- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:


Oct. 6

The Gadsden (Alabama) Times on Alabama House Speaker’s fading support:

Nearly a year ago, two days after Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, was indicted on felony ethics charges, we said he should not seek the speakership in 2015. Our rationale was that the upcoming legislative session was one of the most important in decades, and the situation surrounding Hubbard would produce unneeded turmoil and distractions.

Hubbard didn’t step down, of course, not that we ever expected him to, and was re-elected speaker by a 104-1 margin. He directed the House through the regular session and two special sessions, which finally produced a budget that hiked (a few taxes) and cut (appropriations) and kept the state’s General Fund solvent.

The turmoil happened, too. Prosecutors leaked embarrassing emails that painted him as not just hungry but ravenous for money and favors. There also was self-inflicted, “how can you sleep at night”-level embarrassment that we and others have called him out for - his attorneys’ claim that the ethics law he championed (and was indicted under) is unconstitutionally vague.

Partly because of that and partly because hard-liners are angry that he seemed too receptive to calls for increased taxes, cracks are appearing in Hubbard’s support in the Republican caucus.

He already has one announced and prominent challenger for the speaker’s post, Rep. Phil Williams, R-Huntsville, chairman of the Technology and Research Committee and a member of the key Ways and Means Education and Education Policy committees.

Williams wrote in a letter to GOP colleagues that “only fresh leadership can restore confidence in the Office of Speaker from both members of the Legislature and the people of Alabama.” He said in media reports that he also was troubled by legislation pushed unsuccessfully by allies of Hubbard that could be construed as benefiting the speaker’s legal situation.

Other Republican House members have indicated they’re ready to wash their hands of Hubbard and move on, but his supporters are being equally vocal and expect all this to blow over once everyone unwinds from the special session. Ninety-nine percent support isn’t easy to erode.

Still, nothing is ever as structurally sound once it’s cracked, and more fissures could develop in Hubbard’s base of support before the Legislature returns in February for its 2016 regular session.

The speaker’s trial starts in March. That’s going to be the ultimate distraction.




Oct. 3

Opelika-Auburn (Alabama) News on re-opening a casino and racetrack in Macon County:

A volley of paperwork has already been filed since Montgomery County Circuit Judge William Shashy ruled last Friday that the state must return 1,615 electronic bingo machines and $263,000 seized in 2013 from VictoryLand, the casino and racetrack in Macon County.

That facility has been closed down for two years while other gambling operations in the state using the same type of machines have been allowed to remain open.

Shashy actually ordered the state to return the money and gambling machines to VictoryLand or, within 45 days, bring legal proceedings against all Alabama casinos.

The state appears to want to do neither.

On Monday, the Attorney General’s office appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court and asked for a stay of Shashy’s order, and on Tuesday, VictoryLand attorney Joe Espy III filed an opposition to the state’s motion to stay.

In his ruling, Shashy said, “. the Court reiterates its ruling that the State of Alabama is cherry-picking which facilities should remain open or closed, and this Court will not be used as an instrument to perpetuate this unfair treatment.”

Also, “It is interesting to note that since the Court’s Order of June 25, 2015, and the last hearing on Aug. 4, 2015, the number of machines and casinos in Alabama has increased. . The State obviously is not enforcing the law equally,” Shashy wrote.

Some 2,000 Macon County residents and hundreds more from surrounding areas lost their jobs when VictoryLand was closed down, and Macon’s economy has continued to suffer from the loss of those jobs. While those willing workers are getting poorer, lawyers on both sides of the case are getting richer.

Like it or not, gambling exists in Alabama, and when VictoryLand was operating in Macon County, it gave a major boost to the economy there and throughout this part of Alabama.

VictoryLand has been treated unfairly.

We look forward to the day - and hope it comes soon - when the barrage of legal paperwork is over and VictoryLand is reopened to benefit the economy of Macon County and surrounding areas.




Oct. 6

Montgomery (Alabama) Advertiser on barriers to voting:

Can anyone seriously believe that the closing of so many driver license offices in so many predominantly black Alabama counties, with all the implications for voting in a state with a harsh voter ID law, would have happened before the Voting Rights Act was gutted two years ago? The preclearance provisions of the law that were removed in the infamous Shelby County v. Holder case would have kept such a move confined to the ever-active minds of those looking to suppress participation in the electoral process.

Now, under the guise of budget cuts, Alabama proposes to make it far more difficult for citizens to obtain driver licenses, which they not only need to lawfully operate a vehicle, but which also are the most commonly used forms of identification for meeting the requirements of the state’s voter ID law. The impact is glaringly disproportionate; every county in which the population of registered voters is 75 percent or more African-American will see the driver license office close.

Therein lies another argument - as if one were needed — for restoring those provisions, appropriately modified to reflect modern-day reality and the demonstrated progress made since the act was passed in 1965.

U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, who represents the 7th District and most of the Black Belt counties hardest hit by the closures, has called for a Justice Department investigation. It is well justified.

The barrage of criticism from inside and outside Alabama prompted quick claims that alternatives are available for meeting voter ID requirements. It is true that voter ID can be obtained from county boards of registrars, although the boards’ days and hours of operations vary. It is also true that the secretary of state’s office has a mobile ID unit that visits various counties. However, Sewell noted that her office had received a number of complaints about the ready accessibility and inconvenience of these options.

Some have suggested online alternatives, but that presumes the widespread availability of broadband Internet access and personal computers. That’s a huge issue in many of the affected counties. Alabama’s digital divide is greatest in the Black Belt counties, so it’s hard to see that as a realistic option.

Openly intended or not, problems like this are the predictable result of a stubborn refusal by the Legislature to face fiscal facts and take the necessary steps to properly fund the basic functions of state government. Add to that the potential political impact of suppressed voter participation and Alabamians are smothered in a toxic blend that reeks of irresponsibility and chicanery..



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