Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Put on your favorite Halloween mask

Anyone who votes for Democrats votes for terrorists. While burning a flag and hating America first. During a gay marriage ceremony. So stay the course. Except when you never said "stay the course," despite the video evidence that you did. That's when you should stay the course by not saying "stay the course" again.

What were the Democrats thinking when they got us into this Iraq war, anyway? They really should have more ideas to get us out of this mess they've made. They could start by voting Republican.

Stage fright

The night before Halloween is a prime time for watching ghastly things on television. Monday's Alabama gubernatorial debate didn't disappoint on that front.

In her last real opportunity to demonstrate a bold leadership vision in a prominent forum, Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley instead came across as overly scripted, awkward, and angry at the man across the stage. Meanwhile, Gov. Bob Riley turned in a measured but impressively consistent effort, winning the day in particular on campaign finance reform, economic development, and General Fund budgeting. Riley also managed to project an air of calm confidence that gave him a clear victory in style points.

Baxley's one real score came on illegal immigration, where she suggested it would be better to use state troopers to enforce state traffic laws than federal immigration laws, and she also did well on the constitutional reform question. But that wasn't enough to overcome the other flaws in Baxley's performance, which included criticism of the same Riley tax plan for which she voted in 2003, frequent mentions of no-bid contracts even when the question seemed completely unrelated to that subject, and a bizarre exchange that culminated in Baxley's complaint that Riley never invited her to tag along on economic development trips.

Riley won the debate. It wasn't close. The election won't be, either.


The lieutenant governor's debate was as forgettable as the office the two contenders seek. Democratic former Gov. Jim Folsom, Jr., and Republican lobbyist Luther Strange both seemed competent and well prepared, and neither strayed far from the talking points. Much of what the two discussed during their responses, though, was aspirational -- and necessarily so, given the lite gov's rather limited powers since the office was stripped for parts in 1999.

It's hard to pick a winner when the debate centers on what a candidate would like to do if only the office he wants had the power to do anything that isn't ceremonial. Strange was more eloquent, but Folsom had a more folksy accent. Call it a draw.


Things livened up considerably during the attorney general's debate. There's no love lost between AG Troy King and Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson, Jr., and they put on the kind of show you would have expected from the two.

Tyson largely dominated the debate, establishing himself as the candidate with more experience running a large prosecutor's office and effectively pushing his ideas to fight crime through both prosecution and prevention. Tyson also landed a haymaker by asking why King criticized Tyson's early intervention initiative as just another social program while also touting the AG office's Mentor Alabama, which is, well, just another social program.

Still, King pulled a few positives from the night. Tyson came off as angry toward the end, and his mention of the criminal record of a murder victim's daughter was in very poor taste, even if King's choice to feature the woman in a campaign ad was, too. King also did a good job of promoting his efforts to lobby legislators to pass laws to protect children from abuse, and he gave a good answer to the last question about civil suits against the state.

But the most telling moment of the debate came when King attacked Tyson for striking plea bargains in thousands of cases as the Mobile County DA. What you didn't hear explicitly is that more than 95 percent of all criminal cases in America end with a plea bargain, dismissal, etc., regardless of the partisan stripes of the prosecutor or judge. If you think the system takes a long time now -- and it does -- imagine how much more slowly the wheels of justice would turn if the number of trials increased twofold or threefold or more. It would take years to get anything to trial, and that would be grossly unfair to crime victims and their families.

As Tyson noted, plea bargains often are tools to induce testimony against major criminals; they also can obtain convictions in cases where reluctant witnesses or evidentiary problems otherwise would doom the prosecution at trial. Their respective views on plea bargaining should tell you all you need to know about the AG nominees. Tyson didn't score a knockout Monday night, but he claimed a solid victory.

Monday, October 30, 2006

They may even get a few thousand viewers

Chances are that if you're a regular (or even sporadic) reader, you already know that the statewide debates are tonight. Just in case you don't, though, this is a reminder that the gubernatorial candidates square off at 7 p.m. on Alabama Public Television, with the contenders for lieutenant governor following at 8 p.m. and the attorney general nominees closing the evening at 8:30. APT then will offer up an encore presentation of it all from 9 to 11 p.m.

I won't be posting live during the debates, but I plan to check in with some thoughts on them later tonight or Tuesday.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

What, it doesn't come out of thin air?

I noted two weeks ago that Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley and Gov. Bob Riley both talk a good game on cutting taxes but don't spend a lot of time discussing how they would replace that lost revenue. The Birmingham News makes a similar observation today in an article you definitely should read.

Keep this one on file for 2008

I'm not the first person to point out that John McCain might have an uphill battle in the South as he seeks the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. I'm just the most recent.

McCain's potential struggles in the nation's most reliably red region have come into plainer view in recent weeks as three of the five GOP members of Alabama's U.S. House delegation -- U.S. Reps. Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville; Terry Everett, R-Rehobeth; and Mike Rogers, R-Saks -- have said they aren't that wild about the idea of putting McCain at the top of the ticket.

Their opposition to the Arizona senator runs the gamut from understated -- Aderholt notes he is "not a real McCain fan" -- to straightforward -- Everett calls McCain "someone who I would have a real problem supporting as president of the United States" -- to as unambiguous as a shovel to the face -- Rogers calls McCain "a loose cannon for years, very unreliable, a showboater." (It seems fair to observe here that Rogers is the guy who supports a bill that would "create organized militias to catch illegal border crossers" and who also said "[n]one of these abuses are really occurring" after spending a few hours at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp last year, but I digress.)

Whether McCain ultimately will become the GOP's standard bearer and make the congressmen regret their words is unknown, of course. But their unease with him as the top dog means he'll miss out on valuable opportunities to campaign with the incumbents in their home districts. It also suggests he'll have to work extra hard to shore up support in Southern states (particularly in Alabama and South Carolina with their early primaries) if he hopes to remain the favorite in the 2008 GOP sweepstakes.

McCain's straits aren't quite as dire in Alabama as it may seem, though. He has such a good relationship with popular Gov. Bob Riley that people have begun to tout Riley as his prospective VP running mate, and as the political cliche goes, we're a long way from 2008. Anyone who claims to know exactly what the electoral atmosphere will be like then is either a liar or a time traveler.

Still, expect to see a lot more of McCain in the South than you did in 2000. This will be his last shot, and he knows it.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Gimme that wink

Country singer Neal McCoy and the rap duo Ying Yang Twins will perform at the University of Alabama's homecoming concert Friday. That that combination was booked in the first place is interesting in its own right, but the story gets better.

UA administrators announced Tuesday they would host those performances in different locations. McCoy will be at center stage on the Quad, where the school's homecoming concert typically occurs, while the Ying Yang Twins will perform shortly thereafter in an empty field at the edge of campus. UA officials said the split was necessary because of "logistics" and "space." Because, you know, it's easier to build two stages instead of one, and really, it's not like the Quad is a giant open space with a huge capacity.

Yes, the leaders of the student group in charge of the concert weren't consulted before the decision, and the move will cost the university somewhere in the neighborhood of $15,000, and statewide media reports have suggested the situation looks a lot like a segregated homecoming. But surely you'll concede that we have to pull out all the stops to ensure young children don't hear a dirty word by accident during a concert that begins at 10 p.m.

Unless, of course, you're one of those types who thinks parents should have their children in bed at 10 p.m. instead of at an outdoor concert full of college students.

At last, the truth revealed

It turns out Republican secretary of state nominee Beth Chapman doesn't disagree with everything about those noted "liberal, tree-hugging, hippie, Birkenstock-wearing, tie-dyed liberals": "My kids wear Birkenstocks. My nieces and nephews in Georgia wear Birkenstocks." Comfortable shoes: the great uniter.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Alabama TV ad roundup

Our airwaves are now properly inundated with partisanship. A few observations as the deluge begins in earnest:
  • Ads by both attorney general candidates -- AG Troy King and Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson, Jr. -- state that they passed a law to protect children from abuse. Someone should inform the legislators that they're no longer necessary in the lawmaking process.
  • Democratic chief justice candidate Sue Bell Cobb correctly notes that she's "the only wife and mother" in the race. In fairness to Republican incumbent Drayton Nabers, I can think of at least one really good reason he shouldn't be expected to possess those qualities.
  • Democratic lieutenant governor nominee Jim Folsom, Jr., is winning the ad war with GOP contender Luther Strange, who, as you may know, is tall. The well-done "four shotguns, three dogs, two children, and a church" spot defined Folsom before his opponent could, and it was far more effective than Strange's terminally silly attack ad with an overweight man in various stages of decade-appropriate dress.
  • Liberal liberals liberally liberalize the liberality. So there.

Next thing you know, he'll be running ads

Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley said Tuesday that Alabama's state troopers should focus more on highway safety than the immigration enforcement work that her opponent, Gov. Bob Riley, has praised.

It's not a bad observation. Unfortunately for Baxley, it was overshadowed by a deadly serious accusation on her part: that Riley, three weeks before an election, is going to public events and campaigning for governor. This remark came while she was at the back of the same room as Riley ... campaigning for governor.

Of course, Baxley's "minor miracle" comment last week might have led you to wonder why she's still campaigning at all. Allow her to clarify: "No, I don't feel hopeless. I didn't mean it to sound fatalistic. All I was trying to do was point out the vast differences in resources of a state plane to fly around in and a campaign war chest that I maybe only have a fifth of. I'm in an uphill fight against a man supported by big business and big money. But I still think I can and will win this race."

I wouldn't take those points in Vegas if I were you.

Superfluous book-learning

Why should U.S. Rep. Terry Everett, R-Rehobeth, know the difference between a Shiite and a Sunni? From the way people are acting, you'd think he sits on a House intelligence subcommittee or voted for a war in a place full of those two groups or something.

Monday, October 16, 2006

One of them has to win

Sure, Secretary of State Nancy Worley missed the federal deadline to establish a statewide voter registration database earlier this year. But hey, there's good news: Some other states missed it by an even larger margin. Pay no attention to all the other states where the secretary of state, you know, did meet the deadline.

Meanwhile, Worley's Republican opponent, Beth Chapman -- deliverer of the famed "liberal, tree-hugging, hippie, Birkenstock-
wearing, tie-dyed liberals"
speech -- wants voters to cast their ballots only after they contemplate what they would want if the 2000 Florida election imbroglio repeated itself in Alabama. "Who is the person you want sitting there?" she asked.

How about neither of you?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The governor's race in a nutshell

Alabama elections are mostly exercises in who can be surrounded by the most children and best decry the opponent as a liberal out-of-touch liberal who would destroy moral values with a tax hike. But occasionally, "issues" creep into the equation, too.

Today's Birmingham News facilitated such an intrusion with excerpts from recent interviews with the major gubernatorial candidates. The issue of the day was economic development, and predictably, both Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley and Gov. Bob Riley did their best to stick to the talking points and try to direct the off-message questions back on their preferred tracks.

A state minimum wage increase is one of the few proposals on which Baxley has taken a strong public stance, and she devoted a substantial amount of time to defending the plan's need and practicality. Meanwhile, Riley pointed to Alabama's economic growth during his tenure in touting a stay-the-course strategy heavy on across-the-board tax cuts. They both did a pretty good job of advocating for their policies, which, considering how central those plans are to their platforms, you would expect.

Neither candidate, though, seemed eager to address the fact that wealthier Alabamians' overall state tax burden tends to be lower than that of lower-income residents. Riley launched into some platitudes about the importance of families when the interviewer broached the subject, while Baxley said she categorically opposes all tax increases. That statement came even though she said earlier in the interview that she was for eliminating the sales tax on food and medicine and discussed the possibilities for filling the "revenue gap" that would ensue.

It'd be interesting to learn how Baxley would uphold a "no new taxes" pledge under those circumstances, especially given her support of repealing the annual property reappraisals that have poured thousands of extra dollars into education coffers in recent years. Because he likewise has vowed to sign off on a repeal (and even more tax cuts), that question is fair game for Riley, too.

These interview excerpts encapsulate why the margin is so wide in the gubernatorial race. Baxley's slams of Riley on his failed $1.2 billion tax plan (for which she voted) and the annual reappraisals he instituted in 2003 suggest that she, for some reason, is trying to run to the right of a Republican incumbent. That strategy seems incomprehensible; if Alabama voters want someone who sounds like a Republican, they're going to pick an actual Republican.

Meanwhile, Riley continues to chug along, leaning on a pretty good record and pointing to a slate of policy proposals that contains both good and bad ideas but at least sounds more coherent than anything Baxley has presented thus far. Three weeks away from an election that, by Baxley's own admission, will require "a minor miracle" for her to win, those are sure signs that state Democrats would be wise to focus their resources on down-
ballot races at this point.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


If you're at all familiar with the force of nature that is Ole Miss football coach Ed Orgeron, this video will be the funniest thing you see this week. Or maybe this month. Or maybe ever. That I found it during the run-up to Alabama's game against the Rebels this weekend only makes it that much better.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The inevitable has happened

Stephen Colbert came to Colbert County last week. There will be a multi-part series. Television was invented for this.

That's certainly a positive

You should know a few things about Democratic appellate court candidate Claude Patton. First, he owns guns. Second, he teaches Sunday school. And third, he is not the Antichrist.

For future reference...

If your comment endorsing your favorite Democratic candidate is on a post that has nothing whatsoever to do with that candidate, or even that branch of government, I'll delete it. The same goes for any comments that refer to a married man as a "Demo/homo." That goes double if you post the comment on something that's more than a year old.

Just thought you should know.

Sunny side up

Today will be a beautiful, sunny fall day for millions upon millions of Alabamians. But the events of the last month suggest that not everyone will share in that splendid feeling on this Columbus Day. Among the people who've been having terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days lately:
That last bullet point, of course, means the Iron Bowl just might be a toss-up this year after all. And hey, isn't that good enough news to break through even the darkest clouds?

A break in the radio silence

Due to some recent personal and professional obligations -- some expected, some not -- my last post here was exactly one month ago. I apologize for that protracted absence, but starting today, I'll pick back up with something resembling regular posting.

Thank you to everyone who has inquired about my well-being and to everyone who has continued to visit despite the noticeable dearth of updates. I'm back, I'm doing fine, and I'm ready to crank this place back up again. It's go time.