Piety figures large in Alabama politics, but the righteous are few and the courageous questioner even more uncommon. Having seen more than its fair share of injustice, this state has not been helped by its major media over the years. I am not just talking about the ancient history of lynching reports or headlines about Martin Luther King Jr's 'communist ties,' either. As Scott Horton wrote of the Don Siegelman case in Harper's just four years ago,
The response to (Dana Jill) Simpson’s affidavit has been a series of brusque dismissive statements—all of them unsworn—from others who figured in the discussion and the federal prosecutor in the Siegelman case, who has now made a series of demonstrably false statements concerning the matter. She’s been smeared as “crazy” and as a “disgruntled contract bidder.” And something nastier: after her intention to speak became known, Simpson’s house was burned to the ground, and her car was driven off the road and totaled. Clearly, there are some very powerful people in Alabama who feel threatened. Her case starts to sound like a chapter out of John Grisham’s book The Pelican Brief. However, those who have dismissed Simpson are in for a very rude surprise. Her affidavit stands up on every point, and there is substantial evidence which will corroborate its details.
This disclosure was treated as explosive news by Time Magazine and the New York Times. However, newspapers inside of Alabama reacted with awkward silence, as if these disclosures were very unpleasant news, best swept immediately under the living room carpet. I will single out the Birmingham News and the Mobile Register. I took some time earlier this week to review their coverage of the Siegelman story from the beginning. It left me wondering whether these publications were really newspapers. (Emphasis mine)
Local television news is not any better here. During the 2010 campaign primary, Democrat-turned-Republican Parker Griffith got oozing coverage from WZDX, the Huntsville FOX affiliate, for a made-up award he presented to a pair of schoolboys who had rescued a man. The segment came across as little different from a fawning state-media production, with exactly the same production values. And it was not the worst thing I have seen, or heard, from Alabama's for-profit media.
Which is why I am crashing the gates of Goat Hill next week. If you don't hear from me by Wednesday, it might be that I have been "disappeared" by Karl Rove's black ops team. Much more after the jump...
There have been several failed attempts to give the Alabama state capitol a more dignified name than "Goat Hill." The name has stuck because it fits.
Make no mistake: what I'm about to do has its dangers. It will likely make it impossible for me to ever find a real job again in this state. I've already been fired once for blogging in Alabama; so has Roger Shuler, who had undoubtedly written more about Karl Rove's deep ties to Alabama than any other blogger when he was fired from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Observing the news from Egypt on Monday, Shuler wrote:
Modern Egypt, (Fareed) Zakaria writes, has been marked by what might be called "disinformation campaigns." Does that happen in the United States? Yes, indeed, and I've seen it firsthand.
In my ongoing employment lawsuit against the University of Alabama, about a half dozen UAB officials filed affidavits--sworn under oath--stating that the exercise of my First Amendment rights on this blog had nothing to do with my termination. Compare that to the tape-recorded conversation I had with UAB human-resources rep Anita Bonasera, where she admits that I was targeted because of my blog--especially the content about the Siegelman case:
Lisa Huggins, UAB's in-house counsel, reviewed my termination letter and therefore was involved in the decision-making process. She has every reason to know these affidavits are false, and under the law, she and the affiants should be held in contempt of court. Has that happened? Nope. I've filed a motion seeking contempt charges, but U.S. Judge William M. Acker Jr., the 83-year-old Reagan appointee in charge of the case, has ignored it.
Not only do we have a corrupt judiciary, we have a legal community filled with lawyers who know they can file false documents, sworn under oath, and get away with it.
Karl Rove perfected his craft here. As Joshua Green wrote in the Atlantic seven years ago, Rove's closest election was not the 2000 Florida recount, but the 1994 recount of the Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice race. Once known for being cheap, state judicial races are now incredibly expensive. Our state judiciary is now packed with Republican know-nothings.
So it goes in the land of cotton, where the GOP has just won control of the state legislature for the first time in 136 years -- and immediately set about the task of destroying the state teachers union under the guise of "ethics reform." This, too, is part of the national pattern we've seen in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, and elsewhere. As another Alabama blogger put it,
What we are left with is the inescapable conclusion that this session had nothing to do with ethics. It had everything to do with passing anti-AEA bills, banning teachers from running for the Legislature, and banning public entities from deducting AEA and ASEA political contributions from paychecks. (I am still waiting for the explanation of why it’s more unethical for a Democratic teacher to vote on an education budget, than it is for a Republican insurance agent to vote on a bill impacting the insurance industry.) Those bills would have been at serious risk of a Bentley veto come January, as well as being maneuvered behind budgets in a regular session. The 52-49 final House vote passing the payroll deduction bill shows that there was insufficient support to pass the bill in a regular session, with a governor more sensitive to employee rights. (Emphasis mine)
That would be the Alabama Education Association that bucked the anti-union trend during desegregation. It isn't exactly calling out the Wisconsin National Guard, but it serves no one except the Republican Party. Nor is that bill isolated: the Alabama legislature only meets for thirty days a year, and Republicans plan to fill that time by further eroding the teachers union. My local daily:
Republican State Rep. Jay Love, of Montgomery, says he will offer a bill to provide liability insurance for all Alabama teachers and other school workers. The bill would remove a financial incentive for educators to join the Alabama Education Association, which provides insurance coverage.
On another front, Alabama's two-year college system has notified its schools that AEA can no longer enroll members on the campuses. A spokeswoman for the Department of Postsecondary Education says the membership drives violate a state law that bans the use of state property to promote political candidates, which AEA does. (Emphasis mine)
Get that? Alabama Republicans -- who fell all over themselves to oppose Obamacare -- want to give teachers a "public option" for the sole purpose of destroying their union. The state's two-year college system is a land of political patronage; Republican governors have packed higher education with appointees for most of the last 25 years in pursuit of this dream. And they are master opportunists. The Montgomery Advertiser:
The new Republican leaders of the Alabama Legislature are planning to restrict access to legislators' offices in the wake of the shootings in Tucson, Ariz.
House Speaker Mike Hubbard and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh said Monday the public would no longer be able to wander into legislators' offices in the State House on days when the Legislature is in session.
Don't you love the use of "wander" as a pejorative, as if concerned citizens are merely loitering armed bums? It's almost as much fun as Republicans worried about a militant political climate they whipped up themselves. But it won't matter next week, because I will crash these gates. Inspired by the Netroots Nation panel last year on "Blogging A Red State Blue," the 2011 Goat Hill Project is an experiment in open-sourcing: all the video content will go out on a dedicated YouTube channel -- with a widget available to any Alabama blogger who wants to run it, with content posted after every session day at Left In Alabama.
Things kick off next Tuesday. I'll be there to cover (hopefully) the entire legislative session -- and explore the apparatus of governance in Alabama more thoroughly. Lobbyists, power players, and the state capitol itself will all fall under critical eyes. Montgomery also lies in a part of Alabama that was once the heart of darkness in the south, and remains frighteningly backward today -- unexplored and underexposed.
The Goat Hill Project will take precedence over C & L. It will take precedence over my own blog. It must. Alabama's government is opaque; local news media does not put resources into investigation; no one else seems willing to do the hard work of bringing citizen journalism to the most consequential event in this state. I've already raised a thousand dollars, mostly from Alabama residents -- as should be! -- but if you'd like to help the Goat Hill Project, please click here to contribute.