November 22, 2023 - 60th Anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s Assassination

The assassination of John F. Kennedy happened 60 years ago this week.  It occurred to me that a good many of you may be too young to remember that horribly sad day of November 22, 1963.

Anyone living on that day can tell you exactly where they were when President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed by an assassin in Dallas, Texas.  It was a perfect fall day in the Lone Star State.  Lyndon Johnson was Vice President and he and Kennedy disliked each other immensely.  The Kennedy’s had put Johnson on the ticket as Vice President in 1960 to assure that the Democrats carried Texas in the General Election, not because they liked him.  It was totally a political marriage.  They not only did not like Johnson, they did not trust him.

It was a Friday afternoon. The last high school games of the year were to be played that night.  High school football was big in Alabama.  By the way, it was also big in Texas, thus the movie “Friday Night Lights.”

I was in the seventh grade.  It was just after lunch.  My homeroom teacher at Troy Junior High School was Mrs. Elaine Dodson.  All of a sudden, the music teacher for our schools, Jerry Spann, came into our room and announced that the President had been shot.  Everyone was traumatized.  The President died about an hour later at a Dallas hospital.

The next three days all of America watched on television the funeral preparations and the Monday funeral.  It was an unbelievably sad event.  The scene of the riderless white horse brought tears to your eyes.  If that did not, the scene where little John John Kennedy, a precious precocious two year old boy who gave a salute to his father was one of the most heart wrenching, tear jerking moments I have ever witnessed in my life.  It still brings tears to my eyes 60 years later as I write this column.

John John grew to be a very handsome young man like his father.  He like his father died an early untimely death in an airplane crash. Even though he did not have political aspirations, I believe that “John John,” John Kennedy, Jr., would have been president.

I am not a conspiracy theorist but allow me to illuminate some facts. Lyndon Johnson was the most ruthless, morally bankrupt, and crudest man to ever sit in the White House.  Johnson was the ultimate political animal. He lived by the rule that whatever it took to win and grab control of power is what you did.  If you doubt that, read Robert Caro’s books on LBJ, or better yet ask any historian about his years as U.S. Senate Majority Leader.

In recent years, the Secret Service has released files that reveal the following facts. First, Johnson insisted that Kennedy go to Dallas, Texas, and campaign.  The Secret Service asked Kennedy not to go because the Civil Rights issue was boiling in Texas.  At Johnson’s urging, Kennedy agreed to go. 

Second, the Secret Service came to Kennedy and said, “Mr. President, if you go you cannot use the main artery boulevard in your entourage.  We cannot protect you.”  Kennedy agreed.  When Johnson heard of this, he told Kennedy he had to go down that boulevard because, “It is a Texas tradition,” said Johnson.  Kennedy agreed at Johnson’s insistence.  

Finally, the Secret Service, in exasperation, told President Kennedy, “Mr. President we asked you not to go to Dallas. We also asked you not to go down that boulevard because we cannot protect you from all the high building windows. To a sharpshooter you will be a sitting duck.  If you go to Dallas and go down that thoroughfare, we must insist, you let us put up a protective bubble to protect you.”  Kennedy agreed.  Johnson heard of the bubble and insisted to President Kennedy that he could not do that because he would appear distant, detached, aloof and arrogant to Texans. President Kennedy, once again, acquiesced to Johnson’s pleas.  The rest is history.

The horrific, tragic scenes of Jackie Kennedy’s blood stained pink dress, a little two year old boy’s goodbye salute to his father, and the riderless white horse are indelibly planted in my memory 60 years later. The 1960’s was a very tumultuous and memorable time to come of age in America and November 22, 1963, is etched in a lot of our generation’s minds.

See you next week.

November 15, 2023 - Negative Ads Work and Always Have

Over the years many of you have lamented to me and said, “I am so tired of seeing all negative ads with candidates lambasting each other in political campaigns. Why don’t candidates say what they are going to do when they are elected, rather than bashing their opponent mercilessly?”    People also suggest that campaigns are more negative today than in bygone years.  Allow me to answer the question in the reverse order.  

Criticizing and slandering your opponent is not new. It was actually more vicious and incendiary in earlier American political life, and much more personal.  First of all, there were no television cameras or hidden studios where third party political ad gurus brewed disingenuous ads.  Folks in the old days would have to meet their opponents face-to-face at political forums, rallies, and debates.  They would trade barbs and insults right in the face of each other.  In early American political history, there were instances of fisticuffs and even a duel where opponents were shot.  Nothing was off limits, not even peoples’ wives and children.  What they did to Andrew Jackson’s wife Rachel was so bad that it eventually caused the poor lady to withdraw and die from depression.

At least today, it seems inappropriate and out of bounds to attack peoples’ family members.  Also, in the old days it seemed you could say things about your opponent without there being any semblance of truth to the accusations.  Today there are laws requiring that any attack on the opposition must have a semblance or scintilla of truth.  Therefore, it was worse in past decades than today, if you can believe that.

To the main point asked, why do these campaign media gurus use negative ads.  It is a simple answer, they work.  If they did not work, they would not use them.  Polling reveals that negative ads change the trajectory and standing of candidates dramatically and instantaneously.  There is a direct correlation to a candidate’s polling numbers before and after being hit by a negative ad.  Much more so than a soft, pretty ad advocating that you vote for someone because they are a competent person that would be the ideal elected public servant.  These gurus know this fact because today’s polling is very accurate, and they can read the polls and they react, and design ads based on polling.

In Alabama political history the most brilliant and unquestionably accomplished politician was one, George C. Wallace.  In Wallace’s early years of “politiken” for his first terms as governor, polling was in its infancy and was not as scientifically accurate.  However, George Wallace was born to be a political genius and a political animal.  He had a God given ability to remember names and he knew what people wanted to hear.  He inherently could read the political tea leaves.  He did not need polling.

I would visit often with Wallace in his last term.  I was a freshman legislator and actually represented his home county of Barbour. He would call me down from the House floor to visit with him in the Governor’s office.  He would reminisce about past political forays and governor’s races.  He would tell me a lot of inside stories that I will probably never share.  However, allow me to share this sage political admonition he imparted to me one day.  

He looked me squarely in the eyes and told me that more people vote against someone than for someone.  He further elaborated, “you have got to find a boogeyman to run against.”  He lived and breathed this belief and strategy.  He ran on the race issue and segregation for decades.  He rode that horse as long as he could.  However, when Black Alabamians were given the right to vote in 1965 and soon after constituted 25% of the Democratic Primary electorate, Wallace instantly changed his stripes and went down Dexter Avenue to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s church and had a conversion experience and begged forgiveness for exploiting the race issue.  The Black voters forgave Wallace and elected him governor that last term in 1982.  I never said Wallace was a statesman.  He was a true, natural politician, and, yes, a demagogue.  Whatever it took to get elected was Wallace’s modus operandi.

These political gurus of today know the George Wallace adage of finding a boogeyman to run against remains true.  In this upcoming election year, that is why you will see countless negative ads on television, because they work.

See you next week.

November 8, 2023 - 2024 Elections Around the Corner

Folks don’t look now, but our 2024 election year is upon us.  Next year is a major year in politics nationwide.  Not only does the nation elect a president, most states also elect their governors and legislators for four year terms in presidential years.

We, in Alabama, and in most southern states elect our governors and legislators in nonpresidential years.  Those of us who study and talk about Alabama politics refer to these years as gubernatorial years.  We elected our governor and legislature last year in 2022.  Historically, presidential years have been very dull and unexciting years for Alabama politics.  There are very few statewide contests and those that happen will be decided on March 5.  Since we are such an overwhelmingly Republican state, the only way to be elected statewide in the Heart of Dixie is as a Republican.  There are 29 statewide elected offices in Alabama and all 29 are held by a Republican.

There are four seats up for election on our Alabama Supreme Court.  Justices Jay Mitchell, Tommy Bryan and Will Sellers are up for reelection to another six year term on the high tribunal.  Justice Sarah Stewart’s seat is up for reelection.  However, Sarah has opted to move to the open Chief Justice position being vacated by the retirement of Chief Justice Tom Parker.  Justice Sarah Stewart is a good choice for Chief Justice.  She was a Circuit Judge in Mobile County for 14 years before she was elected to the Supreme Court six years ago.  

The Chief Justice is the administrator of the entire state judicial system.  Sarah Stewart’s experience as a circuit judge is invaluable and she also has the respect and support of most of the circuit judges around the state.  Circuit judges are very respected in their counties and communities throughout the state.  Sarah Stewart has been campaigning extensively and effectively all over Alabama during 2023.  She has let no grass grow under her feet.  

Speaking of working hard, the judge who will move up to take Sarah Stewart’s seat on the Supreme Court will be Criminal Court of Appeals Judge Chris McCool. Judge McCool is one of the most proven ardent campaigners I have seen in recent years.  I said when he announced a year ago that he would not be outworked, and he has proven me right.  He has traversed the state from one end to the other putting over 60,000 miles on his vehicle.  

Chris McCool will make a great justice and is the perfect representative on the court from the rural area of the state. He hails from rural Pickens County near Gordo and close to the Tuscaloosa County Line.  His family have very deep roots in that area.  The McCool’s settled there over 180 years ago prior to the Civil War.  They have farmed the land the entire time.  Chris lives in the same place his ancestors lived six generations ago.

Chris McCool borders on folk legend for an Alabama judge.  He has three fulltime professions.  He was a lawyer with impeccable credentials.  He graduated from the University of Alabama, undergraduate and law school.  Practiced law in Gordo before being elected District Attorney of the Pickens, Lamar, and Fayette Circuit at age 30.  He served as DA for 18 years and was elected to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals six years ago.  He is a minister.  He pastors the Zion Primitive Baptist Church near his home.  His family founded the church, and his great, great, great, grandfather was the first pastor.  He is also a farmer.

Judge McCool’s seat on the Court of Criminal Appeals will be filled by one of two assistant attorney generals. Rich Anderson and Thomas Govan both of Montgomery are vying for McCool’s seat on the Court of Criminal Appeals. Both are well qualified and would do a good.

Justices Chad Hansen and Christy Edwards are up for reelection to the Court of Civil Appeals. They are doing a good job. Justices Bill Cole and Richard Minor are up for reelection on the Court of Criminal Appeals. They both are doing an excellent job. This court has a very heavy caseload.

Twinkle Cavanaugh will be elected to her fourth term as President of the Alabama Public Service Commission next year.  Twinkle is becoming legendary as a public servant in our state.  Although still young, she has built a stellar reputation for honesty, integrity and conservatism.  The former Chairman of the Alabama Republican Party is the best retail politician in Alabama today.  She has crisscrossed the state campaigning in 2023 in preparation for 2024.  Even though she will more than likely not have an opponent, she is running scared and not taking anything for granted.

See you next week.

November 1, 2023 - Dr. Furnie Johnston, Pioneer Doctor

In recent years, healthcare has eclipsed agriculture as Dothan’s major industry. Dothan is the medical mecca for the entire Wiregrass, as well as rural northwest Florida and southwest Georgia.  It has premier medical professionals only matched by Birmingham in the state of Alabama.  Dothan doctors dominate the economy in the world’s largest peanut producing locale.

One of the pioneers of this medical revolution was Dothan’s Dr. Furnie Johnston, who passed away a few weeks ago at 94 years old.  Dr. Johnston brought specialized medicine to Dothan.  He had just finished his residency at UAB and was practicing in Birmingham when the legendary Dr. Paul Flowers called Furnie to come home to the Wiregrass and practice with him.  Furnie came home and became the first orthopedic surgeon in Dothan.  

Furnie Johnston was born and raised in Brundidge in Pike County a few miles north of Dothan.  His father was the town pharmacist and a successful businessman. Coincidentally, in the neighboring Wiregrass City of Ozark, the most prominent pharmacist in the city had a beautiful daughter by the name of Jo Kirkland.  Furnie of Brundidge and Jo of Ozark became sweethearts and married.  They married and remained sweethearts for life.  At the time of Furnie’s death on October 9, they had been married for 75 years.

In September, Furnie knew he was close to passing away.  He had gone to the hospital with terminal problems.  He told the attending physician that he wanted to go home to be with his sweetheart.

Furnie and Jo Johnston had five children, two sons and three daughters.  One of their sons, Jim, died in an automobile accident as a college student.  His son, David Johnston, is a prominent attorney in Dothan.  David is generally considered the premier tax attorney in South Alabama.  David and his father, Furnie, were very close.  They each considered the other to be their best friend besides being father and son. David, like his father, married an Ozark girl, Maurine Matthews.

The three daughters, Carole, Linda, and Laura, are all beautiful and successful with children and grandchildren.  All three girls were with Furnie when he passed away peacefully at home.  They all called him “Papa.”  His family affectionally referred to him as “the great white bear.”  He loved his family fiercely and was a devout Christian father, grandfather, and great grandfather.

Little did his family in Brundidge know that when Furnie was born in their small town on June 17, 1929, in the heart of the Depression, that he would help transform medicine in their Wiregrass region.  At that time, southeast Alabama was totally a peanut growing agricultural area.

Dr. Furnie Johnston, being a child of the Depression, was empathetic towards the life of rural Wiregrass folks.  He began his practice before Medicare and Medicaid.  Doctors were often not paid for their care and services.  It was not unusual for Alabama doctors to be paid with vegetables from farmer’s gardens or chickens.  However, the Wiregrass people have always been known as hard working and very honest and believed in paying their debts.  So Furnie might find vegetables left on his doorstep for years on end by a farm family paying off Furnie for fixing their broken arm.

He treated many a Wiregrass family without charge.  He was especially generous and benevolent towards his native Pike County patients.  Everyone from Ozark, Brundidge, and Troy, who had a fractured leg, arm, or hip, would journey down Highway 231 to Dothan to see Dr. Furnie Johnston. They would arrive with their broken limb and say, “I’m here to see Furnie Jr.”  Furnie’s father was also named Furnie. So, the Brundidge patients would simply say, “I’m here to see Furnie Jr.,” while the Dothan patients would say, “I’m here to see Dr. Johnston.”  Therefore, when the office manager heard, “Furnie, Jr.,” they would say, “You are from Pike County, aren’t you?”  The patient would nod and they would go on back to see the regions bone specialist.  Furnie would generally know their family and their roots.  He instinctively knew whether they could pay and he would simply and quietly let his nurse know that they were not to be charged for their treatment.  He treated all of his patients the same.

The passing of Dr. Furnie Johnston at age 94, marks the passing of an era.  The days of two neighboring Wiregrass town pharmacists’ son and daughter marrying and having a large and prosperous family may be of a past era. However, the legacy of Dr. Furnie Johnston, as the first orthopedic surgeon in Dothan, remains. He will be remembered as the pioneer, who transformed Dothan from a peanut city to a medical city.

See you next week.

October 25, 2023 - University Philanthropists

In the past two to three years we have had some very generous benefactors make some very magnanimous contributions to their university alma maters in Alabama.

One of those philanthropist is Alabama businessman Jim Kennemer.  Thanks to a $2 million gift from Kennemer, the University of Alabama funded the James C. Kennemer Center for Innovation and Social Impact.

Jim and I were in school together at the University of Alabama in the 1970s, where we became friends and we have remained friends.  Many of his close friends call him “Robo,” a nickname he picked up while a fraternity pledge at the University.  Why? Because he was so proficient and efficient at washing the older active members cars.

I remember, quite vividly, that Jim was involved in an unheard of secret university endeavor called “computers.”  As students, most of us vaguely knew that these strange new machines existed, but that is about all we knew.

Jim would disappear and show up for breakfast.  When asked about these nocturnal activities, he would curiously respond that he had been at the computer center where he had been “programming.” Now, understand that this was in the early 1970s and these computers were very new.  Little did we know what an impact these machines would ultimately have in our daily lives.

Jim Kennemer is from Tuscumbia.  His wife Nancy Pettus is from Birmingham.  They met and bonded at the University.  They have been married 50 years and have built an empire together and have given back to their alma mater, the University of Alabama.

The University of Alabama recently hosted a reception to announce the gift and the naming of the Kennemer Center.  The Center will be housed within the UA Honors College.

After leaving UA with a BS and MBA degrees, Jim settled into the back of a warehouse in Birmingham and designed the first fully programmable payment processing workstations.  The first customer was the largest bank in the country.  Within a few years, systems were installed at major banks, utilities and other large processors throughout the United States.  At one point roughly 12% of the U.S. GDP flowed through these systems that Jim designed.

When that company was acquired, Jim and a partner pursued an opportunity in England that ultimately grew into a company he took public on the London Stock Exchange.

Back in Alabama, Jim continued with a series of successful companies.  After one of these companies had been acquired, Jim came across a revolutionary NASA developed technology for early detection of eye problems in children.  Thus, Vision Research Corporation was launched.

Vision research became Jim’s real love.  Jim originally had an entrepreneur’s interest and intent with the company.  However, after seeing thousands of children’s lives made so much better after correction of their vision problems, he was hooked for life with his project.  Hundreds of thousands of kids are screened each year and over the years, almost one million children have been helped.

Jim Kennemer grew up about a mile from Helen Keller’s birthplace.  I have always thought that she was an impetus towards Jim Kennemer’s Vision Research Center.

Recently, Crowne Health founder and CEO, Billy Jones, and his wife Frances, gave $2 million to Troy University, his alma mater. Troy University will use the gift for a new building on the Troy campus.  The building will be named in honor of Billy Jones of Monroeville.  It will be a center for research in the area of polymers and polymer recycling.  The building named in Jones’s honor will also primarily and appropriately be a Health Science building.

Dr. Jack Hawkins, Chancellor of Troy University, has been known for his prowess at fundraising during his 35 year reign as Chancellor of Troy University.  He made an elegant presentation in his remarks honoring Jones at the ceremony bestowing the Jones name upon the building. He said succinctly, “Billy Jones is a cornerstone in the quality of healthcare in Alabama.  As President and CEO of Crowne Health Systems, he has been a legend in Alabama, and he is a Troy product. With 18 nursing homes and 2000 employees, he has made a remarkable difference in the quality of care given to many thousands of people.  It is appropriate that his name will be reflected on a building that is dedicated to the development and education of healthcare workers.  He has been a great supporter of this university and we are very proud of the relationship we share with him.”

The saying that Alabama is one big front porch continues.  Dr. Jack Hawkins and Billy Jones grew up together in Mobile.  They have known each other since their days together at Murphy High in Mobile.

See you next week.

October 18, 2023 - The Shorty Price Story

Alabama has had its share of what I call “run for the fun of it” candidates. The most colorful of all these perennial “also ran” candidates was Ralph “Shorty” Price. He ran for governor every time.  His slogan was “Smoke Tampa Nugget cigars, drink Budweiser beer and vote for Shorty Price.”

In one of Shorty’s campaigns for governor his campaign speech contained this line, “If elected governor, I will reduce the governor’s tenure from four to two years. If you can’t steal enough to last you the rest of your life in two years, you ain’t got enough sense to have the office in the first place.”  He would use recycled campaign signs to save money, but he rarely garnered 2% of the votes in any campaign.

Most people remember Shorty as one of the Alabama Crimson Tide’s most ardent cheerleaders. Like a lot of old-time Alabama fans, Shorty hated Tennessee, which is why I am highlighting Shorty this week since Alabama hosts Tennessee in Bryant Denny Stadium this Saturday.

Shorty loved Alabama football. Following the Crimson Tide was Shorty’s prime passion in life. You could spot Shorty, even though he was only 5 ft tall, at every Crimson tide football game always sporting a black suit and a black hat with a round top, plus his Alabama tie and flag.

I do not know if Shorty actually had a seat because he would parade around Denny Stadium or Legion Field posing as Alabama’s head cheerleader. In fact, he would intersperse himself among the real Alabama cheerleaders and help them with their cheers. There was no question that Shorty was totally inebriated. In fact, I never saw Shorty when he was not drunk.

Shorty worshiped Paul “Bear” Bryant. Indeed, Bryant and Shorty were of the same era. Like Bryant, Shorty hated Tennessee.

Speaking of the Tennessee rivalry, I will share with you a personal Shorty story. I had become acquainted with Shorty early in life. Therefore, on a clear, beautiful, third Saturday, fall afternoon in October Alabama was playing Tennessee in Legion Field. As always, Shorty was prancing up and down the field. I was a freshman at the University on that fall Saturday. Shorty, even in his drunken daze, recognized me. I had a beautiful date that I was trying to impress, and meeting Shorty did not impress her. Shorty pranced up the aisle and proceeded to sit by me.  His daily black suit had not been changed in probably over a year. He reeked of alcohol and body odor and my date had to hold her nose.

After about 20 minutes of offending my date, Shorty then proceeded to try to impress the crowd by doing somersaults off the six-foot walls of Legion Field. He did at least three, smashing his head straight down on the pavement on each dive. I thought Shorty had killed himself with his somersaults. His face and his head were bleeding profusely, and he was developing a black eye. Fortunately, Shorty left my domain and proceeded to dance with the Alabama cheerleaders that day as bloody as he may have been.

Shorty was beloved by the fans, and I guess that is why the police in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa seemed to ignore Shorty’s antics. However, that was not the case in a classic Alabama game four years later. By this time, I was a senior at the University, and we were facing Notre Dame in an epic championship battle in the old New Orleans Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Eve. It was for the 1973 national championship. Bear Bryant and Ara Parseghian were pitted against each other. We were ranked #1 and #2.

One of the largest television audiences in history was focused on the 7:30 p.m. kickoff. It was electrifying. Those of us in the stands were awaiting the entrance of the football teams, as were the ABC cameras. Somehow, Shorty had journeyed to New Orleans, had gotten on the field and was poised to lead the Alabama team out on the field.

As was customary, Shorty was drunk as Cooter Brown. He started off by beating an Irish puppet with a club and the next thing I knew two burly New Orleans policemen, two of the biggest I had ever seen, picked up Shorty by his arms and escorted him off the field. They did not know who Shorty was and did not appreciate him. Sadly, Shorty, one of Alabama’s greatest fans, missed one of Alabama’s classic games sitting in a New Orleans jail.

I have always believed that Shorty’s removal from the field was a bad omen for us that night. We lost 24-23 and Notre Dame won the National Championship.

See you next week.

October 11, 2023 - Alabama Community College Marks 60 Years

The year 1963 was an historic and turbulent year for Alabama.  The race issue was the prevalent and commanding issue in southern politics.  White southerners were determined to hold onto segregation and Jim Crow laws as was the entire South.

Black southerners were prohibited from voting by these laws and practices. Therefore, every governor’s race in the Deep South was won by whichever candidate could be the most pro-segregationist, and yes, most rhetorical and vociferous towards blacks and integration. The king of the racist anti-integration governors became our own George C. Wallace, although Georgia’s Lester Maddox and Mississippi’s Ross Barrett ran him a close second.

George Wallace was obsessed with being the Governor of Alabama.  He thought he would be elected in his first bid in 1958.  He lost that race to John Patterson primarily because Patterson was perceived as being the most pronounced racist and segregationist.  Wallace took the defeat hard.  He actually went into a depression mode for about a week.  He hardly got out of his bed in a Montgomery hotel room.  His closest friends and allies consoled him and finally coaxed him out of bed and assured him that he had just run his “Get Acquainted Race,” an historic pattern whereby the man who ran second would run for governor again in four years later and win because the sitting governor could not run again.  The Alabama Constitution prohibited reelection, so one four year term and you were out.  

After a week, Wallace got out of bed, shaved, showered, called his comrades together and declared, “Boys, I am going to be elected governor in 1962, come hell or high water.  I got out-segged and I ain’t going to be out-segged again.”  He grabbed hold of the race issue, and he did not let go.  He worked 18 hours a day, seven days a week for four years, and he rode the race issue like a rented mule and won the 1962 governor’s race.

He became Governor in January of 1963 and made his famous inaugural speech spouting, “Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever.”  He and every legislator passed laws and resolutions espousing segregation.

Wallace was sincere in his racist rhetoric.  He believed in segregation, but deep down he was more of a progressive than a racist.  Wallace was born and raised from humble roots in rural Barbour County.  He saw what FDR’s New Deal Democratic Progressive Plan had done for Alabama.  Wallace had put together enough money to journey to Tuscaloosa with a cardboard suitcase and get into the University of Alabama as a boy.  At that time, most promising students could not afford to go to college.  Wallace was determined to provide an opportunity for Alabama students to be able to stay home and get a college education.

In the midst of all the racist discord in 1963, Wallace and the legislature created the Alabama Junior College and Trade School System.  It is his greatest legacy. The system was created 60 years ago in 1963.  This is the systems “Diamond Jubilee.”  The system has long transitioned from the junior college system for providing an easier way to get the first two years of college before transferring to a four year college.

Today, 60 years later, the Alabama Community College System is the most important and significant segment of higher education in Alabama.  The Community College System is made up of Alabama students and they are prepared to take Alabama’s highest paying and most needed jobs. The Alabama Community College System is the new capstone of higher education in Alabama.

The Alabama Community College System is made up of 24 colleges and more than 130 locations.  They are the primary vehicle for providing workers and managers for Alabama businesses large and small.

There are 155,000 students attending Alabama Community Colleges.  Enrollment has been up almost 10% in the last two years.  Ninety-six percent of the systems students live in Alabama and 72% of these students stay in Alabama after completing their studies.  These students and alumni add an amazing $6.6 billion to Alabama economy each year.  Nearly 100,000 jobs in Alabama are generated or supported by Alabama’s Community Colleges, their students and alumni.  This accounts for one of every 27 jobs in our state.  

Wallace could never have dreamed of what he was doing for Alabama’s future 60 years ago.

See you next week.

October 4, 2023 - It’s Official – Alabama will have new Congressional Districts.

It’s official and final, Alabama will elect our seven member congressional delegation under new lines next year.  The federal court has spoken. The special master drawing the lines has acted and the final omnipotent power, the U.S. Supreme Court, has concurred and confirmed the decision.  It is over.

The result that the plaintiffs desired has been decreed by the courts.  There will be a new second majority Black Congressional district.  This accomplishment has been sought for decades.

Now the question becomes, can the Democrats succeed in electing a Black Democrat to this new opportunity district.  It is not a slam dunk.  The new district is 50% Black and 50% White.  It favors a Montgomery candidate.  The bulk of the population and the geographic center of the new district is Montgomery county.  Montgomerians are like the rest of the state, they adhere to the well-known predilection known as “friends and neighbors” politics.  That means they prefer to vote for someone from their neck of the words, especially their county.

My early prediction is that Montgomery mayor, Steven Reed, will be the Democratic nominee and will be the favorite to win the new Seat.

The special master that  drew the new lines attached an index to his maps that revealed that if there were a congressional race within this new district that this district would have voted for the Democrat in 15 out of 17 of the last 17 elections.  Therefore, the court’s desire to make a second minority Democratic district where a Democrat has a good opportunity to win has been accomplished. 

The entire basis of this high profile federal case has been centered around the fact that Alabama has one Black Democratic Congressperson, Terri Sewell, and six White Republicans.  One Black Democrat constitutes 14% of the state’s population.  The plaintiff’s argument that the state’s Black population is 27%. Therefore, there should be two Black Democratic congressional seats in the Heart of Dixie.  The courts bought that argument and hung their hat on the 1965 Voting Rights Act and having one seat rather than two violates and dilutes Black voters in Alabama’s voting rights.

The question now becomes, what are the down home political implications and results of these court mandated new congressional lines.  All of you who live in middle and north Alabama, which is most of you, are unaffected.  The majority of the people in Alabama, who live in Birmingham north are not affected.  In fact, everyone north of Montgomery is unaffected.  All of the commotion and redrawing has occurred in Montgomery, the Black Belt, the Wiregrass, and Mobile. 

Our three powerful Republican congressmen are left with basically their same districts.  Republicans Robert Aderholt, Mike Rogers and Gary Palmer, who are our centers of power in the House, have their same if not enhanced GOP districts.  Huntsville’s freshman congressman, Dale Strong’s district is unchanged.

Congresswoman Terri Sewell’s  Democratic district has been favored in the drawings.  She has a perfectly drawn district that pretty much mirrors her current Birmingham based seat.  She will probably be spared a Republican challenge.  However, State Senator Bobby Singleton, who hails from the Black Belt, may challenge her in a Democratic primary out of spite.  He wanted a district that favored him but lost to Sewell in the legislative battles over the drawing of the new Black district.  

The real rubber meets the road within the Republican ranks in the Wiregrass, and Mobile and Baldwin counties.  The five Wiregrass counties of Covington, Dale, Geneva, Houston, and Coffee are sent to Baldwin and Mobile.  Therefore, new Congressmen Jerry Carl from Mobile and Barry Moore from Enterprise/Coffee are in the same district.  Moore is the odd man out in this dilemma.  The majority of votes in this new district are in Baldwin and Mobile counties.  Carl will be the prohibitive favorite against Moore, or any other Republican.  It will be a very conservative Republican district.  Therefore, six of our seven seats will be in safe reelection journeys for our incumbent congressmen.  Jerry Carl in the first, Mike Rogers in the third, Robert Aderholt in the fourth, Dale Strong in the fifth, Gary Palmer in the sixth, and Terri Sewell in the seventh are very safe bets for reelection in 2024.  Therefore, all of the turmoil and court intervention only affects one area of the state.

All the brouhaha and action will be in the newly drawn second district.  It is Montgomery Democratic Mayor Steven Reed’s race to lose.  He will be the favorite to win and change Alabama’s delegation in Washington from six Republicans and one Democrat to five Republicans and two Democrats.  However, I would handicap that race as a 50/50 toss-up.  There will be a lot of Republican dollars from Washington showered upon the Republican nominee.  It will be interesting.

See you next week.

September 27, 2023 - Roads Vital and Political for Alabama

Roads and bridges have been vital to Alabama since its creation.  This is probably true of most states; however, it has been especially true for Alabama for several reasons.  First of all, we are a large state, geographically.  Most metropolitan areas are a good many miles from the State Capitol in Montgomery.  It is a long journey for folks from Huntsville, Mobile, and even Birmingham metro, and, if you go from one end of the state from Scottsboro to Dothan or Huntsville to Mobile you have been on a really long journey.  We also have a lot of water in Alabama including lakes and creeks besides the major rivers that traverse our state.  Therefore, that is why I included bridges in my opening sentence.  Bridges are a necessity in our state more so than in other states.  We also have a major Port in Mobile that needs to be sustained along with roads and bridges.  

It is an acknowledged fact that having adequate roads is a major factor when it comes to economic growth and development in a state.  Every economic developer will attest to this road factor.  Roads and education are the primary components to economic growth for a state. Therefore, roads have been a primary campaign theme and criteria of accomplishment for every governor as long as I can remember.  

It is and has been the most important factor in determining whether a governor has a legacy.  It is something they can point to and hang their hat on.  Going back the last 60 to 70 years there have been only three or four governors, who have what I call a real legacy, and one of the primary benchmarks for creating a legacy is roads.

John Patterson had a road legacy by virtue of the fact that he was governor during the Dwight Eisenhower Federal Interstate Act.  This Interstate Act created by President Eisenhower is one of the most important presidential acts in history.  In fact, most of the growth in the state and most of the population lives along I-65, which traverses the state and includes Huntsville, Birmingham, Montgomery, and Mobile.

George Wallace has numerous legacies but, if you knew him, roads were his number one priority.  Wallace was also the most brilliant, accomplished, successful political governor in state history, and I stress the word political, so Wallace played politics when it came to roads.  As the ultimate political animal in Alabama’s political history, you would expect nothing less.

Wallace lived by the political adage you reward your friends and punish your enemies. One slow news day, Wallace held a press conference and a young, liberal, muckraking, Birmingham news reporter asked the Governor, “Why do you give all the road projects in the state to your contributors, friends and cronies?”  Wallace looked at the young boy incredulously and said, “Who do you think I ought to give them to, my enemies?”

The two political legends of my lifetime were George Wallace and Big Jim Folsom.  They were elected governor by the rural and smaller, midsize cities and counties in the state.  They neither ever carried the metropolitan counties of Jefferson, Madison and Montgomery. Therefore, these metro areas never received their rightful share of road dollars, especially under Wallace. 

I have been asked over the years is it true the Birmingham area was the last metro area to get interstates completed because Wallace refused to appropriate any state funds to Birmingham to match the federal dollars needed for completion because they voted against him.  My answer is short. The answer is yes.  Wallace would acknowledge that to close friends and political allies.  

The Governor who has the greatest legacy for roads in my lifetime and maybe history is the legendary Big Jim Folsom.  Most of the rural roads in the state were built by Big Jim Folsom’s “Farm to Market” road program.

In Big Jim’s era, the state was agriculturally oriented.  Almost everybody farmed and had crops they needed to get to the market.  Most of the roads in the rural areas were dirt roads.  If the rain came early, the roads would turn to mud and would be impassable.  Therefore, the poor Alabama farmer who had toiled all year to make a crop could not get his produce to market.  His year’s work was ruined by poor roads.  Big Jim, who was the little man’s big friend, knew this and he fixed it by paving most of the rural roads.  Big Jim has one of the most endearing legacies of any Alabama governor because of his “Farm to Market” road program.

See you next week.

September 20, 2023 - Democrats Indictment Plan Has Made Trump GOP Nominee and maybe next President

In early April, I wrote that “Democrats give Trump a lifeline.” It was at that time that a Democratic district attorney in an overwhelmingly Democratic New York venue had indicted Trump in a political ploy to disarm in some way, politically.

There is an old saying that you can indict a potato or a ham sandwich.  The legal threshold for getting a grand jury to offer a writ of indictment only requires that there is a scintilla of evidence that there may be a crime or misdemeanor.  Therefore, a prosecutor can orchestrate an indictment.

It looks like the Democrats plan is to replay the 2020 election in the courts, which is destroying Americans’ trust in their judicial system.  They are making the courts a theatrical comedy political show.  It used to be off limits to use the courts to indict a person for political reasons.  Make no mistake about it, all of these trumped up indictments are just that, orchestrated political ploys.

The Democrats have politically used the judicial system to indict Donald Trump – unbelievably four times in four different Democratic venues with Democratic judges and Democratic juries. The last two plays are in slam dunk Democratic clubhouses.  The third indictment is in Washington D.C., which is 96% Democratic.  The fourth is in Fulton County, Atlanta, Georgia, which is 80% Democratic.  

There will never be a conviction upheld by a superior unbiased appeals court.  It would also take six years of appeals to get resolved and by that time Trump and Biden might not be here and if they are here, may not know they are here. The 2024 race will long be over and forgotten.  These political indictments are designed and orchestrated to derail Trump in 2024.

Make no mistake about it, these charades are politically motivated but not for the reason you think.  Most would assume that the Democrats wanted to bloody Trump in order to beat him in the General Election next November against Biden.  Not so, they want him to be the Republican nominee because he will be easy to beat, and they know that.  This courtroom ploy is playing out with the Republican base with such anger and outrage that it is making Trump a martyr.

Indeed, as late as March, polls showed that Trump could not be elected president under any circumstances. He was probably not going to be the Republican nominee.  He had dropped to 25% among Republicans with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis at 40% without DeSantis even being in the race.

After every indictment the sensationalism was met with glee by the liberal media. However, it was met by more glee by one, Donald Trump.  It not only gave him a political lifeline, it essentially assured him the Republican nomination.  The latest polls reveal Trump has a demanding lead in the GOP horserace.  He is sitting on 54% vote to DeSantis’s 15% and the rest of the dwarfs are at 5% or less.

Trump will more than likely carry Alabama, overwhelmingly in our March 5 GOP Primary.  All six of our current Republican Congressmen have endorsed him as well as our Senior Senator Tommy Tuberville who by the way is probably Trump’s closest and most loyal ally in the U.S. Senate. Trump was met by enthusiastic, energetic enthusiasm when he spoke to a record breaking crowd of Alabama Republicans at their summer dinner in Montgomery on August 4.

Folks, the Democratic plan to make Donald Trump the Republican nominee has been successful.  They have used Democratic courts to orchestrate his nomination.  However, they may have overplayed their hand.  There is such a thing as “piling on” to use a football analogy.  Every time one of these indictments comes down, it makes it look more and more frivolous and political.  It has become viewed by Republicans as over the top and hitting below the waist politics.  They may be making some Independent voters reconsider their distaste for Donald Trump.  In addition, every time one of these ploys comes down, Trump raises tons of money.  The Democrats may have succeeded in making Trump the nominee they wanted. However, they may have gone too far. They may elect him President.

During Trump’s visit to Montgomery when he spoke the GOP faithful following the third indictment out of Washington D.C,, you could tell he was delighted with the latest pile on. He gleefully told the audience, “one more indictment and they will make me President.” He may be right.

Then the fourth indictment came down, and his polls and fundraising took off again. He would like nothing better than to hold a rally outside each courtroom next year. If political prosecution is the Democrats gameplan, they may have overplayed their hand. We will see.

See you next week.