The Wire

  • 16-year-old murder suspect admits setting fire that killed mother, records state

    Excerpt from AL.com:

    Nicholas Lamons is charged in his mother’s fire death.

    A teen murder suspect admitted setting the Morgan County fire that killed his mother and sent two others to the hospital, court records state.

    Nicholas Lamons, 16, is charged in the Tuesday-morning fire death of his mother, 32-year-old Kimberly Lamons, at their Alabama 67 home in the Joppa area.

    “Nicholas was located a short time later asleep in the van in Somerville,” Investigator Jeff Reynolds wrote in an arrest affidavit. “Nicholas was questioned and admitted that he had started a fire in his bedroom prior to leaving the residence. Nicholas also stated that he came back by the house a short time later and saw the trailer burning but did not make an effort to notify anyone.”

  • Moore slams Washington Post’s Pulitzer Prize in fundraising email

    Excerpt from Associated Press:

    Former U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama is trying to raise money by pointing to the Pulitzer Prize that The Washington Post won for its investigation of him.

    In a Friday fundraising email to supporters, Moore’s legal defense fund, said The Post won for “lies and slander.” The email sent by the Moore for U.S. Senate Legal Defense Fund then asked for people to help replenish his legal fund.

    The Post won a Pulitzer for investigative reporting for its stories revealing allegations that Moore pursued teenage girls sexually decades ago while he was in his 30s. Moore denied any misconduct.

  • Birmingham considering another Democratic National Convention bid

    Excerpt from WBRC:

    Birmingham is going after another Democratic National Convention, but the city says this time the committee asked to make a pitch.

    Last month, the Democratic National Committee reached out to Mayor Randall Woodfin about the city applying to host the 2020 convention.

    In a statement to WBRC, Mayor Woodfin says he’s considering applying.

    “We are very excited that the Democratic National Committee has recognized the City of Birmingham as an attractive, possible site for the 2020 Democratic National Convention. Such recognition shows how much progress our city is making when we receive these kinds of unsolicited invitations,” Woodfin said.

1 day ago

School shootings: Univ. of Alabama launches program to track student warning signs, prevent next Parkland

(Bama at Work/YouTube)

Warning signs are easy to spot in retrospect, but identifying them early can save lives.

That is the driving force behind an innovative partnership between the University of Alabama and a private company called Firestorm. They have launched a program called BERTHA — Behavioral Risk Threat Assessment, an online training program designed to help schools with grades kindergarten through 12th grade identify early signs of potential violence and then intervene.

The program, which went online last fall, is free for Alabama schools that sign up by Sept. 1. After that, schools will pay a $2,500 annual licensing fee.

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Brenda Truelove, program manager for corporate engagement at the university’s College of Continuing Education, said the initiative is getting a good response from schools, both in and outside of Alabama.

“The goal is we don’t want anymore parents to realize, ‘My child’s not coming home today’ because somebody missed something,” she said. “Some of the benchmarks and clues were missed.”

Truelove said the school and Firestorm have been developing the program for about five years. She said as far as she knows, it is the only one of its kind in the country. She said schools are eager for help.

“They need resources, and this is a tangible resource,” she said.

Many troubled teenagers who have committed mass shootings have exhibited similar behaviors that might have predicted the outbursts.

Those are easy to see in retrospect. For instance, Nikolas Cruz — accused of the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida — has lost his parents and gotten in trouble at school. Law enforcement officers had been called to his home 39 times.

Truelove said BERTHA helps schools develop systems to track students’ behavior over time, detect changes and provide help.

“It allows them to say, ‘Johnny had problems in the third grade, and now he’s still having problems in the fifth grade,” she said.

BERTHA aims to train local school officials to identify trouble signs that might be more subtle than the giant flashing lights Cruz presented. Those factors include:

— Student has experienced multiple losses.
— Student has suicidal thoughts.
— Student has made threatening, specific plans.
— Student is laughed at or talked about negatively.
— Student has demonstrated volatile mood swings.
Truelove said the response does not have to be punitive. Signs that a student might be a threat to commit violence often are signals that he or she is suffering. Getting a student appropriate help early may not only help him but prevent a tragedy years down the road, she said.

The university’s partner, Firestorm, bills itself as one of America’s leading crisis and risk management firms. It has been working with schools to prevent mass shootings since after the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre.

“We didn’t get into this to make money but to save lives,” founder and CEO James Satterfield said in a statement provided by the University of Alabama. “What we’re trying to do is get the issue back to where it needs to be. How do you act before there’s an act of violence? BERTHA is ready to address that.”

Truelove said she believes BERTHA should be a part of every school’s toolkit.

“BERTHA is not the answer to every problem,” she said. “But it’s a framework.”

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”

 

2 days ago

How does Alabama’s congressional delegation rank on conservative scorecard?

(Wikicommons)

New rankings from a prominent national conservative activist group rates Alabama as having one of the nation’s most conservative congressional delegations.

The American Conservative Union, which tracks lawmakers’ voting records on key issues every year and puts on the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, released the scorecard.

Of the 173 tracked votes cast by Alabama representatives, 131 were for the position favored by the American Conservative Union. That is 75.7 percent. Of states with at least five representatives, only Indiana, Louisiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina were more conservative.

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Some 82 of the nation’s 435 representatives voted ACU’s way 90 percent of the time or more — and Alabama has three of them: Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope), 93 percent; Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville), 96 percent; and Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Hoover), 100 percent.

Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Birmingham), the delegation’s lone Democrat, scored lowest — just 4 percent.

Rounding out the House delegation, Rep. Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) attained an 85 percent score, Rep. Robert Aderhlolt (R-Haleyville) scored 81 percent and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Saks) scored 78 percent. The average among all Republican House members nationwide was 82 percent.

The scorecard is based on 25 votes taken by the House last year. Those issues include the tax reform bill that passed in December, a proposal to repeal Obamacare, a bill to defund Planned Parenthood and legislation to repeal the financial industry regulations known as Dodd-Frank.

The Senate rankings are based on those votes, as well as confirmations of key Cabinet secretaries and Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.

“In the 2017 session, we saw Republicans come together to pass the most important corporate tax reform in decades, confirm a true conservative in Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, and repeal the Obamacare individual mandate,” ACU Chairman Matt Schlapp said in a prepared statement. “But conservatives must not rest on their laurels. This is not the time for four corners defense. Congress must pass a rescissions bill to eliminate wasteful spending in the omnibus and finally confirm highly qualified presidential nominees to critical positions.”

Alabama senators are judged a bit more conservative than the House delegation overall, but those rankings undoubtedly will get far less conservative the next time the organization releases its scorecard — which will include Sen. Doug Jones (D-Mountain Brook).

For 2017, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Tuscaloosa), voted the ACU position 80 percent of the time. That was the exact average among all Senate Republicans. Former Sen. Luther Strange (R-Mountain Brook) clocked in a tad higher, at 82 percent.

Alabama lawmakers received ACU scores in line with their lifetime averages. Palmer, in fact, has a 100 percent score for his entire brief tenure in the House.

Among Republicans in Congress, Roby has the lowest lifetime rating in Alabama. Her lifetime 72.4 percent score over seven years is significantly below her 2017 score.

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”

 

5 days ago

Last-minute tax filers take heart: Alabamians started working for themselves 11 days ago

(W.Miller/YHN)

Tuesday is the final day to pay your 2017 taxes, but if you live in Alabama, at least you have stopped working for the government for the rest of this year.

Alabama’s “Tax Freedom Day” came 11 days ago, on April 5, according to the Washington-based Tax Foundation. That is tied with Oklahoma and Tennessee for the third earliest day in the country, behind Alaska and Louisiana, which are tied at one earlier — April 4.

Last year’s Tax Freedom Day in Alabama fell on April 9, four days later than this year. But the Tax Foundation cautions that direct comparisons at the state level are not possible because of significant changes to the methodology.

Tax Freedom Day is the date on which taxpayers have earned enough money to pay their federal, state and local taxes for the year. On average, that date falls on April 19 this year — two days after the deadline to file taxes.

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It is a way to visualize the tax burden, which is roughly 30 percent of income. That includes not just federal income taxes but all taxes paid to government at all levels — state, local and federal.

This year, Americans will fork over $3.4 trillion in federal taxes, alone. State and local governments take another $1.8 trillion on top of that. The combined $5.2 trillion is 30 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product.

“Americans will collectively spend more on taxes in 2018 than they will on food, clothing, and housing combined,” tax analyst Erica York wrote in the Tax Foundation report.

But chin up, American taxpayer. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, passed by Congress last year, will make this year’s Tax Freedom Day come three days earlier.

But the Tax Freedom Day does not include the effects of borrowing, which are substantial. Since 2002, federal expenses have surpassed revenue, with the annual deficit reaching $1 trillion from 2009 to 2012. The Congressional Budget Office projects this year’s deficit will grow from 665 billion to $806 billion, with a return to trillion-dollar deficits on the horizon.

Including all that red ink pushes Tax Freedom Day back — by 17 days in 2018, to May 6.

Before big government took hold in the 20th century, Americans hardly had to work at all before achieving tax freedom. For the first two decades of the last century, Tax Freedom Day hovered around Jan. 20. The entire rest of the year’s income could be spent on food, housing and other expenses.

That date began to creep later and later starting in the 1920s, however. Spikes in debt sent the adjusted Tax Freedom Day spiraling in the 1920s and again in the 1940s. In fact, the latest deficit-inclusive Tax Freedom Day on record occurred in 1945 — on May 25.

Alabama fares better than most of its peers because its residents, on average, make less — and therefore pay less in taxes — and because the state and local tax burden is relatively light.

“The total tax burden borne by residents of different states varies considerably due to differing state tax policies and the progressivity of the federal tax system,” York wrote.

So even if Alabama and a high-income state have the same tax policies, Alabama’s net tax burden will be less because its residents will pay less in federal taxes than the residents of the state with more higher-income residents.

New York State residents — who have the latest Tax Freedom Day in the nation — will be working for the government until May 14. That is more than a full month later than their counterparts in Alabama.

Other states with a late Tax Freedom Day are New Jersey, Connecticut and the District of Columbia — all at May 3.

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”

 

1 week ago

Poll shows Ivey among most popular governors; has good news for Sen. Jones

(Flickr, Facebook)

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey remains one of the nation’s most popular governors, and new Sen. Doug Jones (D-Mountain Brook) fares better than his predecessor, according to a new poll released Thursday.

The survey by Morning Consult included interviews with 275,000 registered voters in all 50 states from Jan. 1 through the end of March.

The news is good for Ivey as she runs for election to a full four-year term after ascending to the governor’s office following Robert Bentley’s resignation.

Ivey has the support of 67 percent of Alabama voters, with just 15 percent disapproving. That is even better than a January Morning Consult poll that found 64 percent approving of Ivey.

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Only Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan had higher approval ratings in the survey released Thursday. And in terms of net approval — approval minus disapproval — only Baker outperforms Ivey.

This stands as an outlier in another way. Among the five most popular governors, only Ivey serves a deep red state. The other four all are Republicans in Northeastern states that lean either slightly or dramatically to the left. In addition to Baker and Hogan, that includes Vermont’s Phil Scott and New Hampshire’s Chris Sununu.

All of the 10 most popular governors are Republicans, a bright spot for a party bracing for losses in other races in the upcoming midterm elections.

Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, a Democrat, is the nation’s most unpopular governor — with a whopping 72 percent of the state’s voters giving him a thumbs-down.

Five governors seeking re-election are under water — Illinois Republican Bruce Rauner (minus 34 percentage points), Alaska independent Bill Walker (minus 23 points), Hawaii Democrat David Ige (minus 12 points), Rhode Island Democrat Gina Raimondo (minus 11 points), Wisconsin Republican Scott Walker (minus 7 points).

Senate ratings

The Morning Consult poll puts Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Tuscaloosa) in the middle of the pack, with 51 percent of Alabama voters approving of his job performance and 30 percent disapproving. That is similar to the results of a Morning Consult poll released in January. Half of Alabama voters approved of Shelby’s performance, while 28 percent disapproved.

Shelby’s net positive rating of 21 points in the current survey ties for 27th most popular senator in the country.

That is a percentage point below Jones, who stunned the political world in December with his upset victory in a special election to fill the Senate seat that Jeff Sessions vacated to become attorney general.

A smaller share of Alabama voters approve of Jones — 47 percent. But only 25 percent said they disapprove. More people had no opinion one way or another compared to Shelby.

Jones, for now, is ahead of Luther Strange — who won appointment to the seat but failed to win the GOP nomination for the special election. Jones had a 42 percent approval rating — with 34 percent disapproving — according to his last Morning Consult poll.

Morning Consult declared that Jones is “off to a fine start among voters in Alabama.”

Jones fares much better than the Senate’s other newcomer — Minnesota Democrat Tina Smith, appointed to fill the seat left open when Al Franken resigned amid sexual harassment allegations. Smith gets a positive rating from a third of Minnesota voters, with 21 percent disapproving. A large chunk of voters in the North Star State do not know her or have an opinion.

The nation’s most popular senators are evenly split along partisan lines — five Republicans and three Democrats and two independents who caucus with Democrats.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) remains the most popular senator, with a 72 percent approval rating among home-state voters. Fellow Vermonter Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, is second with a 65 percent approval rating.

As they were in the last Morning Consult poll, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) are the least popular senators. Both have net disapproval ratings of minus 18 points.

McConnell will not be on the ballot in November and Flake is leaving office. But the results contain bad news for four senators who will be on the ballot — Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), and Dean Heller (R-Nev.). All are among the 10 least popular senators in America.

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”

1 week ago

With Shelby’s ascension the most powerful hand on government ‘till’ belongs to Alabama

(Senator R. Shelby/Flickr)

Sen. Richard Shelby’s official ascension as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday was much more than a Capitol Hill version of musical chairs.

The committee is one of the most powerful in Washington, controlling the levers of federal spending, at least in the upper chamber.

“It’s a reasonably big deal,” said William Stewart, a University of Alabama political scientist. “Not even being chairman, he’s already been able to bring a lot of pork back to Alabama. This will ensure the continuation of that.”

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Shelby, a Republican from Tuscaloosa, claimed the gavel after poor health forced the resignation of previous Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.). Shelby — who had been vice chairman of the committee prior to 2015 when Democrats controlled the Senate — won the backing of his fellow Republicans on the committee Monday evening and the full Republican caucus at a weekly luncheon Tuesday.

The Senate affirmed it on a voice vote Tuesday afternoon.

“My colleagues have placed their trust in me to lead the Senate Appropriations Committee, and I am honored to serve our nation in this new capacity,” Shelby said in a statement. “This is a remarkable opportunity. I look forward to working with Vice Chairman [Patrick] Leahy and the entire committee as we continue the practice of writing and approving bills that responsibly allocate funding for the activities and duties of the federal government.”

It is the capstone of a career that may well end at the conclusion of the 83-year-old senator’s current term. It is his fourth committee chairmanship, a rarity in the Senate. Previously, Shelby has chaired the Banking, intelligence and commerce committees.

That he has chaired so many different committees is a testament both to his longevity and rules put in place by the new Republican majority elected in 1994 limiting committee chairmen to six years. Prior to that, senators with long tenures tended to hold on to coveted chairmanships for years or decades.

In addition to chairing the full Appropriations Committee, Shelby will take the helm of its Subcommittee on Defense, an important perch for a state that has important defense interests in Huntsville, a large military base in Montgomery and a shipyard in Mobile that builds Navy ships.

Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope) congratulated Shelby.

“Over the years, Senator Shelby has been a steadfast champion for Alabama’s priorities, and I have no doubt his efforts will continue in this prestigious position,” he said in a statement.

Stewart said Republicans long have railed against spending, particularly pork-barrel spending.

“But when it comes to home, they certainly don’t apply that maxim consistently,” he said.

Still, Stewart noted, chairing the Appropriations Committee does not have quite the luster of previous eras. Reforms adopted by Congress have severely curtailed spending directed specifically by individual members of Congress.

What’s more, with the national debt hitting $21 trillion and projected to grow even higher over the next decade, Stewart said the ability to control spending might be more important than skill at bringing dollars back to Alabama.

“There’s not just a pot of money there waiting to be taken,” he said. “Because there’s just not money there. …I certainly hope that Sen. Shelby will use this new position of leadership to rein in excessive spending, because it certainly needs to be done.”

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”

2 weeks ago

Are Democrats making too much of the Doug Jones Effect?

(PolitiFact/YouTube)

A long-suffering minority party pulls off a major upset in a special election for the U.S. Senate, fueling hopes among partisans of major gains in the upcoming midterm elections.

Alabama and Doug Jones?

Try, Massachusetts and Scott Brown.

Like Democrat Jones in 2017, Republican Brown in 2010 stunned the political establishment by beating a candidate from the long-dominant political party.

Whatever hopes Republicans had that Brown’s victory signaled a partisan realignment in the Bay State quickly evaporated, however. Despite an extremely favorable political environment nationally for the GOP and an unpopular Democratic president, politics in Massachusetts snapped back to normal by the time the November election rolled around.

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Although Republicans picked up 63 seats in the House of Representatives that year, the party went zero for 10 in Massachusetts. The Democratic governor, Deval Patrick, won re-election and the party actually gained a seat in the state Senate. (Republicans did pick up 17 seats to give them 32 in the 160-seat state House).

Brown, himself, lasted only until the next election — in 2012, when he lost to current Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

Will it be any different for Alabama Democrats? Political experts are skeptical.

“Because of Doug Jones’ win, you don’t reclassify Alabama as a competitive state,” said Jess Brown, an emeritus political science professor at Athens State University in north Alabama. “Alabama is still crimson red.”

Eric Ostermeier, a political researcher at the University of Minnesota and founder of the Smart Politics blog, said parties even in one-side states occasionally can pull off upsets under the right circumstances. But they usually prove to be outliers, he added.

“In general, most of the states where one party is in power for a long time, there is a normal pullback,” he said.

Parallels between Alabama in 2018 and Massachusetts in 2010 abound. Before their special election breakthroughs, the party of power in both states had not cracked a Senate seat in a long time.

For Alabama, it had been since 1992, when Sen. Richard Shelby — now a Republican from Tuscaloosa — won re-election as a Democrat. In Massachusetts before Brown, it had been even longer since a Republican had won— 1972.

Both Brown and Jones faced opponents who, despite having won statewide office before, carried liabilities into their special elections.

Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, of course, had a controversial career because of his strident stands on social conservatism and then found himself the target of late-breaking allegations that he had inappropriate sexual contact with teenage girls when he was a young prosecutor in the 1970s.

Jess Brown said it created a perfect storm for Jones that is not easily replicated.

“His victory was the product of simply a very weak candidate,” he said. “The Alabama Republican Party practically could have picked a name at random out of the phone book and he would have won.”

Democratic Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, meanwhile, did not have anywhere that level of baggage, but she generally was regarded as a lackluster campaigner who committed some high-profile gaffes on the campaign trail. She went on to later lose a gubernatorial election to Republican Charlie Baker.

Alabama Democrats are undeterred, however. Everywhere you turn, the party is bubbling with excitement. Large numbers of Democrats signed up to run for office, including in Republican strongholds where the party in past years has not even bothered to field candidates.

Democrats tell each other and the world that the victory in December by Jones has them believing they can win.

Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy Worley stops short of predicting a Democratic sweep in November.

“But I think the chances are good at getting other Democrats to follow Doug Jones’ winning mode,” she said. “He certainly inspired a lot of excitement.”

Worley said the party’s “unprecedented success” at recruiting candidates is going to result in many tight races, even if the Democrats don’t win them all.

“Quite frankly, the records of a lot of Republican legislators are going to be looked at closely,” she said.

But in the first test of the Jones Effect, a Democratic candidate came up short last week in a special election for the state House of Representatives in a district that Jones won in December with 57 percent of the vote.

Worley depicted the glass as half full, noting that Republican Rex Reynolds was well-known as a former Huntsville police chief and city official. Yet, Worley noted, Democrat Terry Jones kept the race much closer than he did in 2014 when he ran against incumbent Republican Jim Patterson.

“He stands a very good chance of winning in the fall,” she said, noting that the two candidates will square off in a rematch in November.

Jones, himself, seems much more cautious about imputing excessive meaning in his victory.

“Not in a sense from flipping a state from red to blue,” Jones told FM 106.5 radio talk show host Sean Sullivan last week in Mobile. “I don’t think that that is going to happen, and frankly, I don’t think it should happen in that context. What I’m hoping to see out of our election is people are now starting to focus on issues rather than party.”

But Jones, the Athens State political science professor, said the Jones win has energized a party badly in need of new life. That attracts volunteers and candidates who can lay the groundwork for gains down the road, he said.

“You’ve got to keep people believing victory is possible. … That’s the way you continue to grow,” he said. “That’s what Republicans did to become competitive.”

Ostermeier, the University of Minnesota political scientist, noted that of the 16 special Senate elections held in off years across the country in the last 70 years, the party trying to defend the seat lost a majority of the contests.

In four of those races, the winning candidate’s party went on to electoral success in the following election — Democrat William Proxmire in Wisconsin in 1957; Republican John Tower in Texas in 1961; Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison in Texas in 1993; and Democrat Ron Wyden in Oregon in 1996.

All four saw their parties pick up congressional seats in the next election.

So, Ostermeier said, short-term success is possible.

“That’s sort of the best-case scenario you could paint,” he said.

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.

 

2 weeks ago

Four takeaways from report that Trump is a ‘subject,’ not a ‘target’ of Mueller probe

(Wikicommons, G. Skidmore/Flickr)

Both haters and defenders of President Donald Trump seized on this week’s bombshell Washington Post report that special counsel Robert Mueller’s team told the president’s lawyers he is not a “target” of the long-running Russia probe.

Trump’s supporters contend it is evidence that breathless media speculation about “collusion” is overblown.

Trump critics counter that Trump’s status as a “subject” rather than a “target” makes little difference and that the president is not in the clear.

Both sides are right.

Here are four takeaways on the big revelation:

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1. The Post’s reporting suggests strongly that Mueller does not have compelling evidence that Trump conspired with Russian agents to fix the 2016 presidential election.

If Mueller had the goods, presumably Trump already would be a target.

There almost certainly would be other tells, as well. It is hard to believe that a smoking-gun piece of evidence would remain secret for long in leak-happy Washington.

Beyond that, it seems reasonable to assume that there would be some indication of a campaign conspiracy in the prosecutions Mueller’s team already is conducting.

CNN, MSNBC and other news outlets have made much hay over the indictments brought by the special counsel’s office, often conflating the the prosecutions with the unproven collusion narrative.

The fact is, the only case brought by Mueller that has anything to do with the 2016 election is the indictment naming 13 Russian nationals and three companies. And in announcing those charges, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made a point of telling reporters that no American was implicated in the case.

The rest of the defendants in the Mueller probe face charges for conduct unrelated to the election — conduct by advisers predating the campaign — or for lying to the FBI during the investigation.

Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz put it best Wednesday night during an appearance on “Hannity” on Fox News.

“I have to tell you, if after a year of very thorough investigation and going after all the low-hanging fruit and getting people not only to sing but some of them even, perhaps, to compose — if they couldn’t have shifted him from a subject to a target, there’s nothing there,” he said.

Much has been made of the fact the defendants ensnared in the probe have agreed to cooperate with the investigation. Many assume that means they are giving up information about a conspiracy. But such cooperation agreements are standard in federal prosecutions, and one would think that if Mueller had evidence against Trump aides who have been charged, he would have included a campaign-related count.

That would only increase pressure on a defendant to give up bigger fish.

2. Trump is not in the clear. As Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) pointed out on CNN on Wednesday, carrying the label of “target” offers no guarantee against prosecution.

“One witness can take you from being a subject to a target,” he said.

It is true that Mueller could make a late Eureka discovery that puts Trump in the crosshairs, although the chances of a new witness at this stage of the game seem low. But Trump could get into trouble the same way his aides have — perjury.

The Post reported that Mueller’s communication to the president’s lawyers that he was not a target came in the context of negotiations over taking Trump’s testimony.

Trump reportedly is eager to testify, but Mueller’s record in the investigation should make the president tread carefully. An untruthful or conflicting statement well could bring a perjury allegation.

Mueller’s threshold does not appear particularly high. Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents about a meeting with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the transition period after the 2016 election.

Mueller did not accuse Flynn of any underlying crime. The meeting was legal — there is nothing wrong with an incoming national security adviser talking with foreign diplomats. Even from a country that has become Public Enemy No. 1. According to court records, Flynn acknowledged that he spoke with Kislyak.

But Flynn told the FBI that he did not ask Kislyak to delay or defeat a vote in the United Nations on a resolution sponsored by the outgoing administration. Flynn also told agents that he did not recall Kislyak telling him about Russia’s decision to moderate its response to sanctions imposed by the outgoing administration.

Those were lies, according to prosecutors.

George Papadopoulos, a low-level volunteer adviser to the campaign, also pleaded guilty to lying about otherwise-legal conduct, misstating the date he spoke to a London professor with contacts to Russia about getting dirt on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton during the campaign.

Papadopoulos told investigators that he spoke with the professor before joining the campaign; in fact it was after. Authorities also contended that he lied when he downplayed the importance he placed on the professor’s information.

Perhaps the biggest danger to Trump is the Mueller writes a scathing report about the president’s conduct, particularly his behavior after taking office. Such a report might offer plenty of grist for articles of impeachment.

That could happen whether Trump testifies or not.

3. Mueller seems to think he could indict Trump. In the kerfuffle over whether Trump is a target or merely a subject, some people missed an important revelation.

In assigning the label, the special counsel seems to be signaling that he could indict Trump. That is noteworthy because the Justice Department’s position dating to Richard Nixon’s presidency is that a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime.

Legal scholars have debated that, and it has never been tested in the Supreme Court.

But if Mueller thinks the president could potentially be a prosecution target, that would be significant.

4. The fact that Trump is a subject is really not all that surprising. But you wouldn’t know that if you watched cable news on Wednesday.

The talking heads treated the news that Mueller told Trump’s lawyers the president was a subject as earth-shattering revelation.

To be sure, it is unusual and significant that the president of the United States is the subject of a high-profile criminal investigation.

But at this point, it hardly is a surprise.

From the time Rosenstein appointed Mueller, it’s been pretty transparent that the entire endeavor has been about trying to find out if Trump conspired with the Russians.

This is not like Watergate, which began as — in the words of Nixon press secretary Ronald Ziegler — a “third-rate burglary” and slowly escalated toward the president.

From day one, the trajectory has been clear — either Trump conspired or it didn’t.

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”

2 weeks ago

Big business, trial lawyers square off in Alabama chief justice GOP primary

(T. Parker, L. Stuart, B. Mendheim, S. Stewart)

Battles between trial lawyers and business interests in court races are nothing new in Alabama, but campaign finance reports filed Tuesday suggest this year’s fight will play out within the Republican Party.

Chief Justice Lyn Stuart, who got the job after Roy Moore resigned and is seeking a full six-year term, reported raising $105,750 in March. For the entire cycle, Stuart has hauled in $257,655.

Stuart’s opponent in the June primary, Moore ally and fellow Justice Tom Parker, remained competitive with $100,750 in contributions last month. That gives him a total of $213,250 in donations since beginning the campaign last year.

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The campaigns are on relatively equal footing as the campaign heats up. Parker has $135,647 cash on hand, while Stuart has $169,008 in the bank.

While the numbers are similar, the sources of the candidates’ funds are starkly different. Stuart has leaned heavily on political action committees aligned with business interests. Her biggest contributions in March, for instance, came from PACs associated with the Alabama Trucking Association and Alabama Farmers Federation. Each chipped in $10,000.

Parker, meanwhile, has gotten a majority of his funds from the Progress for Justice PAC, which gets its money from trial lawyers. The PAC gave $100,000 to Parker’s campaign on March 5 and followed up with another $100,000 contribution at the end of the month.

Stuart had crisscrossed the state and enjoys strong grass-roots support, said her campaign manager, Paul Shashy.

“We’re definitely satisfied,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of people from across the state support her.”

Parker could not be reached for comment.

Shashy acknowledged the relative parity in campaign resources and said Stuart takes nothing for granted.

“Any race in Alabama has the potential to be close,” he said. “You can’t ever know.”

The Parker campaign issued a statement Wednesday a statement touting his record on the court: “Justice Parker has been a consistent pro-taxpayer, pro-business and pro-Constitution voice who is supported even by people who don’t always agree with him.”

The winner of the primary will have a Democratic opponent, former Jefferson County Circuit Judge Robert Vance. But he is having less success raising money; he has brought a total of $61,858 and has $35,868 cash on hand, according to his campaign finance report.

Campaign finance reports filed Tuesday also reflect a competitive primary for an associate justice slot on the court. Incumbent Brad Mendheim, appointed after Justice Glenn Murdock resigned earlier this year, raised more money than his two primary opponents combined last month.

But Sarah Stewart, a Mobile County Circuit Court judge, has kept close. Mendheim took in $109,600 last month, bumping his total for that campaign to $185,025. His largest donors last month were PACs associated with the Alabama Farmers Federation and the Retailers of Alabama. Each contributed $10,000.

Stewart raised most of her $88,000 last month from Mobile-area lawyers and law firms, in addition to $51,000 she received from a half-dozen PACs run by Michael Echols, a Tuscaloosa accountant who served as treasurer of then-Gov. Robert Bentley’s re-election campaign in 2012. Echols was once close to Bentley but had a falling out with him after his affair with an aide and helped the governor’s wife file for divorce.

Former U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner, a Republican who represented southwest Alabama from 2003 to 2013, donated $250 to Stewart’s campaign.

Stewart, who has a campaign total of $174,592 in contributions, said Echols is her campaign accountant and has helped with fundraising. She said she believes her endorsement by the Business Council of Alabama helped attract money from Echols pro-business PACs.

She said she recently purchased ad time on Fox News and is trying to extend her name recognition beyond her southwest Alabama base and lawyers statewide who know her as president-elect of the state circuit judges association.

“I think I’ve gotten some broad-based support across the state. … The next 60 days will be interesting,” she said.

Mendheim touted the broad base of his support. His money has come from 90 different donors.

“I am encouraged by the support we have received to this point,” he said in a statement. “With just over two months until the primary election, it is critical that we continue our momentum and work to earn the support of individuals and groups across the state.”

Will Fuller, a spokesman for the campaign, said that Mendheim, “despite being in the race for only two months is working hard to reach the people of Alabama.”

Debra Jones lags far behind, having raised only $11,283.

There is no Democrat in the race.

In the other associate justice contest, Republican Jay Mitchell is far and away the campaign fundraising leader. He has pulled in $324,838, compared with just $1,500 raised by primary opponent John Bahakel, a lawyer who ran unsuccessfully for the Alabama House of Representative in 2014.

Democrat Donna Smalley, who is unopposed for the nomination, reported raising a total of $8,125.

Story updated at 10:47 a.m. to include comments by Sarah Stewart.

Story updated at 12:31 p.m. to include comment from Parker campaign.

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”

3 weeks ago

Alabama legislative session ends: Wrapping up the good, bad & ugly

(Flickr)

The Alabama House of Representatives on Thursday gaveled out the 2018 legislative session — a session that was “among the most successful in recent years,” according to Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia).

Aided by rising tax revenue from an improving economy, lawmakers passed budgets for education and the rest of government without the knock-down, drag-out fights that have characterized other sessions. They cut taxes modestly for lower and middle-class residents. They delivered pay raises to public employees. And they adopted uniform regulations for ride-sharing companies like Uber.

Legislators also passed a bill allowing education officials to use money from a technology fund to improve school security, expanded the state’s pre-kindergarten program, addressed the opioid addiction epidemic and extended regulations to unlicensed church-run day care centers.

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“I am most proud that the partisan discord and floor fighting that has plagued the House over the past several years was largely absent as our members worked cooperatively in the best interests of Alabamians,” McCutechon said in a statement.

House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) said in his own statement that the Legislature has enacted all of the Republican Party’s “Flag, Family, and Country” agenda.

“House Republicans have once again kept our promises and followed up our words with actions,” he stated. “The new laws in our Republican agenda will provide new jobs and opportunities to the military veterans who protected our nation, shield children from the traumas of domestic violence, and begin to address Alabama’s on-going opioid crisis.”

On the other hand, a legislative session that largely had been tranquil turned testy in the final week amid disputes over ethics, guns and what to do about racial profiling.

Here is a roundup of the final day of the 2018 legislative session.

The big story: The most controversial bill of the sessions came down to the very last day, and the outcome was no less controversial.

The House of Representatives voted 55-22 — with 22 abstentions — to approve a measure to amend the state ethics laws to exempt economic developers from certain lobbying regulations. The vote came a day after it cleared the state Senate by a single vote. Gov. Kay Ivey indicated she would sign it.

“Our ability to attract highly sought-after economic development projects is vital to ensure that Alabama continues to experience record-low unemployment,” Ivey said in a statement. “This legislation makes clear that we are committed to attracting world-class jobs for all Alabamians.”

The legislation underwent a number of changes as it moved through the Legislature. Perhaps most significantly, it prohibits legislators from qualifying for the exemption. Former legislators would have to wait two years after leaving office before they could take advantage of the exemption.

Opponents blasted the bill as a shameless effort to weaken the ethics law.

“I believe in its extreme form or use, it could cut us out of the entire process,” said Rep. Phil Williams, (R-Huntsville), according to the Montgomery Advertiser. “I believe this bill could turn the House of Representatives into a rubber stamp, to rubber stamp deals we were not a part of.”

The Advertiser reported that some critics vowed to make the law an issue on the campaign trail in November.

“The horse you rode in on is going to be the same horse you ride out on,” state Rep. Christopher England (D-Tuscaloosa) during the House debate Thursday, according to the newspaper.

Racial profiling ban dies: Despite passing the state Senate without a dissenting vote, a bill to ban racial profiling by police died in the House.

AL.com reported that Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham), who sponsored the legislation in the upper chamber, expressed disappointment when he learned Thursday that a vote he had expected in the House would never take place.

“To ignore the needs of the people in regards to being able to be free to move, free to do what they’ve got to do, free from profiling, from harassment, to want to continue that is a very, very big disappointment to me,” he said.

The bill called for prohibiting police from stopping motorists solely on the basis of race and would have required law enforcement agencies to keep data on traffic stops.

Smitherman recalled his own experiences with police and lamented that his offers of compromise went unmet. For instance, he said, he offered to allow police agencies to develop the record-keeping format.

“That’s what they asked for, allowing that,” he said. “And yet, for the bill to not even get an opportunity to be heard. Whether they voted it up or down, that’s not even the issue.”

AL.com reported that House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) said he had intended to bring the bill up for a vote but did not because the Senate adjourned Wednesday.

“There was never any orchestrated maneuvering or strategy to not bring that bill up,” he said.

Smitherman said he plans to bring the bill back next year.

Drunken driving: The House voted 78-14 to stiffen penalties for drunken driving and close a loophole that lawmakers inadvertently created four years ago.

Sponsored by Rep. Jim McClendon (R-Springville), the bill requires anyone in pretrial diversion for driving under the influence of alcohol to use an ignition interlock device, which prevents a vehicle from starting if it finds alcohol on a driver’s breath.

A law passed in 2014 did not require the device for offenders entering pretrial diversion.

According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Mississippi — which has a similar interlock law but does not exempt defendants offered pretrial diversion — prevented twice as many drunken drivers from taking the road as Alabama in 2016.

Having already passed the state Senate, the bill now goes to the governor.

Tweets of the day:

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”

 

3 weeks ago

Brittany Howard is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact

(Youtube/YHN)

The list of 2018 Yellowhammer Women of Impact includes the governor, business leaders, philanthropists, entrepreneurs and educators.

But it is quite possible that the woman who has touched the most lives is Brittany Howard, a 29-year-old Alabama native who is a founding member of the musical sensation Alabama Shakes.

It took about two years for the band to reach international stardom after playing James Brown covers. Their debut album in 2012, “Boys & Girls,” was still at the top of the iTunes and Amazon sales list a year later. It went gold and as of 2015 had sold 744,000 copies.

“Hold On,” Rolling Stone magazine’s No. 1 song of 2012, has been viewed almost 27 million times on YouTube.

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The band has won four Grammys, been nominated for four others and has appeared on “Saturday Night Live.”

As told in a 2013 Rolling Stone story, Howard was delivering mail when the band took off. Reared in Athens by a mother who loved Elvis Presley — she had a collection of the King’s albums and no other artist — and a dad who dug Motown, she dealt with her share of adversity. That includes her parents’ divorce, the death of her older sister, vision problems and the loss of the family home to fire.

Eventually, she hooked up with bandmates Zac Cockrell, Heath Fogg and Steve Johnson during high school.

Someone posted a photo of Howard, from a bar, on record producer and music blogger Justin Gage’s Facebook page in 2011. Gage told the Los Angeles Times in 2016 that he listened to a pair of songs from the band and then emailed Howard and asked if he could listen to more music.

Gage was blown away and posted a song on his blog, Aquarium Drunkard. He told the Times that he wanted to sign the band.

“But I made the mistake of posting that song on Aquarium Drunkard,” he said. “The response was insane. By noon there were already 40 comments … Within two weeks the band told me, ‘Yeah, we’re not going to do that record with you.’ They ended up getting a high six-figure deal and sold 2 million records worldwide.”

Howard told National Public Ratio’s “Fresh Air” in 2016 that Athens was a “slow-placed place” to grow up.

“And that’s a good place to stay forever, you know what I mean?” she said. “It’s a good place to raise your kids, raise your grandkids, take care of your parents. It’s just a really nice, peaceful town.”

Howard also downplayed the significance of her mixed-race heritage. She said her rural upbringing, growing up in the woods, helped keep her isolated from racism and did not feel negative repercussions from the fact that her mother is white and her father is black.

“My mom’s white. My grandma’s white,” she told host Terry Gross. “My dad’s black. My grandma’s black. You know, they’re just people. I love them — never really had to experience that kind of prejudice growing up.”

Howard may have had confidence in the band’s abilities, but she told Rolling Stone that she still was taken aback by its meteoric rise.

“I mean, we never expected the Grammys; we never expected to do world tours,” she said. “All we did was go into the studio, because we wanted to be like a real band and have an album, and then it turned into all this.”

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.

3 weeks ago

Cathy Randall is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact

(YHN)

How do you know when you’ve made it? When your employer names a program after you.

That is what happened last year to Cathy Randall, the longtime director of the University of Alabama’s computer-based honors program. It now is called the Catherine J. Randall Research Scholars Program.

Randall isn’t just the director of the program. She was a member of its first class in 1968.

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She also is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact.

According to a University of Alabama news release, Randall has guided the computer program to a powerhouse that attracts elite students from around the world. Honors students take courses on complex problem solving, project management and research fundamentals. Students later select research projects and work closely with faculty members.

The Alabama Academy of Honor, which includes 100 outstanding living Alabamians, inducted her and then tapped her to chair the organization. She also has served as national president of the Mortar Board — a national honor society for college seniors — and headed the board of directors at the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame.

Beyond her professional career, she’s participated in relief efforts following deadly tornadoes that ripped through Tuscaloosa in 2011. She has served as director of the American Legion’s Alabama Girls State. She won the Living Legend award in 2007 and Tuscaloosa’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Women of Distinction in 2005.

Perhaps closest to Randall’s heart has been the charitable work she has done at her church, Christ Episcopal. Among those endeavors has been the Lazarus Project, which helps poor people pay utility bills.

“The most important part of who I am is my faith,” she told the Tuscaloosa News in 2012.

The Birmingham native moved to Tuscaloosa to go to school and met her future husband, the late H. Pettus Randall, while he was a law school student.

“I came to Tuscaloosa as a freshman at the university, met Mr. Wonderful and never left,” she said in the Tuscaloosa News article.

Randall served as youth chairwoman for Albert Brewer’s gubernatorial campaign and got her future husband involved. The couple married a year later and went on to have three children.

The university named her one of the top 31 women graduates of the century, an honor she shared with “To Kill a Mockingbird” author Harper Lee.

“She is one of the most kind, caring people I know,” Lee told the newspaper before her death in a rare interview. “She is one of my dearest friends, and I love her to death.”

Randall told the Tuscaloosa News that it is important to make time for faith and service.

“When we say we don’t need to pray, that’s when we need to pray twice,” she said. “In the same way, when we say we don’t have time for community service, that’s when we need to do more.

Randall will join Gov. Kay Ivey and special guests from across the state for a Birmingham awards event March 29 honoring the 20 Yellowhammer Women of Impact whose powerful contributions advance Alabama. Details and registration may be found here.

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”

3 weeks ago

Alabama State Legislature update: Ethics, racial profiling bills hit snags; budget advances

(State of Alabama)

Alabama legislators on Tuesday continued a contentious debate over a bill to change the state’s ethics law, advanced the education budget and delayed action on a racial profiling bill.

Lawmakers have just just one more day left before wrapping up the 2018 session.

Here are the highlights from Tuesday:

The big story: The Senate called it a day Tuesday evening without voting on controversial legislation to exempt lobbyists engaged in economic development from regulations mandated under the ethics law, according to the Montgomery Advertiser.

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Supporters argue that requiring economic developers to follow the same rules that apply to other lobbyists makes it harder to compete with other states for projects that create jobs.

Sen. Phil Williams (R-Rainbow City) said Alabama has been impugned by economic development officials in other states.

“When you’re on the top of the heap, people start sniping at you,” he said, according to the Advertiser.

But opponents maintain that the legislation, despite changes made to the bill, is too broad and would create loopholes.

“The first rule of physicians is, ‘Do no harm,’” Sen. Dick Brewbaker (R-Pike Road) said, according to the newspaper. “One way to ensure we do no harm is to limit this language as we can.”

The Advertiser quoted Sen. Paul Sanford (R-Huntsville) as saying Alabama has enjoyed success in luring business since the Legislature passed the current version of the ethics law.

“It’s not been an issue since 2010,” he said. “The law has brought every economic development package.”

The bill could come up for debate again Wednesday.

Education budget: The fiscal year 2019 education budget sailed through the state House of Representatives, passing 98-0, according to AL.com.

The budget, a $216 million increase over the current year, would spend $6.6 billion on education — the most since 2008 and the second-most ever.

Education employees in schools and community colleges would receive a 2.5 percent cost-of-living raise. AL.com reports the following breakdown:

  • $4.56 billion to schools kindergarten through 12th grade, a 3 percent increase.
  • $382 million to community colleges, 5 percent increase.
  • $1.1 billion to four-year universities, a 4 percent increase.
  • $96 million to the state’s highly regarded pre-kindergarten program, a 24 percent increase.

Only Senate passage stands in the way of Gov. Kay Ivey’s signature.

Racial profiling: The state House of Representatives failed to vote on a bill to ban racial profiling by police, giving the proposal one more shot before the session ends, the Associated Press reports.

The bill would prohibit police from making traffic stops based solely on race and would require law enforcement agencies to keep demographic statistics on stops.

House Republicans blocked a vote on the bill last week, prompting some lawmakers to threaten to filibuster other bills in order to force a vote.

“All of this is about identifying bad actors. This is not about being punitive to those wonderful, great police officers that take that oath to protect and serve,” state Rep. Merika Colman (D-Pleasant Grove) told the AP. “This is just about trying to identify those folks who are using race as the only determining factor to make a stop.”

Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham), expressed frustration, noting that it passed 27-0 in the upper chamber.

House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia), urged lawmakers to negotiate a resolution.

“We’re working through it,” he told the AP.

Tweet of the day:

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”

 

4 weeks ago

Alexia Borden is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact

(Yellowhammer)

Alexia Borden’s trajectory at Alabama Power has been rapid and in one direction — up.

Borden last year became senior vice president and general counsel of Alabama Power, only a year after joining the company. She is both the youngest person and first woman ever to hold the position.

She also is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact. The honor comes a year after Yellowhammer named her among the Yellowhammer Power & Influence 50, recognizing the 50 movers and shakers in business and politics.

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Borden, who grew up in Atlanta and Pensacola, Florida, graduated from Georgia Institute of Technology with a degree in industrial engineering and then worked in the U.S. Embassy in Paris. Later, she attained a law degree from the University of Alabama School of Law and joined the firm of Balch & Bingham’s Birmingham office.

Borden moved to Montgomery because of career opportunities for her husband, Gray Borden, now a federal magistrate judge.

Alexia Borden told RSVP magazine in 2013 that she appreciated the ability to balance work and family that Balch & Bingham afforded her.

“I love the flexibility of working in a private firm,” she said.

Borden’s promotion at Alabama Power represents a rapid ascent at one of the state’s most powerful companies. She had joined the firm in 2016, after a decade of practicing environmental law. She has family ties to the industry. Her father, Paul Bowers, is president and CEO of Georgia Power.

At Alabama Power, Borden proved herself running  the company’s governmental affairs shop, monitoring the state government and lobbying on issues of importance to the utility.

Borden told RSVP that her parents were the biggest influences on her life. She said her father taught her patience and perseverance, while her mother imparted kindness and thoughtfulness.

Borden serves on several civic and charitable boards, including the Alabama Shakespeare Festival and the Baptist Health Foundation. She also has participated in Leadership Montgomery and served as president of EAT South, an urban teaching farm.

Borden and Gov. Kay Ivey will be among 20 Alabama women honored in a March 29 awards event in Birmingham. Event details and registration may be found here.

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of“Wicked Mobile.”

4 weeks ago

Alabama Legislature update: School security, racial profiling and the Ten Commandments

(Flickr)

With the end in sight for the 2018 legislative session, the Alabama House of Representatives wrapped up a long day Thursday that included debates over school security, racial profiling and the Ten Commandments.

The session is scheduled to conclude next week.

Here is a roundup of Thursday’s action in the Legislature:

The big story: After a proposal to allow teachers in certain cases to carry guns in schools failed, a school safety bill sailed through the state House of Representatives.

The bill, which would let schools draw from the Advancement and Technology Fund to pay for school security upgrades, passed 96-4. According to AL.com, about $41 million will be available for schools, based on their enrollment.

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Rep. Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa) said school systems could buy security cameras, make entrances more secure and other security-related measures.

“Any tool we can add to the toolboxes that schools have to keep the premises safe is critical,” he said.

Lawmakers voted down a proposed amendment by Rep. John Knight (D-Montgomery) to prohibit the funds from being used to buy guns for teachers. Poole said he did not think the amendment was necessary, according to AL.com.

Poole said the bill would have made schools safer.

“If they have some security needs, whether those are security cameras or improving door lock systems or alert systems or whatever the case may be, the local districts will have the flexibility to point these resources to those specific needs,” he said.

The legislation now returns to the Senate, where it passed in a different form.

Racial profiling: The Alabama House of Representatives rejected a bill to ban racial profiling by police and require law enforcement agencies to keep track of statistics on traffic stops, according to the Montgomery Advertiser.

The House killed the bill by voting 53-34 against a procedural maneuver necessary to bring the legislation to the floor.

Democrats who pushed the idea reacted angrily.

“I guess we are sending a message that ’Bama is still backwards,” Rep. Merika Coleman (D-Pleasant Grove) told the newspaper after the vote.

But Rep. Connie Roe (R-Jasper) expressed concerns that officers in rural areas assigned to patrol areas dominated by one race or another might unfairly get tagged with profiling, according to the Advertiser.

“I wouldn’t want that young fellow who got a job, for their career to be damaged,” said Rowe, a retired police chief.

Ten Commandments: Alabama voters will get a chance to decide whether the Ten Commandments can be displayed in public schools and state-owned buildings, according to Associated Press.

The House of Representatives approved the proposed constitutional amendment 66-19 after an hour and half of debate.

Alabama voters will vote it up or down in the November general election.

Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Birmingham), the House sponsor of the bill, said private lawyers would defend the state against inevitable legal challenges, according to AL.com.

But the website reported that Rep. Marcel Black (D-Tuscumbia) dismissed the proposal as a political ploy, “an old trick” designed to boost Republican turnout on Election Day.

Black argued that school systems that display the Ten Commandments would expose themselves to lawyers’ fees if they get sued and lose.

Churches and guns: A proposal to extend Alabama’s Stand Your Ground law ran into a stumbling block Thursday when a state senator’s threat of a filibuster forced a vote delay, according to the Associated Press.

Sen. Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) said that the legislation is encouraging people to get “trigger happy.”

Some lawmakers argue the bill is unnecessary and that the Stand Your Ground law already protects people’s right to self-defense inside a church.

But supporters pointed to deadly church shootings and said members need the legal protection to respond to a threat. The bill would make clear that people have a right to use deadly force to protect a church member or employee.

Tweet of the day:

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”

1 month ago

Debbie Long is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact

This summer, Debbie Long will call it a career at Protective Life Corp.

What a career it has been.

Long, who also is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact, served as executive vice president, chief legal officer and corporate secretary of the insurance company before taking on a part-time advisory role this year. She is one of Alabama’s highest-paid female executives.

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Long also has been a big contributor to her community.

Long told Business Alabama in 2012 that she always wanted to be a lawyer, although first she had idealistic visions of saving the world. After graduating in 1980 from the University of Alabama Law School and then clerking for a federal appeals court Judge Frank Johnson, she went to work for a law firm and practiced corporate law.

“Although I hadn’t initially wanted to practice business law, I found I loved it,” she told the publication.

Long left the firm along with several other lawyers to help form the powerhouse Birmingham firm of Maynard, Cooper and Gale.

In 1992, Long joined the board of Protective Life as general counsel of the insurance company.

Long told Business Alabama that her advice to would-be business leaders would be to stay open to opportunities that might come along at unexpected times.

“It’s very doubtful that someone’s going to come to you early in your career and say, ‘I want to be your mentor,’” she said. “It’s far more likely you will meet people along the way who will give you great advice if you are open to receiving it. Someone at a cocktail party might say something that could change your life.”

Long has been active in the larger business community. She has served as chairwoman of the Business Council of Alabama’s Judicial and Legal Reform Committee and also has worked on the Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee, the Federal Affairs Committee and on the board of ProgressPAC — the lobby’s political action committee.

Last year, the BCA honored her with the Robert W. “Bubba” Lee Political Courage Award, given each year to someone who is willing to take the right position regardless of cost.

“She has shown through her support that she cares about the Alabama business community and she values the role we play and the jobs we create,” BCA Chairman Perry Hand said at the time. “She has been a distinguished member of the Alabama and Birmingham business communities for nearly three decades.”

Her charitable endeavors include Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Greater Birmingham, the YWCA of Birmingham, Oasis Women’s Counseling Center, the Birmingham Museum of Art and Partners in Neighborhood Growth Inc.

In addition, she serves on the Alabama Women’s Commission and the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, as well as The Fellows program of the American Bar Foundation.

“It is her commitment to excellence that has made her such a valuable asset to Alabama’s business community, and there are few individuals more dedicated to our corporate community, the rule of law, and the political arena than Debbie Long,” Hand said last year.

Join Long and special guests from across the state for a Birmingham awards event March 29 honoring the 20 Yellowhammer Women of Impact whose powerful contributions advance Alabama. Details and registration may be found here.

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”

1 month ago

Alabama Legislature update: Gun bills, the budget, equal pay and ethics

(State of Alabama)

The Alabama Legislature on Wednesday killed gun legislation, passed a budget and contemplated the pay disparity between men and women.

In addition, a controversial proposal to exempt economic development officials from lobbying laws advanced. The passage of the general fund budget is a sign the 2018 session is gliding toward a close.

Here is a look at the major events in the state capital on Wednesday:

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The big story: Gun control and school safety proposals are dead for 2018.

Noting that a bill to allow some teachers and administrators to carry guns on campus failed to come up for a vote Tuesday, House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) on Wednesday blamed Democrats.

“Although the bill was in a position to be considered yesterday, the Democratic opponents of the legislation were prepared to lock down the chamber to prevent its approval,” he said in a statement. “There was also a great deal of misinformation being distributed to educators, school administrators, law enforcement agencies, and parents that needed to be corrected. I can offer a personal guarantee that this issue will be revisited when the Legislature convenes its next session.”

The bill would have allowed school employees who volunteered and passed training requirements to carry guns in schools. It drew intense opposition from education groups, as well as some teachers and parents.

State Rep. Will Ainsworth (R-Guntersville), who sponsored the bill, expressed anger Wednesday. He said in a statement that he is confident the legislation had widespread support among the GOP majority.

“The pro-gun control filibuster efforts of House Democrats have put our children and teachers in danger and leave them helpless if an active shooter situation occurs,” he said in the statement. “Signs reading ‘Gun Free Zone’ are a magnet for those who wish to do harm, so we must allow teachers to defend themselves with something more lethal than a ruler and a No. 2 pencil.”

Meanwhile on Wednesday, most Republican members of a legislative committee forced adjournment for lack of a quorum by skipping a debate on a proposal to raise the age to buy semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15, according to the Associated Press.

Rep. Juandalynn Givan (D-Birmingham), who sponsored the bill to raise the age of purchase, criticized her no-show Republican colleagues.

“Vote it up or vote it down,” she said, according to the AP. “Don’t be cowards. … You can’t show up at the meeting to at least have a conversation?”

Budget passes: The Alabama Senate approved a general fund budget that gives more money to the state’s troubled prison system, the Medicaid program and allows for a raise for state workers, according to AL.com.

The vote accepted changes the state House of Representatives had made to the spending plan for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. Gov. Kay Ivey’s signature is all that is needed for it to become law.

According to AL.com, the $2 billion budget tops the current year’s blueprint by some $167 million.

Specifics include:

  • $755 million for Medicaid. Although that is a $54 million increase over the current year, the agency actually will receive less overall because it benefited this year from a one-time $105 million cash infusion from
  • the BP oil spill settlement.$472 million for the Department of Corrections, a $56 million h
  • ike over this year. The prison system also is getting an additional $30
  • million this year thanks to a separate supplemental bill that lawmakers passed.A 3 percent cost-of-living-adjustment from s
  • tate employees, the first pay raise in a decade.$118 million for the Department of Mental Health, a $9 million increase.$52 million for the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, a $3.2 million increase that will pay for 30 additional state troopers.

Equal pay? A proposal by Rep. Adline Clarke (D-Mobile) to address the gender wage gap got a hearing in Montgomery in Wednesday but has little chance of becoming law this year, according to the Montgomery Advertiser.

Clarke’s bill would require men and women with the same experience be paid the same salary. Employers would have to demonstrate a difference in quality or performance to justify paying a female employee less, and companies would be prohibited from retaliating against employees who filed an action under the statute.

Beyond the question of how much support the proposal has in the Republican-dominated Legislature, there likely simply is enough time in the session to push a bill from start to finish before lawmakers go home for the year.

But Clarke is not giving up.

“I believe in miracles,” she told the Advertiser after the House State Government Committee adjourned. “I am hopeful this bill can pass.”

The newspaper reported that the National Partnership for Women and Families crunched census data and concluded that women in Alabama earn 76 cents on the dollar compared with what men make.

Ethics exemption: A Senate committee voted 10-2 in favor of a bill that would exempt economic developers from some rules governing lobbying, according to the Montgomery Advertiser.

But the paper reported that the bill, which already has passed the House of Representatives, could face a major fight on the Senate floor.

Proponents argue that requiring employees engaged in economic development to register as lobbyists could harm negotiations with out-of-state businesses.

“This is an important bill for economic development,” Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) told the Senate Financial Responsibility and Economic Development Committee.

Opponents argue that the definition of “economic development official” is far too broad.

Sen. Dick Brewbaker (R-Pike Road) told the Advertiser he would filibuster the bill on the floor “if that’s what it takes.”

No term limits: The Alabama Senate shot down a proposal to let voters decide whether legislators should be limited to three terms, according to the Associated Press.

The 15-9 procedural vote halted efforts to bring proposed constitutional amendment to a the floor.

State Sen. Bill Hightower (R-Mobile) who is running for governor, told the AP that legislators should be held to the same limits that restrict the state’s top office.

Legislators “think we’re on some private island with special privileges,” he said.

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Brendan Kirby is senior political reporter at LifeZette.com and a Yellowhammer contributor. He also is the author of “Wicked Mobile.” Follow him on Twitter.

 

1 month ago

Baldwin County leads Alabama in latest population estimates; most counties stagnant or shrinking

(Pixabay)

Another year, another census report showing blistering growth in Baldwin County.

The Census Bureau population estimates released Thursday show that the coastal Alabama county added another 5,119 people from July 2016 to July last year. That was the most of any Alabama county, ahead of the 4,734 increase posted by second-place Madison County.

Since the 2010 census, Baldwin has added 30,363 residents, also the most in the state.

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Baldwin’s growth rate also leads the state — 2.47 percent year over year and 16.66 percent since 2010.

What’s more, Baldwin’s overall population of 212,628 puts it just 977 people behind its fast-growing cousin, Shelby County. And since the census estimates offer a snapshot from almost nine months ago, it is likely that Baldwin already has passed Shelby and moved into fifth place among the state’s most populous counties.

Considering that Montgomery County — population 226,646 — has experienced a net decrease of 2,717 residents since the last census, Baldwin has an outside shot to move into fourth place by the next census in 2020.

“It’s a great place to live,” Baldwin County Commission Chairman Frank Burt said when asked to explain why so many people keep moving in. “I’ve been here since 1941.”

For the most part, the counties that have experienced strong growth during the past decade continued to lead the way between 2016 and 2017. Only one of the top 10 growth counties since 2010 lost population in the most recent year. That was Russell County near the Georgia border, which shrank by nearly 2 percent.

Population growth continues to be concentrated in a handful of counties in the largest metropolitan areas —Baldwin, outside of Mobile; Madison and Limestone, near Huntsville; Shelby and St. Clair, in the Birmingham area; and Coffee County, in the Dothan metro area. The counties with the two largest state universities, Tuscaloosa and Lee, also have enjoyed rapid growth.

Most of the rest of the state has been stagnant or shrinking, though. Only 25 of Alabama’s 67 counties posted any growth at all from mid-2016 to mid-2017.

For the decade, that number is even smaller. Only 21 counties have increased in population since the 2010 census.

“Essentially, there’s no surprise this time,” said Viktoria Riiman, a socioeconomic analyst with the University of Alabama’s Culverhouse College of Commerce. “It’s a continuation of the trends that we’ve seen the past six years.”

Riiman noted that Baldwin’s growth primarily has come from migration — particularly from other counties within the United States. Baldwin ranks only 11th in so-called natural population growth — births minus deaths — with a net gain of 1,769 people since the beginning of the decade. That compares with Jefferson County, which ranked first with a net gain of 12,936.

Baldwin led the state in net migration during that time, however, with 28,363 more people moving in than moving out. The next closest was Madison, with a net gain of 17,235 from migration.

The vast majority of Baldwin’s newcomers have come from other Alabama or counties or other states. The net gain of 1,156 in international migration trails, Jefferson, Lee, Mobile, Madison, Montgomery, Tuscaloosa and Shelby counties.

Fueled by Birmingham residents seeking a suburban lifestyle, Shelby County led Alabama in population growth for decades. It doubled in population from 1960 to 1980 and doubled again over the next two decades.

Although it still is experiencing the fourth-fastest growth, the pace has slowed somewhat in recent years.

“It’s been growing for a while,” Riiman said. “It’s expected to grow, just not at this huge rate Baldwin County has been experiencing.”

The University of Alabama’s Center for Business and Economic Research, using 2015 data, projects that Montgomery County will hang on to its fourth spot by the 2020 census. But it’s only a matter of time; by 2025, the center projects, both Baldwin and Shelby will have passed Montgomery.

To Burt, the Baldwin County commissioner, it’s not a surprise. He said he saw it coming when he first took office 30 years ago and the county had only about 78,000 residents.

“When I came on the commission, I was predicting at that time … I just knew that some day, not only would we be bigger than Montgomery, we’d be bigger than Mobile,” he said. “I just knew it in my heart. I don’t know that I’ll live to see it.”

On the other side of the coin, many rural Alabama counties continued to struggle as they have for years. Macon, Perry, Lowndes and Dallas all have experienced population declines of more than 10 percent since the last census year.

Riiman said the pattern is familiar. A lack of economic opportunities scares off potential newcomers and drives out younger natives. With so many younger people leaving, it leaves fewer women of child-bearing years to replace the population naturally, leaving the counties demographically older.

Since the 2010 census, deaths have outnumbered births in 38 Alabama counties. And most of them are not making up the difference through in-migration.

“That is the trend that has been visible throughout the U.S.,” she said. “Rural areas are losing population.”

Brendan Kirby is senior political reporter at LifeZette.com and a Yellowhammer contributor. He also is the author of “Wicked Mobile.” Follow him on Twitter.

 

1 month ago

Peggy Sutton is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact

Peggy Sutton did not start out wanting to create a powerhouse food business. She just wanted to eat like her grandparents did.

Sutton, a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact, planted grains at her home in Fitzpatrick about 15 years ago and waited for them to sprout. Before the Industrial Revolution, most people made flour from spouted grains, not from crops harvested with a combine.

Sutton soaked the grains in mason jars in 2005, dried them and then ground them into flour with a small mill in her home.

“I was blown away by the taste,” she told Kitchn.com in 2015. “It was so good, and I was hooked. And to me, that’s actually the most important thing.”

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The real benefit, the secret to Sutton’s commercial success, were the health features. She told Kitchn.com that flour from sprouted grains preserves vitamins and minerals that are eliminated in modern farming. Those nutrients produce naturally fortified flour.

At first, Sutton tried to spread the gospel of sprouted grains, but friends and relatives asked Sutton if she could just make the grains for them. She did, and To Your Health Sprouted Flour Co. was born, according to the company’s website. More than a decade later, Sutton’s idea has grown into a business that produces more than 3.6 million organic whole-grain sprouted flour a year and is the largest supplier of organic sprouted flours in the world.

The production moved from her home kitchen to a commercial kitchen inside a barn in 2006 and four years later moved up to a 7,200-square-foot facility. The company added a second facility in 2013 and expanded again in 2015. To Your Health Sprouted Flour Co. employs more than 30 people and ships grains, flours, legumes, seeds, nuts and other snacks to 14 different countries.

Sutton touts the not-too-subtle differences between her flour and the products on sale at the local supermarket.

“It’s the difference between eating a tomato and a potato,” she told Alabama Power’s Alabama NewsCenter last year. “Sprouted flour tastes better, is easier to digest, has more enzymes and is just more nutritious than regular flour.”

Sutton did not just luck into the business. She had spent three decades working in marketing and management positions in Montgomery, Atlanta and Columbus, Georgia. She returned home to Fitzpatrick, a rural community south of Montgomery, to take a job as director of the Alabama Hospice Organization.

Then, the flour business started to take off. Orders grew so fast that she decided to stop making baked goods and concentrate full time on producing flours. It was a call from Whole Foods that kicked the business to a different level. The chain grocery store wanted 10,000 pounds.

“At that time, we were only making about 1,000 pounds a week, but I knew we could do it,” she told Alabama NewsCenter. “Unfortunately, we live at the end of a dirt road, and the trucks couldn’t get in to pick up all that flour. So we had to expand.”

Sutton’s business even has landed her picture on the back of Kashi cereal boxes. She told This is Alabama last year that Kellogg’s, which makes the organic cereal, contacted her in 2014 and decided to use her image after hearing her company’s homegrown story and coming away impressed with the quality of the grain.

“I told my husband, it’s not the front of the Wheaties box, but I’m not complaining!” Sutton told the website.

Sutton will be honored with Gov. Kay Ivey in an awards event March 29 in Birmingham. The Yellowhammer Women of Impact event will honor 20 women making an impact in Alabama and will benefit Big Oak Ranch. Details and registration may be found here.

Brendan Kirby is senior political reporter at LifeZette.com and a Yellowhammer contributor. He also is the author of “Wicked Mobile.” Follow him on Twitter.

1 month ago

VIDEO: Attacked from right in Alabama, Rep. Martha Roby called conservative in D.C.

At home, Rep. Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) is preparing for a primary in which she faces allegations that she is insufficiently conservative. In Washington last week, a right-leaning think tank singled her out for her conservatism.

Roby, in her fourth term representing the 2nd Congressional District in the Montgomery area and the Wiregrass, was one of four Republican women in the House of Representatives selected to participate in a panel sponsored by The Heritage Foundation to discuss empowering women through conservative policy.

Roby talked about the Working Families Flexibility Act, a bill she sponsored that would give workers in the private sector the same right enjoyed by government workers to take time off instead off overtime pay.

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“If you want to coach your child’s soccer team, or you want to take a mission trip in the summer, and your work is such that you compile overtime hours and you’d rather use that time for paid leave instead of cash payments for overtime if you work in the public sector, you can currently do this,” she said.

But the Fair Labor Standards Act does not allow companies to offer the same flexibility to workers. Roby’s bill would grant that right if the employee chose it and if the employer wanted to offer it as an option.

“There’s no mandates here,” she said. “This is completely voluntary. … This is about making life work.”

The bill passed the House last May on a largely party-line 229-197 vote. But the Senate has not acted.

“We’re continuing to wait on the Senate, as we are on a lot of things, to get things done,” she said. “I talk at home about [how] we pass many great conservative bills in the House of Representatives that are way too important, to go to the Senate to die.”

Participating on the panel with Roby were House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Reps. Mia Love (R-Utah) and Ann Wagner (R-Mo.).

Roby addressed a number of topics related to how women can contribute to developing conservative solutions to America’s problems:

— On what it is like to run for Congress as a woman: Roby said it never occurred to her that seeking office as a woman was remarkable. “I was fortunate enough to grow up in a home where my father told me every single day, ‘Martha you can be anything you want to be.’ To the point where my sister and I took it for granted.” She said Congress needs more conservative women. “When you ask for the doors to open, you have to have the courage to walk through them,” she added.

— On whether women bring different priorities to Congress:
Roby said Republican women remind their male colleagues that the GOP conference has great talent from people of all backgrounds and all walks of life. At the same time, she added, all issues are important to women. “We all have issues that we are interested in focusing on,” she said. “But at the end of the day, we care about the same things as our male counterparts do, as conservative Republicans making sure that we’re pushing policy that is helpful to the American people.”

— On national security:
Roby said women have an instinctive understanding of threats to their families. “We know that women care about national security,” she said. “It’s in our DNA as caregivers, as mama bears, to be concerned every day about the safety of our families and our communities.” Roby added that her district has a large military footprint, with Maxwell Air Force Base and Fort Rucker. She also said she is proud that a plant in Troy, Alabama, builds the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, or THAD, that is deployed on the Korean peninsula.

“So the men and women of Alabama’s 2nd District certainly have skin in the game,” she said.

Here’s the video from the forum:

(Image: The Heritage Foundation/YouTube)

Brendan Kirby is senior political reporter at LifeZette.com and a Yellowhammer contributor. He also is the author of “Wicked Mobile.” Follow him on Twitter.

1 month ago

Alabama judicial race exposes curious split between two pro-business organizations

A race for the Alabama Supreme Court has opened a rare rift between pro-business organizations that normally march in lockstep.

ProgressPAC, the political action committee of the Business Council of Alabama, has endorsed Mobile County Circuit Judge Sarah Stewart for the position held until January by Justice Glenn Murdock. She faces Circuit Court Judge Debra Jones and incumbent Justice Brad Mendheim, whom Gov. Key Ivey appointed to replace Murdock.

Murdock stepped down early to explore other opportunities — including a possible run for higher office.

But the Alabama Civil Justice Reform Committee, founded to fight lawsuit abuse, is backing Mendheim and quietly has raised questions about Stewart’s record.

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The split has longtime political observers scratching their heads.

“They normally are two peas in the same lawsuit pod,” said Jess Brown, a political scientist at the Athens State University in north Alabama. “They tend to agree.”

With no Democrats on the ballot, the winner of the June 5 Republican primary is all but assured of winning a six-year term.

The Civil Justice Reform Committee points to a 2013 ruling Stewart issued on a workplace injury case in which she held a Mobile business owner liable for an accident suffered by an employee working for the contractor hired to repair the roof of the company’s warehouse.

Tom Dart, chairman of the Civil Justice Reform Committee, acknowledged that his organization often agrees with the BCA.

“Ninety percent of the time, we do, but not in this case,” he said.

Dart said his group’s endorsement primarily resulted from the fact that Mendheim is an incumbent — albeit, only for about two months — and has done a good job.

“We’ve had input from a lot of lawyers who had dealt with both of them,” he said.

Dart said the roofer case is not the only ruling his organization is concerned about, but he declined to offer other examples.

“That was one case,” he said. “There were others that we had considered.”

Neither the BCA nor the ProgressPAC responded to multiple requests for interviews. But in a news release announcing its endorsement of Stewart in December — before Ivey appointed Mendheim to the court — ProgressPAC praised Stewart’s fairness and neutrality.

“She is supremely qualified, knows the law, and will uphold the Constitution,” ProgressPAC Chairman Perry Hand said in a statement.

The case highlighted by the Civil Justice Reform Committee concerns a catastrophic accident suffered by a worker who lost his balance, crashed through a skylight and fell 20 feet to the ground while he was working on a warehouse owned by South Alabama Brick Co. in 2010.

A conservator for the incapacitated worker, Benito Perez, sued South Alabama Brick and a contractor that hired him called Cooner Roofing. According to court records, Perez worked for a subcontractor hired by Cooner to help repair the roof.

Stewart ruled that South Alabama Brick, along with Cooner, was liable for Perez’s injury and ordered both defendants to pay $12.6 million in damages. The judge determined that Cooner owed a responsibility to inform Perez of the dangers that the skylight posed. She wrote that South Alabama Brick failed its responsibility to find out if Cooner Roofer had a commercial business license — which it did not have — or ask about the training of the roofers that the contract provided or safety precautions it took.

The Supreme Court reversed Stewart’s decision on a 5-0 vote, with Murdock — the justice she wants to replace — writing the court’s opinion. He wrote that finding that South Alabama Brick had a duty to inform Perez about the skylight would mean that a company hiring a contractor “must somehow ‘pull aside’ or otherwise communicate directly with each and every employee of the contractor, subcontractor, employee of any subcontractor, etc.”

Murdock rejected Stewart’s conclusion that South Alabama Brick had a duty to find out that the contractor was not licensed or insured.

“In essence, the trial court held that SAB had a duty to protect Benito Perez from the negligence of his own employer by not hiring that employer in the first place,” he wrote.

Stewart said in an interview that she has rendered about 20,000 judgments in a dozen years on the bench.

“If there’s just one case they have a problem with, I’d say that’s pretty good,” she said. “I’d say that’s pretty good odds.”

The judge did not spare Cooner Roofing.

“The roofer who testified was probably the biggest liar I had ever seen in court,” she said.

Stewart said she is proud to have the ProgressPAC endorsement and was surprised when the Alabama Civil Justice Reform Committee endorsed Mendheim. She said the organization did not interview her or ask to address any concerns.

Stewart said she tries to adhere to the law and higher court precedent — even when she might not prefer the result.

“Sometimes as a judge, you have to sign off on an opinion you don’t personally agree with because that’s the law,” she said.

Judges are referees, not policymakers, Stewart said. She offered a specific example. The state Legislature several years ago created voluntary sentencing guidelines to even out regional disparities in punishment.

Judges do not have to impose recommended sentences but must document their reasons for departing. Some jurists have chaffed at the reduced discretion.

Stewart said judges can follow the standards or find them unconstitutional.

“But you don’t get to say we don’t like them,” she said. “We don’t make policy.”

(Image: Judge Sarah Stewart/Facebook)

Brendan Kirby is senior political reporter at LifeZette.com and a Yellowhammer contributor. He also is the author of “Wicked Mobile.” Follow him on Twitter.

1 month ago

Nancy Collat Goedecke is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact

Nancy Collat Goedecke is a powerhouse not just in the business world, but the philanthropic sphere, as well.

She also is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact.

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Goedecke, who serves as CEO of Mayer Electric Supply in Birmingham, became the first-ever woman to chair the United Way of Central Alabama fundraising campaign in 2015. Under her leadership, the charity raised $38.8 million, about $600,000 more than the previous year.

Business and philanthropy both run in the family. Her grandfather, Ben Weil, founded Mayer Electric Supply in 1930, and her parents took over the business in 1979. Their philanthropy includes $25 million in contributions to the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Business, which took on the name Collat School of Business in 2013.

“I grew up watching my mom and dad give back to the community — first with their time, and then with their money and their time,” Goedecke told AL.com in 2015.

Goedecke told the website that she recalled her parents going door to door soliciting donations for the United Way. Community service, she said, is “just in my DNA.”

Goedecke worked her way up the company, starting with summer jobs in high school. After college, she worked as a sales associate in Tampa, Florida, before returning to Birmingham. She became vice chairwoman of the board in 2005 and chairwoman and CEO three years later.

The UAB Commission on the Status of Women honored Goedecke as one of seven Outstanding Women for 2015.

The list of Goedecke’s charitable activities is long. In addition to the United Way, she has supported the Collat School of Business and has contributed to the school’s Women and Infants Center. She has volunteered with the Girl Scouts of North-Central Alabama and Pathways of Birmingham. She has led more than a dozen fundraising campaigns, including the YWCA, the American Red Cross and Collat Jewish Family Services.

“You know how they say, you give a busy person something to do and they find a way to do it?” she told AL.com. “I don’t waste a lot of time.”

Brendan Kirby is senior political reporter at LifeZette.com and a Yellowhammer contributor. He also is the author of “Wicked Mobile.” Follow him on Twitter.

1 month ago

Alabama State Legislature update: School budget, school guns — and daylight saving time

(State of Alabama)

The Alabama Legislature on Thursday completed a monumental day of legislating that including debates over the education budget, raising teacher pay, adding new protections for children at unlicensed day care centers and reforming juvenile justice.

As significant as those developments were, however, it is likely that the legislative action that will generate the most discussion at barstools and kitchen tables across the state was the Senate’s passage of a resolution urging Alabama to stay on daylight saving time year-round.

Here is a closer look at the day’s biggest action in Montgomery.

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The big story: The state Senate gave final approval to a $6.6 billion education budget for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1 and voted to boost salaries for teachers and support personnel by 2.5 percent.

The budget would spend the most money on education than 2008 when revenues peaked before the economic collapse that forced a decade-long nosedive in tax revenue.

“Nothing is more important than ensuring a quality education for every student in Alabama, and this education budget is a statement of strong support for our teachers and schools,” Finance and Taxation Education Committee Chairman Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) said in a statement. “This is also a sustainable budget that protects taxpayers”

Overly optimistic revenue forecasts caused painful midyear education budget buts six times in a span from 2001 to 2011. Orr noted that the state has not experienced proration since the Republican majority came to power in 2011.

Alabama’s nationally recognized pre-kindergarten program would get an $18.5 million boost over the current year. Orr pointed to a study by the University of Alabama at Birmingham indicating that students who participated in the pre-K program — known as First Class — outperformed other students on math and reading assessments.

The National Institute for Early Education Research has named the program the nation’s best for 11 consecutive years. But it currently is available in just 941 classrooms statewide. That would increase by 120 next year under the legislation.

“This fiscally responsible budget is another step in the right direction as we were able to include a pay raise for teachers, increased funds for school security, and additional money for
classroom supplies,” Senate Pro Tempore Del Marsh (R-Anniston) said in a statement.

The pay raise would cost $102 million. The budget also would fund a new robotics program for middle and high school students, offers $500,000 for mental health counselors and increases funding for textbooks by $11 million.

“This budget is an investment in the future of Alabama,” Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper) said in a statement. “Conservatives in the legislature are strongly committed to fighting for Alabama’s students and teachers, and improving our schools to ensure that every student in every county in Alabama has access to a quality education,”

The House of Representatives now must pass the Senate’s budget or negotiate changes that would have to pass both chambers before heading to Gov. Kay Ivey for her signature.

Day care rules: In one of the most closely watched bills of the session, the Senate passed legislation on a 23-4 vote to impose new regulations on church-run day care centers.

The bill, the Child Care Safety Act, already has passed the House.

The bill would strengthen regulations for child care facilities that currently are exempt. It also requires health and fire inspections, requires insurance for faith-based programs and mandate criminal background checks for employees.

The bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Pebblin Warren (D-Tuskegee), told the Montgomery Advertiser that she was elated.

“I can’t even explain how I feel right now,” she told the paper. “I feel the blood running through my veins right now. I’m so happy. This is the day the Lord has made.”

VOICES for Alabama’s Children praised lawmakers for taking action but complained the bill did not go far enough.

“While the bill provides additional protections to some programs, we continue to reiterate our position — as we have clearly and repeatedly stated throughout this debate — that every child care facility should be licensed in the state of Alabama,” the group’s executive direction, Melanie Bridgeforth, said in a statement.

Bridgeforth added: “Collective efforts of advocates from around the state got us to this point and it will take those same voices and force to get us completely over the finish line with policy that requires all facilities to be licensed.”

More daylight at night? The Senate adopted a resolution urging President Donald Trump and the Department of Transportation to put Alabama on daylight saving time permanently.

Alabama also will send the resolution to other state legislatures asking them to join the effort.

Sen. Rusty Glover (R-Semmes) argued that making the switch would have clear benefits.

“This is something that Alabamians overwhelmingly want, and the research is clear: Daylight saving time is an unnecessary vestige of a bygone era that has become a burden on our citizens,” he said in a statement. “I want to thank my fellow legislators for joining me in this resolution, and I urge lawmakers around the country to do the same.”

Making the change would require congressional action, however, since a 1966 law prohibits states from saying on daylight saving time all year long.

It has its roots in an energy-conservation effort during World War I.

Armed teachers? The House Security Committee narrowly advanced a proposal to let teachers carry guns in school if they complete police-sponsored training.

To qualify, a teacher or school administrator would have complete a 40-hour training course that would comprise firearms safety, crisis management and active shooter training. Participants would have to complete a firearms test each year.

The school’s principal, superintendent and the local sheriff or police chief also would have to sign off.

“It’s also going to allow the superintendent, working with the principal as well as the local law enforcement agent, chief of police or the sheriff in that community, to actually decide who would carry,” the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Will Ainsworth (R-Guntersville) said, according to AL.com. “It’s still voluntary, strictly permissive.”

The 5-4 vote included dissents from three Democrats and Republican Harry Shiver, of Stockton.

Shiver, a former schoolteacher, said he opposed the bill because teachers with guns would be at risk of getting shot by police responding to a school shooting. He also said he worried because most teachers are women.

“I taught for 32 years and it’s mostly ladies that’s teaching, and they’ve got more things to worry about than carrying a gun,” he said.

Keeping youth out of prison: The Alabama House of Representatives voted 69-20 for legislation that would keep low-level juvenile offenders out of detention, according to the Associated Press.

Sponsored by Rep. Jim Hill (R-Moody), the bill would limit the offenses that could trigger detention. Other offenders would be directed to alternatives, like home detention.

According to the AP, two-thirds of children in detention in 2016 had not committed a felony. The bill would spend $35 million saved from detention costs to beef up community intervention programs.

“There is no doubt in my mind that placing children in out-of-home facilities should be your very last option,” said Hill, a former juvenile court judge. “The only way it can be the last option is if you locally have another one.”

Rep. Elaine Beech (D-Chatom), said the legislation is an “unfunded mandate” and would overburden juvenile probation officers in her rural district who are already stretched.

Tweet of the day:

Brendan Kirby is senior political reporter at LifeZette.com and a Yellowhammer contributor. He also is the author of “Wicked Mobile.” Follow him on Twitter.

1 month ago

Alabama State Legislature update — guns, school safety and racial profiling dominate

(State of Alabama)

Guns — and school safety — took center stage in Montgomery Wednesday on a day when a shooting coincidentally took place at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital Highlands.

A legislative committee also voted in favor of a bill aimed at chipping away at racial profiling by police.

Here is a summary of the big developments in the state capital:

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The big story: A proposal to let teachers carry guns in schools drew strong reactions pro and con at a public hearing in the Legislature, according to the Associated Press.

The proposal, by state Rep. Will Ainsworth (R-Guntersville), is one of many offered by lawmakers in the wake of a Valentine’s Day mass shooting that killed 17 people at a high school in south Florida — and the first to go before an Alabama legislative committee.

The bill would allow teachers and administrators to carry handguns on school property as long as they complete police training.

“What happens when a gunman gets in our schools?” Ainsworth said during the hearing at the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee. “Deadly force is what needs to be there.”

But the bill drew opposition from the Alabama Association of School Boards and educators. Limestone County Superintendent Tom Sisk, who also is a firearms instructor, told the committee that even law enforcement officers sometimes miss what they are aiming for and that teachers in an emergency situation would be even more prone to missing.

Elizabeth White, a teacher and volunteer with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said: “The majority of Alabama teachers do not want to be armed. They just want to teach.”

School safety contest: Concern over school violence may explain why a record number of schools entered an annual school safety awards contest first started 16 years ago, according to AL.com.

The website reports that 47 schools applied. That was about double last year’s total. A panel of 16 law enforcement officials at the state Attorney General’s Office judged the entries on Wednesday.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if that occurs next year,” Attorney General Steve Marshall told the website. “We want to be able to advance best practices around the state. This highlights the really good things in what schools are doing in physical planning and training and we’ll take that statewide to replicate what they are doing really well.”

Marshall told AL.com that his office would present trophies to the winning schools.

“What we are doing is bringing attention to the school systems, education personnel and law enforcement what schools are doing the best of the best,” he said. “We hope that by highlighting what they are doing, that we are able to identify those programs that transcend schools and school systems.”

Winning entries will be announced next week.

Racial profiling: A proposal to ban racial profiling unanimously passed out of a House committee, according to the Montgomery Advertiser.

Sponsored by Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham), the proposal would prohibit police from stopping drivers based on their race or ethnicity and would require law enforcement agencies to collect data on traffic stops. It also would require law enforcement agencies to report information on injuries to officers on the job.

After the voice vote in the House Judiciary, the measure advances to the full House. The Senate approved it in January.

“If the bill becomes law, I think it’s going to curtail it tremendously,” Smitherman told the paper after the vote. “And it will eliminate it eventually. It’s going to isolate the 1 percent or 2 percent that’s actually doing that, and allow the light to shine on all the outstanding officers who are doing a great job.”

Smitherman, who is black, recounted five times he says he was racially profiled — all without getting charged or ticketed.

“I don’t know what he was thinking, maybe ‘What’s a black guy doing out here with a Lexus hardtop convertible?’” he said.

State Rep. David Faulkner (R-Mountain Brook) questioned whether the increased paperwork the bill would impose on police would be an undo burden.

“The task we’re going to impose on them, the questions about the AG’s office, those are my issues,” he said.

Tweet of the day:

Brendan Kirby is senior political reporter at LifeZette.com and a Yellowhammer contributor. He also is the author of “Wicked Mobile.” Follow him on Twitter.

 

1 month ago

Terry Lathan is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact

In three years as chairwoman of the Alabama Republican Party, Terry Lathan has presided over a party that dominates state politics.

Under her supervision in 2016, the party delivered a landslide victory for President Donald Trump in the Heart of Dixie.

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The electoral success, however, masks the fact that Lathan’s tenure has been challenging. She has had to deal with scandals not of her own making that touched all three branches of state government and decide how to navigate various allegations of disloyalty against GOP primary candidates.

And, of course, she watched as Democrat Doug Jones (D-Mountain Brook) became the first Democrat in a generation to win a U.S. Senate seat.

Lathan seemed clear-eyed about the difficulties — and potential rewards — when she launched her bid to lead the party in 2014.

“I look forward to this challenge and am excited about the opportunity to assist you and Republican voters as a servant of conservative causes,” she wrote in a letter to party faithful at the time.

Few party leaders have been better-prepared than Lathan, a 2018 Yellohammer Woman of Impact. Forming one half of a Republican power couple, along with Mobile County contractor and longtime GOP activist Jerry Lathan, Terry Lathan has spent decades toiling in the trenches.

Before her election as chairwoman, she had spent a quarter century on the Alabama Republican Executive Committee. She also led the Mobile County Republican Party and served in eight different leadership positions.

A veteran of seven Republican National Conventions, Lathan received the Mobile County Republican Party Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008 and shared the 2004 Alabama Republican of the Year award with her husband.

Much of Lathan’s time has been spent trying to put out fires. In January 2016, she guided the party’s executive committee to pass a resolution calling on House Speaker Mike Hubbard — then under indictment on corruption charges — to step down from his leadership role. Lathan said in a news release at the time that the Legislature needed “full time focused attention on the people’s business.”

Fifteen months later, the state party called on then-Gov. Robert Bentley to resign amid allegations that he abused his office by hiding an affair with an adviser.

But Lathan and the Executive Committee stuck with Senate nominee Roy Moore last year after allegations that he had inappropriate contact with young girls in the 1970s when he was a prosecutor in Etowah County.

The party under Lathan also has taken actions against candidates accused of disloyalty, barring some from the GOP primary ballots and allow others to run under the party’s banner.

Despite the challenges, though, the party has had much to crow about under Lathan’s leadership. With 60 percent of all partisan offices in the state, the Republican Party is at its highest standing in history in Alabama.

Meanwhile, the party attracted more than 867,000 votes in the GOP presidential primary in 2016. That was up 35 percent from the 2012 primary.

“Our state saw a large number of new registered voters participate for the first time in our election,” Lathan said at the time. “There is no doubt that the opportunity to take back our country from Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton’s liberal agenda has the full attention of our citizens.”

Lathan will be among 20 Alabama women, including Gov. Kay Ivey, honored in a March 29 awards event in Birmingham that will benefit Big Oak Ranch. Event details and registration may be found here.

Updated at 5:18 p.m. to correct an error in when Lathan’s tenure as party chairwoman began.

Brendan Kirby is senior political reporter at LifeZette.com and a Yellowhammer contributor. He also is the author of “Wicked Mobile.” Follow him on Twitter.