After House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) on Wednesday “suggested” to President Donald Trump that America’s annual State of the Union Address either be canceled and replaced by written remarks or postponed until after Washington, D.C. has ended the current partial government shutdown, Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-5) slammed Pelosi’s “childish, partisan, political stunt.”
In a statement, Brooks said that Pelosi is using the State of the Union Address as both a political bargaining chip and to muffle the president during the southern border crisis and funding negotiations.
On Wednesday, Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-1) announced the introduction of a proposed amendment to the Constitution to impose term limits on members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.
House Joint Resolution 25 would amend the Constitution to limit Congressional service to six two-year House terms and two six-year Senate terms, or 12 years in each case.
The legislation has been referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary.
In a statement, Byrne said, “Seats in Congress belong to the American people, not any single elected official. Our Founding Fathers never expected individuals to make a career out of Congressional service, and term limits will allow us to keep fresh blood and ideas in the halls of Congress.”
Representative Martha Roby (AL-2) spoke on the House floor Wednesday to commemorate the 2019 March for Life, which will take place in Washington, D.C. this Friday.
In her speech, Roby thanked and encouraged march participants and paid tribute to the unborn lives lost by abortion in the 45 years following the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision.
“45 years ago this month, the Supreme Court of the United States offered its infamous Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion on demand in this country,” Roby said. “Since that 1973 ruling, more than 60 million unborn children have had their lives terminated by abortion. To say this is a tragedy is an understatement.
“Our pro-life momentum is strong, especially during this time each year, but our work is far from being complete. I won’t stop fighting until our laws and policies protect life at every stage,” she emphasized.
"Frontier Airlines will begin direct flights from Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport on April 11, the airline announced today. Frontier Airlines will start by offering direct service to Denver, Orlando and Philadelphia from Birmingham. Introductory prices will start at $39."
"At 87, Clint Eastwood is not only trying new things, he’s trying daring new things, and his new film 15:17 to Paris represents one of the most audacious gambits of his career. To dramatize the tale of three Americans who tackled and subdued a heavily armed Islamist terrorist on a train out of Amsterdam in 2015, Eastwood cast the young men, none of whom had professional acting experience, as themselves. It’s a decision with little precedent in the entire history of motion pictures."
Doug Jones parts with Pelosi on Trump-SOTU postponement: ‘I don’t like that idea’
Thursday during a conference call with reporters, Sen. Doug Jones (D-Mountain Brook) was asked to react to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) call to postpone President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address until the government was fully reopened.
Jones acknowledged his frustrations with the State of the Union for becoming a “sideshow.”
However, he said the event should go ahead despite the federal government shutdown, counter to Pelosi and other congressional Democrats.
“I don’t like that idea,” Jones said. “I think there are certain things for the government – I think that right now, I have criticized the president for not respecting the institutions of government. Quite frankly, there are things that have to go on when you’re talking about threats. You know, the appearances are what they are. I am not in favor of that myself.”
“There will be a number of people that may disagree with that,” he continued. “But, we have to go ahead and go forward with those things that we can go forward with. Frankly, I get a little frustrated with the State of the Union, to begin with, because it has become such a sideshow to some extent. But it is still the State of the Union, and in my view, we need to go ahead and go forward with it.”
State Sen. Gerald Allen: ‘I certainly expect’ Alabama Memorial Preservation Act ruling to be overturned by the Alabama Supreme Court
On Wednesday, State Sen. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa) told Huntsville radio’s WVNN that he “expected” a ruling issued earlier this week declaring the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act was unconstitutional to be overturned.
Allen, who originally sponsored the legislation in the Alabama Senate before it was passed and signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey, appeared on “The Jeff Poor Show” and said he anticipates Attorney General Steve Marshall and his staff to be “proactive” in seeking the new outcome.
The law was voided by Jefferson County Judge Michael Graffeo, who issued the ruling on his last day before his retirement from the bench.
“[I] certainly expect the AG’s office and Attorney General Steve Marshall to be proactive, to file a motion and the Alabama Supreme Court to overturn this ruling of the Jefferson County judge,” Allen said to “The Jeff Poor Show.” “I do think that is going to happen and as far as the timeline, I can’t elaborate on that or talk about it because I don’t know. But I do think it is going to be very proactive.”
Allen defended the law, noting that the language never mentioned “Confederate” or “Confederacy.”
“Not one time in the piece of legislation that was written, it does not mention or refer to Confederacy or Confederates,” Allen added. “The bill is written to make sure that all of Alabama history is protected for future generations that will follow you and I, and others. It was a piece [of legislation] that was written to make sure that the complete story can be told of Alabama history on where this state has been. And certainly, history can tell you a lot about where we have been, as well as some time that wasn’t very pretty. But it is history. It is who we are and I think what is very important for all of us to keep mind is for you to able to tell your grandchildren and future generations exactly what has happened and what has taken place in this state without whitewashing or maybe removing certain things – so to be transparent, to the tell the whole story and not leave anything out.”
Alabama county commissioners group head: New gas tax revenue must go directly to roads — asphalt and concrete
In an appearance on Huntsville radio’s WVNN on Wednesday, Association of County Commissions of Alabama executive director Sonny Brasfield reiterated his plea for the state legislature to consider raising the gas tax.
Brasfield acknowledged that transparency and accountability must be elements of any proposal.
He also argued the new revenues should be mandated solely for roads and not equipment or personnel.
“What we heard in 2017 and we tried to be very responsive to that, and there were a number of people who during this election in the House and Senate, candidates who were not afraid to say they were in favor of infrastructure improvements, is that we said this money has got to be more transparent, and this new money has got to be more accountable,” Brasfield said on “The Jeff Poor Show.” “From our association is what we’re promoting is that the county portion of this money, and I think you’ll see it handle in the state portion and city portion as well, needs to be accounted for separately from all other gas tax funds.”
“We need to ensure that money doesn’t go to salaries,” he continued. “It doesn’t go to equipment. The money goes directly on the roads in asphalt and concrete. And the response from the public has been much more positive when they know we’re not just trying to do the same old thing with this new money, that we recognize that if we’re going to ask for additional revenue, then we owe it to the voters, to the people that are going to be expecting the money out of their wallets, to ensure them the money is going to be put in a place where they can benefit from it. I think that is honestly changed the narrative on this issue.”
Jo Bonner discusses Kay Ivey’s Wilcox County roots, new term agenda in one-on-one interview
On Tuesday, Gov. Kay Ivey announced former Rep. Jo Bonner was replacing long-time confidante Steve Pelham as her chief of staff, a move that had been rumored but made official the day after being sworn-in for a full-term at her inauguration ceremony.
Shortly after Ivey was sworn in on Monday, Bonner discussed Ivey’s inauguration and what the public should expect from the governor as her new term begins in an interview with Huntsville radio’s WVNN.
Both Bonner and Ivey hail from Wilcox County’s Camden, which was a topic that Bonner discussed as well.
“This is a special day,” Bonner said on Monday’s broadcast of “The Jeff Poor Show.” “Any time you’ve got an inauguration, it’s special. It’s a new chapter, a new beginning. But in this case, it is extra special because this is a young lady who was born in Wilcox County, where Attorney General and former U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions is from – where so many wonderful people have come from, Camden and Wilcox County.”
“It’s a small county,” he said. “It’s one of the poorest counties per capita in the nation in terms of income. It’s one of the wealthiest counties in the world in terms of the quality of people. It’s not just people who have done like Gov. Ivey and have served in public life, but people who have made a difference in education, health care, people who have won prizes – national awards, recognition, people who have gone on to the military academies and have had successful careers in business.”
“Camden is a small town,” Bonner added. “Wilcox County is a place if they have ever heard of it – it’s because they like to hunt or fish.”
Bonner later offered details of an Ivey cabinet meeting that occurred after her November election victory over Democratic opponent Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox. According to the former U.S. congressman, Ivey laid out a “clear challenge” for her upcoming four-year term.
“She said, ‘We have all too often kicked the problems down the road, and it’s time to address some of these challenges, see them as opportunities, and we’re going to make the most of the next four years. We’re going to do things for the right reason,’” Bonner recounted. “She challenged them to lace their shoes up, and she said mine were going to be laced, and we’re going to get running, and we’re going to get a fast start.”
Bonner said it should not go unnoticed that the governor unused her inauguration as a platform to push the legislature for action on infrastructure and improving the state’s prison system, which is under the threat of a federal takeover.
Marsh said he was “looking at” entering the contest, and was not optimistic about Jones’ chances to win reelection in a 2020 bid.
“I am looking at the U.S. Senate,” Marsh said in an interview on WVNN’s “The Jeff Poor Show.” “Listen, I respect Doug Jones. I mean, he believes in what he believes. He’s a Democrat. He believes in what he believes. I have no problem with that. But I do not believe the state of Alabama will elect another Democrat to the Senate. I just don’t. So to me, the race is going to be the primary. I am looking at that. I’ve talked to a lot of people. I’m looking at polling.”
“And I’ve got to ask myself – number one, does my family want me to do this?” he continued. “And do I think this is what is best for the state of Alabama? I’ve got to choose where do I best serve the state of Alabama?”
Fmr US Rep Jo Bonner named Kay Ivey chief of staff as Steve Pelham takes job at Auburn University
(Governor's Office, Wikicommons)
In a move that had been rumored for the last few weeks, former U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner has assumed the role as chief of staff for Gov. Kay Ivey.
Last November after Ivey was elected to a full term, Bonner was named a senior adviser to Ivey.
Bonner is replacing outgoing chief of staff Steve Pelham, who will become Auburn University’s vice president for economic development and the chief of staff to Auburn University President Steven Leath.
“Steve has been a close friend and a trusted confidant for a number of years and has provided our office with outstanding leadership,” Ivey said in a statement announcing the move. “When we made the transition to the Governor’s Office in 2017, Steve was responsible for leading the effort to make certain the Ivey Administration was up and running on day one. He has maintained that level of commitment to our organization, structure and focus to details throughout our first term together.”
Before becoming Ivey’s senior advisor, Bonner served six terms representing Alabama’s first congressional district. Shortly thereafter, he served as vice chancellor for economic development for the University of Alabama System.
“Likewise, Jo brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to our administration, and I know we aren’t going to miss a step as my cabinet, staff and I work, every day, to honor the support and confidence the people of Alabama gave us last November,” Ivey said.
Bonner also served as chief of staff and press secretary for former U.S. Rep. Sonny Callahan before he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2002.
“Jo Bonner is a respected leader and a known quantity in Washington and throughout Alabama,” Ivey added. “We knew he would be a valuable addition to our team when I announced he was joining us last month.”
1963 Wilcox County High School Yearbook prophecy: ‘Kay Ellen Ivey has just been elected governor!’
Kay Ivey High School Photo, Camden School Special to YH/Julia Handly)
While some politicians may cringe at the idea of their high school yearbook surfacing, Gov. Kay Ivey’s yearbook foretold of her governorship some 56 years ago.
On Monday at 10 a.m., Ivey will participate in her first-ever formal inaugural proceedings, which will include a swearing-in ceremony at the Alabama State Capitol steps and a parade to follow.
However, long before Ivey assumed the role of governor — after Robert Bentley resigned in disgrace in April 2017 — Ivey’s Wilcox County High School classmates predicted that Ivey would one day win Alabama’s gubernatorial election.
According to the “Class Prophecy” in the 1963 Wilcox County High School yearbook (WIL-CO-HI), obtained by Yellowhammer News, Ivey’s classmates have long expected her ascendency to the highest office in Alabama. The 1963 “Class Prophecy” is a letter from the future, dated January 7, 1980. The letter offers details about a celebration over the election of “Kay Ellen Ivey” as Alabama governor.
As I talked to Emily, I heard an uproar on the courthouse square. I hurried over to see what was going on, and I heard the voice of the Mayor’s wife, the former Dana McNeill, coming over the microphone. I then spotted Terry Sue Martin in the crowd and ran over to ask her what was causing all the commotion. When she had told me that she was owner of the Pure Oil Company, I asked her what the celebration was for, and she gave me a puzzled look and said, “Why I thought you knew! Kay Ellen Ivey has just been elected governor!”
Based on the list of organizations in the 1963 yearbook, Ivey was very active at Wil-Co-Hi.
Ivey was also included among her class’ group of “outstanding seniors.”
In her yearbook’s “last will and testament,” Ivey bequeathed the love of “W.C.H.S. Band” to underclassman Ashby Tait. Ivey would go on to play in Auburn University’s marching band, in addition to serving in student political organizations, the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority, and the Student Government Association.
Perhaps it was her time as class vice president at Wil-Co-Hi that prepared her to serve in Auburn University’s SGA, and then go on to be state treasurer, lieutenant governor and now governor.
Ivey and her classmates had been together throughout their years at Wilcox County High School.
While at Wilcox County High School, one of her signature achievements was being the Daughters of the American Revolution “Good Citizenship Girl.”
Mo Brooks battles CNN host over Trump border wall emergency authority: ‘How many dead people do you have to have, John, before it’s an emergency?’
Friday on CNN’s “New Day,” Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) had a heated exchange with show co-host John Berman over whether or not President Donald Trump had the authority to build a border wall without money earmarked explicitly by Congress.
Brooks argued U.S. Code gave Trump the authority to begin wall construction and accused Berman of “misleading the public” on the issue.
Berman questioned the potential use of the categorization of “emergency,” to which Brooks offered statistics of U.S. casualties that could be a result of a U.S.-Mexican porous border.
“With the southern border, we have the loss of at least 15,000 Americans a year. You have 2,000 that are homicides by illegal aliens, according to federal government data. You’ve got another 15,000, 16,000 that die each year from heroin overdoses, 90 percent of which comes across our porous southern border. That’s not counting the 55,000 additional deaths that are caused by overdoses, a significant amount of which comes across the southern border,” Brooks stated. “So, how many dead people do you have to have, John, before you’ll consider it an emergency?”
Speaker Mac McCutcheon on gas tax, infrastructure: ‘It’s a shame’ we have not addressed the issue in over 25 years
In an interview that aired Wednesday on Huntsville radio’s WVNN, State House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) stressed the need for the legislature to address infrastructure, presumably through an increase in the gas tax that has not been raised since 1992.
McCutcheon argued the state’s quality of life was on the line given infrastructure was an ingredient of Alabama’s economic growth and noted that the states bordering Alabama have moved to address their transportation woes.
The Madison County Republican also addressed the politics of a gas tax hike, noting that it was not something candidates were shy about during the 2018 election cycle.
“This is an issue that affects the people of Alabama and our quality of life, and our economic growth,” he said on “The Jeff Poor Show.” “It is something that we have not addressed in over 25 years. It’s a shame that we have waited that long, but we have. Now we’re getting to the point where we cannot continue to just kick the can down the road. It’s a difficult, tough issue to address. But all of our surrounding states are addressing this issue. They’re improving their infrastructure needs, and we cannot sit here and fall behind when it comes to trying to compete for business and move our state forward. So, we’re at the point where this is an issue that must be addressed.”
“We talked about this on the campaign trail,” he continued. “Members running for office – they know that this is an issue, and we’re going to try to get as many facts and information out there to members and the public. We’re still working on a piece of legislation that we’re going to present. We haven’t got all the t’s crossed, and the i’s dotted, if you will.”
“But we’re looking at the transportation infrastructure plan, and it’s more — I hope people understand, as long as it has been that we’ve addressed our transportation needs, this is more than just a tax at the pump,” McCutcheon added. “This is an investment in our state. It’s one of the largest investments the people of Alabama invest in, and we’ve got to approach it from the standpoint that we’d like to have legislative input into the highway projects and the process. We want to work closely with the governor. We’ve got to look at the revenue streams we’re going to have available. We’re looking at the possibility of having federal dollars that we can match. Then at the end of the day, the way Washington is going – if they can’t do anything for us, it’s going to be on the state of Alabama to do what we need to do to fix our roads. There’s a lot of issues out there, but we’re going to address it.”
McCutcheon, who in addition to his speaker duties represents Alabama State House District 25 which includes Huntsville City, Madison City and East Limestone County, pointed to widening I-565 from I-65 to and through the city of Huntsville, Alabama Highway 53 from Madison County to the Tennessee-Alabama state line, U.S. Highway 72 east of Huntsville in the direction of Scottsboro and Winchester Road beyond the New Market area as places for improvement in and around his district.
“We’ve got some major arteries – I’m not even talking about some of the bridges we’ve got on some of our rural roads that need to be fixed that are on restriction now,” he added. “We’ve got plenty of projects in our area that need to be worked on.”
Tucker Carlson: ‘Jeff Sessions was the single-most impressive member of the Senate’
Wednesday on Huntsville radio’s WVNN, Fox News Channel’s Tucker Carlson, author of “Ship of Fools,” praised Alabama native Jeff Sessions, who served two decades in the U.S. Senate before becoming U.S. attorney general for President Donald Trump.
Late in 2018, after a tumultuous tenure as attorney general, Sessions left the Department of Justice.
When asked if there were any Democratic or Republican politicians that he thought were coming up with solutions to improve the lot of the middle class, Carlson immediately named Sessions.
Carlson described Alabama’s former U.S. senator as “totally sincere,” and as “the single-most impressive member of the Senate.”
“You know, the guy who always impressed me most with his sincerity and thoughtfulness and deep personal integrity – and the degree to which he meant it, he wasn’t a phony at all, he was totally sincere – I know him well, actually was a senator from Alabama called Jeff Sessions, who made the mistake of becoming attorney general and was totally attacked and discredited – not entirely, but mostly unfairly I thought,” Carlson said on Thursday’s “The Jeff Poor Show.” “But it sort of obscured the fact that Sessions was Trump long before Trump.”
“Sessions really understood what had gone wrong with the country’s economy with the attitudes of its ruling class,” he added. “Jeff Sessions was the single-most impressive member of the Senate I always thought, and I still think that.”
“We all knew that we would see some sort of infrastructure bill in the first year of the quadrennium,” Livingston said on Monday’s “The Jeff Poor Show.” “I think there are probably some other things that are maybe just as important as that. We got other issues with prison systems and corrections that we got to take care of. They’re all equally important. But I do believe we’ll see some sort of lottery bill. That’s very important to the folks up where I’m at in the three corners where we’re surrounded by a lottery.”
Livingston recounted a visit from Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Tuscaloosa), who had inquired about the needs of his senate district. One project was the completion of Alabama Highway 35 as a four-lane highway, which exits Scottsboro from the south across the Tennessee River.
“He said, ‘Of course, I’ve got the money – we’ve arranged to get the money over the past few years to have Alabama Highway 35 finished up over there. We had to remind him there’s about a three-mile segment from the Tennessee River, up the mountain to Section that’s just three lanes. We need to get that four-laned. We need to take care of our farm-to-market roads from there, and our bridges. We have some bridges that need repaired.”
The stretch of Alabama Highway 35 climbs out of the Tennessee River valley to Sand Mountain and could be a massive undertaking.
“It has some engineering challenges,” Livingston said. “I think that’s what [Alabama Department of Transportation director John] Cooper would call it. We’ve had several slides, and we’re looking at how to engineer that. I think they had that in their plan two years ago when they tried to get a bill passed. I think they had $40 million in that little three-mile stretch. It’s pretty pricey.”
Aderholt: This gov’t shutdown ‘different from all the rest,’ Could be ‘week or two’ before solution
In an appearance on Huntsville radio’s WVNN on Monday, Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Haleyville) warned it could be some time before a solution comes for the current federal government shutdown.
The cause of the partial shutdown, which is in its third week, is the debate over funding for President Donald Trump’s proposed wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, which was part of his 2016 presidential campaign.
Aderholt told WVNN that as things stand now, Congress is still at least “several more days” away from a potential solution.
“We’re still at a stalemate,” he said on Monday’s “The Jeff Poor Show.” “There’s been some overtures of maybe going toward a steel wall … but I don’t see anything as significant that will come down on any of this. So, I think it’s going to be well into several more days – another week or two before we see any solution to this, and of course, it could be longer.”
The representative for Alabama’s fourth congressional district noted the distinction between this shutdown and others, which he said centered around one item — the border wall.
“The one thing that makes shutdown so different from all the rest is usually you have several issues on the table,” Aderholt explained. “And they’re able to finally say, ‘OK, we’re going to have to find a compromise on this and find some common ground. So, we’ll let you win on these three or four issues, and we’ll win on these three or four issues. We’ll try again and come back when we do an appropriation bill next year and try to get the things we didn’t get.’”
“This time, it’s really only about the wall,” he added. “And its either one side wins and one side loses, or vice-versa. It’s one of those things that can’t be on and off. It can’t be black and white. It can’t be yes and no. And so, it’s one of those real dichotomies here that they’re dealing with. And I think that’s why one side is going to have to give in for there to be a real solution to this.”
Camden entrepreneurs look to spark local tourist economy with Liberty Hall’s Antebellum South bed and breakfast ‘experience’
CAMDEN – “There Are No Strangers Here – Just Friends Who Haven’t Met Yet”
That is the mantra of Liberty Hall, a two-story Greek Revival style house built in 1855, and is now a bed and breakfast that offers visitors the unique opportunity to experience some of the aspects of antebellum life without missing the modern amenities like indoor plumbing and WiFi internet.
They’ve come from all over the world to stay at Liberty Hall. Germany, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and South Africa, to name a few. The reasons are many.
“[They] just want to do something different,” Handly said. “One of the things people have told us they love is we don’t have televisions in the rooms. One guy had been here with his family – his children and all. And that is what he told us when he left. He said, ‘I can’t thank you enough for not having a television. We enjoyed time as a family.”
She added that initially they had a television in some of the rooms, but could not make it work and preserve the character of the house that is equipped with some of its original furnishings and others that date back 100 years or more.
How those furnishing survived is a story in itself. At the time of the Civil War, the occupants of Liberty Hall, then known as the McDowell house, were Samuel and Julia McDowell. As the Union troops made their way into Camden, they set out to burn down homes like Liberty Hall.
In anticipation of their arrival, the McDowell family cut out notches in one of the home’s columns (which are still visible today) and hid their valuables. As luck would have it, Samuel went out to greet the Union commander tasked with torching the homes to discover they were both Masons and the Union commander instructed his men to spare Liberty Hall.
Since then, the home has remained in the family, and the furnishings have stayed put through the generations.
“When the house passed down, it passed down,” Handly added.
My room for the evening is furnished with the belongings of Handly ancestor Confederate Maj. Felix Tait of the Alabama 23rd Infantry, who was also a veteran of the Mexican War, a trustee at the University of Alabama in the late 1850s and represented Wilcox County in the Alabama State Senate in the 1870s.
Each of the rooms has some kind of unique offering, one of which includes a library with books and magazines dating back over the past 100-plus years.
The Handlys actively promote their hometown of Camden, the county seat of Wilcox County, which has struggled economically for decades. They describe a stay at Liberty Hall as an “experience” replete with fellowship and southern hospitality.
State Sen. McClendon proposed bill would levy fines of up to $200 for holding cell phone while driving
During an appearance on Alabama Public Television’s “Capitol Journal” that aired on Friday, State Sen. Jim McClendon (R-Springville) offered some details of a so-called hands-free bill he announced he would introduce in the upcoming legislative sessions late last year.
The bill would make it illegal for individuals to hold their cell phones while driving and is similar to a law passed in Georgia.
McClendon’s law would give an incentive to drivers to use hands-free devices, and perhaps avoid the pitfalls of distracted driving.
“The law — this proposed law, allows for one-button touch,” he explained. “On my car, it’s the steering wheel. You push one button, and it says, ‘What do you want to do?’ If you don’t have that built into your car, you just find the earpiece, and you just touch the earpiece … and then it sets up for voice recognition.”
McClendon said his proposal did allow for offenders to have the opportunity to have the charge dropped.
“One interesting part of this bill that I think everybody will like — on your first offense, if you present to the judge a device you have purchased in order to correct this problem, or evidence of a device — a receipt for your device, then you are forgiven. And there will be no offense. You will not be convicted of anything. There is sort of a get-out-of-jail-free pass on the first offense only. You must affirm to the judge you’ve never used this excuse before. It’s a way for first-time offenders to avoid having a charge against them, having points, paying court costs and seeing what happens to their auto insurance.”
McClendon told “Capitol Journal” host Don Dailey the fines would be $100 for the first offense, $150 for the second offense and $200 for the third offense, in addition to points on your driver’s license, which he said may impact auto insurance rates, and court costs.
The gas tax push: Ten Alabama highway projects to consider in 2019
(ALDOT/University of Alabama map archives)
Now that it appears state legislators are licking their chops to raise Alabama’s gasoline tax, the question we all should be asking is, “What are we going to get out of it?”
As 2018 wound down, the push for the hike was aggressive, but details were scarce.
Obviously, we all know the big projects that have gotten the bulk of the media attention: I-565 widened from Limestone County to Huntsville, improvements to I-65 from Birmingham to Montgomery, a southern Montgomery bypass and the much-ballyhooed I-10 Mobile Bay bridge.
To get the ball rolling, here are ten not-as-publicized suggestions (in no particular order) for the state legislature to consider as part of a sales pitch to the public.
I can’t believe I’m in my early 40s and we’re still talking about this. For decades, Alabama Highway 261, which extends from Valleydale Road in North Shelby County to the heart of Helena, one of Birmingham’s fastest-growing suburbs, is still a heavily traveled two-lane road.
Back-ups are a commonplace heading in and out of Helena at rush hour. Allegedly, ALDOT is finally working to change that, but I’ll believe it when I see it.
Perhaps improvements to AL 261 could work in tandem with four-laning Morgan Road heading northwest from Helena to I-459, or Shelby County Road 17 heading south to Montevallo.
9. Four-lane AL 53 from Ardmore to Huntsville
For whatever reason when they initially laid out the Interstate Highway System, they put I-65 20 miles to the west of downtown Huntsville. And for decades, this has been one of the Rocket City’s biggest obstacles. For those headed south on I-65, there is I-565.
However, for those headed north to Tennessee and beyond, or coming south to Huntsville, there is Alabama Highway 53, a two-lane road that transitions to Tennessee State Highway 7 in Ardmore, a municipality that straddles the Tennessee-Alabama state line.
Coming from Nashville on I-65, the exit is signed for Ardmore and Huntsville. But depending on the time of day, the day of the week, you might be better off continuing south to US Highway 72 or I-565.
8. Improvements to AL186/U.S. 80 from I-85/Wire Road exit to Phenix City
Once upon a time, U.S. Highway 80 was a significant national east-west thoroughfare. Some of it still is, but the Interstate Highway System has made much of it a backroad. If you’ve traveled east from Tuskegee toward Phenix City, you might have seen some of the remnants of U.S. 80’s hay day, where it splits with U.S. Highway 29.
This portion of U.S. 80 remains useful because it connects Phenix City to Montgomery, and, by extension, Columbus, Ga.
Someday, this could be a part of the proposed Interstate 14, a thoroughfare that could pass through the heart of Alabama, running parallel to U.S. 80 from York to Selma to Montgomery to Phenix City/Columbus, and beyond to Macon, Ga.
7. Four-laning U.S. 84 Andalusia to Mississippi line
U.S. Highway 84 in Alabama has been one of the curiosities of the U.S. Highway System. Old Alabama roadmaps show that it has evolved over the past 90 years.
From time to time, portions have been four-laned from the Georgia-Alabama line to headed west. Bypasses for Enterprise, Elba and Opp have been added over the years. But for whatever reason, the progress has stalled west of Andalusia to Mississippi. Once it crosses the Alabama-Mississippi state line, it continues as a four-lane road through Laurel and Brookhaven all the way to Natchez.
Four-laning the road would once and for all connect Monroeville to the outside world by a four-lane highway. Monroe County’s isolation by automobile has been a chronic complaint since the turn of the century.
It would also connect Choctaw County to the rest of Alabama, which functions more as part of Mississippi these days given its proximity to Meridian.
Throughout its history, Dothan has been somewhat fortunate with its highways. There are five different four-laned routes in all directions, like spokes on a wheel, from Ross Clark Circle, the road that functions as a beltway for Dothan.
When U.S. 231 was four-laned as part of the Florida Short Route in the middle part of the last century, there was something of a boom that extended from Dothan into Florida – roadside produce stands, barbecue joints, tourist attractions. Some of that still exists, but now there are also fireworks stands, lottery ticket terminals and bingo, depending on which side of the state line you are on.
There is a history of that stretch being something of a gateway to Florida for much of the country, and it would be appropriate for some sort of controlled-access spur connecting Interstate 10 to Dothan.
Obviously, this would require cooperation from the state of Florida. People in Houston County seem to want to be connected to the Interstate Highway System, and this might be their best bet.
5. US 278 improvements Cullman-Gadsden-Georgia State line
One of the many roads heading west from Atlanta into Alabama is U.S. Highway 278. Initially, U.S. 278 was probably intended to serve as an alternate route to U.S. 78, which passes through Anniston, Birmingham and Jasper, before it reconnects with U.S. 278 in Hamilton.
Given easy connectivity to Atlanta is a premium for communities in Alabama, four-laning U.S 278 from the Georgia line to Cullman would better the economic prospects for Cherokee and Etowah Counties. Beyond Attalla into Blount and Cullman Counties, the potential four-lane route would be useful as the Birmingham metropolitan area expands northward.
4. U.S. 331 four-laned from Montgomery to Florida state line
If you’re going to anywhere along 30A in Florida from central and northern Alabama, you’ve used U.S. Highway 331 and traveled through Luverne, Brantley, perhaps Opp and DeFuniak Springs, Fla. Likewise, if you’ve had to evacuate from 30A anywhere north because of the threat from a hurricane, you’ve probably made the reverse journey.
This route is for both tourist and public safety reasons. It also might lend a boost to the local economies along U.S. 331, which are victims of the globalization trend that began in the 1990s.
3. North-south thoroughfare improvements on Baldwin County’s Eastern Shore
One of Alabama’s least-known traffic nightmares is any of the north-south routes along the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay. On paper, Fairhope is within a stone’s throw of Mobile. But if you’re making that commute up U.S. Highway 98 to Interstate 10 and across the bay, you best allow for an hour of driving time.
There are several ideas on the table to make this better and improvements to I-10 across Mobile Bay from Spanish Fort will undoubtedly help that commute. A new bridge across the bay may also encourage more development in that part of Baldwin County, which will make getting to I-10 that much harder.
2. Four-lane connecting Huntsville to Georgia state line Atlanta-bound
Now that Huntsville is officially one of the “big kids” of Alabama cities, it is odd that there is not a good way to get from there to Atlanta. Put Huntsville to Atlanta in your GPS, and it’s going to suggest taking some backroads.
Huntsville is in a geographical predicament. Natural barriers like the Tennessee River and Sand Mountain prevent a bulldozer from making a straight line between the two cities.
If they started tomorrow, a project like this would take decades to complete. The thing is, they’ve already been talking about it for decades.
1. North-south freeway, parallel to U.S. 43 from Mobile to I-20/59, and beyond up through NW Alabama to the Shoals
There aren’t shortages of east-west routes in Alabama, but there does seem to be a shortage of north-south routes. Consider the path Interstate 65 takes from Mobile to Birmingham. It isn’t a straight line because it takes a humongous northeastern direction so that it passes through Montgomery. Then it heads slightly northwest from Montgomery to Birmingham.
If you draw a straight line from Mobile to Birmingham, the closest you get to downtown Montgomery is 70 miles. Yet, when they laid out the route for U.S. Highway 31, which was the basis for I-65, it passed through Montgomery.
A new north-south route through western Alabama would fix that. If it followed U.S. Highway 43 from Mobile to the Shoals, it could shave time off the journey for those making the trip between two of Alabama’s major cities.
Also, GPS systems sometimes suggest an excursion through Mississippi down U.S. Highway 45 to get to points within the state of Alabama. Yes, to get from Tuscaloosa to Citronelle, the fast way is through Meridian, Miss. and down a four-lane U.S. 45.
The idea of a north-south route through the Black Belt and up through the hill country of northwestern Alabama isn’t a new one. It’s been talked about for decades.
It’s time to show the western half of the state that is north of Mobile and south of Tuscumbia a little love. Granted, aside from Tuscaloosa, there isn’t a whole lot there. However, if we’re going to dump endless sums of money into trying to alleviate poverty in the Black Belt, consider infrastructure, which would be improved access to the rest of the state.
North of Tuscaloosa – ask yourself, when was the last time you were in Lamar County? How about Fayette County? For most, it has probably been a while, if ever. Yet, places like Vernon and Fayette survive as outposts on the Alabama frontier. That seems odd in 2019.
The Tenn-Tomm Waterway, a project which had billions of federal dollars pumped into it over the last half of last century, hasn’t been the expected panacea for West Alabama. Perhaps combined with a controlled-access north-south freeway, that could change and make the areas around Tombigbee River more lucrative for companies looking to build manufacturing facilities.
It is a part of Alabama that sure could use the help.
Please DO NOT shoot guns within Birmingham City limits. All shooting is to be directed towards and in the city of Hoover! #HappyNewYear
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns a bullet fired into the air from celebratory gunfire can return to the ground at speeds exceeding 200 feet per second, “a sufficient force to penetrate the human skull and cause serious injury or death.”
Review: Sorkin’s Broadway adaptation of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ doesn’t betray Harper Lee’s novel, definitely worth seeing
NEW YORK – Many feared for the worst when news broke earlier this year that an Aaron Sorkin stage adaptation of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” would be opening on Broadway.
In this highly polarized political environment, I shared a suspicion that the Coastal elites behind this production would use Lee’s classic novel to perversely attack President Donald Trump or advance the latest hot-button left-wing cause du jour.
Yet, the temptation to go and find out what form this might take, however, was too much for the Alabamaphile in me to pass up.
So, ticket in hand, I set one rule for myself. Given my political leanings and general disgust for liberal virtue-signaling, I avoided reading the reviews from the professional Broadway watchers and media types.
Why is this presentation of Harper Lee’s signature work important? Obviously, there is the “To Kill a Mockingbird” cult following. More importantly, the novel and its companion “Go Set a Watchman” are important historical documents for the State of Alabama. Lee’s works are, to date, the best offering of life in rural 1930s and 1940s Alabama.
How would entertainment industry heavyweights like screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, producer Scott Rudin and lead actor Jeff Daniels disseminate that history to the tens of thousands who will see this production?
According to the Los Angeles Times’ Nardine Saad, Sorkin’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” has already grossed a record of nearly $1.6 million after its first full week and has an advance of more than $22 million in ticket sales.
Getting to this point wasn’t that easy for Sorkin and producer Scott Rudin. Back in March, Harper Lee’s estate sued Rudin. Lee estate attorney Tonja Carter raised concerns that the script deviated too much from the novel, and thus was in violation of an original agreement to put the story on Broadway.
In the end, the two sides quietly settled their dispute and nine months later, “To Kill a Mockingbird” opened at the Sam S. Shubert Theatre on West 44th Street in midtown Manhattan.
The 7 p.m. day-after-Christmas showing at the theater was a full-house affair, as are most of the shows from now until April. The show isn’t the usual out-of-town fare for tourists you might see at the nearby theaters showing “Frozen” or “Phantom of the Opera.”
The idea of “To Kill a Mockingbird” on Broadway for some may conjure a notion of a musical. Rest assured, Scout and Jem are not singing show tunes in this adaptation.
For the most part, the intellectual integrity of Lee’s novel remains intact. To fully appreciate this show, one would have to be familiar with the “To Kill a Mockingbird” story, which on its own is complex. Sorkin’s version is not chronological, and it isn’t entirely told from the viewpoint of protagonist Scout Finch, the narrator in Lee’s novel.
Sorkin takes his liberties with some of the characters. Calpurnia, the Finch family housekeeper, played by actress LaTanya Richardson Jackson, is much more of an outspoken critic of the racially divided society in Maycomb, Alabama, the setting for the story.
Dill, played by actor Gideon Glick, takes a slightly different form from the character portrayed in the novel and in the 1962 “To Kill a Mockingbird” film. He is more of an older version of Truman Capote than the childhood friend who is believed to be Lee’s basis for the character of Dill.
The hero of the tale Atticus Finch is played by Jeff Daniels, who has reinvented himself as more than just the guy from “Dumb and Dumber” over the last decade. At times, it is a struggle to watch Daniels, who hails from Michigan, pull off a southern accent. Otherwise, his portrayal of Atticus Finch, very much different from Gregory Peck in the 1962 film, works for this setting.
It’s a respectable and professionally done production, as one should expect for any major Broadway show.
As for going out of the way to make a grand proclamation about current affairs, Sorkin does not do that. Antagonist Bob Ewell doesn’t put on a “Make America Great Again” ballcap or anything like that.
Sorkin, however, does make Bob Ewell, played by Frederick Weller, a more hateworthy figure, this time as anti-Semitic, in addition to being drunk and racist.
Other than these few wrinkles, Sorkin is true to Lee’s original story in the “To Kill a Mockingbird” novel. It has comedic elements, but they’re not over the top and don’t detract from the seriousness of the story.
However, one can’t help but wonder if Sorkin was using the end of the play to lay out a different path for Atticus Finch than what was in Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman,” which for some of the theatergoers tainted Harper Lee’s legacy.
If you are planning a trip to New York City and were on the fence about seeing it, it’s worth seeing. It is sure to be more thought-provoking than the bulk of the Disney-ified offerings currently showing on Broadway.
It is not an indictment of modern-day Alabama, nor of conservatives or who conservatives elect. Given American pop culture in 2018, that’s saying something.
On a side note:
As with any of these Broadway spectacles, there are “To Kill a Mockingbird” souvenirs available for purchase at the theater, but this list comes with one curiosity.
In addition to “a portion” of the proceeds from the sales going to the Monroe County Public Library in Monroeville, “Trayvon Martin” and the Montgomery-based Southern Poverty Law Center also receive a share.
Reckon’s Yurkanin: Trump, Sessions immigration policy ‘on par’ with efforts to block Jews, Japanese internment during WWII
In the recently released third installment of AL(dot)com-offshoot Reckon’s “Recused, the untold story of Jeff Sessions,” narrator Amy Yurkanin attempted to trace the origins of Sessions’ hawkish position on illegal immigration.
Throughout her presentation, Yurkanin refers to the Trump administration’s policy of following immigration law that requires in some cases the separation of families if that family so chooses to break the law and enter the country illegally.
The policy supported by both President Donald Trump and Sessions, during his time as attorney general, was said to be “on par” with efforts to block Jews and Eastern Europeans and Japanese internment during World War II by opponents of the policy, according to Yurkanin.
“According to Trump and Sessions, the policy was supposed to keep people from crossing the border,” Yurkanin said. “In less than a decade, the nation switched from a GOP president in favor of amnesty to a Republican administration dedicated to clamping down on immigration. To the folks who have opposed the policy, family separation stands on par with legal efforts to block Jews and Eastern Europeans from entering the country, and alongside Japanese internment during World War II, which have been recognized as blights on American history.”
State Sen Allen: Lottery a ‘regressive tax against the poor,’ ‘Going to cost you as a taxpayer’
As next year’s legislative session approaches, speculation has ramped up about the possibility of a lottery in Alabama could become a reality.
Governor Kay Ivey and many lawmakers have offered tepid support for giving their constituents the opportunity to at least vote on a lottery referendum. Others have given their full-fledged support for the lottery, noting that Alabama is one of the last remaining holdouts in the country on a lottery.
State Sen. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa), however, is not backing away from his opposition to the lottery. In an appearance on “The Dale Jackson Show” on Friday, Allen warned a lottery could hurt the poor and was skeptical of its advertised benefits.
“The lottery is a regressive tax against the poor,” Allen said. “And you can look at these other states and see – like Arkansas – the state of Arkansas recently they had to go into their general fund to write a check to their lottery fund, OK? Once you get into that game of asking the men and women of a state to play a game of chance – I just don’t think it is a way to fund government because what’s next? That’s the problem.”
“There’s other men and women who work hard every day, every week, every month and they go in, spend every dime they got, and they have children,” he continued. “Then you’re going to have a social issue. You got DHR. You got families without food. You got families that can’t make payroll as writing checks for all the utilities, taking care of the food on the table for the children. You got some other issues involved.”
The Tuscaloosa Republican went on to reiterate his claim that a lottery would cost taxpayers in the long-run.
“The bottom line is it’s going to be a costly arrangement for the state in the long run,” he added. “At the end of the day, it’s going to cost you as a taxpayer.”
Merrill: Facebook offered ‘no support’ at time of 2017 special election ‘secret experiment’
Earlier this week, a New York Times report detailed a so-called “secret experiment” conducted by “Democratic tech experts” that was carried out on social media to interfere with the 2017 U.S. Senate special election in Alabama.
In an interview with WVNN’s “The Dale Jackson Show” on Friday, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill discussed the report and how this “experiment” and others like it fell under the purview of his office.
Merrill indicated his office was aware of this long before The New York Times story and said early on Twitter was responsive to his concerns during the 2017 contest. However, he said dealing with Facebook was a different matter.
“One of the things that we did is we made sure that it was part of our responsibility because it is influencing elections,” Merrill said. “And we wanted to make sure we were investigating it as thoroughly as we possibly could to ensure that anybody that was participating was following the law and that they were also doing so as far as promotion of their candidate in a way that would not be breaking the law or attempting to influence it in a negative way.”
“We have to remember this took place well more than a year ago,” he added. “And well more than a year ago is when we brought it to the attention of people at Facebook and Twitter when it was going on. And we told them then we needed some help, and we needed some assistance. We wanted to resolve the issue then. Twitter was very receptive, and they helped us. Facebook, not so much. As a matter of fact, Facebook was of little or no value to us in that process.”
The secretary of state went on to explain how he confronted Facebook representatives at a conference in Washington, D.C. earlier this year about the alleged interference.
“I went to a meeting in Washington in February of last year, and they were making a presentation to the conference I was attending talking about how they had been helpful to us specifically in the 2017 general election for the U.S. Senate,” he added. “And I listened to it for a little bit.”
He continued, “Then I got up, and I said, ‘Friends, look I don’t mean to be disingenuous, and I certainly don’t mean to be calling you out here in front of all these folks. But you tell me what you did to help, and we’ll both know. We can’t find any evidence of any support you gave us. And yet, we have issued in repeated attempts to Facebook to encourage you to look into this and to give us some support, which you have declined to do. And the bigger problem with this is on December 12, 2017, we were the only game in town. There was not another national election going on and the entire national media had a presence here for the last five weeks of the campaign. The fact that you had all the resources available to you, you had no other distractions to keep you from helping us, and yet you offered no support. It was not a benefit to us, the people of the state of Alabama or the nation as a whole.’”
Merrill said following that interaction, he flew to Washington, D.C. and met with members of Facebook’s government affairs arm and talked with them about how they could have helped.
Watch: Mobile’s FOX 10’s Bob Grip signs off for retirement after 35 years as anchor
Thursday night, long-time WALA FOX 10 news anchor Bob Grip signed off for the last time as he is retiring after a 35-year career on television in Mobile.
Over the years, Grip had become a well-known entity and a household name in southwest Alabama.
He is perhaps known to folks in Alabama outside of the Mobile-Pensacola, Fla. television market for his statewide and local election night coverage on social media, a medium that Grip had come to master.
Thank you for watching tonight. While I’m retiring from Channel 10, this isn’t the closing of a book. It’s the beginning of a new, still-to-be-written chapter. All of you watching have been through hurricanes, elections and more during our times together, and I hope that I’ve been some service to you because that’s why I got into this wonderful business and that’s to help people.
I never wanted to entertain you, though we have had some fun along the way. I did want to inform you about things that would impact all of our lives and to that extent, I hope I’ve been successful. Coming to you every night is a team effort and putting together a live broadcast is not an easy thing to do.
After decades in this business, the list of people who worked in front of the camera and behind it, is a mile long. And I want to thank everyone who has made our newscast possible and will continue to maintain its success whether on-air or online, especially our general manager Gary Yoder and news director Scott Flannigan who are here in this studio tonight who have made this last year an easy one for me.
But I especially want to thank all of you at home for watching for all these years and, by doing so, allowing me to raise my family from kindergarten through high school and beyond without having to uproot them. I’m glad you adopted this Connecticut Yankee and made him feel welcome. So, until we meet again, good night.
Jones calls for FEC, DoJ investigation after NY Times ‘secret experiment’ report — ‘Hell, I’m as outraged as everybody else about it’
Thursday during a conference call with reporters, Sen. Doug Jones (D-Mountain Brook) reacted to a report from the New York Times published late Wednesday detailing a so-called “secret experiment” conducted by “Democratic tech experts” and carried out on social media to interfere with the 2017 U.S. Senate special election in Alabama.
Jones expressed that he was “outraged” and called for the Federal Elections Commission and the Department of Justice to investigate the allegations and prosecute if necessary.
“Hell, I’m as outraged as everybody else about it,” Jones said. “I have railed against Russian interference in our election process ever since I started campaigning and during this first year in the Senate. I think we have all focused too much on just the Russians and not picked up on the fact that you know what? Some nefarious groups, whether they’re right or left can take those same playbooks and interfere with the electors for their own damn benefit. I got to tell you, I’m not happy about it.”
“I don’t think it had any effect on the campaign,” he continued. “In fact, I think the article said it was so small, it was only an experiment. I will tell you this: I think the FEC, the Federal Elections Commission, and the Department of Justice ought to take a close look at this and whether or not any criminal laws were violated, and if so, prosecute them. We have to nip this in the bud. We should not allow to happen or encourage any group regardless of who they are and may be well intentioned do the kind of things that illegally interfere with the election process. That is my position. I feel very strong about it.”
A South Alabama ‘Renaissance’ – How Andalusia is getting its groove back
Small towns are scattered throughout South Alabama. To many, they are just blurs or brief stopping points during trips to Florida’s Gulf Coast beaches.
They come in different sizes and have funny names like Florala, Elba, Samson, Slocomb, McKenzie, Enterprise, Opp, Hartford and Brewton. They are not unlike any of Alabama’s numerous other small towns. Like many, bypass routes have been built to route traffic around their business districts. Some, like Castleberry, are notorious speed traps and have been for the last several decades.
There is one that seems a little different than the rest – the city of Andalusia.
People in nearby towns describe it as “aristocratic.” And they may be right. At first glance, it seems like a place with a little swagger to it – historic buildings that have been or are in the process of being refurbished, new schools with athletic facilities that outshine its nearby rivals and a lively downtown that doesn’t turn into a ghost town after 5 p.m.
From his office in a city hall, a structure built in 1914, renovated in 2004 and since retrofitted with modern bells and whistles one might expect for a small-to-mid-size company, Andalusia Mayor Earl Johnson acknowledged the reputation.
“Andalusia has always been seen to be a forward-moving progressive town,” Johnson said in a sit-down interview with Yellowhammer News. “There’s something about the name ‘Andalusia’ that’s sort of sexy, cool.”
A week earlier, the nearby South Alabama Regional Airport announced the new tenet Dyncorp was “immediately” bringing 45 news jobs to maintain and repair the TH-57 Naval helicopters.
Those announcements suggest a trend is underway in the south-central Alabama city of nearly 9,000 residents.
Upon one’s first visit to Andalusia, you can’t help but notice many of the city’s historic structures. Over the years, many of those buildings fell into disrepair and began to show their age.
Rather than tear them down and turn a blind eye to Andalusia’s heritage, Johnson saw the opportunity to preserve some of those structures, and in some cases at a bargain for the local taxpayers.
“This revitalization – I call it Andalusia’s renaissance,” Johnson explained. “We have been working on [it] for 20 years now – Andalusia has been getting in place to see a Renaissance of its old self coming into place, and we’re dead in it right now. We’re on top of it.”
One of the first steps of this “Renaissance” was the city hall, a structure built in 1914 and was formerly the Three Notch School. It was renovated in 2004 by the city for $3.5 million – arguably much cheaper than what it might have been if the city had started from scratch in its quest for a new city hall.
In that same spirit of revitalizing old school properties, Johnson’s administration took what was known as the Church Street School, a building built in 1923, and renovate it to become the Church Street Cultural Arts Center, home to the Andalusia Ballet.
Like many of the small towns throughout the South, the heart of Andalusia is the town square. It is bordered by the Covington County Courthouse to the north and various shops and office buildings on its other three sides.
The city’s most memorable and iconic structure is the First National Bank Building, also referred to as the Timmerman Building, at the southeastern corner of the city’s square.
The six-story high-rise building was built in 1920 and has had a mixed history of occupancy in its nearly 100 years of existence. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. The city acquired the building in early 2017 for $260,000 plus $1,500 in closing costs.
Johnson explained how the city acquired the building from its previous owner in California and got half the purchase price donated from a charitable foundation.
“I knew the guy owed some money on it, and I knew the note was coming due at a certain time,” he explained. “I said if we were going to be able to get this, now was going to be the time. I started quietly negotiating about buying the building from him.”
Currently, the building’s ground floor is occupied by Wiregrass-based Milky Moos Homemade Ice Cream, a deal the city inked earlier this year. Johnson said he foresaw the remaining levels to be a mix of commercial and residential.
Another building featured in the city’s downtown portfolio, and one that about which Johnson speaks very enthusiastically is its historic theater. A lawyer by trade, Johnson was able to use his knowledge of the tax code to engineer a deal for the city’s acquisition of the theater through a donation of the property.
Under the previous owner, the theater building was deteriorating. However, once taking ownership of the building, the City of Andalusia put $1.4 million toward renovation, to make way for Clark Theaters and is now equipped with all the modern amenities one might expect for a movie-going experience.
Johnson isn’t shy about his city’s role in creating venues for private enterprise. He pledged his support for free enterprise but argued in some cases government has a role in improving the quality of life and opportunity for its constituents.
“I believe in the free market,” Johnson explained. “I believe in capitalism. I believe in the free-market system. But some people worship it. They think it has all the answers to all problems. No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t always fix everything. Any manmade system is not perfect, and small rural towns – sometimes it doesn’t work. You’ve got to do something else to make it work. And the things that I’m talking to you and told you about are perfect examples.”
Among the other properties that have undergone rehabilitation were former Andalusia Mayor John G. Sherf’s Springdale Estate, the old AlaTex headquarters, now the home of the Andalusia Area Chamber of Commerce, and the former downtown Andala Building, which is adjacent to the First National Bank Building and is the home of Big Mike’s, an upscale steakhouse.
Evolution from agrarian to industrial and overcoming globalization
Like many of the small towns of the region, post-Civil War Andalusia relied mostly on agriculture and timber to fuel its local economy. That would change after the turn of the century.
In South Alabama, cotton was plentiful, and labor was relatively cheaper than the national average and free from any entanglements of labor unions. Disruptions in domestic labor markets and that proximity to cotton enticed textile manufacturers to move their operations to the South.
Eventually, throughout South Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, many of the local economies of the 20th century were reliant upon the success of American textiles.
Andalusia was no exception. In 1924, John G. Scherf, a German immigrant with a background in the textile industry assumed control of the local Chamber of Commerce and co-founded Andala Co., and later Alatex. Scherf would later become Andalusia’s mayor.
Those two companies manufactured products and distributed them throughout the world, including men’s dress shirts, shorts and underwear. Those products included garments for household brands like Arrow and Van Heusen.
The 1990s brought globalization, a trend that was aided by the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). With that, a lot of the textile production operations that existed in Alabama for generations moved to Latin America and the Far East.
Andalusia was also no exception to this trend, and in the mid-1990s, it lost its textile industry.
“When Alatex closed its doors, it was a huge negative economic impact to this area,” Johnson said. “And not just Andalusia. Alatex had plants in Luverne, Troy, Crestview (Fla.), Enterprise and Panama City (Fla.). And one time, they had a big warehouse operation up in Montgomery. It was a regional player as far as employment was concerned.”
“When they finally shut the doors and locked the gate, that was a bad day,” Johnson added.
Throughout the 20th century, many localities in the region were discouraged from recruiting other industries to diversify their economy. The fear was that new industry might create a competitive market for labor and force an increase in wages.
But when textiles left, some municipalities were caught flat-footed and scrambling for answers on how to fill that void.
“Basically, what I saw was people – all they wanted to do was cuss NAFTA,” Johnson said. “’If it wasn’t for NAFTA, if it wasn’t for NAFTA.’ Well you know, we can’t change that.”
From that point forward, Johnson said he saw the need for Andalusia to diversify its economy. At the time, Johnson was practicing law and serving on the board of the local airport authority. The desire to see his hometown expand its economy catapulted him into politics and eventually mayor.
Hometown utilities give workforce, economic advantages
In the 1930s during President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, the Rural Electrification Act (REA) was passed into law. At the time, electricity in Andalusia was sparse, and only a few places had it, which was just enough to power some lights. Under REA, the Alabama Electric Co-op (AEC) came into existence and was headquartered in Andalusia given its proximity to the Conecuh River, which could be dammed to generate hydroelectricity.
AEC generated and sold the electricity to municipal and county electric cooperatives and eventually became PowerSouth and is still headquartered in Andalusia today.
Later came the Southeast Alabama Gas District, also headquartered in Andalusia.
According to Johnson, all those were ingredients in setting the city of Andalusia apart from some of its neighbors.
“Though we were primarily agriculture, timber and textiles, we had these other things going for us that a lot of cities didn’t have,” he explained.
Johnson maintains there are more engineers in his city per capita than anywhere else in the state and that the raw number is tops anywhere outside of Alabama’s major metropolitan areas.
A unique set of problems
As much of rural Alabama struggles with maintaining quality education and health care offerings, this seems to be the least of Andalusia’s challenges.
Mayor Johnson contended his city’s public-school system is the best south of Auburn. He also pointed out there are no private schools in the entire county, which suggests residents are satisfied with the public schools.
While many places in rural Alabama struggle to keep their hospitals open and functioning, his city’s hospital Andalusia Health isn’t facing those struggles.
Instead, Johnson said Andalusia’s areas of concern are retail and housing.
On the retail front, Johnson is seeking suitors to fill the void left behind by the now mostly vacant Covington Mall. With the nearest major shopping centers in Montgomery, Dothan and Destin, Fla., Johnson insists Andalusia is a prime opportunity for a prospective retailer.
“People who are interested in the retail business, I would show them are market studies that show we have 150,000 people in our retail market,” Johnson said. “Then I would take them and introduce them to about four or five retailers we have brought to Andalusia in recent years and ask that person to talk to this prospect and tell them what working with the City of Andalusia is like. And I will guarantee you they will tell you it’s the best experience they ever had working with a government. Andalusia is the best experience they ever had as far as getting things done, business taken care of, and cutting the expense and costs of getting their business in business as quickly as possible.”
“The market we have and the reputation and experience we have understanding their problems and making their job easier,” he added.
Housing in the City of Andalusia is relatively affordable. With a median home price of $125,000, Andalusia is slightly lower than the state’s median price at $129,000. However, there is a lack of apartment housing in the city.
“Our other big challenge is housing, apartments – and we’re working real hard on that,” the Andalusia mayor said.
Johnson said he anticipates that problem to be self-correcting.
“More housing in the way of upper-level apartments and also single-family dwellings,” he said. “All that’s starting to show up now, and that’s coming.”
Given the city’s unique location, an hour and a half drive from Montgomery, Dothan and the Florida coastline and two hours from Mobile, Johnson has a wish list of road and highway projects but knows his city isn’t a priority.
Currently, the city is connected to Interstate 65 by four-laned Alabama Highway 55 headed north and to Dothan by a four-lane U.S. Highway 84 headed east. Ideally, Johnson says he would like to see U.S. Highway 331, which passes through nearby Opp, four-laned to the beach and U.S. Highway 84 four-laned westbound to the Alabama-Mississippi state line.
However, the most significant transportation asset for the city may not be its highway connectivity, but instead, it’s an airport.
Johnson, who launched his career in politics from his position on the board of the local airport, touts the South Alabama Regional Airport as one of the many jewels in his city’s crown.
The airport touts a 6,000-foot by 100-foot instrument equipped runway and can support most types of military and general aviation aircraft.
Johnson tells of the airport’s evolution from his early involvement to now — which includes 50 hangars, two of which are large enough to house the military’s C-130s and are now a center of operations contractor Yulista.
The airport also has a unique capability that allows for hot refueling of military aircraft, including airplanes and helicopters. Aircraft can refuel at Andalusia’s airport without having to shut down, and therefore avoid wear and tear on engines.
Johnson notes the airport’s proximity to Ft. Rucker to the east and Eglin Air Force Base and Pensacola Naval Air Station to the south, which makes it a favorite refueling spot.
The closing argument: Come to Andalusia for quality of life, lower cost of living
After spending more than four hours with Mayor Johnson, I asked him to offer a closing argument to those who might consider Andalusia as a location for a home or a business.
His answer: quality of life for a bargain.
“Our quality of life in Andalusia – I don’t think you can beat it, and here’s the reason why: We have a lot of things in Andalusia you won’t find necessarily in the Birminghams of the world,” he said. “We have schools that are among the top schools in the state. To get that in Montgomery, you’re going to have to pay about $15,000 a year in tuition to somebody per child. Health care, top-notch. No, we don’t have a university hospital here. We don’t have many of the specialists, but you’re still within just a short drive of that.”
Johnson plugged his city’s “active faith community” and its people as another aspect of his closing argument.
“I know people say every you go ‘we got great people,’ but we really do,” he continued. “And as far as looking for something to do, if you want to be involved, you can get involved to the level you want to be involved and make a difference in the community in a town like this.”
All this comes, he adds, at a much lower cost than Alabama’s bigger cities.
“You can live in Andalusia at a level that would cost you probably 30-to-40 percent more in one of the metro areas,” Johnson added.