The Wire

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

    Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

    Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

    Excerpt:

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

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

16 hours ago

Ivey lights official Alabama Christmas Tree

(Henry Thornton/Yellowhammer)

MONTGOMERY — Governor Kay Ivey, Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed, Air Force General James B. Hecker, a children’s choir and several hundred of their fellow Alabamians gathered on the capitol steps Friday evening to light Alabama’s official 2019 Christmas tree.

The tree, standing 34-ft tall, was decorated with tens of thousands of lights as well as special ornaments marking Alabama’s bicentennial.

“Christmas is a direct reminder of the hope we find in Christ,” Ivey said in her remarks.

Caroline Blades, age 4, talked to Yellowhammer after the event. She agreed with her dad that the tree was “really pretty’ and that it “was cool to see other kids up there.”

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At the event, Ivey made sure to remember the Americans serving in the armed forces, saying, “[T]his time of year it’s important to remember the brave men and women, away from home, protecting us.”

Lieutenant General James B. Hecker, commander and president, Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base, followed the governor in speaking. He said, “There is not a state in the country that welcomes their military members like Alabama.”

Watch the lighting here or below:

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

20 hours ago

Rogers: Senators seeking the presidency should recuse themselves from impeachment trial

(Congressman Rogers/Facebook)

U.S. Rep Mike Rogers (AL-03) announced Friday that he was co-sponsoring Rep. Jason Smith’s (R-MO) legislation urging the Senate to alter its rules so sitting U.S. Senators would be forced to recuse themselves from the removal trials of impeached presidents.

Currently, four Democratic senators are vying for their party’s presidential nomination: Elizabeth Warren (MA), Cory Booker (NJ), Michael Bennett (CO) and Amy Klobuchar (MN), plus Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

“This is just common-sense and fair. Clearly, none of the Democrats running for president will be impartial during an impeachment trial and they will all use their involvement in the trial to ramp up their campaigns.  As unfair as the House witch hunt has been all along, I am hopeful the upper chamber will be just in their treatment of President Trump,” Rogers said.

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The bill comes in response to the ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Trump. The inquiry will end with the U.S. House voting on the articles of impeachment that are currently being drafted. If a majority of the House, 216 members, vote to impeach, then a removal trial will be held in the U.S. Senate.

At present, there are 233 Democrats in the U.S. House.

Most observers expect the House vote in late December, followed by the Senate trial in January.

Smith’s legislation claims that a “United States Senator actively seeking to unseat the incumbent President of the United States cannot claim impartiality in his or her political opponent’s impeachment trial.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

23 hours ago

Alabama task force on veterans suicide holds ‘productive and encouraging’ inaugural meeting

Members of the 117th Air Refueling Wing participate in Birmingham's Veterans Day Parade. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by SMSgt Ken Johnson, 117th Air Refueling Wing)

Wednesday saw the first meeting of the Alabama Task Force on Veterans Suicide. The organizational meeting saw testimony from subject matter experts and was complimented as impactful by its chairperson.

The task force originates from a resolution sponsored by State Rep. Neil Rafferty (D-Birmingham). The goal of the task force is to investigate what is causing the elevated rate of suicide among Alabama’s veterans and figure out how to prevent more vets from taking their own lives.

According to the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs, “In 2016, the veteran suicide rate in Alabama was 60 percent higher than the rate for civilians and nine percent higher than other southern states.”

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The members of the task force were appointed by the governor, speaker of the Alabama House, minority leader of the Alabama House, president of the Senate, Alabama Senate minority leader, commissioner of the Department of Mental Health, state health officer and commissioner of the Department of Human Resources.

The task force has two years before it must present a report on its findings to the state legislature.

“This first workshop was productive and encouraging.” Paulette Risher, task force chair said. “Participants gained a better understanding of each member’s background and why they are willing to serve in this important work.”

Two experts on veterans’ mental health, Dr. Joe Currier and Dr. Karl Hammer, presented at the meeting to establish a gound level vocabulary and level of knowledge among the participants.

Currier, according to the ADVA, “discussed suicide fundamentals such as terms used for those contemplating suicide. He also highlighted the risk factors and red flags for suicide.”

Hammer “discussed Operation Deep Dive, a four-year research study that examines the potential causes involved in suicides among military veterans.”

“My sensing is that every person in attendance, many veterans themselves, are fully committed to helping Alabama demonstrate our genuine concern and commitment to our citizens who have worn, or are wearing the cloth of the nation,” Risher stated. “It is such an honor to help guide this effort. This is clearly work of the head and the heart.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

24 hours ago

Ivey orders flags lowered to half staff in honor of Pearl Harbor

Flags fly at half-staff at Sumpter Smith Air National Guard Base in Birmingham (S.Ross/YHN)

Governor Kay Ivey has issued a directive saying the flags at all Alabama government facilities should be flown at half staff on Saturday, December 7 in remembrance of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Ivey said in her directive, “At the request of President Trump, I am directing flags to be displayed at half-staff on Saturday, December 7, 2019, to honor and remember our military members who heroically fought at Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 1941.”

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Saturday, Dec. 7, marks the 78th anniversary of Japanese fighter planes bombing the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The attack destroyed much of the United States Pacific Fleet and is estimated to have killed more than 2,400 Americans.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

24 hours ago

Auburn business school rated second-best in country for minority students

The Princeton Review recently rated Auburn University’s Harbert College of Business as the second-best college in the nation for minority students.

According to the Princeton Review’s website, their rankings are calculated “based on school reported data and student surveys. School data include: percent of students and faculty from underrepresented minority groups. Student answers to survey questions on: assessment of resources for minority students, how supportive the culture is of minority students, and whether fellow students are ethnically and racially diverse.”

“Students have a voice in these rankings, and the results reflect our continued efforts to provide our students a transformational learning experience that offers an outstanding return on their investment,” said Stan Harris, associate dean of graduate and international programs.

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The Princeton Review does not publish an overall list ranking the best on-campus full-time MBA programs, but they did designate Auburn as one of their “Best Business Schools.”

Additionally, the company rated Auburn’s online MBA program as the 19th-best in the nation.

“We recommend Auburn and the Harbert College of Business as an excellent choice for a student aspiring to earn an MBA,” said Rob Franek, Princeton Review’s editor-in-chief.

The data for the rankings are based on the 2018-2019 school year.

“Auburn University is committed to enrolling the best and brightest students. The graduate programs in the Harbert College of Business partner with central campus units to create an environment that is welcoming for all,” Jim Parrish, executive director of full-time and online graduate programs stated. “While there is still work to do, we are grateful to be recognized for offering high-tech support services that are attractive to a diverse student body.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

2 days ago

$62.3 million to be invested in bringing broadband to Alabama’s rural areas

(Tombigbee Communications/Contributed)

HAMILTON — A group of public officials and business executives gathered in Hamilton on Thursday to announce four investments by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) totaling $62.3 million. The investments are all aimed at improving broadband access in Alabama’s rural areas.

The two most substantial investments, at $29.5 and $28.2 million respectively, are 50/50 loan grant combinations being given to Tombigbee Electric Cooperative and Millry Communications.

The Tombigbee investment will affect Marion, Lamar, Fayette, Franklin, Winston and Walker counties. The Millry portion will affect Choctaw and Washington counties.

Per the USDA, the investment will total $62.3 million. The funds are aimed at creating high-speed broadband infrastructure. The USDA estimates it will improve internet connectivity for more than 8,000 rural households, 57 farms, 44 businesses, 17 educational facilities, 14 critical community facilities and three health care facilities in rural Alabama.

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Two smaller investments are being made in National Telephone of Alabama (TEC) and Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative.

The TEC investment is a $2.7 million 50/50 loan-grant combination serving Colbert County. The Farmers investment is a $2 million loan that will affect unserved areas in Jackson and Dekalb counties.

Present at the announcement were U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Donald “DJ” LaVoy, Tombigbee Electric Cooperative CEO Steve Foshee, Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs Director Kenneth Boswell, along with representatives from Millry Communications, National Telephone of Alabama (TEC) and Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative.

“Beyond connecting us to our friends and family, high-speed broadband internet connectivity, or e-Connectivity, is a necessity, not an amenity, to do business, access opportunities in education and receive specialized health care in rural America today,” LaVoy said.

In March 2018, Congress appropriated $600 million to the USDA with the intent of expanding rural broadband access in rural America. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue unveiled in December of 2018 the “ReConnect” program by which rural areas could apply for the allocated resources. The USDA says they “received 146 applications between May 31, 2019, and July 12, 2019, requesting $1.4 billion in funding.”

The $62.3 million announced for Alabama on Thursday makes up over 10% of the total money spent by the program.

ReConnect dispenses grants, loans and grant/loan combinations to private sector providers in rural communities. The ReConnect money goes to building high-quality broadband infrastructure in areas with inadequate internet service. The USDA defines insufficient service as connection speeds of less than 10 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload.

The funds for the program originated in the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture. A subcommittee on which Rep. Robert Aderholt (AL-04) sits.

Citing Congress being in session, Aderholt appeared at the announcement via a pre-recorded video. He said he was glad the program would “help close the ‘digital divide’ that isolates so many parts of rural America.”

“This program is beginning to pay dividends in rural Alabama and America,” he said of ReConnect.

“USDA also recognizes the strong leadership of Senator Shelby in making these funds available for rural communities in Alabama and across the country,” USDA Alabama Rural Development Director Chris Beeker told Yellowhammer.

“Expanding freedom FIBER broadband to residents across northwest Alabama meets a critical e-Connectivity need,” said Steve Foshee, president and CEO of Tombigbee Communications. “From students having the ability to complete their schoolwork, to our neighbors in need of receiving adequate healthcare, freedom FIBER broadband will help improve the lives and communities of rural northwest Alabama.”

Foshee also emceed the event and was praised by name by each of the other speakers for his tenacity and commitment to providing internet for his area.

Several groups of school children were bused in for the announcement and sat in the audience.

ADECA Director Boswell said to the young people in attendance, “You’ll be able to travel the world at your fingertips, no more having to go to McDonald’s for the hotspot.”

Two employees at the McDonalds nearest the site of the announcement confirmed to Yellowhammer that students from local schools frequented the establishment after school to use the internet.

Annis Jordan spoke at the event on behalf of Millry Communications. Millry provides service in Washington and Choctaw counties. Jordan said Millry had wanted to invest in high-speed broadband for the last 10 years, “but the financial analysis then and throughout the years since did not allow us to proceed until this year.”

State Rep. Tracy Estes (R-Winfield) said a substantial part of the coverage will be in his district, and complimented Steve Foshee for his work in bringing the project to fruition.

He told Yellowhammer, “This is a big day for rural Alabama. Too many times, we’re left watching on the sidelines.”

Fred Johnson, the CEO of Farmers Telecommunications Corp, praised Aderholt in his remarks, calling the dean of Alabama’s U.S. House delegation “the one person most largely responsible for the funding of this program.”

Joey Garner, a VP of TEC, one of the companies receiving an investment, said, “We are thrilled with the opportunity to increase our fiber internet network in Alabama with the assistance of this federally-funded grant. TEC is committed to our local service areas, our customers, and our employees, and we look forward to these great opportunities and additions in 2020.”

State Rep. Proncey Robertson (R- Mount Hope) also represents areas that will be covered after the announced investment. He said in a text to Yellowhammer, “High-speed internet is as important today as electric power was in the 1930s.”

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (AL-01) said in a statement to Yellowhammer, “Today’s announcement is fantastic news for Alabama. This significant investment from USDA of $62.3 million in high-speed broadband infrastructure across rural Alabama is critical for economic development, education, healthcare, and quality of life in our state.”

One of the students in the audience was Natalie Langley. She told Yellowhammer that her house benefitted from a previous Tombigbee expansion of high-speed internet.

“It was bad before,” she said of her old internet connection, “my mom spent a lot of money on cellular data before we could get fiber.”

In remarks to reporters after the event, Undersecretary LaVoy praised the cooperation between Alabama’s public officials and businesses that brought the announcement to fruition.

“This is the model, what we have in communities like this,” he said, gesturing to those around him. “I would say Alabama is at the forefront of being able to make what we want to see happen.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

2 days ago

Ivey invites Alabamians to join as she lights Alabama’s official Christmas tree

(Governor Kay Ivey/YouTube)

Governor Kay Ivey has invited Alabamians to join her for the official state Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony. The program is scheduled for Friday, December 6 at 5:30 p.m. on the front steps of the Alabama State Capitol.

“I invite all Alabamians, friends, and neighbors to join us here at the Capitol for that special occasion. This is always a wonderful event and serves as such a great reminder of the spirit of hope that Christmas brings,” said Ivey in a news release.

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According to the release, Alabama’s 2019 Christmas Tree is a 40-foot-tall Eastern Red Cedar. It was grown on Mr. and Mrs. Ray Allen’s Farm in Bullock County. When lit, the tree will have around 37,000 lights strung on its branches. It will also be decorated with special bicentennial ornaments to celebrate Alabama’s 200th birthday.

At around 5:00 p.m. on Friday, the 151st Army National Guard Band will begin playing. At 5:30, the ceremony will begin. The program will also have a performance by the Forest Avenue Elementary School Choir.

Ivey will be joined in making remarks by commander and president of Air University at Maxwell Airforce Base Lieutenant General James Hecker and others.

The citizens assembled are invited to join the governor in counting down before she flips the switch to light the tree.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

3 days ago

Brooks applauds Trump administration’s new rule tightening work requirements for food stamp recipients

Congressman Mo Brooks (CSPAN/YouTube)

U.S. Representative Mo Brooks (AL-05) praised the Trump administration on Wednesday for announcing a rule that will tighten work requirements for people receiving food stamps.

Before this new rule, states had been able to get waivers exempting people in regions with unemployment higher than the national average from the work requirements. After the new rule, to get those waivers, the unemployment level in an area will need to be at least 6%.

Brooks said in a statement, “I fully support the Trump Administration’s efforts to bar able-bodied, working age Americans from receiving food stamps, SNAP, or any other food benefits they can and should be paying for with money they earn themselves.”

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The USDA says their new rule “promotes work for able-bodied adults between the ages of 18 and 49 without dependents and does not apply to children and their parents, those over 50 years old including the elderly, those with a disability, or pregnant women.”

According to the Associated Press, “The Agriculture Department estimates the change would save roughly $5.5 billion over five years and cut benefits for roughly 688,000 SNAP recipients.”

Congressman Brooks added, “America suffered a $984 billion deficit in FY 2019. America’s accumulated debt has blown through the $23 trillion mark. Every financial guru Congress employs warns that our current financial path is unsustainable and that, as a result, America increasingly risks a debilitating national insolvency and bankruptcy.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

3 days ago

Carpenter Technology announces grand opening of Athens facility

(Carpenter Technology/Contributed)

Carpenter Technology announced Wednesday in a press release the grand opening of its newest advanced additive manufacturing (AM) facility and Emerging Technology Center (ETC) in Athens, Alabama.

“We have chosen to further invest in North Alabama and continue to grow and develop here because it offers three important advantages — a high-quality, tech-oriented workforce, a clear connection with the aerospace industry and a close working partnership with state and local government officials,” said Tony Thene, Carpenter Technology President and CEO. “The state of Alabama continues to be an ideal partner for us.”

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The Philadelphia-based Carpenter Technology Corporation was founded in 1889 and estimates its number of employees to be around 5,100. They describe themselves as a “recognized leader in high-performance specialty alloy-based materials and process solutions for critical applications in the aerospace, defense, transportation, energy, industrial, medical, and consumer electronics markets.”

Carpenter Technology has invested approximately $40 million to date in the new facility, which is expected to create approximately 60 jobs over the next five years.

The ETC investment complements Carpenter Technology’s 500,000-square-foot Athens manufacturing facility, which began operations in 2014, and produces high-end specialty alloy products, primarily for the aerospace and energy markets.

To date, the company has invested a total of over $600 million in its Alabama operations.

“I have been looking forward to the opening of Carpenter Technology’s Emerging Technology Center since we joined with company leaders to announce plans for the facility at the Farnborough International Airshow in 2018,” Governor Kay Ivey said.

“Our Emerging Technology Center is a critical component of Carpenter Technology’s future growth and development and is aligned with our business strategy of evolving to an end-to-end solutions provider and influential leader in the AM area,” Thene outlined.

“Carpenter Technology’s new Emerging Technology Center will power game-changing advances in the company’s development of sophisticated new additive manufacturing technologies,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “With the ETC, Carpenter Technology is bringing new capabilities to Alabama’s manufacturing sector, and I can’t wait to see how the work conducted there helps to shape the future for this great company.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

3 days ago

Buttigieg brings presidential campaign to Birmingham, pitching increased immigration and higher minimum wage

(Henry Thornton/Yellowhammer)

BIRMINGHAM — Presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg, the Democrat mayor of South Bend, Indiana, met with community leaders in Birmingham on Wednesday morning during a discussion which was moderated by Richard Rice, an attorney in Birmingham with ties to Mayor Randall Woodfin.

The Democratic presidential candidate emphasized his support for raising the minimum wage to $15, increasing immigration to rural areas and the need to close the opportunity gap between white and black Americans.

In speaking to a gallery of Democrat-leaning community leaders from the Birmingham area, Buttigieg touted his experience “being a Democratic mayor in a Republican state.”

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The policy proposal Buttigieg revisited most frequently during the time members of the press were allowed in the meeting was his support of raising the federal minimum wage to $15.

“We just plain have to raise it,” he said, “I believe in the fight for $15.”

Buttigieg cited the raising of the minimum wage as disproportionately benefitting non-white Americans. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.

The visit to Birmingham concluded a southern swing for the Buttigieg campaign that included stops in North Carolina and South Carolina. The trip through the South comes after Buttigieg’s dearth of support among black voters was garnering increasing amounts of attention from the national press.

His campaign received criticism for the sloppy rollout of his “Douglass Plan,” which purports to be “A Comprehensive Investment in the Empowerment of Black America.”

According to Pew Research, black Alabamians make up 54% of the state’s Democratic voters.

The Republican National Committee’s regional spokesperson, Kevin Knoth, addressed Buttigieg’s lack of support in the black community, saying in a statement to Yellowhammer, “As his disconnect with the black community continues to grow, Buttigieg lands in Alabama today where President Trump has guided the state to its lowest unemployment rate of all-time.”

The lack of black support for Buttigieg comes after new polls of the first two states to vote show him leading in Iowa and near the lead in New Hampshire, both states with largely white electorates. The first state to vote that has a significant percentage of black voters is South Carolina. A recent poll had Buttigieg in fourth with 6% of the vote there, but still at 0% with black voters in the Palmetto State.

The 37-year-old mayor received a question in Birmingham about how he would bridge plans intended for rural Americans and black Americans, which in the Alabama Black Belt are often the same people.

“If we want population growth in rural America, let’s welcome new Americans,” he said, touting his support of a visa program that would increase immigration.

Buttigieg also touted a proposed $80 billion rural broadband investment that he promises will bring high-quality internet to every American’s home, as well as citing the need for investments in rural healthcare providers.

The South Bend mayor expressed disapproval of the types of labor laws in place in Alabama.

“We need to change the direction on union membership,” he stated. “I’ve proposed we set a goal of  doubling union membership in the united states by pushing back on right-to-work laws, or as I call them, right to work for less laws.”

Continuing his remarks about rural America, Buttigieg also took aim at President Donald Trump, saying, “This president has revealed he’s not that interested in supporting farmers when you look at the policies.”

State Rep. Neil Rafferty (D-Birmingham), who was in attendance, said he enjoyed “the validation of a presidential campaign” in Alabama, but said he had not made up his mind about who he was supporting.

“I’m going to learn more but I was very impressed,” he told Yellowhammer.

Caroline Kennedy, a representative for House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville), attended the event and texted Yellowhammer News her thoughts after it concluded.

“I am inspired by Mayor Pete’s acute understanding of underlying issues causing wealth and access gaps in our country and especially in Alabama,” she said, adding that she was speaking for herself and not Daniels.

Richard Rice, the Birmingham lawyer who moderated the event, was invited to the event by the Buttigieg campaign, but he left with a positive impression of the mayor.

“I’m still deciding,” he told reporters afterward when asked who had his vote, “but I’m leaning toward supporting him after this meeting.”

Jefferson County Commissioner Sheila Tyson was seated next to Buttigieg at the head of the table. She told Yellowhammer after the meeting that her mind was not made up about who to support.

“His answers to the questions I asked were interesting,” she said.

The Alabama Democratic presidential primary will be held on March 3.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

4 days ago

Auburn research may help develop cure for children with deadly disease

(Auburn University)

Auburn University announced Tuesday that research done by the Auburn College of Veterinary Medicine has contributed to a gene therapy treatment that was administered to its first human patient this summer.

The gene therapy is designed to fight the deadly disease GM1 gangliosidosis. Auburn graduates Sara and Michael Heatherly of Opelika had their son, Porter, taken from them by GM1 in 2016. Porter was the first confirmed case of GM1 in Alabama.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) website, “GM1 gangliosidosis is an inherited disorder that progressively destroys nerve cells (neurons) in the brain and spinal cord.”

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GM1 gangliosidosis is estimated to occur in one in 100,000 to 200,000 newborns.

The NIH says, “The signs and symptoms of the most severe form of GM1 gangliosidosis, called type I or the infantile form, usually become apparent by the age of 6 months. Infants with this form of the disorder typically appear normal until their development slows and muscles used for movement weaken.”

A 10-year-old girl named Jojo became the first patient to receive the Auburn-linked gene therapy treatment during a human clinical trial this summer at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland.

“Jojo is doing well and has experienced no major complications,” said Dr. Doug Martin, a professor in the Department of Anatomy, Physiology and Pharmacology in Auburn’s veterinary college and the Scott-Ritchey Research Center.

Auburn’s College of Veterinary Medicine and the University of Massachusetts Medical School developed the treatment that has moved from helping cats with GM1 with the hope of helping children.

Auburn scientists for several decades have researched treatments to improve and extend the lives of cats affected by GM1. Martin is leading Auburn’s effort, which was started by his mentor, Professor Emeritus Henry Baker.

According to the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW), the prevalence of GM1 among cats is not known, but the effects on victims of the disease are similar across species.

According to the UFAW website, “Affected cats exhibit no signs of the disease at birth, clinical signs start to occur from 2-3 months of age and steadily progress to severe until one year of age when cats are euthanized.”

To move the treatment toward human medicine, Martin developed a partnership with UMass Medical School researchers Drs. Miguel Sena-Esteves and Heather Gray-Edwards, an Auburn alumna — and they have worked collaboratively for 15 years, combining animal and human medicine studies to cure rare diseases that affect both animals and humans.

In December 2018, the gene therapy was licensed to Axovant Gene Therapies Ltd., a clinical-stage company developing innovative gene therapies.

“This treatment is extremely promising because it has worked well in GM1 mice and cats, and it is delivered by a single IV injection that takes less than an hour, we’re hopeful that the treatment makes a real difference for patients and their families,” said Martin.

“The NIH is hoping to begin treating three or four more children in the next few months. As the trial progresses and more patients are treated, we’ll have a good idea of whether the gene therapy helps children as much as it has helped the animals,” Martin continued.

The NIH clinical trial is led by Dr. Cynthia Tifft, deputy clinical director at the National Human Genome Research Institute.

“GM1 gangliosidosis is a devastating disease in young children, for which there are no currently approved treatment options. The development of a safe and effective gene therapy for these patients would be a welcome advancement in the field of pediatric lysosomal storage disorders affecting the brain,” Tifft said.

“Seeing all of the effort come together to help patients who have no treatment options today gives us great hope,” said Martin.

For Sara and Michael Heatherly of Opelika, who have held fundraisers for several years to support the research, the knowledge of a treatment is one of mixed emotions.

“We are excited to know there is hope for the future of children diagnosed with GM1,” Michael Heatherly said. “We are thankful for everyone who has dedicated their time, resources and careers to move this treatment forward and to Axovant for bringing all of their work to life and making it a reality for GM1 patients.

“We understood early on the research would not help Porter, but we wanted to help spread the word of the research and the progress that was being made.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

4 days ago

Ivey receives flags from Native American tribes as part of Alabama bicentennial

(contributed/Kay Ivey administration)

MONTGOMERY – Monday in the Old House Chamber on the second floor of the capitol, Governor Kay Ivey exchanged flags with representatives of some of the Native American tribes with ties to the land that now makes up the state of Alabama.

Joining her for the presentation was Alabama Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), who is the chair of the Alabama Bicentennial Commission.

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“Today is an especially important moment,” Orr said in his remarks at the event. “Alabama’s history includes the stories of many peoples.”

“Our states rich Native American history is something I’m especially proud of,” said Ivey. “This land that became Alabama has a much more extensive heritage.”

Eleven tribes were represented at the ceremony of the 18 total invited. Ivey also presented those in attendance with a proclamation and commemorative coin.

“The tribal representatives gathered here today carry on the beliefs and ideals of the people of the people that lived on this land long before the State of Alabama was established two centuries ago,” read the proclamation.

“Each of Alabama’s 19 tribes have contributed to the heritage and history that is being celebrated during Alabama’s bicentennial” the proclamation concluded.

Tribes and representatives attending as follows:

Alabama – Coushatta Tribe of Texas
Chief Herbert & Deloris Johnson, Chairwoman Cecilia Flores, Ricky Sylestine
Alabama – Quassarte Tribal Town
Rovena Yargee, Janice Lowe
Chickasaw Nation
Brad Lieb
Choctaw Nation of OK
Dr. Ian Thompson
Coushatta Tribe of LA
Chairman David Sickey & Mrs. Sickey
Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians
Mike Crowe
Kialegee Tribal Town
Brian Givens
Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians
Vice Chair Dorothy Wilson, Vice Chair Asst. Trina Jim
Muscogee (Creek) Nation
Ambassador Johnodev Chaudhuri
Poarch Band of Creek Indians
Chairwoman Stephanie Bryan, Larry Haikey, Adrienne Mathison, John Teague, Tami Teague, Jerry Spencer
United Keetoowah Band of the Cherokee Indians in OK
Whitney Warrior

Tribes not attending as follows:

Absentee Shawnee Tribe
Cherokee Nation
Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma
Jena Band of Choctaw Indians
Seminole Nation of OK
Seminole Tribe of Florida
Thlopthlocco Tribal Town
Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana

The Poarch Band of Creek Indians is the only federally recognized tribe remaining in Alabama.

For more on Alabama’s bicentennial, click here.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

5 days ago

Alabama four-year-old battling cancer needs help from neighbors this Christmas season

(Prayers for Avalynn #Avalynnstrong/Facebook, YHN)

Four-year-old Enterprise, Alabama, native Avalynn James has been battling the aggressive cancer Neuroblastoma for over a year now.

She received her diagnosis in October 2018 and spent over a year in the hospital receiving four rounds of chemotherapy, two stem cell transplants, 12 rounds of radiation and a tumor resection surgery, according to the Southeast Sun.

Avalynn’s family recently learned that her cancer had returned.

“So now we’re just kind of starting back over,” Avalynn’s mom, Kristen Mahan, told Southeast Sun.

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After the discovery that the cancer was back, Avalynn’s mom posted on Facebook, saying, “I began reaching out to other hospitals & doctors for options & found a doctor in Michigan that specializes in neuroblastoma, after speaking with her about Avalynns history she immediately agreed to except Avalynn as a patient, but insurance refused to cover out of state care unless the hospital/doctor is currently an Alabama provider.”

The doctor in Michigan, Giselle Sholler, reportedly agreed to register Avalynn, but that was going to take 90 days to get approval from the insurance company: time which Avalynn could not afford to go without treatment. Avalynn’s parents decided to put her back into chemotherapy at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham, pending the insurance company’s approval of her getting care from the Michigan specialist.

According to Avalynn’s mom on Facebook, “The day that Avalynn started chemo at Children’s [former state rep] Barry Moore was contacted about our issue with insurance and immediately made a phone call to the insurance company. The next day I received a call from insurance saying that the paperwork to have Dr. Sholler & the hospital registered as an Alabama provider was being expedited to get approved faster.”

A week later, the insurance company approved Dr. Sholler and the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital as Alabama network providers.

“I’ll be honest, I’ve never cared about politics or anything that has to do with it, but Barry Moore changed my whole outlook on it,” said Mahan.

At the time of publishing, Avalynn is in Michigan to receive treatment.

Anyone hoping to provide help for Avaylynn’s travel to and from Michigan, as well as unexpected medical expenses, can go here to donate to a fund that will help out Avalynn and her family.

For anyone unable to donate, Avalynn has also been selected as this year’s Cards for a Cause recipient. According to WTVY, every year, members of the community send cards to a sick child in need. Typically, senders enclose $1 with the cards to help the family of the sick child pay expenses.

Avalynn’s favorites cards are homemade cards.

Cards can be sent to Avalynn at:

P.O. Box 310152
Enterprise, Alabama, 36331.

To follow Avalynn’s story on Facebook, go here.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

5 days ago

Ivey awards $1 million to aid census in Alabama

(Governor Kay Ivey/Flickr)

On Monday, Governor Kay Ivey announced that 34 government agencies and organizations will receive a grant to help make the 2020 Census run smoothly in Alabama. The grants together total $1 million and were provided by the state legislature.

The Ivey administration is making it a priority to promote, educate and encourage participation among Alabamians. The 2020 Census begins in mid-March 2020. Every Alabama household address will receive an invitation to respond to the census.

“I cannot emphasize enough the importance of what a full and accurate count in the 2020 Census means for Alabama. Those numbers have a direct impact on billions of dollars in funding that affect schools, community programs, health care, job opportunities and just about every other aspect of our state,” Ivey said in a press release.

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The 2020 Census has long been a point of focus for Ivey. She has been making public remarks about the census’ importance since at least the fall of 2017 and mentioned it in her inaugural address in January 2019.

Ivey said in August, “If we turn out at the rate we did in 2000, we will lose two congressional seats. If we turn out at the rate we did in 2010, we will lose one.”

ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell addressed the widespread speculation that Alabama will lose a congressional seat, saying the announced funds will “help ensure fair representation for the state in the U.S. House of Representatives.”

“I thank our legislators for allocating funds for these outreach efforts, and I also commend local leaders and organizations for being proactive in these efforts,” Ivey added in the press release.

The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs will be administering the grants from funding allocated by the legislature in the 2019-2020 Education Trust Fund Budget. ADECA acts as the state’s liaison to the U.S. Census Bureau and the lead state agency for 2020 Census outreach and preparation.

Anyone wanting more information on the census in Alabama can visit www.census.alabama.gov.

The grants listed, as follows:

Alabama Community College System – $80,052 to establish help centers on their campuses and adult education sites and conduct events to promote awareness and provide places to fill out the census.
Alabama Possible – $40,000 to develop a statewide grassroots communication infrastructure to promote census participation.
Alabama Tombigbee Regional Commission – $12,616 for awareness activities in the Black Belt region.
Aliceville Elementary School – $35,000 to raise census awareness to parents of students and residents in Pickens County.
ARC of Madison County – $40,000 to focus efforts on reaching disabled residents statewide.
Auburn University – Alabama Cooperative Extension System – $40,000 to conduct a statewide grassroots campaign through the county extension offices.
Baldwin County Commission – $20,000 to work with partners to target hard-to-reach groups including the aging population, people with disabilities, young children and others within the county.
Birmingham Public Library – $10,000 for programs and outreach initiatives to increase awareness and participation in the census.
Black Belt Community Foundation – $40,000 to provide census awareness through training workshops and events in the organization’s 12-county service area.
Blount County Economic Development Council – $35,000 for educational materials and interpreters to promote census to hard-to-reach residents in the county.
Brundidge (city of) – $5,642 to provide advertising, banners, and signage to promote census participation to hard-to-reach populations.
Bullock County Development Authority – $10,015 to conduct census events and promote census outreach via signage and direct mail.
Coosa County Commission – $17,000 to reach hard-to-count populations with little to no internet access and minority populations.
Cullman (city of) – $40,000 for the city to partner with more than 30 entities to promote census participation throughout Cullman County.
Decatur (city of) – $5,500 to host community events that will promote census awareness.
Elmore County Commission – $30,048 for a variety of events designed to increase census participation.
Franklin County Commission – $40,000 for census outreach activities targeting hard-to-reach populations within the county.
Foley (city of) – $10,000 for promotional items and to conduct events to further census awareness and participation.
Greenville-Butler County Library – $32,650 to provide census education and technology assistance for residents to fill out the census.
Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama – $40,000 to partner with other statewide organizations to raise census awareness to Hispanic and other immigrant communities.
Houston County Commission – $3,860 to cover extended hours at area senior centers the week of the April 1st Census Day to help senior citizens fill out the census form.
Ivy Foundation of Montgomery – $40,000 to assist and support the foundation’s partners with a statewide census awareness campaign and activities.
Lowndes County Commission – $40,000 to enhance awareness in minority, low-income and low-education populations, along with those without internet access or transportation difficulties.
Northwest Alabama Council of Local Governments – $40,000 to use digital media, advertising and promotions to promote within the organization’s five-county coverage area in northwest Alabama.
Opelika (city of) – $11,931 to promote census participation and implement two workstations to provide a place for residents to complete their census forms.
Perry County Commission – $31,000 for advertising, social media and direct outreach to target messaging to hard-to-count populations.
Saraland (city of) – $17,000 for education workshops and events, along with advertising and social media to increase census participation.
Shelby County Commission – $22,686 to promote census awareness to hard-to-reach populations within the county.
St. Clair County Commission – $10,000 to raise awareness and hold events that allow residents to fill out their census forms on site.
Top of Alabama Regional Council of Governments – $40,000 to conduct outreach efforts to the aging population in the organization’s five-county coverage area in northeast Alabama.
Tuskegee Human and Civil Rights Multicultural Center – $40,000 for outdoor media promotion and Census Day activities.
United Way of Central Alabama – $40,000 to use community initiatives to increase the census self-response rate in the organization’s coverage area.
VOICES for Alabama’s Children – $40,000 to address a previous undercount of children under five years of age.
YMCA of Tuscaloosa – $40,000 for the Y on Wheels project to increase the self-response rates of hard-to-count communities in and around the city of Tuscaloosa and Tuscaloosa County.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

1 week ago

Limited edition holiday cards arrive, custom for the Rocket City

The Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) has released a set of five limited edition Huntsville holiday cards. The cards are now available for sale at the Downtown Huntsville Visitor Center.

The designs, which were created by local graphic artist Crisy Meschieri, feature various Huntsville points of interest including Alabama Constitution Hall Historic Park & Museum, Big Spring International Park, the Galaxy of Lights at Huntsville Botanical Garden, Temple B’nai Sholom and, in true Huntsville fashion, a rocket. The cards are sold individually for $2.00 or sets of four for $6.00.

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“The cards are unique because they’re distinctly Huntsville. Visitors love keeping them as souvenirs or sending them to friends, and locals enjoy them because they can share a little piece of their hometown with loved ones. They add a nice, ‘Rocket City’ touch to a favorite holiday tradition,” said Judy Ryals, President/CEO of the CVB.

The visitor center is located at 500 Church Street NW in downtown Huntsville and is open seven days a week: Monday-Saturday 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5:00 p.m.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

1 week ago

Vestavia Hills Mayor Ashley Curry signs proclamation declaring city ‘TraffickingFree Zone’

Mayor Ashley Curry signed a proclamation during Monday’s City Council meeting that made the City of Vestavia Hills the first “TraffickingFree Zone” in Alabama.

Curry said of human trafficking, “It’s not just a problem in Vestavia Hills, it’s the whole metro Birmingham area. In fact, I-20 and I-65, that happens to cross at Birmingham, those interstates are known as the superhighway for sex trafficking.”

As part of the proclamation, all Vestavia Hills city staff will undergo human trafficking training.

The proclamation cites Birmingham hosting The World Games in 2021 as the inciting incident that demanded a higher level of attention on human trafficking.

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Geoff Rogers, CEO of the U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking, added, “Traffickers target areas with the highest demand, and international sporting events provide the perfect opportunity for traffickers to access an abnormally large number of clientele in highly-concentrated areas.”

Jordan Giddens, Community Engagement coordinator for the Child Trafficking Solutions Project, said that Vestavia Hills’ Proclamation was “the first step of a master plan that seeks to establish TraffickingFree Zones in every city in Jefferson County before the 2021 World Games.”

The TraffickingFree Zone program is an initiative of the U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking (USIAHT), that will utilize a partnership with local anti-trafficking coalition, Child Trafficking Solutions Project, to facilitate staff trainings and grassroots community outreach. As of November 2019, the Institute had established 113 TraffickingFree Zones across the United States.

The Child Trafficking Solutions Project is a coalition of over 100 anti-trafficking organizations and stakeholders from the Birmingham metro, that combat human trafficking through common-goal initiatives aimed at creating systematic change that disrupts demand. The coalition is housed under the Children’s Policy Council of Jefferson County, and is co-chaired by Jan Bell, executive director of the CPC of Jefferson County, and Carrie Hill, juvenile probation officer and Human Trafficking liaison for the Jefferson County Family Court.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

1 week ago

Alabama Supreme Court: Plywood obstructing view of Confederate soldier monument in Birmingham a violation of the law

(ABC News/Twitter)

The Supreme Court of Alabama issued a decision on Wednesday that the City of Birmingham violated the law when it erected a plywood screen around the base of a monument to a Confederate soldier in Linn Park.

The plywood screen, initially erected under the orders of former Mayor William Bell in 2017, has been left in place by Mayor Randall Woodfin.

The Supreme Court decision was unanimous. It reversed a January circuit court decision in favor of the City. As a result of the decision, the City of Birmingham will be fined $25,000.

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Justice Tommy Bryan, writing the majority opinion for eight of the justices, wrote, “Accordingly, we conclude that, under the circumstances of this case, the City defendants were subject to a single $25,000 fine for their violation of the Act.”

The state had sought a $25,000 fine per day the screen was in place.

Justice Mike Bolin, in a concurring opinion, wrote, “I question whether a fine in the total amount of $25,000 discourages such conduct by a public entity.”

“A single fine in this amount for an intentional violation of the statute, after over two years of litigation, seems to be a minute deterrence for the same or similar future conduct.” he continued.

Update 1:34:
In a press release, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall welcomed the decision, saying, “The Supreme Court’s ruling is a victory for the Alabama law which seeks to protect historical monuments. The City of Birmingham acted unlawfully when it erected barriers to obstruct the view of the 114-year-old Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Linn Park.”

Marshall also called this “a successful conclusion” to the case.

Update 3:15:

Rick Journey, a spokesman for the City of Birmingham, sent Yellowhammer News the following statement: “We are strongly disappointed with the ruling of the Alabama Supreme Court. This ruling appears to be less about the rule of law and more about politics. We are carefully reviewing the opinion to determine our next step, but clearly the citizens of Birmingham should have the final decision about what happens with monuments on Birmingham city grounds.”

Update 5:00:
State Senator Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa), the sponsor of the Memorial Preservation Act of 2017, told Yellowhammer over the phone that he had read the decision closely, and he was happy the law had been upheld by the Supreme Court.

“The supreme court made a strong ruling protecting history,” he said.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

1 week ago

UAB Hospital receives prestigious Magnet designation

UAB Hospital was granted recognition as a Magnet-designated hospital for the fifth consecutive time, the university announced in a press release this week. UAB is only the 21st hospital worldwide to receive this designation five consecutive times.

The American Nurses Credentialing Center Magnet Recognition Program is the group that reviews which hospitals deserve the designation. According to their website, only 8% of all registered hospitals in the U.S. have achieved Magnet status.

“The Magnet designation is the highest international honor that nursing can receive,” said Terri Poe, DNP, chief nursing officer of UAB Hospital.

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UAB Hospital is the only hospital in Alabama designated a Magnet organization, and one of only 505 worldwide. It was first designated in 2002, and then again in 2006, 2011 and 2015. The 2019 recognition ensures Magnet designation through 2024.

U.S. News & World Report’s annual showcase of “America’s Best Hospitals” includes Magnet recognition in its ranking criteria for quality of inpatient care.

To be re-designated as a Magnet organization, a hospital must provide documented evidence of how Magnet concepts, performance and quality were sustained and improved over the four-year period since the hospital received its last recognition. If there is strong, written evidence, then an on-site review is conducted by Magnet appraisers.

“Gaining this honor for the fifth time is truly a remarkable achievement that demonstrates the culture of professional nursing practice standards and interprofessional collaboration at UAB,” said Poe.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

2 weeks ago

Ivey administration to solicit prison construction plans from four groups

(YHN, Pixabay)

Governor Kay Ivey and the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) announced Tuesday that four teams will have the chance to propose how they would build the three new prisons that are the centerpiece of Ivey’s plan to improve the state’s much-maligned correctional facilities.

The state is expecting to receive the detailed proposals in the spring of 2020.

In June, the state sent out a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for any firm, or group of firms, that felt it was qualified to build to the facilities. Five groups submitted Statements of Qualification (SOQs) by the deadline in August.

The teams’ qualifications were evaluated by a committee comprised of representatives from the ADOC and the Alabama Department of Finance, including the Division of Construction Management, with support from third-party experts HPM and CGL.

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The teams were evaluated based solely upon their respective SOQ submissions using objective criteria set forth in the RFQ.

“I appreciate the hard work conducted by the RFQ evaluation committee and am pleased with the integrity of this procurement process,” Governor Kay Ivey said.

“The revitalization of prisons in Alabama is crucial, and this plan to improve the state’s infrastructure is a major step towards reduced recidivism and improved public safety. I am committed to propelling this plan forward,” she continued.

“The Governor’s Office, my staff, and project team are pleased with the qualified developer teams and look forward to the review of their proposals this spring,” said ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn.

The groups, as follows, are listed alphabetically:

Alabama Prison Transformation Partners: Star America; BL Harbert International; Butler-Cohen; Arrington Watkins Architects; and Johnson Controls, Inc.

CoreCivic: CoreCivic; Caddell Construction; DLR Group; and R&N Systems Design

Corvias: Corvias; Municipal Capital Markets Group; HDR Architecture; JE Dunn Construction (no relation to ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn) & CORE Construction (joint venture); TKC Management Services; TreanorHL; Seay, Seay & Litchfield Architects; White-Spunner Construction; Mead & Hunt; and Baldwin Consulting Group

GEO Group: GEO; White Construction Company; and NELSON Wakefield Beasley & Associates

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

2 weeks ago

Sessions hires senior Greg Reed aide for campaign role

(Jeff Sessions/YouTube, John Rogers/Contributed, YHN)

Alabama State Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper) announced Tuesday that his communications director and policy advisor, John Rogers, will be joining Jeff Sessions’ campaign for the U.S. Senate.

“John Rogers has been a trusted confidant since joining my office in 2015. He has done an outstanding job directing the communications and policy strategy for my office, and has built strong relationships with every senator in the Republican Caucus,” Reed said.

Rogers thanked Reed for the opportunity to work in the majority leader’s office, saying, “It has been a privilege to work for such a principled and effective leader in Senator Reed, as well as serve each member of the Republican Caucus.”

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This is not Rogers’ first campaign role in recent cycles. He served as Roy Moore’s communications director during the special election in 2017 for the U.S. Senate seat eventually won by Doug Jones. Rogers left that campaign after sexual misconduct allegations were made against Moore. Additionally, prior to serving in Reed’s office, Rogers was former State Senator Phil Williams’ campaign manager in 2014.

State Senator Clyde Chambliss (R-Prattville), who serves as majority floor leader, commended Rogers.

“John has been a consummate professional to work with at the Statehouse, and I hate to see him go. His policy knowledge and communications acumen and advice will be sorely missed,” Chambliss said.

State Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), chairman of the Senate’s education budget committee, said Rogers was a key contributor on the Senate Republicans’ team.

“John has been invaluable in helping senators communicate effectively with constituents and media outlets in each district, and the state as a whole. He has been a trusted advisor and an effective communicator. John leaves behind big shoes to fill,” Orr commented.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

2 weeks ago

Ivey orders flags to half staff in honor of slain sheriff

(Lowndes County Sheriff's Office/Facebook, Publicdomainpictures.net, YHN)

On Monday, Governor Kay Ivey ordered all state agencies to fly their flags at half staff out of respect for Lowndes County Sheriff “Big John” Williams, who was tragically killed in the line of duty on Saturday, November 23.

“We offer our heartfelt condolences and prayers to his family, the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Department and the people of Lowndes County,” said Ivey in her directive.

Ivey said the flags should be flown at half-staff until sunset on Monday, December 2, 2019, the day of Sheriff Williams’ funeral.

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Williams was shot and killed in the line of duty at a convenience store in Hayneville, AL. Police arrested 18-year-old William Chase Johnson in connection with the murder. According to the Associated Press, Judge Tom Sport ordered the suspect to be held without bond awaiting a trial.

According to Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, Williams is the fifth law enforcement officer in Alabama to die by gunfire in the line of duty this year.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

2 weeks ago

GOP U.S. Senate hopefuls unite on faith, Trump; Rally against Doug Jones at Butler Co. forum

(Henry Thornton/Yellowhammer)

GREENVILLE — On Monday evening, four of the Republican U.S. Senate candidates vying for a shot at running against U.S. Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) appeared at a forum at Lurleen B. Wallace Community College to make their cases to the assembled voters.

Haleyville businessman Stanley Adair, U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope), Secretary of State John Merrill and Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs) all took the stage to discuss faith, President Donald Trump, Doug Jones and more.

Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville, the two candidates currently at the top of the polls, were not in attendance. When asked by Yellowhammer about attending the forum, the Sessions campaign pointed to its busy schedule, while the Tuberville campaign cited a conflicting event in the Wiregrass Monday night.

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Each of the around 100 voters in the room had a rack sheet from the major candidates waiting for them when they took their seats.

(Henry Thornton/Yellowhammer News)

The four candidates largely agreed on most issues. They all described their desire to fight against a Democratic Party they see as moving rapidly leftward, and they all want to help President Donald Trump curtail illegal immigration. They passionately spoke about their Christian faith, adding they think Doug Jones is too liberal for Alabama.

Stanley Adair, a businessman and former televangelist from Haleyville, spoke first. Adair has not registered much support in the polls up to this point. Adair talked about his furniture business struggling in the 1990s and how he felt he was “a victim of NAFTA.”

In a seeming implicit criticism of Byrne and Sessions, he said, “[Y]ou can’t keep sending the same people to Washington and expecting different results.”

When Byrne took the stage, he referenced his stint “cleaning up corruption” while he was chancellor of the Alabama Community College System. In his remarks, Byrne underlined his staunch defense of President Trump against the ongoing impeachment inquiry.

Byrne stated his belief that the Democrats are not impeaching Trump to remove him, but rather are “trying to dirty him up enough” so that Trump cannot win reelection in 2020.

Byrne was the one candidate to directly address the two of his competitors who were not in attendance.

“I wish the others had shown up,” he told the audience.

Merrill began with his hallmark recitations of the statistics about his visit. Monday was Merrill’s 575th visit to Alabama’s 67 counties this year, and his eighth time in Butler county.

“No candidate in this race travels the state of Alabama the way I do,” he claimed.

Merrill called himself a “proven reformer” and brought up his term in the legislature.

He referenced his legislative rating by The Sunlight Foundation, saying, “They didn’t say I was the most conservative, they sure didn’t say I was the most liberal, they said I was the most effective.”

In a race and on an evening where the candidates have mostly sought to demonstrate their conservative bona fides, Merrill’s highlighting his effectiveness over conservatism stood out.

Merrill also brought up with pride beating lawsuits against him brought by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the ACLU.

“We pushed back against their liberal socialist agenda,” Merrill said.

Undecided voter Pam Martin told Yellowhammer after the event that she had become a fan of Merrill.

“I like his approach,” she said.

Mooney took the final speaking slot on the night. He began with a lengthy description of how he grew up, his education and how he met his wife.

He has pushed bellicose ads with hardline rhetoric and immigration proposals. In his time on stage, Mooney cited several endorsements, including conservative Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rand Paul (R-KY), as well as Fox News host Mark Levin.

“Debt is going to kill us if we don’t get it under control,” said Mooney.

Yellowhammer approached several undecided voters whose minds had not been changed by what they heard on Monday.

Norman Lowery said there was not a standout.

“They all did a good job, made good points,” said Lowery.

Denise Grant said, “They were all well spoken. I liked their fundamentals, and that they talked about their faith.”

Cade Goodridge agreed that all the candidates had done well.

“I’ll need more time to decide,” he said.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

2 weeks ago

Jessica Taylor endorsed by group dedicated to electing conservative women

(Jessica Taylor campaign/YouTube)

Prattville businesswoman Jessica Taylor, a candidate for Alabama’s 2nd congressional district, was endorsed Monday by the Value in Electing Women Political Action Committee (VIEW PAC).

According to the organization’s website, View PAC “was founded in 1997 by female Republican Members of Congress and professional women to help elect qualified, viable Republican women to Congress.”

The group gave $460,000 directly to Republican women candidates in the 2018 cycle.

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“Jessica is not only an impressive businesswoman and an active member of her community, she is also the type of conservative leader we need in DC to change the way things are done. After getting to know Jessica, I’m certain that her experience and thoughtful philosophy are exactly what we need to take on the socialist radicals in Congress,” said Julie Conway, VIEW PAC’s executive director.

Jessica Taylor responded to news of the announcement, saying, “VIEW PAC’s endorsement is further proof that our conservative message is gaining momentum.”

She added, “I am honored to have VIEW PAC’s support and trust to take on this important mission for our country’s future.”

Other candidates to replace retiring Rep. Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) are former Alabama Attorney General Troy King, former State Representative Barry Moore (R-Enterprise) and Dothan businessman Jeff Coleman.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

2 weeks ago

Byrne signs no new taxes pledge

(B. Byrne/Facebook)

Representative Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope), a candidate for U.S. Senate, announced in a press release on Monday that he is signing The Americans for Tax Reform Taxpayers Protection Pledge.

The pledge amounts to a public promise that a candidate will never support a net tax increase on the American people while in office.

Byrne is the first of the Alabama senate candidates to sign the pledge this cycle. State Rep. Arnold Mooney (R- Indian Springs), also a candidate for Senate, signed the pledge during his run for the statehouse seat he currently occupies.

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“Signing the Taxpayer Protection Pledge was a no-brainer for me,” Byrne said in a statement to Yellowhammer. “Alabama deserves a Senator who will fight for lower taxes and more freedom, and that’s exactly what I promise to do.”

His 2020 Senate campaign is Byrne’s second time signing the pledge. His first was when he was running to represent AL-01 in 2013.

The majority of Republican elected officials at the federal level have signed the pledge, including all of Alabama’s current Republican congressional representatives.

According to Americans for Tax Reform’s website, there are currently 47 senators, 173 representatives and 11 governors who have signed the pledge.

Signing the pledge is something Byrne has in common with several of the men vying to be his successor in Alabama’s 1st Congressional District. State Rep. Chris Pringle (R-Mobile), former State Sen. Bill Hightower (R-Mobile) and County Commissioner Jerry Carl (R-Mobile) have all signed the pledge.

In the AL-2 race, only former Alabama AG Troy King has signed so far.

Navy veteran Chris Lewis (R-Florence), who is attempting to oust Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) in the AL-05 Republican primary, has joined his incumbent opponent in signing the pledge.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.