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.

2 weeks ago

The vice president: More important in 2020 than ever before

(Kamala Harris, Mike Pence/Facebook, YHN)

Daniel Tompkins. George Dallas. Schuler Colfax. Garret Hobart. John Garner.

Do any of these names ring a bell?

If they don’t, it’s OK, you are not alone.

All of these men at some point in time served in America’s second-highest office as Vice President of the United States. They, like most vice presidents, were mostly under the radar during their term of service and faded into the tapestry of history once they left office.

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Very few vice presidents played a significant role in American politics either while in office or afterward. In many respects, the vice presidency is treated as an afterthought. Sure, technically, the VP is the president of the Senate, but in practice, that means very little unless there is a tie on a Senate vote, a rarity in and of itself.

Famed American statesman Daniel Webster once commented on whether he would consider taking the office of the vice president by saying “I do not propose to be buried until I am dead.” Webster, like many politicians throughout our nation’s history, held the view that being vice president was a waste of time and pointless.

Indeed, both Al Gore and Joe Biden, two of the most recent vice presidents, both made negative comments about the office before agreeing to take on the role themselves.

Many people suggest that the vice president has one duty: to wait around unless and until he or she might be called upon to ascend to the presidency. Since 1789, 48 individuals have served as vice president; only nine of them became president due to the death or resignation of their predecessor.

In many respects, the vice presidency exists only for the purpose of ensuring a continuity of government when a president unexpectedly dies or leaves office. To be fair, that has not always been the case with the most recent example of a very active vice president being Dick Chaney under George W. Bush.

Despite the history of ignoring the office, during this election cycle, the American people should pay more attention to the candidates for vice president than they ever have before.

Regardless of the outcome, whoever is sworn in as president next year will be the oldest person to ever take the oath of office. At the time of the inauguration, President Donald Trump will be 74 and former Vice President Biden will be 78. Though, in today’s world, many people live very productive and active lives well into their 70s, 80s, and even beyond, having a president nearing 80 years of age should cause all of us to give more consideration as to who the second in command is than we usually would.

According to an August 2020 poll by Rasmussen, 59% of likely voters don’t think Mr. Biden will serve out the entirety of his four-year term if he is elected president next month. In fact, 39% think it is “very likely” that Senator Kamala Harris, Biden’s running mate, will succeed him at some point during the next four years.

Most Americans expect a presidential succession during the next term, especially if Mr. Biden is elected.

Did you know that if Mr. Biden were to leave office after the half-way point of his term that Ms. Harris would be eligible to be elected to two additional terms? (See the 22nd Amendment.) Depending on the timing, it is very possible that Ms. Harris could serve as president for as long as 10 years.

That should give us all pause.

And, it is not just Ms. Harris we should be thinking about, but Vice President Mike Pence as well. With the president’s age and his recent COVID-19 diagnosis, we should give attention to Mr. Pence, too.

All of this goes to say that this year’s candidates for vice president must be factored into our consideration as to which presidential candidate to vote for more than ever before.

It is often said that the vice president is just one heartbeat away from the presidency. Though that adage is true in a sense, it has rarely played out that way. But, in relation to this year’s presidential election, the maxim is perhaps more poignant than ever.

If I had to make a top-five list of my most admired presidents, I would be willing to bet that one of the names on that list you won’t even recognize: Chester A. Arthur. President Arthur, unexpectedly, and as a result of legitimate old-school backroom political bargaining, was selected to be vice president under President James A. Garfield in 1881.

No one expected Arthur to do anything, he was just a placeholder; all that changed though when Garfield was assassinated.

Unexpectedly, Arthur, history tells us, rose to the occasion and honorably served the nation with many lauding him for his efforts when he left office. It is from Arthur that we get the idea that “men may die, but the fabric of free institutions remains unshaken.”

In Arthur’s ascension to the presidency, the nation lucked out.

This year, we can’t count on luck.

It is up to us to judge not only the candidates for president but also their running mates.

When you vote, remember you may be picking two presidents, not just one.

Joshua Pendergrass is Chief Communications Officer for the Alabama Policy Insitute. He previously served as communications director for Governor Kay Ivey and is also a licensed attorney. Follow him on Twitter at @jpendergrass_al.

1 month ago

Critics say Trump has no coronavirus plan. Actually, he does – it’s called federalism.

(White House/Flickr, YHN)

Near the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, critics of President Donald Trump’s response to the novel virus claimed that he didn’t have a plan.

They’ve derided him for not having a “national response” and have called for a nationwide lockdown and mask order.

Critics pressed the president to use the power of the federal government to issue pervasive dictates covering most aspects of life.

These critics say the president’s failure to implement ironfisted control across the nation means there was/is no plan to fight the virus.

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I, and our nation’s founding fathers, disagree.

Candidate Trump vowed to lead the nation using conservative principles. He committed to appointing conservative jurists, to protect the unborn and undo government regulations. He said he would oversee a limited federal government as opposed to an expansive government.

I know this may be a shocker, but the president actually kept his word. He promised to lead the nation as a conservative and, for the most part, has done that.

It’s rare for a politician to implement the ideas campaigned on. Many officials allow their policies and values to be moved by the winds of public opinion. Indeed, it is an uncommon creature who actually governs as promised.

To be sure, Trump is no ideologue.

Many of the positions he holds are opposite those he held prior to his campaign. But friends and foes alike should recognize that, since his win, he has remained fairly consistent in his precepts, including federalism.

I am honestly heartbroken and worried for our nation as what I suggest below will be considered by many as novel.

So, buckle up, here’s the truth.

From the outset, our founding fathers sought to reserve for the states as much power as possible. They had just fought the British King because of his lack of respect for local control over situations in the Colonies which he didn’t understand. Our forefathers had little intention to allow the new American government to become a centralized behemoth of raw, uncontrollable power. To prevent this from happening, they implemented federalism.

Federalists believe state governments are closer to the people and thus have a better understanding of local needs than does the national government. Our founders believed this, too. The Constitution requires that all powers not given to the federal government or “prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

That’s federalism.

Conservatives generally support federalism’s tenant that state government powers should not be usurped by the federal government. Modern American conservatism’s greatest icon, President Ronald Reagan, described his 1981 economic plan as “returning power to the states and communities” through budget cuts and changes in priorities.

That’s federalism.

The Constitution limits the federal government to acting only in certain situations (via delegated, implied, or inherent powers). That’s the extent of federal power – do no less than what the Constitution says to do and do no more than what it says or (in some cases) what it implies.

That’s federalism.

If the Constitution does not empower the federal government to act in a given situation, the right to address the issue at hand belongs to the government of each state.

That’s federalism.

It really is that simple and is central to our system of government.

Now, let’s apply federalism to President Trump’s handling of COVID-19.

On an April 16, 2020 conference call with the nation’s governors, President Trump told state leaders he expected them to “call [their] own shots.” The president invoked federalism, intentionally or not, saying “every state is different … they are very, very different. If they need to remain closed, we will allow them to do that. And if they believe it’s time to reopen, we will provide them the freedom and guidance to accomplish that task…”

That’s federalism.

Indeed, in a press briefing, the White House later underscored the use of federalism.

Admittedly, the embrace of federalism was a reversal of Mr. Trump’s previous stance. Regardless of how he got there, though, letting the states manage the bulk of the coronavirus response is a clear 21st-century application of federalism.

Unfortunately, the general public, most in the media, and many of our elected officials (on both sides of the aisle) have missed this.

It is incorrect to assert that President Trump doesn’t have a plan to address the pandemic and its effects.

He has a plan – he is letting the states, in their sovereign power, make the best decisions for their people based on local conditions and needs.

Trump’s approach rests on the principles and ideas found, in part, in the Federalist Papers and is undergirded by the historical accounts of our nation’s founding, including the establishment of our intentionally limited federal government.

You may not like the federalist approach; reasonable people can have differing opinions on whether a stronger national approach to the virus would have been more effective.

As seekers of truth, however, we all must acknowledge that the president does have a plan, a plan that relies on state-driven responses and local control via federalism.

Unlike COVID-19, the president’s plan isn’t novel, it has been woven into the fabric of our nation for nearly 250 years.

Joshua Pendergrass is Chief Communications Officer for the Alabama Policy Insitute. He previously served as communications director for Governor Kay Ivey and is also a licensed attorney. Follow him on Twitter at @jpendergrass_al.

1 month ago

Options in education foster increased opportunities for students

(Pixabay, YHN)

I grew up in poverty. I know what it’s like to be without electricity and to move because the rent is past-due. I’ve lived the struggles, the poverty that limited opportunity brings.

I was one of the students you hear about on TV who receive a free or reduced-price lunch. I saw my single mother of three boys work tirelessly and do her best only to struggle to pay the bills and meet our needs.

Statistics say I am supposed to live in poverty in adulthood and will perpetuate the cycle for another generation.

But statistics, thankfully, aren’t absolute.

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I am blessed: despite my family’s socio-economic status during my childhood, I received a quality public education.

The nurture of dedicated teachers and quality instruction expanded my mind and opportunities. Instead of being in the shadows, I was given the opportunity to step into the light.

I served in student government, won numerous mock trial and speech and debate awards, and was a two-year commander of our school’s JROTC program. Nearing my high school graduation, I received scholarships, grants and other funds which allowed me to receive a debt-free college degree and become a first-generation college graduate.

Now, nearly 20 years after my high school graduation, I hold three degrees (currently I’m pursuing my fourth and final one). I have established a career that has led me from the halls of historic courthouses, to serving in the Alabama governor’s office, to working on political campaigns of all types across the entire country.

I am proud that, despite the statistics, my son will never experience the effects of poverty that I did.

Quality education changed my economic realities, my outlook on life, and my future.

Every child deserves the chance to realize their dreams and to chart their future like I have been able to, and that requires quality educational choices.

Recently my wife sent me on a shopping trip to our local warehouse club store to get, among other things, bottles of water. Once I found the water aisle, I was immediately overwhelmed.

There were little bottles and big bottles; flavored water and carbonated water; water with added nutrients and straight from the source artisan water. I suspect to the shoppers around me I looked like a deer in headlights.

Later that day as I placed the water in the refrigerator, I had a thought: if water comes in so many varieties, why can’t there be a multitude of choices when it comes to education?

Unfortunately, because of a lack of choice, our current public education system is failing and is dead last – number 52 – in the country. Students are graduating yet they can barely read, struggle with basic math, and are unprepared to succeed in college, at a technical school, or in the workforce.

COVID-19 has further highlighted the weaknesses in our education system.

Some schools are online only, some in-person only, while others are operating in a hybrid format. Students and parents are overwhelmed with a lack of information, consistency, and leadership. Parents feel like decisions about their child’s education are being made only with the consideration of what is best for the “system” with little attention paid to the student’s needs.

Some students need person-to-person interaction both to foster their learning and their emotional health. Some have the discipline and attention span to utilize online learning, while others don’t. Some can excel in small groups of students – known as pods – which gather in a home in their neighborhood, while some don’t live in an area conducive to this approach. For others, extracurricular activities, which rely on in-person attendance, are the only avenue through which they might be able to attend college and thus change the direction of their future.

During normal times, and especially during a crisis, a one-size-fits-all approach to education doesn’t work.

Students and parents – not government bureaucrats – should be in control of a student’s educational journey. A student’s education, and his or her future, shouldn’t be determined by their zip code.

Options in education are vital to both the academic success and overall development of our children. Making and relying on excuses, whether related to COVID-19, budgetary restrictions, or a perceived lack of resources, is unacceptable.

Recently, the Alabama Charter School Commission approved two new charter schools, bringing the total number of approved charter schools to seven state-wide (a good start – but not enough). Charter schools, by design, eliminate big-government inefficiencies, allow for individualized learning, and reward the most effective teachers. They have proven to be effective our neighboring states of Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi.

Charters, like anything in this life, aren’t perfect. But, like the hunter who plans on taking just one shot but still carries a quiver full of arrows, charter schools are just another tool to help in the quest of providing educational choices to every child in Alabama.

There is more that can be done. Ultimate flexibility in choosing where one goes to school is ideal. But, for now, we must make use of and expand access to the options we have now like charter schools and scholarships offered under the Alabama Accountability Act.

Educational options which offer opportunity. That’s what our children need and deserve.

Somewhere in Alabama sits a young boy or girl who dreams about a future in which their hard work and determination lift them out of poverty. Somewhere there is a child who just needs the right tools, the right educational options, to succeed.

If we offer them a quality education – one with lots of options – who knows what that little boy or little girl might do one day?

Perhaps he or she will write an article that you will read.

Trust me, I’ve been there and written that.

Joshua Pendergrass is Chief Communications Officer for the Alabama Policy Insitute.

7 months ago

Alabama’s coronavirus response important, but needs benchmarks, business and medical leaders say

(PIxabay, Wikicommons, YHN)

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey and state health officer Dr. Scott Harris have issued sweeping emergency and public health declarations which they hope will slow the spread of the coronavirus which currently has the nation at or near a standstill.

On Friday, March 20, an amended public health order issued by Dr. Harris and released by the governor’s office limits public gatherings to no more than 25 people and requires all other gatherings to be held while maintaining a six-foot space between individuals, a practice known as social distancing. The order, originally published on March 19, also closes all beaches, forbids activity at senior citizen centers, closes all educational institutions and limits restaurants, bars, and other such establishments to providing only take out or delivery service and bans all on-premises consumption of food and drink, among other things.

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The amended order specifically claims not “to prevent any employers from making continued necessary staffing decisions.” In a statement released with the amended order, Governor Ivey said, “I have no intention of slowing down our workforce through unnecessary, burdensome regulations.” The original order, she added, “was intended to apply to non-work-related gatherings,” as the amended order makes clear.

Though few argue with Ivey and Harris’s abilities to legally issue such orders, or with the prudence of the orders, there does appear to be some concern about the extent and length of the measures being implemented, and whether Ivey’s desire to not harm Alabamians economically is realistic under the emergency actions taken by the state. What is at question is why there has been no communication as to what “success at bending the curve” looks like or what milestones are needed to ease restrictions on individuals and businesses.

Those with concerns about the order are also troubled with the growing trend of local governments issuing stricter and more restrictive orders than the state.

On March 24, the City of Birmingham issued a “Stay in Place Order” limiting the reasons an individual can leave his or her home and what one can do when in a public space. This action comes just days after the Jefferson County Public Health Officer had ordered a closure of most businesses throughout the county, which has been the hardest hit in Alabama in terms of Coronavirus infections. Tuscaloosa’s Mayor Walt Maddox has instituted a city-wide curfew as part of his emergency power efforts.

The need for “benchmarks”

Earlier this week President Donald Trump said he would reevaluate the nation’s response to the pandemic and said he hoped the country, particularly economic engines, would return to normal by Easter Sunday (April 12). In citing the effort known as “15 Days to Limit the Spread,” the president pointed to the need to take action against the virus while also setting timelines to help the nation return to some form of normalcy.

“We can’t have the cure be worse than the problem,” the president said.

That sentiment seems to be echoed by Ivey in her desire to not hinder business activity in the state despite the public health orders. “We will only be able to mitigate the risk of the virus through the efforts of our hardworking manufacturers that will produce life-sustaining supplies, our truckers who move these goods down the road, and our valued retailers that will make them available to our citizens,” Ivey commented in a statement.

But some question how the economy can truly be protected when it is essentially shutdown by the government.

“We must have a plan to stop the spread and bend the curve of the virus,” said Caleb Crosby, president of the non-partisan think-tank The Alabama Policy Institute, based in Birmingham. “However, we need to know what the benchmarks are and what we are looking for in order to get back to normal.”

Crosby said there needs to be clear communication of what level of progress in slowing the spread of the virus would lead to what level of easing the public health orders and social restrictions.

“The people of Alabama want to do our part to stop this, and we respect the opinion and leadership of our health officials to stop the spread of this dangerous virus,” commented Crosby. “However, we also need to know from our leaders what the end-goal is and what milestones will trigger the lessening of government rules and regulations on the people of Alabama.”

Crosby further said that he has heard from people across the entire state who are concerned with the lack of clarity on what has to be accomplished to lead to a relaxing of restrictions. Essentially, he lamented, the state government has used its extraordinary emergency powers to put in place extreme and freedom constraining rules without telling the people exactly how long they will be under those limitations or what needs to be achieved for the directives to be relaxed or removed entirely.

Crosby is not alone in his concerns, says Birmingham businessman Ward Neely.

“The government must help small businesses survive the stoppage of the economy, while also being clear on how and when things will return to full-speed,” Neely commented.

Neely is also concerned with the liquidity of small businesses. The government can best help by helping businesses manage rent and mortgage payments right now, rather than offering loans for payroll which will have to be paid back, a plan which is part of the economic stimulus package currently being debated in Washington, he said.

Businesses need two things to survive this crisis, according to Neely. Specifically, “a level playing field and the ability to make decisions based on reality.” The level playing field is achieved by a quick influx of cash into small businesses and good decisions come from quantifiable and measurable targets set by the government so that business leaders know what to expect and when. Businesses and individuals need some idea of when the “current chaos” will dissipate he said.

Small businesses including medical clinics and others could also face legal problems if they do operate and something goes wrong. This creates a gray area in which business owners want to meet their communities’ needs but are uncertain as to whether doing so will put their entire business at risk. This, according to Neely, is another reason that state and local leaders should pick milestones which will trigger the process of drawing back the public health and safety measures currently in place.

There is no one size fits all solution

Just what targets the government is looking for to revoke the current measures is unknown, which is unacceptable according to Huntsville physician Dr. Michael Brown. “What works in other places may not be needed here – there is no one size fits all solution,” Brown said.

Dr. Michael Brown, believes that the Alabama Department of Public Health needs to provide more specific guidelines for seeing patients and performing surgeries. With the present statewide order, there is too much uncertainty, which has led many practices and hospitals to greatly restrict access to care. “I am concerned that many more folks will be harmed by this restriction of care than will be affected by Covid-19”, Brown said in response to the State Health order. According to Brown, in this present circumstance, many patients will be left with no option but to go to the emergency room for conditions which could otherwise have been treated in a clinic or other outpatient setting. The concern is that such an influx to emergency rooms will put a critical strain on emergency care, when it needs to be readily available for patients potentially suffering from coronavirus infection. An additional unintended consequence of this approach will be the increased exposure of patients to those who potentially have the coronavirus in an environment where it may be difficult to implement social distancing.

There are certainly a number of unknowns regarding this coronavirus outbreak, but careful attention to good hygienic practices and social distancing is clearly most important. What is less clear is whether or not more extreme measures really have any major impact on the spread of the virus.

“We need to know what the end-game is,” lawyer and former State Senator Phil Williams of Gadsden said in a recent interview. “The government should be trying to control this outbreak, but we must also be asking the right questions. Nothing we are doing will end the threat, but only slow it down. What costs are we willing to go to in order to simply control, yet not eradicate, this virus?”

For Williams, the issue is one of knowing what right looks like. “Our leaders need to set benchmarks and say we will stop doing A when B occurs.” Too, according to Williams, leaders need to understand the people are willing to be a part of the solution, but that they don’t want the solution to make their lives harder than the problem ever would.

Drawing from his military background, Williams added, “In every battle plan the Commanders establish phase lines. The crossing of a phase line controls the flow and establishes the next scheme of maneuver. The public has been given no phase lines in the battle against Covid-19.”

“The government action being taken on both the state and federal levels is simply unprecedented,” added Crosby of the state think-tank. “We understand the need to work together to stop this health crisis, but every citizen of this state and country deserves to know what our goals are and what milestones will need to be met to move us out of this unprecedented moment in history.”

For Crosby and others like him, that means state leaders need to communicate not just what the people can’t do, but when the people will be allowed to live free from government intervention again. “The president has set a goal of Easter Sunday. What is the goal or timeline being set by our local and state leaders? Yes, these extraordinary powers are being enacted to help people, but we must ensure we aren’t cutting off our nose to spite our face.”

Joshua Pendergrass is a lawyer and the former communications director for Alabama Governor Kay Ivey. Currently, he serves as the chief communications officer at the non-partisan, non-profit think-tank, the Alabama Policy Institute.