The Wire

  • Former Tide Star Da’Ron Payne talks NFL, and Hall of Fame honor

    Excerpt from WIAT:

    Two time National Champion and Birmingham native Da’Ron Payne returned to the Magic City this week to be honored at the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.

    Payne had his Touchdown catch against Clemson in the Sugar Bowl immortalized in a painting titled “Hands of Gold” which will be on display at the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in downtown Birmingham.

  • Bradley Byrne: Baldwin County immigrant camp plan is ‘inhumane mistake’

    Excerpt from AL.com:

    In the midst of a national conversation surrounding immigration practices in the United States, Republican U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne says he is prepared to fight a reported plan for migrant camps in Baldwin County.

    “We have successfully fought efforts to house illegal immigrants in Baldwin County before, and we will do the same again because the proposal makes no sense,” Byrne tells AL.com via e-mail.

    “Housing anyone in tents on the Gulf Coast during the heat of summer and the heart of hurricane season would be inhumane and a major mistake. I am committed to working with our local officials to fight back against this misguided idea. The whole issue just underscores why it is so important we secure our borders and crack down on illegal immigration.”

  • Plane crashes behind Taco Bell in Alex City

    Excerpt from WSFA:

    A plane crashed in Alex City Sunday morning, according to the Alex City Fire Department.

    According to a Facebook post by the fire department, a crew is at the scene of the crash behind Taco Bell. The Taco Bell is located off of Highway 280.

3 days ago

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

(Pixabay)

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.

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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.”

4 days 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.

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“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.”

 

7 days 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.

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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.”

 

2 weeks 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.

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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.”

 

2 weeks ago

In gay wedding cases, justices are failing duty to provide guidance to lower courts

(Pixabay)

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to review a decision by the Washington Supreme Court upholding a judgment against a florist who refused to make a floral arrangement for a same-sex wedding.

In so doing, the justices passed up an opportunity to fill in the blanks in last week’s high-profile ruling in favor of a Colorado baker punished for refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding.

Whether you favor expansive protections for gay couples or come down on the side of vendors with religious objections to same-sex unions, the most frustrating aspect of last week’s ruling in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case was its lack of clarity.

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The Supreme Court hears less than 1 percent of the requests it gets, so it is rather useless as an instrument for resolving disputes on a case-by-case basis. Its most important duty is to lay down clear guidelines to lower courts that decide the vast majority of legal disputes.

And on that score, the high court failed last week. For evidence of that, look at the disagreement among America’s smartest legal scholars and biggest news organizations about whether the case represents a big win for religious freedom or whether the impact is limited because of the “narrow” focus on the unusual facts of the case.

Check out some recent headlines in the days since the ruling:

— Seattle Times: “Colorado baker’s case not a license to discriminate.”
— Slate: “Gay Americans Have Little to Fear From the Supreme Court’s Compromise in Masterpiece Cakeshop.”
— NBC: “How the ‘narrow’ ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop could undermine future civil rights cases.”
— HuffPost: “Masterpiece Cakeshop Ruling Is Not As Limited As Some Might Think.”
— ThinkProgress: “‘Masterpiece Cakeshop’ ruling actually suggests a good decision on gay rights in the near future.”
— The Hill: “The Hill: Supreme Court’s cakeshop ruling is not narrow — and that’s a good thing.”
— The Guardian: “Fury and despair over the Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling are misplaced.”
— SCOTUSBLOG: “Symposium: Masterpiece Cakeshop — not as narrow as may first appear.”

Those wildly divergent and contradictory headlines are a good indication that Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion was rather opaque. If these independent experts can’t agree, will judges have any more success?

In the first test of that, the Arizona Court of Appeals on Thursday cited the new precedent in upholding a 2013 Phoenix ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in public accommodations.

Other courts may well come down on the other side.

Lower court judges, in applying the law to a particular set of facts, are supposed to use Supreme Court precedents as the basis. Doing that with the Masterpiece case will be no easy task.

Kennedy addressed that directly. Here is what he wrote: “The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts, all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”

Got that?

The government must treat people with “sincere religious beliefs” with respect. But it also must ensure that gay people are not subjected to “indignities” when they buy goods and services.

So it seems clear how the courts must rule if members of another commission go as far as making disparaging comments about a person’s faith — as was the case in the Colorado proceedings when one member invoked slavery and the Holocaust in discussing the baker’s faith.

But what about the baker, the florist or the wedding singer who cite their religious beliefs in turning away a gay couple in cases where the commission members do not make such overt statements? Kennedy’s opinion is far from clear.

The Washington State case offered a chance to provide more clarity, but the justices brushed it aside on Monday. Good luck to federal judges now charged with figuring it out.

The result is that far from resolving the question, the court has virtually guaranteed that these kinds of cases will keep returning, one after another, year after year.

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

 

3 weeks ago

Primary results offers little evidence of blue wave in Alabama

Alabama Democrats followed up a surprise Senate victory in December with an enthusiastic crop of candidates, excited activists with more confidence than the party has had in decades and a competitive gubernatorial primary.

Yet, when the dust cleared from Tuesday’s voting, there was scant evidence of a transformation of the state’s politics.

Both parties attracted more voters to the polls than the 2014 primaries, but the partisan breakdown was similar. Republicans got 67 percent of the voters on Tuesday, down from 70 percent four years ago.

Eight years ago, nearly 61 percent of Alabama voters participating in the primary took Republican ballots.

“The blue wave – that’s an interesting slogan,” Alabama Republican Party Chairwoman Terry Lathan said.

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But evidence from Election Day shows “it’s not there,” she added.

Nancy Worley, chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, said she is encouraged that the Democratic turnout on Tuesday increased from the special primary election for the Senate last summer — both in actual numbers and as a percentage of all votes cast.

Worley said the party had recruited a record number of candidates but added that many ran unopposed in Tuesday’s primary, which could have reduced turnout.

“When you have a lot of candidates who are not on the ballot, they don’t press their friends and family to come out,” she said.

Worley said she is confident heading into the fall campaign.

“I certainly think we have the opportunity to pick up seats,” she said.

Independent analysts backed up Lathan’s interpretation. Jess Brown, a political scientist at Athens State University in north Alabama, said Democrats improved on their performance from four years ago. But he said the beleaguered party has a long way to go.

“There is no evidence of a blue wave,” he said. “There is evidence of a wave of apathy and potentially ignorance. … Their (Democrats’) bucket has still got a lot of missing water.”

Democrats across the country are counting on energized partisans to carry the party to victory in congressional races and seize control of the House of Representatives.

Even under the most optimistic of scenarios, Alabama Democrats do not figure to play a significant role in that effort. But party leaders have hoped that they could make inroads into the GOP’s dominant position in Alabama.

If a blue wave is brewing, states with open primaries like Alabama are where it would show up first. In Alabama, a voter does not register by party and can simply request which ballot to take. That makes it easier to switch parties in primaries than in states where only voters registered in a party can participate.

“If there was a blue wave in the grassroots, it should have manifested itself in primary turnout,” Brown said.

After barely being able to find a standard-bearer in the governor’s race four years ago — Democrats then settled for a former congressman who had been a Republican and an independent in the recent past — the party had a real primary contest this year. Two credible, well-funded candidates led the primary field.

But Brown said the numbers show a stark difference. While Democrats fielded 10 candidates for three statewide offices in contested primaries, Republicans had 47 candidates competing for 15 positions.

The source of much of the optimism flowing through Alabama Democrats, of course, is the victory by Sen. Doug Jones (D-Mountain Brook) in the special election to fill the seat once held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

But Republicans said the primary numbers cast doubt on whether that victory has any significance.

“Doug Jones will raise money for Democrats, but it’s not going to change the narrative,” said Rick Shaftan, a political consultant who helped guide Supreme Court Justice Tom Parker to victory in the Republican primary race for chief justice.

Lathan, the party chairwoman, agreed. She noted that the Democratic victory in December was the result of a combination of factors that included a low-turnout special election and late-breaking allegations that Republican nominee Roy Moore had inappropriate sexual contact with teenage girls in the 1970s when he was a young assistant district attorney in Etowah County.

“That circumstance is very rare, and it’s gone,” she said.

Although Democrats improved their share of the vote on primary day, it remains 6 percentage points below the 2010 numbers. Prior to that, the party had dominated the state, even though Republican presidential candidates long had been carrying the vote.

Consider that in 1986, just 29,194 voters participated in the Republican primary — compared with 940,088 who cast ballots in the Democratic contest.

As recently as 2006, a majority of primary voters were still choosing the Democratic Party. It was not until 2010 when the GOP had a majority of voters in a gubernatorial contest.

“It seems like we’ve been here for a very long time, but we’ve been working toward this for a very long time,” Lathan said.

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

 

3 weeks ago

Roy Moore’s career may be over, but Mooreism is not

(T. Parker/Facebook)

Former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore’s career may have ended in December when he lost a special election for the Senate, but his shadow lives on in the state’s Republican politics.

Tuesday’s GOP primary showed that when Moore’s longtime protégé, Justice Tom Parker, took down incumbent Chief Justice Lyn Stuart.

Parker openly embraces his Christian faith and talks about how it informs his view of the law and the Constitution. He ran ads during this campaign attacking progressive power broker George Soros and the Southern Poverty Law Center, which filed an ethics complaint against him. Earlier this year, he won a free speech victory in federal court when a judge upheld his right to speak out publicly on legal and political issues.

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Rick Shaftan, who served as a consultant Parker’s campaign, said he sees some parallels to past Moore campaigns — but only up to a point.

“The two races were totally separate,” he said. “They were just different.”

Parker’s victory over Stuart was narrow — he won by about 4 percentage points — but was widespread. He carried most of the state’s counties and out-performed her in every region of the state except for her home base in southwest Alabama. Stuart, who once served as a circuit judge in Baldwin County, won there and in the surrounding counties in the Mobile area.

Despite having served as statewide officer for nearly two decades, however, Stuart found little success anywhere else.

That includes urban counties with higher numbers of educated and upper-income voters who often favor candidates like Stuart, who won the backing of the state’s business interests.

In the familiar Alabama Republican divide, the path to victory for an economic conservative running against a social conservative is to run up the score in urban and suburban precincts and then hold off her opponent in the rural counties.

Stuart did not do nearly well enough in the places that she needed to, however. Although she won Mobile and Montgomery counties, she lost Madison, Lee and Tuscaloosa counties. And while she won Shelby County and was winning in Jefferson County, the margins were too close — less than 3 points in Shelby and about 8 points in Jefferson — for her to withstand Parker’s strength in rural Alabama.

Shaftan said the Parker campaign spent relatively little in the Mobile market, figuring Stuart would run strongly there, and instead spent limited resources elsewhere.

Shaftan said the Stuart campaign, particularly earlier in the campaign when Parker was not on the air, did a good job of converting her favorability ratings into votes in surveys.

“Her ads were definitely good. It showed up in our polling,” he said. “Her problem was she didn’t have a lot to say. And when you don’t have a lot to say, you can’t run a three-week campaign.”

With less campaign money, meanwhile, Parker, did not begin airing ads on broadcast TV stations until Friday. Shaftan credited that late burst of advertising with helping Parker close a deficit that internal polling had indicated was about 10 points.

In some ways, the chief justice race was like Parker’s 2004 campaign for the state Supreme Court. Then, as now, he faced a female incumbent who had strong backing from business interests. Parker barely knocked off Justice Jean Brown in the primary, winning 51 percent to 49 percent.

Shaftan recalled Parker winning 59 of 66 counties in 2004, but he lost by big margins in the big-population counties and lost nearly every county seat. Tuesday’s victory of Stuart was broader.

“We had a stronger message. People are looking for conservative judges,” he said.

Shaftan said it is also is clear that a message of confronting bullying tactics of the Southern Poverty Law Center resonates more widely among Republican voters than just those animated by social issues.

“It has a lot more appeal in the suburbs than people might realize,” he said.

With Stuart’s loss, two previous Moore stints that ended early due to ethics investigations and Democrat Sue Bell Cobb’s resignation during her first term, it now has been 23 years since a chief justice in Alabama completed a six-year term.

Parker will attempt to break that cycle, but first he must overcome Democrat Robert Vance in November. Shaftan previewed a campaign that will depict the former Jefferson County circuit judge as a “liberal judge.” He said he expects Democrats to spend heavily on the race.

“It’s not going to work,” he predicted.

Updated at 9:52 p.m. to correct an error in Rich Shaftan’s title.

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

3 weeks ago

Once toxic in Republican circles, teachers union money pours into GOP primaries

(W.Miller/YHN)

Campaign money from Alabama’s largest teachers union used to be so toxic in Republican circles that it triggered a party rule — still in effect — discouraging candidates from accepting donations from the organization.

No more.

In the 2018 election cycle, the Alabama Education Association has been a major player in Republican primaries. The union’s political action committee, Alabama Voice of Teachers for Education, or AVOTE, has dumped $604,500 into Republican campaigns.

That is actually slightly more than the total that the PAC has contributed to Democratic campaigns. The union could help determine dozens of nominees in Tuesday’s GOP primary.

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Political observers contend that deluge of cash simply reflects the reality of a state that has marched significantly toward the Republican Party over the past two decades.

“Obviously, they’ve got to take account of partisan changes that have benefited Republicans,” said University of Alabama political scientist William Stewart.

Representatives from the Alabama Education Association declined to be interviewed for this story.

The Alabama Education Association for years operated essentially as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party — or given its enormous influence, perhaps the other way around. At any rate, the party and union shared office space and its longtime head, the late Paul Hubbert, simultaneously served as vice chairman of the party.

That cozy relationship prompted the Alabama Republican Party to play hardball after the party won control of the state Legislature, passing a rule in 2013 banning contributions to the party from the National Education Association or any of its affiliates.

The ban was not binding on candidates, but the bylaws state that, “Officeholders and candidates are strongly admonished to follow the same rule and, because the NEA is a veritable adjunct of the Democratic Party, failure to heed this admonition shall be regarded negatively by the Committee.”

Terry Lathan, chairwoman of the Alabama Republican Party, said the party is bound to remain neutral in primaries. She said the party reserves the right to speak out about AEA donations, but she added that she trusts voters to sort it out.

“We hope voters will decide to make that decision if they want to make it part of the processes,” she said.

Some Republicans critical

AEA contributions have drawn criticism from some Republican candidates, however. Former Shelby County Commissioner Ted Crockett, who is challenging incumbent state Rep. Dickie Drake (R-Leeds), criticized his opponent for accepting $25,000 from the union.

“They’ve been pouring money into his campaign. … These people like the AEA have been trying to weedle their way into the Republican Party and gain control in secret,” he said.

Crockett said he decided to run because Drake supports raising taxes and cited a bill the incumbent sponsored to put a school property tax hike for the Leeds city school system on the November ballot.

Drake said he opposed raising taxes but agreed to sponsor the referendum in order to give city residents the opportunity to make the decision.

As for AEA, Drake said he considers the party bylaw to be outdated.

“The face of the AEA has completely changed,” he said. “Now, we’re working much more closely with them.”

Jess Brown, an Athens State University political scientist in north Alabama, agreed the AEA is not the same organization it was during the Democratic Party’s halcyon days. Alabama has “shifted from a one-party state that had a ‘D’ in front of it to a one-party state that has an ‘R,’ he said.

The AEA is not the only traditional Democratic money source that has spread donations to Republicans. A PAC associated with the state’s trial lawyers has contributed to a number of Republican candidates this year, most notably Supreme Court chief justice candidate Tom Parker.

“If Paul Hubbert were alive today, I have no doubt he would be dropping huge amounts of money in Republican primaries. … They’re either gonna play ball in the Republican Party or they’re not gonna have influence in Montgomery,” Brown said.

In addition to directly contributing to candidates, the AEA has supported others indirectly. The AVOTE PAC this year has spent more than $100,000 on advertising costs.

Some of those funds have paid for fliers promoting the candidacy of Sam Givhan over Mary Scott Hunter for an open state Senate seat in District 7 in the Huntsville area. Givhan has not received any direct contributions from the PAC.

Givhan could not be reached for comment.

Hunter focuses on ‘positive, conservative message’

Hunter, who currently serves on the state Board of Education, said in a statement that she is focusing on keeping trained on a “positive, conservative message” in the closing days of the campaign.

“This is the time that backbones can begin to weaken in a campaign and mistakes are made,” she stated. “As for me and my team, we will remain disciplined and on-message through election day, and we’ll have a campaign we can be proud of.”

In the Shelby County House race, Crockett lambasted a different PAC, called the Alabama Federation for Children, which has spent $25,758 in mailers attacking his candidacy. The group, an offshoot of the American Federation for Children, promotes school choice for low-income families.

The chairman of the board, William E. Oberndorf, is a wealthy hedge fund manager from California who supported Republican Mitt Romney’s presidential bids in 2008 and 2012 and backed former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the 2016 GOP primaries. But he told The New York Times that he would support Democrat Hillary Clinton over President Donald Trump.

Crockett said the mailers make an unfair and untrue allegation that as a member of the County Commission, he led an effort to sell a municipal sewer system to Southwest Water Corp. He said he, in fact, opposed the sale.

Crockett blamed Drake for the attacks.

“He’s got a problem, so he’s attacked me,” he said.

Drake said he has nothing to do with the mailers and had not even heard of the PAC until a reporter told him Thursday night. He said his campaign was positive until he was forced to respond.

“It was never negative until he told a pack of lies about me two weeks ago,” he said.

Such intra-party squabbles likely will become more common the longer the Republican Party remains dominant, said Brown, the Athens State political scientist. He said the Democrats for years had various competing factions.

Lathan, the party chairwoman, said the GOP is in a strong position — even if a side effect is occasional difficulties maintaining party unity.

“At some point, we hope that people who run for office are good, patriot, servants who want to serve their counties and state through a conservative lens,” she said.

Stewart, the University of Alabama political scientist, said it is not surprising that Republicans are taking money from an organization they once shunned.

“Candidates need money badly, and I just think they’re flexible,” he said. “We don’t have permanent enemies. We have enemies at one time who later become friends.”

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

 

4 weeks ago

Big trial lawyers nearly exclusively funding Tom Parker in court race

(Parker/Facebook), Pixabay)

Big money in Alabama judicial races is nothing new, but a week away from primary day, Republican Supreme Court chief justice candidate Tom Parker is in the midst of a campaign that might be unprecedented.

Parker, who is challenging incumbent Lyn Stuart in the primary, has reported raising $505,625. Of that, $400,000 has come from a single political action committee — the Progress for Justice PAC. Since 2016, the PAC has received all of its money from seven big trial lawyer firms and one individual, a $250,000 donation from plaintiffs’ lawyer David Marsh.

After subtracting the $32,550 that Parker has loaned his campaign, the trial lawyer PAC accounts for nearly 85 percent of the money he has raised since last July.

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Not only is the percentage staggering — perhaps unheard of for a statewide campaign — but it is unusual for trial lawyers traditionally aligned with Democrats to spend so heavily in a Republican primary.

Former Lt. Gov. Jere Beasley, whose Montgomery-based law firm is among the contributors to the Progress for Justice PAC, downplayed the significance of the contributions to Parker. He said he would prefer a different system, altogether.

“I like both of them,” he said, referring to Parker and Stuart. “My goal would be to get money totally out of court races, and that will never happen in my lifetime.”

Stuart has been on the high court since 2001 and took over as top justice after former Chief Justice Roy Moore left office amid allegations that he violated judicial ethics by instructing probate judges to follow state law on gay marriage after a federal judge had declared it unconstitutional.

Stuart has doubled Parker’s fundraising, largely on the strength of her support from business interests.

A generation ago, trial lawyers would not even have considered backing Republicans in appellate court races. The 1990s and early 2000s featured often bitter proxy wars between business donors and trial lawyers for ideological control of the judiciary.

But in recent years, trial lawyer interests increasingly have played in GOP primaries. Moore has received a fair number of donations from firms that generally represent plaintiffs. And Parker, a longtime ally of Moore, was the clear Republican choice of trial lawyers the last time he ran for chief justice — when he lost to Drayton Nabers in the 2006 primary.

“This is not the first election cycle that trial lawyers have spread their money to Republican candidates,” said Jess Brown, a political scientist at Athens State University in northern Alabama.

Indeed, the Progress for Justice PAC last year and this year has contributed to several Republicans running for the state Legislature, and a number of judicial candidates. That includes Supreme Court Justice Tommy Bryan, unopposed for the GOP nomination, and Mobile County Circuit Judge Sarah Stewart, who is running against incumbent Brad Mendheim.

Court of Civil Appeals Judges Terri Willingham Thomas and Terry Moore, as well as three candidates running for an open seat on the court — Christy Olinger Edwards, Pat Thetford and Michelle Thomason — also all have taken money from the PAC.

The PAC also made a donation to Chris McCool, who is running for a seat on the Court of Criminal Appeals.

But contributions to Parker dwarf them all. The PAC has given more to him than every other candidate combined; Parker’s $400,000 represents 75 percent of the PAC’s contribution total this cycle.

The Stuart campaign criticized Parker’s heavy reliance on trial lawyers and called on him to refuse to accept any more contributions from those interests. The campaign also blasted Parker for telling AL.com earlier this month that “we need some restoration” after the pendulum had swung too far from the center.

“This is not the Chief Justice Republican voters in Alabama can support or should support,” the campaign said in a statement. “Judges do not place their thumbs on the scale of justice for any party. Rather their duty is to fairly and consistently apply the law and not make law.”

For his part, Parker noted in a statement that his opponent has gotten most of the special interest money.

“I am a grassroots candidate being massively outspent by a Montgomery insider that has raised nearly a million dollars in special interest money. My core supporters are hardworking citizens across the state that believe in God, the Constitution, and protecting the rule of law and the integrity of our courts,” he stated. “I consider myself fortunate to have received the support of numerous attorneys across the state as well.”

Parker added that he is “known for being fair and balanced, and for following the law rather than popular opinion.”

Brown, the political scientist, said many donors prefer funneling candidate donations through PACs in order to build a layer of separation between donor and recipient.

“It’s just another example of how you are able to partially camouflage donors by putting a PAC label on them,” he said.

Beasley, the Montgomery lawyer, said that if campaign money has a large impact on judicial decisions, then average Alabamians have more to worry about from Stuart since she has a large advantage in special interest money.

He said he’d prefer to end the arms race.

“We better wake up and get money out of politics,” he said.

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

1 month ago

Alabama congressman pushes creation of military space force

(Wikicommons)

The defense spending bill passed Thursday by the House of Representatives includes a provision aggressively pushed by an Alabama congressman — a space force.

But don’t expect Captain Kirk to be leading the Enterprise in missions beyond the solar system anytime soon. Those kinds of operations are still the stuff of science fiction.

The idea backed by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Saks) is to create a separate space force — which would have equal footing with the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines — using existing personnel currently working under the Air Force banner.

Rogers said he has heard jokes about what uniforms officers in the space force might wear, but he added that space operations tend to get buried under other priorities and that America, as a result, risks falling behind its competitors.

“All I’m talking about is national security space satellites,” he said in a recent interview. “What we’re proposing does not affect or deal with intelligence community satellites or the commercial satellites.”

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The U.S. military has grown increasingly dependent on space satellites, which do everything from detect nuclear missile launches to allow soldiers and sailors to communicate with one another. Rogers noted the the Air Force is responsible for maintaining global positioning satellites that serve not just the military but commercial entities, as well.

And yet, some military experts warns the United States has grown complacent against threats posed by countries like Russia and China, which both have invested heavily in offensive capabilities in space.

“Urgent action is needed,” retired Air Force Gen. C. Robert Kehler wrote in a report last month by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Countering this new reality requires a clear understanding of the threats and an approach highlighted by renewed national commitment and increased investment.”

The think tank’s assessment identifies a number of vulnerabilities, ranging from cyberattacks and jamming to direct-ascent anti-satellite missiles.

The report estimated that China spent almost $11 billion on space last year, second only to the United States. In January last year, the country successfully tested an ASAT system, proving that it has the capacity to destroy satellites in low Earth orbit.

“We are completely dependent on national satellites to be able to fight and win wars,” Rogers said. “The problem is that our primary adversaries, Russia and China, they realize that. … And what they recognized a while back is that if they could get more advanced in that area and work faster, they could actually make our ability to use satellites vulnerable, and basically take our eyes and ears away from us.”

Rogers said China and Russia both already have reorganized their space corps. They have reached parity with the United States and are on a trajectory to pass the U.S., he said.

The idea of creating a separate space agency has strong bipartisan support in the House of Representatives but is not universally embraced. Defense Secretary James Mattis considers it unnecessary. And despite encouraging public statements from President Donald Trump, the White House Office of Management and Budget this week included space-related provisions in a list of items it wanted deleted from the National Defense Authorization Act.

“The Administration appreciates the Committee’s continued focus and attention as it executes its oversight responsibilities of our nation’s military space capabilities and forces,” the statement read. “However, the Administration believes that (the space provision) is premature. The Department currently is conducting a review of its space organizational and management structure as required … Once complete, the Administration will review these findings and deliver the required report and consult with Congress.”

That report is due in December. But Rogers said all three of the requirements included in this year’s defense bill need to be done whether or not the space corps becomes a separate military branch. Those mandates are to:

— Protect personnel currently working on space issues in the Air Force, preventing them from being directed to other tasks.

— Create a sub-unified commander responsible for joint war-fighting across the services.

— Develop a separate acquisition system within the Air Force for space infrastructure responsible for buying and deploying new satellites.
Rogers said he is convicted that the space force needs to be a separate branch.

“The Air Force cannot fix this problem. They’re the ones that allowed this to happen. They’re culturally focused on air dominance missions like bombers, fighter jets, etc.,” he said. “And the only way we’re ever going to be able to have an organizational structure of space professionals that can make sure we regain space dominance and keep it, is to segregate existing space professionals that are in the Air Force over into a separate segregated service, with their own budget, their own educational system, their own promotion system, their own culture that’s focused on space dominance.”

Speed is of the essence because satellite technology advances so quickly, Rogers said. But the Air Force’s “bloated bureaucracy” leads to unacceptable delays, he added.

Rogers said it takes six to eight years from the time a commander identifies a new space capability before it actually gets deployed. He said officials are estimating an even longer timeframe — up to 12 years — to replace the Space-Based Infrared System, which defects intercontinental ballistic missile launches.

“Folks here have the fear of God in their heart over this issue now,” he said.

Rogers said private companies operate on time periods of 18 to 24 months. He said the goal for the military is to get the average down to three years.

If the space force becomes a separate branch Rogers estimated it would have 15,000 to 25,000 employees initially. It would operate under the Air Force secretary much the same way the U.S. Marine Corps today is part of the Department of the Navy.

The new force would use the Air Force Academy and it would not involve the construction of new bases, Rogers said.

“You wouldn’t see a lot of structural differences,” he said. “It’s really organizational differences that you would see, in that we’d be able to go a lot faster, be a lot more efficient and effective.”

Having a separate branch would help the military attract the best and brightest space minds, Rogers said. He noted that not one of the 37 Air Force colonels recently nominated for brigadier general was a space professional.

Rogers said a separate space force would excite young people considering military careers.

“Because the truth is, working in space stuff is cool,” he said. “And it’s the future.”

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

 

1 month ago

Here are Alabama’s population gainers and losers

(Wikicommons, Pixabay)

Baldwin County long has been Alabama’s fastest-growing county, so perhaps it should be no surprise that one of its towns is the state’s fast-growing municipality.

According to population estimates released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau, Loxley added 335 new residents from July 2016 to July 2017. The 16.7 percent growth rate over that 12-month period topped the state.

It came in just ahead of fellow Baldwin County towns Summerdale (12.3 percent) and Silverhill (12 percent).

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Three other Baldwin cities also made the top 20 — No. 9 Spanish Fort (5.1 percent), No. 16 Fairhope (3.7 percent) and No. 17 Foley (3.3 percent).

They were among 179 Alabama municipalities that saw growth from mid-2016 to mid-2017. Meanwhile, 244 cities and towns lost population, while another 36 remained exactly the same.

Census figures show much of the rest of the South remains booming. Of the 15 American cities with the greatest numerical gains over the past year, eight are in the region. The South also has 10 of the 15 fastest-growing cities on a percentage basis.

While the biggest cities get most of the attention, that is not where most people live — either in Alabama or across the country. Nationally, only 3.9 percent of cities have 50,000 residents or more. Only nine Alabama cities meet that threshold. The nearly 1.7 million people who live in those cites make up about 34 percent of the state’s residents.

“The U.S. is a nation of small cities and towns,” Census Bureau demographer Joseph Bowman said in a statement. “Of the 19,500 incorporated places, about 76 percent had fewer than 5,000 people and almost half of these places had fewer than 1,000 people.”

Most of Alabama’s populous cities followed well-established trends over the past year. Birmingham retained its position as Alabama’s biggest city but shrank by about a quarter of a percentage point, to 210,710.

Montgomery and Mobile also lost residents. They and Birmingham have lost population since the 2010 census.

Huntsville, which passed Mobile in 2017 to become the third-biggest city, added another 2,629 residents. That was the most of any municipality in the state. Since 2010, the Rocket City’s population has jumped 8 percent. It now trails second-place Montgomery by just 4,933 people.

Among the top 10 cities, two others have outpaced Huntsville on percentage basis. Auburn grew by 2 percent since mid-2016 and is up to 63,973 residents. That is up 20 percent since 2010. And Madison jumped 2.2 percent on year and 13.8 percent since 2010, to 48,861.

Alabama’s 20 biggest cities got a new member over the past year — Daphne, in Baldwin County, replaced Homewood at No. 20. And Prattville swapped places with Gadsden at 13 and 14, respectively.

Here is a look at Alabama’s fastest-growing municipalities since the 2010 census:

  • 1. — Hayden, which has grown 203.6 percent.
  • 2. — Pike Road, which has grown 72.4 percent.
  • 3. — Summerdale, which has grown 60 percent.
  • 4. — S. Florian, which has grown 49 percent.
  • 5. — Loxley, which has grown 43 percent.
  • 6. — Fairhope, which has grown 36.6 percent.
  • 7. —Westover, which has grown 32 percent.
  • 8. — Uniontown, which has grown 30.7 percent.
  • 9. — Priceville, which has grown 30.3 percent.
  • 10. — Chelsea, which has grown 27.8 percent.

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

 

1 month ago

Alabama AG talks gambling, census suit as Republican primary nears

(Marshall Campaign)

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall has not been content during his brief tenure in office simply to enforce state law. He has devoted part of his energies to amplifying Alabama’s voice on a variety of constitutional issues.

This week’s lawsuit challenging the way the United States divvies up seats in the House of Representatives is only the latest example.

The state, along with U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville), filed the suit in Birmingham’s federal court against the U.S. Commerce Department and the Census Bureau. Currently, the 435 House seats are distributed based on total population. That means that Alabama likely will lose a seat and one of its Electoral College votes after the 2020 census.

But Marshall argues that using total population unfairly awards extra congressional districts to states with large numbers of illegal immigrants.

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“We don’t believe that the law requires that,” he said Tuesday during an appearance on FM 106.5 in Mobile.

Marshall stopped by during a campaign swing through Mobile that will include an appearance at the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce’s Pork & Politics in the Park event at U.S.S. Alabama Battleship Memorial Park from 6 p.m to 8 p.m.

Marshall said excluding illegal immigrants from apportionment would prevent Alabama — which has a small share of noncitizens — from losing a seat.

“We believe it’s an important fight for us,” he said.

Brooks took the floor of the House to announce the lawsuit.

“As of today, Alabama likely loses a congressional seat after the 2020 census if apportionment includes illegal alien counts,” he said. “The loss of an Alabama congressional seat will be a huge loss in Alabama’s political influence and will diminish Alabama’s influence in Congress and its importance in presidential elections.”

Marshall told host Sean Sullivan that the current system makes it lucrative for states like California to flout immigration law by crating “sanctuary” policies that limit cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.

“Just open the doors, and say, ‘Safe haven here,’ and can greatly expand the census count for particular areas and particular states,” he said. “And so, that’s why we don’t want to create an [incentive], if you will, for people to be able to violate the law.”

Marshall has used the Attorney General’s office to weight in on issues like gun control and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, a quasi-amnesty initiative for illegal immigrants that he argues Barack Obama’s administration created without legal authority.

Weighing in on issues like that generates headlines and attention, which can be politically beneficial to an incumbent with no experience in statewide office facing a tough primary election next month.

But Marshall, whom former Gov. Robert Bentley appointed in February of last year said there are policy considerations.

“We have the opportunity to be able to speak on behalf of Alabama, to stand for the Constitution around the state,” he said.

The job, Marshall said, requires a willingness to call balls and strikes without regard to politics. He said that is why he decided to go after gambling operations.

“That wasn’t a smart political move for me to be able to take on 10 different facilities in the state,” he said. “You see lots of money going to [former attorney general and current candidate] Troy King because of his stance on gambling. But yet, if I’m not willing to follow the law, if I’m not willing to enforce the law — regardless of the political consequences — I don’t need this job.”

Asked if video gaming was legal, Marshall gave a succinct answer — “no.”

Marshall said Alabamians can change that if they want — by amending the state constitution.

“Again, my job is not to make that political call. My job is to be able to enforce the law,” he said. “And to the extent that that is illegal — and it is, and I think that it’s clear that it is — and if locals [don’t] want to enforce the law, it’s my obligation to do it.”

In addition to King, Marshall faces former U.S. Attorney Alice Martin and Chess Bedsole — who serves as Prsident Donald Trump’s Alabama campaign chairman in 2016 — in the June 5 primary.

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

1 month ago

The most popular baby names in Alabama are …

(Pixabay)

Alabamians last year relied on tradition and the Bible in naming their babies, according to data released Thursday by the Social Security Administration.

The agency, which produced the data from applications for Social Security cards, determined that 398 Alabama boys got William for a first name. That was the most popular boy name in Alabama last year and ranked third nationally.

William also was most popular in eight other states. And the Irish version of the name, Liam, was first nationally and was most popular in 16 states.

Among girls, Ava was most popular in Alabama, with 358 newborns getting the name. It was third nationally. Ava was most popular in six other states plus the District of Columbia.

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Overall, the most popular baby names in Alabama closely tracked the nation. William, James, Elijah, Noah, Mason and Liam all ranked in the top 10 both in Alabama and the nation. Among girls, Ava, Olivia, Emma, Amelia, Charlotte and Evelyn ranked among the top 10 both locally and across the nation.

There were some disparities, however. The biggest was Grayson, which ranked 10th most common in Alabama but only 34th nationally. John also was an outlier — No. 4 in Alabama but only 27th nationally.

The other points of disagreement were Samuel (eighth in Alabama and 21st nationally) and Jackson (ninth in Alabama and 20th nationally).

In the other direction, Benjamin is the name with the biggest disparity. It ranked No. 6 nationally last year, but came in 27th in Alabama.

There was more agreement between Alabama and the nation on girls names. The four popular Alabama names that did not make the top 10 nationally all came fairly close. Harper, No. 4 in Alabama, just missed the top 10 nationally at 11th place. The other three names were Elizabeth (sixth in Alabama but 13th nationally), Avery (eighth in Alabama but 14th nationally) and Ella (ninth in Alabama but 16th nationally).

The Social Security Administration listed the top 100 names for boys and girls in Alabama. Evan, the choice of 58 Alabama parents last year, came in 100th. Alice, the name given to 40 girls, was 100th for females. Alice fared better nationally, coming in 70th. Evan was 84th.

The agency lists 1,000 names for both boys and girls nationally. At the bottom for boys last year were Jaxx and Howard; those names each were given to 201 babies. For girls? It was Alora, the name conferred on 257 babies.

Even as the number of births has declined over the decades, popular names have been less concentrate at the top. Last year, for instance, not a single boy name made up even 1 percent of newborns in the United States. Emma — at 1.0528 percent — was the only girl name to do so.

Forty years ago, though, eight girl names and 23 boy names crossed that threshold. The most popular name, Michael, was the choice of 4.267 percent of parents.

Scanning the most popular names, it becomes clear that sometimes, what’s old becomes new again. Emma, the most popular girl name nationally last year, has been in the top five since 2002, ranking first in five of those years — including the last four consecutive years.

For much of the latter half of the 20th century, though, it was relatively rare to find an Emma in a maternity ward. From 1961 through 1984, Emma did make even the top 300. From 1900 through 1941, however, Emma cracked the top 100 every year and was in the top five for the first five years of the century.

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

 

1 month ago

Alabama GOP gubernatorial candidate Dawson hits Gov. Ivey over grants to gay group

Scott Dawson in Mobile (YH News)

From Huntsville to Mobile, Alabama Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Dawson blasted Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday for a pair of state grants totaling $800,000 to a gay rights organization.

“I want to know our governor’s role in this organization,” Dawson told reporters in Mobile, his third of four stops to highlight the issue.

The grants came from the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, which doles out funds for a variety of purposes. The beneficiary in this case was Free2Be, which Dawson described as an LGBTQ activist group. The money ostensibly was for violence prevention and support services.

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WHNT in Huntsville reported that Free2Be abruptly closed last week.

Ivey’s campaign fired back at Dawson with a brief statement: “This is utter nonsense. Governor Ivey does not support the values pushed by this organization. Scott Dawson is intentionally misleading the public for political gain. A quick google search would have revealed the facts for Dawson.”

Those facts, according to the Ivey campaign, are that not one penny of taxpayer money has gone to Free2Be. Instead, the funds come from the Department of Justice from criminal fines and seized assets. The campaign said the state is auditing and investigating Free2Be.

Dawson said that explanation is not good enough. He said Ivey owes the people an apology. And he called for the state Attorney General’s Office to open an investigation.

“To some, they say it’s not a big deal,” he said. “To this person, it is a big deal. … She (Ivey) seems to think it’s her turn to be governor and she doesn’t have to explain herself as CEO of our state.”

Dawson said his research indicates that Free2Be had a budget in 2016 of $320,000, meaning that the two ADECA grants increased its funding by 227 percent.

The state does not have sufficient funding for its prisons or educational system, Dawson said.

“But we can find $800,000 to give to this activist organization,” he said.

In a video posted on YouTube, Free2Be founder James Robinson says he started the organization in Huntsville to help marginalized youth.

“Our local community here, as in many parts of our country is a very wounded community,” he says on the video. “Many people have been the victims of this harassment, bullying, hatred. They hear hatred preached from pulpits from all kinds of religious organizations. Many people become the victims of this hate speech. Many choose to end their lives. This totally unacceptable.”

Dawson, an evangelical who will face Ivey and two other Republicans in the June 5 primary, said the issue is about stewardship of public funds, not demonizing gay people.

“I’m not trying to attack a person or a community,” he said.

Dawson noted that Ivey vowed to clean up after the scandal-ridden tenure of her predecessor, Robert Bentley.

“She had a chance to right the ship of state. … But on this one, I think she’s failed,” he said.

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

1 month ago

It’s National Bike to Work Week — but you’d hardly know it in Alabama

(Pixabay)

This week is National Bike to Work Week, but you could be forgiven if you don’t know that in Alabama.

It’s not obvious by scanning the state’s commuting routes.

Alabama ties Mississippi for the smallest percentage of commuters who use bicycles — just a tenth of 1 percent of the state’s workers in 2016, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

An estimated 2,110 Alabamians used a bicycle to get to work. That was the least-used method. Fewer than the 68,581 who worked at home. Or the 23,875 who walked to work. Or the 19,065 who commuted via taxi.

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Even in a state with notoriously poor mass transit, three times as many Alabama residents used public transportation to get to work.

What can we say? It’s just not a bicycling state.

Unlike, say, Hawaii. Alabama has roughly 3.3 times as many people. Yet, the Aloha State has more than twice as many bicycle commuters.

As a percentage, Washington, D.C., has the heaviest concentration of bikers among the 50 states and the District at 4.6 percent. Oregon (2.25 percent), Montana (1.24 percent), Idaho (1.17 percent) and Colorado (1.09 percent) round out the top five. That national average is about five times greater than in Alabama. And it is growing; the estimated 863,979 bicycle commuters in 2016 was up 39 percent from 2006.

Among American cities with at least 100,000 residents, Boulder, Colorado, and Berkeley, California, lead the way. Bicyclists make up about 9 percent of commuters in each. Palo Alto and Chico, both in California, exceed 7 percent. By comparison, bicyclists barely crack 2 tenths of 1 percent of workers in Birmingham and Mobile.

Not that there are not bicycle enthusiasts in Alabama who promote the idea.

“It’s way less stressful than driving,” said Kathryn Doornbos, executive director of Redemptive Cycles in Birmingham. “You don’t have to worry about parking. It gives me 15 minutes to sort my day on the way in and 15 minutes to digest on the way home.”

Doornbos said she frequently takes different routes to work and, therefore, sees different things. Biking has other benefits, she said, calling it a “gateway drug for social awareness.”

The highway system can be isolating, Doornbos said. She said that six blocks to the west of where she works is an impoverished part of Birmingham that is easy to miss when whizzing past on an interstate highway.

“It really looks very different from the urban core, and if you’re traveling by bicycle, you see that,” she said.

Robert Traphan, president of the Montgomery Bicycle Club, said he does not regularly commute via bicycle but has during National Bike to Work Week. He said he understands why the state has been slow to catch on.

“A lot of it is people don’t know how to properly plan to be able to take a bike to work,” he said.

Traphan said that when he has done it, he has kept a change of clothes and tie at work.

Another deterrent in Alabama can be summed up in one word — summer.

“It does get rather hot in Alabama,” Traphan said.

Commuting by bike can be feasible or impossible, depending on how far home is from work. In his case, Traphan said, the congestion on the roads meant that using a bicycle did not add time but did reduce gas usage.

“For me, one of the biggest advantages was the cost savings. … When I drive, it’s not faster than on my bike,” he said.

Doornbos said the “commuter culture here is a real thing.” She said infrastructure plays a role, as well. She said few places have dedicated bikes lanes, for instance.

The cost of driving also is relatively low, Doornbos added. Parking is plentiful and cheap in most places, even in cities. And few places have overwhelming traffic congestion, she said.

“In places like D.C., in many ways, they have disincentivized the use of a car,” she said.

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

 

2 months ago

Alabama congressmen highlight local priorities in 2019 defense spending bill

(Congressman Mo Brooks/Facebook)

A trio of Alabama congressmen who helped advance the fiscal year 2019 defense spending bill Thursday highlighted local priorities, from the Redstone Arsenal in the north to shipbuilding on the Gulf Coast.

The committee voted 60-1 for the bill — formally called the National Defense Authorization Act — with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) providing the only “no” vote.

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) touted his efforts to secure funding for the Redstone Arsenal as part of the bill. He maintained that he was able to improve the bill with 25 provisions related to Redstone.

“Each year the Redstone Arsenal community makes various policy requests to my office concerning America’s national security needs,” he said in a statement. “I’m pleased my office successfully helped insert 25 of these local policy requests into the HASC Chairman’s draft of the NDAA. Fortunately, each of these 25 provisions survived HASC debate.”

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Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope) highlighted authorization of the construction of three littoral combat ships, which Austal USA builds at its Mobile shipyard.

“This is big news to the over 4,000 men and women who work at the Austal shipyard, but it is even better news as we work toward our goal of building a highly capable 355-ship Navy fleet,” he said in a statement. “I expect the bill to come before the full House in the coming weeks. Given the importance of rebuilding and strengthening our military, I am hopeful the NDAA will receive another strong bipartisan vote.”

Mike Rogers (R-Saks) praised a “much-deserved” 2.6 percent pay raise for the troops. It is the biggest increase in nearly a decade.

Rogers also noted that the bill includes a $360 million increase for the Stryker A1 combat vehicle, which is overhauled and maintained at the Anniston Army Depot. The facility will get $21.8 billion for equipment maintenance and $3.7 billion for spare parts.

Rogers also expressed enthusiasm for another priority of his — a space force.

“Big picture, the NDAA also includes some movement on an important initiative I have been working on for a couple years,” he said in a statement. “It includes steps to help ensure we are on the right path when it comes to National Security Space.”

The bill authorizes $708.1 billion in total defense spending, including $639.1 billion for the Pentagon and $69 billion for overseas contingency operations.

“This defense bill, which is once again the product of strong bipartisan work, takes the crucial next steps to rebuilding our military and reforming the Pentagon,” committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said in a statement after the 14-hour debate. “Both are essential to helping our troops prepare and respond to the complex security challenges we are facing around the world.”

The Redstone-related provisions secured by Brooks include:

  • S490.21 million for the standard missile 3 (SM-3) block IB programs, with another $180.8M for improvements.
  • $130.4 million for hypersonics development.
  • $85 million for Army National Guard UH-60M helicopters.
  • $70 million for the Army’s Iron Dome interceptor system.
  • $874 million for Terminal High Altitude Air Defense procurement and improvements
  • $270 million for the Military Housing Privatization Initiative.
  • $103 million for unmanned aerial vehicle MQ-1 Predators.
  • $60 million for the Gray Eagle Service Life Extension.
  • $118 million for short range air defense.
  • A full and open competition for ground mobility vehicles.
  • Cybersecurity measures.
  • $192.6 million for the improved turbine engine.

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

 

2 months ago

Alabama Lt. Gov. hopeful Ainsworth runs ad comparing corrupt pols to masked burglars

(Ainsworth Campaign)

Alabama lieutenant governor candidate Will Ainsworth hit TV again this week, this time with an ad depicting corrupt politicians as burglars.

The ad by Ainsworth, a state representative from Guntersville, is part of a previously announced $1.2 million TV campaign that dwarfs his competitors.

The spot features Ainsworth in the foreground as masked burglars leave a bank with bags of cash.

“Career politicians might not wear masks and break in during the night, but they’re just as dangerous,” he says in the ad. “They’re bought and paid for by special interests and they’re stealing from us.”

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As he speaks, those same masked men — who also wear business suits and ties — gather in money passed across a table.

Ainsworth calls himself a “proud Christian conservative” who is ready to fight “Montgomery crooks and career politicians to save Alabama’s future.”

Ainsworth has raised more than $1 million for his bid for the No. 2 job in state government. That puts him about $100,000 shy of Public Service Commission Chairwoman Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh.

But a poll taken last month by Leverage Public Strategies on behalf of the Alabama Daily News suggested that he had a lot of work to do to build his statewide name recognition. Cavanaugh topped the list of Republican candidates; 24 percent of likely GOP primary voters named her as their choice for lieutenant governor. Ainsworth came in second with 8 percent, followed by state Sen. Rusty Glover (R-Semmes), who garnered 7 percent.

Ainsworth, a first-term legislator who represents parts of Marshall, Blount, and DeKalb counties in northern Alabama, vowed to be tough on ethics.

“Far too often, career politicians lose their perspective, become numb to corruption, and fall prey to the temptations that the political systems offers,” he said in a statement. “As a newcomer to public service, that is why I sponsored term limit legislation in the Alabama House, and it is why I’ll help ensure that politicians who engage in corruption will experience the inside of a jail cell.”

Ainsworth’s first spot showed his walking with his wife and three children while holding a Bible and saying, “All the answers you’re ever going to need are in this book.”

The primary is June 5.

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

2 months ago

VIDEO: Inside tale of how small town Alabama cops foiled ‘Small Town Bank’ heist

Police dashcam image of bank robbery chase in Heflin, Ala. (Helflin PD)

Heflin, Alabama, Police Chief A.J. Benefield does not have much experience with bank robberies, but that did not stop his officers from nabbing a foursome of suspects earlier this week.

Benefield attributed the successful arrest to a combination of luck, an alert citizen and good police work.

The robbery took place Wednesday at the appropriately named Small Town Bank. According to police, four people rushed the bank, hopped over counters yelling and demanding money.

Benefield said one of the tellers was on the phone at the time with a customer and mentioned the robbery. The customer immediately hung up and dialed 911. A bank employee also tripped the silent alarm automatically alerting police.

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But it was the preceding 911 call that gave officers the extra time they needed. Officer Danny Turner, who was driving just in front of the chief as they made their way toward the bank, spotted a car matching the description of the getaway vehicle and noticed that it had no license plate.

That sparked a chase that ended on Interstate 20 near the Georgia line. If not for the phone tip, Benefield said, the officers likely would have missed the vehicle by a matter of minutes.

Watch the end of the chase here:

“It was the difference in us catching them, pretty much,” he said.

Benefield, Turner and Officer Ross Mcglaughn, who was driving a third patrol car, pursued the vehicle to U.S. 9 and then about a mile to Interstate 20. From there, according to the chief, the chase proceeded for about 14 miles until police managed to force the car off the road at the 213-mile marker.

“We wrecked them,” he said.

After the car struck the concrete median, the driver and three other men got out and ran toward the woods. Benefield said police immediately apprehended one of the suspects and tracked down the other three in short order.

Police charged all four men: Kenyatta Dee Cosby, 46, of College Park, Georgia; Derrick Antonio Owens, 47, of Atlanta; Brice Mercevious Kimbro, 22, of Atlanta; and Travis Omere Montford, 30, of Decatur, Georgia.

Benefield said it appears the out-of-town defendants chose Small Town Bank at random.

Heflin, population 3,472, is the Cleburne County seat. It is quiet, and Benefield said he likes it that way.

“We don’t even like them (criminals) passing through,” he said.

Bank robberies are a rarity.

“This is only the second one I’ve seen in 21, 22 years,” he said.

That holdup occurred near the beginning of Benefield’s tenure, and police also solved that crime quickly. He said officers tracked down the robber on foot at the edge of town. He said he stresses rapid response.

“Any time we get an alarm at any time, we respond very quickly to our businesses and homes,” he said. “We really pride ourselves on that.”

Benefield added that the police try to prevent crime as much as possible and not just react to it.

“We’re not firemen,” he said. “We’re not reactive.”

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

 

2 months ago

Bobbleheads celebrating Alabama national championship now available

(Crimson Tide)

The Alabama Crimson Tide celebrated the national football championship in front of millions of TV viewers and visited the White House.

But now the University of Alabama’s latest title truly is official — there’s a bobblehead.

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The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum announced Friday that the officially licensed bobblehead commemorating the 2017 title had arrived. A limited number of individually numbered bobbleheads are available at the museum’s online store.

The figure, featuring Crimson Tide Mascot Big Al on a gridiron base with the national championship logo and a replica of the champions trophy, sells for $35 and a shipping charge of $8.

“This bobblehead is the perfect way for Crimson Tide fans to commemorate the school’s 2017 national championship season,” museum co-founder and CEO Phil Sklar said in a statement. “These will be cherished collectibles that celebrate the tremendous success of this team and the 17th national championship in program history.”

The Crimson Tide blitzed top-seeded Clemson University 24-6 in the Sugar Bowl and then defeated the University of Georgia 26-23 in the national championship game. It was Alabama coach Nick Saban’s fifth national championship in Tuscaloosa and sixth overall.

Organizers announced plans for the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum in 2014 and hosted a preview exhibit in 2016. Founders plan a permanent location in Milwaukee this spring. The museum produces customized bobbleheads for organizations and individuals across the country.

FOCO — previously known as Team Beans LLC and Forever Collectibles — manufactures the bobbleheads. It has been a leading manufacturer of sports and entertainment merchandise for 17 years.

FOCO makes products licensed by all major sports leagues, including the National Football League, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, NASCAR, Major League Soccer and more than 100 colleges and universities. It also has produced goods for entertainment companies like Disney, Warner Bros./DC Comics and Nickelodeon.

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

2 months ago

Though Alabama has few DACA recipients, state joined legal challenge

(AG Marshall/Facebook)

Alabama has only a small number of illegal immigrants enrolled in a quasi-amnesty program created by former President Barack Obama’s administration, but that did not stop the state from joining the legal effort to tear it down.

Alabama this week was one of six states to sign on to a lawsuit led by Texas against the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

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The states — which also include Arkansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina and West Virginia — argue that the Obama administration exceeded its constitutional authority in 2012 when the Department of Homeland Security created DACA. The program, available to illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children by June 2007 and meet certain other criteria, offers protection from deportation and two-year, renewable work permits.

Nearly 700,000 people have DACA status. As of September, when President Donald Trump announced he would rescind the executive action that created DACA, Texas had about 113,000 of those beneficiaries. But U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services statistics indicate Alabama had just 3,900 — about 6 tenths of 1 percent of the total.

Despite those numbers, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall argues larger constitutional principles are worth fighting for.

“It’s the broader position of making sure the framework of the Constitution … in fact remains intact,” he said in an interview.

The states filed their lawsuit in the federal court in Brownsville and on Wednesday asked U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen to put DACA on ice while the litigation proceeds. Hanen is the same judge who blocked the Obama administration from implementing a wider amnesty program, Deferred Acton for the Parents of Americans.

“This really is a continuation of an effort that began in 2014,” Marshall said, referring to the DAPA suit, to which Alabama also was a party.

Since becoming attorney general in February last year, Marshall has continued the practice of his predecessor, Luther Strange, of weighing in on national legal disputes. Marshall was part of a 10-state coalition that last year threatened to sue the Trump administration over DACA.

That threat is part of the reason why Trump moved against DACA. He delayed carrying out the order for six months to give Congress time to codify DACA in law. But lawmakers and the administration failed to reach consensus on a proposal to grant full amnesty to illegal immigrants who grew up in the United States in exchange for border security measures and reductions in legal immigration that the president demanded.

As the March deadline came, however, federal judges across the country issued orders keeping DACA in place. Federal judges in San Francisco, Brooklyn and Washington separately have ruled that the Trump administration failed to follow proper procedure and relied on an erroneous conclusion about the legality of the program.

The latest ruling, by Senior U.S. District Judge Jon Bates, not only ordered the administration to keep DACA in place for existing beneficiaries but to begin accepting new applications, as well.

“What we’ve seen here in the last little while is activist judges in California, New York and Washington attacking the recision, which we think was correct,” he said.

Marshall said he hopes the suit filed in Texas this week proceeds on a fast track. Hanen is familiar with the issue, and Marshall argued that the legal arguments related to DACA are identical to those involving DAPA.

“Our position is that it does not require extensive fact finding,” he said. “DAPA and DACA are almost analogous in terms of how they arose.”

Legal experts have pointed to a possible hurdle facing Alabama and the other states — the three orders already in place protecting DACA.

But Marshall said the suit in Texas stakes out different legal territory. Those court orders dealt with actions of the Trump administration. Marshall said the latest litigation challenges the legality of the DACA program, itself.

“It goes even further back in time,” he said.

Given the conflicting court rulings already on the books — a federal judge in Maryland upheld the right of the Trump administration to end DACA — Marshall said he expects the case ultimately to be decided by the Supreme Court.

If Alabama, Texas and the other states prevail, it would not stop Congress from granting amnesty if lawmakers chose. Marshall declined to say whether Congress should do that.

“I’m not here to tell Congress what to do. … One of the things that this case reaffirms is that it is the role of Congress to exercise legislative authority, and it is the role of the executive branch to enforce those laws,” he said.

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

 

2 months ago

Alabama’s Mo Brooks is the Republican least likely to support Democrat bills in Congress, study claims

(AL Legislature)

The least likely Republican to support Democrat-backed bills in Congress is U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville), according to rankings released Tuesday by a think tank in the nation’s capital.

The Bipartisan Index, an annual scorecard produced by the Lugar Center and Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, is based on data from 2017. It determined that Brooks, as was the case last year, has worked with his colleagues across the aisle less than any other representative.

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The report gives Brooks a score of -1.81375 on a scale using zero as a 20-year statistical baseline. That ranked him No. 438 in a scorecard that also measured non-voting delegates to Congress.

Brooks rejected the characterization.

“I have a hard time believing that,” he said.

Brooks noted that the report does not take voting records into account but rather determines how frequently lawmakers co-sponsor legislation with at least one member of the other party and how frequently members of the other party sign on as sponsors to their bills.

That is an “absurd standard,” Brooks argued.

Brooks was not the least bipartisan member in the entire Congress, however. Including the upper chamber, the lawmaker with the least bipartisan record as judged in the report was Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont who caucuses with the Democrats. He scored -2.11294.

The most bipartisan senator was Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), whose score was 3.14712. That is even higher than the most bipartisan representative, Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.). The report gives him a score of 2.08590.

Former Sen. Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican who founded and serves as president of the Lugar Center, lamented that bipartisanship has been on the decline. As a whole, Congress is below the historical average for the fifth straight term.

“But in recent years we have seen some overall improvement,” Lugar said in a statement. “Members of Congress, from the most progressive to the most conservative can score well on the Index if they dedicate themselves to seeking bipartisan support for their own legislation and give fair consideration to a variety of legislative initiatives.”

Michael Bailey, interim dean of Georgetown’s McCourt School, argued that the Bipartisan Index is an important tool for measuring how often representatives and senators reach across party lines.

“We are witnessing a tumultuous era in American politics, from the decay of political norms to the rise of ‘fake news,’” he said in a statement. “For the average consumer of political news, it can be difficult to sort out what’s happening in Congress.”

Brooks said there are better ways to measure bipartisanship than bill sponsorship. For instance, he said, if the report had focused on how often Republicans side with Democrats on “rules” votes — determining how legislation will be debated — “I’d probably be No. 1.”

Brooks said he votes based on which policies are best for the country.

“It makes no difference to me who the sponsor of the legislation is,” he said.

The report found that every member of the Alabama delegation was less bipartisan than the historical baseline. Then-Sen. Luther Strange (R-Mountain Brook) came in No. 94 out of 98 senators — the majority and minority leaders were not included in the rankings — scoring -1.50520.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Tuscaloosa) was right behind him, in 96th place, with an index score of -1.59304.

The most bipartisan member of the delegation was Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Birmingham), who scored 178 out of 438 at -.14708.

The rest of the delegation was as follows:

  • Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope), 182nd, at -.18055.
  • Rep. Martha Roby (R-Montgomery), 385th, at -1.07891.
  • Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Saks), 395th, at -1.16810.
  • Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Hoover), 403rd, at -1.21512.
  • Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Haleyville), 433rd, at -1.65304.

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

 

2 months ago

Backing Pompeo likely was easy call for Alabama Sen. Doug Jones

(Jones, Wikicommons)

The Resistance erupted in anger at the decision by Sen. Doug Jones (D-Mountain Brook) to support Mike Pompeo’s confirmation as secretary of state Thursday, but it should have been an easy call.

On paper, Pompeo is eminently qualified. He was first in his class at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and spent six years in the House of Representatives, serving on the intelligence panel. He has served for 15 months as CIA director — after getting confirmation votes from 14 Democrats and one independent who caucuses with the party. His tenure — unlike some other Cabinet secretaries in President Donald Trump’s administration — included no major scandals.

And if there were any doubts about whether his experience with spy craft would translate to diplomacy, senators could be reassured by recent revelations that he made a secret trip to North Korea to lay the groundwork for a possible summit between Trump and North Korean leader King Jong-un.

For a senator who campaigned as a moderate and represents a Republican-leaning state, Jones would have been hard-pressed offering a convincing rationale for voting “no,” according to Athens State University political scientist Jess Brown.

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“Doug Jones is a blue senator in a red state. And if you’re going to survive … you can’t go to Washington and be all navy blue or completely crimson red,” he said.

What’s more, Pompeo’s fate was not in doubt. He had unanimous Republican support and a handful of Democrats already had announced they would back him. So, Jones could not have blocked the nomination, anyway.

Given those circumstances, Brown said, it would be foolish for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to insist on the confirmation vote as a litmus test” for vulnerable members.

“Why make Doug Jones take a lot of heat for this vote when he’s [Pompeo] going to be seated, anyway?” he said.

In his statement explaining his vote, Jones shared concerns about some of Pompeo’s past statements but added that the nominee had “demonstrated the ability to be an effective manager and operator on the world stage. I also believe his perspective having worked in the intelligence community will be valuable given the national security challenges he would face as Secretary on day one.”

In breaking ranks with his party, Jones joined Democratic senators Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, and Ben Nelson of Florida — as well as Maine independent Angus King, who caucuses with Democrats.

All of those senators are up for re-election this year, and all but King hail from states that Trump carried in 2016.

Liberals are unconvinced, however.

Will Benton, a Democrat running for the Alabama House of Representatives in Tuscaloosa County, warned on Twitter that Jones would hurt his 2020 election bid.

“You won’t see this level of enthusiasm for your candidacy in 2020 if you continue to ignore and antagonize your base here in Alabama. #ALDems #NoPompeo,” he tweeted.

He added that Jones would not see yard signs and volunteers the helped propel him to victory in December’s special election.

“It also means no canvassing, no rallies, no prayer breakfast, and no victory parties,” he tweeted. “@SenDougJones are you really sure you want the effort #ALDems grassroots have exercised on your behalf and throw that out the door by being a yes vote on Pompeo?”

An activist named Zach Carter tweeted that the Pompeo vote can be added to votes to extend
a program allowing for warrantless surveillance and to roll back financial regulations on banks.

“We don’t just need more Democrats; we need better Democrats,” he tweeted.

Lisa Youngblood, a self-described resistance member, tweeted that Jones should be “ashamed” of himself, adding that “the people of Alabama didn’t vote for you to be against them.”

And that is just a sampling of the clean criticism. Twitter was filled with profane comments directed at Jones.

To Brown, such remarks are evidence that hyper-partisans are “blinded” by their own ideological fervor.

“In spite of their involvement in a party organization, these people, these people are, in a way, politically naïve,” he said.

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

 

2 months ago

Will Ainsworth launches $1 million ad buy in Alabama lieutenant governor race

(Ainsworth Campaign)

State Rep. Will Ainsworth (R-Guntersville) announced Wednesday that he was launching a $1 million ad buy in support of his bid for lieutenant governor.

Ainsworth, who faces two opponents in the June GOP primary, said in a statement that it was the largest ad buy so far of any candidate — not just for lieutenant governor but for any statewide office.

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The ads that began airing statewide on cable stations touts Ainsworth’s Christian faith, showing him in a chapel and holding a Bible with superimposed text reading, “Will Ainsworth. Proud. Christian. Conservative.”

The candidate, holding the Bible, promises to “go by the book and always stand for the Christian values that make Alabama great.”

Ainsworth, looking at the camera, says, “All the answers you’re ever going to need are in this book.”

The ad includes a video of himself with his wife and three children, and recites his credentials — former youth pastor, conservative, Christian businessman.

“I’m Will Ainsworth,” he says. “I’ll fight the liberal elites who mock our Christian values, take away our guns, and redefine marriage.”

It is a classic biographical ad by a candidate trying to raise his profile outside of his home base of Marshall, Blount and DeKalb counties.

Campaign finance records indicate that Ainsworth leads the pack on the money race. He has raised a total of nearly $1.5 million — more than opponents Rusty Glover and Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh combined — and he had more than $1 million in the bank as of last month.

“Unlike his career politician opponents, Will Ainsworth is a fresh face with new ideas, and this ad will help voters learn what guides his beliefs, thoughts, and actions,” his campaign director, Lewis McDonald, said in a statement. “As a former youth pastor, Will has a devout commitment to his Christian faith, and he will lead the fight to preserve the morals and values that the Bible instructs us to follow.”

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

 

2 months ago

On National Telephone Day, a look at how dramatically Alabama closed the gap

(Pixabay,Wikicommons)

Today is National Telephone Day, and America virtually has achieved universal coverage — including in Alabama.

According to the latest Census Bureau data, all but about 3 million homes have a landline or a cell phone. That is 2.5 percent of all households.

The share of homes in Alabama without phones is slightly — but not dramatically — higher, at 2.8 percent.

It wasn’t always so.

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In 1960, the first year the Census Bureau asked the question, a staggering 40.8 percent of Alabama households — 360,950 — had no phone. That is nearly twice the national average of 21.5 percent. Only Mississippi (54.7 percent), Arkansas (48.6 percent), South Carolina (44.7 percent) and North Carolina (41.6 percent) had a higher proportion of homes without phones.

Frank Burt remembers those days well. The Baldwin County Commission chairman moved to the county seat of Bay Minette in 1941 when he was in third grade. By the early 1960s, he said, his home still did not have a private phone line. A shared so-called party line provided access to all of the eight to 10 families who lived in his area.

A pharmacist, Burt wanted a private line in his home to answer questions from customers a night and talk to doctors who saw patients in the evenings.

The phone company turned him down.

“They just wouldn’t respond to my request,” Burt said. “I called the Public Service Commission and was able to get a little pressure at the top.”

Burt said he got his private line in 1962, but the party lines persisted for years. People served by them had to share access with multiple neighbors. Anyone who wanted to use the phone had to make sure a neighbor was not already on a call.

And anyone on the line could listen in. Burt recalled trying to avoid snooping neighbors when he was talking to the woman would later would become his wife.

“That was something, when people would be listening in on your conversation,” he said. “You had to watch what you said.”

The five decades following 1960 saw a phenomenal increase in the number of homes with phones, first with landlines coming to little-served rural areas and later through the proliferation of cell phones.

Households that previously had no service got telephone lines, and homes that used cheaper party lines converted to private service.

“Gradually, people wanted private lines, and I guess they could afford them,” Burt said.

The cause of those dramatic changes is a mix of government regulation, programs to help the poor and good, old-fashioned market economics.

Still, as recently as 1990, nearly 9 percent of Alabama households still had no phone, compared with a 5.2 percent national average. In 1996, Congress passed the Telecommunications Act, which opened monopoly phone companies to competition from wireless services. Later, new technologies — such as Voice over the Internet (VoIP) service — came online.

Variation still exists within the state. Just 1.7 percent of Etowah County had not phone, according to the latest census survey. That led the state. Coverage was 98 percent or better in Shelby, Tallapoosa, Montgomery and Crenshaw counties. Poor, rural counties lag. In Wilcox County, for instance, 10.9 percent of households had no phone. The figure was greater than 7 percent in Bullock, Dallas, Clarke and Monroe counties.

Still, as a whole, Alabama no longer is an outlier.

“If he could see how the free market and innovation have revolutionized the telephone industry, Alexander Graham Bell would be almost as shocked as George Washington would be at the recent radical attacks on our Constitution,” Alabama Public Service Commission President Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh said in a statement.

Daniel Smith, the professor of economic freedom at Troy University, agreed that technological innovation helped drive phone use. He pointed to a Harvard Business Review article noting that it took decades, beginning before 1900, for phone use to reach 50 percent of American households. Cell phones, by contrast, achieved the same level of penetration in about five years.

Smith credited the relatively light hand of government. Monopoly telephone companies had little incentive to innovate and the regulatory bureaucracy was slow, he said.

“It really locks in ineffectual technology,” he said.

Cell phone companies had competition and few regulatory hurdles to clear, Smith added.

“They were able to kind of leapfrog the existing regulatory structure,” he said.

Smith compared the phone industry to the upheaval caused by ride-sharing companies and like Uber and Lyft that rose up to challenge traditional taxi companies.

The competition, Smith said, “presents an unleashing of entrepreneurialism.”

Today, of course, landlines are in rapid decline. As of last year, less than half of American households had them. But the share of households with phone service continues to increase as cell phones multiply.

Even Burt, the Baldwin commissioner, has come full circle. He said he dropped his landline about a year and a half ago and relies exclusively on his cell phone. With the expense of maintaining traditional phone service rising and no one home to answer it after the death of his wife, he said he did not see a point in keeping it.

So raise an iPhone or a Droid in recognition of National Telephone Day. The phone ain’t what it used to be, but more people than ever can “reach out and touch someone,” as the old ad went.

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