Alabama media commentator John Archibald entertained, informed, joked, inspired, and warned during his nearly hour-long dialogue with attendees at the Blount County Democrat Club last week. He noted early that he is not a Democrat or a member of any political party.
The son of a Methodist minister, Archibald spoke at times of his upbringing. At one point in speaking of his love for Alabama, he digressed into religion. “The Jesus I know was pretty nice to people,” suggesting many of the Christ’s announced followers today do not reflect that.
In an exchange with audience members, some spoke of Jesus and religion. One quipped that Jesus was a Democrat because he came riding (to Jerusalem) on a donkey. Archibald added, “He was a Democrat; they crucified him.” Democrat Party
Before launching into his remarks, Archibald paused to make a screen shot of the some 70-person audience. He said Birmingham friends, when told he was speaking to Blount County Democrats, had questioned him. Evidently, he needed proof since they and others think such are extinct.
As for state politics, the Decatur native noted, “The Democratic Party in Alabama is broken.” He decried the two most visible party leaders, Nancy Worley and Joe Reid, as striving to keep power even if it is in a shrinking realm. Referring to former Birmingham Mayor Bernard Kincaid, he elaborated that Kincaid had told him, “He would rather control something broken than share in success.”
In response to one’s assertion that Democrats need not to be afraid, Archibald noted, “We all have a duty to stand up for what we believe and make it known without demonizing others. People need to talk, put down their electronic devices and quit watching their computers . . . . [People should] be reasonable in ways my momma could understand.
“Ideas are the only things to work. Democrats should emphasize ideas and be willing to stand and say why they believe as they do.”
He praised Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox of whom he said, “He seems to have found a way to carry the flag in a non-threatening way. He is a reasonable guy who will say I’m a Democrat and [will] tell you why.” State Legislature
Archibald evaluated, “In the old days in Montgomery, the really stupid, pandering bills would die in committee. That’s not happening now. Legislators decide not to take up [insurance] bills to protect autistic children but pass bills to protect monuments.
“They claim to be pro-life, passing bills on right-to-life while speeding up executions; they oppose gay adoption while voting to post the Ten Commandments; they ban assisted suicide and approve concealed-gun-carry while criminalizing more actions and wondering what to do with overcrowded prisons. . . .”
He warned of polarized political districts which have made politics more toxic. He held no hope that court-ordered redistricting will really change that trend.
In response to a question of tax inequalities in Alabama, he shared an oft-repeated statement that should Alabama raise its property tax just to the level of Mississippi, it would solve the state’s budget problems.
Of another popular mantra for solving state problems, rewriting the state constitution, Archibald expressed skepticism. “Do you really have any confidence that those who would rewrite [the constitution] would be any less racist, or more willing to share power than were those who wrote the present one?” Of the current state constitution, the longest in the world, he said he had calculated that reading with his slow Southern twang would take him 31 days to go through it and its amendments aloud. Republican Party
Of Republicans and their state leaders he opined, “They are more willing to spend $300 million on dubious industrial recruitments than to spend $3 million on autistic children. . . . Corporations are not people, despite what the Supreme Court says. We’ve got to get back to people being people [to emphasize their needs over business].” Scandals
As an attendee shouted, “Republicans can’t win unless they cheat,” citing voter I.D. laws and their enforcements, Archibald launched into some of the state’s scandals. As to that shout, he referred to the fact that the closed driver’s license offices lay primarily in heavily Democratic voting areas of the Black Belt. He noted the closures saved the state comparatively little [perhaps $200,000] money.
He repeated the charge that the closures were ideas pressed by Gov. Robert Bentley’s top advisor Rebekah Mason. Branching from there, he delved into some of his relationship with former ALEA director Spencer Collier.
Archibald revealed Collier had shared much with him off the record which incriminated former state House Speaker Mike Hubbard and Bentley. One day while driving, he received a call from Collier recounting many questionable events.
Only after a bit of conversation did Archibald ask if Collier were sharing this “on the record.” Learning it was for publication, Archibald took a dangerous swerve across lanes to a stopping spot.
Introduced as a national consultant on Alabama issues, Archibald relayed, “I get messages that Rachel Maddow or someone wants to talk to me about the scandal. I have to pause to consider of which scandal their speaking. I’ve thought I should change my phone message to: ‘If you are calling about Robert Bentley, press one. . . Mike Hubbard, press two . . . Roy Moore. . .”
The Thursday speech occurred the same day Archibald and fellow reporter Kyle Whitmire broke their story of alleged wrong-doing by recently resigned Democratic state legislator Oliver Robinson. Of that, Archibald revealed, “Constituents were actually harmed because a representative was on retainer by [potentially affected] businesses.”
He asserted misdeeds occur regardless of party. He indicated Bill Canary and the BCA (Business Council of Alabama) have replaced Paul Hubbard and the AEA (Alabama Education Association) as the leading voice in the state legislature.
Asked what has happened to the idea of a public servant as it seems so many now are in politics only for their own financial gain, Archibald disagreed. “There is corruption in the Alabama legislature, but the majority is not corrupt. The worst form of corruption is passing bad bills which members think will appease constituents.” Partisanship
One attendee commented on writers who have argued partisanship has become tribalism. Archibald provided a personal comparative anecdote. “I am an Alabama fan,” he began. “I’m sorry for those of you of the other persuasion, but I attended The University of Alabama and have always been a Bama fan.
“When Auburn is playing I know in my heart I should root for them. I turn on the TV and plan to cheer them on. But when the game starts, something in my DNA just won’t let me do it. I think the tribalism comparison has a degree of truth.” Media
Invited to speak on “the importance of a free press in a democratic society,” Archibald diverged various directions. He did, however, assert the arrest during the week of a West Virginia reporter for asking the national health and human services secretary a repeated question, “Scared the bejesus out of me. . . .
“The country is not trusting (of) the media. Part of that is the fault of the media. I grew up in the golden age of journalism jobs,” he noted.
He spoke of the courage of his main employer, The Birmingham News, in permitting his pursuit of the Oliver Robinson story. He noted the story negatively implicates some of the state’s most powerful interests – Alabama Power, Alagasco, the BCA – but he was told to go ahead. He made sure he had the sources, documents, and truths, as he could obtain them. He implied many news sources are not so observant.
As for the respected media’s role in its demise, Archibald suggested sources have yielded to pop stories. These stories draw more readers, measurable by computer hits or such, than the serious factual. He spoke of greater public interest in A.J. McCarron and his girlfriend than in a story on the Robinson corruption.
Social media has replaced the traditional media and permits people to disseminate hateful, harmful untruths seemingly without consequence. “I think we’re in the wild west of media today,” he proposes. “I believe we’ll work it out. . . . I anticipate The Birmingham News will eventually quit printing. The biggest threat is our wonderful ability to know the metrics of readership (who most reads what) within hours and cater our coverage to that.” Redemption
Asked by a long-time friend of why he stays in Alabama, Archibald replied, “I love this place. That’s what it takes. We deserve better than what we’ve got. It’s worth saving. It’s not dead.”