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.

12 months ago

Battle Lines Are Drawn in Alabama’s U.S. Senate Race

A fierce battle erupted this week in Alabama’s U.S. Senate race and the cannon fire is echoing nationwide.

On one side is the U.S. Senate Republican’s campaign arm, the NRSC, and its close ally, Super PAC Senate Leadership Fund, both working to keep Luther Strange in the U.S. Senate. On the other side is the Republican President Pro Tem of the Alabama Senate, Del Marsh, who’s contemplating a run against Strange this summer.

A quick background: this winter, when Jeff Sessions left the U.S. Senate to become the country’s Attorney General, former Governor Robert Bentley appointed Strange to fill the vacant seat. Before long, Bentley resigned and Governor Kay Ivey set a special election for the seat on August 17. When other Republicans, like Marsh, said they might run against Strange, lines were quickly drawn in the sand.

The first shot across the bow was from the NRSC, who made it clear that any campaign consultant who works for anyone but Strange will be blackballed.

Marsh traveled to D.C. this week to have a face-to-face with the NRSC in hopes of changing their mind. As he told the Montgomery Advertiser: “All I would ask is that they let Alabama choose its senator…They said ‘Well, we protect our incumbents.’ I said ‘Well, I don’t consider Gov. Bentley’s hand-chosen senator to be the incumbent. I think the people will choose that in an election cycle.”

Clearly, the NRSC didn’t change its mind, and this whole debate is about whether or not Strange’s appointment to the Senate entitles him to be treated as the incumbent.

The facts are, Strange is the sitting U.S. Senator who was appointed by the Governor, as the law prescribes. Strange was also Alabama’s Attorney General at the time of his appointment and he was investigating the Governor who appointed him. Moreover, about three months before his appointment, Strange asked the House Judiciary Committee to suspend its impeachment investigation of Bentley. Strange said the reason for this request was so the House investigation wouldn’t compromise his own investigation. In a letter to the House Committee handling the impeachment he wrote, “I respectfully request that the Committee cease active interviews and investigation until I am able to report to you that the necessary related work of my office has been completed.” For this reason, Strange dismisses any connection between the investigation and the appointment.

Although Marsh wasn’t investigating the Governor considering the appointment, the NRSC says it doesn’t matter: his claims that Strange shouldn’t be treated as the incumbent aren’t valid. They point out that Marsh was also close to Bentley and if Marsh had gotten the appointment, he’d want to be viewed as the incumbent too. As Senate Leadership Fund (SLF) spokesman Chris Pack put it, “A lot of people in glass houses are throwing stones in Alabama, and they will quickly realize that this won’t be going unanswered.”

Giving teeth to his warning, the Senate Leadership Fund has asked Governor Ivey for a record of all correspondence between Marsh and Bentley. Clearly, if Marsh plans to use Bentley against Strange, the D.C. PACs will likewise attempt to use Bentley against Marsh, and their opposition research is underway.

“This request is for records and information relating to correspondence, records of meetings… telephone calls…and any other records and information relating to communications between Alabama Governor Robert Bentley and Senator Del Marsh,” SLF lawyer Steve Saxe, stated in his request to Ivey.

Making this issue even more interesting is the fact that Marsh hasn’t even declared his candidacy to run against Strange. Other Republicans who have announced include State Representative Ed Henry and former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Roy Moore. However, Marsh is an influential figure backed by considerable business-community wealth, so it’s apparent that Strange’s campaign perceives Marsh as their biggest threat.

As Republican strategist Austin Barbour told Politico: “Look, Del Marsh is a serious human being. He’s accomplished a lot of things. I’m sure there are a lot of people in the business community as well as Washington who are making decisions between Luther Strange and Del Marsh.”

Clearly, Marsh’s influence back home hasn’t given pause to the NRSC or the Senate Leadership Fund. As NRSC’s communications director Katie Martin said: “We have made it very clear from the beginning that Sen. Luther Strange would be treated as an incumbent.”

On that point, there is no longer any doubt. As Marsh said, “I’ve been told pretty straightforward that a lot of money will be spent by Washington to ensure Luther Strange stays as Gov. Bentley’s picked senator.”

In three and a half months, this war will be over when the voters get their chance to speak. In the meantime, bullets will fly in a race that will take untold millions to win, and this week’s cannon fire is an early skirmish that will pale in comparison to the fever-pitch battles the long, hot summer is likely to bring.

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12 months ago

BREAKING NEWS: Alabama Congressman Gary Palmer Plays Key Role in Passing New Healthcare Reform in the U.S. House

Representative Gary Palmer (R-AL6)
Representative Gary Palmer (R-AL6)

House Republicans demonstrated the value of patience and persistence today, approving a bill that goes far in ridding the nation of Obamacare.

Today’s measure passed the House by the close vote of 217-213, moving the bill to the U.S. Senate for debate, and Alabama’s Republican Congressman Gary Palmer praised the achievement:

“Today the House of Representatives took the first step toward repealing and replacing the misnamed Affordable Care Act and restoring access to affordable healthcare for all Americans,” said Palmer.

Thanks in large part to an amendment he authored, Rep. Palmer went on to reassure Alabamians that one of the few redeeming components of Obamacare—coverage of preexisting conditions—will remain in place.

“The amendment I authored…will drive down the cost of health insurance premiums and helps ensure that those with preexisting conditions have affordable coverage,” Palmer added.

Another critical component of the bill is closing the spigot from which Planned Parenthood receives federal tax dollars for abortions. “There is a little-known provision in the bill which defunds Planned Parenthood for one year and will protect this lives of the unborn,” Rep. Palmer noted.

The House bill also includes provisions that will:

• Stop the tax penalties on Americans who choose not to purchase “Affordable Care Act” insurance
• Eliminate Obama’s subsidies that supposedly helped people purchase policies, converting them instead to tax credits that rise with age of the person purchasing
• Allow individual states to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients as a condition for receiving coverage

Representative Palmer provided further insight into the bill, assuring the citizens of Alabama that its purpose is sensible reform, not a move to deny health coverage to those who need it most:

“Although states are provided the option to seek waivers from certain federal mandates, they must certify that such waivers are for the purpose of expanding coverage or reducing the cost of healthcare. There is no underlying intention to exclude people from coverage, including those who have been previously sick, and it is important to note that this bill will not exclude people from coverage.

Concluding that this only the beginning of healthcare reform, Palmer concluded:

“This bill is not the end of our efforts to dismantle Obamacare and repair the damage done to our healthcare system. It is the first major step forward.”

The White House agreed. “This has really brought the Republican Party together,” President Trump said, while Vice President Pence added, “Welcome to the beginning of the end of Obamacare.”

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12 months ago

Alabama House Republicans Making a Special Effort to Protect Active Duty Military and Veterans

U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael Blackwood, of Cleveland, AL, in Basra, Iraq March 23, 2010. With the Army National Guard from Athens, AL.
U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael Blackwood, of Cleveland, AL, in Basra, Iraq March 23, 2010. With the Army National Guard from Athens, AL.

The Alabama House of Representatives is making a special effort today to give Alabama’s military veterans, active troops, National Guardsmen, and reservists the honor, lawful protection, and appreciation they deserve.

Today, the House Republican Caucus on Thursday has loaded its agenda with bills that will help those who’ve given their lives to helping us.

“Alabama has a long and storied military tradition, and all of the men and women who have ever worn uniforms in defense of our state and nation deserve our respect, our thanks, and our support,”

These bills include the following strong lineup of legislation to protect our military and veterans:

Measures by Representative Barry Moore (R – Enterprise) include:

• Promoting jobs for veterans by allowing the use of Alabama’s “industrial access funds” on military property
• Requiring the Alabama Department of Human Resources to report suspected cases of child abuse to the U.S. Department of Defense Family Advocacy Program if an involved parent is in the military

Measures carried by Rep. Dickie Drake (R – Leeds) include:

• Creating an Alabama Job Creation and Military Stability Commission, for the purpose of maintaining a strong military presence in Alabama
Securing re-employment rights of all deployed National Guard members living or simply working in Alabama
• Guaranteeing military and Department of Homeland Security recruiters have the right to go to Alabama’s public schools to recruit students into their services
• Ensuring Alabama’s Code of Military Justice fully conforms to the parallel federal law—the Uniform Code of Military Justice used on the federal level

As House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R – Rainsville) said, “By proposing and adopting a calendar dedicated to the needs of soldiers, veterans, and the families that support them, we can show our deep appreciation for the sacrifices they make, the risks they take, and the service they render to grateful Alabama citizens.”



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12 months ago

Alabama IT Expert’s Tips on Safe Browsing in Wake of New Privacy Laws

(Yellowhammer)

Near the end of President Obama’s term last October, his Federal Communications Commission instituted controversial new policies that tightened some internet privacy laws. These regulations hadn’t yet taken effect, so the Republican-controlled Congress recently struck them down, and President Trump signed this measure into law.

Internet service providers (ISPs) often sell data like browsing and online purchasing history for advertising purposes. The FCC polices this new law killed would’ve forced the ISPs to let their customers know what information is being collected, how it’s being used, and on some cases, obtain customers’ permission before using their data at all.

While everyone values privacy, many Republicans objected to these new rules for a variety of reasons. First, they placed much stronger restrictions on ISPs than on companies like Facebook and Google. As Phil Kerpen, president of American Commitment told Breitbart, “It’s insane that Google and Facebook have a near duopoly in the advertising game and they have less stringent rules in terms of what they can do with your private information.” In other words, Kerpen makes the point that the new rules Obama instituted stacked the deck for Google and Facebook. Kerpen went on to say, “This whole fight against the ISPs is a sideshow, by far the biggest threat to consumer privacy is Google that has trackers on over 60 percent of all websites. Google owns YouTube, and they have trackers everywhere, and they’ve shifted the focus of the debate to issues that don’t regulate Google.”

Another objection to the rules was that while there’s no doubt ISP’s collect and sell consumer data, the data is out there anyway. We live in a world where accounts must be created on virtually any website we engage, so in that way alone, we’re granting permission for our data to be peddled. What’s more, even some so-called privacy companies now offer free accounts and turn around and sell the data they collect. The bottom line is, everyone has a digital footprint, and if you have a mobile phone and a computer, your information is “out there.”

Nevertheless, everyone wants to protect their privacy as much as they can, and while there’s no way to be completely secure, Wes Thompson, CEO of tep.io from Birmingham, Alabama says there are steps consumers can take steps that help.

• Use two-factor authentication (2FA) to secure online accounts
• Use a virtual private network (VPN) to surf the web especially on public wifi networks. I recommend Cloak, which also works for your smartphone.
• Use a password manager that will generate strong passwords and keep them for you. I recommend Dashlane.
• Do not fill out all of your information on social media platforms.
• Password protect your computer and all smartphone / tablet devices
• Use false answers when setting up security questions
• Contact your ISP and tell them you want to opt out of ad-targeting programs
• Opt Out of Google Ads
• Turn on the private browsing feature when surfing the web on your computer and your smartphone / tablet
Clear or reset the ad ID on your smartphone
Turn off location-based ads on your iPhone
• Turn off all location services on your smartphone until you need them, then turn them off again when you don’t.

Happy and safe browsing to everyone!

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12 months ago

Yellowhammers Exclusive Interview with Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Lyn Stuart

In her seventeenth year on the Alabama Supreme Court, Justice Lyn Stuart was recently appointed Chief Justice by Governor Kay Ivey. Chief Justice Stuart was kind enough to visit with Yellowhammer for an exclusive interview to provide our readers some insights on the lady who holds the highest position in the Alabama Supreme Court. Below is that interview:

What was your childhood like in Atmore?
It was quite idyllic. Like most children in those days, we spent much of our time outdoors, actively playing when we weren’t in school. Because I grew up in such a small town, we knew our neighbors and it was safe for children to be out and about. We often rode our bikes to a small country store a quarter mile or so from our home and I have a great appreciation for the simple and tranquil Alabama upbringing I enjoyed.

When you were a little girl, did you ever imagine that one day you’d be Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court?
Absolutely not. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined I’d have the honor of serving my fellow Alabamians in this role.

As a student, what attracted you to the law?
It began with my interest in the juvenile justice system when I was still in high school. I really wanted to be a juvenile probation officer but those positions were rarely open, so at Auburn, I took the LSATs without much forethought. Thankfully, because my test scores were high, I received a scholarship offer from the University of Alabama Law School and was also accepted into Samford’s Cumberland School of Law. However, I didn’t enroll right away. I accepted an internship in Washington with former Congressman Jack Edwards. He was a great encouragement and really inspired my career. He also allowed me to audit a class at Georgetown Law School—a legal research and writing class. That proved to be really helpful when I eventually enrolled in law school at Alabama because I’d already mastered this discipline of legal research and writing. I was so impressed with that class that I considered staying in D.C. and going to Georgetown, but Congressman Edwards took me to lunch one day and encouraged me to come home to Alabama, which was definitely the right decision. Not only did I love my three years of law school in Tuscaloosa, Congressman Edwards told me there would be classmates I’d interact with throughout my career, and that proved to be some of the wisest advice I’d ever received.

Who are some of those people?
Honestly, they’re too numerous to name, but a few that come to mind are Harold Stephens, Bradley Byrne (my Congressman), John Tyson, Sam Crosby, and so many others. It’s a community of professional colleagues for whom I’m very grateful.

What’s one piece of advice would you give to students considering the law or already in law school?
It’s a great career, but if you don’t know exactly what you want to do, above all else do internships and shadow someone. My jobs in law offices and my internship in Washington went far in shaping my career, so by all means, young students should get the work experience they need to refine their interests, which will also make the classroom experiences more meaningful.

Who’s had the biggest influence on your career?
Once again, they’re too numerous to name, but in addition to Congressman Edwards, one that comes to mind is the late Judge Robert Key. He was a circuit judge in Monroe and Conecuh Counties, and a friend of my father’s, so I’d known him from childhood. I took a job as a runner in a small law firm in Monroeville, and that afforded me the opportunity to listen to trials, to see how law offices operate and have a front-row seat to the world that would eventually become my profession. So Judge Key was not only a trusted family friend but a person of tremendous influence in my life.

As a judge in the Juvenile Justice system in Alabama, what’s the most inspiring story you recall?
Once I was in Walmart near my home not long after 9/11 when I was approached by a gentleman I didn’t recognize. He said something like, “Ma’am, I know you don’t remember me but my son was in your court some years ago, and you were kind and fair with him. Today, that same young man is building those bombs that are being dropped on the terrorists that attacked our country, and I just want to thank you for what you did for my child. It helped him become the man he is today.” To say that hearing this redemptive story was a powerful and moving moment in my life is a huge understatement.

What’s been the most rewarding thing about your service on the Alabama Supreme Court?
Each of the Justices has areas of expertise. That’s what makes our Supreme Court function so well. When I first came on the Court, I was the only person with a background in juvenile and family law. People are always surprised at the number of those cases we have but I think my background in that field, and in criminal law in general, has allowed to me add real value to the court. Also, because I was a trial judge for 12 years before serving on the high court, I think it gives me a perspective that’s helpful for the cases we consider. My time as a trial judge taught me that judges must be patient with people—with attorneys and parties. We have to patiently and carefully consider what everyone has to say, no matter who they are or why they’re there, and I think that perspective has also served me well on the Supreme Court.

In a world full of judicial activism, how would you describe the Alabama Supreme Court’s role?
Quite simply, we decide every single case based solely on the facts and the laws that apply to those facts. In other words, our job is to interpret the law and to affirm and uphold what it says. It’s not our job to make the law. For that reason, we leave political considerations aside and do only what wise judges should do, discern what the law says about each case that comes before us.

In closing, tell me about your two grandchildren:
My husband and I are blessed to have two wonderful grandchildren. Our granddaughter Sophie starts kindergarten next fall and our grandson Thomas is two. Every moment spent with them is time well spent!

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12 months ago

“Strange for Senate” Explains Campaign Finance Questions

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange (Photo: Facebook)

This week in Montgomery, questions emerged regarding the “Strange for Senate” campaign’s compliance with Alabama’s state campaign laws.

The issue in question was one of funds that were moved from Luther Strange’s U.S. Senate campaign account to his Alabama Attorney General campaign account. Specifically, transfers between campaigns can’t exceed $1,000 and the two transactions in question totaled $1,418.27, fueling the questions about whether or not Alabama’s campaign law was broken.

Upon hearing these rumblings, Yellowhammer contacted the Senator’s campaign office. They connected us with Megan Newton and Ben Ginsberg, lawyers from Jones Day that are tasked with ensuring the Senator’s compliance with Federal Elections Commission laws. Mrs. Newton explained that the actions in question were actually steps the Senator took to comply with federal campaign laws.

As she pointed out, Senator Strange’s U.S. Senate campaign purchased two domain names from his state Attorney General’s campaign. Federal law requires that such purchases be recorded, and that’s what occurred. In other words, it wasn’t a transfer of contributions between campaigns, it was an accounting entry for a transaction, which the federal law requires.

Yellowhammer also contacted Alabama’s Secretary of State, John Merrill, who provided us with the following statement:

The Alabama Secretary of State’s Office is the agency tasked with receipt and collection of all campaign finance filings from state, county, and certain local officials. Once these reports are collected, Secretary of State staff review the reports for errors, issues, or concerns. When issues are identified, a request for a formal review is forwarded to the Alabama Ethics Commission or the Alabama Attorney General’s Office.

At the completion of the review performed by our team, potential concerns with Senator Strange’s filing were identified. As is our normal practice, it was reported to the appropriate agency. This referral does not attempt to assign, insinuate, or indicate guilt nor act as an indictment of Senator Strange’s actions regarding the filing of his report.

Senator Strange and his team believe Federal law preempts contributions to his Alabama Principal Campaign Committee for Attorney General. With that said, in the Secretary of State’s Office, we have a responsibility to follow the law and will continue to address issues and forward items of concern as they are identified.

Our office will refer any future questions regarding this issue to the Alabama Ethics Commission as the body tasked by the Alabama Legislature to rule on these matters.

While the response from the Ethics Commission is unknown at this time, Mr. Ginsberg further explained that federal law supersedes state law and the transaction took place to keep the Senate campaign in compliance with federal law.

As he stated: “It is legally incorrect for anyone to suggest that a violation of law has occurred here. Senator Strange’s campaign closely followed federal law by purchasing two web domains at fair market value from his state campaign committee.  This was an asset purchase, not a contribution.  In fact, not only was this purchase legal, it was required under federal law to avoid his Senate campaign receiving a prohibited contribution from a non-federal source.  Federal law preempts state law for all matters involving campaign contributions and expenditures.” 

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12 months ago

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle Announces His Candidacy for Governor

Photo courtesy of HuntsvilleNewsWire.com
Photo courtesy of HuntsvilleNewsWire.com

In an exclusive interview with Yellowhammer, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle has just declared his run for governor in 2018. The conservative Republican will participate in the Republican primary, relying on his successful experiences as mayor and as a small-business owner.

His previous successes did not occur by accident. Mayor Battle started working in his father’s Birmingham restaurant when he was only 14. Tommy Sr. operated a Britling’s Cafeteria, and his leadership had a tremendous influence on shaping his son’s work ethic and character. “My hero,” Mayor Battle calls his dad. “He’s somebody who taught you if you talk the talk, you better walk the walk.”

When talking about the reasons he’s decided to run for governor, Mayor Battle cites not only his own mayoral and business experiences but also the need to secure the state’s future by bringing a completely clean slate to Montgomery.

“For too long, the people of Alabama have seen our values come under attack. We’ve endured corruption instead of opportunity, scandal instead of education, and embarrassment instead of pride,” Battle said. “We’re not just in a battle for Alabama’s values, we’re in a battle for Alabama’s future. I’m running for governor because I’m ready to lead that fight.”

Mayor Battle is marked by his high-energy, enthusiastic approach, which has resulted in no shortage of impressive achievements that include:

• Bringing over 17,000 new jobs to North Alabama, including new locations for Remington Arms Company and Polaris

• Generating some $2.5 billion in economic investment for the city

• Earning Huntsville triple-A credit ratings for eight straight years

• Creating a “pay-as-you-go” solution for $500 million in road and infrastructure projects

• $250 million in new school facilities

• A book club program that’s provided over 80,000 books to elementary-aged students in Huntsville’s Title 1 schools

Mayor Battle also has a sense of urgency when it comes to helping Alabama thrive.
“Our state’s challenges are real, and they can’t wait,” said Battle. “Politicians talk; leaders get things done. It’s time we had a state government that talks less, listens to our people, and gets things done for them.”

Since 2014, Mayor Battle has regularly met with the mayors of Birmingham, Mobile, Montgomery, and Tuscaloosa. Citing jobs creation, economic development, education, infrastructure, and roads as his priorities, Battle stresses the importance of building meaningful coalitions like the one he enjoys with these mayors.

“When we work together, we can do great things for our entire state, and it’s time we make Alabama stronger for all of us.”

Mayor Battle, 61, has been married to his wife Eula for 28 years. Their son and daughter-in-law, Drew and Lauren, have one son, George. Mayor and Mrs. Battle are active members of Trinity United Methodist Church in Huntsville.

As a retired public school teacher, Eula has fostered Battle’s strong sense of commitment to education—for students and teachers. Mrs. Battle co-founded the Free 2 Teach program that provides nearly 4,000 Madison County teachers with free resources like classroom supplies.

Finally, Mayor Battle stressed the importance of being positive in his gubernatorial campaign.

“This campaign isn’t going to be against anyone,” said Battle. “It’s going to be for Alabama.”

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1 year ago

Alabama Senate Republican Leadership Doing Yeoman’s Work for Conservative Causes

As the former Governor’s scandal now fades into history, the Alabama Senate Republican Leadership made tremendous strides this week on its conservative agenda. In three short days, the Senate’s Presiding Officer, President Pro Tem Del Marsh, and Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed have created a strong headwind for conservative causes with the passage of eight major pieces of legislation.

Central to this effort were three pro-life measures that passed today, which the Alabama Senate Republican Caucus designated as Pro-Life Day:

• A constitutional amendment to declare Alabama a pro-life state. Should the measure be approved by voters at the ballot box, the state will be ready to pass strong protections of the unborn if Roe v. Wade is ever reversed by the United States Supreme Court.

• A ban on assisted suicide. As the Senate Republican Caucus’ press release noted: Senate Republicans are committed to the proposition that all persons are uniquely created by God and therefore worthy of equal respect. Recognizing that a so-called “right to die” can drift easily into a “duty to die,” Senate Republicans will uphold a culture of life in Alabama by voting to ban assisted suicide, reflecting the belief that the lives of the vulnerable are as equally valued as the lives of the young and healthy.

• A “right of conscience” bill that will protect health care providers when they refuse to perform a medical procedure that violates their religious convictions. For example, if a doctor refuses to perform an abortion because of his Christian beliefs, this bill will protect that doctor from legal repercussions for refusing to provide the service.

Reflecting on these landmark victories for the pro-life movement, Senator Reed had this to say:

“Today, the Senate took meaningful steps to protect unborn children and encourage a culture of life in Alabama. The great majority of people in Alabama are unashamedly pro-life and the Alabama Legislature is proud to lead the nation in protecting the weak and vulnerable in our society.”

The Senate’s Republican leadership didn’t stop with these pro-life initiatives, however. They passed five more conservative measures this week, as follows:

Protection of faith-based adoption agencies: The Senate passed a bill that will protect faith-based adoption agencies from being forced to place children in homes with LGBTQ parents.

• The senate approved the “Fair Justice Act” that will trim five to six years off of appeals for Alabama death row inmates, and also passed a bill that will make it possible to use different methods of humane execution.

Elimination of concealed carry permit: This bill will allow Alabamians to carry a concealed handgun without the requirement of a concealed-carry permit.

Abolishment of primary cross-voting: Current law allows voters to participate in one party’s primary election then switch to another party during a primary runoff election. Senator Tom Whatley’s Senate Bill 108 will stop this practice, ending the ability to vote for a weak opposition candidate to gain a more favorable challenger in the general election.

As he reflected on the week, Senator Reed was greatly encouraged by the progress of these substantive conservative measures.

“Republicans are committed to protecting Alabamians’ Second Amendment rights and religious liberties, as well as the right-to-life of the unborn,” Reed said. “We finally have a conservative president in the White House and the Legislature has an excellent relationship with our new Governor, Kay Ivey. So, we are moving forward with proposals that protect the personal liberties of all Alabamians.”

It’s important to note, while the Senate made tremendous strides this week, each of these measures must now go to the Alabama House of Representatives for consideration before being sent to Governor Ivey for her signature.

Stay tuned to Yellowhammer News for updates on these and other measures making their way through the Alabama legislature as this spring’s session draws to a close.

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1 year ago

A Profile in Courage: Rep. Ed Henry’s Stand for Justice Fighting Bentley’s Corruption

Representative Ed Henry was on spring break with his family a year ago when his phone began to light up with calls and texts from constituents. They’d heard the recording of Gov. Robert Bentley’s sexual overtures to his staffer Rebekah Mason and they’d had enough.

Like so many other Americans, they were fed up with the corruption in Washington, and no less fed up with ridiculous conduct in their own state capital.

Of course, I’d heard the rumors, Henry said, but when my constituents first begin to call me I hadn’t yet heard the audiotape. Like most, when I listened for the first time, I was disappointed and ashamed at what the Governor we trusted had done.

The people of Cullman, Marshall, and Morgan counties—the 9th District Henry represents—implored him to act on their behalf. They wanted him to do something to put an end to the nonsense.

As I began to dig into the story, I realized the affair was the tip of the iceberg. The Governor’s cover-up took it from a question of morality to a question of legality, and something had to be done. I knew it’d be hard, but the decision was an easy one because I’d made a promise to my district that I’d go to Montgomery and fight corruption. It was what I went down there to do. I had to keep my word to everyone back home.

Early on, representative Henry realized he’d have to harness the power of the media to succeed, but he also knew he had to set his own political career aside for that to work.

Two things result in action in Montgomery: fear and favor. I knew the only way I could affect change was to harness the power of media. What makes that difficult is that when you go to the media, most people assume you’re doing so to promote yourself. For this reason, in an earlier battle, I’d already given up my position as Vice Chair of the Caucus and promised not seek future leadership positions. Looking back today, I firmly believed if I’d been unwilling to make this promise to step away from leadership, we would’ve never had the credibility to be successful in the impeachment effort.

At his first press conference, Henry noted that Representatives Mike Ball, David Standridge, and Craig Ford “had the courage to stand with me at our original press conference, and to them, I’m forever grateful.”

Nevertheless, the path remained difficult. With rule changes requiring 21 signatures for impeachment proceedings to begin, there were days Henry believed his hope for justice was gone.

There were a number of legislators who supported me in private, but who were reluctant to take a public stand, he reflected, and this was discouraging. On one such day, when Henry thought the Bentley impeachment effort was a lost cause, Representative David Sessions from Mobile came up to me on the floor and said, Ed, we can’t let this die. We’ve got to make an effort to get the 21 signatures. I knew he was right and it reenergized me to persevere. That day, I started the process of having one-on-one conversations with 100 members of the House of Representatives. Many of them laughed, but we needed 21 signatures and got 23. That’s all we needed to proceed with impeachment efforts.

The resulting story of Robert Bentley’s resignation as Governor yesterday has had far too many twists and turns to cover in one article, but now that he’s gone, Henry is glad it’s resolved.

When asked how he felt, Henry replied: I have a definite sense of relief that it’s all behind us. It’s sad that we had to go down this path with Governor Bentley. It’s been a painful time and it hasn’t been easy for anyone. At the same time, I believe Governor Ivey’s transparency and character is exactly what we need to move forward.

The people of Alabama should be grateful for their neighbors in the 9th District and for Ed Henry, the legislator from Hartselle who kept a promise to fight corruption in Montgomery, no matter what the cost.

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1 year ago

Bentley’s Plea Deal Assures He’ll Vanish into Sunset

This afternoon, Alabama Governor Robert J. Bentley plead guilty to misdemeanor charges in exchange for immunity from more serious felony charges. The biggest storyline is that Bentley is forever forced from public life.

As a result of his plea bargain, Bentley resigned as Governor around 5:00 p.m. today and Lt. Governor Kay Ivey was sworn in as Alabama’s second ever female Governor, not long after 6:00 p.m. The former school teacher, banker, and State Treasurer vowed that her new administration will be “open…transparent… and honest.”

To back up a step, Bentley has been under scrutiny from three different entities since Yellowhammer released an audio file of his sexually charged telephone overtures to senior staffer Rebekah Mason a year ago. Since then, investigations by the Alabama Ethics Commission and the state Attorney General’s office were aimed at criminal charges, while the House Judiciary Committee was investigating him for impeachment. Today’s plea deal effectively erased all three investigations in exchange for Bentley promising to resign as Governor and never again return to public life.

Just last week, Bentley claimed he was being denied due process, and as recently as Friday he adamantly maintained his innocence. As he blundered forward, however, other prominent Republicans clearly understood the situation’s gravity. Senate Majority Leader Del Marsh and House Speaker Mac McCutcheon both asked him to step down last week, and the Alabama Republican Party Steering Committee soon followed suit.

Until today, however, the Governor refused to embrace the inevitable conclusion others reached much earlier—his Rebekah Mason cover-up efforts were so egregious, he’d left himself no path forward.

The first shoe dropped last Wednesday, April 3, when the Alabama Ethics Commission found probable cause that Bentley had violated state ethics laws and the Fair Campaign Practices Act. Three of these findings involved felonies, each punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The Ethics Commission referred the case to prosecutors.

The other shoe dropped last Friday, April 5, when Special Counsel Jack Sharman’s findings were released to the House Judiciary Committee. As we reported then, Sharman’s report copiously documented Rebekah Mason’s extraordinary influence on the Governor and how Bentley subsequently created an “atmosphere of intimidation” in his office and misused state resources to hide their affair.

By today, reports began to emerge that the 74-year old Bentley’s lawyers were engaged in negotiations with prosecutors. While some details of the resulting plea deal are yet to emerge, and no one knows if Rebekah Mason’s immunity is part of it, its big components are out:

The state dropped the felony charges against Bentley in exchange for his guilty plea of campaign finance infractions. For punishment of those lesser crimes, he’s agreed to give his $39,000 campaign fund to the state and repay about $9,000 more he took from that fund to pay Mason’s legal bills. He must also practice medicine for 100 hours as a pro bono community service and serve one year on probation.

To execute this plea bargain, the now former governor was processed into the Montgomery County jail this afternoon, fingerprinted, and his mug shot was snapped, before being released.

As quickly as the end came, the events that led to it were agonizingly slow. For this reason, everyone seems ready to move on from this regrettable chapter in Alabama’s history. As House Judiciary Committee member, Representative Paul Beckman, reflected:

It’s a sad day, but we’re also relieved. The rule of law prevailed in Alabama today…not as quickly as we liked, but it nonetheless prevailed. Now, we can return our focus to governing. We’re finally able to handle the state budget and the other pressing issues we need to address to move Alabama forward. As regrettable as all this has been, I think it will serve to renew our optimism, and I believe it will unify us as a state. I’m tremendously optimistic about Governor Kay Ivey. She’s honest and trustworthy and I have no doubt she’ll bring the positive change the Governor’s Office.

Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed shared similar thoughts:

The people of Alabama deserve and expect their political leaders to be men and women of integrity. The state can move forward now under the honorable and trustworthy leadership of Governor Kay Ivey, and I look forward to working with her administration. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh will now serve as the presiding officer over the Alabama Senate. Senator Marsh is a very capable public servant, and I will continue to work closely with him to advance an agenda that puts the people of Alabama first.

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1 year ago

The Overarching Influence of Rebekah Mason

Governor Robert Bentley and then-Senior Political Advisor Rebekah Mason (Photo: Screenshot)
Governor Robert Bentley and then-Senior Political Advisor Rebekah Mason (Photo: Screenshot)

Rebekah Caldwell Mason is a former local news anchor, who worked in a number of smaller markets across Alabama. Eventually, she left TV to raise her children. Her husband was a meteorologist. Like so many American families, in the summer of 2010, an article in GQ says the Mason’s experienced some financial difficulties, but a call to their church resulted in Rebekah being hired onto the communications team of Robert Bentley’s gubernatorial campaign.

After he was elected Governor, Bentley Rebekah Mason the job as his communications director, and appointed her husband to head up faith-based initiatives. Beginning February 2011, Rebekah was paid “approximately $98,000 per year, which was reduced after March 2012 to approximately $48,000 per year,” according to Special Counsel Jack Sharman’s report to the House Judiciary Committee, released April 7, 2017.

The report further notes that Mason served in that role July 2013, leaving to run communications for Bentley’s re-election campaign. It was apparently during this tenure that Mason’s influence moved from the periphery to the heart of the Bentley’s inner circle. As Sharman’s House Judiciary Committee findings say, “In July 2013, Mason left formal employment with the Office of the Governor to begin work on Governor Bentley’s re-election campaign although she was at the Capitol in Governor Bentley’s office on a regular basis, having maintained a parking space and keycard access.”

As a GQ article by Jason Zengerle reports, Mason thought the Governor was being ill-served by his other advisers. Despite high approval ratings, sources told Zengerle that Mason believed Bentley left too much on the table in his first term and she convinced him he needed to be more active in his second.

The notion of Mason gaining influence during the reelection campaign and at the outset of his second term is supported by Sharman’s House Judiciary Committee report, which reads:

It is clear from several Bentley affiliates we interviewed that plans were made in late 2014 for Mason to return to the Bentley Administration in the second term. In November or December 2014, Governor Bentley presented Blake Hardwich with a handwritten job description of roles and responsibilities for Mason. In the typed version, the job title is “Senior Political Advisor” with the assigned “mission” “to advise the Governor on a wide range of issues” and to “provide the Governor with the most effective options for decision-making.”

As the GQ article puts it:

“He didn’t have a voice,” one friend of Mason’s told me, “until she helped him find it.” Zengerle continues, “When she became his top political adviser, it was like the Hindenburg came down and fell on the Titanic as the Titanic hit the iceberg,” one person who was once close to Bentley told me. “I was watching a woman who didn’t know how a bill becomes a law running the state of Alabama.”

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1 year ago

Making Sense of the Tangled Web: Explaining the Impeachment Actions Against Governor Robert Bentley

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (Photo: Governor's Office, Daniel Sparkman)
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (Photo: Governor’s Office, Daniel Sparkman)

In the next few days, there will be a flood of media coverage concerning the impeachment of Alabama’s Governor, Robert Bentley.  Because many of the issues related to this matter are quite technical, the purpose of this article is to explain the big picture in the simplest possible terms.

First, it’s helpful to know that the Alabama Ethics Commission and the State Attorney General’s office are also investigating the Governor. However, those investigations have nothing to do with the Governor’s impeachment. Impeachment is an action taken only by the Alabama legislature.

With that in mind, it’s helpful to know what impeachment is and what it’s not, and in this case it is not a criminal proceeding.

Jack Sharman, Special Counsel to the House Judiciary Committee, released a report today that explains what impeachment does mean in this instance:

Impeachment is the people’s check against political excess.

As his report explained, impeaching the Governor is not the process of trying or convicting him of a crime. Rather, it’s a remedy to the citizens of Alabama to unseat a governor who proves unfit for office.

From there, it’s helpful to return to where this all started.

One year ago, Yellowhammer released an audio recording of the Governor “speaking proactively” with his chief advisor, Rebekah Mason. In other words, in a heartbreaking phone call, he made highly inappropriate, sexually charged comments to a married woman nearly half his age, who happened to be one of his top aides.

Shortly thereafter, on April 28, 2016, the Alabama House of Representatives proposed impeachment proceedings against Governor Bentley based on two questions:

    1) His “Willful Neglect of Duty” i.e. did he fail to faithfully execute the laws of Alabama
    2) His “Corruption in Office” i.e. did he misuse state property and break other laws “to promote his own personal agenda”

 
To start the impeachment process, the House Judiciary Committee appointed a highly qualified “Special Counsel” to conduct a thorough investigation into the Governor’s actions. As noted above, that person is Mr. Jack Sharman, a prominent Birmingham attorney with tremendous depth in this area of the law. Mr. Sharman recently concluded his investigation and documented his findings in the aforementioned report: “The Impeachment Investigation of Governor Robert Bentley—Pre-Hearing Submission of the Special Counsel.” This report was released this afternoon.

So what’s next? The House Judiciary Committee will now consider the findings in Mr. Sharman’s report and decide if they warrant further action. If they decide to move forward (which most suppose they will), there will be one vote to determine if the full House should consider impeachment. If that measure passes, the entire House of Representatives will vote on the actual impeachment of Governor Bentley. If a simple majority of House members vote yes in that second vote, the Governor must temporarily step down while the Alabama Senate takes up the matter. In the Senate, it’s presumed a two-thirds vote is required to impeach the Governor. Should that happen, he’ll be permanently removed from office.

Related: Bentley impeachment report released

It’s worth mentioning here that no constitutional officer in Alabama has faced impeachment since 1915 when Secretary of State John Purifoy was accused of bribing his opponent to quit the election. Even then, however, the House voted to leave him in office. The point is, the House of Representatives, as the people’s chamber, has a high calling (and a constitutional one) to protect those who elected them from “political excess” but they only do so after careful consideration. That careful consideration commenced with Mr. Sharman’s investigation and today’s report.

In other words, the process is just getting started, and it’s a historical one, so we ask that you stay tuned to Yellowhammer as we cover that process each step of the way.

At the same time, we ask that you understand that while it’s our job to do so, it’s not one in which we take pleasure. These proceedings are the result of a tragedy that victimized a faithful wife of fifty years, loving children, and innocent grandchildren in the Bentley family. Likewise, Mrs. Mason is a wife and a mother. Each of these people must deal with the fallout from these heartbreaking actions.

As House Judiciary Committee Member Paul Beckman also pointed out, there are other victims as well. In addition to the citizens of Alabama, Mr. Beckman said, this tragedy is also hurtful to “the dignified Alabamians that were appointed to serve at the will of the Governor and who have done so honorably and faithfully.”

When we consider all these victims, it’s natural to want justice. Nevertheless, we hope you’ll pray for mercy for everyone involved. At the same time, the legislature is rightfully charged with protecting the citizens of Alabama for the good of this great state, and it’s those actions on which we’ll report.

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1 year ago

Autistic Children Gaining Acceptance Through Birmingham Doctor’s Efforts

The lives of Julian Maha and his wife, Michele Kong, were forever marked when their son was diagnosed with autism at the age of four in September 2011. Though Julian and Michele are both physicians, at the time, they had little insight into practically coping with this challenging developmental disability or seeing the world through their son’s eyes. What they quickly learned, however, was this diagnosis was not a stroke of bad luck but a crucible of love that would forever change them—and untold numbers of families like theirs—for the better.

Nevertheless, such paths are rarely straight or easy, and the Maha’s was no exception. Like so many others, their son’s outward appearance doesn’t indicate that he’s autistic. For this reason, when his disability is manifested in public, bystanders are often taken aback, having no idea his actions are driven by very real medical causes.

Julian describes one such moment:

    One day, I was at the barber’s alone with my son dealing with the full force of his meltdown. The kicking was one thing, but the screaming was piercing and at the top of his lungs. He was upset because he was getting his hair cut. Months later, I would find out that the sensation of hair falling down on his shoulders was akin to multiple paper cuts all at once. In the middle of this meltdown, all of a sudden, a woman there grabbed my son and shook him, yelling at me in the process: “Don’t you know how to take care of your child?!?” It was at that moment that I realized that what we as a community need is not just awareness but acceptance.

Excruciating but enlightening moments like these ignited a passion in Julian to help people better understand autism and learn to embrace it with the kindness, patience, and acceptance it deserves. Moreover, he and Michele wanted to provide others with helpful ways to cope with autism spectrum challenges in their everyday lives.

Their effort began by simply sharing their story on social media. Their accounts were so compelling they were virally embraced, and the Mahas quickly knew they had to use this God-given platform to help others. The result was the innovative, Birmingham-based international nonprofit KultureCity.

Since that time a short five years ago, KultureCity has made a difference for an astounding 15,000 children, and they’re not slowing down anytime soon. The organization’s overarching focus is to increase accessibility for autistic children that leads to their acceptance! With the wholehearted support of celebrities from former NFL star Tiki Barber to Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle, KultureCity has grown into a change-agent at levels the Mahas couldn’t have imagined five years ago.

While KultureCity’s creative programs are too numerous to name, two are far too remarkable not to mention.

Julian & Michele at the 2016 KultureBALL.

One is LifeBoks—packages with technology that tracks autistic children who are prone to wander from home, often heading straight to dangerous water. While the water calms them, it also claims far too many of their precious lives. For this reason, LifeBoks are true to their name, literally saving lives daily.

Another of KultureCity’s thoughtful initiatives is certifying sensory-friendly environments that allow overstimulated autistic children to unwind and regroup. For example, if these children find themselves coming undone in a noisy crowd, a quieter environment will calm them. To that end, KultureCity developed “Sensory Bags” with useful tools like noise-cancelling headphones, fiddle cubes, stress balls, and other goodies that tremendously help to unwind overstimulated, autistic children.

Two places right here in Alabama that have earned the KultureCity certification are the Birmingham Zoo and the McWane Science Center. Moreover, Quicken Loans Arena—home of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers—will today become the first NBA arena to be certified as sensory inclusive by KultureCity. In addition to Sensory Bags, the Q will have trained event staff and a Quiet Space Sensory Room where fans can go to decompress. Not only will this serve autistic children, veterans with PTSD and the aging with dementia will also benefit from these forward-thinking accommodations.

This article is far too short to do justice to the impact KultureCity is having. Nevertheless, one thing was clear in our visit with Dr. Maha: KultureCity isn’t about him. To the contrary, it’s solely about giving hope to discouraged families, showing love to autistic children, and creating the culture of acceptance they deserve. As he concluded:

KultureCity isn’t the work of any one person, or any few people, but many thousands of families who’ve worked tirelessly for acceptance and a better future for their children. Families who have fought school systems for their children to be educated, doctors for their children to be treated, establishments for their children to be attended to: these families are the backbone of KultureCity.

They are indeed, and we hope you’ll do your part to come alongside these families and forward the mission of this incredible organization. Call KultureCity today at (205) 291-3288, or visit their website at kulturecity.org to spread the love these delightful children deserve.

Ranked Microsoft’s Top 10 Charities of 2015

1
1 year ago

Microsoft’s Top 10 Ranked Birmingham-based Nonprofit Changing Lives

Julian & Michele at the 2016 KultureBALL.
Julian & Michele at the 2016 KultureBALL.

The lives of Julian Maha and his wife, Michele Kong, were forever marked when their son was diagnosed with autism at the age of four in September 2011. Though Julian and Michele are both physicians, at the time, they had little insight into practically coping with this challenging developmental disability or seeing the world through their son’s eyes. What they quickly learned, however, was this diagnosis was not a stroke of bad luck but a crucible of love that would forever change them—and untold numbers of families like theirs—for the better.

Nevertheless, such paths are rarely straight or easy, and the Maha’s was no exception. Like so many others, their son’s outward appearance doesn’t indicate that he’s autistic. For this reason, when his disability is manifested in public, bystanders are often taken aback, having no idea his actions are driven by very real medical causes.

Julian describes one such moment:

    One day, I was at the barber’s alone with my son dealing with the full force of his meltdown. The kicking was one thing, but the screaming was piercing and at the top of his lungs. He was upset because he was getting his hair cut. Months later, I would find out that the sensation of hair falling down on his shoulders was akin to multiple paper cuts all at once. In the middle of this meltdown, all of a sudden, a woman there grabbed my son and shook him, yelling at me in the process: “Don’t you know how to take care of your child?!?” It was at that moment that I realized that what we as a community need is not just awareness but acceptance.

Excruciating but enlightening moments like these ignited a passion in Julian to help people better understand autism and learn to embrace it with the kindness, patience, and acceptance it deserves. Moreover, he and Michele wanted to provide others with helpful ways to cope with autism spectrum challenges in their everyday lives.

Their effort began by simply sharing their story on social media. Their accounts were so compelling they were virally embraced, and the Mahas quickly knew they had to use this God-given platform to help others. The result was the innovative, Birmingham-based international nonprofit KultureCity.

Since that time a short five years ago, KultureCity has made a difference for an astounding 15,000 children, and they’re not slowing down anytime soon. The organization’s overarching focus is to increase accessibility for autistic children that leads to their acceptance! With the wholehearted support of celebrities from former NFL star Tiki Barber to Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle, KultureCity has grown into a change-agent at levels the Mahas couldn’t have imagined five years ago.

While KultureCity’s creative programs are too numerous to name, two are far too remarkable not to mention.

One is LifeBoks—packages with technology that tracks autistic children who are prone to wander from home, often heading straight to dangerous water. While the water calms them, it also claims far too many of their precious lives. For this reason, LifeBoks are true to their name, literally saving lives daily.

Another of KultureCity’s thoughtful initiatives is certifying sensory-friendly environments that allow overstimulated autistic children to unwind and regroup. For example, if these children find themselves coming undone in a noisy crowd, a quieter environment will calm them. To that end, KultureCity developed “Sensory Bags” with useful tools like noise-cancelling headphones, fiddle cubes, stress balls, and other goodies that tremendously help to unwind overstimulated, autistic children.

Two places right here in Alabama that have earned the KultureCity certification are the Birmingham Zoo and the McWane Science Center. Moreover, Quicken Loans Arena—home of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers—will today become the first NBA arena to be certified as sensory inclusive by KultureCity. In addition to Sensory Bags, the Q will have trained event staff and a Quiet Space Sensory Room where fans can go to decompress. Not only will this serve autistic children, veterans with PTSD and the aging with dementia will also benefit from these forward-thinking accommodations.

This article is far too short to do justice to the impact KultureCity is having. Nevertheless, one thing was clear in our visit with Dr. Maha: KultureCity isn’t about him. To the contrary, it’s solely about giving hope to discouraged families, showing love to autistic children, and creating the culture of acceptance they deserve. As he concluded:

KultureCity isn’t the work of any one person, or any few people, but many thousands of families who’ve worked tirelessly for acceptance and a better future for their children. Families who have fought school systems for their children to be educated, doctors for their children to be treated, establishments for their children to be attended to: these families are the backbone of KultureCity.

They are indeed, and we hope you’ll do your part to come alongside these families and forward the mission of this incredible organization. Call KultureCity today at (205) 291-3288, or visit their website at kulturecity.org to spread the love these delightful children deserve.

Ranked Microsoft’s Top 10 Charities of 2015

1
1 year ago

Alabamians in D.C. ready to do what it takes for Neal Gorsuch to be confirmed as next Supreme Court Justice

President Trump recently nominated Neal Gorsuch for the U.S. Supreme Court, but despite his qualifications, his nomination faces an increasingly contentious road to confirmation.

For starters, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee secured a one-week delay to vote on sending his confirmation to the Senate floor. That committee vote will now happen on April 3rd and the subsequent battle on the Senate floor is expected to unfold shortly thereafter.

A simple majority can confirm a Supreme Court nominee, so the path forward seems easy enough. There are 52 Senate Republicans, all of whom will presumably vote to confirm Gorsuch. Therefore, even if all 48 of the remaining Senators (46 Democrats and 2 Independents) vote against the confirmation, the Republicans still have a simple majority. However, Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York says not so fast. He vows to filibuster Judge Gorsuch’s confirmation. Because it takes 60 votes to break a filibuster, Republicans will have a tougher mountain to climb if Schumer makes good on his threats.

It’s important to note, however, that there’s never been a successful filibuster of a U.S. Supreme Court nominee, and Huntsville, Alabama native Caroline Aderholt doesn’t think this will be the first. In fact, Aderholt, Chief of Staff for Concerned Women for America, isn’t convinced the filibuster will even happen. “I think it’s likely the Democrats are posturing to appease their base, but when it comes down to it, I’d be a surprised if they actually follow through,” she said. And as she pointed out, Democrats like Patrick Leahy from Vermont are already signaling hesitancy on the filibuster. As Leahy told the Vermont Digger, while he won’t support the Gorsuch nomination he’s “not inclined to filibuster.”

Whatever hand the Democrats ultimately play, there’s no shortage of hard feelings surrounding Gorsuch’s nomination, as Aderholt’s colleague Penny Young Nance was reminded last week. After attending the highly intense confirmation hearing and leading a rally supporting Judge Gorsuch, Nance returned to her car and experienced a close-call blowout a few minutes later. After examining her vehicle, Arlington, VA police told Nance someone had inserted over 10 screws in her tires, which could’ve easily caused a fatal crash at freeway speeds (the incident is now under investigation).

Such acts of hostility aside, CWA remains resolute in its support of Judge Gorsuch. “We’ll watch this debate each step of the way and we’re poised to activate the 500,000 women in our organization to engage their Senators on this issue, including any Republicans who may be hesitant to do what it takes to confirm Gorsuch,” Aderholt said.

That “doing what it takes” if the Democrats do filibuster is likely the so-called “nuclear option.” The requirement that it takes 60 votes to override a filibuster is only a Senate precedent, and while such precedents matter, it isn’t a Senate rule, much less a Constitutional mandate. So the Republicans can override it. Moreover, this same “nuclear option” was set in motion by the Democrats back in 2013, so one could argue they opened the door to this measure that they so vehemently oppose.

Regardless of what plays out on the Senate floor, Alabama’s Senior U.S. Senator, Richard Shelby, is ready to confirm Judge Gorsuch. As the popular Senator told Yellowhammer:

    We absolutely cannot back down. Judge Gorsuch is highly qualified, well respected and committed to defending our Constitution. If the Democrats are determined to obstruct his nomination, then I believe we should use every tool available to confirm Judge Gorsuch. This is too important to the American people.

Caroline Aderholt agrees, and along with the half-million women belonging to her organization, she’s standing with Senator Shelby to support the Gorsuch nomination until he’s confirmed as the 113th Supreme Court Justice of the United States.

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1 year ago

Alabama Plane Crash Claims Lives of Beloved Family

A Jackson, Tennessee family was flying home from a spring break trip to Orlando Sunday when their Cessna T210L crashed in Blount County, Alabama near the town of Hayden. This terrible tragedy claimed the lives of Joseph Crenshaw, 45, his wife Jennifer, 43, and their children, 16-year-old Jacob and 14-year-old Jillian.

Reports indicate air traffic controllers lost the plane’s signal shortly after receiving a mayday call around 2:30 Sunday afternoon. High winds were recorded in the same area about that time, which some suggested may have contributed to the crash, but FAA and NTSB officials indicated it will take 12 to 18 months to actually determine the cause.

The husband and father, Joseph Crenshaw, was a respected and beloved executive at First Tennessee Bank in Jackson. WBBJ Eyewitness News quoted a statement from the bank’s president, Bill White:

    Joseph was a member of our First Tennessee family for almost two decades and had a huge impact on the bank and everyone around him. This is a sad, emotional time for us, and our thoughts and prayers are with those who loved him like we did. Joseph had an infectious smile, an incredible sense of humor and was full of energy that never seemed to end. He was a great husband and father and a truly remarkable person. Joseph was passionate about our company, he was a selfless leader and a wonderful partner for our customers. Our hearts are heavy and we will miss him.

Jacob and Jillian were students at University School of Jackson, where Jacob was a member of the football team. Head of School Stuart Hirstein also released a statement which, in part, read:

    Our school community is grieving the heartbreaking loss of the Crenshaw family. Yesterday, we lost 10th-grade student Jacob and 8th grader Jillian, along with their parents Joseph and Jennifer, in an accident as they were returning from a spring break trip to Florida. At USJ, we are a family, and we will bear this burden together.

Understandably requesting privacy, Hirstein said area grief counselors and youth pastors will be on campus this week to help the mourning community cope with this tragedy.
 
In that same spirit, we respectfully ask that everyone who reads this story to please pause and pray for the comfort of the Crenshaw’s loved ones and friends as they grieve this heartbreaking loss.

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1 year ago

Alabama’s New Commissioner on Higher Ed Returning Home from Rhode Island

University of Alabama's Denny Chimes (left) and Auburn University's Samford Hall (right)
University of Alabama’s Denny Chimes (left) and Auburn University’s Samford Hall (right)

According to the Associated Press, Alabama native James E. Purcell is stepping down as Rhode Island’s Commissioner of Higher Education to assume the equivalent role in Alabama— Executive Director of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education.

Rhode Island named the 55-year-old Purcell to the post in June of 2014, and Friday the Providence Journal quoted him as saying:

    “I am proud of what we have accomplished in Rhode Island over the past three years to increase the number of Rhode Islanders with college degrees, make college more affordable, collaborate with industry partners, and help our institutions to better serve their students and the state. I look forward to continuing this work in my home state of Alabama, and I am grateful to the Alabama Commission on Higher Education for their confidence in me.”

Purcell returns to his home state where earned a doctorate in higher education and administration from the University of Alabama, a master’s degree in counseling from the University of Montevallo, and a bachelor’s degree in public administration from Auburn University. He will assume the role at ACHE previously occupied by Dr. Gregory Fitch, who held the position from 2006 until his retirement in the summer of 2016, when Mr. Tim Vick stepped in as Interim Executive Director.

In this new role, Dr. Purcell will lead the Alabama Commission on Higher Education, which seeks to “provide reasonable access to quality collegiate and university education for the citizens of Alabama.”

The Providence Journal also quoted a biographical sketch of Dr. Purcell’s that read: “Having spent more than 25 years on the frontlines of education and economic development in five states, Dr. Purcell’s core belief is that the key to unlocking the American Dream in every person’s life is education.”

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1 year ago

Wall Street Journal Heralds Former Crimson Tide Golfer for Mighty Swing

The Wall Street Journal recently featured the incredible striking power of Justin Thomas, the PGA golfer who made his collegiate mark at the University of Alabama.

The article pointed out the incredulous reaction of Tour enthusiasts when they realize the 5’-10” 145-pound Thomas is one of the most powerful athletes in today’s pro game. Despite his stature, Justin is averaging nearly 307 yards a drive this season, and his fans aren’t the only ones scratching their heads. As he told the Journal: “It definitely surprises everybody. It surprises me, honestly. It doesn’t make sense.”

This excellent article provided an insightful animated graphic that breaks down Thomas’ fascinating swing. It starts with a body rotation leading into his downswing that’s 25% faster than the average PGA player. Next, the article explains how Justin uses the force of the ground to hit up into the ball, creating a high launch angle but low spin. “If you look at him as he comes through impact, he’s literally off the ground,” added Greg Rose, of the Titleist Performance Institute.

The long and short of all this is that Thomas, while much smaller than the likes of the muscular Rory McIlroy or the 6-foot-3 Bubba Watson, has nearly perfected the science of the swing. As Brian Costa, author of this WSJ article so aptly stated: “In other words, with a driver in hand, there may be no other golfer who has ever done more with less.”

Like most golfers, not all of Justin’s swings are straight. As he told Costa, “I can hit it crooked with the best of them.” But as Costa was quick to point out, “when he hits the ball squarely, it is a sight to behold. On his way to winning the SBS Tournament of Champions in January, Thomas hit a drive on the par-4 17th hole that caught the downslope of a fairway and picked up speed as it rolled toward the green. Thomas had already handed his driver back to his caddie when the ball finally came to a stop. It was 404 yards away.”

Thomas has already won three PGA tournaments this season and will be a serious contender at the Master’s next month, so be sure to follow the former Crimson Tide golfer this spring to see a less than imposing player with a truly mighty swing.

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1 year ago

Alabama’s Unemployment Numbers Move in Right Direction in February

The Associated Press reported that Alabama’s unemployment rate modestly declined in February to 6.2 percent.

While this isn’t a huge statistical improvement, in terms of actual numbers it represents 13,000 more Alabamans finding work in February than in January. The AP report indicates that this brings the total number of people working in the state to 2.1 million.

Among Alabama counties, Shelby County has the state’s best job numbers with only 4.5 percent unemployment. Wilcox County has the highest jobless number at 14.9 percent. Selma showed the highest unemployment rate of any municipality at 10.8 percent, while Vestavia Hills has the lowest in the state at 4 percent.

The Associated Press reported that the state’s unemployment rate still exceeds the national average, which also ticked down to 4.7 percent in February, but these numbers do indicate Alabama is moving in the right direction.

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1 year ago

Alabama Ministries Rally to Support Birmingham’s Jewish Community Center

So far this year, the Levite Jewish Community Center (LJCC) in Birmingham has received four bomb threats. One of those came on January 27th, just after 8:00 a.m. News reports said a caller told the LJCC staff that there was a bomb in their building. Children were immediately evacuated and shortly thereafter the Birmingham Police cleared the premises.

As the center’s executive director, Betzy Lynch, told ABC 33/40: “For most of the children now we do so many drills on so many sets of circumstances and in so many different ways they many times assume that it’s a drill rather than a live event.”

Because these nefarious threats are part of a nationwide trend against Jewish organizations, few will be surprised if they continue. That’s why these drills and other steps are being taken by the LJCC to protect the employees and the families they serve. Nevertheless, more stringent security measures are needed, and we were heartened to learn that neighboring organizations have pledged to help.

Specifically, a group of Alabama ministries are raising $100,000 for that cause. At the very least, the Scott Dawson Evangelistic Association, The Center for Executive Leadership, Young Business Leaders, Lifework Leadership, JH Ranch, Alliance Ministries, and the National Christian Foundation of Alabama are all part of this effort.

Scott Dawson of the Scott Dawson Evangelistic Association said his team is eagerly contributing to the LJCC’s security fund for three reasons:

First, Jesus taught us to love our neighbor, and the people at the Levite Jewish Community Center are certainly our neighbors. Next, for some time now the Christian community has been in the spotlight for what we stand against, often overshadowing the things we stand for. One of those is religious liberty for people of all faiths. Thankfully, the First Amendment protects everyone’s right to pursue our faith according to our own convictions and live peaceably as we do so, and we think that’s worth standing for. Finally, these bomb threats disrupt a child care facility. Children are living in fear—right here in Birmingham, Alabama…in the United States. Jesus teaches us that as we do it unto the least of these, we do it unto Him, and we must do our part to help protect these innocent children.

If you’d like to make a contribution to this effort, please see the following note from Scott Dawson:

The National Christian Foundation of Alabama can receive tax deductible donations designated for “JCC-SECURITY”.  Since the IRS requires tax receipts for all donations of $250 or more, they will mail such receipts (for donations less than $250, the canceled check is sufficient). Checks can be made payable to NCF/Alabama and mailed to 400 Office Park Drive; Birmingham, AL 35223, or you can use the link below to make a credit card donation. They will send 100% of the donations to the JCC with no administrative fees. Please click here to donate online.

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1 year ago

Kidnapped Alabama Nursing Student Tells Her Terrifying Story

Brittany Diggs, a Birmingham nursing student, was abducted at gunpoint last Tuesday night and subjected to a trail of terror before making a dramatic and courageous escape.

Confronted with a handgun as she returned home from work, Diggs was first ordered to drive to multiple locations as her abductor attempted to rob others. When that plan failed, out of growing desperation, he forced her into the trunk and made several more stops trying to obtain quick cash using her ATM card.

At each step along the way, the assailant continued threatening Brittany’s life. In an interview with NBC’s Today show this morning, Diggs said her assailant badgered her at every turn. “The whole time he’s driving, he’s, like, just, he’s yelling at me from the front seat, ‘You’re lying. I know you have something. Give me your money.'”

While her abductor was at an ATM inside an Avondale convenience store, Brittany remembered a Facebook video about all modern cars being equipped with an emergency release handle in the trunk. Smartly using the light on her insulin pump to find that release, she pulled it just after her kidnapper returned to the car, and just before he exited the parking lot.

Leaping from the trunk to the pavement as the kidnapper drove off, Brittany sprinted into the store and hid while the attendant called the Birmingham police. Investigators confirmed Diggs’ account shown in the now viral video of her harrowing escape.

Yesterday, a Go Fund Me page was created for concerned citizens to donate to Brittany’s monetary losses and counseling. As this story is published, over $18,500 has already been raised.

The kidnapper remains at large, and anyone with information about this crime should call the Birmingham Police Department at (205) 254-7777.

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1 year ago

Alabama’s Recent Job Growth Reflects New American Job Boom

Americans can take great satisfaction in an encouraging new jobs report. According to the ADP National Employment Report’s® newly released numbers, U.S. companies added 298,000 new jobs in February.

To lend perspective to this number, only 147,000 new jobs were created in October, the month before the presidential election. That’s less than half the new jobs created this month. Moreover, February’s numbers represent roughly 100,000 more jobs than ADP’s economists estimated, beating their prediction by a whopping one-third.

ADP also reports that 2,460 new jobs were created in Alabama in February, a noteworthy 25% increase over last October and an extraordinary gain from last May when the state lost 3,700 jobs.

In short, these new job numbers point to the growing optimism among job creators. From Fortune 500 CEOs to small business owners, those making hiring decisions are taking notice of the seismic shift in the country’s economic policies.

These confidence-building changes include:

Lowering Taxes:

President Trump’s job plan includes the following: lowering the business tax rate from 35% to 15%, allowing U.S. manufacturers more flexibility in items they expense on tax returns, and significantly reducing taxes for middle-class working families.

Releasing the Regulation Stranglehold:

In 2015, the federal government mandated well over 3,000 new rules and regulations on U.S. businesses, choking some $2 trillion from their operations each year. The president’s commitment to make these regulations more sensible, eliminating every overreaching rule that can safely be lifted, is apparently having an immediate impact on American business.

Imposing Tariff’s on Foreign Goods:

President Trump’s pledge to impose a tariff on certain foreign goods gives tremendous confidence to U.S. manufacturers. The tariff will motivate companies to purchase goods made here in the U.S. instead of importing them at cut-rate prices, increasing orders for U.S. manufacturing companies. Michael Barnes, president of HYCO Alabama, said the tariff would most definitely boost the confidence of Alabama manufacturers.

Protecting American Jobs with Lawful Immigration:

Among the many moving parts of the immigration issue, one thing is clear: imposing reasonable controls on the flow of illegal aliens means more jobs for American citizens. In the whole of the economy, blue collar jobs are just as important as any others, and curbing illegal workers means more jobs for American citizens.

Collectively, these policies and others are opening the door for business owners to raise investment dollars, venture into new markets, and reinvest newfound profits into their businesses, increasing their confidence and resulting in more and better jobs for American families.

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1 year ago

Demeaning an Honorable Man: The Half-Baked Effort to Disparage Jeff Sessions

Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) speaks at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, DC. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)
Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions
Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) speaks at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, DC. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

In the past few days, The Washington Post, CNN, and a host of others have struck up the band and the chorus of their latest number is simple: call Attorney General Jeff Sessions on the carpet.

Forget the fact that Mr. Sessions is an honorable man who’s earned the public’s trust every day since 1981. Forget the fact that the President of the United States entrusted him with the high calling of the nation’s top law enforcement officer for the same reasons. The detractors now demand answers to their flimsy questions, treating this good and decent man as if his long track record of honor is somehow irrelevant.

The straws at which they’re grasping surround the fact that Mr. Sessions told Congress he wasn’t aware of the Trump campaign working with the Russians to influence the 2016 presidential election, and that he personally had no such conversations with the Russians.

RELATED: Jeff Sessions and the Russians: The Facts of the Matter

In other words, he was asked a specific question about the campaign and he provided an honest answer.

However, because Mr. Sessions interacted with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in his capacities as a U.S. Senator, the past week has ignited a firestorm of endless accusations against the U.S. Attorney General from Alabama.

While these outlandish notions probably shouldn’t be dignified with a response, their elementary reasoning makes it hard to resist. To say Mr. Sessions lied to Mr. Franken is like saying a husband asked his wife what she’d do if she learned their son snatched a cookie before dinner, the wife replying that she didn’t know of any missing cookies, much less if the boy had snatched one, and all the neighbors accusing her of lying because she corrected her son for failing to do his homework. The homework clearly wouldn’t be part of her response because her husband asked about a cookie. No reasonable person would see this a “gotcha” zinger, and demand reprisal for the wife.

Their flawed reasoning notwithstanding, it’s not enough for these accusers to merely say Mr. Sessions lied. The likes of Nancy Pelosi and Claire McCaskill are now demanding that he step down as the U.S. Attorney General. Sure, they’d like to see that happen, but this demand is merely their inflated asking price. Their real end game is clear: impugn his character, damage his reputation, and diminish his credibility—by any means necessary, while certainly not letting the truth stand in their way.

Because facts never seem to interfere with such witch hunts, hypocrisy likewise seems lost on the accusers. While the book on hypocrisy surrounding last year’s election would make the Brothers Karamazov seem like a short story, one irony is too palatable to ignore: last summer’s meeting between then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch and former President Bill Clinton.

Both Mrs. Lynch and Mr. Sessions were accused of using their meetings in question to influence the election, so let’s see how they stack up against one another.

Mrs. Lynch had no legitimate purpose to meet with Mr. Clinton in her role as Attorney General. Then-Senator Sessions had completely legitimate purposes for his interactions with ambassador Kislyak, as a U.S. Senator on the Armed Services Committee.

Mrs. Lynch claimed she and Clinton wound up on that tarmac and met in private only to discuss golf, grandchildren and such, though it was only days before her subordinate, FBI Director James Comey, announced he would not press charges against Hillary Clinton over her private email server. Mr. Sessions plausibly claimed he discussed matters relating to his service in the Senate, not the campaign.

Mrs. Lynch’s meetings were on a private plane, alone with Mr. Clinton, on a tarmac in Phoenix. Mr. Sessions meetings were at the Heritage Foundation and his U.S. Senate office, in the full light of day— hardly the settings one would pick to stage a clandestine effort to overthrow the U.S. presidential election.

The same folks now sanctimoniously demanding Mr. Sessions be investigated, resign, and the like, never saw the need to ask Mrs. Lynch to do the same, nor did they impugn her character, notwithstanding the obvious differences noted above.

Perhaps that’s why Philip Bump at the Washington Post tweeted: “Put together a timeline on what Sessions did and said and, and am now thinking the Dems are overplaying their hand.

Man, if ever there were an understatement…

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1 year ago

Jeff Sessions and the Russians: The Facts of the Matter

Senator Jeff Sessions (Photo: Screenshot)
Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) (Photo: Screenshot)

The Washington Post, CNN, and a host of others have spent the past week calling the actions of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions into question.

During Attorney General Sessions’ January 10th confirmation hearings, Senator Al Franken (D-MN) asked Sessions what he’d do (as A.G.) if he learned that anyone in the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government about the presidential campaign.

It’s important to pause here to note that Franken’s prior comments made his context clear: he was asking what Sessions would do if the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians to influence the election.

Sessions’ two-part answer was plain and simple:

Part A: “I’m not aware of any of those activities.”
Part B: “…I did not have communications with the Russians…”

Part A of Sessions’ answer is important because clearly when he said “those activities” he meant the activities of the campaign. Part B is important because he voluntarily went beyond the question Franken posed, stating that he’d personally had no such communications.

Some reporters and politicians now suggest that Mr. Sessions intentionally misled Franken with those answers, citing the fact that he visited with the Russian ambassador during the campaign.

Mr. Sessions did interact with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak twice during the presidential campaign. The first time was following a speech he gave to a hundred or so foreign ambassadors at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative D.C. think tank. The second was when Kislyak and about twenty other foreign ambassadors visited Sessions’ office, as he was then a Member of the Armed Services committee.

As Sessions spokesperson Sarah Flores told the Washington Post: “He was asked during the hearing about communications between Russia and the Trump campaign — not about meetings he took as a senator and a member of the Armed Services Committee.

She reiterated this to Buzz Feed: “There was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer. Last year, the Senator had over 25 conversations with foreign ambassadors as a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, including the British, Korean, Japanese, Polish, Indian, Chinese, Canadian, Australian, German and Russian ambassadors. He was asked during the hearing about communications between Russia and the Trump campaign—not about meetings he took as a senator and a member of the Armed Services Committee.

Sessions said the same to NBC this Sunday: “I have not met with any Russians at any time to discuss any political campaign and those remarks are unbelievable to me and are false,” he said. “And I don’t have anything else to say about that.

Nevertheless, Mr. Sessions took the high road and amended his confirmation testimony to clarify his answers to Franken. To the surprise of no one, he made the distinctions noted above.

I did not mention communications I had had with the Russian ambassador over the years because the question did not ask about them,” Sessions wrote.

RELATED: Demeaning an Honorable Man: The Half-Baked Effort to Disparage Jeff Sessions

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