4 years ago

Where Alabama’s politics intersects with culture — and how they affect each other

(Walker Miller / Yellowhammer News)

 

Quin Hillyer, my longtime friend and on-again, off-again colleague, wrote last week in this space that “Alabama’s governing systems are a collective mess.”

The same can be said for our culture — both in the United States generally and Alabama, specifically.

Alabamians have repeated the old joke, “Thank God for Mississippi,” so many times that they forget its origin. And they have endured the litany of statistics even more frequently. Everything that should be down is up; everything that should be up is down.

The state’s divorce rate ranks in the top 10. It also has among the 10 highest teenage birth rates, clocking in at 30.1 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 19 in 2015.

Same goes for poverty. With an average of 16.8 percent of the population living in poverty from 2014 through 2016, Alabama ranks as eighth-poorest, according to the Census Bureau.

A combination of poverty, divorce and neglected children has produced some tragic results. Alabama’s murder rate of 8.4 per 100,000 residents in 2016 trailed only Louisiana and Missouri, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report released in September.

Going hand-in-hand with crime is incarceration. Despite concerted efforts for years to reduce chronic overcrowding, the state still has the third-highest share of its citizens locked up behind bars, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Those absent citizens — mostly men — help contribute to a cycle that repeats itself over and over.

It’s not just Alabama. To some extent, all 50 states and the District of Columbia struggle from this troubling trend. Nationally, the labor-force participation rate has been sinking or flat for more than a decade — despite the ongoing recovery from the Great Recession. Look at the drug overdose epidemic, which is far more severe in many states than in the Heart of Dixie.

You can see it in our politics and on our university campuses. Students at college after college seem to be competing with one another to see who can produce the most absurd list of demands built around not having to be exposed to contrary ideas. Terms like “microagression,” “trigger words” and “snowflakes” have made a fast transformation from joke to mainstream.

It is at the intersection between politics and the culture where I hope to contribute to the conversation. I will write plenty of politics, but a lot, also, about the culture — things that are not overtly political. Because the thing is — politics and the culture affect each other.

My background in Alabama dates to 2000, and my experience in journalism stretches back even further. I covered courts and politics for 15 years at the Press-Register and AL.com in Mobile. For the past two years, I have covered national politics as a senior political reporter at LifeZette.com.

I come at this as a conservative and a reporter, but as a reporter first. Don’t expect cheerleading. Conservative readers are served best by knowing how things actually are, not by pretending they are as they wish them to be.

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

14 hours ago

Bronze Valley Accelerator selects five startups for mentoring program

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Startup accelerator gener8tor announced that five companies have been selected for its Summer 2021 Bronze Valley Accelerator program, giving them access to individualized coaching and a national network of mentors, customers, corporate partners and investors.

The startups, recruited from Alabama and throughout the Southeast, represent a wide variety of industries and verticals, ranging from waste technology to fan fiction content generation.

The group represents the third class for the Bronze Valley Accelerator, which focuses on supporting female entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color using the gBETA model from gener8tor.

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The program is designed to help startups gain early customer traction on their product or idea, and establish metrics that can make them competitive applicants for full-time, equity-based accelerators or for seed investment.

More than 150 startups from Alabama and beyond applied to participate in the program.

“In keeping with our commitment to help pave the way to success for people of color and women entrepreneurs, we look forward to working with this group of talented founders to assist in preparing them to attract seed funding and begin to grow and scale their businesses,” Bronze Valley President and CEO Neill Wright said.

NOURISHING THE ECOSYSTEM

Wisconsin-based Gener8tor’s gBETA is a free, seven-week accelerator that works with five startups at a time for no fees and no equity. Each cohort is kept small to ensure meaningful engagement with the gener8tor team, network and other resources.

“Because it provides valuable guidance and mentorship at a pivotal moment in the life cycle of a startup, the Bronze Valley Accelerator represents a key component in our strategic efforts to grow and nourish the innovation ecosystem supporting entrepreneurs across the state,” said Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

The program kicked off on Thursday, May 6, and the startups will work with the gener8tor team over the course of seven weeks to meet mentors, gain customer traction and pitch to investors. Due to COVID-19, the Summer 2021 program will be held virtually.

“In our second year, we continue to see a growing number of entrepreneurs and innovators across Alabama and beyond,” said Haley Medved Kendrick, director of the Bronze Valley Accelerator. “The five teams represent some of the extraordinary talent our community has to offer, and I am thrilled to welcome them to the Bronze Valley and gener8tor communities.”

The program will culminate on June 30 at the Bronze Valley Accelerator Pitch Night, which will highlight each of the five companies. This virtual event will be an opportunity for the public to listen and learn more about the startups and network with the founders and other community members.

The Bronze Valley Accelerator is supported by Bronze Valley, Alabama Power and the Alabama Department of Commerce. The Bronze Valley Accelerator is held three times per year, with five companies accepted per cohort to ensure a high level of individualized attention.

In April, Gener8tor announced a partnership with the MidCity Accelerator Foundation in Huntsville to launch a gBETA program in North Alabama.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

16 hours ago

State Rep. Clouse says special session will be needed for prisons — ‘We’ve had a gun to our head for at least five years’

When the Alabama Legislature adjourns sine die next week, another year will have come and gone without the body taking time to address the state’s prison problem, which is the focus of legal action taken by the federal government late last year.

Governor Kay Ivey had signed agreements on two lease-build proposals earlier this year. However, as the political environment had changed in recent months, lenders have been reluctant to provide financing for private prison contracts, which has imperiled the Ivey administration proposals.

During an appearance on Mobile radio FM Talk 106.5’s “The Jeff Poor Show,” State Rep. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark), the chairman of the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee, indicated he saw no way around a special session to deal with the long-standing prison issue given the challenges presented to the Ivey proposal.

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“I think we’ll be in a special session to deal with this issue,” he said. “We don’t have a choice anymore. We’ve been talking about this for five years — since Governor Bentley put forth the bond issue proposal in the ’16 session that came close to passing. It passed the Senate pretty overwhelmingly and narrowly passed the House with a little bit different version, then the senate added a different amendment to what we did, and it came down to one of those last night deals again where we couldn’t get it across the goal line by midnight. And I thought we would pass it in ’17 after a lot of the issues had been worked out, and the newness of it had worn off. But then, Governor Bentley had his problems and resigned from office in the middle of the ’17 session. That basically wrapped that up. Then, ’18 was an election year. We didn’t take it up then.”

“I really thought we should have taken it up in a special session in 2019 during the regular session right after we passed the gas tax,” Clouse continued. “But, you know, there was disagreement on doing that at the time to see what this lease-build issue looked like. We thought it was going to get some type of proposal by the end of ’19, and it didn’t happen. And it finally came around, September 2020, and then the legislature wasn’t able to see any of those details, which I wish we had have been because I think the plug should have been pulled as soon as they came out with those proposals 7-8 months ago. I think we could have saved ourselves a lot of time and money and could have gone ahead and addressed this bond issue at that time.”

Throughout 2019, lawmakers pointed to 2020 for a possible resolution to prisons, but the COVID pandemic interfered with those plans, according to Clouse.

“Of course, the 2020 [session] — obviously, that session and the whole year was dominated by COVID, and it was difficult for us as a legislative body, and still is — but not as bad as it was — to operate, particularly in the House with everybody spread out all over the place. So, we’ve had a lot of unusual things this whole time over the last five years that have happened and just some bad luck, and maybe not taking the bull by the horn and moving forward with it. But I don’t think we’ve got a choice now — we’ve got to have some new prisons. We’ve got prisons that are dilapidated and falling apart. This is not an answer to all the problems, but you’ve got to have that foundation there. It’s just time we move forward on it.”

According to the Dale County lawmaker, should the legislature pursue prisons in a special session, it would likely mean different plans from the ones proposed by Ivey.

“[W]e’ve already got the land,” Clouse explained. “There’s no need to go out and buy new property. All the proposed sites where we’re buying new property — I mean, the folks who live in those areas, they don’t want it. And so, you know, that’s an issue there for those folks. And I think the main issue, though, is once this bond issue is paid for in 30 years versus a lease program over 30 years is we own the buildings. If they’re built properly, and hopefully they would be in this day and age, they can last 70 to 100 years, you know?”

Clouse acknowledged prisons have long been neglected in Alabama but said that was not out of the norm for any state in the country.

“There’s no question — we’ve had a gun to our head for at least the last five years,” he added. “So, we’ve gone, I would say, the last 40 years, and obviously, I haven’t been in the legislature that long — but I’ve kept up with it that long, underfunding the Department of Corrections, probably $50 million a year. I mean, they’ve got now a $650 million budget. Over 40 years, that’s $2 billion. We’ve always had issues with the general fund budget, always having to borrow from Peter to pay Paul and make sure, particularly with Medicaid, do the minimum amount, so we get that federal match there, which is just billions of dollars, and prisons have always been put at the bottom of the barrel because nobody cares about prisons. They don’t have a constituency. A lot of its the legislature’s fault over the last at least 40 years, probably longer than that. It’s not just Alabama. It’s all over the country. All governments, even local governments — prisons and jails always come up last on funding needs.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

18 hours ago

Alabama expanding innovation opportunities for entrepreneurs, businesses

Entrepreneurs and business leaders looking to start and grow their businesses now have more opportunities and support in Alabama.

That message was the central theme Wednesday during the Alabama Innovation Commission‘s meeting at the Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator in downtown Birmingham. The commission met to review its successes and map out goals for the remainder of 2021.

“To be at the midway point and to have the progress that the commission has made is absolutely incredible,” said Greg Barker, president of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama. “There’s been meaningful legislation that has been passed, and then to outline what we’re going to do going forward, the way we’re going to try to help Alabama innovate is really been stellar to observe.”

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Alabama Innovation Commission plans for future from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The commission, also known as Innovate Alabama, was created in July 2020 by Gov. Kay Ivey to give innovators a platform to engage policymakers, exchange ideas and identify policies that promote innovation. A focus of the commission during the first nine months was developing policies to increase entrepreneurship, spur innovation and enhance technology accelerators, in addition to addressing the challenges and red tape that startup companies often face. The result of those discussions was plans to establish the Alabama Innovation Corp., an innovation to support statewide entrepreneurship, rural businesses, research and development at existing companies, and provide access to advanced technical skills that will drive the future workforce. The Alabama Legislature approved the plans May 6.

“What I’m excited about with the corporation is that these ideas that are generated in the commission have a place to go,” said Peggy Sammon, CEO at GeneCapture. “I’m hoping that it is a real engine – not a top-down engine but an engine that brings the ideas in the state up and really supports what’s happening in the state because we’re not trying to create something brand new. We’re trying to take advantage of what is working and help support it.”

The legislature also approved allowing the new corporation to make matching grants of up to $250,000 for businesses and organizations that received federal Small Business Innovation Research grants or Technology Transfer Research grants.

“It’s putting additional resources in the hands of the people that are really trying to be innovative,” said Charisse Stokes, executive director of TechMGM. “We look at the small business community and realize that they do need mentors, but they also need those resources that can help to guide them through the process. By having some of the statewide matching funds, it incentivizes those businesses where they can now start to scale and do even more to make some of those dreams come true.”

State Rep. Bill Poole is chairman and State Sen. Greg Reed is vice-chairman of the commission, which now turns its attention to creating a success plan for the corporation and delivering a comprehensive innovation policy report to the governor by Oct. 31.

“I think the key thing is to finish what we started,” Barker said. “When you think about the things that the commission has outlined that we’re going to do, I really do think we’ll be a lot better at securing the right kind of sponsored research for Alabama. I think we’ll do a lot better at commercializing that research and those technologies. I think we’ll do a lot better at supporting existing businesses as they’re looking for ways to innovate, and I think we’ll be a lot better at attracting innovative companies to Alabama.”

“A two-year plan for the corporation would be a very good accomplishment for the commission,” added Sammons.

Stokes said strengthening public-private partnerships is key to the success of the commission’s work.

“It’s very critical,” Stokes said. “It makes a significant impact on our economy but it also has the ability to bridge the gap between some of your urban areas, your rural areas, but then also through different industries. It also gives us the ability to leverage – not just the technology, but also leveraging the business aspects of that.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

19 hours ago

United Way of East Central Alabama helps Calhoun County youngsters grow love of reading

Books are gifts that expand your world. As Dr. Seuss said: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

United Way of East Central Alabama (UWECA) recently donated 2,000 books to kindergarteners and first-graders at all public and some private schools throughout Calhoun County. The gift of reading continues to pay off big dividends – with youngsters showing lots of enthusiasm – as they enjoy the free book, “Giraffes Can’t Dance” by British writer and illustrator Giles Andreae. The bestselling book helps dispel negative stereotypes.

But these books include a “little something extra on the cover – a QR code students can use to watch a volunteer read the story,” said Jessica Smith, coordinator of UWECA’s Imagination Library program.

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Because of social distancing measures during the COVID-19 pandemic, volunteers have been unable to read to classes at Calhoun County schools. UWECA’s one-time gift of books helped “fill in the gap,” Smith said.

“We certainly plan on having volunteers back in the classroom in 2022,” said Smith, UWECA Marketing and Programs director. “If we have a sponsorship for 2022, we’d possibly be able to give books again.”

Kim Pentecost’s class at Piedmont Elementary School was among many that received the popular book.

“Early literacy for children is so important,” said Pentecost, lead pre-K teacher at Piedmont Elementary. “Everything we can do to enthuse kids to read, we need to do it.”

Pentecost showed the children how to use the QR code on the book, teaching them to use a smart phone to scan the square on the book’s cover to watch a video of a volunteer reading the story.

“My students love the book,” said Pentecost, who has taught for 14 years at Piedmont Elementary and 3 years at Oxford Elementary School. “Some students have said they scan the code at home and read the book with their parents. They understood, ‘Take this home and show Mama and Daddy.’ They know to re-watch the video.

“So Read Across America was a little different for us this year,” added Pentecost, who earned her bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in early childhood education from Jacksonville State University. “We watched the video together. We really appreciate the United Way’s gift – it gives books to children who may not ordinarily have books at home,” she said.

Pentecost said the children enjoyed reading the story in class: “They remember back to when volunteers read to us on the screen – they make that connection.”

In earlier years, Smith visited Piedmont Elementary to read to classes and met with teachers to inform them about UWECA’s Imagination Library program. Parents in Calhoun County are invited to enroll their child in Imagination Library to get a free book in the mail each month.

Cassie Royster, a first-grade teacher at Kitty Stone Elementary School in Jacksonville, thanked UWECA for the books. “My students loved reading them and filling in the blanks,” Royster said.

Jacki Lowry, whose daughter, Harrigan, attends Oxford Elementary, said her 5-year old loves “Giraffes Can’t Dance.” The Lowrys made sure to take the book with them on a recent beach vacation.

“Harrigan loves her books,” said Lowry, Community Development specialist in Alabama Power’s Eastern Division. Lowry also serves as state president of the Alabama Power Service Organization.

“As part of the Alabama Power Service Organization, we support Read Across America and suggest taking part in projects every year. This year was exciting to me because, as a parent, I was able to be a part of that experience and the excitement of reading with my child.”

In Pentecost’s view, the books helped make the 2021 school year a little brighter for students and teachers.

“I think it was a great thing the United Way did for us,” she said.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

21 hours ago

Alabama angler Wes Logan wins 2021 Whataburger Bassmaster Elite at Neely Henry Lake

Before the tournament began, Wes Logan predicted it would take 55 pounds to win.

He was wrong. It took 57 pounds.

The Springville native landed 57 lbs. 9 oz. to land the blue trophy Monday at the 2021 Whataburger Bassmaster Elite at Neely Henry Lake. He beat Paul Mueller, who was 1 lb. 6 oz. back in second place.

“I give it all I had,” Logan said at Monday’s weigh-in. “I’ve led some tournaments going to the last day but never been able to close it out. To do it here on this body of water as many hours I’ve spent here, it just makes this that more special, and to do it in front of all of these people it’s even more special. The good Lord blessed me.”

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The tournament wrapped up Monday afternoon with weigh-in at the Gadsden City Boat Docks. The four-day tournament was originally scheduled to end Sunday but heavy rains last week forced tournament officials to delay the start of the tournament by one day.

“I had a great week,” Mueller said after his weigh-in. “Just to be able to do that under tough conditions I was happy with it.”

Mueller did catch the biggest fish of the tournament, hooking a 6 lb. 6 oz. bass Monday morning.

“That fish was a game changer,” Mueller said. “We had a mud puddle with moving water and look at the weights.”

Fan favorite and Guntersville native Gerald Swindle ended the tournament in third place, more than three pounds back from Logan. Swindle said despite coming up short he had fun.

“It’s been a great week,” Swindle said. “I enjoyed all of the changes in the water and I was blessed to get a few key bites. I got this place dialed in. It was really good to be in Gadsden.”

The tournament was the first Bassmaster Elite series tournament to ever be held on Neely Henry Lake and the second of three Elite events scheduled in Alabama during the 2021 season. Anglers in the Elite series will compete May 20-23 at Lake Guntersville for the 2021 Berkley Bassmaster Elite. To learn more, visit bassmaster.com.

Final Standings – 2021 Whataburger Bassmaster Elite at Neely Henry Lake

1. Wes Logan (Springville, AL) – 57 lbs. 9 oz.
2. Paul Mueller (Naugatuck, CT) – 56 lbs. 3 oz.
3. Gerald Swindle (Guntersville, AL) – 54 lbs. 2 oz.
4. Jason Christie (Park Hill, OK) – 52 lbs. 13 oz.
5. Matt Arey (Shelby, NC) – 52 lbs. 1 oz.
6. Bryan New (Belmont, NC) – 50 lbs. 2 oz.
7. Bob Downey (Hudson, WI) – 49 lbs. 10 oz.
8. Brock Mosley (Collinsville, MS) – 47 lbs. 7 oz.
9. Austin Felix (Eden Prairie, MN) – 46 lbs. 4 oz.
10. Todd Auten (Lake Wylie, SC) – 42 lbs. 11 oz.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)