Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Alabama Governor Stops Executions, Orders “Top-to-Bottom” Review

On Monday, November 21, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey stopped the Department of Corrections from executing prisoners on death row, ordering a “top-to-bottom review of the state’s execution process.” Her action followed two recent executions called off because of problems administering the lethal drugs. These two were preceded by an execution in July that took three hours before Joe Nathan James Jr. was “successfully” killed.

The press release announcing the governor’s action quoted her saying,

“For the sake of the victims and their families, we’ve got to get this right.”

That begs the question: how about the prisoners being executed? Do they deserve a “humane” execution, assuming that’s possible?

Responding to the news of the order, I submitted the following to the governor’s website:

Governor Ivey,

Thank you for stopping prisoner executions in Alabama and ordering a “top-to-bottom review of the state’s execution process.” The recent attempted executions of Alan Eugene Miller and Kenneth Eugene Smith following the prolonged execution of Joe Nathan James Jr. reveal a systemic failure with Alabama’s process.

To ensure the integrity of the review and its findings, I urge you to appoint the “reviewers” to be independent of the Department of Corrections. Otherwise, you’re asking the fox to count the chickens in the coop; a few will no doubt disappear.

One additional point: your statement “I don’t buy for a second the narrative being pushed by activists that these issues are the fault of the folks at Corrections or anyone in law enforcement” is nonsensical. Isn’t the execution process defined and controlled by the Department of Corrections? Aren’t department staff solely responsible for the procedure and, therefore, accountable for its integrity? Please don’t stir the political coals.

Without excusing the crimes and the injustice to the victims and their families, those sentenced to die are humans with souls. They deserve the most humane execution Alabama can carry out. Otherwise, the state becomes an instrument of revenge rather than justice.

The governor’s order comes admidst earlier lawsuits and investigations from the U.S. Department of Justice, contending the conditions at Alabama’s prisons are unconstitutional because they don’t provide safe and sanitary conditions — safe from other prisoners and prison staff.

Sources and More Info, Gov. Kay Ivey orders moratorium on executions in Alabama, Alabama halts executions pending review; expert says investigation ‘needs to be independent’

Elizabeth Bruenig, The Atlantic, Dead to Rights

WAAY, DOJ targets Alabama in new investigation into prison conditions, critical staffing shortages

Sunday, November 20, 2022

2022 Midterm Elections

Almost two weeks after the midterm election, votes are still being counted — recounted in some elections — and a runoff on December 5 will decide whether Raphael Warnock, the incumbent, or Herschel Walker will represent Georgia in the U.S. Senate. We are certain the Democrats will retain control of the Senate, regardless of the outcome of Georgia’s runoff, and Republicans have won enough districts to become the majority party in the House, taking control from the Democrats.

Despite Republicans controlling the House, this outcome is a relief, much better than I expected from the polls and punditry prior to the election. The historical trend is that the party in power loses seats in Congress in the midterm election, and this seemed destined because polls consistently showed voter dissatisfaction with the state of the economy and President Biden’s performance. Inflation remains high, reflected in the food and gas prices Americans pay every day. If that weren’t obvious, Republicans unceasingly blamed the president — ignoring that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has disrupted energy and food supplies from both countries.

Fortunately, the Republican majority in the house will be slim. Whoever leads that fractious party, Kevin McCarthy or a more conservative challenger, will have to bow to conservative pressure to investigate the Biden administration. The investigations will begin with son Hunter and his laptop and could lead to impeachment hearings. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia introduced a resolution calling for the president’s impeachment for “abuse of power by enabling bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanors.” See H.Res.57.

Adding to the gravitational pull distorting the next two years, the former president — whom I shall not name — has declared he’s running for president again.

”In order to make America great and glorious again. I am tonight announcing my candidacy for president of the United States." — former president Donald Trump

Back to the hopeful outcome of the midterm election, despite the near certainty of a gridlocked Washington for the next two years: despite voter dissatisfaction with the economy and the president’s performance, many voters apparently agreed with President Biden’s argument that the election was a referendum on democracy. The candidates who embraced Donald Trump’s “big lie” that the 2020 election was stolen largely lost their races for the House, governor, and secretary of state. While the races were often close, enough voters seemed concerned by threats to future elections.

Losing access to abortion, with the federal right overturned by the Supreme Court in June, was also a strong factor, which can be inferred from the ballot initiatives in Kansas, during the summer, and California, Kentucky, Michigan, and New York in the midterms.

While the election outcome was not as definitive as I would like, it was far better than my fears, which were turning to depression from the drumbeat of reporting as the election neared. Analyzing the unexpected result, Astead Herndon and Shane Goldmacher in a post-mortem assessment on The Run-Up podcast suggested anti-democracy concerns motivated voters more than dissatisfaction about the economy and President Biden. I concur with that, fro my own fear of Donald Trump or his minions again taking control of government. I can only hope that fear will carry America through the 2024 election, if that’s what it takes.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Words Do Matter

Senator Tuberville,

Moving to Alabama a year ago, I was curious how I would find the state addressing its legacy of slavery, the Civil War, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights era. I’ve found some hopeful signs, such as amending the state constitution to delete racist language and the portions that have been repealed. However, celebrating Robert E. Lee’s and Jefferson Davis’ birthdays and Confederate Memorial Day as state holidays seems inconsistent with reconciling the state’s lamentable history. Perhaps the idea is to let sleeping dogs lie.

But your remarks at Donald Trump’s political rally in Minden kicked that dog:

“They want reparations because they think the people that do the crime are owed that. Bullshit. They are not owed that."

Equating reparations — “something done or money paid to make amends or compensate for a wrong,” meaning the wrong of slavery — to “the people that do the crime” seems patently racist to me. The two are not equal.

Following your unfortunate remarks, you issued no clarification. No apology. No acknowledgment of the slur on 27 percent of the state’s population, whom you are supposed to represent.

Then, when pressed in your recent interview with Lenise Ligon of FOX10 news, you tried to dismiss the critique with an illogical string of words:

“Race has no color. Reparation would have no color.”

That makes no sense, Senator. To quote you, it sounds like BS. I can’t judge your intent, but it seems your remarks reflect the Jim Crow era that framed you.

Monday, June 27, 2022

A Small Yet Significant Step Toward Reducing Gun Deaths

Amazingly, the Uvalde, Texas, school massacre that left 21 dead — 19 elementary school students and two teachers — yielded a bipartisan effort in the Senate to pass very moderate legislation aimed at stemming gun violence. Once approved in the Senate by an unlikely and historic coalition including 15 Republicans, the legislation was rapidly passed by the House and signed by the president.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) was “deeply involved in drafting the bill, although the gun rights group ultimately opposed it,” according to The New York Times. That the bill passed, with 13 of the 15 Republicans voting for it having A or A+ ratings from the NRA, punctuates the unlikely outcome.

Unfortunately, Alabama’s two senators, Richard Shelby and Tommy Tuberville, voted against the bill, which prompted me to write each:


I’m deeply disappointed that you did not support the gun safety legislation that, fortunately, passed Congress and was signed by President Biden.

The provisions in the bill are reasonable: requiring background checks for first time gun purchasers under 21, closing the “boyfriend loophole,” funding state grants to implement red flag laws, funding mental health programs, funding increased security at schools.

Your fellow conservative, Republican Senator John Cornyn, worked arduously to ensure the legislation does not infringe on our Second Amendment rights. So I cannot understand your unwillingness to support it and extend grace to the parents who have lost children to senseless and tragic mass shootings.


Friday, May 27, 2022

We Want More Than Thoughts and Prayers

Another tragic massacre of 19 children and two teachers, killed by an angry 18-year-old with a semi-automatic rifle. The reflexive response from Congress is to offer thoughts and prayers for the families and defer any suggestion of tougher access to guns, saying this is not the time for politics. The country's seeming acceptance of the tragedy is infuriating. Surely this is not what the writers of the Constitution had in mind when they wrote the Second Amendment.

My response, seemingly futile, is to write Senators Shelby and Tuberville and Representative Rogers:

Following another tragic slaughter of American children and their teachers, it’s time for Congress to do more than offer thoughts and prayers and lamely suggest we arm our teachers.

No, I’m not suggesting we disarm America. I do respect the Second Amendment and know that most gun owners are responsible.

The Supreme Court has ruled that the Second Amendment is not without limits, and we accept the longstanding law restricting the right to own automatic weapons. So placing additional measures such as requiring background checks, increasing the legal age for purchasing firearms, and licensing some gun purchases seem like reasonable steps that won’t violate the Constitution.

Yes, I know those steps won’t eliminate gun deaths, just as seat belts and air bags don’t eliminate deaths from car accidents. Yet seat belts and air bags have measurably reduced deaths and were implemented as part of a continuous process to improve automotive safety. We should adopt the same philosophy to reduce gun deaths — particularly mass shootings.

Our children’s lives are sacred, more than the NRA’s talking points echoed by too many of our elected leaders. We must do more than offer thoughts and prayers. It’s time to explore reasonable options with earnestness and humility, honoring these children whose lives have ended too soon and so tragically.


Gary Lerude

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Alabama Politics Trumps Transgender Health

This is my first letter to an Alabama politician since we moved to Opelika in November: 

Governor Ivey,

I am distraught by your support of the so-called Alabama Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act, which does not provide compassion or protection. Thankfully, Judge Liles Burke’s ruling stopped your misguided and harmful plan to ban puberty blockers and hormones for minors with gender dysphoria. His injunction provided ample justification for the ruling:
”the uncontradicted record evidence is that at least twenty-two major medical associations in the United States endorse transitioning medications as well-established, evidence-based treatments for gender dysphoria in minors.”
Further, your Tweet claiming knowledge of God’s intentions reveals hubris, a lack of knowledge of gender dysphoria, callous indifference for the mental health challenges faced by children with gender dysphoria, and disregard for parental rights — which I thought was a bedrock principle of Republicans. It’s really not simple.
"we’re going to go by how God made us: if the Good Lord made you a boy, you’re a boy, and if he made you a girl, you’re a girl. It’s simple."
For the health of the transgender youth of Alabama, I urge you to get to know several families with transgender youth and meet with the medical community to become more informed. It may not make for great election year politics, but it’s the principled step to take.