe was not dependent on Russia for oil and America would stand up for allies in Eastern Europe to the point of using force if necessary, and not just bluffing about it, he would not go around planting Russian flags in the soil of former Soviet states.

    I’m not saying we should be the world’s police and intervene in every overseas squabble. But this is more than just a squabble and part of being the world’s superpower is a responsibility to be a force for good (which we would define as democracy, human rights, free markets, etc.) and be intimidating as hell to those who want to spread tyranny and usurp the rights of the people. When rising powers like Russia and China know America will sit back and say “What happens across the sea is your business,” they know they can do just about whatever they want.

    Power is a zero-sum game. When we cede it, others will take it.

  5. Can the Legislature Give Up Itself for Lent?

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    Its Ash Wednesday folks! With the exception of Eastern Orthodox Christians (whose Lent began Monday) this day is observed throughout Christendom by Roman Catholics and many Protestant denominations alike, signifying the beginning of Lent 46 days before Easter.

    With this comes the tradition of giving something up. Many people give up chocolate or sodas, or may regulate their social media and television use. The more ambitious among us may give up their preferred type of tobacco or alcohol. All of these are things that we have in our lives, but don’t necessarily need to survive. The point is to focus more on the things that really matter and less on those that do not.

    Which leads me to, what I think, could be an excellent idea. The Alabama Legislature could give up the Legislature for Lent!

    Now, I don’t mean to make light of what is a very solemn day, but just hear me out…

    At the halfway mark, this session of the Alabama Legislature, like too many before it, has been reduced to a sideshow rather than carrying out the people’s business.

    Sen. Bryan Taylor (R – Prattville) sponsored a bill to make harsher penalties for those whose clientele include some of Alabama’s most dangerous citizens – electronic bingo enthusiasts. He wants those who promote or conspire to promote gambling, as well as those who possess a gambling machine to be hit with a Class C felony, which carries a prison sentence of up to 10 years instead of the current misdemeanor.

    Rep. Barry Moore (R – Enterprise) introduced a bill to “render null and void” parts of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). This is clearly election-year fodder as even a high school civics student would know the Supremacy Clause in the U.S. Constitution establishes that states cannot render federal law “null and void.”

    For our Democratic blunder of the session, we have the ever-outspoken Rep. Alvin Holmes (D – Montgomery). During discussion on a bill regarding the State Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors, Rep. Holmes took the opportunity to note that no African Americans were on the board. That’s a legitimate concern.

    But, somehow, his discussion on that matter shifted to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Holmes called Justice Thomas an “Uncle Tom” and made mention of the fact Justice Thomas is married to a white woman. He further defended his position to Sean Hannity of Fox News by saying, “I think Justice Clarence Thomas on the United States Supreme Court is an Uncle Tom, a black man allowing himself to be used to carry the message of a white man, which is against the interest of black people in America. In my opinion, that’s an Uncle Tom.”

    To play off Holmes’ now-famous quote, what’s wrong with the Justices we got?

    He went even further, criticizing Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, a conservative African American Republican, saying he is only taking positions “white folks tell [him] to take.”

    But Holmes didn’t stop there. Yesterday, March 4, Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin (R – Indian Springs) sponsored a bill in the House which will make abortions effectively impossible in Alabama (I won’t even go into the fact that this will surely be challenged and overturned in court if passed). She not only introduced a bill sure to fail, but went on to say that she hopes Roe v. Wade is overturned (not happening) and then compared her efforts to those who fought for racial integration of schools in Brown v. Board of Education.

    Yes, because those are clearly the same things.

    Enter Rep. Alvin Holmes stage left. Mr. Holmes said that white Republican lawmakers are hypocrites because they’re pro-life unless one of their daughters was to become pregnant by an African American man.

    So much for Republican criticism of Democrats for being too politically correct.

    And then there’s the pièce de résistance.

    Rep. DuWayne Bridges (R-  Valley) introduced a bill to allow voters to decide by referendum if the Ten Commandments could be displayed in public buildings throughout the state.

    This discussion featured some great quotes, such as Rep. Bridges’ own: “School shootings, patricide and matricide are due to the Ten Commandments not being displayed in schools and other government buildings.”

    “’Love thy neighbor’ is one of the Ten Commandments.” –Rep. Bridges. (It’s not).

    “The annotation ‘A.D.’ stands for ‘after death.’” – Rep. Bridges (It doesn’t).

    Rep. Alvin Holmes said he was the only member of the House to abide by all of the Ten Commandments. He also said adultery “means having sex with someone you hadn’t got any business having sex with.”

    And my personal favorite: “People who believe in Mohammed practice ‘Muslimism.’” – Rep. James Buskey (D – Mobile).

    It’s astounding how our government officials so fervently defend placing the Ten Commandments in public view everywhere, yet seem to know so little about them.

    While all this is happening, there is one job our legislature is supposed to do first before they discuss any other legislation: Pass a Budget.

    Instead, they vote to override that requirement each time so that they can put off voting on the budget and take on important issues like those just mentioned.

    The best thing the Legislature could do for Alabama and its people is to pass the budget, take care of the few odd issues that came up while they were out of session, take some measures to increase job growth and economic development, and go home.

    You had one job legislature. One. Job.

    So here we are. Lent A.D. 2014 — contrary to what Rep. Bridges said — stands for Anno Domini, Latin for “in the year of our Lord.” I would encourage everyone, Christian or not, to think about the things that really matter in our lives and what we can do to increase the things that do and decrease the things that do not.

    And by all means remind your legislator of the same. Passing the general fund and education trust fund budgets are what their first priority should be, not finding new circus acts.

  6. Ideological Cleansing: The State of the Alabama GOP

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    There was a day when “Republican” was a four-letter word in Alabama. And it was not as long ago as some people may think. Alabama Republicans had to basically enlist whoever was willing to join to help build their base in an almost completely Democratic state. We talked a few weeks ago about the switch that took place over time and that the parties have essentially changed in name only.

    This past weekend, some candidates who have filed to run for office as a Republican have been challenged. The Alabama GOP Executive Committee began hearings to address petitions filed by those challenging a candidate’s credentials or ideology.

    Most challenges come from GOP candidates receiving campaign contributions from the Alabama Education Association. While most interest groups that were historically Democrat-backing have started funding mostly Republicans after the Republican sweep of 2010, the AEA is one of the only groups to continue to maintain its purpose in aiding Democrats and breaking the Republican majority in the State House.

    The problem is several Republicans have taken money from AEA. Just as recently as the 2010 governor’s race, the AEA contributed to Gov. Robert Bentley’s campaign. In my view if Rep. Bradley Byrne — who was by most accounts the leading candidate — had not come down so hard against the AEA he would have won the governor’s race. Instead, the AEA-backed retired-dermatologist-turned-legislator came out of nowhere and won the brass ring.

    Will the ALGOP seek to remove Governor Bentley from the ballot this election? He is, after all, “one of them,” at least by their standards.

    An AL.com article highlighted two of the most glaring cases of Republican in-fighting.

    James Hall of Mobile is being challenged in his bid for the Alabama House of Representatives District 64. The challenge comes from Mobile resident David Preston, who cited Hall’s previous run for Congress as an Independent as grounds to challenge Hall’s Republicanism.

    Preston also said Hall made statements on Facebook during his candidacy, such as “If we don’t fight against the establishment of elite politicians, we will never get this country headed in the right direction.”

    We could argue about this all day, but I believe if George Wallace were beginning his political career today he would be a Republican. He would be a Republican because his only real ideology was victory at all costs. But Gov. Wallace ran for president as an Independent, and when he lost, he continued to be a Democrat and nobody seemed to care. By today’s standards he would be shunned for disloyalty.

    Baldwin County attorney Ginger Poynter’s candidacy has been challenged by Baldwin County Republican Party Vice Chairman John Stetzinger. He cites Poynter’s open support of and financial contribution to Democrat Bob Vance in Vance’s 2012 race against Republican Roy Moore for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court as grounds for her to be unsuitable to run.

    Stetzinger wants to say Poynter is not a Republican because she did not endorse a candidate who has been removed from office for failure to follow a court order. This is despite the fact she has been registered as a Republican in Texas, North Carolina and Alaska.

    Deeper into the realm of the absurd, Poynter went on to say that she has been “accused of being more right than Attila the Hun” in an attempt to illustrate her conservative street cred.

    Are we really living in a state where anyone left of Attila the Hun is a liberal communist hippie? Is that the standard now?

    It appears the ALGOP is engaging in an ideological cleansing of sorts to make sure their candidates are not the least bit moderate or independent thinkers.

    It is clear they have no intentions of being a “big tent” party. Apparently, they’ve never been to an SEC tailgate before, because if they had, they would know big tent parties are where all the fun is had.

  7. Roy Moore: Too Liberal for Alabama, Judicial System

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    Alabama is a conservative state, one of the most conservative in the United States. Any candidate for office that wants to win in Alabama touts his or her support of less government and lower taxes. Those are two foundational positions of conservative ideology. Unfortunately, when it comes to being conservative, Roy Moore falls short.

    Roy Moore, Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, sent out letters to all 50 governors last week asking them to join the fight for a state-led constitutional amendment defining marriage to be between one man and one woman. We’ll ignore the fact that you only have to open the Bible or a history book to see that marriage has not always been between one man and one woman and stick to the politics.

    Chief Justice Moore told the Associated Press regarding his letter, “The moral foundation of our country is under attack.” He went on to say, “Government has become oppressive, and judges are warping the law.”

    The problem is, when Roy Moore wants to use the government to regulate consensual adult behavior, he is not being conservative. Real conservatives believe less government interference in people’s lives means just that. Moore seems to think the government should only stay out of the affairs of those who want to erect 10 Commandment monuments in government buildings.

    Using his position as Chief Justice, Roy Moore has engaged in a very liberal endeavor by leading a movement to make more laws regulating people’s lives. He believes liberal judges are ruining our country by acting as legislators in robes, but that is exactly what he is doing.

    Last year, leading up to the Defense of Marriage Act hearings, Moore filed an amicus brief with the First Circuit Court of Appeals regarding DOMA. An amicus brief is a brief by a person who is not a party to the case, but, as a “friend of the court,” would like to offer their thoughts if they find the case to affect their interests or that of the public. Here is an excerpt from his brief:

    “Marriage was defined by God at creation as between a man and a woman and no rhetoric or judicial gymnastics can alter that. Congress simply recognized that immutable, self-evident truth when it passed the Defense of Marriage Act. When judges start attacking traditional marriage and the laws of nature, one wonders whether they ever learned the difference between boys and girls. Activist judges have been rewriting the Constitution for decades and now are attempting to destroy one of the most foundational principles of our society.”

    By adding his amicus brief urging the courts to uphold DOMA, he joined the ranks of organizations such as the Family Research Council, which has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for using bogus science and exaggerated statistics to slander LGBT persons.

    Leading up to, and for a while after, the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down last year by the Supreme Court of the United States, a lot of public figures were saying that the “liberal” Supreme Court was redefining marriage by overturning DOMA. On the contrary, they were doing just the opposite. The Court was saying it was not up to them to define marriage.

    Conservative columnist George Will hit the proverbial nail on the head when, in his 2013 article, he said DOMA was an abuse of federalism and that “Liberals praise diversity but generally urge courts to permissively construe the Constitution in order to validate federal power to impose continental uniformities. DOMA is such an imposition. Liberals may be rescued from it by jurisprudence true to conservative principles, properly understood.” (Emphasis added.)

    If Roy Moore wants to use public policy to continue to marginalize Americans and Alabamians simply because he has religious objections to their personal lives that is his prerogative, but he should not do so under the banner of conservatism.

    We broke off our ties with England because itsgovernment wanted everyone in the colonies to conform to the Church of England’s beliefs. Our Founding Fathers understood that genuine freedom includes religious freedom, and Roy Moore using his religious views to usurp the rights of others is anything but American.

    But, if a judge were to uphold that essential truth and protect personal freedom, Moore would surely call that judge a “liberal activist” who is a “legislator in robes.” And he should know, as that is in many ways exactly what Roy Moore is, properly understood.

  8. Booze and (Political) Parties

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    It’s just like Gov. James “Big Jim” Folsom used to say: “Y’all they trying to catch ‘ol Big Jim in a trap. And guess what? If they bait that trap with whiskey and women, they gonna catch ‘ol Big Jim every time!”

    That’s what ‘ol Big Jim said. And he was on to something.

    Politicians are known to imbibe in smoke-filled rooms while striking up deals — or at least that is a common image people have. But, could someone’s preference of liquor and wine accurately predict their political leanings? Even for non-politicians? Perhaps even one’s voting frequency?

    One recent study suggests as much. The study finds that people who lean Republican tend to prefer brown liquor while those who lean Democrat tend to prefer clear liquor.  Let’s be honest, many of us like to imbibe from time to time, or have at one point in our life.  Please do not be naïve enough to think our lawmakers in Washington and Montgomery are members of the Temperance Movement. There seem to be “clear” preferences along rather ideological lines as to what kinds of spirits people prefer.

    Not to be left out, wine drinkers made their mark as well.  Astoundingly, 14 of the 15 most popular brands among the most avid voters were wine brands.  Therefore, if a person drinks Clos Du Bois they are much more likely to vote regularly than someone who drinks Seagram’s Gin.

    There is also the age factor.  Jagermeister, for instance, is consumed mostly by younger people.  Older people are more likely to drink wine.  Younger people vote much less often than do older people.  Therefore, one can see an even deeper implication as to the average age of consumers of some brands.

    Winston Churchill became synonymous with smoking large cigars and drinking whiskey.  In fact, those large cigars became so synonymous with him that today that particular size cigar is known throughout the industry as a “Churchill” and caricatures often feature him smoking and holding a glass of scotch. He was a member of Britain’s Conservative Party for almost all of his political life.

    Is there nothing that does not divide us in this day and age?  Can we not even sit down for a libation after work without accentuating our ideological differences?  Fear not, there is hope.  Both Bicardi and Captain Morgan Spiced Rum seem to be pretty bipartisan.  Finally, something both sides can agree on.

    There really is something to the images of Southerners wearing seersucker sipping bourbon and city dwellers in posh clubs drinking martinis.  The former today tend to be conservative while the latter tend to be liberal, and our political leanings cannot only reveal themselves in our attire, our location, or even our accent. They can even show themselves during happy hour.

    Of course, there are anomalies; I count myself among them.  I prefer bourbon in the colder months and gin in the warmer months.  I guess that makes me politically confused despite having very good taste. Heck, Big Jim was a progressive years ahead of his time, but his love for whiskey is legendary. It’s not perfect science of course, but there is something rather intriguing about the whole thing.

    So next time you pour yourself a drink, look down at it.  It might just be revealing your inner ideology.

  9. Same Scalawags, Different Party

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    “The South may not be the nation’s number one political problem, as some northerners assert, but politics is the South’s number one problem.”

    This opening sentence to Professor V.O. Key’s 1949 book, Southern Politics in State and Nation, offers a felicitous and insightful summary of just how little some things have changed since 1949. To give you an idea of how much has happened since then, when Key’s book was published, George Wallace was a member of the Alabama Legislature, and as a protégé of Governor James “Big Jim” Folsom, was considered a moderate on racial issues.

    The political party in control in Alabama may have changed over time, but it seems as though the change has been in name only.  The debated issues are basically the same as they have always been.

    Many of us, whether by virtue of age or sheer preference, may not remember when Alabama was an almost exclusively Democratic state. However, for nearly a century following the Reconstruction era (1865 – 1877) the Deep South states hated the Republican Party with a passion.  A running joke at the time was that a man’s last words would often be to his children, “Never sell the farm and never vote for a damn Republican.”

    The Republicans had been, after all, the political appointees who came down from “up north” after the Civil War. These Northern transplants seized the power of government and oversaw the rebuilding of the subjugated South.

    I often wonder how Reconstruction would have been handled had President Lincoln not been assassinated.  I am convinced — to borrow a term from the 41st President — it would have been a kinder, gentler America that rebuilt the former Confederacy.  As a result, the course of history would have likely altered making America a different place even today.   Thanks a lot, John Wilkes Booth.

    It was often said after Reconstruction and well into the latter half of the 20th century that Alabama had a “one-party system,” as practically all elected offices in the State were held by Democrats.  This characterization is unfitting in some ways, however, as there existed what could more accurately be described as a “no-party system.”

    Alabama’s Democratic loyalties were mainly for external affairs such as presidential and congressional races.  Inside the State, there were so many factions within the same party one could hardly describe it as a “one-party system.”  In this way the South was and is, in my view, anomalous in that unlike most of democratic civilization, we don’t really have political parties in the traditional sense.  We have now, just as we had then, a common umbrella under which stand many groups with competing interests.

    Today we see the same thing under the new era of Republican control.  There are essentially two groups of Republicans today: “Establishment” Republicans and “Tea Party” Republicans.  During a primary there is in-party fighting, which usually includes a Tea Party group criticizing a more establishment Republican for not being conservative enough.  The establishment will also state that candidates as extreme and stubborn as Tea Partiers will never work to build consensus and get anything accomplished.

    One has only to look at last year’s congressional race in the 1st district.  We saw Bradley Byrne, who was painted as an establishment Republican, up against Dean Young, who was considered, among other things, a Tea Partier.  The Democrat on the ticket was always obligatorily mentioned during coverage at the end for journalistic integrity’s sake, but everyone knows the real fight for victory these days takes place in the Republican primary.

    Because of that, Alabama will continue to be irrelevant in national politics and a factitious free-for-all in State politics.  Thanks to the Electoral College only a small handful of states actually matter in presidential elections.  As long as Alabama is a checkbox on either party’s list of default states they can depend on, we will continue to be treated like a checkbox.  And, dare I say, if so it’s no less than we deserve, because we can change our circumstances with our ballots each election, but we too often choose not to.

    The Solid South is still solid, just as it has always been.  The only difference is state and local officials have traded in their giant collective Eeyore umbrella for a newer, shinier Dumbo umbrella; you still need knee-high galoshes though.

  10. Common Core, Divided Goals

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    One of the touchstone issues in Alabama politics recently has been where one stands on the Common Core standards for K-12 schools.  I see pictures online of school children holding up signs, presumably given to them by their parents, in front of the Alabama State House that say “STOP COMMON CORE!” My initial reaction was these signs are tantamount to saying “LEGISLATURE: STOP MAKING US SMARTER!”

    We do several things well in Alabama, but unfortunately, adequately preparing our public school students for college and careers is not one of them. That’s not to say things are not getting better, because data show things are getting better. However, we still have a long way to go.

    Common Core started as a joint venture between state superintendents, governors, higher education and the business community all over the country in response to studies that show that the United States is falling behind many other industrialized countries in education. In Alabama, Common Core was adopted during the Riley administration with little controversy.

    What is interesting is that all but a handful of states have also adopted the Common Core with little to no controversy.  The controversy began when the policy was tied to President Obama’s “Race to the Top” for schools.  Common Core is a joint partnership between states, but its former perception has been distorted by politics.

    Let’s be honest, in places like Alabama, tying President Obama’s name to a program or piece of legislation is the “kiss of death.”  Common Core was a non-issue until then. Now, it’s called a socialist and egregiously overreaching program by the federal government on an issue that should be handled by the individual states.

    But that’s just it, the states are the ones working together to establish a standardized level of competence for K-12 students. Everyone should read what the standards are to be better familiar with them. They can be found here: http://www.corestandards.org/the-standards.

    Let’s not get carried away, though. A lot of policy makers and parents want a “silver bullet” to solve our educational problems.  No such bullet exists, and according to Phillip Grant, a PhD student in Education Administration and Policy at The University of Georgia, it is not manifested in the Common Core.

    He describes the mixed bag of Common Core by saying, “These standards help students discern arguments, what makes them relevant and what doesn’t. These are skills that everyone needs, and the English Literature standards are filled with things that every person needs to know. From how to read poetry to how to write someone a letter and discern reliable sources from non-reliable sources, these standards are excellent and help teachers do unit planning.”

    But, Grant also notes that the standards could be improved by increasing character and civic education, offering flexibility for creative teachers, and including suggestions for making the material relevant for teachers. On the negative, he notes that while everyone can agree all students should be able to adequately read and write upon graduating from high school, not every student needs to know advanced statistics.  A more practical curriculum could benefit many students, especially those who are planning to enter the workforce or attend a technical school after high school.

    One criticism is that Common Core does not give teachers flexibility and makes teachers “teach for a test” rather than expand minds.  One must ask, though, if we are indeed adequately expanding the minds of students, should they not be able to pass the test? According to a source in the Alabama Department of Education, Common Core standards do not dictate what text a teacher must teach.

    The examples of books the Common Core Committee used for reading standards were, purposely, texts that are out of print so teachers could use whatever books they felt were most relevant and apply the standards to that text. These standards, according to a source, give teachers a framework for how to break down and examine the text of their choice.

    A school cannot eliminate any Common Core standards, but states can add to the standards.  This is a mechanism for schools to tailor Common Core to the needs of students at the local level, which puts one of the program’s biggest criticisms on shaky ground.

    Common Core is hugely popular among military families, those in the business community and among families who move to different states on a somewhat regular basis for work. It allows their children to relatively be on the same track they were on in their previous state without jumping too far ahead of where they were or digressing too far back.

    Before Common Core there was a lot of inequality in curriculum among the states.  The goal of Common Core is that no matter where a student lives, the fundamental standards for that grade should be uniform.

    It may have been okay one hundred years ago for students in Alabama to leave high school with a totally different standard of knowledge than a student in New York, but in today’s global village, Alabama students should more appropriately be looked at as American students.  Our children are going to have to compete against global standards, not just the standards of those in our neighboring states.

    Common Core is no silver bullet, but it’s a step in the right direction.