4 years ago

Report Card: Grading the AL-06 candidates’ debate performance

Alabama 6th Congressional District candidates take the stage for the NBC13/Superstation 101 debate March 31, 2014.
Alabama 6th Congressional District candidates take the stage for the NBC13/Superstation 101 debate March 31, 2014.

First off, it’s important to put debates in the proper perspective. Can a a great debate performance win you a congressional race? No. But can a disastrous performance lose you a congressional race? Sure. This is usually true on the presidential level as well. Newt Gingrich only briefly shot to the top of the polls during the 2012 GOP presidential primary, propelled by catchy one-liners and his relentless assault on the mainstream media during the debates. On the other hand, Rick Perry’s entire campaign is remembered for one moment of forgetfulness while everyone was watching.

The stakes obviously weren’t anywhere near that high last night. But it was televised, and any epic blunder would have been captured on camera. So most candidates took the primum non nocere approach — “first, do no harm.”

I watched the full debate in person from about 15 rows back on the right side of the auditorium. I also captured the audio and re-listened to the entire debate once last night and again this morning.

RELATED: Setting the scene for last night’s 6th Congressional District debate

In alphabetical order, here are my thoughts on each candidate’s performance:

Sen. Scott Beason — Grade: B

Beason was Beason — nothing more, nothing less. You know what you’re going to get from the senator from Gardendale, and that’s become part of his pitch.

“You can know what I’m going to do in Congress by what I’ve done in the state legislature,” Beason said during his opening remarks, a refrain he repeated in different variations throughout the night. He was positioned in the very center of the stage and is a fairly imposing presence physically. But although he has earned a reputation for being a Tea Party firebrand, his delivery is actually not that aggressive. Based on the feedback I’ve gotten, his matter-of-fact tone translated well to the television audience.

His best moment of the night came when Leland Whaley asked the candidates whether they would take a “Jeff Sessions approach” or a “John Boehner approach” to address illegal immigration. “I don’t think there’s a single person here who doesn’t know where I stand on immigration,” Beason quipped to laughter and applause.

Side note: that question from Whaley also led to this:

Will Brooke — Grade: A-

Brooke delivered a very steady performance last night. He stayed on message, but didn’t feel over-rehearsed.

There was a random drawing prior to the debate that determined how the candidates were arranged on stage. Coincidentally, Brooke was positioned next to Rep. Paul DeMarco, who will likely be his primary rival throughout the race. Brooke got the best of this round.

His recent viral ad has made it more difficult for his opponents to paint him as a stiff Mountain Brook executive. Last night he continued to come across as very approachable and did an excellent job communicating his personal story.

On top of that, in a savvy campaign move, Brooke bought out pretty much every block of advertising time during the debate with these two ads:

Paul DeMarco — Grade: C

DeMarco had a bit of a tough night. The natural tone of his voice is not well suited to delivering an impactful debate performance, and at times it felt like he was overcompensating by simply speaking louder than the other candidates. Several people that I spoke with who were watching on television commented that DeMarco did not come across well.

That said, he did absolutely nothing to significantly damage his standing as the race’s frontrunner. As a matter of fact, he went straight from the debate to a well-attended fundraiser, which frankly goes a lot further toward getting him elected than any debate performance could.

Chad Mathis — Grade: C

Chad Mathis is a doctor. If you weren’t aware of that going into last night’s debate, you certainly know now. Mathis’ singular message is that no one could better understand the detrimental impact ObamaCare is having on the economy and healthcare than a physician who has to deal with it every day.

Mathis looked very uncomfortable on stage, but honestly he’s improved significantly since he started campaigning last year shortly after Bachus announced he would not seek another (12th!) term. He also gets points for rolling out a specific 12-point plan to repeal and replace ObamaCare, which you can read HERE.

Gary Palmer — Grade: B

Palmer has complete command of the issues. As he pointed out numerous times during last night’s debate, he’s been working in public policy for the last couple of decades. That gives him a leg up on the competition, but also makes it difficult for him to boil his answers down into talking-point-sized morsels.

“What we need to talk about are solutions, not soundbites,” Palmer said. That’s a good line, and certainly every political race could stand to spend more time talking about the actual issues, but in the fast-paced world of modern media — and especially in a debate setting — Palmer’s going to have to get better at getting to the point. I’m also not sure that having the best national network of policy wonks is a pitch that gets someone elected to congress.

But last night Palmer effortlessly spoke in great depth about a wide range of issues — from energy policy and immigration to foreign affairs. If he can continue raising money and keep refining his message, he’ll still have an outside shot.

Robert Shattuck — F, for FUN

A friend of mine who works at a record label in L.A. always says that if he’s going to see a new band, he wants them to either be incredible, or absolutely awful. Anything in between is boring.

Well, Robert “Robot” Shattuck was a lot of things in last night’s debate, but boring was certainly not one of them.

Shattuck basically refused to debate because he claimed none of the candidates would talk about the one issue on which he’s basing his entire candidacy: the “dysfunction congress.” For every one time Chad Mathis noted that he was a doctor, Shattuck blasted the “dysfunctional congress” twice.

Shattuck had two of the best lines of the entire night, though. At one point he was given one minute to answer a question, but instead simply said, “I don’t know.” Another time he basically said he’d leave the answer to one question to people a lot smarter than himself. Points for honesty!

During commercial breaks, while the rest of the candidates moved around the stage and interacted with each other, Shattuck stared straight ahead and clutched the debate podium with a white-knuckled death grip.

This was my first Shattuck experience. The next one can’t come soon enough.

Tom Vigneulle — Grade: A

There were several times sitting in the debate hall last night that I thought to myself, “My goodness… Tom Vigneulle is the most impressive guy on the stage.” If you’d asked me who won the night, I would have said Vigneulle in a heartbeat.

He was calm, but assertive. He did a great job honing in on the importance of small businesses. He explained why he was the most qualified candidate to take on ObamaCare, saying, “I didn’t pass the bill, I didn’t read the bill, I’ve lived the bill.” Even after listening back to the audio a couple of times, I don’t really have any specific criticism of his performance.

Interestingly though, several people that I spoke with who were watching on television said his performance didn’t translate well in that medium. That’s more important than how he came across in the room, because there were presumably a lot more people were watching on TV than were actually there.

The whole experience made me wish Vigneulle was running for state house, or some other local or county-level position. He would outclass much of the competition at that level, and would be able to raise the money needed to be a serious contender.

But he’s pushing forward. His campaign announced yesterday that he had been endorsed by Tim Selaty, the founder of TeaPartyCommunity.com.

We were able to grab a few of the candidates for a quick video interview right after the debate. I tried to find them all, but will have to catch some of them next time.

Did you watch last night’s debate? Who stood out to you?

Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims

2 hours ago

Alabama Senate delays vote on church ‘Stand your Ground’ law

The Alabama Senate has delayed a vote on a proposed revision of the state’s self-defense law to clarify that deadly force can be used to defend someone in a church.

Senators delayed a Thursday vote after at least one senator threatened a filibuster.

Sen. Bobby Singleton said that the legislation is encouraging people to get “trigger happy.”


Alabama already has a self-defense law that someone can use deadly force if they reasonably believe a person is about to kill them or another person. The bill adds that people can use deadly force if they believe a person is about to use physical force against a church member or employee.

Supporters pointed to deadly church shootings and said members need the legal protection to respond to a threat.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

2 hours 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.


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.”

2 hours ago

Alabama Rural Broadband Act on governor’s desk

A bill that would provide grants to aid rural broadband expansion is on Gov. Kay Ivey’s desk.

The legislation was delivered to the Capitol on Wednesday afternoon after the Senate adopted changes to the Alabama Rural Broadband Act previously made in the House.

Originally conceived as a bill that would offer tax incentives to companies to provide high-speed internet services to some of the state’s more remote areas, the bill was changed to offer grants instead. Projects that would provide speeds of 25 megabits per second down and 3 megabits per second up would be eligible for $1.4 million per project, while projects providing minimum speeds of 10/1 could get $750,000 each.


The bill is expected to provide $10 million annually, with the program being administered by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs. Private providers and cooperatives would be eligible for the money, but government entities would not.

The sponsor, Sen. Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville), wanted to give providers tax credits for providing broadband rather than cash. The bill still has safeguards in place – the money won’t be received upfront and a legislative committee would monitor the program for effectiveness.

Scofield couldn’t be reached for comment this week.

Ivey is expected to sign the bill after speaking about the need for such programs in her January State of the State speech. The legislation sailed through the Alabama Legislature, receiving unanimous yes votes in the House on Tuesday and in the Senate concurrence vote on Wednesday.

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia), said grants are better for taxpayers.

“It’s more transparent and gives us more accountability,” he said.

In reality, both funding mechanisms have been dismissed by critics. The MacIver Institute said in a 2014 report that incentives can actually hurt economic growth, while Obama’s stimulus grant program was one of the more stark examples of grant largesse.

Alabama lawmakers hope their broadband plan goes hand-in-hand with a proposal from President Trump to spend an immediate $200 billion and long-term $1.5 trillion on infrastructure improvements. Trump hopes to spur more public-private partnerships – so-called P3s – with his proposal to help state and local governments shoulder more of the load. But his plan has faced criticism on both sides – Democrats aren’t fans of the president’s goal to put more costs on the states, while many Republicans say the plan calls for too much spending and haven’t exactly deemed it a high priority this session.

Some on both sides have criticized the lack of any guaranteed funds for broadband, although the plan cites high-speed internet as an infrastructure priority. There are concerns that federal broadband grants could accelerate the growth of government internet projects, which have largely been a sinkhole for taxpayer money.

3 hours ago

Alabama Committee approves ethics exemption for economic developers

An Alabama Senate committee has approved legislation, pushed by the state’s top industry recruiter, to exempt professional economic developers from the state ethics law.

The Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee approved the House-passed bill Wednesday on a 10-2 vote. It now moves to the Senate floor.


The proposal would exempt professional economic developers from the rules that govern lobbyists. The rules include registering with the state, undergoing yearly training and reporting activity.

Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield has said professional site developers, who help businesses decide where to locate, will not work in Alabama if they must register as lobbyists.

Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton has expressed concern about exempting a group of people, whose primary job involves interacting with government officials, from the state ethics law.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

Human trafficking bill that would impose severe penalties for obstruction is step closer to becoming law

Anyone who obstructs a human trafficking investigation in Alabama could be met with the same penalties as the traffickers if the governor signs a bill that passed the House this week with near unanimous support.

The bill, which already passed the Senate, increases penalties in place for those who obstruct, interfere with, prevent, or otherwise get in the way of law enforcement’s investigation into the practice that includes child sex trafficking.

Under current law, such obstruction is only a Class C felony and could result in just one year in prison. The new legislation would increase the maximum offense to a Class A felony, with a minimum jail sentence of ten years.


Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) sponsored the bill and said he is proud that the Alabama Legislature made this a priority.

“This week we’ve taken another crucial step in ending this horrific practice,” Ward said in a statement. “By increasing penalties for those who would aid traffickers, we will hold them just as accountable as the traffickers themselves.”

Human trafficking victims are often children who are trafficked into sexual exploitation at an average age between 11-14 years old, according to the Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force.

“Most people assume, ‘Well, that doesn’t happen in my backyard,’” Ward said in an interview with Yellowhammer News when the bill was first introduced. “…It’s everywhere in our state, but there’s low awareness as to how bad it really is.”

Just this week, a Decatur man pled guilty to child sex trafficking and other charges related to his plan to kidnap, rape and kill a mother and sell her 14-year-old daughter to a Memphis pimp, according to horrifying details reported by the Decatur Daily.

Brian David “Blaze” Boersma’s plan was thwarted because an informant, who Boersma recruited to help him with his plan, alerted the FBI.

“Oftentimes it’s like what we say with terrorism,” Ward said. “If you see something suspicious, tell somebody, because a lot of times, trafficking can take place right underneath our noses in our communities.”

The legislation to increase penalties for obstructing human trafficking investigations was delivered to Governor Kay Ivey for her signature Wednesday afternoon.

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News.