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5 years ago

9 takeaways from last night’s AL-01 congressional candidates forum

Yellowhammer and the Baldwin County Young Republicans teamed up last night to host a forum for congressional candidates in Alabama’s First District. Seven candidates participated:

Bradley Byrne (R)
Daniel Dyas (R)
Chad Fincher (R)
James Hall (I)
Quin Hillyer (R)
Jessica James (R)
Dean Young (R)

Here are nine takeaways from last night’s event, broken up by a few tweets and pictures:

1. Candidate experience and campaign team really matter

It’s easy to armchair quarterback presidential debates in the comfort of a recliner, but it’s another thing to get in front of a crowd of people and perfectly articulate the nuances of your policy positions in under 45 seconds.

Bradley Byrne’s poise and the ease with which he articulated his positions stood out during last night’s forum. I’m convinced it’s because he is far and away the most experienced campaigner in the race. He may not have won the gubernatorial race in 2010, but he’s reaping the benefits of that trial by fire as he communicates his message in the current race.

State Rep. Chad Fincher had a strong showing as well, drawing on his experience campaigning for the state house. I asked Fincher a tough question about whether or not his close relationship with ALFA would effect his decision making on coastal insurance reform and he answered the question easily without missing a beat.

Quin Hillyer was able to get down in the weeds on certain policy and process issues that other candidates glossed over because of his experience on the Hill as a senior level staffer and because he’s been writing about these issues for decades as a journalist.

In addition to their experience, all three of those candidates have a campaign infrastructure in place with staffers who are helping them formulate answers to tough questions. The campaigns with staffers were also the ones videoing the debate, preparing to capitalize on any golden moment in which they nail a one-liner or one of their opponents slips up and makes a mistake.

Other candidates had strong showings last night as well, but it was clear that the candidates who had past political experience (especially on the campaign trail) and strong campaign teams had a leg up on the competition.

2. Band of brothers is for real

When Independent candidate James Hall was asked by fellow candidate Jessica James to discuss his military service, he could barely get a sentence out before choking up. He said a few words about the men and women he served with and the camaraderie they shared, then cut his answer short before his emotions could get the best of him. It was a cool moment and a classy question from Ms. James.

3. Boehner isn’t getting much love on the campaign trail in south Alabama

In last night’s rapid fire round of questions, which required an answer in ten seconds or less, I asked the candidates if they would vote for John Boehner for Speaker. Dean Young started the round off with an emphatic “no,” and it didn’t get much better for Boehner from that point on. Several of the candidates said it would depend on who was challenging Boehner for the gavel. Hillyer said he’s a lot better than Nancy Pelosi (no argument there, folks). But none of the candidates were ready to cozy up to the current Speaker.

4. There’s a clear “Tier 1” and “Tier 2” in this race

“Repeal ObamaCare, lower taxes, repeal regulations!” Those are all talking points that conservatives can rally around. But when candidates are asked questions that get them to branch out and discuss issues that are a little more nuanced, the real contenders separate themselves from the pack.

Byrne, Fincher, Hillyer and Young were the top tier last night. Young doesn’t stray too far from his “limited government, constitutional conservative” talking points, but it really hits home with his base of supporters. See takeaway #1 above for my thoughts on Byrne, Fincher and Hillyer.

Other candidates had good moments, but weren’t able to put together a total performance.

Daniel Dyas quoted Ben Franklin when discussing his national security philosophy. “Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both,” he said. Jessica James handled a tough question about her personal life with grace. And Hall gave some interesting responses as the only Independent in the forum.

However, all three of those candidates had hiccups in their presentation and gaps in their knowledge of the issues.

5. Hillyer and Byrne want each other’s supporters in a runoff

Byrne and Hillyer both went out of their way to compliment each other and discuss their friendship during the forum. If either one of them makes a runoff without the other, I’d guess they’ll be making a strong push to garner an endorsement and a wave of supporters that could put them over the top.

6. SHOCKER! The campaign isn’t going to remain all sunshine and roses

Hillyer announced today that he will not run a single “negative ad” throughout the entire campaign, and called on his fellow candidates to do the same. Hillyer asked Dean Young to make that pledge in front of the crowd during last night’s event. “I don’t know what qualifies as a negative ad,” Young replied, “but I plan on telling the truth. I’ll pledge to always tell the truth.”

Game on.

7. Things are a lot more interesting when you’ve got candidates with a track record

During a round in which candidates were able to ask each other questions, Fincher asked Byrne about his support for Riley Amendment 1, which many say would have been the largest tax increase in Alabama history had it been approved by the voters.

Byrne responded to Fincher’s question by saying, “Let me first say thank you to you and your lovely wife for hosting a fundraiser for me and supporting me when I ran for governor,” which may have been the biggest laugh and applause line of the night. Byrne then turned the question around and referenced the Bentley Amendment 1 vote Fincher took in the House, which borrowed hundreds of millions of dollars from the Alabama Trust Fund to patch a hole in the state’s budget.

Interactions like that only happen when you’ve got candidates who have a record to run on. Every legislator has made tough votes in the past that are hard to explain in a campaign.

Voters deserve an explanation, and should hold their elected officials accountable. But it’s a heckuva lot easier to run for office when you don’t have a voting record to reconcile with your rhetoric.

8. Everybody wants tax reform

Another question during the rapid fire round was whether or not the candidates would support the Fair Tax. Some candidates said “yes,” others said they needed to learn more about it, and others said no-go on the Fair Tax, but full-speed-ahead with a flat tax. Regardless of what reform measures they supported, every candidate agreed that the current system has got to go.

9. Conservatives still hate the Department of Education

Ronald Reagan ran for president in 1980 on a platform the included abolishing the U.S. Department of Education. Last night, Jessica James made a quip in passing about abolishing the DOE and half the room almost came out of their skin jumping up to cheer. I honestly don’t even remember what brought it up, but all it took was one brief mention to get the GOP faithful riled up.

5 mins ago

Walt Maddox finally has a plan for Medicaid expansion and it’s pretty bad

Alabama Democrats love bad ideas.

They also have no clue how to pay for these terrible ideas, even though some have tried to figure it out, bless their hearts.

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Walt Maddox has been pushing the media-friendly idea that if we would just expand Medicaid. all would be well, unfortunately, he knows almost nothing about the program.

As Yellowhammer News exposed yesterday, Talk 99.5’s Matt Murphy embarrassed Maddox on the issue:

MADDOX: There are 33 states that have gone along with the expansion of Medicaid. There are six more that are considering it.

MURPHY: You know how much the state budget for Medicaid is right now?

MADDOX: Not offhand —

MURPHY: It’s about a quarter, a quarter of the total budget. Twenty-four percent of the total budget is Medicare and that is expected to over the next decade go up to as much as 35 percent of the total state budget and I’m wondering how we stop that.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, he also has no idea how to pay for the program.

MADDOX: You take a combination of taxing the existing gambling that is here and sports gambling. And that will be what you put in your general fund as your offset to it.

The problem is this doesn’t even come close to actually covering the cost of his idea.

If he is capable of getting the legislature to allow existing gambling to be taxed, liberal columnist Josh Moon speculates it would only bring in $15 million.

If he is capable of getting the legislature to pass a sports gambling bill, we can look to Mississippi and see that they are projecting that they will collect $30 million in taxes. Granted, Mississippi is about 60 percent of the size of Alabama, so if we play with the math that puts Alabama at about $50 million a year in revenue.

Play with the math any way you want, but the guy proposing these measures is clearly out of his depth. Clearly, Maddox has no real clue what the numbers are and we still aren’t anywhere near the $150-$200 million that he acknowledges his proposal will cost.

This remains a media favorite talking point with no substance. It’s time for Walt Maddox and his campaign to figure out how to pay for his proposal.

@TheDaleJackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a conservative talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN

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1 hour ago

Huntsville City Council candidate’s ties to Bernie Sanders revealed in ad — ‘Few things are scarier than socialism’

On Monday, Dr. Mary Jane Caylor’s campaign for Huntsville City Council released a creative new social media ad that invoked her opponent’s ties to socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

With Halloween on the horizon, Caylor hit her opponent, Frances Akridge, with the tagline “few things are scarier than socialism… Especially in our local government.”

Akridge, the ad says, has donated to liberal campaigns across the country, including Bernie Sanders for President, Rick Nolan for Congress (Minnesota), Katie McGinty for Senate (Pennsylvania), Nelson for Congress (Wisconsin), Zephyr Teachout for Attorney General (New York), Nanette Diaz Barragán for Congress (California), Deborah Ross for Senate (North Carolina), Chase Irons for Congress (North Dakota), Maggie Hassan for Senate (New Hampshire), Paul Clements for Congress (Texas), Morgan Carroll for Congress (Colorado), Russ Feingold for Congress (Wisconsin) and Pramila Jayapal for Congress (Washington).

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While local races are normally less partisan than statewide or national races, Caylor’s campaign tied Akridge’s “ultra-left” activities to the local level, saying that Huntsville would be hurt by socialist City Council policies.

“Imagine how much of your money Frances Akridge will want to tax and spend… We cannot afford to let Frances Akridge traffic in her big-government values to our City Hall,” the social media caption reads.

It continues, “Huntsville’s bright future demands fiscal responsibility and a budget that is overseen by an experienced, conservative leader. We need the conservative, proven, and principled leadership of Dr. Mary Jane Caylor.”

Caylor has an extensive resume of public service, including past experience as superintendent of Huntsville City Schools, executive director of the Huntsville Bicentennial, member of the Base Realignment and Closure recruitment team and a four-term member of the Alabama State Board of Education. She was also crucial to the establishment of the Veteran’s Memorial in downtown Huntsville.

On her website, Caylor lists education, infrastructure, community safety, supporting first responders and being a good steward of taxpayer money as top issues. Akridge names community recreation, “maintenance & enhancement” and health along with safety and education.

In response to Caylor’s ad, Akridge shared a Facebook post that read, “Huntsville municipal elections are SUPPOSED TO BE nonpartisan. And now we have this crap.” The post did not dispute any of the ties to socialist or liberal candidates or that Akridge would govern as a socialist on the city council.

According to Caylor’s campaign, in the October 9 Huntsville City Council District 2 election, “the choice is clear: Socialist Frances Akridge or Conservative Mary Jane Caylor.”

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 hours ago

Maddox kicks off bus tour in Alabama governor’s race

Gubernatorial challenger Walt Maddox kicked off a statewide bus tour Monday, taking his message on the road as he seeks to gain ground against incumbent Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey.

The Democratic nominee began the tour in Tuscaloosa where he is mayor.

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Describing himself as the only candidate in the race talking about the state’s “big problems,” Maddox is running on a platform of establishing a state lottery to fund education programs and expanding Medicaid.

Standing with his wife, Stephanie and his two children, Maddox said the race is about ensuring the state’s children have opportunities.

“Our state is not where it needs to be. We are at, or near, the bottom in everything that matters, everything,” Maddox said. “And they deserve to grow up in a state that can provide them the opportunities that I’ve had, that your families have had.”

Alabama has not elected a Democrat to the governor’s office since 1998 when Don Siegelman won after campaigning on a lottery that voters later rejected.

To win, Maddox will need support from some Republicans and independents, similarly to U.S. Sen. Doug Jones and his victory over Roy Moore last year.

Maddox said he thinks he can do that by talking about the issues that affect people’s lives.

He joked he won his first convert in 2010 with his wedding to wife Stephanie, who is a Republican.

Maddox said he hopes to speak with all sorts of voters during the tour, including those “who may or may not vote for you. … But that doesn’t matter because when you put your hand on that Bible, you represent everyone.”

Maddox is proposing a state lottery to fund college scholarships and other education programs.

He said expanding Medicaid, as 34 states have done, could stop the closure of rural hospitals, which have been shuttering in rural communities due to financial pressures.

“If you are in Haleyville, Alabama right now you’ve had to experience an increase in taxes because your hospital is on the verge of closing.

If you are in Alex City right now, your hospital could close. All because we didn’t expand Medicaid.”

Maddox also continued to take jabs at Ivey for refusing to debate him.

The Republican incumbent said last week that there was no need for a debate because “Alabamians know my record. They know what I stand for.”

“One thing Governor Ivey can’t avoid is the Nov. 6 election,” Maddox said. “The people will ultimately determine this with their ballot. It doesn’t hurt me that she doesn’t want to debate. It hurts the people of Alabama.”
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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4 hours ago

Federal lawyers say 14-year-old oil leak is getting worse in Gulf of Mexico

Federal government lawyers say a 14-year-old leak is releasing much more oil each day into the Gulf of Mexico than officials previously claimed, and it may be getting worse.

A Friday court filing in a case involving Taylor Energy Co. says 10,000 to 30,000 gallons (37,000 to 113,000 liters) daily is leaking from multiple wells around a drilling platform toppled by 2004’s Hurricane Ivan.

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That estimate is far above the 16,000 gallons (60,500 liters) of oil that the U.S. Coast Guard estimated in 2015 had been spotted in slicks over seven months.

The government cites a report it commissioned from a scientist who has studied satellite images of persistent oil slicks and sampled floating oil at the site about 10 miles (16 kilometers) offshore.

That report also suggests that while the amount of leaking oil decreased after some wells were plugged in 2011, the leak may be getting bigger again.

“There has been an uptrend of the areas of the slick during the last two years,” wrote Oscar Pineda-Garcia, who runs a company that maps oil spills and is an adjunct professor at Florida State University.

New Orleans-based Taylor said only two to three gallons was leaking daily out of mud on the seafloor.

Spokesman Todd Ragusa said the company disputes the government’s new estimate and will respond in court.

“The government’s recent filing is completely contrary to the comprehensive, sound science acquired by world-renowned experts, including those regularly relied upon by the government,” Ragusa wrote in an email to The Associated Press.

A 2015 AP investigation revealed evidence that the leak was worse than the company, or government, had publicly reported during their secretive response.

Presented with AP’s findings that year, the Coast Guard provided a new leak estimate that was about 20 times larger than one cited by the company in a 2015 court filing.

Friday’s court filing also says Taylor and the Coast Guard met in August and discussed plugging more wells as part of an effort to eliminate the persistent oil sheen seen at the site.

The wellheads are more than 400 feet (120 meters) underwater and buried under 60 to 100 feet (20 to 30 meters) of mud.

Taylor sued the government in January 2016 to recover millions of dollars it set aside for work to end the leak.

The suit claims regulators violated a 2008 agreement requiring the company to deposit approximately $666 million in a trust to pay for leak response work.

The company argued the government must return the remaining $423 million.

The government’s lawyers disagree, though, saying no change to the agreement has been made and the money should remain on deposit until the work is done.

“The trust requires — and has always required — that Taylor complete all of its decommissioning obligations before the trust can terminate.

The United States’ denial of Taylor’s request for a release from its existing obligations does not constitute an imposition of a new obligation,” the lawyers wrote.

Waves whipped up by Ivan triggered an underwater mudslide that buried a cluster of oil wells under treacherous mounds of sediment.

In 2011, the company finished drilling a series of “intervention wells” to plug nine of the wells.

Using Coast Guard pollution reports, West Virginia-based watchdog group SkyTruth estimated in December that between roughly 855,000 gallons (3.2 million liters) and nearly 4 million gallons (15.1 million liters) of oil spilled from the site between 2004 and 2017.

Garcia writes in his report that the oil is thick enough that people need to wear respirators because of fumes.

He says bubbles of not just oil, but natural gas is reaching the surface, while his report shows pictures of thick, brown oil emulsions in some places.
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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5 hours ago

Alabama Ethics Commission director responds to Secretary of State Merrill’s op-ed criticizing their ‘ethical political leadership’

After Secretary of State John Merrill wrote an op-ed last week strongly criticizing the Alabama Ethics Commission, the commission’s director, Tom Albritton, appeared on Capitol Journal to push back and give their side of the story, saying, “We did our job.”

Merrill opened his piece by lamenting having “to ask what purpose the Alabama Ethics Commission serves to the people of this state.” He added, “To whom are the elected officials or those seeking public office to look to for ethical political leadership? The people of Alabama need an Ethics Commission that will enforce the laws and regulations it is charged with enforcing, with consistency.”

The dispute centers on the Ethics Commission’s handling of appeals of fines levied by the Secretary of State’s office on campaigns that filed their mandatory financial disclosures late. When fined, campaigns have 14 days under state law to appeal. When a campaign chooses to do so, the secretary of state’s office sends the appeal to the Commission to decide whether the penalty is upheld or not.

Earlier this year, the commission overturned fines even though the appeals were made outside of the allowed 14-day window. However, at the beginning of this month, the commission refused to rule on tardy appeals, saying they do not have jurisdiction after the window closes.

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Even though Merrill’s argument in the op-ed was titled “The people of Alabama need an Ethics Commission that will enforce the laws,” the issue at hand is actually that the commission did enforce the law this time but not in previous times.

This disconnect, and the op-ed itself, led Albritton to say, “We did our job. The op-ed piece was a little bit confusing to me in terms of exactly where the criticism is … If the point was that we hadn’t enforced the law, that’s what I don’t understand, because that’s specifically, exactly, what my commissioners did – was enforce it.”

He also voiced his displeasure that Merrill chose to write an op-ed – which said, in part, “without communication and cooperation between our agencies … the [law] does not work” –  instead of continuing dialogue directly between the commission and the secretary of state’s office on the issue.

“Well, to be completely honest with you, I was a little bit disappointed in the manner in which that was handled,” Albritton told host Don Dailey.

In the latest batch of appeals sent to the Commission by Merrill’s office, “there were a number of files where their office knew that they were filed well after the 14 days, yet they instructed the filers to go ahead and appeal, which is not supported by the language of the code,” Albritton added.

He continued, “So, we wrote their office and asked if they disagreed that we didn’t have jurisdiction [on the late appeals]. And instead, the op-ed piece was filed.”

Albritton reiterated that the Ethics Commission enforced the law this time, yet was criticized for it.

“[W]hat the Commission did, was simply looked at that group of files and found that there were a number that were simply filed too late, so we affirmed the fines that had been imposed by [Merrill’s] office. And now, it is their obligation to go enforce those fines by collecting on them,” Albritton explained.

Merrill argued in his op-ed, “[W]hy have they just now become aware of these appeal date issues? Each appeal delivered to the Alabama Ethics Commission is delivered as a file which includes each file that was not timely filed and a copy of the date the appeal was filed.”

The Ethics Commission director admitted that his office had made mistakes in ruling on late appeals earlier this year.

“Look, I’ll be the first one if we made a mistake to admit that we made a mistake,” Albritton said. “And in that earlier group of files, the 14 days … is something that my office did not pick up [on].”

However, while admitting the Commission’s role in these previous mistakes, Albritton also questioned why Merrill’s office had knowingly sent them appeals that were late.

“Now, again, we are dependent on [the secretary of state’s office] to point out to us if someone has filed outside of the 14 days, and in a way that it is very clear that that’s what happened. The preference would be that they not send over things that the law says that we have no jurisdiction over,” Albritton emphasized.

He reiterated that hearing the late appeals previously “was an oversight by my group,” adding “I’m not sure what my commissioners will want to do” with those corresponding fines that were overturned.

Merrill wants these fines reimposed since the commission did not have jurisdiction at the time they ruled.

“It’s the position of the secretary of state’s Office that these specific matters were improperly set aside and should be reinstated by the commission,” Merrill wrote about the fines that were improperly overturned earlier this year.

Watch, starting at the 50:35 mark:

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn