The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather


    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower


    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships


    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

3 years ago

What Mobile’s iconic Semmes statue says about the debate over Confederate monuments

(Facebook/Visit Mobile)

June 26, 1900, had been a record-setting day in Mobile, dumping 12½ inches of rain in 12 hours. And stormy weather threatened again on the 27th.

But that did not stop thousands of people from showing up at the base of Government Street downtown to honor a local hero of the War Between the States, as the Civil War still was commonly called in the South. By 5 p.m., according to the Mobile Daily Register, an “immense crowd” that included ladies in “summer costumes and beautiful hats” ignored the “ugly black squall” to the east and filled out Royal Street and Duncan Place. They took up the sidewalks and galleries in the surrounding neighborhood.

In front of them sat a giant platform constructed for the unveiling of a bronze statue of Raphael Semmes, a Confederate admiral whom historians later would recognize as the most successful raider of commercial vessels in maritime history.

It is hard to imagine the scale of the presentation. Mayor J.C. Bush, city council members and other public officials sat on the left, while the late admiral’s daughter, Electra Semmes Colston, and other relatives sat on the right. The platform also housed the Semmes Camp No. 11 of the United Confederate Veterans and members of the press.


The Alabama National Guard looked on as the Excelsior Brass Brand banged out “Dixie” and other tunes as a prelude to the afternoon’s speeches. Dignitaries included Edward P. Allen, the Catholic bishop of Mobile, and William J. Samford, who at age 17 had commanded the 46th Alabama Infantry and was in the middle of campaigning for what would be a successful run for governor of Alabama.

The newspaper drew a military metaphor in its description of the proceedings in coverage that took up nearly the entire front page of the next day’s paper: “For about an hour, the dark nimbus clouds were marshalling their flames there, much as an army is marshalling in battle array.”

In his address — interrupted by rain but continued once the assemblage had taken cover indoors — Samford seemed not to consider that possibility that future generations of Mobilians and Alabamians would be any less enthusiastic about bronze-and-granite tributes to “our great men and women” during the noble cause.

“That posterity, failing to appreciate and perpetuate the worth of its ancestors, will itself leave for its posterity nothing worth preserving in marble,” he said.

The Daily Register, in a separate article, agreed, saying, “We shall not likely hear one word of criticism from any respectable quarter of the Union for the passions of war have subsided, and all observers are able to recognize in Semmes the highest form of patriotism a noble bravery, and a chivalry that would have done credit to the proudest knight of the middle ages.”

It should be noted that, in fact, high regard for Semmes was not unanimous. Putnam’s Magazine of New York wrote a scathing review of Semmes’ memoir a few years after the Civil War, concluding, “There never was a meaner, more ungallant enterprise than that of the ship-scuttling skipper of the British pirate Alabama.”

Contemporary controversies

Future generations, as well, very much did question the nobility of Semmes and other Confederate giants immortalized in bronze and marble in Mobile and throughout the country. A movement to remove Confederate statues — through both legal means and outright vandalism — has gained steam since last year’s violent demonstrations by neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville, VA.

State law prohibits local officials from disturbing the Semmes statue that overlooks the entrance to the Wallace Tunnel and has been a fixture in the Port City for more than a century. But a group called “Anonymous” last year included the Semmes statue on a hit list of Confederate monuments it wanted removed by destructive means.

The Semmes statue still stands, but the controversy raises two questions few Alabamians likely ever contemplate — who, exactly, was Semmes, and how did his statue come to be?

The inscription on the statue does a decent job of giving the highlights: He was a “Sailor. Patriot. Statesman. Scholar and Christian Gentleman.” The details have filled seven biographies.

The second question is important because critics have argued that the Confederate memorials had less to do with honoring the veterans of the Civil War and more to do with intimidating blacks during the Jim Crow era. They note that many of the statues went during the civil rights movement.

Alabama circa 1900 was a thoroughly racist society, to be sure. The year after the statue unveiling, Alabama voters would ratify a constitution riddled with explicitly racist language and provisions enshrining segregation. But if motivation for the Semmes statue was racial oppression — decades before the civil rights movement — there is no evidence of it in the exhaustive newspaper coverage at the time. None of the speakers quoted in the Daily Register articles on the ceremony mentioned racial superiority or segregation laws.

Samford, the Confederate veteran, was the only speaker to mention race at all — and then in order to dispute the notion that slavery was the cause of the war. He allowed that it was “possibly one of the fuses to the magazine.” But the true causes, Samford insisted, centered on “the right of each state to manage its own domestic institutions.”

Said Samford, “It was in defense of these fundamental principles that she staked all on the result of the great conflict.”

Semmes the man was a good deal more complicated than Semmes the legend. Born in 1809 to a family that traced his roots to colonial times, he spent his early years on a tobacco plantation with slaves in southern Maryland. After his parents died, he went at a young age to live with an uncle in Washington’s Georgetown community.

There, Semmes developed a love of books and the sea. In 1826, he won appointment to the U.S. Navy and chaffed over the next two decades at the slow pace of promotion during times of peace. During long periods on land, with reduced pay from the Navy, sailors had to find other ways to supplement their income. Semmes did so as a lawyer, an occupation he would pursue off and on for decades.

Marrying an abolitionist’s daughter

Semmes later moved to Cincinnati and courted the 17-year-old daughter of the couple who owned the house where he boarded. It was an odd-couple pairing in many ways. He was a devout Catholic 10 years her senior, from a slave state. She was the daughter of a prominent Protestant preacher and abolitionist.

Yet, Semmes and Ann Elizabeth Spencer married in 1837, shortly after his promotion to lieutenant.

Four years later, the family moved to Alabama. Semmes bought property near modern-day Josephine on the western bank of the Perdido River in Baldwin County. The property, which he called Prospect Hill, offered him easy access to Pensacola, where he was stationed in the Navy. It also gave him a ready income source for the lengthy down times — harvesting trees with the help of rented slaves.

Semmes later moved to Mobile in order to find better educational opportunities for his children. He bought three slaves to help his wife maintain the house during his many months at sea.

Semmes’ service during the Mexican-American War brought him, coincidentally, in close contact with a young Army lieutenant named Ulysses S. Grant. The two future Civil War combatants manned howitzers on opposite sides of a church roof as the U.S. military fought its way into Mexico City in 1847.

Semmes’ views on race and a host of other subjects were well-documented in meticulous ship logs he kept during his long Navy service, surviving letters that he wrote and two memoirs.

Those writings leave little doubt that he believed in the superiority of the white race. In addition to the slaves he rented and the ones he owned, Semmes defended the institution in his writings. In his autobiographies, he described slavery in paternalistic terms, arguing that the institution offered blacks the best life.

In “Service Afloat and Ashore During the Mexican War,” he argued the Mexican peasants lived worse than American salves. As he put it, “the master bestowing upon his slave the kindly feeling which is naturally inspired by those who are dependent upon us, and the slave, in return, regarding himself as a member of his master’s family, and more or less identified with his interests.”

In his second autobiography, “Service Afloat During the War Between the States,” Semmes downplayed the role of slavery in the conflict. “Such was not the fact,” he wrote. In the book, he recounted a conversation with a British captain during the war in which he supposedly told the seaman that the North used slavery as an excuse to justify robbery “by means of its tariffs” against the South.

“The slavery question was one of the implements employed, to help on the robbery of the South,” he wrote.

But Semmes contradicted not just the consensus of modern historians about what the war was about, but his own earlier writings. In logs he kept on the CSS Sumter in 1861, Semmes wrote that “we were fighting the first battle in favor of slavery.” He wrote that “the true issue of the war” was “an abolition crusade against our slavey property.”

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”

3 years ago

Here’s what Alabama might be if it copied California idea and split into several states


Two recent stories got us thinking about what Alabama might look like if it broke apart.

The first is a New York Times op-ed arguing that the United States is best understood as 11 distinct countries with regional differences that explain voting patterns. Arguments against the analysis aside, it is an interesting concept.

The second story is a drive by a California billionaire to divide the massive state into three separate states, each with its own capital, and each sending two people to the U.S. Senate. The state Supreme Court last month ruled that the question will not appear on the ballot this November.

Still, it is an intriguing thought. So, we put together a map showing Alabama if the Heart of Dixie broke part into five separate states.


A couple caveats, here: This is not actually going to happen. No one has proposed making new states out of Alabama, and even if Alabamians wanted it, Congress would have to approve it.

And regions are arbitrary. We kept the rural counties north of Mobile in the state we label “Gulf Coast,” for instance, even though an argument could be made they don’t belong with the two counties that actually touch the Gulf of Mexico. Autauga and Elmore counties typically are not considered part of the Black Belt, but we included them because we felt they more appropriately belong with Montgomery than elsewhere.

The large state we term “Metro Alabama” includes not just Birmingham and its surrounding counties, but also counties from Mississippi to Georgia. An argument easily could be made that many of those counties belong elsewhere or, perhaps, even should form a different state altogether.

But we had to draw the lines somewhere, and remember — this is just for fun.

Here are the states:

Gulf Coast

The counties: Mobile and Baldwin, plus Washington, Clarke, Conecuh, Escambia and Monroe.

Capital: Mobile.

The Skinny: Gulf Coast would be the state that would take on the character of its capital and biggest city, Mobile. The economy would be based on tourism and manufacturing, with the city’s port retaining its importance to the entire region. The state would have a population of 738,440, based on census estimates. An estimated 14.9 percent of the population 25 and older would live in poverty, slightly above the rate of the current state.

Covering a geography that roughly tracks although exceeds the size of Republican Rep. Bradley Byrne’s congressional district, it likely — not surprisingly — would have conservative voting patterns. President Donald Trump would have won 62.4 percent of this state’s vote in 2016, compared with 34.5 percent for Democrat Hillary Clinton.


The counties: The state would cover nine counties in the southeast corner of the state — Barbour, Coffee, Covington, Crenshaw, Dale, Geneva, Henry, Houston and Russell.

Capital: Dothan.

The Skinny: Agriculture, particularly peanuts, define this state. Dothan would be both the seat of government and the only major city. In Dothan, the state would have a credible medical hub. The population would be 382,292. That would make it the smallest state in the union — fewer than the 579,315 who live in Wyoming. The poverty rate of those 25 and older would be 15.5 percent. Politically, Trump would have won all but one county and would have defeated Clinton by a margin of 70.5 percent to 27 percent — his best result of any of the new states.

Black Belt

The counties: The state would be those of the traditional Black Belt region, named for its rich soil, plus the suburban counties of Elmore and Autauga.

Capital: Montgomery.

The Skinny: It would be a mix of agriculture in struggling rural areas, balanced by the Montgomery metro area. The population would clock in at 585,501, with a 17.4 percent adult poverty rate. Politically, it is the only one of the new Alabama states that would lean Democratic. Clinton would have carried it by a margin of 52.7 percent to 44.9 percent.

Metro Alabama

The counties: The state would have 25 counties, including all of the Birmingham metropolitan region. It also would include all of the rest of the counties between the southern Alabama states and the sliver of counties along the north.

Capital: Birmingham.

The Skinny: Metro Alabama would be the largest and most diverse of the new states created from the ashes of the old Alabama, with a population of 2,165,612, bigger than 15 current states. Not only would it have Birmingham and its wealthy suburbs, but currently Alabama’s two largest public universities. And it would have plenty of smaller cities and rural areas, too. It would have a 13.8 percent adult poverty rate. Trump’s victory over Clinton in Metro Alabama — 63.1 percent to 33.3 percent — almost exactly matches the results of the current state as a whole in 2016.

North Alabama

The counties: The final of the new states encompasses 10 counties along the top of the current state — Colbert, Franklin, Lawrence, Limestone, Madison, Marshall, DeKalb, Jackson, Lauderdale and Morgan.

Capital: Huntsville.

The Skinny: North Alabama, dominated by Huntsville, would be a major aerospace powerhouse. The second-most populous of the new states, with 1,004,922 residents, it also would be the most affluent, with an adult poverty rate of 12.9 percent. Like most of the new states, this would be solid Trump country. He would have won 67.4 percent of the vote, to Clinton’s 27.8 percent.

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”


3 years ago

How might Sen. Jones vote on Kavanaugh? Record on lower-court judges offers clues


Sen. Doug Jones (D-Mountain Brook) is keeping mum on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, but he has spoken — through his votes — on other judicial confirmations.

A dozen appellate court judges have been confirmed since Jones took office in January after winning a special election to finish the term of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Jones voted “yes” on six of those nominations, opposed five and did not vote on the 12th.

The senator has not made public statements about any of those votes, and his office did not respond to inquiries. Until he makes a declaration about Kavanaugh, the senator’s voting record offers the best guide to his thinking. He voted with a majority of his Democratic colleagues on all but two nominations.

Here is a closer look at those votes:


The “yes” votes

Jones voted to confirm Mark Bennett to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; Joel Carson III to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; Michael Scudder and Amy Eve to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court; Kurt Engelhardt to the 5th U.S. Circuit; and David Stras to the 8th U.S. Circuit.

Bennett was an unusual case. Every Democrat, and Democratic-leaning independents Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine, voted for him, while 27 Republicans voted “no.” Republicans who opposed Bennett objected to his record on the Second Amendment.

Scudder and Eve had near-unanimous support. Carson’s nomination split the Democratic caucus. Jones joined 26 other Democrats in supporting him, while 21 opposed him.

Jones was one of 13 Democrats who voted to confirm Engelhardt in May. Opponents raised concerns about rulings he has made in sexual harassment lawsuits.

Jones lined up with Sens. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) in voting to confirm Stras. Like Jones, Donnelly, Manchin and Heitkamp are feeling heat as Democrats representing red states. Most Democrats voted “no.”

The “no” votes

Jones voted against Britt Grant to serve on the 11th Circuit; Andy Oldham for the 5th Circuit; John Nalbandian for the 6th Circuit; Michael Brennan for the 7th Circuit and Kyle Duncan for the 5th Circuit.

No Democrats voted for Oldham or Brennan. Only Heitkamp and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) voted for Grant, and only Donnelly, Heitkamp and Manchin voted for Nalbandian. And Manchin was the only Democrat to vote for Duncan.

The non-vote

Jones was not present for the Feb. 27 vote to confirm Elizabeth Branch to the 11th Circuit. Her nomination split Democrats, with 25 vote “yea” and 23 voting “nay.”

The record would suggest that if Kavanaugh draws just a few Democratic votes, as many experts predict, it is unlikely Jones would be one of them. He bucked his party only twice on appeals court votes.

Unlike Manchin, Heitkamp and Donnelly, he has declined to meet with the nominee ahead of hearings scheduled to begin Sept. 4.

Then again, experts said, the Supreme Court is different.

“I really don’t think it offers a clue. … Court of Appeals nominations just aren’t as important as a Supreme Court nomination,” said John Carroll, a former federal magistrate judge who now serves as a professor at Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham.

Jones has come under intense and competing pressures. On the one hand, polls suggest a majority of his constituents favor confirmation. And although he is not up for re-election this November, he will be on the ballot in two years. The Judicial Crisis Network and other conservative groups are spending millions of dollars targeting Jones and other red state Democrats with pro-Kavanaugh advertising.

On the other hand, activist progressives have declared war on the nomination, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has leaned on moderates in his caucus to at least hold off on announcing support for Kavanaugh until he sews up commitments from every Republican.

A woman at the senator’s town hall meeting in Birmingham this week tossed a pair of stuffed lips toward him and declared, “You can kiss my ass if you vote ‘yes.’”

Eric Ostermeier, a political science researcher at the University of Minnesota, said senators often can escape scrutiny of their votes on lower-court judges in a way they cannot with the Supreme Court

“He can’t hide when it comes to vote for a Supreme Court position,” said Ostermeier, who runs a website called Smart Politics. “That will be covered everywhere … and that will be a salient issue for his opponent if he votes against it.”

Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director of the Judicial Crisis Network, said she does not know what the senator’s votes on appellate nominations predict about Kavanaugh.

“We’ll see,” he said. “Unfortunately, Sen. Jones on many things has decided he wants to align himself with Chuck Schumer and the liberal wing over his own constituents.”

Severino added that Alabama voters are not likely to forget how Jones votes on Kavanaugh.

“This is a very significant opportunity,” she said. “Is he someone who wants to be independent, or knee-jerk Schumer?”

Carroll, the Cumberland School of Law professor, said the politics surrounding court nominations are a far cry for the congenial atmosphere that prevailed when he started practicing law in 1975.

“Back then, it was, is this person qualified?” he said.

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”


3 years ago

Alabama Department of Revenue changes rules to comply with 2013 red tape law


Five years after the Alabama Legislature passed a law to cut red tape, state agencies are still culling their regulations.

Tuesday, the Alabama Department of Revenue will hold a hearing in Montgomery on a proposal to repeal a regulation concerning a property tax break the legislature gave to senior citizens in Baldwin County who meet certain qualifications.

The tax agency wrote a new rule in 2008 because the original rule referenced dates that no longer are valid. But the old regulation remains on the books. The Red Tape Reduction Act of 2013 requires that regulation to be formally eliminated, and that requires a hearing at the agency’s headquarters in Montgomery.


“We’ve had to go back and look at all of our regulations to clear up all the rules,” said Frank Miles, a spokesman for the agency.

The red tap law that passed five years ago requires any agency that proposes a regulation that might adversely impact a business to prepare an economic impact statement and file it with the Joint Committee on Administrative Regulation Review.

Lawmakers at the time said they had received complaints from companies that red tape was consuming time and energy that could be put into the core business and creating jobs.

The law also requires existing rules and regulations to be reviewed every five years. Agencies are required to post information related to proposed and existing reviews.

The Baldwin County regulation in question refers to Oct. 1, 2005 — any residence constructed after that date would not qualify for the senior discount. It also cites Oct. 1, 2006 — the date at which property taxes would be frozen for taxpayers 65 and older who had lived in their homes for at least 10 years.

The superseding 2008 regulation deleted references to specific dates and now simply states that the tax break is available to folks 65 and older who have lived in the same home for at least 10 years.

The tax agency will take up two other proposed rules changes on Tuesday. The first is a new rule clarifying the procedures for a tax lien auction and tax lien sale. The regulation lays out procedures for collecting delinquent property taxes. The rule requires county tax officials to determine which method to use no later than Oct. 1 when property taxes become due.

The second proposed rule is an amendment to regulations concerning tobacco manufacturers and salesmen. For instance, it changes “should” to “shall” in text related to a requirement that salesmen be informed of the illegality of transferring unstamped tobacco between wholesalers and in their vehicles.

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”


3 years ago

Census Snapshot: Alabama back-to-school shopping by the numbers


It is back-to-school month in Alabama, and for parents, that means shopping.

The Census Bureau published a trove of data for the occasion, shedding light on school-related retail. Ranging from bookstores to department stores, here are some highlights of how Alabama and its bigger counties, stack up against the rest of the country.

— Family clothing stores. The Census Bureau counts 28,951 such establishments throughout the country, and 466 in Alabama. They are a bit more common in Alabama — 9.63 for every 100,000 residents, compared with 9.09 per 100,000 nationwide.


But revenue per worker is less in the Yellowhammer State. The annual payroll of $102.4 million, works out to $12.36 per employee. Although there is no way to determine from the data how that payroll is distributed, it does offer a rough picture of compensation. The national figures is $15.71.

Among Alabama counties included in the survey — many smaller counties were left out and the agency withheld data for others that had too few stores — the highest revenue-per-employee mark is Russell County, at $16.81. At $9.43, Mobile County is the lowest figure.

— Office supplies and stationery stores. Prevalence is about the same — 1.93 stores per 100,000 Alabama residents, compared with 2.15 for the country as a whole. The payroll-per-employee figure is $21.80 nationally but a hefty $24.63 in Alabama.

The Census Bureau has data only for 10 Alabama counties, but among those, Jefferson is the highest at $27.92, while Morgan brings up the rear at $16.53.

— Department stores. They are slightly more common in America, at 2.49 per 100,000 residents, than in Alabama, at 2.38.

Payroll also is similar — $20.44 per worker in the United States, vs. $19.22 per employee in Alabama. Madison County has the highest ratio at $21.29, with Lauderdale coming in at the bottom, with a ratio of $16.05.

— Bookstores. Are Alabamians bibliophiles? The Census Bureau says the Heart of Dixie has a higher concentration of bookstores than the nation as a whole, 2.48 per 100,000 vs. 2.02 nationally.

But bookstore workers are better-paid elsewhere. The payroll is $15.36 per worker in America, according to the latest data, compared with $13.37 in Alabama.

Limestone is number one at $18.26; Tuscaloosa County is last at $9.72.

— Children’s and infants’ clothing stores. The concentration of these types of stores is nearly identical statewide and throughout the nation — 2.22 per 100,000 residents nationwide, and 2.21 in Alabama.

The payroll-per-employee ration of $14.97 nationally exceeds the state figure, $13,90.

Among Alabama counties surveyed, Mobile’s is the highest at $18.29 per employee. The lowest is Houston County, as $9.58.

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”


3 years ago

Is the South a different country? New York Times op-ed misreads election data

A provocative New York Times op-ed last week argued that political scientists oversimplify the great divide in American politics as an argument between rural denizens and urban residents.

Actually, the author says, the country’s politics fracture 11 different ways, the result of historical and cultural differences that split the nation into 11 distinct “countries.”

Portland (Maine) Press Herald reporter Colin Woodward, who developed the theory in the 2011 book “American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America,” uses Mobile in the Times piece to bolster his argument. He lists the coastal Alabama city along with Boise, ID; Colorado Springs, CO; Knoxville, TN; Tulsa, OK, and Wichita, KS, as smaller cities that defy the conventional wisdom that cities are “reliable bastions of Democratic support.”


Woodward maintains that Mobile better reflects “Deep South,” one of his 11 nations. It encompasses parts of Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina. He descries it as “modeled on slave states of the ancient world” and fights against federal power, taxes on the wealthy and labor and environmental regulations.

It historically has been diametrically opposed to the interests of “Yankeedom” — which covers New England and states in the supper Midwest. In “Deep South” and other culturally conservative regions, he writes, rural and urban majorities supported Republican candidates in all three [of the last national] elections, whether voters lived in central cities, wealthy suburbs, mountain hollers or the ranches of the high plains.”

Woodward’s theory holds when examining voting returns at the county level. All but 13 Alabama counties voted for President Donald Trump in 2016. In Massachusetts, the heart of “Yankeedom,” every county supported Democrat Hillary Clinton.

A more granular analysis of election results, however, suggests that urban voters in the North do not vote appreciably different than their cousins in the South or elsewhere.

A detailed map published by the Times just a few days before the op-ed makes it easy to test the hypothesis. Trump won Mobile County, for instance. But the Times map shows the vote broken down to the precinct level. There is plenty of Democratic blue in the city, itself.

The same goes for Huntsville, where Clinton carried many of the polling places in the city but lost overall in Madison County. Tuscaloosa, Gadsden, Anniston and Dothan all show the same pattern — little pockets of blue surrounded by precincts that grow a darker shade of red the further they are from the city center.

This pattern is evident in “Yankeedom,” as well. Although Clinton swept every Massachusetts county, at the precinct level, there is plenty of red in the rural areas in the middle of the state and in the southeast outside of Plymouth.

Clinton won Rhode Island by 15.5 percentage points, one of her best states. She carried two of the state’s three counties, and the one she lost, Kent County, she lost by just 548 votes. But the precinct map shows a sea of red in Rhode Island. Clinton’s victory statewide came from dark blue precincts in Providence and a lighter shade of blue in Newport and smaller cities.

The same urban-rural divide shows up again and again across America. Wherever large numbers of people live in proximity, Clinton precincts are sure to follow — even in overwhelmingly Republican states. The most densely populated parts of Salt Lake City, as well as the smaller cities of Park City and Ogden, are blue — even as the rest of Utah mostly was red.

That is not to say that regional differences are nonexistent. While black voters behave more or less the same everywhere — exit polls suggested Clinton won 92 percent of the African-American vote in Wisconsin and 89 percent in Georgia — there is variation among white voters.

The blue in Northern cities like Philadelphia, Boston and New York extends further into the suburbs than it does in Southern cities like Atlanta, Birmingham and Nashville.

While 75 percent of white Georgians backed Trump, the president won only 53 percent of white voters in Wisconsin.

Still, the more urban the neighborhood, the more likely it is to vote Democrat — regardless of the ethnicity of its residents.

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”



3 years ago

Study forecasts job gains from tax cuts — but proportionately less in Alabama than elsewhere

(Made in Alabama)

The federal tax cuts passed last year created 2,941 jobs in Alabama this year and will create 16,633 over a decade, but that employment boost will lag behind most of the rest of the country, according to a new study.

A map prepared this month by the Washington-based Tax Foundation, breaks down the impact of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in each state. It forecasts a gain of 215,000 jobs nationwide from the tax cuts this year and a net gain of 1.216 million jobs by 2027. It is an update from a forecast the think tank published in December.

“As we’ve written previously, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will increase long-run GDP (gross domestic product), raise wages, and create jobs,” Tax Foundation economists Nicole Kaeding and Kyle Pomerleau wrote.


Job creation will peak at an even higher level in 2025, reaching 1.44 million. But jobs will then decline because of provisions of the tax reform law scheduled to expire, according to the foundation, according to the report.

Although the think tank projects benefits for all 50 states, it anticipates slower job increases for Alabama. The 2,941 new jobs works out to a rate of 60.3 new jobs for every 100,000 residents. Only Florida, Arkansas, Arizona, New Mexico and Mississippi fare worse by that metric.

Projected jobs gains are more than 36 percent greater, proportionally, in North Dakota. The estimated 622 new jobs there work out to a rate of 82.3 jobs per 100,000 residents, the highest in the country. Nebraska, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Wisconsin round out the top five.

Keivan Deravi, an economics professor at Auburn University at Montgomery, said the reason for the anticipated lag in Alabama likely comes down to a simple fact — the state’s population is not as rich as the rest of the country, on average, and the tax overhaul disproportionately favors upper-income earners.

“The biggest benefit comes to the extremely rich,” he said.

Deravi said that is a consequence of America’s federal tax system, which is progressive. Higher earners pay a higher share of their income on taxes. As a result, they enjoy the biggest savings from broad-based tax cuts.

The same is true with corporate tax reductions, Deravi said.

“That’s a huge windfall coming in,” he said.

But the biggest winners from that windfall are the owners of the businesses. Stock owners also are more likely to live in states other than Alabama, Deravi said.

“In Alabama, we have proportionately less in the upper and upper-middle income,” he said.

With a relatively smaller number of dollars headed to Alabama, the improvement to the economy is a bit less than most other states, Deravi said.

He added that there is not much Alabama can do about that in the short term. In the long run, he said, the state can work to improve its economy and grow higher-end industries.

“We are still in the stage of high-skill manufacturing,” he said. “We have to move to the research and development.”

Deravi said investment in education over time can help the state gain a foothold in research and development, pharmaceutical research and similar industries.

“That’s when the payback would be,” he said.

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”


3 years ago

Mobile law firm accuses television stations of colluding to fix advertising rates


Piggybacking on a federal investigation into possible collusion, a Mobile law firm has filed a class-acton lawsuit accusing the nation’s biggest television station owners of fixing advertising rates.

Clay, Massey & Associates filed the lawsuit this week in U.S. District Court in Chicago against Gray Television Inc., Nextstar Media Group, Tegna Inc., Tribune Media Co. and Sinclair Broadcast Group. Together, those companies own a large share of the nation’s television stations.

The law firm seeks to represent people and businesses that bought advertising from the companies since Jan. 1, 2014.


The civil complaint references a July 26 Wall Street Journal article reporting that the Justice Department was investigating whether Sinclair, Tribune and other companies illegally shared information and coordinated efforts to artificially raise rates for TV commercials. According to the story, the investigation grew out of the department’s review of a proposed $4 billion merger between Sinclair and Tribune that would create the nation’s largest TV station owner.

That deal is on hold and now appears unlikely to be approved.

Stephen Dampier, a Fairhope lawyer who is representing Clay, Massey in the lawsuit, declined to comment.

“We do our talking in the court,” he said.

The suit seeks a court order declaring the TV stations’ conduct illegal and a judgement against the defendants equal to three times the damages suffered the the Alabama firm and other members of the class. The complaint does not specify a dollar figure.

One typical ad features partner Edie Massey talking about his courtroom approach.

“Well, my style is to be yourself. I can’t pull off dad’s style because he’s a lot older than me, but I think my style is to be someone that jury members and judges and witnesses will relate to, and they’ll know that I’m not trying to hide anything from them,” he says, as his wife and daughter walk into his office. “I’m being upfront with them, and I talk to them like like I would talk to my friends.”

Television consolidation has been on the rise for the past decade as companies took advantage of deregulation by the Federation Communications Commission to gobble up other businesses and individual stations. The lawsuit cites a study the Pew Research Center indicating that the five largest companies owned, operated or serviced 443 stations in 2016, up 147.4 percent from 2004.

One of those proposed mergers, announced in June, is Gray Television’s $3.65 billion bid to acquire Montgomery-based Raycom Media.

U.S. television ad sales fell 7.8 percent last year, to $61.8 billion. That is the steepest drop in at last 20 years, other than during recessions, according to the suit.

“In a healthy economy, we’re looking at no growth in advertising from traditional media companies,” research analyst Michael Nathanson told Bloomberg. “That’s a worrying trend.”

The suit contends that declining viewership resulting from increasing competition from cable and online options creates a powerful motive to inflate prices.

“As Defendants largely rely on revenue from local television advertising in order to sustain their daily operations, in the face of declining sales, Defendants had reason and motivation to conspire to artificially raise the prices of local TV advertisements,” the complaint states.

Clay, Massie has handled more than 10,000 personal injury lawsuits over the last 45 years, according to the firm’s website.

The defendants own a number of Alabama stations. Nextstar owns the CBS affiliate in Mobile, WKRG, Channel 5. Sincliar owns ABC affiliate WEAR, Channel 3, which is based in Pensacola, Florida, but includes the Mobile television market. It also owns NBC affiliate WPMI, Channel 15 in Mobile.

Gray Television owns stations in Panama City Beach, Florida., and Dothan. If regulators approve its acquisition of Raycom, it would gain WAFF, the NBC station in Huntsville, Fox affiliate WSFA in Montgomery and Fox affiliate WBRC in Birmingham.

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”


3 years ago

Approval for Attorney General Sessions has tanked amid Trump’s attacks, poll suggests

(Fox News, TIME/YouTube)

Once so popular that he ran unopposed for re-election to the Senate in both the Republican primary and in the general election, Attorney General Jeff Sessions now finds himself under fire from all sides.

Democrats across the country never much cared for him, and now Republicans hold him in low standing, as well.

A Morning Consult/Politico poll published Wednesday suggests that only 18 percent of registered voters have a “very” or “somewhat” favorable view of Sessions, while 45 percent view him somewhat or very unfavorably.

The attorney general’s numbers are horrid among Democrats (11 percent favorable) and independents (15 percent). But Republican voters do not view him that favorably, either. Among Republicans, 31 percent have a positive opinion of Sessions, while a plurality — 33 percent — view him negatively.


The results show a steep erosion in support from a Morning Consult poll in July last year. Then, 38 percent said they strongly or somewhat approved of the job Sessions was doing as attorney general, compared to 32 percent who disapproved. Among Republicans, Sessions enjoyed a 58 percent approval rating.

Alabama political experts said they believe the survey results reflect the steady stream of criticism that President Donald Trump has hurled at Sessions over his decision to recuse himself from the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The attorney general handed off responsibility for the probe to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein after concluding that his role on the president’s campaign posed a conflict of interest.

William Stewart, a political scientist at the University of Alabama, said he is not surprised by the poll results.

“I can imagine, because the president hasn’t spoken very favorably about his attorney general,” he said.

The poll came out on the same day that Trump again called him out on Twitter, this time voicing his opinion that Sessions should end the “Witch Hunt” probe led by Mueller.

Stewart said Sessions finds himself in a strange position, politically.

“It’s unusual,” he said. “Generally, the more unpopular someone is with the opposition party, the more popular they are with the party in power.”

Steven Taylor, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University, said he suspects Trump’s criticism of Sessions has sunk in with Republican voters.

“Democrats don’t like Sessions for a bunch of reasons,” he said.

The deteriorating relationship between Trump and Sessions has been one of the strangest stories of his presidency. Sessions was the first senator to endorse Trump. In addition to the credibility Trump gained at a time when he was trying to lock down the Republican nomination, Sessions also was the source of key staffers who helped guide the campaign.

Aide Stephen Miller wrote a number of Trump’s campaign speeches, including his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, and still works at the White House as a domestic policy adviser.

But even though Sessions has been successful in implementing Trump’s policies on issues ranging from illegal immigration to law and order, Trump clearly has had a tough time overcoming his frustration over the appointment of independent counsel Robert Mueller.

From time to time, Trump publicly vents that frustration at Sessions, who largely ignores it.

Sometimes, Stewart said, Sessions must regret his decision to take the job.

The poll did not break down the results by state, so it is impossible to know how the people who elected Sessions five times to statewide office feel about him now.

“I would think Sessions would fare better here in Alabama, even though he has not enjoyed the constant favor of his president,” Stewart said.

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”


3 years ago

Annual survey seeks to measure corruption — by asking journalists who cover politics


A pair of researchers who study government corruption by asking the folks who should know best — journalists covering politics — are back with their latest survey.

Quantifying corruption long has been an elusive goal because there is no agreed-up criteria to measure it. Some researchers have examined public corruption convictions or indictments. But comparisons from state to state are hard to make because of differing laws and contrasting levels of aggressiveness among prosecutors pursuing such cases.

And statistics on prosecutions shed no light on a softer type of corruption — conduct that is unethical but does not cross the legal line.

Michael Johnston and Oguzhan Dincer, former fellows at Harvard Law School’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, hit on the idea several years ago of measuring corruption in a different way — surveying reporters.


Dincer, director of the Institute for Corruption Studies at Illinois State University, acknowledged that the methodology he and Johnston use has its own flaws. It is subjective and susceptible to reporters’ own bias. But he said it has the advantage of taking the pulse of men and women who see the government up close.

“You’re the watchdogs,” he said in an interview on Monday. “You watch what these guys do every day. I operate on the assumption that you know this better than anyone.”

The latests survey — the fifth prepared by Johnston and Dincer — went out Monday. It asks journalists for their assessment of how common corruption is in the executive, legislative and judicial branches in the states they cover.

The survey also asks for an assessment of both illegal corruption — conduct that actually violates the law — what Dincer and Johnston term “legal corruption,” or actions that undermine the integrity of government without violating a criminal statute.

Dincer said he and Johnston plan to publish the results of all five years’ worth of data after compiling responses to the latest survey. He said he hopes to make it available before the midterm elections in November.

Dincer said he has found a great deal of overlap between the perception of journalists and the public reputation of states considered dirty — like Illinois, Louisiana and New Jersey. And, Dincer added, the results do not change dramatically from year to year.

“It’s pretty consistent,” he said. “If there’s a major corruption scandal, it might affect perceptions of a state.”

Alabama has had plenty of corruption scandals. The arrest last week of state Rep. Randy Davis (R-Daphne) was only the latest. A federal grand jury added Davis as a defendant in a case accusing former Majority Leader Mickey Hammon and Rep. Jack Williams (R-Vestavia Hills) of using their offices to try to change the law to benefit health clinics in which they had an ownership stake.

Add to that recent convictions of former Gov. Robert Bentley and former Majority Leader Mike Hubbard in unrelated cases — and convictions of two previous governors dating to the 1980s — and it is not surprising that Alabama topped the nation on the most recent corruption index.

“Alabama is consistently corrupt,” Dincer said. “It’s always there. New Jersey is always corrupt. … It’s pretty in line with what you expect to see based on news across the country.”

Dincer said he was interested in building the index because he was curious about how states other than the obvious ones would come out. He said he believes the ratings are accurate for most states. The exception, he said, might be smaller states that have relatively few journalists covering state government.

“If you have only one or two journalists respond, and they are very skeptical, it could make the state appear more corrupt,” he said.

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”


3 years ago

Sales tax holiday gimmick? Think tank argues temporary breaks are bad public policy


Last weekend, parents across Alabama hustled to stores to buy back-to-school supplies, taking advantage of an annual sales tax “holiday” on such expenses.

It is too soon to calculate the full impact of this year’s holiday, but a Washington think tank argues it is a gimmick that amounts to poor public policy.

“At first glance, sales tax holidays seem like great policy,” the conservative-leaning Tax Foundation wrote in a report released this month.

The research outfit notes that tax holidays are politically popular but argue that politicians exaggerate the economic benefits.


“Despite their political popularity, sales tax holidays are based on poor tax policy and distract policymakers and taxpayers from real, permanent, and economically beneficial tax reform,” the report states. “Sales tax holidays introduce unjustifiable government distortions into the economy without providing any significant boost to the economy. They represent a real cost for businesses without providing substantial benefits.”

Alabama has held the back-to-school tax holiday since 2006 and also has offers a reprieve from sales levies on generators and other supplies to promote hurricane preparedness. The Heart of Dixie is far from alone. Sixteen other states this year will give temporary breaks on sales taxes for a variety of reasons. (Four other states have no sales tax at all).

Daniel Sutter, the interim director of Troy University’s Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy, said it is easy to understand why shoppers like the idea.

“It does seem to be more gimmicky,” he said. “Retailers seem to like the idea of it.”

Politicians sometimes contend that sales tax holidays spur economic activity. As the thinking goes, people come to the store for tax-free purchases of books and computers and gobble up plenty of other items that do not get the tax break.

Color Sutter skeptical.

“There’s really no evidence of increased economic activity,” he said. “It’s probably just diverting shopping from other weekends.”

The Tax Foundation report cited a study by researchers at the University of West Florida examining the effect of Florida’s sale tax holiday in 2001. The authors found average savings on 10 types of clothing at 10 Pensacola stores — expected to average $125.58 — actually was only $100.06 during the holiday period because retailers raised their prices.

Not all of that increase likely was due to retailers manipulating prices during the holiday, however. The study found that prices also rose in Mobile.

But other research has found a similar price bump during tax holidays. An 2009 dissertation by a University of Michigan Ph.D. student found that retailers took advantage of a sales tax break to raise prices on inexpensive desktop computers.

The Tax Foundation study disputes the argument that tax holidays largely pay for themselves by generating new economic activity. The District of Columbia canceled its sales tax holiday on clothing and school supplies in 2009 after finding that it cost the government $640,000 in revenue. North Carolina repealed its tax holiday in 2013 — after finding it could save $16.3 million — and applied that savings to individual and corporate income tax cuts.

Repeals like those are one reason why tax holidays are a bit less common across the country than they used to be. The number of states with holidays peaked at 19 in 2010.

Sutter, of Troy University, said short-term tax breaks do not pay for themselves because many consumers simply do not have extra money.

“People are going to be deterred by what they have to spend,” he said.

Sutter noted that while Alabama’s overall tax burden is low, sales taxes are high. And they hit lower-income folks harder because they spend most of their income on consumer goods subject to the levy. It might make more sense for the Legislature to explore tax reform rather than temporary suspension of sales taxes, Sutter said.

“There is some value to that, just given the regressive nature of the sale tax,” he said.

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”


3 years ago

Alabama farmers welcome government aid to ease blow from tariffs

(AL Department of Agriculture & Industries/Facebook)

Alabama farmers bracing for tariffs expressed support for a $12 billion aid package announced by President Donald Trump’s administration this week, but some economists warn that a trade war could be costly.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the relief on Tuesday.

John McMillan, the commissioner of the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, said dairy and pork producers represent a fairly small share of the state’s agriculture exports and that cotton prices actually up. But he added that soybean prices have been depressed.

“Today, it looks like soybean providers are going to be the biggest beneficiaries in Alabama,” he said.


Soybeans ranked as Alabama’s 15th most valuable export in 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, although the $210 million figure was down five percent from 2014. Chicken products accounted for another $165 million in exports.

The Alabama Farmers Federation also expressed support for the Trump administration’s actions.

“We appreciate President Trump’s administration recognizing the impact intense trade negotiations are having on U.S. farmers and providing assistance to weather tough economic times,” the group’s director of national programs, Mitt Walker, said in a statement. “Alabama farmers remain hopeful the ultimate solution will be a healthy trade environment where U.S. agriculture can compete on a level playing field with the rest of the world.”

Officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture have said details about applying for assistance will be made available in September. The assistance will have three components:

  • The Market Facilitation Program, authorized under the Commodity Credit Corporation Charter Act and administered by the Farm Service Agency, will provide incremental payments to producers of soybeans, sorghum, corn, wheat, cotton, dairy and hogs.
  • A food purchase and distribution program administered by the Agricultural Marketing Service, which will purchase fruits, nuts, rice, legumes, beef, pork and milk left unsold because of tariffs. Those products will be sent to food banks and other nutrition programs.
  • The Trade Promotion Program, administered by the Foreign Agriculture Service in conjunction with the private sector, which will help farmers find new export markets.

American farmers are dealing with the impact of retaliatory tariffs imposed by the European Union, Canada, Mexico and China in the wake of measures taken by the Trump administration on imported steel and aluminum.

McMillan said Alabama farmers have a great deal of anxiety over tariffs. He said it is too soon to determine how much the state’s farmers might benefit from the aid.

“Most of these programs are going to be dependent on the comparison of prices when the program is opened,” he said.

The president on Wednesday urged patience while he tries to negotiate better long-term trade deals.

“China is targeting our farmers, who they know I love & respect, as a way of getting me to continue allowing them to take advantage of the U.S. They are being vicious in what will be their failed attempt. We were being nice – until now! China made $517 Billion on us last year,” he tweeted.

Despite the risk to Alabama farmers, McMillan said Trump is justified in taking on unfair trading practices by China.

“I tend to agree with the president,” he said. “Everyone who is knowledgeable about this situation knows that China has been taking us to the cleaners for years.”

But Daniel Sutter, interim executive director of the Manuel H. Johnson Center at Troy University, said there are better ways to confront abuses than an open-ended trade war. He noted that the World Trade Organization has procedures for penalizing countries that violate trade rules.

When both sides ratchet up tariffs, it harms innocent victims, Sutter said.

“These farmers weren’t doing anything wrong,” he said. “They were just growing their crops, and now they’re caught in the middle of a trade war.”

Perdue, the agriculture secretary, said in a statement Tuesday that the relief package was a short-term solution.

“The President promised to have the back of every American farmer and rancher, and he knows the importance of keeping our rural economy strong,” he stated. “Unfortunately, America’s hard-working agricultural producers have been treated unfairly by China’s illegal trading practices and have taken a disproportionate hit when it comes [to] illegal retaliatory tariffs.”

McMillan said the aid program would be operational in time for the fall harvest. But he added that it might not be necessary if Trump wins the concessions that he is seeking.

“Theoretically, some of this could be resolved before the program even gets started,” he said.

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”


3 years ago

Alabamians want Trump’s Supreme Court pick confirmed, poll suggests

(CNN, PolitiFact/YouTube)

Most Alabama voters want President Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court to be confirmed, according to a poll commissioned by an organization spending millions of dollars on his behalf.

The Judicial Crisis Network on Monday released results of the poll, conducted by North Star Opinion Research in four states testing support for Brett Kavanaugh. The poll found that Alabama voters, by a margin of 54 percent to 30 percent, believe the Senate should confirm Kavanaugh. That was the same margin of support for Kavanaugh among independents in Alabama.

Respondents also expressed approval of the Supreme Court’s job performance by a margin of 60 percent to 30 percent.

The Judicial Crisis Network also announced $1.5 million in online and broadcast television ads aimed at Democratic senators in the four states. That includes Sen. Doug Jones (D-Mountain Brook).


Of the four senators targeted in the ad buy, Jones is the only one not up for re-election in November.

Senate Republican leaders hope to confirm Kavanaugh, who currently serves as a judge on the D.C. Court of Appeals, in time for him to take his seat for the start of the Supreme Court term that begins in October.

The confirmation battle figures to be intense, and with only 51 seats and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) ailing, Republicans have little room for margin. Enter Jones — along with Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.). The latter three all voted for Trump’s first nominee to the high court, Justice Neil Gorsuch.

The ad running in Alabama sings the praises of Kavanaugh, who worked in the George W. Bush administration and previously clerked for retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy before his appointment to the bench.

“Now, we get to see who Doug Jones really is,” the announcer says, referring to the daily tension Jones faces between the conservative leanings of his constituents and the leaders of the Democratic Party.

“Will he side with the people of Alabama and support Kavanaugh? Or will he join radical liberal senators and try to block Kavanaugh?” the announcer continues, as the screen shows images of progressive Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Calif.). “Tell Doug Jones, his vote on Kavanaugh is something you’ll never forget.”

Representatives of the senator’s office did not immediately respond to inquiries seeking comment.

Jones has been noncommittal on Kavanaugh since Trump announced the pick earlier this month.

“I’ve got thoughts, but I’m not going to say,” he told reporters on Capitol Hill. “I want to do my investigative work. … We’ll go from there.”

During an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” before Trump had settled on Kavanaugh, Jones said his mind was open.

“I don’t think anyone should expect me to simply vote yes for this nominee, just simply because my state may be more conservative than others,” he said.

The Judicial Crisis Network has launched three previous rounds of ads concerning the vacancy, beginning on June 27 — before Trump even had made his selection.

Manchin, Heitkamp and Donnelly have more immediate electoral concerns since they will be on the ballot in November. Jones, who won a special election in December to finish the term of Jeff Sessions, will not be up until 2020.

Jones has a mixed record when it comes to Trump’s nominations. He supported three Cabinet nominations — Alex Azar for secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Mike Pompeo for secretary of state and — on Monday — Robert Wilkie for secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. But he voted against Gina Haspel to be CIA director, citing her record implementing the Bush administration’s policy on interrogation of terrorists.

The same has been true of judicial nominations. Just last week, Jones voted along with every other Democrat in a futile effort to sink the nomination of Andy Oldham to become a judge on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. He also opposed John Nalbandian for a seat on the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. That was notable because Heitkamp, Manchin and Donnelly — the three senators also targeted by the Judicial Crisis Network ads — voted in favor of the nomination.

On the other hand, Jones supported the nominations of Joel Carson to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver and was one of 13 Democrats to vote for Kurt Engelhardt to serve on the 5th Circuit.

Judicial Crisis Network leaders contend that defying Alabamians on a matter as consequential as the Supreme Court would be perilous.

“This is an important issue that the people of Alabama will not be able to forget when Doug Jones is up for re-election,” said Carrie Severino, the chief counsel and policy director of the group.

Severino said the vote puts Jones between Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and the voters of his own state.

“Does he want to represent the interests of his constituents, or does he want to represent the interests of Chuck Schumer?” she asked.

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”


3 years ago

Backed by Alfa, Rick Pate rolls to victory in Alabama ag commissioner race


Lowndesboro Mayor Rick Pate on Tuesday survived late-campaign attack ads dredging up a three-decade-old divorce to claim the Republican nomination for Alabama commissioner of agriculture and industries.

Pate defeated state Sen. Gerald Dial (R-Lineville) with about 57 percent of the vote. With no Democrat on the ballot in November, Pate is all but assured of succeeding Republican incumbent John McMillan, who is term-limited.

“We thought we would win,” Pate told “We had the right message. I am a farmer and a businessman. I thought that is what people would want.”


Dial made it to the runoff after running light-hearted ads featuring a catchy jingle proclaiming, “It’s Dial time.” Trailing by a significant margin, however, Dial went negative this month.

Ads by Dial’s campaign referenced a 1986 divorce petition filed by Pate’s ex-wife, Carolyn, that accused Pate of domestic violence.

Pate hotly disputed the allegation.

“I denied that then and I deny that now,” he told the Decatur Daily earlier this month.

Pate told the paper that he and his ex-wife now exchange Christmas cards and that she wrote a note in May explaining that she and her ex-husband hurled hurtful words at one another at the end of what had been a good marriage.

Pate had the backing of powerful agriculture and business interests, including the Alabama Farmers Federation, or Alfa. The group’s political action committee donated nearly $100,000 in cash and in-kind donations. That was nearly a fifth of Pate’s total.

Pate also racked up endorsements from the Business Council of Alabama, the Alabama Forestry Association, the Associated General Contractors of Alabama and the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association, among others.

The Lowndesboro mayor, who owns a cattle ranch and runs a landscaping company, pledged to use the department to help farmers improve productivity.

Pate also promised to attack “over-regulation,” taxes and barriers to investment. He pointed out on his campaign website that some have estimated that food production will have to double by 2050 to meet worldwide demand.

It will take “visionary leaders who understand that we have to work smarter, not just harder, to achieve these goals,” according to the website.

Pate’s victory was broad. He won 59 counties — including Choctaw by a single vote — compared to just seven that went to Dial, who even lost his home base in Clay County.

The loss means Dial, come next year, will be out of elective office for the first time in 44 years.

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”


3 years ago

Here are the Alabama candidates who won the money race ahead of runoff


The names on the ballot in Tuesday’s Republican primary runoff likely will draw a blank from many Alabama voters in an election that experts predict will feature extremely low turnout.

Under such circumstances, it is crucial for candidates to be able to spend enough money to catch the attention of distracted voters for offices they rarely think about, such as agriculture and industries commissioner and civil appeals judge.

That is why the candidates who raised the most money have the best chance of winning, according to Athens State University political scientist Jess Brown.

“The candidate with the most money typically wins whether it’s low turnout, average turnout, high turnout. … Clearly, money matters,” he said.


Brown said looking at the money chase is useful in two ways. Candidates who raise the most money have the best chance to reach the most voters, Brown said. Beyond those practical considerations, he added, the ability to raise lots of money can be a sign that a candidate has the support of the party’s base — the people most likely to vote on Tuesday.

“Both factors are at work,” he said.

With that in mind, here is how the money race played out in the six statewide races, plus the runoff in the 2nd Congressional District. (Note, in some cases expenditures exceed contributions because the candidate had leftover funds from a previous campaign or loaned their campaigns money from personal funds).

Race: Alabama attorney general.
June 5 results: Steve Marshall (incumbent) finished first with 28.4 percent, followed by former Attorney General Troy King, who got 27.8 percent.
Total contributions: Marshall, $3,233,610. King, $2,225,663.
Total expenditures: Marshall, $3.090,851. King, $2,180,079.

Race: Alabama lieutenant governor.
June 5 results: Public Service Commission Chairwoman Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh finished first with 43.3 percent, followed by state Rep. Will Ainsworth, who received 37.1 percent.
Total contributions: Cavanaugh, $2,113,261. Ainsworth, $1,279,725.
Total expenditures: Cavanaugh, $2,115,201. Ainsworth, $2,390,813.

Race: Alabama commissioner of agriculture and industries.
June 5 results: Rick Pate finished first with 40.4 percent, followed by Gerald Dial, who received 30 percent.
Total contributions: Pate, $338,640. Dial, $338,640.
Total expenditures: Pate, $500,406, Dial, $555,887.

Race: Alabama Supreme Court.
June 5 results: Brad Mendheim (incumbent) finished first with 43.4 percent, followed by Mobile County Circuit Judge Sarah Stewart, who garnered 29.3 percent.
Total contributions: Stewart, $1,103,017. Mendheim, $799,086.
Total expenditures: Stewart, $1,101,063. Mendheim, $792,098

Race: Alabama Court of Civil Appeals.
June 5 results: Christy Edwards finished first with 40.8 percent, followed by Michelle Thomason, who won 32 percent.
Total contributions: Edwards, $333.957. Thomason, $132,881.
Total expenditures: Edwards, $320,610. Thomason, $208,768.

Race: Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals.
June 5 results: Chris McCool finished first with 42.6 percent, followed by Rich Anderson, who got 34.8 percent.
Total contributions: McCool, $256,239. Anderson, $32,165.
Total expenditure: McCool, $292,099. Anderson, 35,844.

Race: Alabama 2nd Congressional District.
June 5 results: Martha Roby (incumbent) finished first with 39 percent, followed by former Rep. Bobby Bright, who got 28.1 percent.
Total contributions: Roby, $2,179,188. Bright, $406,557.
Total expenditure: Roby, $1,493,965. Bright, $243,959.

Brown said some candidates can get away with less money. He noted that King, for instance, has residual name recognition from a previous stint in the office. Brown said that probably made the difference for King between getting into the runoff and getting knocked out in the June 5 primary.

For candidates without pre-existing name identification, Brown said, money is the only way to raise visibility.

“You need the money to buy a bigger megaphone,” he said.

Brown said the key to winning a low-turnout election is to line up support from single-issue voters who are the most reliable voters. But he added that is difficult in a primary where there is little to distinguish the views of one candidate from the other.

Money helps but is not always a guarantee, Brown said.

“You do get the unexpected when the turnout is low like I expect tomorrow’s will be,” he said.

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”


3 years ago

Alabama aims to turn Supreme Court ruling on online sales into revenue


Alabamians will start paying more for many online purchases beginning in October, as the state seeks to translate a recent Supreme Court ruling on internet transactions into revenue.

Last month, the high court reversed a 26-year-old precedent and ruled that states could require online retailers to collect the sales tax even if the company has no physical presence in the state. As a result of the decision in the dispute between South Dakota and the retailer Wayfair, the Alabama Department of Revenue announced Tuesday that it would implement a rule adopted in 2016 to most transactions beginning Oct. 1.

Some online retailers voluntarily had been collecting the Alabama sales tax. Now, all companies will be required to do so except small businesses with less than $250,000 in annual sales in the state.


The state Legislature several years ago created the Simplified Sellers Use Tax Program to encourage voluntary compliance with the sales tax. For online retailers, it replaces the confusing maze of state, county and municipal sales taxes — in which rates vary across the state — with a uniform 8 percent levy.

That helped induce many large retailers to participate. After the Wayfair decision, nearly all of them will be required to do so.

Officials from the Department of Revenue have no estimate of how much additional revenue the state might collect.

“There are no numbers yet,” said Frank Miles, a spokesman for the agency. “Those don’t even exist yet.”

But state Sen. Trip Pittman (R-Montrose), who crafted legislation creating the Simplified Sellers Use Tax Program, said it likely will be fairly significant.

“I think it would be 10, 20 million more for the state with the ruling,” he said.

Pittman suggested that he is somewhat conflicted about the issue as a small-government conservative. Despite a dislike for taxes, he said, making online retailers collect the tax levels the playing field with in-state brick-and-mortar stores that do have to do so.

Under the law, taxpayers are supposed to send sales tax to Montgomery on purchases from out of state if the business does not collect the levy. But it is a rule that almost universally is ignored.

“Avoiding taxes is probably one of the biggest pastimes Americans have — probably even more than sports,” Pittman said.

He added: “The only way to limit government is to limit the money it has. But being budget chair, people ought to pay for the government they get.”

Typically, sales tax collected by the state goes to the education budget. But the system set up for online retailers directs a large chunk to the chronically ailing general fund, which pays for everything from Medicaid to prisons to mental health services.

When online retailers pay the 8 percent tax, half goes to the state and half goes to local governments. Cities get 60 percent of the local portion, and counties get 40 percent.

Of the state portion, 75 percent supports the general fund, while 25 percent goes to the Education Trust Fund.

The formula sparked some opposition from bigger cities with higher sales tax rates. But Pittman said making the sales tax revenue uniform brought in money that, otherwise, would not have existed.

“Some of something is better than none of nothing,” he said.

The Department of Revenue Tuesday put out guidelines to online retailers. Remote sellers with Alabama sales less than $250,000 a year can register for an exemption here.

Officials said the department is studying changes to the tax system and plans to produce additional guidance.

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”


3 years ago

Once a short-list Supreme Court option, Alabama’s Pryor’s stock has fallen

(Duke University School of Law/YouTube)

There was a time when Alabama’s William Pryor, a former attorney general and current federal appeals court judge, seemed a good bet to one day join the Supreme Court.

Last year, he was rumored to be at the very top of President Donald Trump’s list to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who had died the prior year.

Trump picked Justice Neil Gorsuch instead, and Pryor seems to have slipped from front-tier consideration for the job of retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.

John Malcolm, who served as a deputy assistant attorney general in the George W. Bush administration and has advised the Trump administration on judicial selections, summed up Pryor’s fall in one word – abortion.


“He was my favorite for the last vacancy,” said Malcolm, who is vice president the Institute for Constitutional Government at the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation.

He added, “I still think the world of Bill Pryor, both as a person and a judge.”

The political reality is that Republicans have only 51 seats in the 100-member Senate, however, and one of them — John McCain, of Arizona — largely has been absent while battling terminal cancer. That gives abortion-rights Republicans outsized influence.

Moderate Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) made clear on Sunday that she would not accept a justice committed to overturning the Roe v. Wade decision the legalized abortion nationwide.

“I would not support a nominee who demonstrated hostility to Roe v. Wade, because that would mean to me that their judicial philosophy did not include a respect for established decisions, established law,” she said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

On “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” Collins told guest host Martha Raddatz that she considers the concept of precedent is important.

“There are people on that list who I could not support because I believe they have demonstrated a disrespect for the vital principle of stare decisis, which, as Chief Justice (John) Roberts has said, is the fundamental principle of our judicial system that promotes even-handedness and stability,” she said.

Collins did not name names, but it is hard not believe she had Pryor in mind. Most judges and potential judges are careful not to publicly discuss their views on court cases — particularly those as contentious as Roe v. Wade.

Pryor’s record makes such an approach difficult. Before taking the bench, he wrote a law review article in which he called the Roe decision “the worst abomination in the history of constitutional law.”

During Pryor’s Senate confirmation hearing in 2003 to be a judge on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) pressed him on that.

“Do you believe that now?” he asked.

Malcolm said he believes Schumer fully expected Pryor to backtrack and distance himself from that comment.

“But he did not,” he said. “He gave his opinion then went on to say as a lower court judge, he’d be bound by precedent. And he has honored that as an 11th Circuit judge. … But of course, the calculus changes as a Supreme Court justice.”

John Carroll, a former federal magistrate judge who now teaches at Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham, noted that Pryor drew some opposition from the conservative side of the spectrum when his name surfaced as a potential justice last year.

Some supporters of former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore resented the role Pryor played, as attorney general, in removing Moore from office for his refusal to comply with a federal judge’s order to take down a Ten Commandments monument in the Alabama Judicial Building.

Other conservatives objected to a 2011 ruling in which Pryor joined the majority in holding that constitutional doctrine prohibiting sex discrimination applies to certain instances of discrimination against transgender people.

“I don’t think it’s anything Judge Pryor has done,” Carroll said. “He’s still the same judge he’s been.”

Carroll pointed to other factors working against Pryor.

“His age is now a problem. He’s 56,” he said.

Trump has shown a preference for younger candidates who will have more time to make a mark on the federal judiciary. Carroll said he recently talked with people helping the president identify potential nominee for lower court jobs.

“They told me that age was very, very important,” he said.

Carroll said he also suspects that based on the positive response Trump got to the Gorsuch nomination, he puts a higher premium on judges who have Ivy League pedigrees. Pryor graduated from Tulane University School of Law in New Orleans.

“A lot of this has to do, quite frankly, with the president changing his mind about what he wants,” he said. “Credentials mean much more than they did.”

Malcolm said he hopes the window has not closed for Pryor.

“I would hate to think Bill Pryor’s time has passed, because I think so highly of him, but I really don’t know,” he said.

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”


3 years ago

Justice Kennedy’s retirement could mean death for Alabama death row prisoner


Experts this week have debated the impact of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement. For one Alabama death row inmate, however, it literally could mean the difference between life and death.

Kennedy, who announced that he will step down at the end of July, was not an automatic vote for death row inmates over the years. But his vote nearly always was necessary for rulings that narrowed the scope or application of capital punishment.

That could be bad news for Vernon Madison, whose case has been set for the high court term that begins in October. By then, a new justice selected by President Donald Trump is likely to be in Kennedy’s seat, and experts believe the odds are high that the replacement will be a more reliable capital punishment defender.

“Justice Kennedy’s retirement was not good news for death row prisoners in general,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.


Madison is one of Alabama’s longest-serving death row inmates. A Mobile County jury convicted him of murder in the shooting death of Officer Julius Schulte, who was responding to a domestic disturbance call. Madison was on parole at the time.

His case has taken a long and winding road through the courts over the decades. State appellate courts twice overturned convictions. In 1994 — in Madison’s third trial — a jury again found him guilty, and a judge sentenced him to death.

Madison challenged the conviction in federal court, arguing that state prosecutors improperly had excluded blacks from the jury. The Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put the execution on hold and instructed U.S. District Judge Kristi DuBose in Mobile to examine the allegation. The judge ruled in 2013 that the prosecutors had legitimate, non-race reasons for striking the potential jurors.

The Supreme Court last year rejected Madison’s appeal, putting him closer to execution. But now his lawyers have raised a novel challenge. They argue that Madison suffers from dementia and cannot remember the crime. Executing him now, the lawyers maintain, would amount to a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

Dunham, of the Death Penalty Information Center, said Madison likely would fail if he brought the case as a habeas action — a direct appeal to the federal courts — like the one the court rejected last year.

But the latest challenge comes as an appeal from a state court decision, which carries a different standard for the Supreme Court to consider.

“Madison’s case has unique facts,” Dunham said. “So I don’t think we’ll be able to tell what the impact (of Kennedy’s retirement) is going to be.”

Dunham said Kennedy’s impact on the death penalty has been large, however.

“Historically, the Eighth Amendment meant what Justice Kennedy thought it meant,” he said. “He was the swing vote in so many cases.”

Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, or played a significant role, in several landmark death penalty cases that constrained its use. Among them:

Atkins v. Virginia. Kennedy joined the 6-3 majority in 2002 decision banning the death penalty for mentally retarded defendants.

Roper v. Simmons. Kennedy, joined by the court’s four liberals, wrote the majority opinion in a 2005 case holding that it was unconstitutional to execute people who committed capital offenses before they were 18 years old. It overturned a 16-year-old precedent and struck down laws in 25 states.

Kennedy v. Louisiana. Kennedy led a 5-4 majority in 2008 that that ruled the death penalty unconstitutional for crimes other than murder. Patrick O’Neal Kennedy — no relation to the justice — had been sentenced to death for rape of a child.

Hall v. Florida. Kennedy wrote the majority opinion in a 5-4 case in 2014 in which he again teamed up with the court’s four liberals. The majority declared that the IQ score Florida used to determine whether defendants were too mentally retarded to be executed was too rigid. The court required states to take a less mechanical approach to determining eligibility for capital punishment.

“Florida’s law contravenes our nation’s commitment to dignity and its duty to teach human decency as the mark of a civilized world,” he wrote.

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”


3 years ago

Uber to launch statewide in Alabama in time for the July 4th holiday


The ride-sharing company Uber on Wednesday announced that it would launch operations statewide in Alabama.

The decision will bring part-time jobs and a new transportation option to many rural counties that have a shortage of both.

Kasra Moshkani, southeast general manager of the company, said in a statement that the expansion would begin on Sunday.

“Uber is committed to helping make drinking and driving a thing of the past by connecting people to reliable rides at the push of a button — and now those rides won’t stop at city limits,” Moshkani said. “As Uber launches throughout Alabama and brings service to new communities, we are proud to partner with MADD to encourage those celebrating during the July 4th holiday to make smart choices.”


Uber’s move comes as statewide regulations governing the industry are set to take effect. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed the new law in March after taking rides in Uber and Lyft cars around the capital in Montgomery.

State Rep. David Faulkner (R-Mountain Brook), who sponsored the bill, said in an interview that he is excited.

“I really had a big smile on my face,” he said.

The law places regulation of the ride-sharing industry in the hands of the Public Service Commission and sets up uniform rules, replacing the patchwork of regulations that existed in a handful of cities that had Uber service.

“I worked on this for two years,” he said. “It just brought joy to my heart that citizens all over the state — not just the big cities — will now have much greater access to affordable transportation.”

Previously, only 11 cities had Uber, and each had its own regulations. Faulkner said that was in impediment to expansion. He said he tried to pass a law two years ago and was surprised when he met resistance from some of those cities.

But Faulkner said opposition softened.

Three year ago, Faulkner successfully sponsored a bill to mandate ride-sharing drivers have sufficient insurance since personal vehicle insurance typically does not cover drivers when they work for companies like Uber and Lyft.

The law that passed this year contains strong protections for consumers, Faulkner said.

“I said over and over again, the safety of our citizens is paramount as we look at this legislation,” he said.

Faulkner said Uber’s decision is a game-changer for residents of many rural counties with limited transportation options. Many counties have only spotty bus service, or none at all. Some lack even traditional taxi service.

Uber offers a lifeline to people who need rides. He noted that, since he is recovering from eye surgery, he has first-hand experience with what it is like not to be able to drive.

“It allows so many people to have affordable transportation at the touch of a button on their phone,” he said.

As a side effect, Faulkner added, thousands of Alabamians will be able to have flexible, part-time jobs to earn extra money.

Faulkner said he does not know how many jobs may be involved but estimates that it has to be four digits.

“I just can’t see how it cannot be,” he said.

Pamela Morton, the Alabama state director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said having Uber gives people an option to avoid driving while drunk.

“There is never an excuse to drink and drive, and Uber’s expansion throughout Alabama will make it easier than ever to get a safe ride home,” she said in a statement. “We are proud to team up with Uber to make progress on our goal of getting to zero — zero deaths — zero injuries, zero families impacted by impaired driving.”

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”

3 years ago

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall not the first to lose loved one in middle of campaign


Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall suffered a personal tragedy over the weekend, losing his wife at the worst-possible time — right in the middle of an election campaign.

It likely will be little comfort to Marshall, but he is not alone. Plenty a candidate across the country has had to add arranging the funeral for a loved one to the rigors of a campaign. That includes local positions all the way up to the highest office in the land.

Those candidates have a mixed record when it comes to how they fared on Election Day.

Here is a look at nine other candidates who have dealt with personal tragedy on the campaign trail.


President Benjamin Harrison. The presidential contest of 1892 was expected to be tight. Harrison was finishing up his first term after having knocked off Democratic incumbent Grover Cleveland four years earlier, and Cleveland was back for a rematch.

Harrison’s wife, Caroline Harrison, died from tuberculosis on Oct. 25, just 14 days before the election.

Out of respect, Cleveland suspended his campaign, although in those days, it did not mean a whole lot. There was no television or radio to carpet bomb an opponent with negative attack ads. and the candidates, themselves, generally did not do a ton of retail campaigning.

Cleveland went on to win a surprisingly comfortable victory — becoming the first and so far only president to serve non-consecutive terms — and Harrison was left to mourn both a political defeat and the death of his wife.

Joe Biden. The longtime Delaware senator, who was making his second bid for the Democratic nomination for president in 2008, suspended his campaign after the death of mother-in-law Bonny Jean Jacobs, who succumbed to a long illness.

Biden went nowhere in a primary battle dominated by then-Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. But he did get the nod as Obama’s running mate.

It was not the last time that personal tragedy would affect Biden’s political ambitions. The 2015 death of his son, Beau — who had reported for duty in Iraq the same day that Jacobs died — led the vice president to conclude that he was too stricken with grief to make another run at the White House.

Marco Rubio. Long before President Donald Trump dubbed him “Little Marco,” Rubio was a rising star in the Republican Party, driving hard for the U.S. Senate. He had embarrassed the frontrunner, then-Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, in the GOP primary in 2010. In fact, Crist was so far behind in the polls that he dropped out of the race and announced he would continue as in independent.

But in September, about two months before Election Day, Rubio lost his father. The candidate often had spoken of Mario Rubio in inspirational terms.

“He was by far the most unselfish person I have ever known, always focused on others, and never on his own well being,” Rubio said in a statement at the time. “He was especially determined to provide his children opportunities he himself never had.”

Although the younger Rubio carried a heavy heart that fall, it did not slow down his campaign. He went on to win in a landslide.

Whitney Westerfield. The Republican candidate for a state Senate seat in Kentucky got a bad surprise in 2012 when his father died in a farming accident.

The Democratic incumbent, Joe Pendleton, suspended his campaign and issued a statement saying he was “saddened” by the death and was sending “thoughts and prayers” to his opponent.

Westerfield ended up winning the race with 50.4 percent of the vote.

Tamika Humphreys. The New York City Council candidate suspended her 2013 campaign after the death of her 15-year-old daughter.

According to the New York Daily News, the girl died at her grandmother’s home of an apparent suicide.

The paper reported that the East Harlem candidate had all but dropped out of the race. She ended up finishing fourth out of six candidates in the Democratic primary.

Gary Cobb. The district attorney candidate in Travis County (Texas) in 2015 suffered a terrible blow when his 13-year-old son died.

Kenan Cobb, who had been treated in Houston for sickle cell anemia, died after complications from a bone marrow transplant. Family members described the boy as energetic with a big personality and a big smile.

Cobb went to lose the Democratic primary race to Mary Moore the following March.

Carmen “Nuch” Trutanich. The Los Angeles city attorney, in the midst of a re-election campaign in 2013, suffered the death of his mother. Esther Trutanich, who had been ill for some time, died from complications from pneumonia.

Trutanich suspended his campaign to make funeral arrangements.

Two months later, he lost his re-election bid to Mike Feuer.

Carl Brewer. The former Wichita, Kansas, mayor suspended his campaign for governor in September when his 3-year-old grandson died. Police found Evan Brewer’s body in a concrete structure at the child’s home.

The Wichita Eagle reported that the boy’s mother, Alex Baugh, has testified that her boyfriend killed the boy. She has been jailed on a probation violation.

Brewer later resumed campaigning and will be on the Democratic Party primary ballot in August.

Sylvia Lockaby. The retired postal worker seeking a seat on the Greenville County Council in South Carolina suffered the death of her husband in May.

Charlie Lockaby died from a heart attack about six weeks after his wife filed to run.

Sylvia Lockaby lost the Republican primary on June 12 to Dan Tripp.

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”


3 years ago

Graying Alabama — the median age is higher than national average in all but 10 counties


As the massive baby boom generation slips into retirement, America continues to get older.

According to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau this week, the median age in America last year was 38, up nearly a full year from 2010. Alabama experienced less of an increase — from 39.1 to 40.5 — but it remains well above the national average.

The South and the Midwest have the highest number of counties where the median age is dropping, but Alabama bucks that trend. The median age is higher than the national mark in 57 of the state’s 67 counties.

Alabama’s “oldest” county is Coosa, where the median age in 2017 was 48.5, meaning half of the population was younger and half was older. That compares with a median age of 30.9 in Pike County, the lowest figure in Alabama.


The counties that counter the national trend tend to be those with an influx of younger immigrants and Americans moving from other parts of the country. Of the 531 counties where the median age has dropped since the last census, more than half are in the Midwest and 32.4 percent are in the South.

“Nationally, almost 17 percent of counties saw a decrease in median age from April 2010 to July 2017,” Census Bureau demographer Molly Cromwell said in a statement.

The aging population is most profound in the West and especially in the Northeast, where the median age increased in all but 2.1 percent of counties.

Longer life spans and fewer babies are the main drivers, according to Cromwell.

“Baby boomers, and millennials alike, are responsible for this trend in increased aging,” she stated. “Boomers continue to age and are slowly outnumbering children as the birth rate has declined steadily over the last decade.”

The long-term trend has profound public policy implications. A higher percentage of retirees strains Social Security and Medicare, among other challenges. On the local level, counties with smaller numbers of young people sap the economy of workers needed to grow the economy.

In Alabama, the young counties generally are those with big universities or vibrant economies that draw in younger adults.

For instance Lee County (median age, 21.9) and Tuscaloosa County (32.8), have the second-and third-youngest populations in Alabama. It is not difficult to guess why. Auburn University in Lee and the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa dominate those counties with thousands of students and large numbers of recent graduates. But even those counties have a higher median age than at the start of the decade.

Three of the four most populous Alabama counties, Montgomery, Mobile and Jefferson, all have median ages under the national average. The other big county, Madison, stands just above the national median at 38.5.

On the flip side, the Alabama counties where the median age is high are dominated by rural areas that have been hemorrhaging population for years or are growing slowly. When younger people leave it not only raises the median income, it also results in fewer babies. And that has a long-term impact.

Conecuh County has lost population four of the last six decades and has declined again so far this decade. Tallapoosa County has lost 2.2 percent of its population so far this decade and has seen a basically flat growth rate since 1980. Marion County has roughly the same population as it did in 1980, while Choctaw, Clay and Lamar counties have lost residents since then.

All of those counties are among the 10 with the highest median ages in Alabama.

To be sure, there are outliers. Cherokee and Henry counties have seen steady, if not spectacular growth over the past several decades, yet have median ages that are among the highest in the state.

And having a “young” population is no guarantee of growth. Sumter County, for instance, had the state’s fourth-lowest median age at 36.3 in 2017. Yet, it has experienced a population decline every census year since 1950.

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”

3 years ago

Whodunnit? Mysterious poll tests negative messages against both state Senate candidates in Baldwin County

(Elliott, Northcutt Campaigns)

At first, the survey of voters in Baldwin County sounds like a classic “push poll,” which masquerades as a poll but actually is a sort of attack ad by delivering negative information about one of the candidates.

But the pollster calling voters recently provided negative information about both candidates running for a state Senate seat in District 32 — Baldwin County Commissioner Chris Elliott and dentist David Northcutt.

A representative from Davis Research, a California-based firm that conducted the poll, declined to comment.

Strategists for both camps said the survey appears to be not a push poll but a legitimate effort to find out how certain lines of attack are playing. But neither is taking credit for it.


“They are message testing to see just how bad that is for them,” said Jonathan Gray, who is running the commissioner’s campaign.

He said a typical push poll changes its negative messages and keeps hammering away.

“It just keeps going. It doesn’t stop,” he said. “This is message testing. That’s not us. And that only leaves one player.”

But Chris Brown, who is running Northcutt’s campaign, said, “I don’t know who Davis Research is.”

Elliott and Northcutt will face each other July 17 in a runoff for the Republican nomination after they emerged as the top two finishers in this month’s primary. They are vying for the seat currently held by Sen. Trip Pittman (R-Montrose), who is leaving office after serving two terms.

The district includes a majority of fast-growing Baldwin county and is reliably Republican, although next month’s winner will face Democrat Jason Fisher in the fall.

The race has been testy at times, and the Davis Research questions reflect that. After asking voters which candidate they prefer, the pollster then offers negative information and asks residents if that changes their view. About Northcutt, the pollster claims the candidate is not able to build coalitions and that a fellow dentist has criticized him for prioritizing making money over patient care.

About Elliott, the pollster tells voters that he has supported tax increases; that he has taken money from the Alabama Education Association and supports the Common Core education initiative; and that he pleaded guilty in 2016 for driving under the influence of alcohol and tried to use his influence as a county commissioner to get out of it.

“This race is going to get negative,” Gray said.

Gray said Elliott was forthright about the DUI — which occurred when he was coming home from a charitable fundraising event — from the start of his campaign, apologizing to voters for his lack of judgment.

“If he wanted to get out of it, no one would know about it,” he said. “We did all our polling months ago. I’m very comfortable with it. Chris has atoned for it.”

Gray also said Elliott has never voted for a tax increase. He only voted in favor of a referendum to give Baldwin voters an opportunity to raise property taxes for the school system — a proposal that voters rejected.

To Brown, the explanation rings hollow.

“If you look at David Northcutt’s mailings, he’s against taxes and won’t be beholden to special interests,” Brown said. “That’s all Chris Elliott seems to be advocating.”

The race has featured attack ads run against Northcutt by a north Alabama dentist. “Please DO NOT vote for Dr. David Northcutt for the Senate,” one ad reads.

That dentist, Dugald McMillan III, has suggested that Northcutt has violated privacy laws by sending campaign solicitations to dental clients.

The ads prompted Northcutt to file a complaint with Secretary of State John Merrill’s office, claiming that it is illegal because the dentist did not file a campaign finance report identifying his donors.

Brown said McMillan and others involved in the state dental association are disgruntled because Northcutt tried to change the group’s older practices and shake things up.

“That’s what David’s going to do if he goes to Montgomery,” he said.

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”


3 years ago

Comedian W. Kamau Bell takes stereotype-busting CNN show to Alabama

(K. Bell/Twitter)

For three years, comedian W. Kamau Bell had trained his sharp eye on exotic slices of America to break down stereotypes.

On Sunday, he took his myth-busting CNN show to a more familiar setting — Alabama, where he spent part of his youth. As is the show’s format, Bell spent the show interviewing a variety of strangers. But the Father’s Day airing also included time talking to someone he knows well — his own dad, former Alabama insurance commissioner Walter Bell.

The depictions of Alabama were familiar to home-state residents, particularly those in the southwestern corner. Bell showed a national audience the gorgeous beaches of the Alabama Gulf Coast, told folks about Mobile’s status as birthplace of Mardi Gras in America and explained how to pronounce the Port City’s name — not like a cell phone, Bell says, but Mo-BEEL.

The program featured plenty of familiar shots of downtown Mobile, Orange Beach and the Causeway connecting Mobile and Baldwin counties.


Bell acknowledged Alabama’s past — there was an obligatory clip of segregationist Gov. George Wallace — and alluded to the nation’s “complicated relationship with Alabama.” He also talked a bit about Alabama’s controversial present, with references to former Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, who nearly won a special election to the Senate last year despite facing allegations of sexual impropriety that purportedly occurred decades ago.

But overall, Bell showed a side of the Heart of Dixie that many people in the rest of the country never think about — or perhaps even know about.

“There’s always sort of a general outside-of-the-South condescension [toward] the South,” he said. “And I realize it’s like, people really don’t know what they’re talking about. I felt like I want to try to tell my truth of Alabama.”

Bell later added that he was not enthusiastic about coming to Mobile as a kid. He spent summers visiting his dad and attended high school in Mobile for a time. But as an adult, Bell said, he loves it and the South.

“And when people have never been here condescend to it, it makes me defensive of it,” he said. “Which means we don’t actually get to talk about the goodness of it.”

Much of the show was Bell’s personal journey. He took viewers to the modest house he lived in for a time. He showed off his grandmother’s house — now boarded-up —where he has many fond memories.

And Bell took care of some “unfinished” business at the downtown branch of the Mobile Public Library. He returned a book on comics that he had checked out in 1986. The clerk had to get a supervisor, who informed Bell that it was so old, it was not in the computer system.

So, Bell made a $1,000 donation to the library, instead.

“Should we hold out for two?” the supervisor joked.

Bell also went with his father to his childhood home — now a hunting camp — in rural Vredenburgh, Alabama, about 100 miles north of Mobile.

The plot of land where the family shack once stood contains a small cemetery of Bell’s ancestors. He saw the gravesite of his great-great-grandmother, who was born during slave times and had a son — Walter Bell’s grandfather — five years after slavery ended.

“You can be born anywhere, and you can end up anywhere,” Walter Bell said on the show.

Walter Bell was insurance commissioner under then-Alabama Gov. Bob Riley. As the son put it, Walter was Alabama’s highest-ranking black person at the time and the first Alabamian to serve as president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

And what would his father think of that, Kamau Bell wanted to know.

“Well, he was a union guy,” Walter Bell answered. “I mean, bled union blood. For me to have worked for a Republican governor, he probably would have had a few things to say to me about that.”

Kamau Bell ended the show with him and his father fishing in Mobile Bay.

“I have a great life here, you know? I know people. People know me,” Walter Bell said. “And making a living and making a life is two different things. And, when you make a living, you also want to make a life.”

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”


3 years ago

Trump Country: Alabama again tops nation in support for president

(W.Miller from WH/Flickr)

Alabama again is President Donald Trump’s most supportive state, according to a Morning Consult survey released Wednesday.

The poll, conducted in May, indicates that 63 percent of Alabama voters approve of Trump’s performance. That edges Wyoming and West Virginia, where the president’s approval rating stood at 62 percent.

With 33 percent of Alabama voters disapproving of the president’s job performance, Trump’s net approval is 30 percentage points. That also is Trump’s highest in the country.

Trump’s approval rating in Alabama is actually a percentage point higher than it was in a Morning Consult poll in January 2017, when he took office. But his disapproval rating shot up 7 points since then.


Still, Trump’s net approval rating has declined by just 6 points, which is tied with Louisiana for the least erosion in the country.

All of this it to say that Alabama remains Trump country. That should not be a surprise to anyone who has followed Trump’s rise to power. Alabama was the site of, perhaps, his most important early rally — a raucous event in Mobile on a sweltering summer night in 2015.

At the time, Trump had been leading Republican primary polls for several weeks. But it was months before anyone has actually voted, and most experts still were dismissing his candidacy as a vanity project destined to flame out when the electorate grew serious.

But Trump electrified the crowd in Mobile and never looked back. He eventually picked up the support of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the first sitting senator to endorse Trump. Trump went one to swamp the Republican field in the Alabama primary.

Alabama and West Virginia have traded places over the past year as Trump’s best state. A Morning Consult poll four months ago, for instance, suggested Alabama was No. 1, but the Heart of Dixie gave up the title the following month.

After Alabama, West Virginia and Wyoming, Trump fared best in Louisiana (60 percent approval) and Mississippi (59 percent).

Not surprisingly, the District of Columbia gave Trump his lowest marks last month. The president got just 4 percent of the vote in the nation’s capital in 2016; according to Morning Consult, 77 percent last month disapproved of his performance.

Some 61 percent of voters view Trump negatively in Vermont, Hawaii and Massachusetts. Rhode Island comes in one tick below, at 60 percent.

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”