Friday, June 30, 2006


The Alabama Fire College scandal that's been simmering since late 2004 claimed its first public official today when state Rep. Bryant Melton, D-Tuscaloosa, pleaded guilty to two federal crimes and a state felony count in connection with the investigation, which revealed that he took $68,000 of state money for personal use. Melton won his primary race earlier this month, but the felony plea nonetheless will oust him from the Legislature.

Don and Dick's appellate adventure

So, I hear tale that some folks got convicted of something 'round these parts lately. Anyone have details?

For the benefit of out-of-state readers, I refer to former Gov. Don Siegelman and HealthSouth founder Richard Scrushy, who had a rather bad day Thursday when a federal jury convicted them on corruption charges, including bribery and conspiracy. The verdict somewhat surprisingly came on the heels of mistrial fears that arose after the jury foreman complained to the judge that some of his colleagues had "no interest in continuing much discussion." The jury cleared two lesser-known defendants -- Siegelman's chief of staff and the former state highway director -- of all charges.

The rhetoric was hot and heavy after the decision. Siegelman was acquitted of more than three-fourths of the charges against him, prompting him to declare a partial victory "in that so many charges that the government alleged were found not true by the jurors." As to the seven other counts, Siegelman had a Cool Hand Luke-style reaction: "[T]hose things that we were found guilty of, I believe, is just a failure to communicate to the jury." Scrushy, meanwhile, was convicted of every charge against him. His attorney harkened back not to 1960s Hollywood but to 1860s warfare, calling the verdict "the worst miscarriage of justice since General Sherman burned Atlanta."

Appeals will abound for Scrushy and Siegelman; their proffered grounds include a claim that the prosecution simply didn't introduce enough evidence to prove its case and an allegation that the jury was selected in a racially discriminatory way. But if their convictions stand, they could spend many years in prison as a result of what the Cumberland School of Law dean called "a compromise verdict" in a complex case that's far from finished.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Don't let the cables sleep

The course offerings available to students in rural and inner-city Alabama schools tend to be far less extensive than those offered to their counterparts in better-funded suburban schools. As a result, our public schools effectively have limited many students' academic horizons due to factors entirely out of their control, such as their family's socioeconomic status or hometown. That result is untenable in a country where we preach that everyone deserves an equal opportunity to succeed through hard work.

That's why I'm a big fan of Gov. Bob Riley's new Access program, which seeks to use Web-based classes and videoconferences to alleviate the disparities in course offerings in the state's public schools. The program is in its infancy -- it's only five months old and is offered only in 44 high schools thus far -- but the concept has great potential and could expand to hundreds of schools in a hurry. For sure, Access has its limitations -- chief among them are the lack of face-to-face interaction and the reliance on a handful of instructors to teach students in multiple schools at once -- but if nothing else, it's a good stopgap measure to provide advanced-level coursework to students who otherwise would find such opportunities foreclosed to them.

In an ideal world, all schools could offer a diverse curriculum, and Access would be unnecessary. But in this world, where a Black Belt school just can't match an over-the-mountain school's resources right now, Access is a vital effort to allow determined students to pursue the same high-quality education regardless of where they live. This program deserves our support.

Mistrial watch

When you think of adjectives you'd like to hear applied to the jurors in former Gov. Don Siegelman's federal corruption trial, lackadaisical can't be near the top of the list. The foreman says some of them aren't even joining in the discussions anymore.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A message with resonance

From U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., during today's flag-burning debate, which ended when a plan to respond to a largely phantom menace by amending the Bill of Rights for the first time ever fell one vote short of passage: "In the United States of America, you have a right to be stupid."

I sense T-shirts in the near future.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Back to the future

The outcome of former Gov. Don Siegelman's federal corruption trial is still unknown. The White House keeps shooting messengers. Gov. Bob Riley remains en route to win re-election handily.

It's like I never even left.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Kickin' back

With the primaries out of the way, I'm going to ease up around here for a week or so to recharge my batteries heading into the fall. Posts will be sporadic or nonexistent until this time next week, but I'll be back in full force by next Monday. Thanks for reading, and I'll see you then.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Carolina on their mind

The Southern Baptist Convention decided Wednesday not to back a plan for denomination members to pull their children en masse from public schools, opting instead to urge members to work within the system to get what they want. A sponsor of the failed measure had argued that public schools "are no longer allowed ... to even acknowledge the God of the Bible," which may come as a surprise to the hundreds of Alabama schoolchildren who enroll in Bible-related electives each year.

Despite their differences on education policy, SBC members did reach broad agreement during their Greensboro, N.C., meeting on a resolution that drinking is very bad and you probably shouldn't try to be a national Southern Baptist leader if you do it.

This could get very interesting

Mo Brooks, who finished third in the lieutenant governor's race in the Republican primary, announced Wednesday that he's throwing his runoff support to George Wallace, Jr., surprising precisely no one. The fourth-place finisher, who pulled a handful of votes, endorsed Wallace, too. Luther Strange's huge financial edge still makes him the favorite to win the GOP nod, but this development nonetheless has to count as a big boost for the Wallace campaign.

They could afford to buy you lunch

Most of Alabama's congressmen are loaded. Of the nine members of the delegation, anywhere from four to eight are millionaires. Sitting at the bottom of the wealth index is U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, D-Birmingham, who still owes at least $15,000 in student loans from his Harvard days. At the top rests U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., who has between $9.4 million and $35 million in assets.

Steady work for the court reporters

Federal corruption trials have been in the news a lot lately in Alabama. In Montgomery, jurors in former Gov. Don Siegelman's case should begin deliberations this week after hearing a closing argument today from one of his co-defendants, HealthSouth founder Richard Scrushy, and a prosecution rebuttal. Meanwhile, up the interstate in Birmingham, the state's largest county saw a former commissioner convicted on multiple counts Wednesday, marking the second such occurrence in the last three months.

Davis keeps Hope alive

The White House tried for the fourth straight year to wipe out funding for Hope VI, a federal program that seeks to replace dilapidated public housing with mixed-income communities, but U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, D-Birmingham, intercepted its latest effort Tuesday with an amendment that returned $30 million to the program. The House approved the measure 262-162.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

We will be assimilated

Sure, the asteroid strike or the nuclear war might be more dramatic, but it's the robot uprising that really should scare us. Well, that and the alien invasion. And the bird flu. And whatever other horrors the Sci Fi Channel rattles off the list in its 10-item Countdown to Doomsday program tonight. Warns show host Matt Lauer: "Don't let these cute and innocent-looking machines fool you. Many believe they're the first soldiers on the front lines of a robot revolution that's taking over the planet."

And you thought the polar bears had it bad.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

No cause for alarm

Polar bears are drowning and cannibalizing each other due to progressively shorter icy seasons. This has been today's reminder that no one should ever worry about global warming. Ever.

I'm surprised it was unanimous

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that death-row inmates can sue to claim the proposed method of their execution would violate their Eighth Amendment rights not to face cruel and unusual punishment, even if they have exhausted all other appeals. In case you were wondering, Alabama Attorney General Troy King isn't much of a fan of decisions like that, which you probably never would have guessed based on his entirely reasonable reaction to the American Bar Association's recent report on flaws in the state's capital punishment system.

Just another example of wild-eyed liberal activist justices like Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas at work. Next thing you know, they'll be using the Internet.

We can't ship everyone to the bayou

Alabama prison commissioner Richard Allen, whose job you probably wouldn't want, is confident that his proposals will shrink the state's prison's rolls enough that a federal judge won't throw him in jail for contempt of court. The short-term plan to remove state prisoners from county jails includes more reliance on transition centers and "technical" violators centers for parolees who fail a drug test, as well as sending more inmates to rented space in Louisiana prisons. Meanwhile, Allen's longer-term hopes to ease the burden on Alabama's underfunded corrections system, which operates at more than 200 percent capacity, rest heavily with the state's new voluntary sentencing guidelines.

Your Mississippi PSA of the month

If you've seen a 16-foot golden fisherman statue in the last two or three days, the Biloxi police would like to have a word with you.

Wow, that was fast

Former Gov. Don Siegelman and his co-defendants in a federal corruption trial rested their case Monday after calling fewer than 20 witnesses total, none of whom were called by Siegelman. His lawyer later offered an explanation of that decision: "We didn't want to give any credibility to their rattle-trap, junked-up case. We're going to get this thing over and send Gov. Siegelman back to his family." Closing arguments are set for Wednesday.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Pigskin with a side of turkey

I'm fine with the Iron Bowl being moved to Thanksgiving weekend starting in 2007. But just to remind the SEC television handlers, the Iron Bowl was meant to be played on a Saturday. Always has been. It's what the Bear would have wanted. In fact, it hasn't been played on Thanksgiving Day since 1992, when... um...

When Alabama won the national title.

Like I said, the Iron Bowl was meant to be played on Thanksgiving Day. Always has been. It's what the Bear would have wanted.

Don't encourage these types

Larry Darby, the Holocaust denier who slithered into Alabama Democrats' attorney general primary, now says he hopes to run for the U.S. House or the presidency in 2008. His purported selling point: "White people understand that our race is in danger of extinction, and they appreciate that I'm out talking about it, and a substantial portion of them voted for me for that reason. Races were not meant to be mixed, and after the United States becomes completely brown, the Jews are still going to be Jews."

Darby got 43.5 percent of the vote last week almost entirely through voter ignorance. This guy's disgusting worldview is one final reminder of the importance of not voting in a race if you don't know enough about the candidates to make an informed choice.

How else would you want to pick a judge?

Got a million dollars or so? Then you too might have a chance to win a partisan political party's nomination to sit as an impartial arbiter of justice as a member of the Alabama Supreme Court. Bonus points if your television commercials promise you'll rule a certain way on a subject or are funded by people or organizations likely to come before the court frequently.

There are better ways, of course, but what fun would that be?

I can think of better uses for $200 billion

A recent (Mobile) Press-Register poll finds that when it comes to illegal immigration, Alabamians are readier to punish the immigrants themselves than the people who create the demand for them. While 56 percent of poll respondents backed the idea of rounding up and deporting all illegal immigrants, a majority didn't support making it a serious crime to hire such people.

One political scientist said the use of the term "illegal immigrants" instead of "undocumented migrants" could have affected the results. He also questioned how many respondents, including those who called for deportation, have hired an illegal immigrant personally before. I'd be quite interested to see the results if the pollsters mentioned that it would cost more than $200 billion to deport all of the illegal immigrants we have now.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Lucy doesn't look as French

Gov. Bob Riley's campaign advertising consultant is the firm that produced the infamous John Kerry windsurfing ad. Other clients include the Republican gubernatorial candidates in Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania.

After all, messengers deserve what they get

An American Bar Association panel has called for Alabama to halt executions until the state addresses problems in its death penalty system, including poor representation and inadequate access to post-conviction DNA tests. The group also noted that Alabama has yet to pass legislation to enforce the U.S. Supreme Court's decision that executing mentally retarded defendants is unconstitutional.

If you expected Attorney General Troy King to address any of these concerns on the merits, try again. Instead, King attacked the messenger, calling the ABA "a liberal, activist organization with an agenda they constantly push." It's a silly non sequitur, unless, of course, you believe that the 57 percent of Alabamians who support a moratorium are a bunch of wild-eyed liberal activists.

King also boldly asserted that "[n]obody can point to an innocent person in Alabama who has been executed." He must have never broached the topic with former Justice Douglas Johnstone.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Sometimes I watch the other football, too

Is it wrong that I just viewed 90 minutes of live soccer between Argentina and the Ivory Coast and actually enjoyed it? I mean, this sort of thing only happens once every four years. I swear.

Friday, June 09, 2006

LNG still waits for the A-OK

Reading the writing on the wall, ConocoPhillips has withdrawn its application to build a liquefied natural gas terminal off Mobile Bay before Gov. Bob Riley could carry through with a promised veto. The company will look into the potential of replacing the "open-loop" gas reheating system, which annually would have used billions of gallons of Gulf of Mexico seawater, with "closed-loop" technology friendlier to the Gulf Coast ecosystem.

And on the 27th day, the prosecution rested

After almost six weeks of prosecution testimony, the government rested its case Thursday in former Gov. Don Siegelman's federal corruption trial. The judge deferred his ruling on the defendants' dismissal motions, so the never-ending trial continued this afternoon with the first of many defense witnesses to come.

When bad things happen to good elections

I promised Wednesday to work up a lengthy post examining how a Holocaust denier who speaks of "the global war on whites to replace the whites of the world with brown-skinned people" could have won 43.5 percent of the vote Tuesday in the Democratic race for Alabama attorney general. Fortunately, someone at the (Mobile) Press-Register seemed equally befuddled by the Larry Darby conundrum, and the newspaper has produced a superb analysis of the factors at play. Still, I have some more to add.

To wit, the main conclusion in the Press-Register's story seems to be that many voters unfamiliar either with Darby or Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson, Jr., simply went with the name listed first on the ballot. This theory makes a lot of sense and conceivably could account for a large majority of Darby's votes.

Tyson spent almost nothing on television advertising during this election cycle, meaning his only widespread name recognition was in his native south Alabama, where he won by huge margins. Pre-election polls reflected the fact that Tyson was a relative unknown; a month before the vote, he had a 9-point lead with about two-thirds of the electorate still undecided in the race. In addition, Darby's repulsive views, while common knowledge among state political junkies, were mentioned only a handful of times in print and received almost no meaningful TV coverage. It's safe to say that most Alabamians simply didn't know what Darby advocated.

Whatever their politics, one thing a whole lot of voters don't like to do is to leave anything blank. That's where the "pick and choose" principle comes into play. If you assume that Darby's level of core support was around the disturbingly high 12 percent in that April survey and then split the undecided vote in half, you get numbers very similar to the vote percentages in Tuesday's AG race.

Bearing in mind the studies that show candidates can gain up to a 6-point advantage from being first in ballot order, and assuming the "pick and choose" principle accounted for at least some of the 12 percent in that April survey, one fairly could conjecture that the percentage of people who cast an informed vote for Darby was in the single digits -- still far too many, but nowhere near a mind-numbing 43.5 percent. Tyson's primary gamble was to rely on overwhelming support near the Gulf Coast as the difference maker and to save his campaign funds for a fall showdown against Republican AG Troy King. It paid off in the end, but the side effect was a nasty PR black eye for the state Democratic Party.

In an interesting side note, the state's highly influential group of black Democrats, the Alabama Democratic Conference, also could have contributed to Darby's strong performance. The ADC chose not to endorse Tyson because its chairman didn't like how the Mobile DA has prosecuted the former Mobile County school board president, who is black. The ADC's backing could have diminished the "pick and choose" phenomenon that helped Darby, and the group's silence on the AG race probably cost Tyson the sort of rock-solid black support that could have fueled a landslide.

The Darby fiasco offers important lessons to Tyson, Democratic officials, and all Alabamians. For Tyson, it's a demonstration of the importance of building name recognition before November. For Democratic officials, it's an example of the need to pay careful attention to surreptitious warning signs in shadowy underground news sources -- like, say, when the capital city's largest newspaper mentions seven months before the election that one of your would-be contenders for state office is hosting a speech by a Holocaust denier. And for all Alabamians, it's a scary reminder that the ballot is not a standardized test: No one loses any points for leaving one blank now and then.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The fall of two political giants

Politely couching the electoral reality as gingerly as possible, The Birmingham News today runs a pair of stories observing that the political careers of former Chief Justice Roy Moore and former Gov. Don Siegelman are, for all intents and purposes, over after the stompings they took in Tuesday's gubernatorial primaries.

Still, if one of the two ever were to mount a successful comeback, I'd give Moore better odds, both because Siegelman now has lost two straight bids for governor and because, well, that whole federal corruption trial thing is still out there. Moore's resounding defeat means he's done as a serious gubernatorial contender, but I could see him snagging an appeals court seat in a few years if he plays his cards right and makes sure to leave the enormous granite decorations at home next time.

'Good riddance' indeed

As you no doubt have heard (and seen) 100 times by now, the leader of al-Qaeda's Iraqi operations, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, died Wednesday shortly after he found found himself on the business end of a half-ton of American bombs.

The killing of a terrorist who ordered the murders of hundreds of people is a victory for U.S. forces, of course, but the conventional wisdom that his death won't end the violence in Iraq any time soon is right on the money. For one thing, al-Zarqawi's influence in terrorist circles reportedly already was waning due to his violent attacks on civilians. For another, foreigners make up only a small percentage of the largely homegrown Iraqi insurgency.

Despite those facts, I can't disagree with what Iraq's American ambassador said: "He wreaked havoc and he went. Good riddance."

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Smooth sailing

That's what the favorites had in Tuesday's primaries, as the frontrunners for statewide office dodged the upset bug that bit a few incumbent state legislators (most notably, longtime Sens. Jack Biddle, R-Gardendale, and Gerald Dial, D-Lineville). But the big news out of this election round was the resounding defeat of Roy Moore, which marked a stunning fall for a man who just a year and a half ago was seen as a solid favorite to capture the Republican nomination for governor. The judicial slate allied with Moore's longtime friend, Justice Tom Parker, also went down hard.

Despite Luther Strange's massive spending, the runoff for the Republican lieutenant governor nomination is no shock, given the residual power of the Wallace family name and Mo Brooks' strong showing in his native Huntsville area. Surprisingly, the closest call for a favorite for a major statewide nod came in the Democratic race for attorney general, where Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson, Jr., only won by 13 points against a Holocaust denier who said he'd enjoy seeing Iran "blow Israel off the map." I'll try later this week to analyze the factors that could have led to that.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

2006 primary endorsements

I've been holding off on endorsements for today's primaries both because I'm not a rabid partisan and because I don't have deeply passionate opinions about some of the big races. But for what it's worth -- which may not be much -- here are some suggestions in the major statewide races before you head to the polls.

Governor: Lucy Baxley (D) and Bob Riley (R)
The choices in each party's top-line race are clear. Baxley proved her dedication to public service more than a decade ago when she gave up a lucrative real estate career to enter public office. Baxley has spent the campaign thus far playing her cards so close to the vest that it's often unclear that she even has cards, but she offers a few interesting ideas, including bans on monetary transfers among political action committees and the creation of a state inspector general. The fact that her chief rival will spend election day attending his federal corruption trial doesn't hurt either.

As for Riley, he's proving in many ways to be the sort of New South governor that some political observers thought his predecessor might be. Undeterred by the failure of a $1.2 billion tax plan at the start of his term, Riley got to work recruiting industries and hammering some needed reforms through the Legislature, including more realistic criminal sentencing guidelines and an increase in what was an abominably low state income tax threshold. It would be a very impressive record on its own, but it looks even better against an opponent whose main claim to fame is being the judge who disobeyed a federal court order to move a hunk of granite that literally had his name on it.

Lieutenant governor: No endorsement (R)
There was a time when the job of lieutenant governor actually mattered. Then came the 1998 election of Republican Steve Windom, and the Legislature, controlled by Democrats, stripped the office of many of its powers. Since then, the lite gov's main responsibilities have been to gavel the Legislature into session and check daily to make sure the governor is still alive. Some fun.

So why would anyone want the job? Simple: It's a springboard to higher office. The last six elected lieutenant governors have mounted gubernatorial bids, a pattern that makes it reasonable to see this year's contest for Alabama's No. 2 spot as a proxy for the 2010 governor's race. When I think of the categories from which I wouldn't like to see the governor emerge, the list includes long-time lobbyists, people who attend a rally co-sponsored by the League of the South, and people who share the name of our most infamous segregationist governor. (George Wallace, Jr., can't help who his father was, but that fact wouldn't save Alabama from a giant image hit if it elected another governor with that name.)

As much as I like Luther Strange's proposal to cut taxes on food and medicine and Wallace's plan to forbid legislators from taking lobbyists' gifts, the 2010 factor is why I can't endorse any of the GOP's three major candidates for the job right now.

Chief justice: Drayton Nabers (R)
The question in this race is quite simple: Do you want to revive the antebellum debate over nullification, or do you prefer the idea of the rule of law? If, like most Americans, you'd go for the latter, then Nabers is your only choice in the Republican primary. He doesn't have much more time on the bench than his opponent, but Nabers has written far more opinions, and his experience as a CEO also has helped him to be a good administrator of the state courts.

Attorney general: Mark Montiel (R) and John Tyson, Jr. (D)
A former judge and longtime attorney in private practice, Mark Montiel has far more legal experience than Troy King, who has grandstanded throughout his stint as AG. (See, for example, King's brief union with an ankle tracking bracelet and his decision to waste public resources by appealing a juvenile death penalty case to the U.S. Supreme Court a year after five justices who still sit on the court ruled the practice unconstitutional.) Montiel's lawsuit to try to get the legislative districts redrawn to improve the GOP's electoral chances six years after the census stands out as blatant partisanship, but he also has fought worthy legal battles against pork spending and holes in the campaign finance law.

Tyson, quite simply, is outstanding. He gained valuable leadership experience in his years at the helm of the state school board before becoming Mobile County district attorney for the last 12 years. In that time, Tyson has gained a reputation as an innovator in efforts to prevent disruptive youngsters from becoming lifelong criminals. He also has demonstrated the courage to hold even the most powerful public officials accountable. In Alabama politics, that asset's value can't be overestimated.

Secretary of state: Ed Packard (D)
Why shouldn't you vote for the incumbent, Nancy Worley? Click here, here, and here for examples. Why should you vote for Packard? He has almost a decade of experience overseeing Alabama elections (more than any other contender for the job) and has the sort of holistic, practical view of voting concerns and processes that comes with such experience. Packard also has called for a much-needed overhaul of the state's obscenely restrictive ballot-access laws, indicating a comfortingly apolitical approach to election management.

Gay marriage ban: Vote 'No'
There are three excellent reasons to reject the proposed state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. The first is that the amendment is redundant and would be no more immune to being struck down as unconstitutional than would the statute already on the books. The second is that the ban, which would violate gays' due process and equal protection rights, is simply wrong as a policy matter and inevitably will be overturned or repealed. The third is that the measure quite literally traces its origins to some guy's feeling that it's icky when two dudes kiss. I don't know about you, but I prefer when my Legislature exhibits more maturity than your average junior high.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Here's a hint: I write about it a lot

North Carolina is one of two Southeastern states where the state government spends nothing on mass transit. Guess the other.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Air out the smoke-filled rooms

PoliBlog's Steven Taylor makes a strong case for the abolition of congressional conference committees -- the handful of handpicked lawmakers who have almost limitless power to modify legislation in unpredictable ways under the guise of reconciling the House and Senate versions of a bill -- and I'm inclined to agree with him.

The purported main drawback to the idea -- that it would take longer to bounce different versions back and forth across Capitol Hill than to hammer out differences in private -- is actually a huge point in its favor. Not only would the elimination of conference committees bring the meat of the lawmaking process back out in the open where it belongs, but it also would slow the legislative train to discourage Congress from rashly producing bad laws.

It's a great idea, which of course means it probably won't happen.

It's never too late for an issues story

In case The Birmingham News' series of interviews with the major gubernatorial candidates last month didn't slake your thirst for knowledge about where they stand on the issues, The Associated Press checks in today with their stances on a quaternion of topics. The News already fleshed out their thoughts about taxes, but the AP adds abortion, gambling, and immigration to the mix.

The answers are mostly what you'd expect -- all are personally against abortion, and all except former Gov. Don Siegelman are either opposed or lukewarm to gambling -- but I was a bit surprised to see Gov. Bob Riley endorse an abortion ban modeled off the one recently passed in South Dakota, which would force rape victims to carry any resulting, non-life-threatening pregnancy to term against their will. I can't see how many people would feel comfortable with mandating that outcome legislatively.

Sounds like a lively weekend

Featured in today's (Mobile) Press-Register: flooded theme parks, hurricane-predicting psychics, and Star Trek fan club recruiters.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

It took a while, but the campaign signs at long last are littering Alabama's roadways like kudzu. It's technically illegal to place them along interstates or state highways, but officials almost never enforce those laws. Tired of the aesthetic pollution, Blount County resident Greg Caudle has decided to take matters into his own hands, organizing a group of two or three dozen sign pullers via his website,

Caudle, who removed 144 signs in three hours the other day, said the problem is rampant: "I have every candidate for governor and lieutenant governor. The Supreme Court candidates are bad, too." He also scoffed at the idea that sign removal could affect an election outcome: "The idea that someone would cast their vote based on a corrugated plastic sign is ridiculous to me."

Perhaps the welcome sign was unclear

The Associated Press has the quote of the day: "[H]ere I am living in Hell, taking my kids to church and trying to teach them the right things, and the town where we live is having a 6-6-6 party."

The unlikely nightmare scenario

I know all the polls show Gov. Bob Riley with a quite comfortable lead over former Chief Justice Roy Moore headed into next week's Republican gubernatorial primary. But I suddenly have a bad feeling gnawing at the back of my mind that says the proposed state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage may be a bigger get-out-the-vote device among social conservatives, large numbers of whom support Moore, than political experts realize.

President Bush's decision to devote two major speeches in three days to a proposed federal constitutional ban ensures the issue will be fresh in gay marriage opponents' minds as the Alabama primaries arrive, and the sudden reignition of the debate may kindle in them a sense of urgency that otherwise would have been absent. I still doubt Moore will do much better than coming within 10 or 12 points of Riley, but if anything could fuel an unexpected Granite King upset, the gay marriage vote would be it.

That's so 2004...

Because not much else seems to be going in their favor right now, congressional Republicans will return this week to their old stand-by of attacking the Phantom Gay Menace by pushing a proposed constitutional gay marriage ban. So will President Bush, despite his promise last year not to press the matter as long as the Defense of Marriage Act was on the books.

The ban has no chance of getting the required two-thirds approval from both houses this year -- it may not even have majority support in the Senate anymore, and the country steadily is souring on the idea -- but that won't keep GOP lawmakers from wasting public resources to try to rally social conservative voters.

In one of those moments that just screams "unmitigated gall," Bush said today that as Congress debates whether to amend the Constitution to make gay people a group of second-class citizens, "we must remember that every American deserves to be treated with tolerance, respect, and dignity." Unreal.

Life outside the bubble

If this story in today's Washington Post is any indication, the Bush administration after five and a half long years finally may be beginning to realize that someone actually can disagree with its policies without being an America-hating traitor-liberal.

Bet you can't guess my favorite sport

Why would I write a multi-part college football post in early June? The better question is why I wouldn't. Let's do this thing.

Drop kick: In an era when nine-figure television deals are becoming passé, one of the NCAA's most consistent trends has been for small schools to add football programs or elevate their teams from lower divisions to try to keep up with the Joneses and, incidentally, aim for a piece of that lucrative pie. Last week we learned that Birmingham-Southern, like other schools whose Division I membership is in its infancy, plans to launch a football team in the next few years. But unlike the other recent additions, BSC has grown weary of the D-I lifestyle and will drop down to Division III by 2011. Many students and coaches are upset, but I'd like to take this time to wish BSC good luck against a former SEC member and one of its rivals-to-be, Sewanee, which knew how to bring it against the big boys back in the William McKinley days.

Play it again... and again: College coaches nationwide finally will get to toss the challenge flag this season, but they'd better make it good. An NCAA rules committee this week approved an instant-replay scheme that allows a coach who still has a timeout to challenge one call per game; if the ref was wrong, the team keeps the timeout, but if not, it's gone. In a troubling move, the panel rejected the original idea of letting coaches challenge as many calls as they'd like as long as they had a timeout and the calls kept being overturned. I understand the concern about lengthy games, but the importance of getting calls right means I'm going to have to agree with Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville on this one. Don't expect that to become a habit.

Just more of that 'special rights' talk: Athletics officials are getting all hot and bothered about a new NCAA rule that lets fifth-year seniors who already earned a degree transfer anywhere in the country for graduate school and play immediately. In the critics' minds, the provision is a travesty because it would allow players to mislead everyone about their commitment and intentions, then jump ship for what they see as greener pastures if times get tough. As we all know, that's a job best reserved for coaches.

Local flavor: I recently added a section for Alabama sports blogs to my sidebar. I tried to find a fair mix of different sports and team affiliations, but most such sites I found in my initial search are 1) dedicated to college football and 2) run by loyal Crimson Tide partisans. (Take those facts for what you will.) Please let me know if I've missed any sports-related blogs (not message boards) with a meaningful state connection. Oh, and Roll Tide, too.

Friday, June 02, 2006

No one ever disagrees with him, right?

Both Democratic secretary of state candidates, Ed Packard and Nancy Worley, clearly say they back renewal of the Voting Rights Act's preclearance provisions, set to expire in August 2007, but Republican nominee Beth Chapman's support for it is murkier.

Chapman, the current state auditor, told a reporter from what was then known as the Mobile Register back in August that she would ponder the issue for a while and then decide her stance. Almost a year later, someone from the relabeled (Mobile) Press-Register checked back in to see what she thinks now. Her answer: "It is my understanding that President Bush wants to extend the act. While I don't think it's necessary anymore, I certainly would not be offended for that very reason if it's extended."

Dollar dollar bill, y'all

Gov. Bob Riley has spent lots of them, and he has plenty more in storage, according to the final campaign disclosure reports filed before Tuesday's primaries. As it has from the start, Riley's war chest leads all gubernatorial candidates with about $2.4 million after an equal amount of spending from late April to Thursday. The governor's funds easily surpass those of his opponent, Roy Moore, who has a little more than $300,000 available after dropping almost $900,000 in that time span.

Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley is holding her own on the Democratic side with $1.3 million on hand and almost $800,000 in advertising, though her contributions slowed to a mere $138,000 in the last five weeks. Meanwhile, former Gov. Don Siegelman continues to see the fundraising repercussions of an ongoing federal corruption trial, collecting only $46,000 since April 26 and finding himself with less than $400,000 to spend four days before the vote.

Oh, and if you're wondering why you still see Chief Justice Drayton Nabers even after you close your eyes lately, it's because he's spent more than $1.6 million in the last five weeks, mostly on ads.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

When's it gonna be north Alabama's turn?

Since a sizable portion of Alabama's population lives in the northern part of the state, you'd think a sizable number of our elected officials would hail from there.

You'd be wrong. As today's (Florence) TimesDaily reports, only one of the 29 statewide officeholders lives north of Birmingham. A University of Alabama political scientist says it might be because many of the area's white voters are Democrats in a GOP-dominated state. An even likelier explanation is voters' tendency to opt for candidates from small towns instead of densely populated places, a phenomenon at the heart of the modern Alabama political ad.

Um, yeah, about that...

Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley said Wednesday that Gov. Bob Riley should wait until after November's general election to decide whether to veto a proposed liquefied natural gas terminal off Dauphin Island.

It sounds nice in theory, but there's one tiny little problem with that idea: Riley must decide by June 11 or he forfeits any right to object. Taking full advantage of Baxley's temporal blunder, Riley said he's sure she's trying to help, but "[s]he needs to understand that she doesn't understand what she's talking about." Ouch.