The Wire

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

4 months ago

State Rep. Ball: One less thing

(M. Ball/Contributed, PIxabay, YHN)

The Medical Cannabis Study Commission will soon hold its first official meeting in its quest to determine the best course for implementing practical and effective access to medicinal cannabis for Alabamians with medical needs.

There are probably more than a few skeptics who view the formation of this committee as just another attempt by Alabama politicians to avoid dealing with a hot-button issue for as long as possible. Given our history, skepticism is certainly justified, but I believe the circumstances surrounding the establishment of this commission clearly indicate that it is a deviation from the expected norm. This commission was constituted to determine how we should make medical cannabis available to those who need it, not if we should.


The formation of this commission represents the culmination of a journey that began for me in October 2013 with a late-night email from a desperate grandmother. The opening line of the email, which read, “I am asking for your support of Alabama Medical Marijuana,” almost resulted in its deletion.

At the time, I was committed to the mistaken notion that cannabis had no medicinal value, especially since my law enforcement career had placed me on the frontline of the decades-long war being waged against this misunderstood plant. Fortunately, being more investigator than politician caused me to read the entire email. Grief overtook my soul as I looked into the blank stare in the eyes of the baby girl in the attached photograph, taken on her first birthday. It awakened sleeping memories of other children that I’d been unable to help throughout the years.

As a grandfather, I empathized with the plight of this family willing to allow a glimmer of faith turn them into refugees rather than cower helplessly in fear as they watched the mind of this little girl being decimated by as many as 100 daily seizures. The email ended with a moral imperative: “Please help us if you can!!”

Although I believed that medical marijuana was a non-starter in the Alabama legislature, common decency dictated that I at least investigate the matter enough to fashion a reasonable response to what seemed to be an unreasonable request. Although my mind seemed set, this desperate grandmother deserved to know why I wasn’t planning to support Alabama Medical Marijuana.

An investigator’s thought process operates like a rotating cement mixer. Opinions within it are shaped and re-shaped by new evidence as it is acquired and tossed into the mix of ideas and theories stirring about. Thirst for truth supplies the impetus that keeps an investigator’s mind turning, with refreshing new discoveries acting like water keeping the conceptual mixture from setting up too soon.

Truth seeks those willing to humble themselves enough to recognize that they never know as much as they think they know and are not afraid to rethink their opinions. Those who think they know everything are incapable of learning much of anything, but those who assess themselves honestly and allow their opinions to be shaped and reshaped as they continue to think through new evidence are rewarded with refreshing drinks from the Fountain of Truth.

For days and weeks following that desperate plea, I was unable to find a legitimate reason to avoid facing the issue, unless one considers political expediency a legitimate reason. It created a moral dilemma just as candidate qualifying for the contentious 2014 legislative election season drew near. At first glance, it seemed the best choice was to avoid the issue until after the election, but that would require me to ignore the moral imperative to do what we can to ease the suffering of the helpless whenever we can. Political expediency could not justify a year of unnecessary suffering.

The decision to ignore political expediency and introduce Carly’s Law in 2014, decriminalizing possession of low-THC CBD oil, was neither noble nor courageous. It was simply a decision based upon avoiding what I feared most. I knew myself well enough to know that the potential political consequences associated with following my conscience paled in comparison to the spiritual turmoil associated with ignoring it.

I’ve learned much about medical cannabis since the introduction of Carly’s Law in 2014. I’ve learned that the nearly 50-year-old decision to classify cannabis as a Schedule I narcotic with no medicinal value was based more on politics and fear than medical evidence. Since that fateful decision was made, much effort has been expended in what seemed to be more about yielding to political fear than finding the truth about the therapeutic and palliative potential of this plant. It is difficult to assess the number of people that could have been helped had a more rational approach toward cannabis had been taken by President Nixon’s administration in the early 1970s.

Why so many for so long have neglected to question such a questionable decision is bewildering. One doesn’t have to be a scientist to recognize that had a more sensible approach toward cannabis been taken, its therapeutic and palliative qualities could have been utilized to allow innumerable patients to receive relief from pain and other neurological symptoms caused by numerous afflictions, including cancer and epileptic seizures.

I shudder to think of those who could have benefited from cannabis for treatment of pain who have become addicted to opioids and died directly or indirectly as a result.

The needless suffering of past victims caused by this tragic political overreaction cannot be undone, but I am hopeful that the Alabama Medical Cannabis Study Commission will move expeditiously to provide the legislature a clear path for toward allowing access for those who could benefit from the therapeutic qualities of cannabis.

The true success of their endeavor cannot be measured by a poll. The only measure that matters is the degree to which those who suffer can find a better life. Our meager efforts thus far have resulted in Carly’s Law and Leni’s Law and have already helped many, including the family that emailed me 6 years ago. Thanks to medical cannabis, the little girl whose plight captured my heart has just turned 7 and is now virtually seizure-free, sometimes going months without a seizure.

The formation of this commission promises to help many others who suffer many other maladies. Regardless, the commission has already benefited me. My load is considerably lighter since the moral obligation placed on my shoulders by a grandmother’s emailed plea is on their shoulders now.

As the moral genius Forrest Gump would say, “That’s good. One less thang.”

State Rep. Mike Ball is a retired major crimes investigator for the Alabama Bureau of Investigation and has served in the Alabama House of Representatives since 2002. He chairs both the Ethics and Campaign Finance and Madison County Legislation committees and holds seats on the Judiciary and State Government committees, as well.

2 years ago

Want to be a leader in Alabama? Then learn from the greatest leader of all – Jesus Christ


With elections upon us, we are being inundated with messages from politicians seeking validation from voters at the ballot box. Election season always reminds me of the discussion among the disciples at the last supper as they jockeyed among themselves to determine who was the greatest among them.

Jesus saw this discussion as an opportunity to plant another seed of truth that would enable all but one of the men in that room to eventually mature into great leaders.

When they finally turned to the One who was truly the greatest leader to settle the argument, they were given an unexpected answer that turned the common perception of greatness upside down.


Although Jesus’ answer is counterintuitive to conventional thought, the insight that he shared with his disciples that day about leadership has been proven to be true throughout history.

Genuine leadership is a humbling experience. It requires that we put our own needs on the back burner for the sake of those we are trying to lead. Real leadership does not revolve around acquiring status and power to be able to command obedience from others, it is the exact opposite. It would probably be a surprise to most people who follow politics through popular media to learn that many of our elected leaders, particularly those at the lower levels of government, are foot-washers.

No, I’m not talking about some kinky fetish, I’m talking about servant leadership. Jesus was teaching leadership in its purest form when he defined the greatest leaders not as those who give orders, but those who possess the humility that enables them to serve others. He even filled a pan with water and washed his disciples’ feet as an illustration of this genuine leadership. Leadership is really nothing more than foot-washing, humbling ourselves to serve the needs of those who will, in turn, serve others for the greater good. Foot-washing can melt a proud heart. A true leader has no greater adversary than his own pride.

It is the public officials who have a foot-washing spirit that cultivate the growth of a robust society by using influence, rather than power, to promote their policy ideas through meaningful dialogue, negotiation, and collaboration. They cultivate personal relationships. They are not preoccupied with shameless self-promotion and are usually a bit embarrassed when they are recognized for their achievements. They are acutely aware that they accomplish nothing alone. They are open to questions and valid criticisms with the understanding that this is the best process to arrive at a thoroughly-vetted policy that will be most likely to achieve its desired goals. Although this approach requires preparation, patience, and hard work, it is worth it because this method diffuses much of the controversy that often surrounds policy-making. If there isn’t much controversy, there won’t be much publicity. Because of this, many of the best leaders are unfortunately a well-kept secret.

There are many more of these people in public office than most people realize across the political spectrum; but these great leaders, the foot-washers, tend to gravitate toward the middle of the pack and get lost amid the political noise. These are the politicians who have what it takes to get things done; but the attention tends to go to the other kind of politician, those who expend most of their time and energy trying to convince themselves and others how great they are. It is that other kind of politician that causes us to use the term “politician” as a pejorative.

They are the politicians that love to be the center of attention. They are highly competitive and relish the thrill of a vanquished opponent. They love power. They would rather use political force than persuasion. They strive to convince us that no matter the question, they have the answer if we will only trust them enough to give them the power to implement it; however, they are duplicitous and usually have ulterior motives that they wouldn’t dare reveal to the public. They are driven toward the acquisition of power like a moth to a flame. The pursuit of power invigorates them, and they know that stoking other people’s fears is the most certain path to the power they crave. They are quick to ignite the fires of political passion and are adept at playing the resulting chaos and turmoil to their advantage by presenting themselves as a knight in shining armor, willing and able to slay whatever political dragon is causing their supporters distress. They spend most of their time surrounded by like-minded people, convincing each another how right they are and how ignorant those who disagree are. They convince themselves that if they could only influence the ignorant masses to elect more people who agree with them, all would be well. As they feed one another’s egos, the shortcomings of their adversaries are magnified, while their own shortcomings are camouflaged. The same thing also occurs with their adversaries, with each side stoking the other’s anger. It happens throughout the political spectrum.

The media outlets feed the inferno of egos by providing the most arrogant with the attention they crave. The fires of political passion are stoked until they explode into a blazing inferno of self-righteousness, ready to consume anyone who disagrees or asks a critical question that might force someone to reconsider their position. The fire spreads until there are fires everywhere. The infernos feed one other as each side becomes more passionate, pridefully entrenched in confidence of their own goodness and virtue, while allowing themselves to be consumed by their disgust at what they are certain are the sinister motives of their adversaries. The self-righteous are always certain they are right and that those who resist them are not just wrong, they are evil. This smothers any opportunity for meaningful discussion among thoughtful individuals with minds set on ironing out their differences to attain a mutually desired goal. All that’s left are opposing forces lobbing political mortars at each other from their respective trenches. This is the type of politics that the media uses to fixate our attention but gets little accomplished. It is why so many are disgusted with our political climate. This sort of politics makes a lot of noise, but it doesn’t make much of a difference. It is the quiet politics that gets results.

Political power struggles in a free society are messy and ugly, but necessary. The founders of our country recognized our human nature, devising a political system that takes advantage of it by ensuring opposition could flourish, giving rise to these clashes as a method to limit the corrupting influence unbridled political power. While these egos of flaming political passions effectively keep one another from getting out of control; they seldom get much accomplished, other than stirring up opposition. Even those of us who would prefer to engage in thoughtful political discourse are obliged to resist when those who are inflamed with their political passions attempt to force their views upon us. If we are prideful when we resist it, we become participants and add fuel to the fires.

If we can keep our pride in check and resist with a determined, but humble spirit, the flames subside. We can fight fire with fire, but it has been my experience that water is better.
While arrogant politicians do tend to keep one another in check, as our founders expected; not much gets accomplished. I believe that for our political process to be effective, the arrogant must be resisted by those who are armed with the most powerful weapons of spiritual warfare, truth and grace.

Truth and grace are like conjoined twins that share the same internal organs; one can’t exist without the other and they are only available to those who are clothed in humility. The arrogant often mistake humility as a weakness; but they are wrong, it is a sign of inner strength. When he walked the earth, Jesus was clothed in humility.

We must be clothed in humility if we are to overcome the arrogant without destroying ourselves, but genuine humility is difficult to acquire. When we try to be humble, usually the best we can achieve is that poor counterfeit: fake humility. Genuine humility can only be acquired through a constant struggle against our greatest enemy, our own pride. Having the courage and humility to be honest with themselves and engage their own pride as their foremost adversary has been the catalyst that drove the greatest leaders throughout history to their greatest achievements. For those who choose that path, it is a life-long struggle; but it is well worth it because it is this internal struggle that is the key to unlocking our potential for great achievement. It is only when we are humble that we can hear the Master. It is what makes the simple outfox the cunning. It is how the weak overcome the formidable. It is how we can all find our own path to greatness and there will never be enough great leaders. There will always be more dirty feet than foot-washers.

Alabama State Rep. Mike Ball is a Republican from Madison County