WARNING: Your Blood May Boil

OK.  It is not unusual for me to lose my cool in this very weird and very crazy political turmoil swirling around us.  And why not when we are engulfed in adults acting like children?

However, none of these get me stirred up like the saga I am about to relate.

The reason being I know too much about what happened and heard many of the lies and attempts at deception in person.  And certainly because at the end of the day it was the public school students of Alabama who paid the costs incurred because certain “public officials” betrayed the public trust.

This all unfolded in 2016 when the State Board of Education made one of the most bone-headed moves I’ve ever witnessed by hiring Mike Sentance of Massachusetts to be our state superintendent of education.  He was a disaster.  Not an educator, never a teacher, principal or local superintendent.  Had applied for the Alabama job in 2011 and didn’t even get an interview.

State educators were almost solidly committed to wanting Jefferson County superintendent Craig Pouncey to get the job.  They considered giving the job to Sentance a slap in the face.

(The fact that Sentance lasted one year before packing his bags removed any doubt that he was a very bad choice.)

Sentance was announced as the choice on Aug. 11, 2016.  But even then rumors of misdoing were afoot and State Senator Gerald Dial called for an investigation into the hiring process within a week.

Someone orchestrated a smear campaign against Pouncey, obviously to hurt his chances of being selected by the state board of education.  A packet of info was distributed to each board member alleging wrong doing by Pouncey.  All board members discounted the info–except Mary Scott Hunter of Huntsville.

Let’s fast forward a moment.  When the dust finally settled, Pouncey filed suit against Hunter and others

And just last week, Bill Britt at The Alabama Political Reporter filed the following:

“A defamation suit filed by Pouncey against former school board member Mary Scott Hunter was recently settled with Pouncey being awarded $100,000 by the state. According to Pouncey’s attorney, Kenny Mendelsohn, no admission of liability by Hunter was offered under the terms of the agreement.

It is estimated the state spent as much as a million dollars or more on defense attorneys to protect Hunter and others. APR was able to identify nearly a half-million dollars in attorneys fees paid during the case, but assigning a final dollar figure is nearly impossible, because four contracts with top-tier law firms were for $195 per hour and open-ended.

The settlement puts an end to years of hearings, investigations, lawsuits, and recriminations.”

You can read all of APR’s story by going here.

I spent hours and hours tracking this story.  What I learned was disgusting and sickening.  It was obvious that the trust citizens had placed in elected officials to protect the interest of public school students was ignored.  This was not about helping kids and teachers and administrators and trying to find the best state superintendent possible, it was about political agendas and adults trying to cover their ass.

I am no kid.  The first ever real live political campaign I was part of was in 1972.  Which is to say that I’ve seen my share of political shenanigans.  But none more repulsive than what happened in 2016.

Former state senator Gerald Dial asked the attorney general to investigate what took place.  Then he and his colleague senator Quinton Ross passed a resolution creating a legislative committee to investigate.  I went to each of these sessions.  They were standing room only.  All kinds of folks showed up, including some of Alabama’s most recognized lobbyists.

One of the more amazing things that happened was when Mary Scott Hunter, an attorney herself, told Senator Dial that, “She did not know the rules” about how the state ethics commission was supposed to handle anonymous complaints.

So Pouncey filed suit in an effort to clear his name.  I don’t blame him.  I would have as well.

Among the things about all this that never made sense is why did the State of Alabama foot the legal bill for defending those in the suit, especially Hunter   Her actions were of her own choosing.  She became a rogue state board member.  She did not consult with other members before she began making sure the Ethics Commission had a copy of the bogus complaint.  No other board members did this.

For whatever reason, she took matters in her own hands in an effort to harm Pouncey.   She was outside the bounds of her duties and responsibilities as a state board member.

But as is common, this legal action moved at the speed of paint drying.  Then Covid-19 got in the way and civil suits got shoved to the end of the line..  The best, most recent guess as to when the case would show up on a court docket was at least two years from now.

The state offered to settle for $100,000.  After careful consideration with his attorney, Pouncey reluctantly decided to settle.  I know Pouncey well.  He has told me repeatedly that this was never about money.  Instead, it was about his reputation and how certain people were willing to put politics above the interest of students.  But the expectations of such ever happening grew dimmer with each day and the suit was settled.

The truth will never be known.  A court will never render a verdict pointing out guilty parties.  We are only left with our assumptions, based on pieced together facts gleaned from discussions and paperwork.

But one truth can not be denied.  Someone was up to no good.  And their empty proclamations to put our children first were lies.






A Helping Of Common Sense

Editor’s note:  Dana Hall McCain writes about faith, culture, and politics for AL.com.. She is a member of the 2020 Leadership Council for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.  I do not know her, but find her thoughts grounded in common sense, a too unusual happening these days.

I share a recent piece she wrote.  She hit the nail on the head regarding what happened on Nov. 3.  The sooner more people come to their senses and understand this, the better we will all be:

“There’s only one person to blame for the GOP’s loss of the White House, and it’s the guy living in it. Voters sent a message to Washington last week that they are warm to conservative policies but couldn’t stomach another four years of Donald J. Trump.

How do we know? Because Republican candidates performed well above expectations down-ballot. Americans overall rejected a wholesale move toward more progressive policies, even flipping unexpected House seats to red.

So why the different outcomes for the President and congressional Republicans?

I’ve had countless conversations with fellow conservatives about Trump’s policies versus Trump’s personality in the last four years. Often, others would encourage me to set aside my concerns regarding the President’s arrogance and dishonesty, arguing that his policies made up for it.

While there were elements of his policy agenda I supported (and some that I didn’t because they were not conservative in theory or practice), I didn’t buy that argument. Character is destiny. A lack of character will eventually catch up with you, extracting a toll from you and those who depend upon you.

In the run-up to the election, focus groups and polls showed places where Trump was bleeding support. One notable weak spot was in the active-duty military. An August 2020 Military Times poll showed that Joe Biden was improving upon Hillary Clinton’s 2016 performance with military voters by roughly 20 points.

While not a monolith, military voters are a crucial portion of the Republican base. But you can’t — especially as a person who has never served — denigrate the service of revered POWs and insult Gold Star families. You can’t bring top brass into your administration in an attempt to ride the coattails of their hard-earn credibility, only to publicly fire and insult them when they won’t do your bidding.

Not if you want to retain the loyalty of people who know what it costs to wear that uniform and earn those ranks.

Other data discovered a small but significant slice of 2016 Trump voters who didn’t plan to vote for him again, with many citing his character flaws and divisive nature more than any particular policy failure as the reason why. They weren’t mad about the massive influx of conservative judges into the federal judiciary and SCOTUS (easily Trump’s most significant achievement). They didn’t hate the tax cut. They weren’t angry about pro-Isreal foreign policy.

His policies didn’t cost him this election. His mouth and that infernal Twitter account did.

He’s like a quarterback who loses his composure and gets personal fouls all night, killing drive after drive and costing his team the game. You can have all the right answers and talent in the world, but if you lack self-discipline, you are a liability to your team in crucial moments.

Even some Christians found a way to soften the way they talked about the President’s failures of character in the last four years. Some used terms like “style” or “personality” to describe his flaws. As if those worst behaviors were neutral and simply a matter of taste.

In the church I grew up in, we called those things sin: arrogance, pride, a lack of self-control. And sin bears fruit.

So if your conservative heart is, like mine, concerned about the prospect of a Biden-Harris administration and what that might mean for religious liberty, or unborn children, or the economy, know this: it is Donald Trump’s fault that we now face those risks.

All he had to do was govern with the self-control of a mature adolescent. All he had to do was care more for the greater goals than for indulging his ego. But he didn’t.

And I can’t even blame him or be mad at him about it because he showed America who he was every day of his life leading up to 2016. Some of you thought electing such a man would be cute. (He’s an outsider! He’s so real! He’s a businessman! I love it when he owns the libs!) You voted in the 2016 Republican primaries with all the wisdom and seriousness of people participating in a reality show poll.

So you got a President who is a reality show personality when what America — and conservatism — needed was a statesman.

And now the show is canceled after one season.

Will we learn anything from this experience? Or will we continue in future election cycles to indulge our desire to be entertained over our need for wise, sober, humble leadership?

I genuinely don’t know. But it sure would be a shame to have endured this fiasco and to have learned nothing from it.”


Pros And Cons Of The Electoral College

Editor’s note: While we hear a lot about the “Electoral College,” many of us don’t really know much about what it is and how it works.  Here is a quick review. There are a total of 538 Electoral votes.  Each state gets one for each senator and one for each congressional seat.  Alabama has 9.  The largest states are California (55), Texas (38), Florida (29), New York (29).

To the best of my knowledge, this system is unique to the U.S. presidential election.  All other elections are based on which candidates receive the most popular votes.  However, this is not the case with the electoral system.  For instance, while Donald Trump won the 2016 election with 304 electoral votes to 228 for Hillary Clinton, she received 2.8 million more popular votes than Trump.

This is because under the Electoral system, winner takes all.  In Alabama, this means that whoever wins the popular vote (Trump or Biden), will get all 9 electoral votes  In other words, if you vote for the losing candidate in your state, your vote does not count.

When you go to the polls to vote for a president every four years, you’re participating in an indirect vote. Why is it indirect? Well, because of the electoral college. Some say the electoral college is key to maintaining what’s good about U.S. politics, while others want to abolish the institution in favor of a more direct system. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of the electoral college in the context of modern American politics.

Imagine a U.S. presidential with no electoral college. If only the popular vote mattered, candidates might concentrate their energies on densely populated metro areas like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Depending on your perspective, that might sound like a change for the worse. It would mean candidates would have little reason to consider, say, the state of farming in Iowa or the opiate crisis in New Hampshire.

One reason that some analysts support the electoral college is that it encourages candidates to pay attention to small states and not just get out the vote in big, populous states and cities. The electoral college gives small states more weight in the political process than their population would otherwise confer.

Pro #2: It provides a clean, widely accepted ending to the election (most of the time). 

The electoral college, proponents say, makes U.S. presidential elections less contentious by providing a clear ending. There’s no need for a national recount when you have an electoral college.

If one state has voting issues, you can just do a recount in that state rather than creating national upheaval. And to win, a candidate must garner the support of voters in a variety of regions. That means whoever wins the presidency must build a truly national coalition. This, in turn, helps promote national cohesion and the peaceful transfer of power between presidents and helps keep the nation’s political system stable.

Pro #3: It makes it easier for candidates to campaign. 

If you’re a Democrat running for president, you don’t have to spend too much time or money wooing voters in left-leaning California. The same goes for Republican candidates and right-leaning Texas.

The fact that certain states and their electoral votes are safely in the column of one party or the other makes it easier and cheaper for candidates to campaign successfully. They can focus their energies on the battleground states. Some argue that getting rid of the electoral college could make American presidential elections even more expensive than they already are, exacerbating what some see as America’s campaign finance problem.

Pro or Con: It keeps the two-party system strong.

This one is either a pro or a con, depending on your point of view. The electoral college helps keep the two-party system strong. It makes it very hard for a third party to break through at the national level and increases the risk that a third party could spoil a candidate’s chance of winning, which in turn discourages people from voting for third-party candidates.

Some analysts credit the two-party system with keeping American politics stable and driving candidates to the political center, while others would like to see a multi-party system takes hold in the U.S. So, depending on where you stand with regard to the two-party system, you’ll probably have corresponding feelings about the electoral college.

Con #1: It can make people feel like their votes don’t matter.

In the electoral college, it’s true that not every vote matters. A Democrat in California who gets stuck in traffic and doesn’t make it to the polls probably shouldn’t beat themselves up. The same can’t be said for a voter in Florida, Ohio or another swing state.

U.S. voter participation rates are already quite low. Some argue that eliminating the electoral college would be an easy way to raise them and boost Americans’ engagement in the political process.

If you follow U.S. federal elections and you don’t live in a swing state, you might find yourself grumbling that some voters get all the attention. If you don’t live in a swing state like Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, etc., you probably won’t see as many ads, have as many canvassers come to your door or get polled as frequently. The electoral college means that swing states – which aren’t necessarily the most representative of the country as a whole – get most of the attention.

And even within swing states, certain counties are more competitive than others. That means voters in those counties are courted particularly hard. If that offends your sense of fairness and you think that candidates should fight for the votes of all Americans, you may oppose the electoral college.

Con #3: It can clash with the popular vote.

Remember the 2000 election when Al Gore won the popular vote, but lost the electoral college, and therefore the presidency? That was enough to turn some Americans off from the electoral college forever.

If the U.S. eliminates the electoral college, that scenario would never happen again. The potential for the electoral college to conflict with the result of the popular vote is one of the most commonly cited arguments against the electoral college.

Con #4: There remains the possibility of “rogue electors.”

Many states have no law requiring electors to vote the way their state has voted. Electors in these states are “unbound.” Therefore, the electoral college is based on a set of traditions that electors vote the way their state votes.

However, there’s always the possibility of “rogue” or “faithless” electors who could give a vote to a candidate who didn’t win the elector’s state. This also worries critics of the electoral college.

Bottom Line

Will the U.S. decide to eliminate the electoral college? It’s hard to say. There’s a movement to encourage states to split their electors in proportion to the percentage of the state vote that each candidate gets. While that wouldn’t eliminate the electoral college, it would change the winner-take-all nature of our system and the way candidates think about state campaigns. Time will tell whether that reform – and others – come to pass.

There Is Goodness Around Us

The avalanche of bad news bombarding each of us takes its toll.  The steady drumbeat about 1,000 Americans a day dying of Covid-19 and the incessant tsunami of political lies and misinformation are ample reason for anyone to question their sanity.

Then, like the needle in the haystack, we come upon news that lifts our spirits and make us once again realize there are decent people among us, people committed to making this a better world, people trying hard to bridge the differences between us rather than use them as a wedge to advance their own agenda.

One of these is Tom Landis of Texas who got in the ice cream business in 2015 in hopes of providing employment for people with special needs.  As you can imagine, it’s been a struggle with more than a few setbacks.  But thanks to Tom’s perseverance and the help of many who believe in his mission, the venture is alive and well and hoping to expand.

Here is the article from The Washington Post that details this uplifting story:

“Tom Landis was 46 when he gave all he had to open a business he felt called to run. On Dec. 26, 2015, the ice cream store Howdy Homemade opened in Dallas, employing mostly people with special needs, from servers to cashiers to managers. “Howdy,” as Landis calls it, thrived as locals praised the store’s mission and liked the ice cream, too.

And then the consequences of the novel coronavirus pandemic almost wiped out Landis’s creation.

The store began operating at a loss in March, when stay-at-home orders decimated sales, and it continued that way through the hot summer. By September, Howdy faced the possibility of closure, so Landis closed the original location and moved to a nearby, cheaper spot.

On Sept. 1, a supporter named Jaxie Alt set up a GoFundMe page to save the shop. Within six weeks, the page raised $100,000 and kept Howdy in business. As a bonus, Landis acquired a truck so that Howdy could serve ice cream more safely.
The store is now open again and appears poised to become a national operation. Potential franchisers have popped up in Asheville, N.C., El Paso and Las Cruces, N.M. Landis and his vice president, Coleman Jones, who has Down syndrome, took a road trip last week for meetings in San Antonio about putting Howdy ice cream in the massive H-E-B grocery chain and in Austin about opening a Howdy store on campus at the University of Texas, Landis’s alma mater.
Landis grew up in Bethesda, Md., with a mother who battled polio. He attended Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School and had a part-time job delivering The Washington Post in the mornings. He now has two children, neither of whom has special needs; he said he felt moved to serve the special-needs community in part because of his ailing mother, in part because of inspiration from a former football coach and in part because of a calling from God.

“When you have someone with special needs, it takes a little bit longer to train them, but when you train them up, they’re fired up, and they put smiles on customers’ faces,” Landis said. “There are days I walk into the restaurant and the employees are in better moods and are happier to be there than me. They’re more proud of Howdy than I am.”

Landis’s store became one of Texas’s top employers of special-needs workers, and his hope was that Howdy’s success would change the way companies thought about hiring people with special needs. But when the pandemic sparked an unemployment crisis, Landis saw his cause pushed to the back of the line.

Landis was undeterred. He remains proud of five years in business with zero employee turnover and knows his employees with Down syndrome and autism have a place in the economy, in any industry.

“It doesn’t matter what your paygrade is — up and down, the worst part of our job is doing anything with repetition,” Landis said. “We don’t want to do the same thing over and over and over and over again. And then God designs people with special needs, and they actually thrive on it.”

In 2015, soon before Howdy opened, Jones met Landis at a banquet for the football team at Highland Park High School in Dallas, where Jones was a senior at the time. Landis told Jones about possible hiring opportunities, and the next day Jones called Landis to follow up. Jones, now 24, started as a bus boy at one of Landis’s Texadelphia restaurants and said he “started at the bottom and worked up to the top” — he’s now the vice president of Howdy Homemade.

“We really think it’s heading in that direction,” Landis said. “We think the writing is on the wall on that one.”


Some Body Got To Have Some Relief

We’re now less than a week away from election day on Nov. 3 and insanity is the order of the day.  Accusations are flying from both the Trump and Biden campaigns.  Every day gets more outlandish.  Millions and millions of dollars are being spent in these final few hours to drag in what few uncommitted votes are still out there.  According to one news source, more than 300 law suits  have already been filed contesting how votes will be counted and the election conducted in state after state.

And true to my form as a senior citizen I harken back to days of long ago and something that speaks to this time.

Some of you are old enough to recall a country humorist of decades ago named Jerry Clower.  A native of Mississippi, Clower played football at Mississippi State before taking his degree in agriculture and becoming a salesman for Mississippi Chemical Company in Yazoo City in the 1950s.  Before long, wherever two or more were gathered, there was Clower telling tall tales about growing up and peddling his fertilizer.

Rural southerners could easily relate to his humor and as time went along, he became more entertainer than salesman and became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1973.

One of his best-known stories was about a Mississippi coon-hunting trip with local legend John Eubanks.  As the tale drew to a close, Eubanks had climbed a tree so he could knock the coon out–except the dogs had treed a wildcat, not a coon.  As Eubanks and the varmint tangled in the top of the tree, Eubanks repeatedly pleaded for someone to either shoot the critter or himself as he said, “Some body got to have some relief.”

Which brings us to the mess we’re in across this country.  Click here to go back to a Mississippi night long ago while Clower relives this story.

Editor’s note:  I was an associate editor with Progressive Farmer magazine from 1966-1973.  I was also the volunteer state chairman for the Alabama Jaycee’s Outstanding Young Farmer program.  One year we had our state banquet in Foley with Jerry Clower as our speaker.  He brought down the house.  For some reason, I remember that we paid him $2,500 to appear.  The check was cashed at a general store in Mississippi.