Wednesday, August 31, 2005

'Oh my God, it was hell'

That's how a survivor described the flooding in New Orleans, which looks like a nightmare come to life today as water continued to pour into the city Tuesday night. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin estimated that thousands are dead from Hurricane Katrina, and the storm looks like the biggest disaster in American history.

And as if that weren't enough horrifying news for one day, more than 840 people died in a stampede on a Baghdad bridge today when a crowd of Shiite pilgrims panicked after hearing rumors of a suicide bomber among them. The death toll probably will rise as workers find more bodies.

I might start writing about state or national politics again in the next day or two. But right now, it all seems so comparatively insignificant in the face of such unspeakable tragedy.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005


Hurricane Katrina's death toll has increased dramatically overnight. It killed at least 55 people in Mississippi alone, and many more are believed dead there and in New Orleans, where CNN reports tales of "bodies floating in the floodwaters" that cover 80 percent of the city.

Those fatalities are in addition to the 11 deaths last week when Katrina passed through Florida on its way to the Gulf and the two people who died Monday in a traffic accident in southern Alabama. Downtown Mobile is submerged after a record storm surge, and parts of Baldwin, Clarke, and Washington counties sustained severe damage. More than 634,000 Alabamians had no electricity as of 6 a.m. today.

CNN just reported that President Bush will return to Washington today to coordinate relief efforts, which will need to be swift and massive in response to what appears to be the most damaging and one of the most lethal hurricanes in American history.

My thoughts and prayers today are with all of Katrina's victims.

Monday, August 29, 2005

And it's not done yet

New Orleans avoided a direct hit from Hurricane Katrina today, but three people died Sunday, and much of the city is still flooded. The deputy director of the LSU Hurricane Center described the Big Easy's situation thusly: "[There's] no sewage, no drinking water, contamination, threat of rapid increase in mosquitoes, roads are impassible, downed power lines everywhere, trees, debris from houses in the roads, no way to go shopping, no gas."

Fortunately, the Louisiana Superdome, which contained 10,000 storm refugees, endured the hurricane's onslaught aside from the loss of a few pieces of its roof. Meanwhile, the Mississippi Gold Coast, which bore the brunt of Katrina's landfall, has been savaged, with reports of three dead from falling trees and more than 500,000 without power in the state.

In Alabama, downtown Mobile is underwater, and two people died in a hurricane-related accident. More than 210,000 Alabamians are without power as Katrina churns ever northward, still bearing winds that frequently gust to hurricane force.

Stay safe, everyone.

Adding to the mix?

State Sen. Harri Anne Smith, R-Slocomb, is thinking about making Alabama's Republican gubernatorial primary a three-way dance next year, The Associated Press reports. Smith has the Senate's most conservative voting record; she also has virtually no statewide name recognition, unlike Gov. Bob Riley and former Chief Justice Roy Moore.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

This one's a monster

New Orleans is a great city full of friendly people, but Hurricane Katrina isn't the gracious type. If you're anywhere near the Big Easy -- including the Alabama Gulf Coast -- please stay safe.

'Everyone's patience can last only so long'

President Bush still has a 52 percent job approval rating in Alabama, according to a Mobile Register poll conducted last week. That's down 5 points from May 2004 and within the poll's margin of error, so the decline may be less statistically significant than it appears on the surface.

At any rate, Bush's popularity in Alabama remains considerably higher than it is nationally, where recent polls show his approval rating has dipped as low as 36 percent. As poll director Keith Nicholls said, "The people of Alabama are, on average, more patient with the situation than people nationwide, but everyone's patience can last only so long."

The once and future chairman

Joe Turnham won a second go-around as chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party on Saturday, picking up the support of 142 of the 170 executive committee members in attendance.

Turnham also revealed a pretty reasonable approach to the party's likely gubernatorial primary showdown between Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley and former Gov. Don Siegelman next year: "My goal is going to be to compete and to debate, but to heal quickly and to do it in ways that it doesn't rupture the fabric of the party."

Ah, football season really is here

Auburn University had a slight lead over the University of Alabama in the raw number of Alabama specialty license plates through September 2004, but the Crimson Tide won in the Electoral College, carrying 34 of the state's 67 counties compared to the Tigers' 27. Alabama also has made slightly more scholarship money over the course of the program, which launched in 1988.

What does it all mean? Aside from reminding us that kickoff is less than a week away, absolutely nothing. Oh, and for the curious, third place went not to UAB but to Alabama State University.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

And sometimes I post about music

Country Music Television has named Alan Jackson's "Midnight in Montgomery" to the No. 13 spot on its list of the "20 Greatest City Songs," which it's unveiling tonight.

So what are your favorite city songs? (I haven't found the whole list yet, so I'm assuming it consists entirely of songs with the city's name in the title.) Don't limit yourself to country songs; after all, that would exclude "New York, New York" and "Viva Las Vegas."

As for the country side of things, I'm pretty partial to both Jackson's "Midnight in Montgomery" and "Streets of Bakersfield" by Buck Owens and Dwight Yoakam. Of course, I might think of a few that I like better after I submit this post.

Just play home-and-home

That Alabama-Florida State football game may not happen.

Right now, FSU only has four scheduled home games in 2007, so the school wants to count the contest in Jacksonville, Fla., as a home game. That would give the broadcast rights to ABC, which would be a big problem for the SEC, whose television contracts award CBS first dibs on neutral-site games.

A home-and-home series would clear up the confusion, but Alabama athletics director Mal Moore says scheduling constraints mean the Crimson Tide wouldn't get a return game until years later, which doesn't much matter to me as long as FSU eventually comes to the Capstone.

Or maybe Grandparents Day

Gov. Bob Riley announced his last campaign for Alabama's top office on Independence Day. Now Montgomery is buzzing with speculation that he'll launch a 2006 re-election bid during a Labor Day picnic at the Governor's Mansion.

Riley's likely challenger in the Republican primary, former Chief Justice Roy Moore, is supposed to make his gubernatorial plans known by October, though it's unclear if his announcement also will be set against a holiday backdrop.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Groundbreaking journalism

The Auburn Plainsman over the years has earned the nickname "ComPlainsman" with its continual (and largely justified) editorials slamming Auburn University's board of trustees. The label, which many critics applied derisively, became an unspoken point of pride for many of the paper's staff members.

While doing a little Web surfing today, I discovered that The Plainsman has embraced the moniker openly for the last year or so by defanging it and converting it into a regular column called "ComPlainsman," in which anonymous people rant about mundane things to relieve tension and fill the news hole.

Really, this is good stuff. Among this week's revelations: People talk too loudly on their cell phones, professors like to brag about how much they know, and construction, indeed, "blows."

Thursday, August 25, 2005

I'd watch

An Alabama-Florida State football game in 2007? Rock.

The bad news is that it'd be a one-time event in Jacksonville, Fla., which would give FSU a virtual home game without any kind of reciprocity requirement. The good news is that the game would draw huge national attention that could justify the sacrifice.

The Birmingham News also reports that the Crimson Tide is considering games against Duke and Tulane, which don't interest me, and games against Army, Georgia Tech, and Navy, which do.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Robertson finds another shark, jumps it

Sure, televangelist Pat Robertson today said he was sorry for that whole "suggesting the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez" thing, but where was his demand for an apology from the liberal media? After all, only the most biased reporter could misconstrue his innocent statement Monday -- "If [Chavez] thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think we really ought to go ahead and do it" -- as a call for killing a foreign leader.

As Robertson noted today, The Associated Press completely ignored the context; he merely said U.S. forces should "take [Chavez] out." And hey, that could include anything from kidnapping to a romantic candlelight dinner. Maybe both. But even if Chavez insists upon ordering the lobster, no price is too high to prevent "Muslim extremism" from taking hold, even in countries where 98 percent of citizens are Catholic or Protestant.

Regardless, now that this whole Chavez ugliness is behind him, we can join Robertson in returning our attention to the activist judge crisis that threatens to consume everything we hold dear. In the long term, of course, we need to build a missile defense system to protect Florida from homosexual-induced meteor strikes, but we should be fine as long as God's chosen president is in charge.

Three more weeks

As I predicted a few days ago, the mayoral races in Mobile and Tuscaloosa are both headed for runoffs on Sept. 13. Mobile's race is down to Mobile County Commissioner Sam Jones and City Councilman John Peavy, while Tuscaloosa's showdown will be between former Council President Sammy Watson and City Councilman Walt Maddox.

Mobile's election turned out as I thought, but Tuscaloosa's was a bit of a surprise. In Mobile, Jones, the overwhelming frontrunner, was just a few percentage points shy of an outright victory, with Peavy rustling up enough votes to beat out the other candidates for a spot in the runoff. Barring a miracle, though, Jones is Mobile's next mayor.

Watson easily qualified for the Tuscaloosa runoff with 38 percent of the vote, but I expected his showing to be more along the lines of Jones'. I also would have guessed that businessman Mark Booth, not Maddox, would be the second man in the runoff. As it is, Maddox's finish was strong enough that he realistically could overcome his 7-point gap over the next three weeks. And despite Booth's elimination Tuesday, his endorsement could decide Tuscaloosa's next mayor.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Because cameras solve everything

U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Saks, said a couple of months ago that a contract to use surveillance cameras to guard the United States' 2,067-mile border with Mexico was a waste of tax money. But after a tour of a few border areas last week, he thinks cameras are a great way to fight illegal immigration, The Birmingham News reports today.

Rogers also wants Congress to pay to hire 10,000 more border agents over the next five years and to pass the Border Protection Corps Act, which would "create organized militias to catch illegal border crossers and turn them in." U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas, who was on the same trip as Rogers, blasts the militia plan as "dangerous," "foolish," and "anti-immigration hysteria."

Monday, August 22, 2005

Well, when you look at it that way...

Alabama has 4.03 registered lobbyists per legislator. That may sound like a lot, but it's actually below the national average, maybe because it only takes one of them to run the state.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Runoffs are quite likely

The municipal elections in Mobile and Tuscaloosa are Tuesday. I haven't said much about them, because I largely prefer to focus on state and national politics here, but potential watershed moments for two of Alabama's largest cities merit at least an open thread. Have at it if you'd like.

Your state government at work

State-appointed attorneys for indigent defendants in all but one of Alabama's counties haven't gotten payments for overhead costs since February, when Attorney General Troy King issued an opinion saying that state law bars such payments. The lawyers, upset about losing roughly a third of the already comparatively small amount they received to represent the poor, have sued seeking to get the payments restored.

King, for his part, says he's all well and good with overhead pay and blames the Legislature, which recently passed a resolution that said it didn't mean for the law to say what King said it said. Correcting the law itself during the recent special session was out of the question, of course, especially after the state Christian Coalition for some reason saw fit to oppose the restoration.

Somewhere, on a parallel world far, far away, this makes sense.

Muzzles for the gas guzzlers?

The good news: Alabama's gas prices often lag behind the national average. The bad news: Those prices are still up 75 cents over last year, including a 30-cent increase in the last month.

As the Mobile Register notes today, a recent survey found that soaring prices haven't stemmed Alabamians' demand for sweet, sweet crude. Without much in the way of efficient public transportation, most people in this state have to drive wherever they want to go, so they really don't have much of a choice. But the higher fuel prices have decreased purchases of fuel accoutrements like snacks and soft drinks, the items on which many gas station owners rely to make their profits.

More than four out of five survey respondents said they would consider fuel efficiency as a "major factor" when buying their next automobile, a sign that automakers would be wise to focus on increasing their production of more environmentally friendly models in the near future.

As for lowering the speed limit to promote fuel efficiency, a solid majority of Alabamians said no way, which won't surprise you in the least if you've ever driven in this state.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Environmentally conscious

Caught removing your husband's political opponent's campaign signs from the highway median? Just call it an act of social responsibility: "I wasn't stealing signs. I was picking up litter off the sides of the road."

Friday, August 19, 2005

Appeals cost money, too

The number of appeals to the Alabama Supreme Court fell for the second straight year in 2004, hitting a four-year low. Associate Justice Harold See attributes the decline to a stabler judicial philosophy after several new justices settled into their jobs on the court, whose composition has shifted in the last decade from a Democratic stranglehold to a Republican stranglehold.

Meanwhile, the Court of Criminal Appeals judges' caseloads, in keeping with tradition, are still more than twice as heavy as the national average.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Absolutely disgusting

What kind of twisted logic and misplaced loyalties could lead someone to think it's a good idea to run over memorials to U.S. troops who died in Iraq?

Might want to double-check those figures

Birmingham is the 19th most liberal city in the United States, according to a nonpartisan study of voting patterns in the 2004 presidential election. The researchers' methodology, which doesn't account for the political leanings of suburban voters or non-voters, places the Magic City ahead of New York, Boston, and Los Angeles on the liberal list.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Another electoral machinations update

Former State Auditor Susan Parker wants to be the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor next year if former Gov. Jim Folsom, Jr., doesn't. If he does, she'll probably run for a spot on the Public Service Commission. Either way, she says, GOP lieutenant governor candidate George Wallace, Jr., doesn't scare her: "I'm not afraid of any Republican."

Parker had been an early favorite to win the Alabama Democratic Party chairmanship, but now that she's out of the race, party officials face an Aug. 27 showdown for the job between former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones, who recently worked on the defense team for former Gov. Don Siegelman, and former state party chairman Joe Turnham.

Jones carries former party executive director Giles Perkins' endorsement, while the Mobile County Democratic Committee has sided with Turnham.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Something's wrong there

As a general rule, gas prices really shouldn't go up 10 cents a gallon in one day.

Well, that was succinct

U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, D-Birmingham, while talking to Tuscaloosa senior citizens Monday about why Republicans' Social Security privatization plan has tanked in opinion polls: "[T]hey thought your children would be more selfish than they are."

They're supposed to be for emergencies

Another special session this year? One to deal with the prison overcrowding problems that Alabama has had for decades?

It's a terrible idea in theory, but Gov. Bob Riley is thinking about it. And considering that special sessions seem to be the only way legislators can get any work done lately, it's tough to blame him.

Monday, August 15, 2005

The horror! The horror!

Liberal activist judges hate religion! They hate freedom! They want to take away your right to jail gays for, well, doing gay stuff!

For more information on all of the above, plus a special guest appearance by the pillar of ethical behavior, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, check out The Washington Post's coverage of Justice Sunday II, which came to you live and shrill from a "mega-church just across the highway from the Grand Ole Opry" in Nashville, Tenn.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The countdown continues

The Birmingham News reports today that former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore will reveal his 2006 gubernatorial aspirations, or lack thereof, in October. Gov. Bob Riley remains uncommitted.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

The next big wave

Alabama's Hispanic population officially is more than 98,000, which is up almost 300 percent over where it was 14 years ago. Unofficially, the population is much higher because many undocumented immigrants aren't included. A UAB professor estimates that the Birmingham area alone has 70,000 Hispanics, more than four times the area's number in the census count.

An interesting thing that Susan of Local Tint notes is that American immigration largely was unregulated until the 1880s, when Congress decided to bar all Chinese for a few generations. That means the ancestors of many white Americans, unlike today's Hispanic immigrants, faced few or no legal obstacles to entering the country. Somehow, despite almost 300 years of uncontrolled immigration to the present-day United States, everything still turned out all right.

Friday, August 12, 2005

It takes a governor

Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley, who's running for governor next year, said Thursday that Alabama should be run "more like a family" than a business. And did she mention she grew up as a poor farm girl and had a successful real estate career? If she hasn't yet, she should.

A handy guide to gambling in Alabama

Gambling, in addition to being corrosive to the very foundation of civilized society, is also illegal in Alabama.

Unless it's greyhound racing. Or small-time bingo. Or high-stakes video bingo machines that look a lot like something you'd see in a Las Vegas casino but really aren't.

Texas hold 'em is legal, unless the house makes money from it. Fruitholder, Funny Fruit, and Respin 7 are fine, too, unless the appeals court decides they aren't. If your arcade machines pay out trinkets, you should be in the clear. Just don't exchange those trinkets for cash, because then you'll be running a sinful lottery.

Note: These rules may not apply on Indian reservations.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

At least he left the shears at home

Three weeks ago, former Gov. Don Siegelman brought a pair of red garden shears to a press conference. On Wednesday, he held "a small plastic bingo set" while talking to reporters in a Wetumpka parking lot. No, seriously.

Your mission: Select Siegelman's next campaign prop. Bonus points for elaborate mise en scène.

Is that all?

In a Mobile Register story about Auburn University trustees and political action committees and such is the following sentence: "There are about 70,000 Auburn alumni in Alabama."

Hmm, I'd have figured at least 100,000. Does anyone know how that compares with the University of Alabama's numbers?

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Auditing: Tres chic

Tripp Skipper, an aide to U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Saks, entered next year's race for state auditor Tuesday. Skipper joins Samantha Shaw, chairwoman of the Montgomery County GOP Executive Committee, in the Republican primary showdown. Other potential GOP contenders mentioned in the Mobile Register are Birmingham attorney Ches Bedsole and Mobile attorney Jim Zeigler.

I'm unaware of any candidates on the Democratic side thus far, but a slew of names should emerge soon. Who wouldn't want to be state auditor?

It won't leave the state

About six weeks after Mobile hosted what was to be the city's final America's Junior Miss pageant, organizers announced that the event will return to the bay area next year. The board of directors has cut the budget in half and won't go after national television coverage for the time being. No word yet from the Mobile Register on the future of the oyster-eating contest.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Talk amongst yourselves

The college football coaches' poll has been out for a few days. Fall practices have begun. Instant replay is on the way in the major conferences. Division I-A games start Sept. 1, a little more than three weeks from today.

Quite simply, it's time for a preseason open thread. Who will win the national championship? Who will win the SEC? How will the in-state teams fare? Will Beano Cook make it through an entire ESPN appearance without mentioning Penn State coach Joe Paterno? And how long before my blog-based poll becomes a component of the Bowl Championship Series?


Another big loss

ABC News anchorman Peter Jennings was the nation's first major media figure to die in the last few days. John H. Johnson, America's most influential black publisher, was the second.

Johnson, who died Monday at age 87, parlayed a $500 loan he received in 1942 into a multimillion-dollar media empire that published Ebony and Jet and helped to launch radio host Tom Joyner into national prominence. Johnson's life story is an inspiring, lasting testament to his refusal to back down in the face of institutional racism and long financial odds.

Hobson's choice

State Auditor Beth Chapman ended the speculation Monday by announcing her entry into Alabama's race for secretary of state next year. Barring major primary challenges on either side, the Republican will face Democratic incumbent Nancy Worley, who said she plans to run on her record, which includes her selection of Diebold to set up the state's voter registration system despite an advisory committee's preference for two other vendors.

You may remember Chapman from her 2003 public admonition that "liberal, tree-hugging, hippie, Birkenstock-wearing, tie-dyed liberals" should "go make their movies and music and whine somewhere else." (Yes, she actually used liberal as an adjective to describe liberals.) But don't worry; she has lots of other ideas, too.

For example, Chapman supports open government, even though she didn't say specifically if she's for a ban on transfers between political action committees. Also, she wants the Legislature to make photo voter identification mandatory, even though federal law bars such a requirement. (Fear not; she promises to "lobby Congress.") And as for whether she'll also lobby Congress to renew parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 before they expire in 2007, she promised to think really hard and then reveal her stance.

Monday, August 08, 2005

It'd be an improvement

The Alabama Bar Association is pushing for a constitutional amendment to end partisan elections for the state's appeals courts and move toward an appointment system.

Under the proposal, a variant of the Missouri Plan, a nominating committee would submit three names to the governor, who would appoint one of the finalists to fill a judicial vacancy. Then an evaluation committee would issue a report on the judge's work before the state's voters decided in an uncontested election whether to retain or oust the judge.

Alabama's judicial elections have become big-money affairs in the last two decades -- the Mobile Register reports that in Supreme Court races, "campaign expenditures increased by 776 percent between 1986 and 1996" -- and that big spending can hurt the public's view of the judiciary. As ABA President Bobby Segall said, "[H]aving special elections where groups take sides and give money makes judges vulnerable to people questioning their objectivity, and that's not fair to them."

The ABA's proposal would be a better way than partisan elections to minimize those objectivity concerns and to free judges to make rulings that are unpopular but legally correct. It also would retain the main advantage of judicial elections by leaving judges ultimately accountable to the public. The plan isn't perfect, and it isn't likely to become reality any time soon, but on the whole, it'd be better than the system we have now.

Signed off too soon

Peter Jennings was one of the greatest broadcasters ever, a steady voice in times of trouble, and one of the few people who gave me hope for television journalism's future. He'll be missed.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

The shark remains jumped

Two days after his meltdown on CNN, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Robert Novak appeared Saturday at the Business Council of Alabama's annual conference in Point Clear to debate Democratic strategist Paul Begala.

This time, Novak didn't swear and leave the stage. He also said nothing about the investigation of CIA operative Valerie Plame's outing, which he would have been asked about Thursday on CNN had he not stormed off the set.

What a vivid analogy

From today's Birmingham News story about Gov. Bob Riley's speech at the Business Council of Alabama's annual conference: "[Riley] said Alabama's past method of economic development has been described as a buffalo hunt: Travel up north, slay a textile plant, and feed off the factory jobs for the next decade."

In other news, Riley still hasn't committed to seeking re-election next year, but his friends say he probably will.

An impressive display of expertise

The introduction of high-stakes video bingo machines at Greenetrack last year has added 300 jobs in Greene County, a rural area that desperately needs employment opportunities. Not everyone is pleased that the gains have resulted from the expansion of gambling, however, and one of the chief critics is John Giles, president of the Christian Coalition of Alabama.

Giles, as you'd expect, asserts that gambling is wrong because he thinks it disproportionately hurts the poor and the elderly. Then he delves into economic analysis. See, gambling is an uncertain employment source that could pull out of town at any time; manufacturing jobs are far stabler. And that would be a wonderfully persuasive argument, except that the state has lost 100,000 manufacturing jobs in the last 10 years even when you factor in the explosive growth of automobile production.

Not content to rest on his laurels, Giles also offers the answer to all of the Black Belt's economic worries: "[T]he long-term economic development fix for any county is good clean industry."

Finally, bold leadership in the fight against pollution! Unchecked video gambling machines have contaminated our air and water with noxious emissions for far too long. The sooner we end their reign of terror, the healthier and more prosperous we'll all be.

Saturday, August 06, 2005


Former Gov. Don Siegelman isn't a wuss, OK? In fact, he can't stand wusses. Because Alabama won't get a lottery if he's a wuss. Which he definitely isn't.

He may or may not run for governor next year; that's for non-wusses like him to decide on their own time. But just in case, why don't you take this "DON '06" bumper sticker -- "It could be any Don '06," he reminds you -- and put it on your car. Right now.

And don't forget your garden shears.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Is there anything this guy doesn't control?

Gov. Bob Riley won't sign a bill to create the Alabama Tourism Development Finance Authority today. Don't get him wrong; he likes the idea of attracting theme parks to the state, but he's not a big fan of bills that would let the Alabama Education Association tell him what to do.

No, seriously, it would. AEA executive secretary Paul Hubbert, as always, is unapologetic and really, really good at his job.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Good news for the reformists

Fully 70 percent of Alabamians want the state constitution revised or rewritten, according to a recent survey. Sixty-eight percent of respondents said they would vote for a convention to write a new constitution if the issue came before them.

Time and again, legislators have rejected efforts to overhaul the 1901 constitution, which gives them far too much power over local matters and is filled with racist language to boot. (You can read more about the document's numerous problems here.) Time and again, Alabama's powers-that-be have claimed people don't want a new constitution, and besides, even if they do, they certainly don't trust a convention where anything could happen.

Scratch another excuse off the list.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The myth of the paintbrush

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said Tuesday that he thinks his party can retake the Governor's Mansion in Alabama next year. In his speech to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Birmingham, he also promised that his party won't write off the South again as it did in 2004 and won't be "pretending to be Republican-lite."

Dean's speech also revealed the outlines of what seem to be two emerging Democratic campaign tactics for the coming years: 1) Neutralize the GOP's use of abortion, gay marriage, etc., as wedge issues by appealing to people's desire to "keep government out of private lives" and 2) Tout balanced budgets, health care, voting rights, etc., as "moral values."

Whether either tactic works remains to be seen, but Dean's proposed leave-no-district-behind plan has shown early signs of success. Democratic candidate Paul Hackett, an Iraq war veteran and gun rights supporter who continually blasted President Bush's policies, came within 4 percentage points of winning the special election for Ohio's 2nd Congressional District on Tuesday. That outcome seems unimpressive until you learn that registered Republicans outnumber registered Democrats more than 3-1 in the district and that Bush got 64 percent of the vote there last year; then it suggests that even a party's safest seats may be up for grabs given the right opponent.

Many political wonks' first instinct is to paint most areas as immutably red or blue, but Hackett's performance implies that that isn't the case. It also indicates that Dean's 50-state strategy is the right one for the Democratic Party.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Long overdue

U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, D-Birmingham, is sponsoring a bill to hold data brokers more accountable for preventing identity theft. He's also for a Senate measure that pretty much would end Social Security number sales, despite some corporate opposition. "My sense is I want to err on the side of the consumer," Davis said.

No congressman wants to be the one who voted for identity theft, so some form of this legislation, probably a watered-down version, likely will pass soon.

He almost didn't get credit

Mike Brown, one of the scientists who announced the discovery of the 10th planet Friday, is from Huntsville. He helped discover Sedna, too. The Huntsville Times, as you'd expect, has the details.

Monday, August 01, 2005

C'mon, he's got vacationing to do

Can't get the Senate to confirm a guy who once said "there is no such thing as the United Nations" as your U.N. ambassador? No big deal; just ignore Congress by making a recess appointment and then go to your ranch for a month.

Sometimes task forces are OK, too

General rules about government transparency: 1) Open meetings are good. 2) So are open records.

Still, it's a start

I've suggested mandatory civics education no later than middle school before, so I'm not exactly displeased that Congress will require all schools that receive federal funds to teach a Constitution lesson each year on Sept. 17 or thereabouts.

But one day a year isn't enough; if we're to keep freedom at the forefront of American society, children need to learn about the Constitution early and often. The new requirement for the newly renamed "Constitution Day and Citizenship Day" smacks more of symbolism than substance.


Grover Norquist, the anti-tax lobbyist who once said he'd like to get government down "to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub," wasn't pleased when Alabama Gov. Bob Riley proposed a $1.2 billion tax plan in 2003. Norquist, who has huge clout among Washington Republicans, told The New Yorker, "Bob Riley will never be president."

So does Riley have any interest in a White House run one day? Riley spokesman Jeff Emerson: "If he does, Grover Norquist wouldn't know about it."