Let’s be vigilant about freedom of the press

By Steve Flowers
I have written about the legendary capitol reporters who use to cover Goat Hill.  There was Bob Ingram of the Montgomery Advertiser, Al Fox of the Birmingham News, Hugh Sparrow of the Birmingham News, Rex Thomas of the Associated Press, Don Martin of UPI and Clarke Stallworth of the Birmingham Post Herald.  A young cub reporter named Jim Bennett joined the Post Herald in 1961 and later had a distinguished career in Public Service.  None of these legends is any longer with us.
   Today’s capitol press corps also works hard, they stick with “just the facts” by conscientious research of their stories and leave out the speculations, “what-ifs”, opinion and political slants.
   The men and women I knew in the Montgomery press corps then and today, may have personal views, but they all were and are vigilant in their work as professional journalists.  They defended the freedom of the press and the right of the public to know the facts and events of public officials, their decisions and actions that will impact education, taxes and the economy.
   Over the last few years, an ongoing debate has emerged as to whether reporting on political news is still just the responsibility of professional journalists and whether online bloggers can be a trusted source of news reporting.
   The contemporary capitol press corps, like their colleagues of a bygone era, work hard to meet their deadlines.  These professional reporters put in long hours by getting evenhanded quotes, verify pertinent facts and simply report an issue, controversy, or an event in an evenhanded way.
   Online bloggers will do the same but add twists of innuendo, supposed behind the scenes reasons, and anonymous inferences.  Often the online ‘journalists’ story will present a story but give contorted extraneous, often incendiary, perspectives which have no basis in reality.
   Some suggest this is done to enhance the number of online “clicks”, make the story more salacious, attack someone’s reputation either directly or indirectly, make it cynical and infer insider deals and corruption – and you will get your clicks!
   In many cases, stories are published by journalists only to be later “reinterpreted” by online bloggers with an editorial or political agenda.
   Because of the cynicism and negativity that this new 24/7 online blogging creates, I have heard of many good men and women who would otherwise wish to give back to their communities by serving in public office essentially say – no thanks!  They have spent a lifetime building up a good reputation in their communities and businesses.  They cannot imagine where a pseudo-journalist, who is trying to build their reputation by the number of online clicks they get, can get away with attacking someone’s reputation in such a careless way.
    We must make sure that individuals get the news and information they need to be informed, responsible citizens.  Those sources can be from journalists, bloggers, and other digital platforms.
   Let’s be vigilant about the freedom of press whether it is old fashion, hard-nosed journalism or 24/7 blogging.  However, let’s also clearly delineate whether it is political opinion and gotcha stories whose sole purpose is to tarnish reputations and add to further public alienation from politics and cynicism.  Opinions are great and important to public discourse but see them for what they are – opinions of one – do not try to mask those as ‘facts’.
   Recently, the Alabama Political Reporter brought the documentary, “Atticus and the Architect”, to the Davis Theatre in Montgomery.  A packed house watched the story of former governor, Don Siegelman’s persecution. The film left no doubt that Siegelman was prosecuted for political reasons.
   Siegelman spent close to ten years in prison, unduly.  It is one of the saddest stories I have witnessed in my lifetime of following Alabama politics.  The travesty has not gone unnoticed by young potential leaders in the state.
   I have the opportunity to get to know some brilliant, young Alabamians in my University classes on Alabama and Southern politics.  Many of them are political science and prelaw majors.  I will inquire as to whether they are interested in pursuing a political career.  Most will tell me that they would never seek political office, not even a judgeship.  Invariably, they will point to the Siegelman prosecution as one of their reasons for not being a part of the political process.  They realize that their lives could be ruined by political persecution.

Shelby may be our greatest senator ever

By Steve Flowers
A few weeks back my column illuminated the career and influence attained by our senior U.S. Senator Richard Shelby.  In the column and in my book, “Six Decades of Alabama Political Stories,” I reference the fact that our current senior senator will be regarded as one of Alabama’s greatest U.S. Senators.  I consider Lister Hill, John Sparkman, and Richard Shelby in that triumvirate.  However, history more than likely will reveal that Shelby is eclipsing Hill and Sparkman in the annals of senatorial lore.
   Shelby is chairman of the Senate Rules Committee.  In his illustrious 31-year tenure in the Senate he has chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Senate Banking Committee, which in itself parallels the achievements of Hill and Sparkman.  However, Richard Shelby is next in line to take over the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.
   Therefore, it is almost comical that a few right-wing fringe members of the state Republican Party along with some kook from Texas are promising some resolution to censure Senator Shelby for not voting for Roy Moore in last year’s election.  If these folks had even walking around political sense they would be promoting a ticker tape parade for Shelby.
   I would suggest that Richard Shelby could care less what some members of the Alabama Republican Party say about his vote in the recent election.  Members of political party organizations have an inflated opinion of their influence in politics and public policy.  Being a member of a state political party has no more effect on politics than being president of the local Civitan Club.  Their primary function is to set the Primary dates.
   Therefore, when these political party operatives get together to debate this benign resolution on February 24, they may imagine that it matters what they do.  However, you can be assured that nobody cares, much less Shelby.  Resolutions passed in political party gatherings have no effect or relevance.
   It is very doubtful that this proposed resolution will see the light of day.  Most people who are political party operatives are logical folks and would not want to offend or insult Senator Shelby.  He is the Republican Party of Alabama in the eyes of the nation.  If it were to pass, he would graciously ignore it and hold no grudges.
   When Kay Ivey became governor last year, the first thing she did was to reverse the decision of Governor Robert Bentley on the date of the election for Jeff Sessions’ senate seat.  Bentley had set it for this year when everything runs anyway.  Ivey decided that it should be held forthwith and that a Special Election would be in 2017. However, this Special Election costs the beleaguered State General Fund $11 million.  If it were held this year it would have cost the state zero – we were voting anyway.
   This $11 million is nothing to sneeze at when it comes to state revenue.  This aspect caught the eye of House Ways and Means chairman, Steve Clouse, R-Ozark. Clouse, who is a wise steward of the state’s coffers, and is tasked with balancing the budget, has set out to rectify and clarify when any future election for a Senate Seat shall be held.  He has offered a bill to set the dates and clarify “forthwith.”  Clouse’s Bill says that the election will be held at the next General election.  His legislation has already passed the House and is awaiting action in the State Senate.
   Steve Clouse is a popular Wiregrass legislator who epitomizes integrity and espouses fiscal conservatism. While speaking of popularity in the Wiregrass, Governor Kay Ivey did a good day’s work when she picked Dothan Circuit Judge, Brad Mendheim, to fill the vacancy on the State Supreme Court.  It is appropriate that she appointed Mendheim, a Wiregrass judge, to fill the seat of Justice Glen Murdock, another Wiregrass native.
   I have never seen or heard of anybody more respected in their hometown than 51-year-old Brad Mendheim is in Dothan.  He was born and raised in Houston County and has been a Circuit Judge for 10 years.  He is a deacon in the First Baptist Church of Dothan.  He graduated in a stellar class that included Dr. Russ Holman, who is one of the most prominent radiologist in the state.

Women and the Governor’s Mansion

By Steve Flowers
This political year of 2018 may very well be the year of the woman in Alabama politics.  In Alabama’s 200 year history, only one woman has been elected governor.  Lurleen Wallace won in 1966.  Only two women have served as governor, Governor Lurleen and our current governor, Kay Ivey.  It may be a historic year.
    Sue Bell Cobb, the former Alabama State Supreme Court Chief Justice, and the first woman to hold that position, is hoping to be able to be the Democratic standard-bearer.  She was elected Chief Justice in 2006, in a very expensive, high profiled battle with Republican Drayton Nabors.  She had been a District Court Judge in her native Conecuh County for a long time before running statewide.  She was elected to a six year term as Chief Justice in 2006, but quit after four years, inexplicably.
   Cobb, 61, is predicting that it will be an all female gubernatorial showdown.  She believes that she will be the Democratic nominee and that Governor Kay Ivey will carry the Republican banner into battle.  She says, “That’s never happened and my prediction is that is what it will exactly be.”
   However, first things first. Judge Cobb has to win the Democratic nomination.  She is not the favorite in that primary.  Tuscaloosa mayor, Walt Maddox, is the early favorite to win the Democratic nomination.
   Most political insiders suggest that Maddox is expected to get the overwhelming support of African American voters.  The black vote makes up the bulk and majority of Democratic Primary voters in the state.  This is no longer a monolithic vote. However, it tends to gravitate to one candidate in a primary.  The few white voters who participate in the Democratic primary are young and they can more readily identify with Maddox who is 45.
   In addition, there is some disillusionment among Democratic voters that Cobb quit her term midway as Chief Justice and allowed Republican Governor Robert Bentley to appoint a replacement.  He, of course, appointed a Republican.  She was the only Democrat on the Supreme Court.  Roy Moore won the seat of Chief Justice in 2012.
   Other Democratic partisans were dismayed that Cobb said she supported Donald Trump’s selection of Jeff Sessions for Attorney General.  It may be perceived that her day has passed.
   Kay Ivey appeared to be headed for the house and her day may have passed when out of the blue Bentley resigns and she is plucked out of the obscurity of the Lt. Governor’s office and thrust into the governorship.  She seems like a grandmother who sticks to her knitting and steadies the Ship of State, which has gone through stormy waters the past four years. Kay Ivey may indeed make it to the dance as the Republican nominee in November.  She is in the catbird’s seat and favored to win the GOP Primary.
   However, she created a couple of stumbling blocks during the 2017 Senate election year that may thwart her reelection. Some GOP establishment stalwarts say that her changing the Senate election from 2018 to 2017 threw Luther Strange, their candidate, under the bus and gave the nomination to Roy Moore, which led to losing the seat to a Democrat. Her move also cost the state’s beleaguered General Fund $10 to $15 million. Some suburban women became disenchanted with her with she said she had no reason to not believe the women who accused Roy Moore of assaulting them as teenagers, yet she was still going to vote for him because he was a Republican. These two actions are only political stumbling blocks, not roadblocks.
   Therefore, what I see as a possibility is not an all female race for governor, but a possible triumvirate of females being sworn into the top three constitutional offices next January.  You could see Kay Ivey sworn into the Governor’s office, Twinkle Cavanaugh sworn in as Lt. Governor, and Alice Martin sworn in as Attorney General.  All three are Republicans.
   The Republican nominee goes into the general election with a 60/40 probability of winning.  Currently, Kay Ivey is the favorite in the governor’s race.  Twinkle is the favorite in the Lt. Governor’s race.  Alice Martin or Troy King is favored in the Attorney General’s race.
   If you made me bet right now, I would bet that Alabama would at least have a governor and Lt. Governor that are women. That may be the story of the year in Alabama politics in 2018.