Archive for the ‘Elections’ category

NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

May 24, 2007

Please, God, please don’t let this happen:

Jefferson County Commissioner Larry Langford has not announced his candidacy for mayor of Birmingham, but a statement he made in a meeting today caught listeners’ attention.

In response to statements from transit advocates in a meeting with commissioners, Langford said, “Birmingham has transit problems that need to be fixed, and it will be fixed in October.” The mayoral election is Oct. 9, and Langford has been widely discussed as a potential candidate.

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Should Troy King Investigate Beth Chapman?

April 17, 2007

As Dan highlights today, Beth Chapman – our Secretary of State – recently issued, through the office of Secretary of State, this press release:

Secretary of State Beth Chapman announced her opposition to legislation which supports the expansion of the gambling industry in Alabama. The legislation is on the special order calendar in the House of Representatives. Chapman said, “It is my sincere belief that gambling is bad for Alabama families, therefore it is bad for Alabama.”

Chapman said some of those endorsing the legislation are being deceptive. “Anyone who hears that the Christian Coalition endorses any gambling bill should know that the organization has been taken hostage by those who do not support the same family values the average Alabamian supports.”

Like Dan points out, that statement has absolutely no relevance to anything in the job description of Secretary of State. Of course Beth Chapman the individual is perfectly free to express her opinions on gambling and on the Christian Coalition. But Beth Chapman is most certainly NOT free to use Alabama’s resources to promote her personal opinion. And that is just what she did here, using not only the S-o-S office’s time, computers, and perhaps employees, but its prestige to promote her own personal agenda.

The press release has nothing to do with the office of Secretaty of State, yet it is a press release of the Secretary of State. So why did Beth Chapman use the office’s resources for something completely irrelevant to the office? Dan’s commentators  were quick to point out an obvious possibility: Chapman’s own plans to run for a higher office.

If that is the real reason for the release, than she has probably violated Alabama Code 36-12-61:

It shall be unlawful for any officer or employee of the State of Alabama to use or to permit to be used any state-owned property of any character or description, including stationery, stamps, office equipment, office supplies, automobiles or any other property used by him, in his custody or under his control for the promotion or advancement of the interest of any candidate for the nomination or election to any public office of the State of Alabama.

Or consider Ala. Code 17-1-7(c):

No person in the employment of the State of Alabama, a county, or a city whether classified or unclassified, shall use any state, county, or city funds, property or time, for any political activities. 

So how about it Troy Boy? Maybe there is a legitimate reason for the press release, but this sure smells funny. And you can’t be too vigilant about the electoral process, right? Here’s what you said after the arrest of our former S-o-S for using her office to promote her own candidacy:

“It is deeply troubling when a person who was charged with overseeing our election laws is accused of breaking the very laws she swore to uphold, and of betraying the system whose integrity was entrusted to her,” said Attorney General King. “If the people are to have confidence in their government, it is imperative that such allegations be thoroughly investigated, and where evidence warrants, that the case be prosecuted, regardless of who may be affected.”

I’m not asking for an arrest. But I think this deserves a “thorough investigation?” Don’t you?

Plea Bargains Suck

April 12, 2007

Man. The one time I wanted to see Troy King in all out glory hound mode, he goes and settles the case.

A political consultant from Vestavia Hills admitted Tuesday to misdemeanor crimes that he ran a false ad during the 2006 Jefferson County Commission primary race, and he failed to register a political action committee.

Rick Spina, 48, said he pleaded guilty rather than going through the expense and trouble of fighting the charges in court. . . .

Jefferson County District Judge Katrina Ross fined Spina $2,000 on the charge of fraudulently saying he was representing a candidate in a damaging manner. She suspended a 12-month sentence.

As I explained in this post, the reason I was so giddily looking forward to a trial was that the alleged “damaging manner” was linking Jim Carns to Roy Moore:

Man I hope this goes to trial. They have to introduce evidence that linking Moore to Carns was damaging. Someone’s got to take the stand and explain that Moore is a joke. The closing argument will have to emphasize that Moore is such a well-recognized idiot that the mere association of his name with a candidate would cause that candidate to lose. This is just too awesome. I promise you I will think of some reason to be at the courthouse that day.

Oh well, I guess we all know that’s the truth anyway.

“I am Rudy Giuliani, do as I command you!”

April 10, 2007

Hypnosis is one way to explain this:

Rudy Giuliani brings his quest for the Republican Party nomination for president to Alabama today looking for cash and votes in a red state that not so long ago would have been unwelcoming to a candidate who supports abortion rights and gun control.

But, New York City’s former two-term mayor comes to the Heart of Dixie not only leading in opinion polls nationally, but also in Alabama.

The latest poll by the Capital Survey Research Center – the polling arm of the Alabama Education Association – showed Giuliani with 28 percent of the vote among likely state Republican voters. Arizona Sen. John McCain had 23 percent of the vote despite having appeared in Alabama at least three times in mostly high-profile visits, usually in the company of popular Gov. Bob Riley.

Giuliani will be in Mobile this morning for a $1,000-per-person fundraiser and will then fly to Montgomery for another $1,000-per-person fundraiser before addressing a joint session of the Alabama Legislature.

The campaign appearances will be the first in Alabama for Giuliani, who was once regarded as a long shot for his party’s nomination given his long history of support for abortion rights, gun control, same-sex civil unions and plenty of personal baggage that includes three marriages.

It amazes and disturbs me that anyone, anywhere, could consider voting for this guy. That he is the leader among Alabama Republicans? Beyond ridiculous. Listen to this:

“I’m a 100 percent conservative Republican who believes that Rudy Giuliani can be a great president and is someone we conservatives can trust,” [longtime GOP activist and state Republican Party vice chairman Jerry] Lathan said. “I believe with Rudy at the top of the ticket, we Republicans can defeat any Democrat and that is the first and most important reason to support Rudy.”  

That right there is why I will never, ever, not in a million lifetimes, join a political party. Shorter version: “Principles take a back seat to putting the party in power.” Come on, no conservative of ANY type can vote for this guy. The news highlights the problems for the social conservatives, but Rudy’s just as bad if you’re a financial conservative.  

In my ever so humble opinion, Rudy is the absolute worst of all worlds. Things have never been perfect. Democrats hate property rights, and Republicans hate personal rights. But Rudy? He’s never met a right of any type that he wouldn’t try to steal. So if you want the federal government to take your money and oversee every area of your life, Rudy is your man.

If, on the other hand, you want a real conservative president, you’ve got exactly one choice: Ron Paul.

UPDATE. Here’s Andrew Sullivan’s take on Rudy:

Giuliani says he supported federal intervention in the Schiavo case. Ryan Sager fears it’s pandering. I fear it’s not. The key thing to grasp about Giuliani is that he sees himself as a problem-solver – and politics as a series of problems to be solved. If he has power and he sees a problem that offends him or he decides needs to be fixed, he regards all obstacles – constitutional or political – as affronts. I see no evidence he has anything but the shallowest grasp on the constitutional system, the limits that are placed on any single player’s power and authority, the differing roles of state and federal law, and on and on. He wants to be mayor of America, not president.

The Dan King Thing

April 5, 2007

I have not commented on this yet, because I don’t know any facts other than what I’ve read in the paper, and I don’t know squat about election law or tax law, either. But it’s news, and I am a blogger, so here goes.

The charges:

Bessemer Circuit Judge Dan King turned himself in this morning after being charged with 56 counts of tax, ethics and election law violations, Alabama Attorney General Troy King said today. . . .

Dan King has been charged with:

  • Two counts of income tax evasion by filing a false tax return for the years 2003 and 2004. 
  • Two counts of making a false statement regarding those tax returns.
  • Two counts of violating the campaign finance law by failing to disclose actual cash assets, contributions and expenditures in 2004 and 2005.
  • 25 counts of misusing campaign contributions by depositing checks in his personal account and using the funds to make payment on a personal loan.
  • 25 counts of violating the state ethics law by using campaign funds for personal use.

Here’s the first response:

Bessemer Circuit Judge Dan King spent $4,700 on food during the years 2003 and 2005, campaign finance records show. The question is whether those and other expenditures qualify as legitimate campaign expenses. . . .

A review of King’s campaign finance forms show that the judge – who has not faced opposition in two elections – spent thousands of dollars on items that do not appear, on their face, to be campaign-related.

For example, records show that King spend almost $4,700 on meals in 2003 and 2005.

The Bright Star in Bessemer and San Antonio Grille in McCalla were the most frequent entries. King spent $230 on a meal at The Bright Star, the most expensive outing, in November 2003.

[King’s lawyer, Ralph “Buddy”] Armstrong said he has not looked at King’s expenses in detail, but he is sure there is a reasonable explanation. He said the law allows for reasonable expenditures on things not directly related to a campaign as long as they are not for personal use, such as household items or mortgage payments.

Records show that King contributed about $2,700 to St. Aloysius School throughout 2003 while his sons attended there. In 2005, records show, King contributed about $2,200 to athletic programs at John Carroll High School, where one of his sons plays sports. He also made contributions to civic organizations and churches, the report shows. Armstrong said there was nothing illegal about those donations, as the law allows donations to tax-exempt organizations.

Armstrong said the campaign owes King more than $30,000, although records do not indicate that King made any loans to the campaign. Any campaign funds deposited in King’s personal account went toward paying off what the campaign owed King, Armstrong said.

I don’t know about the tax charges, but based on what’s in the news this morning, the campaign finance charges could be the result of bad record keeping rather than criminal activity.

My understanding is that when a person decides to run for office, they have to form a campaign committee, which can consist of several people, or just the candidate themselves. It looks like Judge King went with the committee. The committee then has to set up a bank account for the campaign, and all contributions must go into, and all the expenses must be paid out of, that account.

The big question is what sort of expenditures the committee is allowed to make. Here’s the law (Ala. Code 17-5-7):

(a) A candidate, public official, or principal campaign committee as defined in this chapter, may only use campaign contributions, and any proceeds from investing the contributions that are in excess of any amount necessary to defray expenditures of the candidate, public official, or principal campaign committee, for the following purposes:

(1) Necessary and ordinary expenditures of the campaign.

(2) Expenditures that are reasonably related to performing the duties of the office held. For purposes of this section, expenditures that are reasonably related to performing the duties of the office held do not include personal and legislative living expenses, as defined in this chapter.

(3) Donations to the State General Fund, the Education Trust Fund, or equivalent county or municipal funds. Donations to an organization to which a federal income tax deduction is permitted under subparagraph (A) of paragraph (1) of subsection (b) of Section 170 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended, or any other charitable, educational, or eleemosynary cause of Section 501 of Title 26 of the U. S. Code.

(4) Transfers to another political committee as defined in this chapter.

(5) Inaugural or transitional expenses.

You don’t need to be a lawyer to know that this statute leaves candidates plenty of discretion in deciding how to use campaign funds. Like Armstrong said, about the only thing that would be patently illegal is using the funds to pay a house note.

As for the expenditures the paper mentions, the school donations are kosher. It would have been a problem had the judge paid his kids’ tuition, but a donation is fine. And the meals? It’s impossible to say anything for certain without knowing the facts about each individual meal, but certainly “wining and dining” influential people is a normal practice in campaigns. As for the funds deposited in Judge King’s account, if he did in fact loan his own money to the campaign, then that would also be perfectly legal.

So there could be legitimate explanations for all of these expenditures. If that’s the case, than his problems are the result of not properly documenting the campaign spending. Had his paperwork been more detailed, anyone investigating it would have seen that the spending was legit. As it is, sceptical reviewers were free to draw negative inferences. And who knows, the negative inferences may be right. Maybe he was using this money for his own personal benefit. We’ll have to wait for the trial to find out.

Some Updates

March 21, 2007

First, the raises. Here’s the list of  legislators who voted to override the Governor’s veto and give themselves a 62% pay increase.  My local rep – Patricia Todd – is, good for her, NOT on it. Reactions? For one side of the story, see this apology; for the other, see this vow of retribution. Here’sa first hand report of the unsuccessful protest in Montgomery.

Second, on the subject of legislation the main purpose of which is benefiting sitting legislators, the Eleventh Circuit heard arguments yesterday in a case challenging Alabama’s ballot access laws.

Third, about the US Attorneys issue. Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby both voted to eliminate a provision of the Patriot Act that had allowed unilateral appointment of USAs by the president. If this becomes law, things would then work as they always had prior to the patriot act – the President nominates the USAs, and the senate will confirm them. That’s good for justice, and bad for cronyism.

Fourth, and again on the USA issue. I’m having a hard time thinking of anything more ridiculous than this:

Under growing political pressure, the White House offered to allow members of Congressional committees to hold private interviews with Karl Rove, the president’s senior adviser and deputy chief of staff; Harriet E. Miers, the former White House counsel; and two other officials. It also offered to provide access to e-mail messages and other communications about the dismissals, but not those between White House officials.

Democrats promptly rejected the offer, which specified that the officials would not testify under oath, that there would be no transcript and that Congress would not subsequently subpoena them.

Give me a break. What possible justification is there for these restrictions? If the argument is that it would somehow be unseemly or a violation of the separation of powers for these folks to have to testify before Congress, than why let them testify at all? How does giving them permission to lie solve the problem? And if the argument is that this whole investigation is nothing but, in Dubya’s words “a partisan fishing expedition aimed at honorable public servants.” Then why not put it all to rest by once and for all going on the record under oath and telling us the whole truth? 

Note, please, I am not saying that only a guilty person refuses to testify. I would, for example, be very sympathetic to an argument that Harriet Myers, because she is the President’s lawyer (contra the AG and USAs), should not testify at all before Congress about her dealings with the President. What I am saying is that only a person with something to hide would offer to testify, BUT only if all procedures designed to ensure truth-telling are NOT followed during the testimony.  

Anyway, moving back to the local scene, here’s the latest on another person who refuses to answer legitimate questions:

Carol Forge Hatcher, a Birmingham consultant who said she has $1.5 billion in private money lined up to complete both an entertainment district in addition to a domed stadium and hotel, made her second appearance before the council during the meeting.

Hatcher, however, has refused to identify the source of the money, citing confidentiality agreements.

Hatcher, Roger Hoffman of the Utah-based Nexus Group and Steve Kellogg of Florida-based Aligned LLC said last week they had the money to do the entire project, but complained they were not taken seriously by the BJCC board.

Council members Tuesday told [BJCC Director Jack] Fields and BJCC lawyer Tom Stewart to put in writing a list of questions they need Hatcher to answer before they can evaluate her project. Hatcher and Kellogg spoke at last week’s BJCC board meeting, but didn’t give specific information about financing.

“We weren’t able to review enough information to move forward,” Fields said.

Council members said they want to give Hatcher every opportunity to explain her proposal, but Tuesday will be their final invitation if she again does not answer the BJCC board’s questions.

And finally, at least some folks are concerned about finding the naked truth.

Really Dumb Reasons To Oppose Appointing Judges

March 2, 2007

First:

Some critics also wonder if the system would hurt diversity.

“I’m not sure that women or blacks would have been as successful as we are now,” said Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Kelli Wise, one six women among the 19 appellate judges. “I don’t know if we would have had a seat at the table.”

“We?” Uhh, tell me again the name of the black judges currently on our state appellate courts? Wanna guess how the only three African American judges to ever serve on our state’s supreme court got their positions? Appointments.

I hope Judge Wise is more attentive to the the facts and arguments in the cases before her than she is to reality, otherwise, woman or not, she ought not have a seat at the table.

Second:

But partisan elections also provide voters the best way to control judges, said Mike DeBow, a professor at the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University.

“They can vote for judges with judicial philosophies closer to their own, lowering the chances that state judges will engage in judicial activism,” he said.

That is not so much dumb as disingenuous. I’m not going to disagree that elections give voters more control over the judges. But giving voters complete control won’t lower the chances of “judicial activism” it will just replace one type with another. Whether the judge is beholden to “trial lawyers” or “big business” or conservatives or liberals doesn’t matter. The problem is that the judge will feel tugged by something other than the law and facts in front of her: The desires of voters. Those desires have no place at all in a court of law.