How Governor Bentley & Alabama’s GOP dominated state legislature raped their “constituency”
Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Saturday, September 29, 2012
Allow me to be more explicitly succinct: Governor Bentley and the GOP led legislature are lying sons-of-bitches who ought to burn in Hades for how they’ve raped and lied to the people of the state of Alabama.
I have only one thing for them: Utter Contempt.
The $437 Million Hustle
Published: Wednesday, September 26, 2012, 9:07 AM
Updated: Wednesday, September 26, 2012, 9:12 AM
By George Talbot
In honor of the constitutional amendment approved by Alabama voters on Sept. 18, we here at the South Alabama Political Animals Club would like to introduce a new award.
Let’s call it the Karl Rove – James Carville Political Slickum Trophy. The inaugural winners? Gov. Robert Bentley, House Speaker Mike Hubbard and Senate President Del Marsh, who pulled off a political hustle as sharp as anything outside of a Chicago pool hall.
The Republican leaders were in a jam, and got Democratic voters to bail them out. Impossible, you say?
The numbers don’t lie. The amendment, which allows the state to tap into the Alabama Trust Fund to pay for government operating expenses, won by big margins in Democratic precincts, and was soundly rejected in the state’s more conservative corners.
Voters in deeply Republican Baldwin, Cullman, Madison and Shelby counties, for instance, shot down the measure by nearly 2 to 1. But the GOP proposal reaped a bounty of support from Democratic voters in Mobile, Jefferson and Montgomery counties.
The margins were even greater in the Black Belt, Alabama’s last Democratic stronghold, where the amendment rode a wave of “yes” votes in Greene, Perry and Wilcox counties. In Dallas County, it got eight “yes” votes for every one “no.”
How’d that happen?
Supporters of the proposal, organized as the Keep Alabama Working political action committee, raised big money from groups that would have taken a budget hit if the measure had failed – chiefly nursing homes and hospitals.
Much of that money was raised and spent by a Montgomery political consulting firm that specializes in turning out Democratic voters – the Matrix Group. The company was founded by Joe Perkins, a former campaign guru for Don Siegelman.
Records in the Alabama Secretary of State’s Office show that the Keep Alabama Working PAC paid Matrix $366,225 on Sept. 17 – the day before the election – for “administrative, advertising and consulting” work. That was on top of a $91,358 payment on Sept. 6.
Mowery Consulting Group, another Montgomery firm that specializes in Democratic candidates, picked up $12,000. Wilhelm Resource Co., a Birmingham consulting firm registered to Giles Perkins, a former executive director of the Alabama Democratic Party, earned $2,470.
The Alabama Education Association also threw its support behind the proposal, which will shift $145.8 million annually for the next three years – or $437.4 million total – out of the trust fund to the state’s general fund coffers. The fund, which holds royalties earned from the state’s oil and gas leases in the Gulf, has ebbed to $2.4 billion in recent years.
Henry Mabry, the head of the teachers’ union and a former state finance director under Siegelman, sent two separate campaign flyers and three recorded calls to AEA members in the five days leading up to the vote.
Insiders said that Dax Swatek, a founder of the Republican consulting firm Swatek, Azbell, Howe & Ross, was hired to run the campaign, and deserved credit for keeping a team of rivals unified. The Swatek firm was paid $201,200 for polling and consulting services by the Keep Alabama Working PAC, according to state records.
“They did a masterful job, both tactically and strategically,” said Jess Brown, a political science professor at Athens State University.
The real key, Brown said, was getting the amendment placed on the ballot as a special election. That maneuver cost taxpayers $3 million but allowed proponents to target their voters, while avoiding attention from the general public.
“That was a huge advantage for the supporters,” Brown said. “Had it been on a general election ballot it probably would have gone down in flames.”
The group held off a late surge against the amendment by Tea Party groups and even some Republican lawmakers, who objected to the fact that it included no provision requiring the state to repay the money.
Bentley, Marsh and Hubbard have vowed to reimburse the trust fund, and said they are committed to passing a bill that would direct the legislature to do so. But passing a bill is one thing; finding the money is another.
“A statute is just a sentiment. It’s not a plan,” said Bradley Byrne, a former Republican state senator and gubernatorial candidate who opposed the amendment.
Others objected to the amendment’s over-the-top language, which was designed to frighten voters. The ballot measure claimed to prevent the “mass release of prisoners” while protecting health services for children, the elderly and mothers.
“That was demagoguery,” said state Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose. “It was fear-mongering. I didn’t like it.”
Pittman was a co-sponsor of the bill that created the amendment, saying it began as an effort to protect the Education Trust Fund from being raided by the legislature. By the time it appeared on the Sept. 18 ballot, it had been rewritten so extensively that Pittman ultimately voted against the amendment he helped create.
“We do have a serious budget problem in Alabama, particularly when it comes to Medicaid,” Pittman said Tuesday. “I was for dealing with that problem now and not kicking the can down the road.”
The vote, he said, “didn’t solve any problems. It just gives the leadership time to deal with them. And I think we will use the opportunity we’ve been given to make the changes that need to be made.”
And Republicans can thank Democrats for giving them that opportunity.
“When Republicans can convince Democratic voters to buy them three years of political insurance – enough to get them through the next election – that is worthy of an award,” said Brown, who helped coin the name of our trophy. “You have to tip your hat to them.”
Political editor George Talbot’s column runs Wednesdays. Reach him at 251-219-5623 or email@example.com