Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The stopped clock principle

I agree wholeheartedly with U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., on something related to immigration policy.

Given the senator's over-the-top history on the topic, I'm more than a bit surprised. But Sessions' proposal to strip government contracts from companies that hire illegal workers without properly vetting them is a needed measure to combat illegal immigration at its source: the supply side. The plan also offers the advantage of focusing on American employers, which are easier to influence en masse via congressional action than millions of illegal immigrants from dozens of other countries.

So I commend Sessions for the idea and wish him the best of luck in getting it through Congress. Considering the plan is attached to the minimum wage increase that took a big step toward creeping out of the Senate today, chances are pretty good that it'll survive.

Frylock tried to warn us

With so much of our attention devoted to conflagrations in the Middle East, we left ourselves wide open for Mooninite mischief. On the plus side, this would be a great case for Harvey Birdman.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Memo to Nancy Worley

You had plenty of opportunities to do the things that Alabama's secretary of state does back when you, um, actually were the secretary of state. But now you're not, so you don't get to do those things anymore. You have a different job now. Do that instead.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

It's all been done

What to say about the State of the Union address? Well, it was fun to see Dikembe Mutombo, and the "madam speaker" riff at the start was clever. I've heard the rest to various degrees before. Some was serious. Most was filler. We'll get more of the same next year.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Nothing can be easy, can it?

Almost nine months after the appointment of a search committee that took two years to put together, Auburn University finally will receive visits from its presidential finalists -- in two more months. A new leader should be in place, at last, by semester's end.

At this rate, you'd think they're building Corridor X on the Plains.

Not that 'feeling right' matters much

It may be constitutional for Alabama legislators to redraw district lines whenever they feel like it, rather than doing it only after every decennial census, but it sure doesn't feel right.

It's true because true things are true

A Birmingham weatherman says he doesn't know any television meteorologists who believe human activity is causing global warming. Therefore, it must not be.

Alabama Attorney General Troy King says it's good to spend time with friends and family at church and baseball games. Therefore, no one should criticize him for accepting free baseball tickets for his family and church friends from a company whose customers his office represents before the Public Service Commission.

President Bush says his plan to do even more of the exact same things that haven't worked in Iraq thus far will work this time "[b]ecause it has to" work. Therefore, it will work.

This message has been brought to you by the Faulty Logic Society.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

They didn't, however, get to kiss his ring

How can you tell the Alabama fan base takes its football seriously? Simple: You discover one of its members rushed to a message board to gush about having received the distinct honor of carrying groceries for head football coach Nick Saban's wife.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Is this our country?

If only someone would tell me. With catchy music. Incessantly.

Perhaps I'm being too optimistic

If we're going to increase Alabama legislators' salaries by almost 60 percent, we need to do two things first: 1) Make the jobs full-time positions to try to slash concerns about conflicts of interest, and 2) pay to hire a full-time staffer for each lawmaker so our legislators won't be quite so reliant on lobbyists and industry groups to research issues and write bills for them. (Stronger ethics rules and enforcement mechanisms also could cover the first part if you didn't want to commit to a full-time assemblage.)

If we did those two things, I'd be fine with a substantial uptick in legislative pay. As it is, with lawmakers pulling in a little more than $30,000 a year and having to manipulate their schedules to take off from their full-time jobs for a few months at a time, most everyday Alabamians simply don't have the wherewithal or flexibility to offer themselves up for public office. Higher pay and full-time status could attract interest from good candidates who otherwise couldn't put their lives on hold to serve.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

You should feel better already

The sweepstakes machines that were gambling and then weren't gambling finally have been determined to have been gambling after all. Thanks to the state Supreme Court's intervention (and the Legislature's stern mandate), Alabama will be haunted no more by the specter of people playing arcade games at a dog-racing track. That's the sort of money that properly belongs to Mississippi.

Why are you still asking questions?

Who cares if Attorney General Troy King got 14 free tickets to a luxury box for an Atlanta Braves game from Alabama Power five and a half months ago? And further, who cares if the utility didn't report the gift to the state Ethics Commission until after a reporter started asking questions? After all, King said there's no conflict of interest, so shouldn't that just be the end of it?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

At least they're all being adults about it

In a magnanimous display of bipartisan comity Thursday, House Democrats this week kicked Minority Leader Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, off the Education Appropriations Committee, despite the long tradition of including a senator from the vicinity of Auburn University. The Democrats' new Senate majority coalition also slashed Republican numbers on the chamber's three most powerful committees and effectively killed the filibuster for budget bills by lowering the number of votes needed to break one from 21 (60 percent) to 18 (a simple majority).

The changes are transparently partisan moves to consolidate Democratic power to the GOP's disadvantage, and any claims to the contrary are absurd. Still, the ratio of 10 Democrats to five Republicans on the major committees corresponds to the Senate's party breakdown, so it's tough to argue that GOP members are underrepresented. Further, even if you have mixed feelings about eliminating the budget filibuster, Alabama Democrats' move to do so at the very beginning of a legislative session is far preferable to Republicans' efforts in 2005 to circumvent U.S. Senate rules to abolish the judicial filibuster mid-session.

GOP senators constitute barely a third of the chamber's total membership, but they still are incensed that they didn't end up with majority power. Illustrative of the anger are Wednesday's comments from Sen. Charles Bishop, R-Jasper, who promised his minority coalition would "shut Montgomery down" unless Democratic leaders amend the new rules. Bishop also unloaded on Tuesday's swing voters, Sens. Phil Poole, D-Moundville, and Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, calling both of them "pinheads" and labeling Smitherman "liberal as any liberal Democrat beyond liberal." (Bishop's impressive ability to use the word liberal three times in a seven-word phrase suggests he'd be well suited to a career as a high-dollar attack ad writer.)

Who ever said politics doesn't bring out the best in everyone?

On the road

If Artur Davis wants to be a senator, he'll have to fight the traffic.

Davis announced earlier this week that he won't run against U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., next year, because he simply doesn't feel he has enough time to lay the groundwork for a victory. (His posh new post on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee certainly didn't hurt, either.) The Birmingham Democrat's next opportunity to seek higher office will come in 2010, when he'd have to choose whether to stay in the House or mount a race for the Governor's Mansion or the U.S. Senate.

Davis' answer to that question may depend in large part not on his personal preference but on the decisions of others. U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., will be up for re-election in 2010, and one senses that he's the kind of guy who will seek another term if he's in anything remotely resembling decent health at that time. Shelby's massive campaign war chest would make the going very tough for Davis, as would his greater statewide name recognition.

But if Shelby bowed out, his retirement could open the door not for Davis but for the state GOP's heaviest hitter of all: Gov. Bob Riley, who just got re-elected with a huge majority. Riley would need a new gig after term limits forced him out, and assuming he's not vice president by then, his choices would be a return to Capitol Hill or a return to private life. As bizarre as it sounds, Davis might have a better chance of ousting a multi-term incumbent than of winning an open seat against the popular Riley.

The burning question for a possible gubernatorial run, meanwhile, lies in Davis' own party: Does Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom, Jr., want another shot at the state's top job? If he does, he'd be the strong favorite for his party's backing, and Davis would be reticent to spark a heated primary battle in a year when Republicans (at least thus far) would have no clear favorite. If Folsom passes, though, it may well be go time for the Davis for Governor campaign.

The third possibility for Davis would be to decline a statewide race and focus on building seniority in the House. His district is one of the safest in the country, and he's a rising star in the Democratic Party, which is likely to run the House for at least another election cycle or two, if not even longer. With so much power virtually guaranteed, the status quo option has to be tempting.

As unfortunate as it is, Davis also has to consider whether a Deep South state is ready to elect a black man to a major statewide office. On that front, Harold Ford, Jr., already may have provided an answer. Though he narrowly lost last year in Tennessee's Senate race, Ford nonetheless established that a black politician can pick up substantial white support in the South. Davis, whose family lacks the political notoriety of the Fords, may be in a better position to break through where his northern neighbor couldn't.

Regardless of what Davis does in 2010, his choice to defer the decision had to be welcome news to Sessions. Though Sessions' funding edge and incumbency would have made him the favorite, Davis' powerful charisma and intellect would have given him a realistic shot at an upset. With the big-name opponent out of the hunt, state Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile, and Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks are among those floating their names as Democratic challengers. Both would enter the race with less money and lower name recognition than Davis, however, making their uphill battle even steeper. Barring an utter, unforeseen disaster, Sessions likely will be on Capitol Hill until at least 2014.

By then, we'll know which path Davis took when he came to the fork in the road to his political future.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Does not compute

The numbers just didn't add up.

One has to wonder whether Alabama Republicans seriously thought they would end up in the Senate's governing majority despite having only 12 of the chamber's 35 members. Regardless, the ballyhooed bipartisan coalition supporting Sen. Jim Preuitt, D-Talladega, as president pro tem collapsed at the last minute today, and Sen. Hinton Mitchem, D-Union Grove, seized the right to succeed Lowell Barron as Senate leader. Sens. Phil Poole, D-Moundville, and Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, cast the swing votes in an 18-17 decision.

As Doc's Political Parlor observed, today's vote marks the third consecutive legislative session in which the GOP's hopes of gaining majority powers with minority numbers were dashed against the Senate's rocks of mathematical reality. Bipartisan coalitions sound heartening in theory, but they're rarely "bipartisan" in the truest sense of the word, and they rarely survive for long in the innately cutthroat world of politics. Today's 11th-hour reshuffling was just another example of that principle in action.

After the not-so-surprising vote, Alabama now transitions from a pro tem who condemned the payday loan industry after years as the owner of payday loan shops to a pro tem who sponsored a constitutional ban on gay marriage because he was upset to see two dudes kissing on television.

Time marches on, ladies and gentlemen.


Guess we won't see that epic Michigan-Ohio State rematch after all.

It was good to watch Florida stomp a mudhole in the latest overhyped team of destiny Monday night, not because I'm much of a Gator fan but because the trouncing emphasizes just how strong the SEC is -- and how much raw talent Alabama will have back next year from a team that was within a point of the national champion in the fourth quarter. Florida was a blown call on the Plains away from an undefeated season, but it had to scratch and dig to survive conference play, a testament to the SEC's brutality.

The beatdown in the desert also further supports my long-held opinion that as long as the BCS is in place, two teams from the same conference should never play in the championship game. You never know how good a league is until it faces big-time outside competition, and the Big Ten bowl meltdown proved it.

As decisive as Monday's game was, the BCS system once more has tarnished the purity of the national title. Boise State finished 13-0 and had precisely zero chance to stake a claim to the crystal football. Just as Auburn and Utah had legitimate gripes when they found themselves in the same boat two years ago, you can't deny the Boise State players who conquered every challenge thrown at them this season the right to claim a piece of the big pie.

I'm positive the Gators would beat the Broncos. But a whole lot of people were positive Ohio State would spank Florida, too.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Playtime's over

The anecdote is familiar, if apocryphal: A recent transplant to the South notices that the natives, almost to a man, treat college football not so much as a spectator sport as a religion. Why, he asks a neighbor one day, does he see college flags flying from so many of the houses? Why does he hear so much water cooler talk about football even in the middle of spring? Why, exactly, are Southerners so enamored with football?

Bemused, the neighbor patiently clues the newcomer in: "Because we're good at it."

It's a simple sentiment, but it's the sort that can attract major national attention and bring an entire state's media to a halt for days when its flagship university hires a new head football coach. That's particularly the case when the university in question has 12 (or 17, depending on your source) national titles to its credit and just hired a coach who has one, too.

Alabama's hiring of Miami Dolphins head coach Nick Saban on Wednesday thus is sweet vindication for UA athletics director Mal Moore, much maligned after his three previous coaching choices ended up going awry in some form or fashion. It effectively has washed away Bama Nation's memory of the awkward handling of former coach Mike Shula's firing and has excited the fan base like no other hiring since the man in the houndstooth hat roamed the sidelines. The elephant just charged back from the wilderness, and now he's determined to return to the top of the mountain.

Saban won big and recruited like gangbusters at LSU, and he'll do the same at Alabama, where alumni and boosters will pony up for any staff or facilities necessary for gridiron success. With most of this season's starters returning in the fall, the Crimson Tide will be in the mix for the SEC West crown in 2007, and the sky will be the limit once the team is stocked with Saban's recruits. With the brand-new facilities, end of NCAA probation, and talent on hand to win right away, Saban takes the Alabama helm at the most fortuitous time in the last decade.

The circumstances under which he left Miami galled many sports observers, though. Dolphins fans, stunned that their coach would bolt two weeks after saying "I'm not going to be the Alabama coach," have leveled every invective imaginable against Saban. The Miami media, defending the city's honor, joined in the excoriation. (Most notable among the rhetoricians was a Miami Herald columnist who vituperatively unloaded on Saban, calling him a loser, weasel, and traitor -- and those were some of the more polite terms.) Nor were national commentators shy, condemning Saban for his less-than-forthright answers to questions about the Alabama job and UA officials for pumping their coach's salary to $4 million a year, the highest in the NCAA.

I very much wish Saban had stuck to "no comment" rather than give in to the pressure to deny his interest in Alabama. In trying to shift the focus from his future to his team's quest to keep its playoff hopes alive, Saban only made things worse for himself when he headed back to the college game. Recalling Tide fans' reaction upon Dennis Franchione's departure in 2002, I also agree that Miami fans have the right to feel enraged right now.

But as ugly as Saban's sudden departure may look, it unfortunately is nothing unique in the modern sports world. Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville fled Ole Miss two days after promising he'd only leave Oxford "in a pine box." Franchione flew to Texas A&M without so much as a goodbye to the players he convinced to stay despite crippling NCAA probation. But years after those unseemly incidents, the circumstances of the coach's arrival at those schools seem not to deter many, if any, high school recruits. The same will hold true at Alabama under the Saban regime.

Critics have accused Alabama fans of hypocrisy for embracing Saban after roundly condemning Franchione for bailing on the program, but that analogy ignores one very important point: money. NFL players are paid six or seven figures a year and can jump from team to team relatively easily. They understand that their game is a glorified business venture. College athletes, on the other hand, play for free, usually never play a down in the pros, and typically can't transfer to another big school without losing a major chunk of eligibility. Pro players know their game is all about dollars and cents, but many amateurs still hold fast to the idea of playing because they love the game and are loyal to coaches and teammates. NFL players have millions of dollars to ease the pain of losing a coach; college players have only each other.

After all is said and done, the Tide has Saban for the near future. He says he wants Tuscaloosa to be his last stop, and despite his history of job-hopping, it's tough to think of where he'd go after burning the NFL bridge and grabbing a college job that guarantees him $32 million in less than a decade if he just sticks around. Still, even if he jumps again in a few years, Saban will leave Alabama positioned as one of college football's top teams. A football team that competes regularly for SEC and national titles. A football team that can claim those honors again.

A football team that, as the old anecdote says, is "good at it."