Sunday, October 31, 2010

Focusing on a Local Sheriff’s Race, or, I Thought “Bray” Was What a Mule Does

It’s a small thing, in many ways, a local race for sheriff.

But in others, it can show you the soul of a party - what sort of stuff its rank and file are made of, unvarnished and unglossed by consultants flown in from Los Angeles and paid for by Wall Street money.

These are my thoughts as I contemplate a handful of photographs sent to me by a Democrat in DeKalb County. The first of these shows Lamar Bray, the police chief at Mentone (what does he do, arrest summer camp kids who aren’t in their cabins by curfew?), and the GOP nominee for sheriff, looking at a campaign sign he claims was vandalized in Crossville.

Bray, after making statements to the media that the sign was “vandalized,” said on his website only that it was “significantly damaged” on the night of October 24-25. But the item on the “significant damage” also refers to signs being “removed,” making the obvious implication that nefarious supporters of Democratic Sheriff Jimmy Harris were responsible.

Before joining Sherlock Bray on his search for these vandals, let’s review DeKalb County geography. Crossville is merely a couple of miles down the road from Geraldine. It is also close to the Boaz-Albertville area. Was anything in particular going on in that neighborhood the night Bray claims his sign was “damaged”? Well, according to the National Weather Service:



The storm damaged the Albertville K-Mart that night, just a few miles from Crossville, and The Sand Mountain Reporter said it was still closed for most purposes at the end of the week. My informant also sent me a photo from nearby Geraldine, from the Fort Payne Times-Journal.

Now, if a storm can do that to a house, it can sure do it to an eight-foot, wind-catching campaign sign. You think, Barney Bray? Or is there a bigger issue here about that “honest sheriff” claim in your sign?

Just remember in these closing days, and stay alert for misinformation. Have a rapid response capability ready to go at a moment’s notice!

And Happy Hallowe’en!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Republican Mac Buttram: The Case of the Lying Parson in the 12th House District

I am astonished that the BBC has not reported a major earthquake being felt in London, in the vicinity of Old Street Station, along City Road. There, in the garden of City Road Chapel, lies buried John Wesley, founder with his brother Charles of the Methodist movement. The Rev. Wesley is doubtless spinning in his grave with sufficient velocity to register on the seismograph at nearby King’s College.

Wesley’s eternal rest has certainly been disturbed by the actions of one of his ministers in the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church. This comes about because the contest for the seat in House District 12 features not one, but two ordained Methodist ministers. The Democratic incumbent, the Rev. Rep. James Fields, made national news, being noted in The New York Times. This spotlight came because Fields, an African American, won the seat in a 2008 special election in a district that is 98% white. Fields is a retired state employment service staffer who is active as a Methodist minister.

His GOP opponent is the allegedly Rev. Mac Buttram, who is not only also a retired United Methodist minister; Buttram performed the wedding of Fields to his current wife, whom he married after Fields’s previous wife died. Buttram had officiated at the funeral of the earlier Mrs. Fields. Rep. Fields was also surprised to learn that Buttram planned to run for the seat, when Buttram (in the center, holding hands in prayer with Fields in the photo below) had been, for several years, a member of his weekly prayer-breakfast group meeting at the Cracker Barrel in Cullman.

John Wesley was no stranger to the toil and strife of life in a fallen world. Charged with slander in Georgia, and abandoned by his wife late in life in England, he endured his share of bruises. But even he would probably, at this point, be pointing a finger at the uncharitable candidacy of the allegedly Rev. Buttram.

Then there is The Ad.

Beginning last week, the Alabama Republican Party began running an ad on TV in this race, in which the Rev. Fields is accused of “trying to let murderers out of prison.” I will let the ad speak for itself:

I will leave for another day for the allegedly Rev. Buttram to explain why he should be opposed to a legislative act, sponsored by the Rev. Fields (HB 532, 2010 Regular Session), that embraces the sort of forgiveness and reconciliation that are supposedly part of the core of Christian belief. For now, I will suggest to the allegedly Rev. Buttram that he take a day off after the election to listen to a message from the Rev. Billy Neal Moore, a black Pentecostal minister from Rome, Georgia (whom I have heard speak, to my considerable benefit). The Rev. Moore was as close as having his head shaved to Georgia’s electric chair, when a series of events led the family of his murder victim to seek his eventual pardon, parole and release.

What I will not allow the allegedly Rev. Buttram to escape this morning is being asked, how dare he don the robe of a minister, and mount the pulpit and preach in God’s name, when he has not admitted and denounced the lies told by him, and on his behalf, including those in the above ad, and asked the Rev. Fields for forgiveness?

Columnist John Archibald of The Birmingham News, who tends to tack a bit Republican (or at least conservative), charitably referred to the ad as “dubious.” I will go further. The ad is a patchwork of lies and misrepresentations unworthy of a minister - or any Christian, for that matter. For starters, the bill sponsored by Rep. Fields (which died in committee) did not make all murderers eligible for release. It did not impact murderers on death row at all; they still would have awaited execution. It only impacted those who have been, or would be in the future, sentenced to life without parole for their murder. It did not direct their release. It set up an elaborate series of hoops through which they would have had to jump. First, the murder for which they were convicted would have had to have been the first felony conviction they suffered; this is a bill for “crime of passion” murderers, not career criminals. They would have had to have served a minimum of 20 years of their prison term. Then, they would have had to petition the judge who sentenced them (or one from his circuit) to reduce their sentence from “life without parole” to “life, but eligible for parole.” Then, and only then, could they have asked the Board of Pardons and Paroles for a hearing. Anyone familiar with that Board will tell you, it doesn’t take much of an objection from victims or prosecutors to block a parole request.

But the ad is even more misleading. Not just every murderer serving life without parole could have applied for the bill’s relief. In order to even apply to the sentencing judge, the offender (besides having to have served 20 years), would have had to have had:
  • No disciplinary action for assault on other inmates or Department of Corrections employees during the 10 consecutive years immediately preceding the date of the petition for consideration;
  • No disciplinary action for escape or attempted escape during the 10 consecutive years immediately preceding the date of the petition for reduction;
  • No disciplinary action for sexual assault during 10 consecutive years immediately preceding the date of the petition; and
  • No disciplinary action for illegal drug or alcohol use as determined by testing positive for these substances on a urine test during the five consecutive years immediately preceding the date of the petition.
In short, no one would have even been considered for parole under this bill who hadn’t lived at the foot of the Cross for a very long time. I’d be surprised if a half dozen inmates are even eligible.

But the lies of the allegedly Rev. Buttram do not stop there.

According to a report in The Cullman Times, the killer of the son of the couple appearing in the ad would not even be eligible for consideration for relief under the bill in question. (Am I the only one who thinks they look a little old to have had a kid as young as those in the photos, even as far back as the supposed murder date in 1992?) Also, that Times report relates that the allegedly Rev. Buttram continues to refer to a local murderer in Cullman County as one eligible for release under the Fields bill, even though Rep. Fields has publicly pointed out to Buttram that the person in question is an habitual offender, and thus would not have been eligible.

I have heard it said of several figures whom I admire that they are “too Christian to be in politics.” Jimmy Carter and the Rev. Fr. Robert Drinan come to mind. The Rev. Fields may be in that company. I keep hearing that he is reluctant to do more than defend his own character, and is hesitant to shine a light on the character of the allegedly Rev. Buttram, which is darker by two shades than the Rev. Fields’s skin. He has steadfastly refused to bring up the divorce of the allegedly Rev. Buttram (DR-1980-138 in Lauderdale County, while I understand he was pastoring a church there, for the curious). We can only hope the voters of the 12th House District realize what a Christian gentleman they have, and will vote accordingly. For my own less forgiving part, I conclude with three messages:

To the allegedly Rev. Buttram: You, sir, are a disgrace to the proud heritage of Methodist leaders like John Wesley, Francis Asbury, and John Emory. I beg you to abstain from the pulpit until you have renounced your violations of the Ninth Commandment and the Second Greatest Commandment, and asked for the forgiveness of the voters of the 12th District - the Rev. James Fields in particular.

To the Rev. Fields: I wish I had your ability to look past the sins of others. But I want you to consider this. The Rev. Dr. King, painful though he must have found it, had the kind of heart and spirit that could love and forgive even George Wallace and Bull Connor, and I am sure he did. That did not mean that he felt constrained to remain silent in the face of evil. Remember this, as you continue what I hope will be a long career of service in elective office.

To the Rt. Rev. Dr. William Willimon, Bishop of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church: What kind of [earthy Episcopalian expletive] ecclesiastic discipline are you running over there, that this backstabbing, lying Mac Buttram hasn’t had his collar jerked off so hard he developed petechiæ? (Readers may share this sentiment with Bishop Willimon by clicking on the link in his name. Those who would like to share their opinions of the two candidates with the Editor of The Cullman Times may click on the link here.)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Kerry Rich - Another Problem with GOP Family Values

For a candidate who makes such a deal of his “faith,” Kerry Rich has some serious skeletons in the closet. After my post regarding his checkered past the other day, I got a suggestion to follow up on another lead. I did, and was saddened at what I found in the files of case number DR-2000-399 in the Circuit Court of Marshall County, Rich’s 2000 divorce from former wife Teresa Rich.

Kerry Rich 2000 Divorce

We all have our shortcomings, but we do not all have records of domestic violence. And while Rich may have repented and reformed, this disturbing part of his record at least gives the voters of his district another compelling reason not to vote for him. It is, after all, the Legislature which makes the laws under which perpetrators of domestic violence are punished, and prevented from doing further harm. Rich cast several votes against toughening child support laws, after being hauled back to court by his first ex-wife for nonpayment of child support. It is perfectly legitimate to worry that he would likewise vote against the victims of domestic violence, out of his apparent sense of identity with its perpetrators. Rich and this former wife eventually settled their disputes, and a consent divorce decree was entered in the case.

And it does make you wonder about the staff screening process at WJIA, the “Christian” radio station where Rich works today.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Déjà Vu All Over Again: Sparks Ascendant

“Déjà vu all over again.”

Of all of Yogi Berra’s assaults on the English language, none has entered common usage more than this one. Not only does it amuse with its classic Yogi structure, it captures a certain sensation better than many more erudite expressions.

The phrase generates over a quarter of a million Google hits. It has inspired television scripts, countless quotations, and even an album and song by John Fogerty:

It only seems appropriate to use it to describe the phenomenon we are witnessing in this final week of the gubernatorial contest. At this point before the May primary, anyone who was keeping up with events knew some sure bets. Bradley Byrne would lead the Republican ticket (he did), but would not have enough votes to win without a runoff (which he didn’t), so he would have to campaign another six weeks before being crowned as the GOP nominee and presumed governor-elect (the part of the Republican narrative which went terribly awry).

On the Democratic side, the safe bet was even safer. Smooth, debonair, educated, erudite Artur Davis would ride a tsunami of Obama-style black excitement, combined with a respectable portion of the white vote, to the Democratic nomination - whereupon he would probably be edged out after a respectable, “reform vs. reform” campaign, by Byrne. Rustic Ron Sparks, shackled with a community college education and running from the unglamorous base of the Department of Agriculture and Industries, was no match for a D.C. product who had shone at the 2008 Democratic Convention, giving Obama’s seconding speech.

As the internet meme puts it, “epic fail.”

Polls were repeatedly published in Davis-friendly media outlets such as The Birmingham News and the Mobile Press-Register, showing Davis with leads of 10% or more within a week or ten days of the primary. Despite that, when the smoke cleared election night, Sparks had trounced Davis by a 62.4%-37.6% margin. Basically, Sparks had done 20% or more better than the most recent pre-primary polls touted by the “mainstream media.”

I have spoken before about the unreliability of those polls. What is interesting is that, in publishing the recent polls showing Sparks rapidly closing the gap, the media have been close-lipped about the crosstabs on their polls. This is telling. My best educated guess is that the Bentley lead, such as it is, is based on an artificial polling result among black voters that gives him several percentage points among blacks that simply won’t be there on Election Day. For better or worse, black voters continue to rely much more heavily on party identification as a voting cue than do white voters. (I would, of course, say it’s better.) The result of this is that a Republican will benefit in polling results from random black respondents naming the Republican, when (if properly polled) would give responses betraying their Democratic intentions. To an extent, this explains the “surprise” showing by Siegelman in 2002, when media polls had essentially written him off.

Which is where we come to “déjà vu all over again.” Sparks is now as close to Bentley in those “media polls” as he was to Davis in late May, if not closer. More to the point, Bentley is finally beginning to show the strains of media scrutiny. Even the Newhouse outlets, which have endorsed him, have been reporting on his inability to produce a consistent and credible story about the extent of his ties with AEA in his runoff campaign against Byrne. The Republicans in Alabama have almost forsaken Pelosi-bashing as a campaign theme in favor of promises of “honest” government. This is in no small part due to the availability of Bush-appointed U.S. Attorney Leura Canary and her politically timed indictments of Democrats. The problem is, when you are trying to sell yourself as the non-political honest alternative, “credibility” is not the toe of your own on which you want to be stepping.

While Sparks has not had the advantage of the corporate money dump that Bentley is using, he has done a fairly brilliant job of playing the hand he has been dealt. He has done well in the Wiregrass with the bingo issue, and should run well ahead of the last few Democratic nominees in that area. As it is part of the GOP base, that is important. Sparks is also benefiting from one of the strongest African-American turnout efforts in recent gubernatorial history. Black totals may not equal those of the Obama campaign, but GOTV efforts are substantially more intense this round than they have been for any Democratic gubernatorial nominee in the last 20 years. I have been talking to astute observers across Alabama, and have not gotten any indication that any significant part of the black political community isn’t on board and full-speed-ahead at this point. The one place I would have liked to have seen Sparks doing better would have been with the BP issue in Mobile and Baldwin Counties. That, however, has been a tough issue to exploit. Sparks doesn’t have the corporate cash for a targeted local paid media push, and the Press-Register isn’t going to give him much of a free-media break on the issue by pointing the finger at Bush-era deregulation.

This is critical, because - and I do not mean to point fingers here, only accurately describe what happened - two razor-thin Democratic gubernatorial losses of recent years, 1994 and 2002, took place when certain key black political organizations or individuals weren’t fully exerting themselves. If you know what to look for on a spreadsheet, their inactivity sticks out like a sore thumb. And in both instances, the resulting lower black turnout was fatal to the Democratic nominee. Had those problems not arisen, we would likely have a current political narrative about “Democrats have won the last five governor’s races.”

Do you need further proof that there is no structural preference for Republicans in Alabama gubernatorial elections? Look at the aggregate votes from the last four gubernatorial general elections:


Remember, when looking at that, the GOP vote in 2006 was artificially boosted by Baxley’s unwillingness (and financial inability) to go negative on Riley, and Riley’s financial leveraging of his incumbency. (Which, being translated, means “Choctaw casinos.”) The Democratic landslide in the table, 1998, was against the power of incumbency. Correct for those factors, and this is a seriously Democratic number. I do not care if you are a political scientist whose reputation is based on the historic success of the football team up the street, saying there is a presumption of a Republican governor in any given year is bad political science.

All in all, it should be an interesting night a week from tonight. I think a lot of people, who have been getting their news from the Usual Suspects, are going to be as surprised as they were on the night of June 1. There is no need for Democrats to relent at this point, and, in fact, we’re close enough that the last little effort can put us first past the post. Look inside, and find it, people.

Or, once again to quote The Yogi, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Two Write[-in]s Make One Wrong

They’re skeered.

The Republicans are skeered. They think Sparks is winning.

How, pray tell, do I know this?

If you want to know how someone (or some group of someones) feels, pay attention to what is coming out of his, her, or their mouth(s).

In the case of the Alabama Republican Party, the mouth would be the Mobile Press-Register, or one of the other Newhouse publications.

On page one of today’s edition, they have a story about a poll showing Bentley’s (alleged) poll lead over Sparks collapsing. But more indicative of GOP worry is another story, about a “grass roots” movement to get voters to write in some other candidate, rather than Sparks or Bentley. As the article states:

Calls for write-ins have come from across the political spectrum and throughout the state in recent days. Websites, including Face book [sic] and Twitter, have sprouted Alabama write-in pages, while [Birmingham talk radio persona Leland] Whaley and Jennifer Foster, a columnist for the Opelika-Auburn News, have suggested the write-in option to their listeners and readers, respectively.
Not content with the news story, the Press-Register has pushed the idea on its editorial page, as evidenced by today’s Sunday editorial cartoon, seen to the left.

And as if the print emphasis wasn’t enough, the Altman article is (as of 2:30 p.m. Sunday) the top-billed story on’s state news home page. A screen cap of this posting is seen below. This, perhaps more than anything, shows the priority the Newhouse organization has given this story line. The story is at the top of the queue, despite having a timestamp in its dateline of 9:01 a.m. Normally, news stories on this page are time-sorted, with the most recent story appearing first. Advance Internet (the Newhouse online presence) maintains the option of “promoting” a story so that it remains in “first” place, so as to have more visibility. Normally, this is only done with stories of major breaking news import, such as an alien spacecraft landing in Selma, or an Alabama or Auburn third-string lineman spraining an ankle in practice. Or a story that Newhouse wants to push for political reasons. It takes a conscious editorial decision, presumably at an upper-level editorial or managerial desk, to do this. The write-in “story” didn’t land there by mistake. (I am thankful now for the practice I got in university, learning to read between the lines like this from deconstructing Правда.)

The Birmingham News has gotten into the promotion in a smaller way. Today’s column by John Archibald mentions write-ins, but in an allegedly humorous vein - offering up Cam Newton and others. But the News has pitched in by printing “grassroots” letters to the editor urging a write-in, such as this one.

What is the purpose of this push? For that, I turn to Marcus Tullius Cicero, the Roman orator and statesman, who made one phrase the centerpiece of his forensics in murder trials: cui bono? (Who benefits?) Looking at the push, and its internal emphases, this isn’t hard to figure out. The two names most often mentioned as “acceptable” write-ins are those in the Press-Register cartoon: Bradley Byrne and Artur Davis. Byrne has disavowed the entire scheme. (Davis is presumably still too busy pouting over his canceled anointment to do so.) The real operative fact here is that Byrne’s base was among Republican apparatchiks. However disappointed they may be that the chosen insider didn’t get the nomination, they are not going to desert their party. (Not to mention, they are betting the BCA money pumped into Bentley will keep him on the GOP reservation should he prevail.)

Sparks has solid support from the Party base, in basically every region of Alabama, and those voters are not susceptible to the write-in concept. On the other hand, there continue to be those who cannot believe St. Artur ascended into Heaven without being nominated. Others, not quite so blinded, got enough Davis Kool-Aid during the primary campaign to be worrisome. (Notice whose photo is included above the fold in the screencap.) In those quarters, there might be a few hundred votes statewide who could be led into burnishing their self-images as “enlightened reformers” by writing in Davis. Simply put, any real benefit of this trend, while small, is going to Bentley.

Another ironic aspect that reveals the motive of this effort is its content, and the proffered excuse for not voting for Bentley. It’s because Bentley is claimed to be the hand-picked candidate of Dr. Paul Hubbert and AEA. And, as any good Christian reader of The Birmingham News knows, Dr. Hubbert is the Antichrist, for proposing “liberal” ideas like the proper funding of public education. Of course, any honest halfwit knows that Dr. Hubbert’s only love for Bentley arose from the fact his name isn’t “Bradley Byrne.” Never mind reality, the Hubbert-Bentley shtick allows the GOP to repeat its theme of “AEA BAD, GOP GOOD” where it will (they hope) do them some real good - in legislative races. You notice they don’t point to any of the real reasons for voting against Bentley: That he seems a little dense for someone who supposedly passed the USMLE. That he seems to have a problem coming up with plausible deniability on a number of issues. That he has gone on the payroll of the Business Council of Alabama, and is thus controlled by out-of-state corporate interests. That he criticizes Sparks’s lottery plan, while offering no ideas on his own to improve education and economic development. That he looks like Mr. Burns from The Simpsons.

So, how do we counter it? For starters, I am not sure the game is worth the candle. There are a couple of hundred scattered wine-and-cheese types who will fall for it, but I am not sure all of them planned to vote for Sparks in the first place. We may do better by merely using the obvious bias inherent in this coverage to shame those media outlets that are pushing the line. Even the most biased media feel compelled to quote a campaign or party spokesperson’s comment in such a story, so if that quote begins “Your paper’s bias is apparent because _____,” the story may well be stillborn. Or we can ju-jitsu this by pointing out the truth - they’re doing it because they’re skeered. They are losing ground fast, and they know it.

On the other hand, if we want to raise a little write-in mischief on our own, there are avenues to pursue. Voting blocs that will peel off Bentley. I’m just sayin’.


At about 6:00 p.m. tonight, when I checked back, the story had been “demoted” to its place in the chronological queue. Can we say “busted”?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Kerry Rich - A Poor Choice for the 26th House District

One of the more humorous aspects of Alabama politics is the inability of the Republican Party to come up with a ticket whose names promise any degree of gravitas in Alabama government. Young Boozer? Really? And how about Twinkle? Then there’s the one who changed his first name to “Dr.” so he could have the title on the ballot. Of course, if he has to admit any more lies about his primary campaign finances, he might have to change his name to “Pinocchio.”

Sometimes, the silliness of the Republican candidates comes not from the name, but the person who has the name. Think of Christine O’Donnell.

Here in Alabama, the GOP has its share of comic relief on the ballot. One such instance is in Marshall County, the home of State House District 26. When longtime Democratic Representative Frank McDaniel announced his retirement, the Republicans immediately put this seat at the top of their list of “Safe Republican” takeaway seats, and used it as a talking point with the media as one of the prime examples of why a GOP takeover of the Legislature was inevitable.

Then, reality intruded, in the form of Republican nominee Kerry Rich.

Rich emerged from a contentious four-way Republican primary with the GOP nomination. The manager of a small “nonprofit” FM radio station in Albertville, Rich is trying to make some Alabama political history. He is trying to become, so far as anyone knows, the first person to represent three different districts in the Alabama House of Representatives. In the late 1970’s, Rich represented (as a Democrat) a district in Etowah County. From 1990 until 1994, he represented the 27th District, the other district in Marshall County (currently held by Democrat Jeff McLaughlin). On both occasions, he apparently found Alabama such a distasteful state, that upon concluding a term in the Legislature, he moved out of state.

It looks like Rich - who has made a career of owning and operating small-market “Christian” radio stations - still likes the sound of the Mormon classic “Come, Come Ye Saints.” While registered to vote in Marshall County, he also remains actively on the voter rolls back in Utah:

Maybe Mr. Rich needs to explain to the good folks of Marshall County why he’s keeping one toe in the Utah pool. Or whether he has legally relinquished his Utah residency, so as to be legally eligible to vote and run for office in Alabama. Then again, I can understand why he might not want to go back to Utah:

Of course, maybe Rich wants to head back out to his old haunts in Colorado. In July 2009, he bought a vacant lot in the resort town of Crested Butte, Colorado, valued at $100,000.00. (I need to get into “nonprofit” radio!) In a more serious vein, the voters of the 26th District have a right to ask whether Rich can be trusted to keep his roots planted in Alabama this time, and build the kind of seniority that Frank McDaniel put to such good use for their benefit.

Like any Republican candidate today, Rich cannot use the words “conservative” or “Christian” often enough in his campaign pitch. However, one has to wonder if Rich didn’t fall in with some of the “Big Love” polygamist crowd while out in Utah. He seems to have indulged his support of marriage on at least two occasions, missing one ex-wife so often, he saw to it she had to take him back to court on five occasions after the original divorce:

Now, it’s the 21st Century, and a divorce doesn’t, and shouldn’t, be a disqualification for public office. But when a candidate makes such a big deal of being a strictly conservative Christian, we have a right to look at how he has lived up to the strict standards he wants to legislate for everyone else. Not to mention that, in Rich’s case, his continuing child support and custody issues appear to have influenced his voting in the Legislature. In the 1991 Regular Session, then-Representative Rich voted against passage of SB 466, which was introduced to require state authorities to investigate deadbeat dads. Rich was one of only 7 Representatives voting against the bill. (Roll call 3422, 30th Legislative Day). Rich had earlier tried to water down the bill with an amendment, which was defeated. Real peach of a guy.

But it’s not just his personal life that gives cause for giggles. Rich has proven himself the Keystone Kop of the campaign trail, too. Rich, who boasts of being a professional career broadcaster, seems not to know as much about FCC regulations as he should. Anyone old enough to remember the Reagan years probably knows enough to not vote Republican. They also probably remember that you never saw the former movie star’s cinematic masterworks on TV during his presidency - because of FCC regulations that banned such airing if not balanced by free time for his opponents. Rich, blissfully ignorant of the rule, kept gabbing away on the air after announcing his candidacy. After a primary opponent filed a complaint with the FCC, Rich was forced to make an embarrassing $250.00 contribution to his own opponent, in lieu of free air time on his station. (Which air time she said she didn’t want, as apparently the station’s ratings stink.)

The horserace angle on this seat is that, since McDaniel’s retirement announcement, King Pig Mike Hubbard and other Republican quotables have been rattling this seat off as a sure takeaway from Democrats, as part of their strategy of trying to make the takeover happen by continuously referring to it as inevitable. In this case, the Democrats answered with the nomination of Randall White, a recently-retired adult education supervisor. White is so conservative he wears a belt and suspenders, and (unlike Rich) he is a lifelong resident of the district. Local people know White, and Rich only loses credibility when he plays the GOP one-note kazoo of shouting “liberal!!”

Something is not working for Rich. Or it is working for White. Or both. I saw a couple of polls early in this year that didn’t look good for the Democrats here. Within the last week or ten days, I have been shown two polls by some folks in Montgomery, both by some of the most reputable pollsters in the state, that paint a different picture. One showed a dead heat, but is by now a couple of weeks old. The same poll had shown a GOP lead a few months earlier. The other poll shows White with a lead, almost more than the poll’s margin of error.

A couple of things are at work here. One is that the GOP has simply stuck itself with a schmuck candidate, and he is inevitably losing ground. With him falling in the polls, and behind, this close to Election Day, Rich is fast looking like a goner. (And if this is one of their “safe” seats, what is happening in their “reach” seats?) The other thing is something I have long predicted. Democrats are going to do better generally than the CONVENTIONAL WISDOM says we will. As general angst about Obama or Pelosi drove down Democratic poll numbers in March and June, when voters were unfocused, a closer look by most voters - who don’t think about elections before October - is beginning to move poll numbers in a Democratic direction.

The Rich nomination highlights another phenomenon of the 2010 Alabama Republican effort. Despite all their blabber about promoting clean, ethical, Christian candidates to “reform” the Democratic “corruption” in Alabama, a closer look reveals the feet of clay. We have the spotted record of Rich, or the outright commercial fraud of GOP Senate nominee Shadrack McGill. Or their “reform” gubernatorial nominee, Robert Bentley, whose daily revisions of how much money he knew he was getting in the Republican Primary from AEA, and how much he was cooperating with them, have left him without any credibility. (Some polls suggest voters are noticing this, too. Stay tuned.) We Democrats need to take every opportunity in these closing days to keep the heat and light on the hypocrites of the GOP.

While Rich was away in Utah, that state hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics. In 1992, while he was still in Alabama, Albertville, the largest town in this House district, “hosted” its own spoof of the Winter Olympics during the real Olympics in Albertville, France. Who knows? If Rich doesn’t like the way the voters treat him in November - or even if he gets elected - he may be living in Sochi, Russia, by the time the Winter Games are played there in 2014. We can only hope.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Obama’s Unkept Promise to Alabama’s Blacks

Ah, race.

What would we do for a political leitmotif in Alabama without it?

The election of Barack Obama was guaranteed to have far reaching, and long lasting implications for Alabama politics. The first election of an African-American President could not be anything other than a paradigm-shifting event. On the one hand, Obama’s presence on the ballot seems to have brought out the worst in white Alabama. Exit polls indicated that Obama got 10% of the white vote in Alabama. This polling data is strongly corroborated by a near-perfect correlation between black population percentage and Obama’s county-level vote totals:

Of course, Obama’s election has had some beneficial effects, many of which will not be felt for generations. Irreversible damage has been done to the belief of black children that there are stations in life off-limits to them because of their race. That will have an impact in the law schools, medical schools, and corporate boardrooms more quickly than it will in the Governor’s Mansion. There is also no denial of the impact on black voter registration and turnout. In the 2008 Alabama Presidential Primary, 83.9% black Macon County outvoted 98.0% white DeKalb County - despite the fact that Macon only has 31.9% of DeKalb’s population.

What follows I write with some trepidation, mindful that the blood that courses through my veins is pure Anglo-Saxon, save for distaff branches of Scots and German. But it is difficult to escape the conclusion that, whatever the election of Barack Obama means to black Alabamians in terms of pride, symbolism, and civic engagement, from a policy and administrative perspective his administration has been a large disappointment.

Obama has taken his share of grief from the national black community over national policy issues such as the failure to attain a public option or single payer health care component in the “reform” legislation. Others have complained of his progress in advancing outstanding civil rights issues, and some even criticized Michelle Obama for not working a black designer into her dress selection on Inauguration Day. The complaint of Velma Hart, who told Obama she was “exhausted of defending you,” has become something of a symbol for such black discontent. While this criticism is noteworthy, and not without merit, and it has been noted that his shortfalls are disproportionately borne by African-Americans, I am more concerned here with Obama’s impact on areas unique to Alabama. Of necessity, those pertain more to matters of patronage and appointment than to policy. On these matters, Obama’s record varies from questionable to terrible.

Obama’s first appointment to the Federal bench is a little troubling. The retirement of longtime U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon in Birmingham, the first black judge in the Northern District of Alabama, brought an end to a pioneering phase of civil rights here. Clemon was noted for refusing to kowtow to the Government, and he single-handedly brought the first political persecution of Don Siegelman to a halt by tossing out the charges as frivolous. Since the Federal bench in Alabama is now dominated by appointees from the Reagan-Bush-Bush years, there was widespread hope that Clemon would be replaced by someone who would bring clear balance to the Court. Instead, following the suggestion of then-confidante Artur Davis, the President appointed Abdul Kallon. Like Obama, Kallon has a colorful biography. A native of Sierra Leone, Kallon attended Dartmouth (by an exponential factor, the most conservative and Republican Ivy League school), and the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He clerked for Clemon, who appeared with him before the Senate urging his confirmation.

My concern with Kallon comes from his career choice. Kallon worked in business-side employment law at the firm today known as Bradley, Arant, Boult and Cummings. In short, he defended corporations against attempts by victims of discrimination to obtain compensation allowed by law. While I understand Kallon was not personally involved in that case, it was the employment law department at Bradley, Arant that defended Goodyear in the famous Lilly Ledbetter case. This is not where we should be looking for judges to be appointed by Democrats. While I don’t begrudge any person of color working where they choose, and holding what opinions they pick; it’s one thing to be a corporate lawyer, and another to serve as a representative of progressive and minority interests. Our Federal legal system tacitly rests on a presumption that Democratic presidents will appoint judges who tack progressively, Republicans will appoint conservative judges, the confirmation process will weed out the extremes; and if we’re lucky, the law winds up somewhere in the middle. If a Democrat makes center-right appointments to lifetime positions, we’re in for a long century. Not since Eisenhower appointed Frank Johnson has a Republican president put a moderately progressive judge on the Alabama bench. No pun intended, I do not want to prematurely judge Kallon. Perhaps, like Johnson, or Chief Justice Earl Warren, he will emerge as more progressive than his record suggests. But it remains troubling that Obama, with a safely Democratic Senate, did not make a more certain progressive black choice to fill Clemon’s shoes. It’s not like there aren’t clearly progressive black lawyers in North Alabama; I could have named a dozen within a minute whose qualifications were up to the standards of the Federal bench.

Obama moved with alacrity to replace GOP political puppet Alice Martin in the post of U.S. Attorney for the Northern District. However, as I have noted elsewhere, his inexplicable, and inexcusable failure to replace Republihack Leura Canary in the Middle District remains an open wound on the soul of Alabama, exuding a purulent Niagara. Allowing Canary to remain in office while she shamelessly uses that office to launch political attacks on the President’s own party, suggests nothing less than an Administration that doesn’t know the basic mechanics of government and politics. At a purely political level, this attack on the Alabama Democratic Party, sanctioned by this President and his Attorney General through their inaction, threatens decades of progress in placing black hands on the levers of power in this state. For all its faults, and they are legion, the Alabama Democratic Party has given a real seat at the table to Alabama blacks, in the form of some of the most powerful committee chairmanships in the Legislature. These include, but are not limited to, Sen. Hank Sanders of the Senate Education F&T, and Rep. John Knight of the House Government Appropriations Committee. If Canary’s political cooperation with the GOP costs the Democrats our tenuous hold on the Legislature, these black leadership positions will be a thing of the past - and of a distant future.

If the cries of Montgomery politicians under indictment don’t generate sympathy, certainly the lamentation of unemployed workers in the Black Belt does. One effect of the bribe-induced Riley-Canary war on bingo in Alabama is the closure of bingo operations in Greene, Macon and Houston Counties, that employed literally thousands of workers, and brought millions of dollars annually to local government treasuries. We all wish that overwhelmingly black Greene and Macon Counties had bulldozers clearing land for new automotive and electronics plants, or for high-powered biology labs or computer engineering firms, but that’s the progress of the next generation. Right now, those counties are absolutely dependent on the entertainment and gaming business for their economic survival, and Obama’s what-me-worry attitude about Canary has placed that survival in jeopardy. Even in the white-majority Wiregrass, it’s probably safe to assume that Country Crossing employed a fair number of African-Americans in its service sector jobs. Had Bob Riley needed to worry about a U.S. Attorney with integrity in Montgomery, he would likely not have earned his Mississippi Choctaw bribes by shutting down the bingo halls, and the Legislature would probably have put a bingo referendum on this November’s ballot. As it is, there is no way to know when, or if, these businesses will reopen. At some point, even the President’s biggest supporters have to ask if he’s paying attention.

If he is not paying attention, he should. The simple mathematics are this: but for the votes of black voters in Southern primaries in 2008, Hillary Clinton, and not Barack Obama, would have been the Democratic nominee, and probably President. The black vote he received in South Carolina’s primary allowed his campaign to regain traction after his New Hampshire loss to Clinton. Politics being what it is, unless Democratic losses (most of which are the fault of Obama’s inept messaging and political strategy) next month exceed our worst nightmares to date, Obama is unlikely to have serious opposition for renomination in 2012. But if he does, he will again depend on Southern black primary voters - including those unemployed persons in Eutaw and Tuskegee - to bring him through. And if he presumes they will vote for him because he is black, despite a record inimical to their interests, maybe he should ask his former friend, Artur Davis, how that worked for him.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Alabama’s “Little Ohio”?

In every Presidential election year, one thing is predictable. We might not know who will win, or by how much, or even (until the Holy Sacred Oracles of Iowa dictate to us), who will be the nominees of the parties. But we do know that the national media will obsess over the Buckeye State. Every poll, development, candidate visit (and they will be daily), or other jot of news out of Ohio will be mentioned on every national newscast.

There is a good argument for this focus on Ohio. Despite losing ground in the last several decades, it’s still a fairly large state, with 20 electoral votes. And, after inexplicably preferring Nixon over Kennedy in 1960, it has since sided with the winner of every Presidential election. Its block of electoral votes would have elected Gore in 2000, or Kerry in 2004, had those Democrats carried the state.

Which leads me to ask - do we have a similar bellwether county or region of Alabama? After playing with the numbers awhile, it seems that we do. Looking at the county-level gubernatorial and downballot statewide returns in the partisan-competitive era (1986 onward), there is a band of coterminous counties in North Alabama that seem to be key to the electoral fortunes of both parties. This region includes the counties of Limestone, Morgan, Cullman, Marshall, and DeKalb. These are not small, insignificant counties. Taken together, they accounted for 8.6% of the statewide vote Siegelman received in 2002.

To see this at its clearest, let’s look at the two gubernatorial elections in which Don Siegelman was the Democratic nominee. These are his landslide win in 1998, and the After-Midnight-Recount “loss” of 2002. (If you never follow another link from this blog, read Dr. Gundlach’s compelling statistical evidence that the 2002 election was stolen from Siegelman by Baldwin County election officials, which is the link in the previous sentence.) In the Siegelman win, all five of these counties went Democratic. In 2002, Riley took all five. In these five counties, Siegelman pulled 8,395 fewer votes in 2002 than he did in 1998; this loss alone was greater than his statewide loss. At the same time, Riley’s 2002 total in these counties was 12,055 larger than James’s 1998 tally. Either of these swings made a larger difference than Riley’s 3,120 statewide “win.” Together, the Associated Press’s aborted call of Siegelman as the winner would have withstood Republican larceny in Baldwin County. Also, although Siegelman lost other counties between these two cycles, most of the losses (Mobile being the main exception) were in lesser-populated counties in the Wiregrass, and in East Central Alabama, in the district Riley had represented in Congress.

One salient point bears note. As Gundlach notes, there was a strong correlation between Siegelman’s votes at the county level between the 1998 and 2002 elections. That is, Siegelman tended to get about 85% of the votes in a given county in 2002 that he got in the same county in 1998. (The lone sore-thumb exception was hapless, corrupt Baldwin, where Siegelman’s total dropped to 69.7% of his 1998 vote; this is one of the statistical “smoking guns” of stolen votes.) In our five counties, Siegelman secured 87.2% of his 1998 total. This shows some mathematical evidence that these counties have the potential for Democratic overperformance. In any event, if a Democratic statewide nominee carries these five counties, as a matter of raw arithmetic, there are not that many other places a Republican nominee can go to make up the deficit.

What are the practical implications of all this, as we wind down the 2010 general election campaign? First and foremost, these counties provide a great opportunity for statewide candidates to focus various forms of campaigning in the closing weeks. As they are coterminous, a candidate can make numerous media or public appearances in several of them in one day. For the Democratic candidate who’s smart enough to tap the manpower resources of unions and students in Birmingham, Gadsden and Huntsville, and put street sheets into their hands, all are close enough for some serious canvassing. The tendency of these counties to swing in the direction of a statewide winner means they are a much better use of this manpower than more urban counties like Madison and Jefferson, where individual neighborhoods tend to have set voting patterns, and are resistant to persuasion efforts. For example, as a Democrat, a candidate is going to carry Ensley, and community-based efforts are likely to be more useful than canvassers for GOTV efforts such neighborhoods need. On the other side, a Democrat can canvass Vestavia until volunteers are dropping from starvation; the vote ceiling is still pretty low.

You can also make a strong argument for considering the swing nature of these five counties in allocating media buys in a statewide campaign. Except for that portion of Cullman County from the City of Cullman southward, that part of DeKalb nearest Chattanooga, and part of the southern extreme of Marshall, this region is all in the Huntsville television market. If you spend your TV dollars in Montgomery (as many campaigns do to excess, so that staffers and Goat Hill insiders will see them), your dollar is being spent to reach West Montgomery and Macon County (congenitally Democratic), and Elmore and Autauga Counties (doomed by cretin genetics to be Republican). You aren’t changing a lot of R’s to D’s, even with a million GRP’s. It’s just a bonus that Madison County has some areas, mostly in Randy Hinshaw’s and Butch Taylor’s House districts, that tend to swing between the parties, much more so than outlying areas of metro Birmingham or the Montgomery region. Unless a campaign has a strategic reason to focus its buy on a particular TV market with a locally targeted ad - say, like the Oil-Spill-Is-Republican-Deregulation’s-Fault spot I am still waiting on the ADP to unleash in Mobile - a shift of GRP’s to the Huntsville market makes sense.

Each of these counties (except Marshall, which has three bi-weeklies) has a daily newspaper. Several have news/talk radio stations. These opportunities make candidate facetime a worthwhile investment in the closing days of the campaign. Just remember, to have something quotable to say when you’re calling. “Lazy” and “crook” get quoted; “honored” doesn’t even generate a story.

Downballot candidates should pay this region mind for one final important reason: this year, our gubernatorial nominee is from there. DeKalb County should be having a much higher turnout because of the Sparks candidacy, and his presence on the ticket will be breaking up straight GOP ballots. Once those folks are loose, their votes elsewhere on the ticket may be up for grabs. There may be a similar effect of broken GOP straight tickets in neighboring Marshall County. Friends and neighbors voting is alive and well in Alabama.

So, Mr. or Ms. Candidate or Campaign Manager - head on up to the home of the broilerhouse and beat your Republican opponent in these closing weeks. Or if you’re just a volunteer looking for something to do, offer to take a vanload of canvassers from Birmingham up to Cullman or Albertville. (Don’t forget your street sheet so you’re not wasting time ringing doorbells of nonvoters!) Alabama’s “Little Ohio” will welcome you.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Shadrack McGill - The Republican Ethical Standard (Or, How to Win After the Indictment)

We all remember the Exilic tale of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. (Though, being well-educated Democrats, we spell the first name correctly, unlike the subject of this post.) These three loyal servants of God refused to obey the edict of Nebuchadnezzar to worship the golden image he had set up. Cast into the fiery furnace, they were not only saved by divine intervention, upon their emergence Nebuchadnezzar repented and promoted them to even higher offices than those they had previously held; a truly Sunday School happy ending.

The devout today are hearing from a thousand pulpits across Alabama, that not only do Democrats favor such sinful activity as gambling, they are taking all sorts of bribes to do so. (I still don’t grasp why we have to be bribed, if we are so wicked and depraved in the first place.) One Republican nominee in particular, Shadrack McGill of Woodville, has interjected himself into the gambling indictment story by claiming to have testified to the grand jury that he was offered $15,000.00 not to run against Democratic Senator Lowell Barron in the 8th District. The claim is patently absurd. McGill is enough of a nonentity that no sensible political boss would spend more than $5,000.00 to keep him out of the race.

More to the point, we would do well to consider the source. McGill’s orthography is not the only indicium of his Biblical unfamiliarity. He seems to be even less conversant with the Mosaic edicts so well defended by former Chief Justice Roy Moore. Especially the one about “Thou shalt not steal.” (Ex. 20:15). Meet Ronnie and Shelia Johnson of Jackson County. According to their court filings, Ronnie and Shelia wanted to live the American dream, and own their own business. Mr. McGill happened to own one, a restaurant in rural Jackson County. The Johnsons agreed to buy McGill’s restaurant from him, for payments of $1,330.26 for 60 months at 20.2% interest. (McGill apparently thinks Lev. 25:36, “Take thou no usury of him, or increase,” doesn’t apply to him, either. Republicans are good at overlooking inconvenient Bible verses.) This January, the Johnsons claim, they tendered the final payment and were ready to take delivery of the deed to their restaurant. Only there was no deed forthcoming. On looking into matters with a lawyer, the Johnsons found out that, contrary to what he had told them, his restaurant had either a mortgage or his own land-sale contract obligation encumbering it, which he apparently hadn’t been paying. (McGill, being a fine Christian, did decline to accept the final payment.) Even if he had given the Johnsons their deed, the property would apparently be of little net value to the Johnsons because of the encumbrance. Meanwhile, McGill can probably buy a lot of yard signs for his campaign with the Johnsons’s $78,485.34. For those who want more detail, this is the complaint as filed in Jackson County Circuit Court:

Now, if McGill had been the Republican nominee against Barack Obama, The One would probably still be munching lotus, wondering why McGill didn’t simply succumb to his charm and drop out of the race. Unfortunately for McGill, he’s not running against Obama; he’s running against Lowell Barron, who has been fighting Republicans successfully since The One was a scholarshipped basketball player at Honolulu’s elite Punahou School. (Alabamians, think of Altamont and Indian Springs.) Unlike Obama and his “genius” political staff, Lowell Barron knows what to do when handed a perfectly good baseball bat, and there’s a Republican within arm’s reach:

If Barack Obama’s political skills were as good as Lowell Barron’s, we Democrats would be looking at losing 10 House seats and two Senate seats, tops. And if Obama had Barron’s willingness to answer Republican lies with hard-hitting, yet truthful, counterpunches, we would probably have, at least, public option health insurance, and maybe even a single payer plan. Who knows, if Obama had the wit to quit trying to be a philosopher-president and fight, he might have gotten a big enough stimulus bill, that the unemployment numbers wouldn’t be wreaking their current havoc on Democratic poll numbers.

While Obama is apparently too busy pandering to Republicans by throwing Shirley Sherrod under the bus to tell his Attorney General to fire the last remaining Rove hack in a U.S. Attorney post, there are things we can do to fight back against the GOP sham indictment. We must miss no opportunity to talk about Bob Riley, and his un-investigated $13,000,000.00 from Mississippi Choctaw casino owners. Individual Republicans have their own Achilles’ heels; Kay Ivey drove PACT into the ditch, and Luther “Big Oil” Strange paid for much of his Mountain Brook mansion with oil lobbying money. (In case the ADP missed the memo, oil companies aren’t popular along the Alabama coast this year.) There can be no stop to exposing the seamy underside of the Shadrack McGills (and Mike Hubbards) the GOP is offering the voters to bring “ethics” to Goat Hill. We have to get some paid media up on these issues, and we have to reinforce that message in canvassing, letters to the editor, and just Hardee’s coffee table talk. If I sound like a broken record, or worse yet, a scold, it’s because I haven’t seen the focus and intensity on this point I need to see from a winning Party campaign. I keep hearing “we did a press release on that last week.” Good. Glad you did. But have you or your candidate or Party been quoted on it today?? As a hapless Crimson Tide learnt on the south side of Columbia this weekend, when you lose your focus, you lose. Don’t let it happen to us.

And yo, Shad. Welcome to the furnace, dude.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Fair and Balanced? I’ll Take My Odds in the Bingo Hall Anytime.

Since its inception, the Fox News Network has promoted itself with the Orwellian phrase, “Fair and Balanced,” while being so far from either as to defy credulity. However bad Faux News is, it is at least kept in check by any number of other voices in the media. In Alabama, we are less fortunate, as media ownership is far more concentrated, especially in the print realm. The three newspapers owned by the Newhouse family - The Birmingham News, the Mobile Press-Register, and The Huntsville Times - are not only the three largest newspapers in Alabama; their combined circulation exceeds that of the other twenty-one daily newspapers in Alabama combined. When a media group with that much market power all gets on the same page of the editorial hymnbook, there’s not only temptation for questionable journalistic calls; there is a real danger of the political process becoming skewered in the direction of the dominant media source.

Once upon a time, if The Birmingham News got out of line, the Birmingham Post-Herald was there to offer a contrary perspective. Likewise with The Huntsville News, and the historically Democratic Decatur Daily used to circulate more widely in Huntsville. (Things were less helpful in Mobile, where the Mobile Press and Mobile Register were co-owned by Newhouse even before their 1997 consolidation.) Even in the absence of alternate news sources from the Internet, these correctives kept a significant number of voters aware of alternate perspectives and narratives. But we now live in the age of the one-newspaper town.

This dominant position by one news source has had a serious impact on the events of the last week, and on Alabama politics of the last decade in particular. The coverage of the current indictment of legislators and gaming-industry lobbyists and executives has overlooked one critical point. If not for the efforts of Republican Governor Bob Riley, and those of the GOP Legislative leadership in his hip pocket, there would have been no need for the gaming industry to go all-out in an effort to secure something as simple as the people’s right to vote on the issue. There is certainly reason to believe that Riley has been the beneficiary of millions of dollars of bribes, er, contributions, from out of state gambling interests, most notably the operators of Mississippi Choctaw casinos. This, of course, would give Riley all the incentive he needs to repay his political (and maybe financial) debts to the Choctaw casinos. The first leak of links between Riley and out-of-state gambling interests came in Congressional hearings in 2005, in which sworn testimony was given before a Congressional committee that the Choctaw had pumped $13,000,000 into Alabama to buy Bob Riley a house on South Perry Street.

This year, as Bush-appointed, and Obama-not-yet-fired U.S. Attorney Leura Canary continued her partisan witch hunt of Democrats, Bill Johnson, a former Riley cabinet member who was running for governor, asked to testify to the same grand jury that eventually produced last week’s indictment. He wanted to testify about the other side of the coin: Riley’s receipt of that Choctaw money. Johnson’s letter to Canary was specific enough to make any non-corrupt prosecutor drool:

Bill Johnson Canary Letter
Canary - whose husband managed Riley’s campaigns - refused to allow the grand jury to hear Johnson. In a normal world - say, New York or Minnesota or California - such an accusation about a sitting governor would set off a media feeding frenzy. (And did in Alabama, when that governor’s name was “Siegelman” and he had a “D” before his name.) But Alabama eschews normalcy. In order to determine how one-sided the coverage of gambling influence has been among the three Newhouse newspapers, I did a quantitative analysis. Beginning on the date of this post, I went back two years, in each of the three Newhouse outlets. I did a count of the number of stories that contained the words “Riley” and “Choctaw” in the same paragraph; and of those that contained the words “Democrat,” “Democrats,” or “Democratic” within the same paragraph as any of the words “investigate,” “investigation,” “indict,” “indicted,” or “indictment.” I performed the search on a library LEXIS account, as LEXIS allows root-expansion and proximity-restriction search parameters that are not available on Google, or the Newhouse internal search engine. The results pretty much speak for themselves:

Newspaper“Riley” in same paragraph as “Choctaw”*“Democrat/s/ic” in same paragraph as “indict/ed/ment” or “investigat-/e/ion”

I may have to apologize to Fox News. Even they aren’t that one-sided in their coverage. I should point out that many of the handful of Riley-Choctaw hits were in letters to the editor or online comment hits - not on more widely-read front page stories, as most of the Democratic hits were. The Mobile Press-Register has not mentioned the Riley-Choctaw connection since April 10, 2010, even in any published letter to the editor. From the perspective of a political professional, this sort of coverage is nonexistent. A thorough reader of The Birmingham News is going to see one Riley-Choctaw reference every other month. That kind of repetition is not going to move voters away from Riley and the Republicans.

The implications for this kind of lopsided, biased emphasis are obvious. It’s not surprising that many Alabamians - who don’t have the time to dig for the truth - think the Democratic Party is corrupt, and the Republicans, including Bob Riley, are reformers riding white horses up Dexter Avenue to clean the State House of wickedness. Take the modest example of the front page of last Tuesday’s Press-Register, shown on the left. You will note it even has a story showing Bob Riley trumpeting his moral disgust at the evils of gambling. He should know. As Democrats, we don’t have the Choctaw money, and when we try to exercise our First Amendment rights to receive contributions from the other side of that fight, it’s a “bribe” and everyone gets indicted. All I can counsel for now is to stay mad, and do what we can to get even. One way to vent some steam this weekend would be to write letters to the editors of Alabama newspapers (even the Newhouse ones!) demanding to know why there isn’t more investigation - and coverage - of the Riley-Choctaw connection. The IT folks at the Alabama Democratic Party have put up a useful page here, which allows you to email your letters to the editor. Just remember to take an extra moment, to email each paper its own copy of a letter. Editors will deep-six a letter with a string of addresses of other papers. Knock on doors, and talk about Riley and Choctaws at every opportunity - canvassing, in the coffee shop, over the church lunch, wherever. A little paid TV about Johnson’s spurned testimony might not hurt, either. The TV newscasts might be embarrassed enough to cover it if ads during their programs keep mentioning it. In the long run, there is always the free market. I have always wondered why, if The Cullman Times can at least break even with 10,363 weekday readers, a daily in Birmingham couldn’t. It can’t cost that much to cover the Courthouse, City Hall, wrecks and murders, and keep one good reporter in Montgomery. And if a Birmingham paper (with a semi-decent web presence) scooped the News on a Riley corruption story, or something similar, the circulation gap would close quickly. If that doesn’t work, there are other solutions to market dominance available.

Before anyone posts a comment, yes, I know that we live in an online age, and a thousand journalistic flowers bloom online. But the fact remains, most Alabamians get their news from print or broadcast. And even those who do venture online tend to get their state and local news from, the online presence of the Newhouse newspapers. The better “inside baseball” sources like Doc’s Political Parlor and Home of Lawn Mower Repair, and the tenacious Democratic/progressive sites like Legal Schnauzer and the Locust Fork News, just don’t have the page views that the mass media sites do. (Not that this blog does, either, but I’m not writing for a mass audience.)

* I do want to note that the numbers for “Riley”-“Choctaw” are less than the raw number of hits. However, I omitted those stories (about half the raw hits) that made the list by containing a reference to Choctaw County, Alabama, not the Indian tribe peddling influence in Alabama.