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5 years ago

These are the Alabama House and Senate races to watch in 2014

Alabama State Capitol
Alabama State Capitol

Yellowhammer has already given you the big picture lay of the land for this year’s legislative races, now let’s take a look at some of the most hotly contested House and Senate districts to watch in 2014.

Remember, with Alabama having become a bright red state in 2010, it is fairly rare for there to be a general election fight between Republicans and Democrats. The battle is almost exclusively in the Republican primary, with a few notable exceptions.

That means that traditionally Democrat-aligned powerhouses like the Alabama Education Association (AEA) are planning to spend millions of dollars in Republican primaries this year, so hang on to your hats.

Here’s our take on what to look out for:

Republican primary fight in Senate District 30

Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville
Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville

When Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville, announced in late October of last year that he would not seek re-election in 2014, candidates quickly began lining up for this safe GOP seat.

Suzelle Josey of Deatsville, a former spokesperson for Chief Justice Roy Moore, had already announced plans to challenge Taylor, and Millbrook’s Harris Garner, owner of Garner Electric Company, wasn’t far behind her. They have since been joined in the Republican primary by insurance agent Bill Harris and Prattville City Councilman Clyde Chambliss, Jr.

As with any open seat, this one’s going to be hotly contested, and a prime opportunity for the AEA to infiltrate the Republican primary. AEA-aligned operatives are running Harris Garner’s campaign, which should be a huge red flag to any Republican primary voters.

Chambliss is the early favorite. He has already been endorsed by The American Council of Engineering Companies and The Homebuilders’ Association of Alabama. Early polling shows he has strong positive name ID, and he’s a strong fundraiser. Expect AEA to dump a ton of money in this race, either through direct candidate contributions to Garner or through ads running under the name “Alabama Values Education” — or both.

Key potential pickups for Republicans in the Senate

Yellowhammer has focused a lot on the battle between Republicans trying to maintain their supermajority in the Senate and the AEA trying to chip away at it, either in the general election or Republican primary, but there are also a few opportunities for Republicans to take out some sitting Democrats.

Sen. Tammy Irons, D-Florence, announced last week that she’s not seeking re-election. That makes Senate District 1 a likely pickup for the GOP. Three Republicans have already qualified for the seat, including small businessman Jonathan Berryhill, Dr. Tim Melson, and early favorite Chris Seibert, an Athens City Councilman and former Univ. of Alabama football player.

Sen. Marc Keahey, D-Grove Hill, qualified for re-election at the last minute in his south Alabama senate district, but rumor has it that he may just be a placeholder while Democrats search for a candidate to take his place. Since the senate districts were redrawn after the 2010 elections, Keahey’s district has become significantly more Republican-leaning. Five Republicans are vying for the seat.

Melinda McClendon, R-Dothan
Melinda McClendon, R-Dothan

Independent Sen. Harri Ann Smith of Dothan might as well have a “D” beside her name, as she sides with the Democratic minority on most tough votes. The former Republican, who was denied ballot access by Republicans after she endorsed a Democrat for Congress, has done a masterful job over the years of portraying herself as the victim. She was the victim of Gov. Bob Riley and the anti-gambling crowd; she was the victim after former Rep. Jay Love bested her when she ran for Congress; and she was the victim when the Republican Party disowned her. She’s going to have a much harder time playing the victim when her opponent is another woman, Houston County Commissioner Melinda McClendon. Republicans are excited about McClendon’s candidacy, and will spend heavily to pick up this seat. But the AEA won’t make it easy. Expect them to pump big bucks into protecting one of their biggest allies in the senate.

House District 91

Rep. Barry Moore, R-Enterprise
Rep. Barry Moore, R-Enterprise
Another wiregrass-area race to watch is House District 91. Yellowhammer named incumbent Rep. Barry Moore, R-Enterprise, the most conservative member of the legislature last year, but an impeccable voting record (e.g. only legislator to vote “no” on extending unemployment benefits) doesn’t matter when AEA-aligned political operatives find a young, politically ambitious challenger they can co-opt.

Enterprise attorney Josh Pipkin has already gone hard negative against Moore. This will likely end up being one of the nastiest Republican primaries in the House.

General election battle in Senate District 10

Yellowhammer last year named incumbent Republican Sen. Phil Williams, R-Gadsden, one of the “Top 7 most conservative Alabama legislators.” But he represents one of the few legislative districts in the state that could actually have a competitive general election race. Williams is being challenged by former Democratic Senator Larry Means, who represented the 10th District from 1998 until 2010. Means was arrested on corruption charges only about a month before the 2010 general elections, but was ultimately acquitted and is now trying to return to the Senate at the age of 66.

The 10th District will be one of the Alabama Education Association’s (AEA) top targets. There is a pretty sizable union population in the district, a constituency that tends to favor Democrats. But Williams is well liked among conservatives, who appreciate his no-nonsense approach. His early polling numbers are strong as well. This race is shaping up to be a real battle.

AEA taking aim at Republican leadership

The word around Montgomery is that the AEA will spend $500k against each of the top Republicans in the Alabama legislature — Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, and House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn.

Rainy Day Patriots Tea Party member Steven Guede is challenging Marsh, who has come under fire from some grassroots conservatives for his support of Common Core. Fred “Sandy” Toomer, founder Toomers Coffee Roasters Company, is challenging Hubbard.

These races are extremely personal for AEA Head Henry Mabry, who plans to spend big bucks in these races, whether it makes tactical sense or not.

Senate District 8

Sen. Shad McGill opted not to run for re-election, opening up a two-man race for the Republican nomination in this safe GOP district.

State Rep. Todd Greeson, R-Ider, is running for the seat and starts with a name-ID advantage after being in the legislature for over 15 years. His campaign has already received tens of thousands of dollars from the AEA.

Businessman Steve Livingston is the other Republican in the race. He is the owner and manager of Dicus Oil Company, has served as president of Jackson-Scottsboro Chamber of Commerce, Scottsboro Rotary and is a founding member of Leadership Jackson County.

Senate District 17

Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale
Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale
It didn’t take long for Republicans to start coming out of the woodwork to run in this safe GOP district after Tea Party favorite Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, announced he would not seek re-election.

Here’s the list of candidates who qualified for the Republican primary in SD11:

Shay Shelnutt
Jim Murphree
Gayle H. Gear
Brett King
Adam Ritch
Joe Cochran
Jim Roberts

Murphree and Gear are the two candidates with AEA ties, but this race is so crowded it’s tough to say who should be the early favorite to survive the free for all.

Senate District 11

Democrat-turned Republican Sen. Jerry Fielding, R-Sylacauga, was hoping to avoid a primary challenger after he switched parties in 2012. But State Rep. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, decided in June of last year that he was going to jump in the primary against Fielding, who is still serving in his first term in the senate.

There are three big keys to look at in this race. First of all, the new district lines make St. Clair County the majority of the district. That is a huge advantage for McClendon. Secondly, McClendon holds a fairly substantial fundraising advantage over Fielding at this point. But finally, the real albatross around Fielding’s neck may be his vote against an anti-ObamaCare bill in 2012. It is tough to justify that in any Republican primary at this point.

That said, Fielding has been an extremely reliable vote for Republicans since he switched parties. We’ll see if that proves to be enough.

Independent candidates still have time to qualify

Although major party qualifying closed Feb. 7, Independent candidates have until June 3 to round up enough signatures to get on the ballot.

In order to gain ballot access, an Independent candidate must get the signatures of 3% of the total votes cast in the 2010 gubernatorial race in the district in which they want to run. For example, if 30,000 votes were cast in your district during the 2010 general election for governor, you would have to get 1,000 signatures in order to get your name on the ballot. An influx of Independent candidates could put a strain on the Alabama Secretary of State’s office, which is charged with verifying signatures. With limited manpower, that could be a daunting task.

Sen. Bill Holtzclaw, R-Madison
Sen. Bill Holtzclaw, R-Madison

Two races that could potentially end up with Independent candidates are Senate District 27, where former Democratic Sen. Ted Little may try to challenge incumbent Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, and Senate District 2, where former Republican Sen. Tom Butler may challenge incumbent Sen. Bill Holtzclaw, R-Huntsville.

The AEA’s candidate recruitment efforts were somewhat of a flop in the GOP primaries, but with almost four months until June 3, there is a good chance they will round up some Independents to jump in and shake things up.


Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims

35 mins ago

Former U.S. AG Jeff Sessions, former Air Force One Commander Mark W. Tillman highlight 2019 ALGOP Winter Dinner

BIRMINGHAM — Friday night before a packed ballroom at the Sheraton Hotel, the Alabama Republican Party hosted its annual winter dinner with not just one, but two featured guests.

As advertised, retired Col. Mark W. Tillman, who served as the commander of the Presidential Airlift Group and chief pilot for the president of the United States from 2001-2009, wooed the audience with his tales of serving in that role, including the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The evening’s festivities also included an appearance from former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who served as one of the state of Alabama’s U.S. senators from 1997 through 2017.

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During brief remarks to the audience gathered for the event, Sessions stressed advancing policies on immigration and America’s workers, especially those making less than $50,000 annually. During that address, Sessions received three standing ovations from those in attendance, suggesting he remains very much in favor with Alabama’s Republican hierarchy.

Immediately after Sessions addressed the crowd, former Alabama Republican Party chairman Edgar Welden honored Sessions and his wife by announcing they established an endowed scholarship in Jeff Sessions and his wife Mary Sessions’ name at Montgomery’s Huntingdon College, their alma mater.

Tillman, who was the featured speaker, offered attendees insight into commanding Air Force One and serving former President George W. Bush. Tillman discussed the threats and perceived threats from the “fog of war” that followed after terrorist attacks on New York City’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon in northern Virginia.

Col. Mark Tillman speaks to the ALGOP Winter Dinner, 2/22/2019 (Jeff Poor/YHN)

Tillman also appeared on Huntsville’s radio WVNN earlier in the day to talk about that and how technology had changed since his time as the Air Force One commander.

Alabama Republican Party chairwoman Terry Lathan told Yellowhammer News following the event she was pleased with the attendance and was excited they were able to honor Jeff Sessions. Lathan is up for reelection on Saturday at the party’s winter meeting.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

3 hours ago

Alabama documentary up for an Oscar this weekend

Nearly 80 years after Walker Evans and James Agee shined a light on life in Hale County, Alabama, Greensboro and its environs are taking center stage again, this time in RaMell Ross’ Oscar-nominated documentary film, “Hale County This Morning, This Evening.”

“Hale County This Morning, This Evening” follows Daniel Collins and Quincy Bryant, and their families, for five years. The documentary is done in an experimental, non-narrative style. Ross says it’s more about watching and being than listening and concluding. “It’s trying to show what it’s like to be a young black man in the historic South,” he said. What you’ll see then is a whole lot of hanging out and large swaths of everyday life. Ross’ unique mix of content plus form has been heralded as revolutionary and got attention early on from grant-funders and tony arts organizations like the Sundance Institute and New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

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“The reason why I didn’t make the film an installation or an art piece, why I turned it into a documentary, is because of the amount of people you can reach,” he said. “The film is an experience. It’s supposed to be participated in. I wasn’t interested in telling you anything. I wasn’t interested in making anything clear but allowing you to sort of fill in the gaps and to feel and to witness as much as possible.”

Ross grew up a military brat and considers Virginia to be “home.” He ended up in Alabama after applying to teach a photo course via the Hale Empowerment and Revitalization Organization(HERO). After completing two weeks of teaching, he fell in love with the community and made the move to Hale County. Since arriving in 2009, Ross helped build Pie Lab and managed the HERO youth program. He also picked up a video camera and started filming.

“Hale County,” the finished documentary, bears little resemblance to Ross’ original intention. “It started off as a small project and has snowballed into what it is now,” he said. The film has struck a chord with audiences and reviewers alike. The New York Times named “Hale County This Morning, This Evening” one of the Best Films of 2018, calling it “pure cinematic poetry.” The Los Angeles Times called it “an experience that is simple, complex and revelatory,” and The Village Voice raved, “It’s not every day that you witness a new cinematic language being born. …”And then there are the awards: Sundance Film Festival “Special Jury Prize Documentary,” Cinema Eye Honors “Outstanding Non-Fiction Feature Award,” Gotham Awards “Best Documentary” and, of course, the Academy Awards nomination for “Best Documentary Feature.”

With news of the Oscar nod came a peppering of congrats and well-wishes on his Facebook page. But Ross, who remains as grounded as his subject matter, responded with a humble, “I mean, the stars have aligned on this one 🙂 thanks ya’ll.”

Despite all the accolades, which include having Danny Glover on board as the documentary’s executive producer, Ross is not planning to “go Hollywood” anytime soon. He now owns land and a trailer and plans to keep roots in Greensboro, while also teaching at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. “I have a lot of projects in the works,” he said. “I’m committed to the area.”

“Hale County This Morning, This Evening” is showing in select theaters. It is available on iTunes and can be streamed on the PBS website.

The 2019 Academy Awards broadcasts on Sunday, Feb. 24.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 hours ago

Mentored hunts renew enthusiasm for mentors

One of the mantras adopted by those who love the outdoors is “pass it on,” which means introducing somebody to hunting, fishing or other outdoors activities when you get the opportunity.

For the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division, one facet of that effort comes in the form of the Adult Mentored Hunting Program, where seasoned hunters take new or inexperienced adult hunters to one of WFF’s Special Opportunity Areas (SOAs) for a weekend in the woods hunting deer, turkeys or small game.

What WFF has realized is the mentors, who have many years of experience in the hunting field, are benefitting from their role as much or more than the folks who are being mentored.

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One case in point is Bill Gray, Supervising Wildlife Biologist in WFF’s District IV. The longtime WFF biologist was admittedly reluctant to head out just before Christmas to fulfill a mentor’s role at the hunt at the Portland Landing SOA.

By the end of the weekend, Gray had a new outlook on the experience, and he had gained a new friend.

“When you’ve hunted for a long time, you take a lot of things for granted,” Gray said. “You kind of lose the magic like when you were young and first learning to hunt. Through the progression over the weekend, I got to watch him (James Hopper) learn and be excited and notice some things that were special to him.”

One example was how excited Hopper became when he viewed a deer for the first time through a riflescope.

“That was an eye-opener for me and how important this program can be and what a great opportunity we have to share our world as hunters,” Gray said. “Really for me, it was a way for me to bring back some of that wide-eyed wonder and true joy. It’s not that I don’t enjoy hunting anymore. I do. I love it, but you get kind of numb to some of the things that are old hat to you. To these guys, it’s not. And to see how excited they get has renewed my interest in hunting and being able to usher more people across that threshold who may be interested in becoming a hunter.”

On Hopper’s first hunt, the deer came in late and were too far for his comfort zone in terms of making a quality shot.

On the second day, a buck came through about 35-40 yards from the blind, but Gray had to make sure the deer met the minimum requirements for harvest. By the time Gray saw the deer, it was weaving through the trees and disappeared.

Gray said Hopper couldn’t hide his disappointment on Sunday morning when the rest of the hunt’s participants were busy cleaning deer and feral hogs.

“I said I’ve got to try to help this out,” Gray said. “We exchanged phone numbers. I got him down to my place the first week in January. He drove five hours south to my place in Barbour County.”

One of those aspects of hunting that experience often mitigates turned into the deciding factor on the Barbour County hunt.

“He came very close to taking a deer,” Gray said. “But he spooked the deer with the safety. He was using the safety like he was taught on the range. When he clicked that safety off, he said the deer trotted away and didn’t look back. I didn’t think to show him how to put some downward pressure on the safety and slide it forward real quietly. As much as he has to learn about being a good hunter, I have as much to learn about being a good mentor.

“But he was very excited and not dejected about not getting a buck for the second time. I sent him home with some deer meat, and they loved it.”

Since then, Hopper purchased a deer rifle similar to the one he used on the mentored hunt to get ready for a new season.

“Part of my experience was I felt like I made a new friend,” Gray said. “We weren’t able to get together before the season ended, but I’m as excited about being there with him when he gets his first deer as he is about getting his first deer.”

As unlucky as Gray’s hunter was, Drew Nix had the opposite experience on his mentored hunt at the Cedar Creek SOA.

Nix, the WFF Forester, has been mentoring hunters for many, many years and has recruited quite a few people into the realm of license-buying hunters. Nix said those people he introduced to hunting included youth, adult non-hunters and physically disabled individuals.

His hunter on the Cedar Creek SOA happened to be a person who was very familiar with firearms, a retired Army guy who now serves as a military contractor to teach marksmanship.

“He was from rural New York and was very well-versed in firearms, but he had never been hunting,” Nix said. “During his active duty, he never had the opportunity to pursue hunting.”

On the adult mentored hunts, the person who draws the spot is allowed to bring a hunting companion. However, sickness forced the hunter’s companion to drop out. The hunter was then given permission to bring his 11-year-old son.

On the first hunt, several deer came into one of the fields that had recently been constructed on the SOA, including one buck that met the criteria for permissible harvest.

“I told the gentleman it was a legal buck, but I would wait because we were sitting on an exceptional piece of property,” Nix said. “He held his composure. After about 10 minutes, no other deer came in. He said, ‘If you’re telling me that’s a legal deer, I would like to go ahead and harvest that deer.’”

Nix said when the hunter got the rifle up he noticed a significant anomaly.

“It cracked me up,” he said. “From the waist up, he was rock solid. From the waist down, it was like a small earthquake was going on. His legs were vibrating the whole blind. But he took a good shot and made a clean kill. The deer ran out of the food plot about 5 yards. He and his son were really charged up and wanted to put their hands on the deer, but I told them to wait and see if a doe came in. Sure enough, he took a doe later that afternoon with another clean, ethical shot. They were just ecstatic.”

The hunter even added another doe to his take before the weekend was over, which meant he went home with a cooler stuffed with venison.

“When we were butchering the deer, the guy I mentored let me get finished with half of the first deer and then he took over,” Nix said. “He pretty well cleaned and quartered the rest of the deer. Then he called his buddies and had a processor lined up in Pelham before he left Cedar Creek.”

Nix admitted to the group of hunters at dinner one night that he wasn’t too enthusiastic to miss rutting activity where he hunts, but that he had a “great” time as a mentor.

“The big takeaway from this is this used to be done by family members – dads, uncles or grandfathers,” he said. “In today’s world, we’ve kind of skipped a generation of folks who did not hunt and are not hunters. That seems so foreign to us. For someone who has been hunting for a long time, you may not see the value in doing this until you’ve done it.”

Justin Gilchrist is the wildlife biologist in charge of the Dallas County SOAs, Portland Landing and Cedar Creek, and he is grateful to see a lot of hard work reach fruition during the mentored hunts.

“For me, these hunts have been very rewarding,” Gilchrist said. “We put in a lot of time managing the resources and getting things ready for the hunts. Getting to mentor these people who have never been in the woods in their life is very special to me. We get to take people out and teach them about firearms and hunting. We show them deer sign and what to look for when scouting, like a hard mast (acorns, etc.) crop. Nothing compares to watching their reaction when a deer walks out. Then you watch them be successful and get excited about their first deer. To see them take a deer on land where we’ve done a lot of work is very rewarding. It pumps me up.”

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

18 hours ago

Birmingham lawmaker aims to make it easier to view police body camera video

An Alabama lawmaker from the Birmingham-area is reportedly trying to make it easier to access public records regarding police body cameras.

Rep. Juandalynn Givan (D-Birmingham) and her staff are rewording a bill that first stated access to public recordings should not be accessible.

“Why isn’t that body cam treated like any other public document? Why it is any different from the Freedom of Information Act?” Givan asked, via WBRC.

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Givan claims House Bill 36 would give victims, families, their family members, attorneys and the media more access to police body camera footage. Givan’s mission was initiated after the police-involved shooting death of E.J. Bradford at the Galleria Mall in Hoover.

“No one should have to go six months, three months, four months out without being able to see a video or see a recording,” Givan said.

Per WBRC, the Alabama Broadcasters Association is claiming that body camera footage is essential in being transparent and accurate reporting.

“Broadcasters have that responsibility It’s part of their roles as public servants,” Sharon Tinsley, president of the ABA, said. “We’re licensed in the public service and it’s our role to be in that place for the public where they can’t often be.”

While Givan’s plan has been met with positivity surrounding her mission, she has also been met with pushback.

Sgt. Heath Boackle, an executive board member with the Birmingham Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 1, says a rush to release body camera video could potentially jeopardize investigations.

“The concern would be if it comes out and it’s not the totality of the events before the case is even heard in a court of law, it could taint the jury and it also could give issues or concerns to the people that are seeing it without knowing all the facts,” Boackle said.

Kyle Morris also contributes daily to Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter @RealKyleMorris.

18 hours ago

Two winners from an Alabama law that requires local government fund newspapers: Goodloe Sutton and Alabama Media Group

Alabama’s law on legal notices and public notification is not that different than the laws of other states that require state and local government must advertise in local print newspapers for matters of the public interest. This means government entities must take tax dollars and hand them over to media companies in exchange for advertising that almost no one reads.

These laws may have served a purpose decades ago, but in 2019 it is hard for anyone to argue that counties should have to publish entire voter roles in local newspapers and pay for the privilege to do so. But that is the law right now and it is costing state and local government in Alabama millions of dollars.

The law is absurd for multiple reasons, but it is also an unfair burden on some cities.

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The city of Huntsville spent close to $115,000 on this issue in 2018, while the city of Hoover spent roughly $10,000 dollars on state-mandated advertising on local matters.

Why?

As Hoover City Councilman John Lyda put it, they are lucky enough to not have a newspaper in their city limits.

“We are a bit unique in that the law states that certain things must be advertised in a paper that is ‘published in your city.’ Other items must be published regardless,” he stated. “Oddly enough, we do not have a paper published in Hoover so our costs are significantly less. In the last fiscal year ending Sept 30, 2018, we only spent $10,800.”

Sorry, citizens of Huntsville, we have a completely archaic law in place that forces you to spend tax dollars on an issue that is so important that there are some cities that don’t have to participate in it at the same level and cost.

So, we have established that the costs are uneven and that taxpayers are the big losers here.

Who are the winners? Media outlets, and I will highlight two big winners.

The newspaper editorial that garnered national attention from Linden, Alabama, was published in a newspaper that made $350,000 last year because of current Alabama law.

Excerpt via Montgomery Advertiser:

On Twitter, Joshua Benton, the director of Nieman Journalism Lab, posted an archived advertisement that Sutton posted in late 2018 in an attempt to sell the paper.

In the sales pitch, Sutton said the paper pulled in over $350,000 in “legal ads.” Benton posited that those ads may serve as a major funding source for the paper, which, if correct, would bring in $6,700 in government-mandated funding per weekly issue.

Not bad for a local rag with 3,000 subscribers.

Alabama is funding these racist rants.

The other big winner? Alabama Media Group.

AMG operates newspapers in Birmingham, Mobile and Huntsville. All of those local papers are raking in gobs of money from local governments (see $115k from Huntsville and $153k from Madison County).

But it gets worse. Alabama Media Group received over $500,000 from the state of Alabama last year (some may be non-mandated spending, but most is not).

How about 2019 so far?

This is an affront to fiscal conservatism and common sense. Alabama legislators must reign this in.

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