Alabama Scene

Keeping the politicians honest

Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent. E-mail him at:

Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent. E-mail him at:

By accident I just found bamafact,
a web site established by a consortium of Alabama daily newspapers which combined resources to check on the promises of political candidates during the past election. I am frankly dumbfounded that I did not know about the site before this week.

I once ran for public office. It was 1966 and I was a 25-year-old reporter at the daily newspaper in Florence, which serves the northwest section of our state. Had I won, I think I would have survived the fact check test since my only promise was to “report to the voters what was going on in Montgomery.” I believe I could have at least made a valid effort to shine a light on most of the shenanigans in the Cradle of Conspiracy.

To be honest, I would have been dishonest if I had made claims about what I could accomplish as one of 140 members of the Alabama Legislature.

But newly elected Congresswoman Martha Roby wasn’t bashful about making promises of what she can do in Washington. Roby, a Republican and member of the Montgomery City Council, challenged former Montgomery mayor Bobby Bright and won in a closely contested election. Bright, a Democrat, was elected to Congress from Alabama’s 2nd District two years ago.

Along the way Roby made a lot of promises according to,
which reported as follows: “In her battle with Bright, Roby left behind a string of promises. Some, like her pledge to abolish the IRS, may have been calculated to appeal to Tea Party voters who supported her primary opponent Rick Barber.”

Most everybody at some time or the other has thoughts about abolishing the IRS, but then who would collect the taxes to pay for the things most of us depend on … roads, medical care, schools, and defense of our country?

And in one area – health care – Roby plays a little bit of both roles, according to the web site. Roby pledged to repeal health care, but also promised to push for some of the same reforms that wound up in the bill, such as an end to bans on patients with pre-existing conditions.

In the 20 Roby promises examined by,
13 were of the “I support” or “I oppose” variety. However there were some absolutes with the prefix indication of “I will” such as: “reduce dependence on foreign oil, reduce government spending, require that all legislation be posted online for 72 hours before debate, require that every piece of legislation begins with an explanation of its constitutionality, maintain defense spending at least 4 percent of Gross Domestic Product for the foreseeable future, reform the tax code.”

I hope she can accomplish some of these pledges, but it will not be done by a freshman congresswoman alone.

Fact-checking the candidates for governor

The following were some conclusions made by
on the positions of the state’s gubernatorial candidates.

First, Ron Sparks.

How much will an education lottery really fund? A statewide education lottery has been the centerpiece of the Democratic nominee’s campaign for governor. This fact check looks at his claims about how much a lottery would really pay for. The truth is it would pay for a lot.

Can gambling stabilize Medicaid? Sparks has also said he can fix the hemorrhaging of the state’s Medicaid fund with the taxes he’d collect from legalized gambling. In Mississippi such a plan has not worked.

Do charter schools really work? In a debate, Sparks says 85 percent of charter schools perform no better than traditional schools. According to the sole longitudinal study of charters, Sparks is right.

Robert Bentley changed his name. A Sparks ad points out, in a somewhat disgusted tone, that Robert Bentley changed his name while running for governor. It’s true, but does it matter?

Now, to Gov.-elect Robert Bentley.

Does the Alabama Department of Transportation spend one-third of its budget on overhead? Bentley said it in a debate. His calculation was off by about 24 percent.

Bentley claims his jobs bill created 5000 jobs in Alabama. It’s Bentley’s projection. The hard numbers won’t be in until well after the next governor is sworn in.

“I did not make $200,000,” in 2009, Bentley says in response to Ron Sparks’s assertions about his annual income. But it turns out he made even more than Sparks was suggesting.

Will Bentley curb public benefits to illegal immigrants? Too late. Most of the bans Bentley is proposing were put in place some time ago.

Political candidates, I believe, should be subjected to an instant and credible fact check reported immediately to the voters.