Sweet Home Politics

Tuesday, November 13th, 2018   |   Español

Category Archive: Blog

  1. The Northern Beltline a Boon to Northwest Birmingham

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    Construction on the 52.5-mile, $5.4 billion Northern Beltine is underway, and the project could not come any sooner for the region.

    It has been 30 years since the completion of I-459 helped launch southeast Birmingham’s phenomenal growth. The Northern Beltline presents the same opportunity for northwest Birmingham. Even before construction ends, the beltline is expected to boost the corridor’s population by 3.4 percent and its number of businesses by 4 percent.

    The completion of a beltline around Birmingham is long overdue. Without a northern loop, the region’s growth spread unevenly to the southeast – creating congestion in the communities along US highways 31 and 280. The Northern Beltline will alleviate that southeastward expansion and provide more opportunity for affordable housing closer to the region’s urban core.

    The state could not afford to turn down this federally funded project. The beltline will create an estimated $155 million in new tax revenue during its 35-year construction timeline and $54 million in new tax revenue annually afterwards, according to a report done by the University of Alabama’s Center for Business and Economic Research. The beltline will also support the recovering construction industry with the creation of nearly 70,000 jobs — the equivalent of 23 Mercedes plants.

    Our region’s reliance on automobiles is not going away anytime soon. Interstate exits are our equivalent of subway stops. They connect our communities and open up new economic opportunities. For 30-plus years, the northwest Birmingham region did not have the same opportunities as the southeast. The Northern Beltline offers such an opportunity to benefit northwest Birmingham and the region as a whole.

  2. House of Byrnes

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    Is Alabama’s new, premier political family anything like “House of Cards” characters: Frank and Claire Underwood? You might think that, but I couldn’t possibly comment…

    Bradley Byrne is like Frank Underwood

    Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01)

    Bradley Byrne is a cunning, sharp United States Congressman from South Alabama. On top of his equally thin hairline, Rep. Bryne stays true to his southern roots and during his short time in Congress, he’s already holding his own with his northern counterparts. A lawyer by trade, Bradley Byrne took on the Alabama Education Association and his battle cry has always been “I won’t back down.” Congressman Byrne loves his district more than sharks love blood.

    Congressman Frank Underwood (SC-05)

    Frank underwood is a cunning, sharp United States Congressman (SPOILER — turned Vice President) from South Carolina. During Season One, Frank is majority whip in the House of Representatives. Underwood is also a lawyer by trade, and took on the American Federation of Teachers in Season One, Episodes 5 and 6.  Underwood, like many southern boys, is slow with his words but fast on his feet.

    Rebecca Byrne is like Claire Underwood

    Rebecca Byrne, President & CEO, Community Foundation of South Alabama

    Rebecca Byrne is a dynamic Congressman’s wife. You won’t catch her wasting away the day at the country club, but instead, she has become a non-profit powerhouse. Mrs. Byrne is currently the executive director for United Way of Baldwin County, where she is most-recently credited with increasing grants for the non-profit by more than $700,000. Just announced today, however, is that Mrs. Byrne has been named the new president and CEO of the Community Foundation of South Alabama. Mrs. Byrne is a mover and a shaker… We’re guessing she likes irons, but she loves fire.

    Claire Underwood, Executive Director, Clean Water Initiative

    Claire Underwood is point-for-point every bit as dedicated and resolute as her husband. She is executive director and lobbyist for The Clean Water Initiative and throughout Season One, she is a ruthless fundraiser for her cause. Together with her husband Frank (whom she calls “Francis”), Claire is a major player in their ever-powerful relationship. She’s not really the sort of enemy you want to make.

    Alex Schriver is like Doug Stamper

    Alex Schriver, Chief of Staff

    Alex Schriver is an incredibly calculated chief of staff and Congressman Byrne’s right hand man. At age 25, he is one of the youngest chiefs, ever. He was very influential working on Byrne’s previous gubernatorial campaign, ran his congressional campaign, and served as Director of the College Republicans national group in between the two. Alex is the Byrnes’ chief problem solver and master strategist. Upward mobility has a ceiling with the Byrnes… Alex is that ceiling.

    Doug Stamper, Chief of Staff

    Doug Stamper is a unique chief of staff to Congressman Underwood. If there’s a problem to be solved, Stamper is on it. Often times, he operates unilaterally without direction from Underwood, because Underwood trusts him that much. As Underwood’s power and influence increases, so does Doug’s. Sometimes, for his job, he has to put fear into other people.

  3. Barking up the Wrong Tree in the Alabama House

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  4. The Sermon on the Mount-gomery

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  5. Republicans Still Don’t Get It

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    Republicans still don’t get it. After Mitt Romney’s “shocking” defeat in the 2012 presidential election, the Grand Old Party rightly embarked on a rebranding campaign. The Republican candidate lost big among key demographics, including women, LGBT people, African-Americans and Hispanic voters.

    The Growth and Opportunity Project report — an effort to say what went wrong in 2012 and how to fix it — contained reform suggestions like taking on corporate welfare, talking differently about so-called “women’s issues,” tamping down anti-gay rhetoric, and tackling campaign finance and the outsized influence of special interest groups.

    If you watched the Republican rebuttal to the State of the Union, you would have heard platitudes in lieu of substance. As political consultant and pundit Jimmy Williams said, “Mrs. Rodgers … prayed for America, for the president and gave America a rebuttal with absolutely no policy positions. None, not a single specific policy position was introduced. She did tell America ‘we have plans to improve our education and training programs.’ … Well frankly, the last thing in the world I need is to be told I can dream.”

    The GOP got the tone and optics right with Rep. Cathy Rodgers McMorris, but there was no “there” there. The best thing that can be said about her earnest speech was that she did no harm. That’s not good enough.

  6. Not Getting Jobbed by Bentley’s Job Numbers

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    Three weeks after Gov. Robert Bentley delivered his State of the State address, critics and Alabama media members have started looking into Bentley’s job growth platform. Unsurprisingly, it’s shaky at best.

    Up first, the renown Wayne Flynt. Flynt chronicles on AL.com how Alabama’s original economic development strategy was formed in 1875 and hasn’t changed much since. Flynt explains the thinking at the time, “Recruit low-wage, low-skill industry that will move plants to the lowest cost production site. After 1900, sweeten the pot with tax incentives, rebates, and job training.”

    You’d think by now that the state would figure out that playbook has failed us for 100-plus years, but alas, Bentley wasted no time dusting it off and following it verbatim. As Flynt points out, this playbook relies primarily on the manufacturing sector. Yes, the industry that’s been shedding jobs since the mid-1900s and has evolved rapidly over the past two decades alone. It’s time for a new playbook, governor.

    Want to see Alabama’s tax incentives for corporations? Too bad. Ty West of the Birmingham Business Journal looks at a study that ranks Alabama 44th “when it comes to transparency over economic development incentives.” The Good Jobs First study scored our state’s transparency as a 16 out of 500. The national average was 7 times that. So not only is the state’s economic growth strategy outdated, it’s also classified.

    Gov. Bentley credits himself with 60,000 created jobs. Eh, more like 30,000. Brian Lyman of the Montgomery Advertiser contests Bentley’s numbers (60,000) with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (30,000). Then, Lyman deconstructs Bentley’s touted figures one by one. Unemployment numbers? Lower because of a shrinking work force. High-paying jobs? The manufacturing and leisure & hospitality have been the only sectors growing much during Bentley’s tenure. Bentley’s communications team defends his numbers in the article by citing an aging state population and a growing trucking industry, but they are just grasping at straws at this point.

    You can’t forget the “future jobs” that Gov. Bentley has created, though. Yup, Bentley mentioned the “40-thousand new future jobs we’ve created” in his State of the State. Too bad Alabama’s unemployed can’t pay their bill with the “future income” from their “future jobs.” There isn’t even any “future” in those “future jobs,” seeing that they’ll be concentrated in the low-wage, low-skilled industries of the 20th century.

  7. The Southern Snowstorm and Sprawl

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    The snowstorm that shut down much of the Southeast this week raised many questions and concerns. Did public officials adequately prepare residents? How did meteorologists miss this? Does no city in the South own a salt truck?

    All of these discussions are valid, but the one that interests me the most is how the South’s built environment contributed to the region’s shutdown. We planned our own demise by planning our communities for the car by zoning residential and commercial uses away from each other, and by locating schools away from the neighborhoods they serve through poor capital investment planning.

    Once a sense of normalcy returned and the snow melted, some made the connection between the region’s inability to handle the snowstorm and its suburban sprawl.

    Rebecca Burns, deputy editor of Atlanta Magazine, wrote the best piece I’ve seen so far. In the piece published by Politico, Burns points out how the Atlanta region’s auto-dominated culture and decision making failed it during the crisis. She didn’t make excuses for the region and tell those in the North to stop laughing, like an embarrassing Gizmodo column did. She placed responsibility on the public officials and residents who paved the road to their own troubles. Even though Burns was credited with being the first to make this connection, André Natta and I totally made this case on Twitter the day before.

    Alex Walsh of AL.com looked at the commuting data in the Birmingham region to see if the high number of vehicles on the roads exacerbated the snowstorm’s effects. Walsh found that “while nearly one in three of the area’s workers has a job in or close to Birmingham city, fewer than one in five live there.” That statistic illustrates how critical vehicles are to the region’s workers and illustrates the high demand on the road connections between downtown and the suburbs.

    Sweet Home Politics’ own Kindred Motes wrote how the snowstorm revealed the Birmingham region’s lack of mass transit. Although I don’t think a better bus system would have helped much this week, I do think that planning the Birmingham region around mass transit — called “transit-oriented development” — would have helped. Transit-oriented development concentrates mixed-use development within walking distance of transit stops, thereby creating walkability within neighborhoods and connecting them to the rest of the region.

    Lastly, the political fragmentation that sprawl has created since the post-WWII period certainly didn’t help this week, as pointed out by Conor Sen on Business Insider. The Birmingham metro alone includes seven county governments and 87 local governments. One unified response would have been impossible with that many decision makers. Political fragmentation makes long-term decisions incredibly difficult as well. The Atlanta region  voted down a ballot measure in 2012 that would have funded regional transit projections, and the Birmingham region voted down the Metropolitan Area Projects Strategy in 1992 that would have devoted funding to a regional transit system. The South has failed to grasp the sense of regionalism that the Northeast has capitalized on.

    So, even though Gov. Bentley has pled us not to play the “blame game,” I think we should at least have a conversation of what went wrong and how to be better prepared — especially in terms of our built envirionemnt.

  8. Two Good Initiatives in Alabama That Make Me Happy

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    I’m a terrible cheerleader. When any of my homes — Birmingham, Alabama and the University of Alabama — do something admirable or achieve something great, I pass on the cheering duties to those that do it best. Then, I make sure spread their excitement. I tend to respond to something by analyzing and critiquing that it’s not the most perfect decision or achievement. I’m like Todd Marinovich’s dad for the state.

    So, I realized yesterday that I haven’t written a positive piece for this site since its launched. I’ve criticized the state’s limited home rule for municipalities, the state’s refusal to fund local mass transit, and Gov. Bentley’s economic development strategy. I put a lot of time researching the history of those topics and proposing alternatives, but the stances and tone of those pieces had to come across as negative.

    And that stinks, because I’m a positive-ish person. My Twitter profile even describes me as “passionately optimistic,” and how could such an authoritative source be wrong?

    To prove that I can point out positive things happening in the state and even positive things done by the state government, let me quit stalling and do just that.

    State Historic Rehab Tax Credits

    The state passed its own historic preservation tax credits in May 2013 that, when paired with federal historic preservation tax credits, will help finance historic rehabilitation projects throughout the state. And my goodness, the $20 million program is already on its way to financing projects in Birmingham, Mobile, Tuscaloosa, Montgomery and Anniston.

    “The projects are expected to generate more than 2,300 new jobs and add $70 million in new salaries over the next three years, officials project,” AL.com’s  Michael Tomberlin reports.

    Some projects are even preparing themselves already to apply for next year’s funding.

    After much begging and pleading from local organizations and historic preservationists, this is how we all felt when this went through and when its success has become apparent:

    Land Banks!!!

    As a land use and vacant property nerd, I needed to fan myself when Gov. Bentley signed 2013 legislation that authorized local governments to establish their own land bank. I’ve explained them more in detail for a AL.com piece last year, but a land bank is a tool for a community and affected neighbors to transform vacant and tax-delinquent properties into opportunities.

    Removing blight and returning properties to tax-paying status improves both a city’s quality of life and its financial situation. Birmingham and the state’s other major cities lobbied for the legislation, and Birmingham has been working on establishing its own since the legislation was enacted.

    I don’t smile much, but I could be seen doing something to this effect when I first read the news last year:

  9. The Crimson White Covers Sweet Home Politics Launch

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    The University of Alabama’s award-winning student newspaper, The Crimson White, today covered the launch and early success of Sweet Home Politics.

    “[SHP] has had more than 10,000 page views and 6,000 unique views. Its Facebook page has 400 likes, and it has 200 followers on Twitter.” Jessica Smith reports.

    Sweet Home Politics’s bipartisan editorial board has been elated with our early-on readership numbers, columnist contributions, and following among elected leaders and politicos. It cannot be over-stated, however, that this early success could in no way be achieved without our dedicated and talented writers and columnists. Our editors do our part, but our writers are the ones deserving of any accolades.

  10. House Democrats’ Legislative Agenda

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    From the Alabama House Democratic Caucus

    Job Creation and Retention

    1)     Alabama First Act

    Priority will be given to state-based businesses when awarding government and public works contracts

     2)     Job Creation and Taxpayer Protection Act

    Requires job commitments from businesses before they can receive tax incentives or subsidies. Requires clawback provisions if job commitments are not fulfilled within five years. Requires business to stay in the state and maintain committed employment levels for five years.

     3)     Workforce Development and Training Act

    Allows the Alabama Public School and College Authority to sell and assume $20 million in bonds to help fund the Department of Post-Secondary Education’s workforce development training program.

     4)     Create a line item in the ETF for the state’s dual enrollment program

    Would put $5 million minimum per year for next five years into the program. Would provide for the line item by repealing the teacher liability insurance program created in 2013.


    1)     Repeal the Accountability Act and put the remaining funds into the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative.

    2)     6% pay raises for educators, state employees and retirees.

     2a) $1 Cigarette tax increase to shore up the $100 million hole in Medicaid and provide for the pay raises for state employees and retirees.

     3)     Create a state lottery to fund scholarships for students who maintain an A/B average and to put a resource officer in every public school in the state.

    4)     Repeal the Rolling Reserve Act.


    1)     Any elected official who resigns mid-term will be required to pay for the special election to fill their seat unless they resign due to health reasons or because they were appointed or elected to state or federal office.