Tuesday, January 31, 2006

And that's the bottom line

Former Gov. Don Siegelman has $342,000 in his campaign coffers after expenses, according to a filing with the secretary of state's office Monday. He's raised only $105,000 in contributions and has $100,000 remaining from his 2002 campaign. A $300,000 loan from his brother has helped to pad the total, though.

Siegelman, speaking in the third person, said the fundraising efforts are slow because he's waiting until after his impending criminal trial to approach big-money donors: "This is how Don Siegelman will run his campaign, not with a few big contributions from special interests."

In other news, The Associated Press reports today that Siegelman's website continued to solicit donations after the legislative session began Jan. 10, despite an Alabama law effectively barring such efforts until Feb. 6. Siegelman called the solicitation a mistake by volunteers and had it removed.

'Matriarch of the movement'

"Hate is too great a burden to bear. It injures the hater more than it injures the hated."

Like her husband, Mrs. King nobly devoted her life to fighting against hate and for civil rights. May she rest in peace.

Monday, January 30, 2006

The wrong kind of dog show

On the list of optimal places for a dog to relieve itself, the atrium of Mobile's Government Plaza can't be near the top.

The lowdown

Today's Birmingham News compares the trifecta of proposals -- plans respectively supported by Gov. Bob Riley; Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville; and Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery -- that would raise Alabama's income tax threshold above its present level of $4,600 annually for a family of four.

I haven't had a chance to review the plans closely yet, and there's a decent shot that none of them will clear the Legislature this year, but I thought you still might be interested in the details.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

That's why they call him a cowboy, baby

Vice President Cheney will visit the Morgan County town of Priceville next week to raise money for U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville. The arena crew will have about a day and a half to get the building ready after an indoor track meet.

As for the dirt floor, the arena manager said it won't be a problem: "They shouldn't get their shoes dirty. [The dirt] compacts good."

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Your weekend history lesson

UAB didn't always have a dragon named Blaze as its mascot. Its predecessors included a vicious Viking warrior, a pink dragon, and Beauregard the rooster, who was decidedly not intimidating.

Why and how an adult male chicken was to represent a team called the Blazers isn't exactly clear. Then again, to an outsider, the Alabama Crimson Tide's elephant and the Auburn Tigers' eagle wouldn't make much sense either. Nor would Middle Tennessee State's winged horse or Stanford's tree. Also uncertain is why Notre Dame, a school that shares a name with a French cathedral, would be urged to victory by a brawling leprechaun.

Maybe the rooster wasn't so bad after all.

Good news for interstellar daters

The Milky Way is filled with single stars, suggesting that, yes, there may be life out there after all. Sadly, though, some of the galaxy's stars have become single against their will, in that the massive black hole at the Milky Way's center is tearing them apart from their binary partners and flinging them deep into outer space.

Black holes clearly don't respect family values.

This month in quotes

The last two weeks have been heavy on public statements that, at the very least, could have been worded better. Here's a sampling.

U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.: "When you look at the way the House of Representatives has been run, it has been run like a plantation, and you know what I'm talking about."

Conservative pundit Ann Coulter: "We need somebody to put rat poison in Justice [John Paul] Stevens' creme brulee. That's just a joke, for you in the media."

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin: "Surely, God is mad at America. He sent us hurricane after hurricane after hurricane, and it's destroyed and put stress on this country."

Friday, January 27, 2006

Never mind about that runoff

Effectively negating the subject matter of this post, state Sen. Harri Anne Smith, R-Slocomb, endorsed Gov. Bob Riley on Thursday and announced that she won't run for the state's top job. That decision leaves the GOP with a two-man race to the finish between Riley and former Chief Justice Roy Moore.

A Moore press release brushed aside Smith's endorsement. It also misspelled her name.

The quest for the gentleman's C

How many questions can you miss before your grade is too low to allow you to give grades to other people? That's the question that Alabama education officials want to get right before they reinstate teacher testing later this year for the first time since early in the Reagan administration.

The administrators' reasons why not

U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon thinks school systems like Birmingham and Bessemer, which he calls "predominantly black and demonstrably inferior," should merge into the more diverse Jefferson County system to improve their students' performance.

No matter how you feel about the idea, a whole host of reasons -- logistics, economics, community opposition -- make such a union unlikely any time soon, according to today's Birmingham News.

One Birmingham school board member weighed in with a negative view of the proposal: "We're still going to have the same poor children. The economy is not going to change for them because they're in a different school system."

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The numbers game

About 250 people carrying a petition with 65,000 signatures rallied in Montgomery to support constitutional reform efforts Wednesday. A far smaller number of opponents also gathered to decry the "socialist agenda" that they suggest is eager to strip Alabamians of the right "to vote before the liberal Legislature raises our taxes," even though aforementioned legislative body already can increase some taxes on its own.

All large and small public demonstrations aside, Rep. Randy Hinshaw, D-Meridianville, said the bill probably won't go too far in 2006 because -- wait for it -- it's an election year.

Opposite day

A bill to allow Alabama high schools to offer an elective Bible literacy class cleared a House committee Wednesday on a party-line vote. If you haven't read this story yet, it might surprise you to learn that the opposition came entirely from Republicans.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Something we're all better off knowing

"[M]any bats have evolved outrageously big testes."

Thanks, science.

Going native

The impending merger of UPN and the WB to form The CW -- not to be confused with any other media outlets bearing those letters -- looks to cause a resurgence in independent television stations in large- to medium-sized cities that had affiliates of both networks.

One such place is Birmingham, where the current UPN 68 will return to its independent roots. The general manager says the schedule will be heavy with "high school sports and family-oriented events." Lest that prospect leave you underenthusiastic, the GM says the station actually made more money when it briefly disaffiliated from UPN in the late 1990s.

In fact, you shouldn't even read this post

President Bush stopped by the super-secret National Security Agency headquarters today to give a super-secret speech, presumably about super-secret things that you have no business knowing. So here's a wire story about it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Public service announcement

"For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous."

Now go to Snead and get your free Coke.

Thank you, DVD player

Where The West Wing and Arrested Development went wrong: actually being good. This is network television, after all.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The results are in, eh?

Canada today elected a minority government controlled by the Conservative Party, not so much because Canadian voters have drifted rightward as because the ruling Liberal Party was beset by scandal that disgusted many in the country.

Conservatives will need to round up 30 other politicians from outside their party to get anything done, so it'll be interesting to see what policy changes, if any, they will bring to our northern neighbor. Incoming Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a one-time Iraq hawk who surely reads opinion polls, already has pledged not to send the Canadian military to help American forces in Iraq, though he does want Parliament to repeal gay marriage.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Want students to pay attention to politics?

When there absolutely has to be a poll

A recent Mobile Register survey of 405 Alabamians shows that 97 percent of them "shop at Wal-Mart at least occasionally." Look, the Register can't run political polls every week, OK?

Friday, January 20, 2006

Meanwhile, we still have no state fungus

State Sen. Pat Lindsey, D-Butler, thinks Alabama needs to have an official state mammal. He recommends the black bear.

In keeping with the 'election year' theme

Yes, the state Supreme Court recently declared the practice unconstitutional, but you didn't think Alabama legislators would give up their power to pass out discretionary funds in their districts without a fight, did you?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Why William Shatner is better than you

He raised $25,000 by selling his kidney stone and you didn't.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The year's first Supreme Court post

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Oregon assisted-suicide law today by a 6-3 vote. The first commenter to guess the vote breakdown without looking at the story wins 100 points, redeemable for, well, nothing other than bragging rights. Double points if you can guess which justice wrote the opinion.

Wake up the echoes

Parts of Gov. Bob Riley's State of the State address last week sounded an awful lot like one of former President Clinton's State of the Union speeches.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Words to remember today

"We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools."
-- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Crossing over

Alabama Republicans had thought about banning crossover voting, but they decided unanimously this weekend that they wouldn't after all. Some political experts have said the ban would have benefited Gov. Bob Riley in his primary campaign against former state Chief Justice Roy Moore, but both candidates said they opposed the ban.

Yesterday's news today

The Congressional Record shows that back when he was a congressman, Gov. Bob Riley supported his opponent Roy Moore's courtroom display of the Ten Commandments. That's been known for a while, of course, but today's Birmingham News provides the textual proof.

Saturday, January 14, 2006


The unnamed "sources" were wrong. Al Qaeda's No. 2 man didn't die in a Pakistani airstrike Friday after all.

Friday, January 13, 2006

From the source's mouth

Al Qaeda's second-in-command may be dead after a CIA airstrike in Pakistan. That's if "sources" are correct. The U.S. government has no official comment so far.

That's a lot of litigation

Bet you didn't know that Alabama has a school desegregation lawsuit that's almost 43 years old. Well, now you do.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The State of the State statement

Yes, the State of the State address was Tuesday, and I technically haven't posted about it yet. But that's because I've already written about most of what I heard -- the school construction plan, the amount of teacher pay raises, the eminent domain proposals -- and the other stuff, especially the tax-cut promises and the anti-gambling language, is what you'd expect to hear from a Republican incumbent in an election year.

Among the indisputably good ideas, one would hope that basic decency impels the Legislature this year to raise the state's income-tax threshold above $4,600 a year for a family of four, and our public schools long have needed to add a week to their instructional calendar to keep up with practices in other states.

It'd also be nice to see lawmakers take advantage of relatively sunny economic times to make structural overhauls to put the state on solid financial footing and stave off proration in harder times, but this is the Alabama Legislature we're talking about, so I won't get my hopes up.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The ad team

The manager of Gov. Bob Riley's re-election campaign advertising endeavor will be a media consultant known for producing the spot for former U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., that featured "a white hand crumpling a rejection letter in an ad about hiring quotas."

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Because it deserves another post

It's old news at this point, but for the record, Alabama wide receiver Tyrone Prothro's catch behind the Southern Miss defender's back this year was indisputably the most spectacular play I've seen in a lot of years of watching football. And that's not even the crimson bias talking.

Considering how the Crimson Tide had been racking up victories in the weekly Pontiac Game-Changing Performance votes -- five honorees in all this season -- it seemed inevitable that Prothro's catch would win top honors as play of the year. It did, of course -- it just had to -- and there was much joy around these parts.

And that was followed by even more joy when Texas quarterback Vince Young single-handedly pre-empted the looming USC "three-peat" talk that entirely would have ignored the undefeated 1966 Alabama team that did everything required to win the school's third straight national title but was denied it because pollsters at the time didn't think any team deserved to win three in a row. At least that prospect is gone for a few more years.

OK, you're right; college football has been over for almost a week, and I really need to get over it. So feel free to crank up an NFL discussion in the comments to distract me. One proposed topic: Why has no one made offensive guru Norm Chow a head coach?

Monday, January 09, 2006

We've been warned

Why would American voters be down on President Bush and most of Congress going into the 2006 congressional elections? It's not like people would be upset that Bush has ordered warrantless spying on citizens' conversations based on a proffered legal justification that troubles even strong conservatives like U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan.

And it can't be that anyone would be uneasy to learn that dozens of congressmen took contributions connected to lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty last week on fraud and tax evasion charges. Or that they'd be the slightest bit worried that the federal government has known for months about a legal loophole that allows anyone to buy your phone records in minutes for a mere $110 and has yet to close it.

No, our society still must be suffering from the continuing corrosive effect of Justice Anthony Kennedy's Internet usage. When will we finally say enough is enough?

Sunday, January 08, 2006

GOP: Crisscross may have to jump, jump

Alabama Republicans may do what Democrats did decades ago and ban crossover voting in their runoff this year. The GOP originally permitted crossover ballots to attract voter interest during the days when Democrats reigned in the Solid South, but now that the region has moved largely to the elephants' side, that motivation is gone.

A University of Alabama political scientist said the move probably would come because of GOP leaders' fear that crossover votes might throw a gubernatorial runoff victory to ousted state Chief Justice Roy Moore. I'm not so sure about that, though; even if some Democrats voted for Moore, you'd think at least as many would cross over to support Gov. Bob Riley in an effort to keep Moore as far as possible from the Governor's Mansion.

And don't forget immigration

Today's Mobile Register breaks down this year's Alabama legislative session into the bite-size previews that I love so very much. The big brouhaha, as you'd expect, will be over how to spend the projected nine-figure education budget surplus, but the Register points to a few other key topics likely to climb Goat Hill.

Unsurprisingly, a slew of "faith-and-morals bills" will arise because -- wait for it -- it's an election year, but not many of them will end up on the books because, as the analysis notes, "if they pass, legislators wouldn't have them to propose anymore."

Thanks to Hurricane Katrina and her ill-tempered friends, hurricane-related measures look to receive more attention than normal this year. So do long-needed prison reforms, thanks to a bill package by Gov. Bob Riley's administration. And as always, the Legislature will take up far too much of its time dealing with purely local issues thanks to the constitution's handicaps on home rule.

Whatever legislators intend to get done, would it be too bold to ask that this be a year when we don't have to pay for a special session for them to do it?

Saturday, January 07, 2006

I can't wait for the guitar solo

Jam bands have nothing on this concert.

If it's not in the Federalist, it should be

Do you really think the Founding Fathers would have wanted U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, a congressman with a history of House ethics admonishments, to be pressured into relinquishing his post as majority leader just because of some silly indictments on money-laundering and conspiracy charges?

No, the real problem in Washington -- as it has been for months -- is that Justice Anthony Kennedy has used the Internet. He probably still does. When he finally visits your website, don't say you weren't warned.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Once more with the four words

Republican members of the Alabama House unveiled their 2006 legislative agenda Thursday, with no real surprises on the list. Among the bills they plan to push are a ban on annual property reappraisals -- a program that Gov. Bob Riley's administration instituted in 2003 -- and a plan to give liability insurance to all of the state's public school teachers.

Another measure the GOP is seeking would allow prosecutors to file homicide charges against anyone who, with the corresponding level of criminal culpability, causes the death of an "'unborn child' at any stage of development, from conception to birth." House Minority Leader Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, said the bill wouldn't outlaw abortion but would apply only in situations such as the murder of a pregnant woman. Regardless, it's sure to be controversial unless it's worded precisely.

Republican legislators also are pushing bills on two of their bread-and-butter issues: taxes and illegal immigration. On taxes, the GOP will propose a constitutional amendment to forbid any tax increase that doesn't receive at least a three-fifths majority in both chambers. It's the kind of anti-tax measure that's sure to play well in an election year.

On immigration, Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, is drafting a legislative package that would sanction illegal immigrants and their employers. From a practical standpoint, penalties against the immigrants themselves probably wouldn't have much deterrent effect as long as they can continue to find American jobs that pay more than Mexican jobs. If you're serious about trying to stem the tide of illegal immigration, the employers who provide the incentives to immigrate in the first place are the better targets.

Bear in mind through all of this discussion that Republicans are in the minority, so at least some Democratic support will be essential for any of these proposals to become a reality. And as to that potential, again come the magic words: It's an election year.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

You knew this was coming

Televangelist Pat Robertson has a good idea about why Israel's 77-year-old prime minister had a massive stroke this week: God smited Ariel Sharon after he dared to offer some Israeli real estate to the Palestinians as part of a peace deal.

Meanwhile, people in Orlando, Fla., and Dover, Pa., still have yet to suffer the divine vengeance that Robertson predicted they would receive for acceptance of homosexuality and improper voting in a school board election, respectively.

Robertson's rhetoric aside, best wishes to Sharon for a recovery, however unlikely it may be. His incapacity looks to be a serious blow to the Mideast peace process.

Lucy breaks out the cement

Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley made her gubernatorial candidacy official Wednesday. More significantly, she also threw her weight behind a few concrete policy proposals, something many of her supporters and detractors alike have been waiting to see for months.

Notable among Baxley's early campaign pledges was her suggestion of an overhaul of the Alabama ethics law, perhaps a thinly veiled shot across the bow at her Democratic primary opponent, former Gov. Don Siegelman, who is under federal indictment. Her other promises included a call for the state to expand its health insurance program for poor children and to "create a cabinet-level position for small business."

None of the platforms Baxley revealed Wednesday threaten to rock Alabama's political world to the core, but they contain just the right combination of meatiness and inoffensiveness to deprive her foes of the talking point that she doesn't stand for anything and to avoid alienating voters. Whatever its shortcomings in 2005, the Baxley campaign is off to a good start this year.

It's safe to watch ESPN again

ESPN, with great fanfare, asked fans last month to vote on where the 2005 USC team ranked among college football's all-time greats. The better question would have been where it measured up among 2005's greatest teams, and the answer, as we learned Wednesday, is no better than second.

For the record, I said back in November that the Trojans didn't look like a No. 1 team, and Texas confirmed my suspicions during the Rose Bowl, which had to be one of the most entertaining championship games ever.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

You'll be hearing the last four words a lot

The good news: State Sen. Ted Little, D-Auburn, and state Rep. Demetrius Newton, D-Birmingham, will sponsor a measure that would allow Alabama voters to decide on whether to call a constitutional convention to draw up a replacement for the state's flawed 1901 charter.

The bad news: A constitutional reform bill has almost no chance of escaping the Legislature in 2006 because it's an election year.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Squeal day

I haven't paid much attention to lobbyist Jack Abramoff's kickback scandal lately, but it looks like I should start.

Monday, January 02, 2006

I love this team

It was the ugliest looking field goal I've ever seen. It was also one of the most beautiful.

A 10-2 season. The best record in the state. A gritty win in one of the traditional Big Four bowls to close the year.

Thank you for everything, guys. Roll Tide.

Schoolhouse rocks

After his trial balloon about returning the projected Education Trust Fund surplus to taxpayers went over like a lead balloon with key Democratic leaders, Gov. Bob Riley has unveiled Plan B: Use the money as part of a $500 million school construction and technology project. The initiative would include $50 million to go toward a biomedical research center at UAB.

The plan would distribute money based on enrollment to every public school system in the state, prompting Alabama Education Association executive secretary Paul Hubbert, whose power in Montgomery is impossible to overestimate, to denounce it as "an election-year proposal because politicians love bricks and mortar. They love to see their name on the sign outside the school." Hubbert plans to push, as he has for umpteen years, for higher teacher salaries and more teachers.

A massive, highly visible school repair program naturally would be a political boon for Riley, but House Minority Leader Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, is right to note as a practical matter that above-average tax revenues aren't annual occurrences and that lean years could make it difficult to meet recurring obligations created in more prosperous times. In that regard, at least, infrastructure investments would seem to be a wise move. On the flip side, Alabama teachers' pay hasn't kept pace with cost-of-living increases over the last decade, so a need remains there, too.

One final observation: I haven't seen the details, but at least on the surface, I'm uncomfortable with Riley's proposal to spend $35 million from one of the state's rainy-day education funds while the budgetary sun is shining. As a general matter, I'd prefer to see that money left alone, or perhaps consolidated into the state's larger rainy-day fund.

In the end, I expect a compromise between Hubbert and Riley, with Hubbert, as he did last year, getting slightly more of what he wants than Riley does. It's significant to note, though, that the debate over the education budget has shifted in a month's time from whether the surplus should be spent on public schools to how it should be spent on public schools. On that point, the education lobby already can claim a victory.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Resolution time

Speaking of The Huntsville Times, it ran a story on Alabama political blogs today. No, I'm not in it, and yes, I'm glad.

Nevertheless, the story has inspired a few New Year's resolutions for this place, so here goes:

1) This site has no real intention of "influencing Alabama politics," in the words of a University of Alabama political scientist quoted in The Times' story. My goals here are simply to inform, opine, and occasionally entertain. If I help to change your thinking on an issue, great; if not, that's fine, too.

2) This site never has been affiliated with a political party, and things will stay that way. Most parties have both good and bad ideas that should be considered on the merits, not on the basis of pure partisanship.

3) This site never has and never will solicit or raise money for any political candidate or party. It also is not and will not be affiliated with any candidate's campaign. I do, however, retain my First Amendment right to endorse or not to endorse any candidate.

4) This site will be home to irreversible, unapologetic bias -- for the Alabama Crimson Tide. Fans of other teams are always welcome, of course, as long as they bear that in mind.

Riley saddles up for '06

How should we ride into the election year of 2006? With a broad preview of the slew of Alabama races, of course, courtesy of The Huntsville Times.

The state political pundits quoted in the story seem to dovetail on three themes: 1) Gov. Bob Riley is a favorite to win a second term, 2) Democrats are likely to retain the Legislature due to their sheer numerical advantage, and 3) Republicans probably will win most everything else.

I concur with all three forecasts, though Riley's re-election is still far from a sure thing at this stage. The second prediction is simply a matter of mathematical probabilities -- Democrats have a 25-10 edge in the Senate and a 63-42 advantage in the House -- and the third one is obvious to anyone who's paid attention to state elections in the last decade.

As for Riley, his position is much more solid now than it was at this time last year, thanks to his widely admired handling of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath and Alabama's lowest unemployment rate in almost 30 years. As the year goes on, the stream of headlines stemming from former Gov. Don Siegelman's second indictment can serve only as a positive for Riley's campaign. The same will hold true for voters' slow realization that former state Chief Justice Roy Moore is, well, Roy Moore.

If Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley is unable to jumpstart her fairly anemic campaign in a hurry and overcome Siegelman in the Democratic primary, Riley may gallop to the kind of easy victory that would have been unthinkable for him in the weeks after his failed tax plan in 2003. No matter who gets the Democratic nomination, though, Alabama's recent electoral trends strongly suggest that Riley will win his second governor's race if he survives the GOP primary.

This time, it might not even take a cameo from Sandman to do it.