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Sunday, November 12, 2006
PoliColumn II (More Alabama Politics)
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 10:31 am

On this two-fer Sunday, here’s a piece from today’s Press-Register:

Lessons of the’06 Alabama election
Sunday, November 12, 2006
By STEVEN L. TAYLOR
Special to the Press-Register

E lections are events that always answer one set of questions while raising others. Alabama’s electoral journey of 2006 is no exception to that notion.

So, what did we learn last Tuesday and what new questions should we be asking?

(more…)

PoliColumn I (Alabama Politics)
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 10:30 am

From today’s Birmingham News:

Now, watch post-election drama of politics play out
Sunday, November 12, 2006
STEVEN L. TAYLOR

Election night was great drama in terms of the national races. We saw a change in control of the Congress for the first time in a dozen years. Democrats are returned to power. By comparison, the Alabama contests were dull - or were they?

(more…)

Thursday, November 9, 2006
PoliColumn (Blogs and Politics)
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 9:59 am

This ran in print on Sunday, but finally made it online yesterday.

From the Press-Register:

Blogs highlight good, bad, ugly
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
By STEVEN L. TAYLOR
Special to the Press-Register

The era of the instantaneous is upon us. News, information and opinion now travel at the speed of light and are available to us whenever we want, wherever we want.

(more…)

Filed under: US Politics, My Columns, Blogging, 2006 Elections | Comments (7) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
Sunday, September 3, 2006
PoliColumn II (The District 54)
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 7:21 am

On a two-fer Sunday, here’s another piece from me from today’s Press-Register:

State Democratic Party narrowly avoids electoral shame
Sunday, September 03, 2006
By STEVEN L. TAYLOR
Special to the Press-Register

The Democratic Executive Committee recently avoided a public relations nightmare, and — more important — also righted an injustice that had been made by a lower-level party committee days before. But the closeness of the vote (95-87) suggests that there is an unsettlingly large number of party leaders who would have preferred to stick with the unjust outcome.

The issue at hand was the primary for Alabama State House District 54, which pitted Gaynell Hendricks, an African-American, against Patricia Todd, a lesbian, for the party’s nomination for an open seat.

It should have been a win-win for state Democrats: The district had no Republican candidate, so the seat was as safe as it could be.

However, because the primary itself was for all practical purposes the actual election, the stakes were high and things got nasty.

(more…)

Filed under: My Columns, Alabama Politics, Elections: 2006 | Comments (1) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
PoliColumn I (Voting Rights and Ex-Felons)
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 7:18 am
From today’s Birmingham News:

Banning felon votes not worth time, money
Sunday, September 03, 2006
STEVEN L. TAYLOR

It is often amazing to note how a specific word or phrase within the law can create a great deal of confusion. Sometimes, such words are used to purposefully create confusion; other times, such words are carelessly chosen. Today’s exhibit: “moral turpitude.”

Under Alabama law, persons who commit crimes of “moral turpitude” will have their rights to vote revoked. Further, a 2003 law was passed to allow felons who had committed such a crime to petition for restoration of voting rights. Felons who commit felonies that aren’t crimes of moral turpitude can vote. (more…)

Filed under: My Columns, Alabama Politics | Comments (1) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
Thursday, July 13, 2006
PoliColumn (Siegelman convicted edition)
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 12:18 pm

From Sunday’s Press-Register (it finally made it to the wbe today):

The Siegelman effect
Sunday, July 09, 2006
By STEVEN L. TAYLOR
Special to the Press-Register

You have to wonder how many of the 169,528 citizens of our state who voted for Don Siegelman on June 6 now wish that they could take back their votes. One would guess a substantial number.

Siegelman, one of the most significant state-level politicians in Alabama for almost two decades, now stands convicted of conspiracy, bribery, mail fraud and obstruction of justice, a total of seven counts.

The good news — such as it is — for Siegelman is that he was acquitted of other charges of racketeering, extortion, obstruction of justice, wire fraud and mail fraud. But even with the “good” news, he faces the possibility of years in prison and substantial fines.

Along with Siegelman, another prominent Alabamian — former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy — also was convicted of bribery, conspiracy and mail fraud.

At a minimum, the two men — who once were considered excellent representative of our state to the nation at large — have managed to sully our state’s reputation. Beyond that, their convictions will have lasting effects on Alabama politics.

Scrushy’s connection is more subtle, insofar as he is not a political actor per se (at least not in the sense of party or electoral politics or in the sense of directly governing, although his political connections are obvious). However, his guilty verdicts should make various corporate types and their political patrons think twice about how they do business.

In terms of basic electoral politics, the real issue here is Don Siegelman. His conviction is hardly helpful for the Alabama Democratic Party, although its problem would have been far more serious had he bested Lucy Baxley for the party’s nomination to run for governor this year.

It is true that Alabama is deep red when it comes to presidential politics, and our Congressional delegation is likely to be heavily Republican for the foreseeable future. However, as we get into state-level politics, both parties are competitive. As such, there are no guarantees of Republican dominance at that level (indeed, the state Legislature remains in Democratic hands).

Any tactical advantage that either party can score is a big deal. And for now, the Democrats are “the party with the convicted governor” or “the party of bribery and fraud.”

It is unfair for the actions of a handful of individuals to tarnish an entire party, to be sure, but since when was politics a fair and equitable game?

Consider the following: After Gov. Bob Riley’s narrow victory over Siegelman in the 2002 election, and especially after Riley’s stumble over Amendment One in 2003, it seemed likely that a “battle of the governors” (Riley vs. Siegelman) was set for 2006.

Indeed, many in the state’s Democratic Party were hoping for a scenario in which ex-Chief Justice Roy Moore would swoop in, seriously wound Riley in the Republican primary, and help propel Siegelman back into power.

Not only did the Moore challenge fizzle, but Siegelman was indicted.

Indeed, from the moment of the first set of indictments (the ones that later were dismissed) to the new set and his subsequent conviction, Siegelman became damaged goods and was in no position to aid his party. (The degree to which he was concerned about such things, and not about his own political power, is questionable in the light of the convictions.) The bottom line is that Don Siegelman’s own actions — as far back as 1999, according to the charges — set in motion the situation as we know it today, making it impossible for him to stage a comeback and thereby damaging his party in the process.

The Alabama Democratic Party’s sad situation is illustrated by the fact that its big hope for the November’s elections is that former Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. will have a substantially good chance of winning the lieutenant governor’s slot. (It says something about a party when its best chance of success lies is reaching back into its past.)

Which leads to the obvious question: With its most recent electoral success headed to federal prison and its best hope for November a blast from the past, what is the future of the Alabama Democratic Party?

The answer is: If the Democrats want to maintain two-party competitiveness at the state level, and not allow an era of Republican dominance, they are going to need to recruit a new set of politicos.

They are also going to have to find a way to deal with the lingering effects of the Siegelman conviction. The last thing they want to be known as if the party of bribery, fraud and conspiracy.

Filed under: My Columns, Alabama Politics | Comments (1) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here

Politics In Alabama » Blog Archive » Alabama Bloggers Roudup linked with [...] ts! The Gun Toting Liberal informs us all he will never vote for Senator Hillary Clinton. Steven Taylor’s editorial on the Siegleman Scrushy guilty verdict is up on his blog. [...]
Sunday, June 4, 2006
PoliColumn II (Conference Committee Politics)
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 7:37 am

From today’s Birmingham News:

Senate, House immigration bills on collision course
Sunday, June 04, 2006
STEVEN L. TAYLOR

The U.S. Senate has passed an immigration bill that will be set on a collision course with a radically different bill passed by the House. The result will be that the enforcement-focused House bill will have to be reconciled to the more immigrant-friendly Senate version in a conference committee. The job of the committee will be to reconcile the two bills for an up-or-down vote in the House and Senate.

It is a process we all should have learned in high school and probably think of as a perfectly natural, acceptable part of how a bill becomes a law.

However, this topic, with its radically different House and Senate versions, is something of a poster child for the question of whether this whole conference committee idea is an especially good one.

`Not fixable’:

As Alabama U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions said, “It will have to be rewritten. The bill is not fixable.”

If that is the case, then really the conference won’t be simply hammering out some language differences that inevitably emerge in legislation passed by two different bodies. Rather, for all practical purposes, the conference will act as third chamber of the legislature and, essentially, craft a whole new piece of legislation that will be immune to change by the full Congress.

This begs the question: What was the point of all the wailing and gnashing of teeth we’ve gone through of late? Why go through all the drama in the House and the Senate on such a controversial (and important) topic? The conference committee has, at the end of the day, an inordinate amount of power - especially when the House and Senate bills are so different.

Some reflection on this fact ought to cause some discomfort among us about this process, as we consider the diminution of the influence of the voter in this system. In a conference committee, the relative political power of the citizen is diminished, as each state (let alone district) is not represented. Indeed, the conferees are hand-picked by congressional leadership in the hopes of steering the final legislative product in a particular direction.

Further, the conference debate is far less transparent than that which takes place in the House or Senate, to put it mildly. Really, we don’t know what goes on in the conference until it has produced its report. The entire process substantially reduces accountability.

It also dilutes the power of the full chambers - for while the conference is a creature of the overall Congress, it is also very much a creature of the leadership, and therefore weakens the influence of the two bodies as a whole.

Yes, ultimately that power is partially restored with the two chambers having an up-or-down vote on the conference report. However, at that time there is no room for amendment nor, therefore, any serious debate. It is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. Given that the normal legislative process is one of significant give and take and debate, this is a fairly substantial change in process (and therefore potentially in outcome).

Given that all of the previous work in both chambers can be jettisoned, that the conferees are selected in a way which mightily dilutes the influence of voters and that the conference report itself may bear little resemblance to the work which came before, one has to wonder whether we should be using the process at all.

So, what’s the alternative? It is actually pretty simple, and is a process Congress does use for less controversial matters: The bill should go back and forth between the two chambers until both can agree on identical content. There should be the possibility for full debate, amendment and true legislative give-and-take (and compromise) between the two chambers.

Would it take longer? Yes, it would - and, quite frankly, that shouldn’t be an issue. For one thing, it is the job of the legislature to legislate, and it should take as long as necessary to get it right. And, in a democracy, the debate should be as out in the open as possible and the peoples’ elected representative should have their full influence. Further, it might mean fewer laws are passed in a given session of Congress - and given all the laws we currently have, a few less can’t possibly be a bad thing.

If in the back-and-forth process we find no reconciliation can be reached, so be it: That means we don’t have sufficient consensus to pass that law anyway.

Toss the conference:

So, let’s chuck the conference process and go to a system of going back and forth from chamber to chamber. Of course, since such a process would dilute the power of the leadership, this is an unlikely scenario - not to mention we are pretty conservative about our procedures. (If we’ve always done it that way, it must be good, right?)

In regards to the current immigration debate, the only way this process may actually result in an adequately democratic (note the small “d”) outcome is if the conference is unable to reach an adequate compromise, thus killing the bill for this session.

Filed under: US Politics, My Columns, Immigration | Comments (2) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here

blogs for industry linked with Conference calls
PoliBlog: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » Immigration Bill Dead linked with [...] polls on this topic one will find a genuine lack of consensus on those details. As such, as I stated in a column a few weeks back, the most democratic outcome here is likely what will get: no bill [...]
PoliColumn I (The Alabama Primaries)
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 7:35 am

From today’s Mobile Press-Register:


No drama in Republican primary
Sunday, June 04, 2006
By STEVEN L. TAYLOR
Special to the Press-Register

When we first learned, some months ago, that the Alabama Republican primary was going to feature Gov. Bob Riley vs. ex-Chief Justice Roy Moore, observers envisioned a dramatic battle for the hearts and minds of the GOP voters in the state.

Indeed, the contest was supposed to demonstrate great divisions between factions of Alabama Republicans.

Instead, as we approach the Tuesday primaries, it appears that the event will feature more whimper than bang. In fact, it would seem that the party is less divided and more healthy than some people had thought.

Barring an unexpected and radical turn of events, the governor should cruise to the nomination and will be considered a prohibitive favorite to win re-election in November.

The drama, though not quite of the type some foretold for the Republican primary, is more on the Democratic side of the coin. Indeed, this year’s contest tells us a few things about the current state of the Democratic Party — and it doesn’t come across as especially healthy.

The battle for the plumb slot on the Democratic ticket would appear at first blush to be a contest for the ages, between a former governor vs. a sitting lieutenant governor.

However, it has turned out to be a race between the federally indicted candidate and the candidate with the catchy slogan. This is hardly the stuff of legends.

Former Gov. Don Siegelman’s problems are obvious. No candidate would want to be the subject of an ongoing trial over federal bribery and corruption charges. It just doesn’t make for good bumper stickers (although it might for one’s opponent).

Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley is a classic tabula rasa candidate: a blank slate upon which the voters can project whatever they wish. Such a position tends to be helpful in the early going of a campaign, but can become increasingly problematic as Election Day approaches, when people want to know what a candidate thinks about key subjects.

Yes, Baxley has a long, distinguished record of public service. Yet she has not made clear what kind of governor she would be.

As The Associated Press has noted, she “has not put out a full-fledged campaign platform.”

If one goes to her campaign Web site, one can read a list of bullet points about certain issues that are mainly platitudes like “Money is not always the answer to improving education” and “My administration will be one of honesty and integrity.”

But this is ultimately thin gruel when it’s time to make serious assessments, and hardly the kind of stuff that will defeat a sitting governor whose administration can tout 3.7 percent statewide unemployment, healthy economic growth, and some recent tax cuts.

Further, there has been some unpleasant press generated from some of the less prominent candidates on the Democratic side.

There was the Holocaust denial by Larry Darby, who is one of two Democrats seeking the nomination for attorney general. Also, he has spoken to a white supremacist group.

And Darby also endorsed statements by Harry Lyon, a minor candidate for governor, concerning policy toward illegal immigration: Lyon touted the notion of public, televised hangings of illegal immigrants.

Pronouncements of this nature are good neither for the Democratic Party of Alabama, nor for the image of our state.

The bright spot for the party is the unopposed candidate for lieutenant governor, Jim Folsom Jr., who will have a real shot in November.

However, what does it say about the current state of the Democratic Party if the best that it can do this election cycle is to seek a “blast from the past”? Where are the leaders for the future going to come from?

For that matter, when was the last time the Democrats offered a serious challenger for either of the state’s U.S. Senate seats? The answer: when Richard Shelby was still a Democrat.

Yes, it is difficult to challenge incumbent senators, and this is a very “red state” when it comes to presidential elections. But as Lucy Baxley can attest, Democrats can win state office in Alabama.

If the party doesn’t start building a more robust candidate pool, however, that may not be true for long.

So the fight that the Democrats were counting on in the GOP has not materialized, their gubernatorial candidates are weak, and their shining star is one who was called out of retirement to help the team.

Even with the negative national mood toward the Republican Party, the sad truth is that this is not shaping up to be a good year for Alabama Democrats.

Filed under: My Columns, Alabama Politics | Comments (1) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here

PoliBlog ™: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » Summarizing the Gubernatorial Campaign in Alabama linked with [...] This all strikes me as quite accurate. Indeed, I noted Baxley’s problems back during the primary season in a column in the Press-Register. Filed under: US Politics, Alabama Politics, 2006 Elections | |Send TrackBack [...]
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
PoliColumn: The Goat Hill Awards
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 6:37 pm

This piece ran on Sunday in the Press-Reigster
but didn’t make it to the web until today. (Thanks to my editor for seeing that it was posted and to Kenny Smith of al.com for e-mailing to let me know it was up).

Legislature 2006: Kudos and shortfalls
Sunday, April 23, 2006
By STEVEN L. TAYLOR
Special to the Press-Register

Last week saw the close of the 2006 legislative session, and so it is an appropriate time to survey their work and decide on the good, the bad and the ugly. If celebrities can dole out awards left and right, I see no reason not to do the same for Alabama’s Legislature.

So, I give you the 2006 Goat Hill Awards (also known as the Goaties).

In the “Best Legislation” category, we have four nominees.

First is the Brody Act, which classifies an unborn child as a victim in an assault on or murder of a pregnant woman. Kudos to the Legislature for recognizing the rights of the unborn in such a situation.

Second, we have the moving of Alabama’s presidential primary to February (from June), which means that in 2008 the citizens of our state will have a real voice in choosing the Democratic and Republican contenders for president for a change.

Third, and the winner of the Goatie for Best Legislation in 2006, is tax relief for the working poor in our state. This new law, which raises the level at which a family of four starts paying income taxes from $4,600 a year to $12,600.

This change, which is targeted at those making $20,000 a year or less, helps those making more than that who also have children, ups the personal exemptions and tax deductions for dependents — numbers that haven’t been changed since the inception of the state’s income tax in 1935.

For those keeping score at home, the state of Hawaii now has the heaviest income tax burden on its poor citizens.

The bill deserves to be the best of 2006 because it helps the largest number of citizens in a very direct way.

The award for Worst Legislation this year isn’t so much for what was, but for what wasn’t. Call it the “Should Have Been” Goatie because it goes to the legislation that should have been, but wasn’t.

Runners-up in this category include the failure to allow for term limits for state legislators and a bill that would have allowed for voters to decide if Alabamians should have access to the ballot initiative process (i.e., allowing citizens to propose legislation that would be open to statewide referenda).

However, the winner (by far) was the failure of the Legislature to let the people vote yes or no on whether a convention should be called to write a new constitution for the state.

While bills were introduced in both houses of the Legislature, the House failed to vote the issue out of committee; and while the Senate Constitution, Campaign Finance, Ethics and Election Committee passed a bill unanimously, it failed to make it to the floor for a vote.

It is inexcusable that the Legislature could not even find the time to vote on the question. We need a healthy debate on the nature of our state government, and the main way to get it would be to seriously consider the constitution question.

While I would grant an honorable mention to the Senate for at least getting a bill out of committee, I would also note that isn’t sufficient.

Beyond the major awards, there are also a set of minor ones that ought to be noted.

THE “BELIEVE IT OR NOT” AWARD: This one goes to the entire Legislature for actually finishing the budgets early for a change, thereby avoiding a special session (unlike last year) and actually getting to a number of additional issues before the session was over.

As such, this year’s legislative session underscores a fundamental truth of politics: Legislating is easier when there is plenty of money.

THE “BETTER LATE THAN NEVER” AWARD: The opening of a process that would allow for pardons of civil rights activists such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.

While wholly symbolic, such moves should be seen as attempts by the state to apologize for past injustices.

THE “SHOP’TIL YOU DROP” AWARD: The creation of a state sales tax holiday for the first Friday, Saturday and Sunday of August. The tax holiday is aimed at back-to-school related purchases and covers clothing, school supplies and books. (Sorry, no breaks for the flat screen TV you’ve been eyeing.)

THE “SILLIEST MOVE” AWARD: The Goatie for Silly but Harmless Legislation goes to the bill that names the peach as our state’s “official state tree fruit” (as opposed to the official state fruit that doesn’t grow on a tree, the blackberry).

The giant peach statue off of Interstate 65 in Clanton was not available for comment, but Sen. Hank Erwin, R-Montevallo, noted that our peaches are “better peaches than Georgia ever thought about.” (A resolution by the Legislature that our peaches could beat up their peaches, however, failed to make it to the floor.)

That will do it for this year. See you next year at the Goaties.

Steven L. Taylor, Ph.D. is an associate professor of political science at Troy University. He writes daily on politics at www.poliblogger.com and can be reached via e-mail at sltaylor@poliblogger.com.

Filed under: My Columns, Alabama Politics | Comments (2) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Taylor in TCS
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 8:47 am

After an almost two year absence (man, time flies), I make a return to Tech Central Station: Madmen or M.A.D. Logic?

Filed under: My Columns, Iran | Comments (0) |Send TrackBack
Monday, March 13, 2006
PoliColumn: Alabama Tax Politics
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 8:22 am

(I forgot to check to see if this ran yesterday)

From Sunday’s Mobile Register:

Tax cut is shrewd and good
Sunday, March 12, 2006
By STEVEN L. TAYLOR
Special to the Register

The tax-cut compromise pending in the Alabama Legislature is both just and politically shrewd, and here’s why:

The state of Alabama starts collecting income taxes from a family of four at an income level $4,600 a year. As a new study published last month notes, this is the lowest level at which income taxes are levied on the poor in the country.

The next state on the list is West Virginia, and it starts taxing at the $10,000 level.

In January, Gov. Bob Riley issued a proposal to rectify this situation, and counter-proposals subsequently grew out of the legislative session.

Now, the governor and Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery, have come to a compromise that has a good chance of being approved by the House.

The plan, which would be phased in over five years, would move the beginning of income tax collection for a family of four to $12,400. It would do so by increasing the standard deduction from $4,000 to $7,000, the personal exemption from $1,500 to $1,700, and the dependent exemption from $300 to $1,000.

The changes to the personal exemption would stop for individuals making over $100,000 and for joint filers making over $200,000.

The Riley-Knight compromise lowers the overall increases to the exemptions originally proposed by Riley, and creates the caps for high-income earners — whose taxes would not change under this plan.

Not only would this plan be a just move in regard to taxing the poor, but it is also a shrewd political move by the governor for a variety of reasons.

First, the governor’s primary opponent, Roy Moore, has one main line of attack to level at Riley in terms of public policy: that Riley attempted the largest tax increase in the state’s history when he backed Amendment One in 2003. If Riley is now championing tax cuts, that blunts Moore’s line of attack.

Yes, Moore can claim that this is an election-year conversion, but that will not obviate the fact that Riley will be in office working for tax cuts, while Moore will be on the outside trying to get in, only able to criticize.

Such are the powers of incumbency in elections.

Second, the rationale as proffered by the governor helps to reinforce his conservative “bona fides,” which Moore will also attempt to attack. Riley specifically noted in January: “If we don’t offer tax relief when we have a record surplus and will put more money into education than ever before, then when will we ever?”

Such a statement underscores a basic conservative principle that tax dollars ultimately belong to the taxpayers, not the state, and that at times of surplus, some of those dollars should be returned to the people.

And, the fact that Riley correctly notes that education spending will be at a record high helps dull the ability of critics to attack the proposal.

He also is making a favorite conservative argument that more money in the pockets of taxpayers means more economic activity in the state, which in turn ultimately means more tax revenue for the state.

If Moore cannot successfully assail Riley’s fiscal conservatism, then it is doubtful that the moral values line of attack (as exemplified by the Ten Commandments issue) will be sufficient to unseat Riley as the GOP’s nominee.

Third, these are not just run-of-the-mill tax cuts. By framing the proposal around the issue of exemptions, and thus the level at which a person starts paying income taxes in Alabama, the governor has inserted a significant element of social justice into the mix, which could appeal to moderate voters (and legislators).

As it stands, a family of four starts paying state income taxes at a remarkably low level. That this is an undue burden on those in poverty is incontrovertible, and is one of the key criticisms of our state’s tax structure.

Indeed, by the 2004 poverty standards used by the federal government, a family of four is considered at the poverty line with an annual income of $19,157 — a far cry from $4,600.

Fourth, while the plan does target low-income citizens, it still has the politically attractive element of benefiting not just the poor, but middle-and upper-middle-class taxpayers as well.

There will be criticisms of the plan, insofar as while this year may be a fat one in terms of state revenues, there is no guarantee that such a trend will continue.

Indeed, given our state’s history of budget shortfalls and painful prorations, there is a legitimate concern that the money needed to fund this cut (estimated at $200 million per annum once fully implemented, as based on a state Finance Department analysis) will not be available in the future.

The nature of fiscal policy in Alabama is that state revenues are highly dependent on the health of the state’s economy. At the moment, we are in an exceptionally healthy phase, and as a result the state’s coffers are overflowing.

However, when revenues depend on income and sales taxes, a moderate dip in economic strength could severely curtail state revenues.

Also, because the money to fund Riley’s proposed cuts come from funds earmarked for teacher salaries, Paul Hubbert of the AEA is far from impressed. However, one suspects that since Riley can hardly count on AEA’s support in the first place, that making Hubbert mad is the least of his concerns.

Apart from the potential political gain for Riley, this proposal has the more important feature of aiding the neediest of Alabama’s income-earners.

Filed under: My Columns, Alabama Politics | Comments (2) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
Sunday, February 5, 2006
PoliColumn: Crossover Voting in Primaries
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 8:01 am

From today’s Mobile Register

Note: I originally wrote this about a month ago when there was a debate with the Alabama GOP on cross-over voting and it appeared that there would be at least three candidates in the GOP gubernatorial primary. At the moment, it may end up being only Riley and Moore.

Crossover voting has pundits pondering
Sunday, February 05, 2006
By STEVEN L. TAYLOR
Special to the Register

Last month, the executive committee of the Alabama Republican Party reversed itself on a plan to ban “crossover voting” in the second round of the Alabama Republican primary.

Alabama Democrats have long banned crossover voting, and even used the presence of crossover voting to overturn the primary results in 1986.

A question emerges: What is “crossover voting” and why does it exist?

It’s interesting, too, to contemplate what effect the decision would have had if there had been a runoff scenario in the GOP’s gubernatorial primary.

First, though, let’s look at primaries and see how the structure of the Alabama primary system can lead to this situation. There are two key elements: the basic structure of the primary process, and whether there is a majority requirement to win the nomination.

There are, for practical purposes, two categories of primary used in the United States: the open primary and the closed primary.

In simple terms, open primary states allow for voters to decide on primary election day which party they wish to adhere to, by engaging in the selection process for that party’s candidates. A voter goes to the polls and, in the case of Alabama, asks for either the Republican or Democratic ballot.

Other states actually have separate polling locations for each party during the primaries.

Open systems afford voters a great deal of leeway in terms of accessing the nomination process of the major parties, and can be deemed more democratic than closed primaries. The knock on open primaries is that they allow those who might not take a given party seriously a chance to vote in their nomination process.

Party leaders often fear, for example, a scenario in which Party A has no serious primary contest, so its voters choose to vote in Party B’s primary in order to try to select the weakest of Party B’s candidates.

In closed-primary states, voters register their party preference in advance of the elections, and are therefore bound to vote only in their party’s primary. There are variations as to precisely how it works state-to-state, but that’s the basic idea.

Some favor this structure because it requires some reflection on the part of voters before they choose their partisan affiliation, and also it excludes those who might not really consider themselves “members” of the party in question.

There is also the question of what threshold is required for victory: a mere plurality (i.e., the most votes wins) or an absolute majority (i.e., 50 percent plus one). Alabama requires a majority, meaning that if no one gets a majority on primary day, there is a runoff between the top two voter-getters a month later.

When an open primary system meets a majority requirement, the question emerges as to whether the second round should be open to all comers, or just to adherents of that party. In other words, a voter might vote in the Democratic primary on primary day, but then “cross over” to vote in the Republican runoff.

This brings us the political implications of crossover voting. What if there is no runoff in the Democratic Party, yet there is one in the Republican Party? What happens when all those Democratic voters with nothing to vote for on their side cross over and vote in the GOP runoff?

Consider the potential for crossover voting if state Sen. Harri Anne Smith had stayed in the gubernatorial race. (She announced last month that she had decided not to, and instead threw her support to incumbent Gov. Bob Riley.)

If Smith had gotten enough votes to cause a runoff between Riley and Roy Moore, the conventional wisdom was that Democrats who support Moore’s position on the Ten Commandments might have crossed over to vote for Moore over Riley.

Other Democrats, figuring Moore would be the weaker candidate, might have crossed over to vote for Moore in hopes of dethroning Riley via the primary process, rather than have their candidate face him in the general election.

Complicating the scenario, however, is the fact that there’s a contingent of Democratic voters who view Moore as an undesirable governor. They might have crossed over to the GOP primary for the purpose of ensuring that Moore was defeated.

Usually, though, the likelihood that such crossover voting sways the outcome of a runoff is small (barring a massive mobilization effort), given that it is traditionally difficult to get even hard-core partisans to vote in primaries and especially runoffs.

Now, all of this is moot, of course. Either Riley or Moore will secure the nomination outright.

At this point, it appears that the incumbent has the upper hand. Back in October, a Mobile Register/University of South Alabama poll gave Riley a 44-25 lead over Moore. Since that time, the news has been nothing but good for Riley, as state revenue figures and employment numbers have been quite positive.

The governor will be able to run on economic prosperity — and that’s a powerful tool for any incumbent.

Further, the situation is shaping up that the Alabama GOP is going to be fully behind Riley, with Moore running as something of an outcast.

Still, we’ve barely kicked off the campaign season; and the guesses of political scientists are irrelevant once the voters cast their ballots.

Let the games begin.

Filed under: My Columns, Alabama Politics | Comments (3) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
Sunday, January 1, 2006
PoliColumn: Alabama Politics Preview, 2006
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 10:50 am

From the Mobile Register:

Election year 2006
Saturday, December 31, 2005
By STEVEN L. TAYLOR
Special to the Register

Today we begin the long journey to the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November: Election Day, 2006.

While campaigns and elections irritate many people, I have to confess that I love elections. There is something magical about the idea that the citizens of a community can come together, and one by one their views are compiled until winners are declared and a new version of the government is constituted.

We take it so for granted, this idea that the people of this country get to choose those who govern — even though the vast preponderance of human history has been a tale of rulers coming to power by the sword or by inheritance.

It is true that the results of elections are often not as magical as we might like them to be. Indeed, sometimes the results disappoint or frustrate us.

But part of the true magic of democracy is that no matter how much one dislikes the president, governor or state legislators, politicians eventually will have to submit themselves to the voters again.

We are ultimately governed by the ballot box — and that is a remarkable achievement in human history.

Plus, in addition to all the philosophical and historical musings, elections are fun because they are full of human drama. And no state in the country is likely to have more drama, at least in the primary season, than Alabama.

As a headline on an Associated Press wire story correctly proclaimed just the other day: “Alabama gubernatorial primary season sure to be a must-see.”

If we look at the cast of characters, we have four principal players: the incumbent governor, Bob Riley; the ousted chief justice of Alabama, Roy Moore; the former governor, Don Siegelman (currently under multiple federal indictments); and the current lieutenant governor, Lucy Baxley.

And, as a side note, George C. Wallace Jr. is going to be running for lieutenant governor, which should allow reflection on the infamous political career of his father.

To be honest, Riley is not Mr. Excitement, but as the sitting governor whose term in office has some interesting story lines (think: Amendment One), his fortunes will be interesting to watch — especially because his task is to fend off Moore.

Baxley, despite long service in state office, is not really all that well known in terms of her views. However, she comes to the Democratic side of the race with a catchy slogan (”I Love Lucy”) and the lucky situation of having her major competitor under the cloud of indictment.

The drama, as we build to the June primaries, will be supplied primarily by Moore and Siegelman.

Moore brings his religious populism to the Republican primary and his hope that between the Ten Commandments and the fact that Riley tried to raise taxes via Amendment One, he can create enough of a schism within the party to win the nomination.

While there is no doubt that Moore has a core of fervent followers, recent polling has indicated that it is not as large as one might have thought.

Further, Moore will have to face the fact that his defiance of a federal court order does not sit well with many religious conservatives (his natural constituency), who may like Ten Commandment monuments but also believe in law and order. This is not 1960s Alabama, where defiance of the federal government translated directly into political popularity.

We have to remember that Moore not only got into trouble with the federal courts, but that his fellow Republican Supreme Court justices defied him and saw to it that the federal order was honored.

Further, Moore was ousted under the administration of a Republican governor and a Republican attorney general.

Meanwhile, Don Siegelman has to find a way to convince the voters that the indictments against him are politically driven and are therefore to be ignored. He is also going to try to resurrect his lottery plan, which failed in spectacular fashion at the polls in 1999.

A main storyline this year will be the economy of the state, which is humming along. A report in the Birmingham News last week noted that the unemployment rate hit 3.6 percent in November.

Also, because the state’s revenues are derived primarily from sales and incomes taxes, a good economy means that both the General Fund and the Education Trust Fund will be in good shape this year.

While there are long-term structural problems with fiscal policy in our state, this is not the year to convince voters of that fact.

As such, Siegelman’s lottery proposal is not going to have legs. Combine that with his legal problems, and one would expect, at least at this point, for Baxley to have the advantage in the Democratic primary.

However, the former governor is an excellent campaigner and no doubt will put up a heck of a fight.

On the GOP side, the incumbent governor is in excellent shape — far better than one might have imagined possible a few years back, when it seemed that his political capital had been irrevocably spent after his support of Amendment One in 2003.

But memories are short in politics. Since then, Bob Riley scored public points with his handling of Katrina relief. And more important than anything, in terms of his re-election bid, is the surging economy.

Add to all of this legislative elections, and the fact that the U.S. House and one-third of the Senate will stand for re-election, and you have a plate full of political intrigue on Alabamians’ table for 2006.

It should be fun indeed.

Filed under: US Politics, My Columns, Alabama Politics, 2006 Elections | Comments (1) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
Sunday, November 27, 2005
PoliColumn II: On a Border Fence
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 8:57 am

A two-fer Sunday.

From today’s Birmingham News: Fence won’t fix illegal immigration

Fence won’t fix illegal immigration
Sunday, November 27, 2005
STEVEN L. TAYLOR

Not long ago, U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions was one of three principle sponsors of the Border Security and Interior Enforcement Improvement Act of 2005, which seeks to fortify our borders. Among a number of orthodox proposals to fortify the U.S.-Mexican border was the idea of a security fence from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean. Such a fence would have to cover almost 2,000 miles and would cost $5 billion to $7 billion.

Clearly, the inspiration of this type of proposal is the security fences that have been constructed in Israel (as well as a nine-mile fence the United States already has constructed near San Diego). It is worth noting that the Israeli fence, which is concrete in portions but mainly chain link (two layers, combined with ditches, barbed wire and other such measures), was proposed to cross a total of 480 miles, according to Israeli government documents. It currently is about 365 miles long.

Not only is the Israeli fence a far smaller structure than would be required for the U.S.-Mexican border, it is constructed in an area with far more population density, making it easier to patrol the perimeter.

All of this calls into question whether it serves as an adequate model for the United States.

Of course, how effective would such a fence even be? There is no doubt a fence would slow illegals from crossing. However, building a wall is not, in and of itself, sufficient to achieve the goals being discussed. A barrier would still have to be patrolled, as there will be those who breach it in some fashion. It is worth recalling that there have already been examples of tunnels being dug under the border - a practice that would no doubt proliferate if a wall were constructed.

Concern over illegal immigration often ignores the economics of the situation. There are clear supply-and-demand forces at work that create a pull across the border. Millions of people clearly want work, and there are jobs beckoning them. The forces of a natural market are difficult to combat, as it requires striking directly at human nature.

These incentives are so strong that people are willing to die to cross into the United States to find jobs. They walk across the desert or come packed into trucks, and many do not make it. These are people who face death so they can work the night shift cleaning up the local McDonald’s. That should at least partially put into perspective the difficulties involved in controlling the border.

There also is ugly imagery associated with a wall. Don’t forget the wall constructed to separate east and west Berlin. The very possibility of a Mexican president some day standing at the Laredo Gate calling out “Mr. President, tear down this wall” should concern anyone with historical perspective.

Granted, the Berlin Wall was built to keep people in, and a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border would be designed to keep people out, but should the country that President Reagan described as a “shining city on a hill” be building walls to keep people out? What would the Statue of Liberty say?

The fact that the immigration laws of the United States are being broken en masse, not to mention drug smuggling and the possibility that terrorists could cross the border, is a worry. However, the fantasy that we can actually control the border ignores not only the vastness of the territory, but also the remarkable amount of legitimate traffic that crosses the border daily.

Laredo, Texas, alone has more than 9,000 daily crossings of vehicles, and it is impossible to adequately inspect every truck. Even if a fence substantially slowed border crossings on the frontier, there still would be opportunities to illegally enter the country.

If this appears to be a pessimistic viewpoint, so be it. Asserting total control of such a vast amount of territory against the forces that draw tens of thousands of people northward is probably impossible. As such, we have to ask ourselves if spending billions of dollars on a 2,000-mile fence is wise or desirable - especially since it is highly unlikely that a fence will do away with illegal immigration.

Filed under: US Politics, My Columns, Immigration | Comments (4) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here

Pererro linked with Illegal Immigration
A Knight’s Blog » Topic For The Day (Week? Month?): Immigration linked with [...] to be formost in the minds of many. The Sultan of Brunei (Poliblogger Steven Taylor) has posted a column he wrote for the Birmingham News about Senator Jeff Sessions’ sponsorship of a fence spa [...]
PoliColumn I: Wishes for Alabama
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 8:53 am

From today’s Mobile Register:

Listing holiday wishes for changes in Alabama’s goverment
Sunday, November 27, 2005
By STEVEN L. TAYLOR
Special to the Register

T his morning, we are in the waning hours of the Thanksgiving season. The turkey is mostly bones and the long weekend is winding down.

Still, it’s not too late to engage in some giving of thanks. In this case, I would like to think out loud about what I would like to some day have the chance to be thankful for.

Let’s start with something I am not thankful for: the constitution of the state of Alabama. It is a bloated, archaic, dysfunctional document that desperately needs to be replaced. It would fill my heart with thanks to have a new constitution — preferably one written by an elected convention of citizens of our state.

Other specific measures that would fill me with joy, and would cause thanksgiving across the state should they ever be enacted, are:

Home rule. Under the current state constitution, if a city or county wants to engage in self-governance, it often is blocked by the constitution. Permission has to be granted by the state Legislature.

Because the Legislature is busy, or a certain legislator may not support what the local government wants to do, such requests frequently are not approved.

As a result, democracy is thwarted and those closest to given issues aren’t allowed to enact public policies that they believe would be to their advantage.

Why should a city have to ask permission, like a child asking an adult, to engage in public policy for its citizens? Given the general opinion that we in the state tend to have of the Legislature, why are we content to allow legislators to make decisions that ought to be the domain of local governments?

A pro-growth constitution.
The current constitution forbids the government from directly engaging in activities that would promote business in Alabama. This is why we get silly-sounding constitutional amendments about promoting goat and sheep farmers (the 715th amendment) or the shrimp and seafood industry (the 766th amendment).

It would be really nice if our state government was able to promote the economy of our state without asking special permission per industry.

Certainly, it is hard to defend a constitution that has the words “goats,” “sheep” and “shrimp” in it. They are all fine creatures, of course, but when it comes to constitutions, detailing the domain of livestock isn’t exactly the stuff of James Madison.

As a side note, the fact that I just mentioned the 715th and 766th amendments ought to be a huge red flag that something is wrong with our constitution. What kind of documents needs that many additions in 104 years? Such numbers lead to my next wish.

Shorter ballots.
It would be nice if the list of proposed constitutional amendments that is given to the voters on a regular basis were shorter than my leg.

And while I may be exaggerating some, I would say that I am not overstating my case by much. The constitution of our state was promulgated in 1901 and we have amended it now 772 times. That’s an average of 7.4 amendments a year.

The need for that many changes bespeaks of a deeply flawed constitution. By comparison, the U.S. Constitution has been amended all of 27 times since 1789.

A framework.
A constitution is supposed to be a framework for government. The Alabama state constitution, however, is far more than that. It functions like a law book — i.e., a set of what should be statutes.

A constitution should establish the basis of the state government, and then allow the Legislature, as the elected representatives of the people, to then make the laws.

The greatest constitution ever written is that of the United States of America, and it is essentially a pamphlet. The Alabama Constitution is a tome that, in a pinch, you could use to crack the pecans for the holiday pie.

Anyone who would like to compare the two can go to the Internet and find the U.S. Constitution at www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/constitution.overview.html. The Alabama Constitution of 1901 can be viewed at www.legislature.state.al.us/CodeOfAlabama/Constitution/1901/Constitution1901)toc.htm.

Just a casual look through the two documents should underscore the radical differences between them.

A constitution that isn’t embarrassing. Forget the length issue; the fact of the matter is, our constitution should be considered an embarrassment to the state.

It still contains segregation-era language (such as the statement that blacks and whites should not attend the same schools), which is to the shame of the state. It is bad enough that such clauses were written in the first place, and doubly so that we have been too complacent to remove them.

I could go on, but will leave it there for now. I could sum up my wishes by saying that I would like to see a constitution for our state that facilitates good government and democracy, rather than hindering it and one that we could all be proud of. Hopefully, in my lifetime I will have the chance to write a Thanksgiving column that allows me to state my gratitude for constitutional change, rather than simply penning a piece that consists of wishful thinking.

Filed under: My Columns, Alabama Politics | Comments (3) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
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