The Wire

  • Honoring Korean War Veterans

    From an Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs news release:

    The Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs is seeking Korean
    War veterans for the Korean Ambassador of Peace medal. The Korean government
    would like to show their respect and gratitude for the devotion and sacrifice of the U.S. troops during the Korean War by presenting the medals to veterans.

    Sometimes called “The Forgotten War,” in part because its memory is often
    overshadowed by World War II and the Vietnam War, it began after some 75,000 North Korean soldiers poured into South Korea on June 25, 1950. By the time the war ended in July 1953, an estimated 5 million soldiers and civilians had died, including more than 700 from Alabama.

    South Korea’s government began offering the medals in 1975 to veterans who visited
    the country through its “Revisit Program,” which was meant to show gratitude for the
    vets’ service, as well as see how the country has prospered since the armistice was
    signed.

    In Alabama, there are 21,991 Korean War veterans, according to the U.S. Department
    of Veterans Affairs. But the state does not have a list of their names and addresses, so
    has to rely on word of mouth and local media to alert veterans to the honor.

    Veterans should call 334-242-5084 to receive an application for the medal. A medal
    presentation ceremony will be held at a later date.

  • AG Steve Marshall, CVS Health Announce Safe Drug Disposal Program in Alabama

    Excerpt from an Alabama Attorney General news release:

    Attorney General Steve Marshall joined with CVS Health Chief Policy and External Affairs Officer Thomas Moriarty, Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale, Homewood Mayor Scott McBrayer and Homewood Police Chief Tim Ross today to announce a safe medication disposal program in Alabama.

    CVS Health has provided in-store drug disposal units at five of its stores in Alabama and also has equipped 36 law enforcement agencies with on-site disposal units to provide a regularly available means for people to properly discard unused medications.
    “It is extremely dangerous to keep unused prescription drugs on hand when they are no longer needed,” said Attorney General Marshall. “Many of these are controlled substances, and opioids, in particular, can bring tragic results. We have had tremendous success with Drug Take-Back days in Alabama and these permanent collection sites provided by CVS Health are a valuable asset because now there is a way for people to safely dispose of drugs year-round.”

    Alabama ranks first in the nation for the number of painkiller prescriptions per capita, and Attorney General Marshall has made fighting opioid abuse a cornerstone of his administration. He serves as co-chair of the Alabama Opioid Overdose and Addiction Council which issued a comprehensive action plan last December. In February of this year he filed a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma for the harm caused by its reckless marketing and sales of opioids.

    “CVS Health is dedicated to addressing and preventing opioid abuse in the communities we serve in Alabama and across the country,” said Moriarty. “Expanding our safe medication disposal program to CVS Pharmacy locations in Alabama is one of the many initiatives we support to fulfill that commitment and our purpose of helping people on their path to better health.”

    Homewood Mayor Scott McBrayer said, “I would like to thank CVS Health for choosing Homewood to officially launch their safe drug disposal program in Alabama. Keeping unused prescription drugs off the streets and out of the hands of those who might be harmed by them requires a team effort. Pharmacies, law enforcement and every citizen has a key role to play. I appreciate CVS Health for taking steps to reduce the likelihood of accidental poisoning and drug abuse in our community by making it easy to dispose of unused and expired medicines while shopping at our local CVS Pharmacy.”

  • Rep. Byrne Calls for Rural Hospital Relief

    Excerpt from a Congressman Byrne news release:

    Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL) recently partnered with a bipartisan group of Members of Congress in urging Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to fix the Medicare Area Wage Index, which severely hurts Alabama’s hospitals.

    Alabama has the lowest Medicare reimbursement rate in the country. Based in large part on the Wage Index, seventy-five percent of Alabama’s hospitals are operating at a loss with an average median operating margin of negative 6.5 percent. The problem is worse in rural Alabama, where hospitals have a median operating margin of negative 12.2 percent. Unless changes are made to the Wage Index formula, the problem will continue to get worse and additional Alabama hospital closure is likely.

    Congressman Byrne said: “We are facing a medical crisis in rural America. For too long, the Medicare Area Wage Index has been gamed by hospitals in very affluent parts of the country at the expense of rural America. Congress granted CMS wide authority to administer the Wage Index, and it is time the system be reformed in order to ensure continued access to hospital care for those in rural Alabama and rural areas throughout the United States.”

What’s the path forward for BCA?

(YHN)

In the wake of Billy Canary’s abrupt exit as president and CEO of the Business Council of Alabama, it is clear that the business community will chart its path forward by making significant changes.

For starters, many of Alabama’s largest employers are no longer members of BCA.  Several factors will contribute to whether those large employers reconsider their memberships, and those factors involve revising the organization’s policies and approach to advocacy.

The existing membership of BCA has a difficult task ahead of them if they want to restore the group to its former strength. That type of restoration will be impossible without the participation of the state’s largest employers. Concessions will have to be made so that these companies feel comfortable that their ability to participate in the group more accurately reflects their contributions. That’s only fair.

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At the same time, a strong group must also carry the interests of a broad spectrum of industries. Small businesses, manufacturing and professional services – just to name a few – will all need representation within the organization.

BCA decision-makers will have to strike a delicate balance in implementing these changes. But that’s not the only place where change will matter.

Choosing the correct person to lead the group is equally important.

The new leader will have to be someone who can unify the business community through their experience and leadership style. The BCA needs to sharpen its approach to governmental affairs, refocus their policy goals and retool its political operation. All of this will require a lot of adjustments before the legislature convenes in March 2019.

So, who might that person be?

Yellowhammer News has picked up on several names being talked about to potentially fill that role.

Jo Bonner – The former congressman from Mobile has spent a career building relationships with many of the key stakeholders in the business community. Bonner currently serves in a governmental affairs and economic development role for the University of Alabama. He has a long-standing friendship with Governor Ivey and relationships with business leaders across the state. Bonner is known for his statesman-like approach to politics.

Young Boozer –  Should the BCA’s leadership prioritize business experience in the selection process, then Boozer would likely become a top candidate. Boozer has decades of experience in banking and finance with some of the country’s largest institutions. He entered politics in 2010 and has since served two terms as State Treasurer.

Philip Bryan – Bryan has enjoyed a meteoric rise in Alabama politics. Having started in political communications only a decade ago, and now running Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh’s legislative operation, Bryan has reached a point of permanent occupancy on any list of Alabama’s most powerful and influential people. Few people in politics share Bryan’s smarts and knowledge, and even fewer people have as much influence on the policy-making process. Bryan’s energy and ambition would be welcome additions to the position.

Allison Hosp – Currently serving as the Vice President of the Alabama Retail Association, Hosp has a strong track record of success working on the issues most important to Alabama’s business community. When BCA refocuses its policy goals, Hosp is someone who has the experience necessary to carry out an effective plan of advocacy. From fighting tax hikes to tort reform, she has proven she can be an effective advocate for the business community.

State Representative Bill Poole – No one knows if the Tuscaloosa lawyer would actually have an interest in giving up his powerful House Ways and Means Education chairmanship to take over at BCA. Nevertheless, Poole’s name has been bantered about heavily. Poole is that rare combination of policy wonk and political operator. He has a reputation as a straight-shooter who also navigates the treacherous waters of the statehouse with ease. Regardless of whether he lands at BCA, Poole will be a player in Alabama politics for many years.

Toby Roth – Roth is a trusted figure in Montgomery circles, and someone who transcends several cycles of political power. He began working on behalf of the business community in the 1990s during the appellate court and tort reform battles. Then Roth served as Chief of Staff during Bob Riley’s first term as governor. He has years of business advocacy on his resume, as well as the even temperament some may want in the next leader at BCA.

These moves and others will go a long way in determining whether the BCA, once again, becomes a viable entity in Alabama politics.

The Yellowhammer Multimedia Executive Board is comprised of the owners of the company.

Why Mike Kemp’s withdrawal from BCA is highly significant

(Courtesy Kemp Management Solutions)

As reported earlier today, BCA Progress PAC Chairman Mike Kemp has resigned his position and withdrawn his membership from the group. Kemp was also set for installation as Chairman of BCA later this year.

The Yellowhammer Multimedia Executive Board has obtained a copy of Kemp’s letter of resignation to BCA Chairman Perry Hand. The letter is dated June 20, 2018.

Based upon Kemp’s position in the organization and the reasons he states for his withdrawal, his leaving BCA is a highly significant development in this ongoing saga.

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Kemp served as Progress PAC Chairman and was next in line for the BCA chairmanship.

The funds in Progress PAC, the BCA’s campaign finance apparatus, typically swell above $2 million during any given state election cycle. As this year’s Progress PAC chairman during a busy state election cycle, Kemp was right in the middle of choosing on whom those dollars got spent. Overseeing the distribution of that kind of money brings with it a tremendous amount of power and influence.

Kemp was also set to take over as the next chairman at BCA. The list of people who have held that position reads like a who’s who in the Alabama business community the last 30 plus years. Kemp was set to join an elite group of business leaders.

No one gives all this up lightly.

And so one can imagine that it took grave concerns about the organization’s direction and actions for him to forego the opportunities that lay in front of him.

Kemp’s stated reasons for withdrawal reveal that deeper problems may exist within BCA.

One passage, in particular, jumps out in Kemp’s letter:

“We must also demonstrate unwavering integrity in communicating with and managing the resources of our membership, to whom we are ultimately accountable. This is particularly true in a time of crisis, like the one before us. I am disappointed that the BCA leadership’s actions to date have failed to meet these standards, and as such, are antithetical to my views in all respects.”

Without elaborating in more detail, Kemp clearly identifies internal communications and financial management as contributing factors to his withdrawal. The organization recorded annual expenses of $4.7 million, according to IRS documents filed in 2016. With so many large members having left already, BCA will likely encounter an even greater budget shortfall. Time will reveal the severity of these shortfalls given that any proposal to dip into organizational reserves requires adoption by the full 132 member board. Additionally, according to multiple sources, a full financial audit of the organization is being pursued.

Attempts at communication within BCA were poor. We have been told repeatedly by current members of the Executive Committee that no one was updated with any regularity. The details surrounding transition were murky. Members feel as if they are being kept at arms-length.

Kemp was a trusted mediator.

Kemp worked diligently to find a solution to the problems that have contributed to this crisis. Other members trusted Kemp based upon his prudent and measured approach. He was making a genuine, good-faith effort to preserve the mission of the organization and improve our state’s economy.

The fact that he has withdrawn completely from BCA would indicate that the group’s leadership has strayed too far from its mission and the problems are beyond repair.

The Yellowhammer Multimedia Executive Board is comprised of the owners of the company.

BlueCross BlueShield leaves BCA, general counsel resigns: What it all means

(YHN)

BlueCross BlueShield of Alabama has terminated its membership in the Business Council of Alabama, and longtime official, Fournier “Boots” Gale, a senior vice president and general counsel for Regions Bank, resigned as general counsel according to the Montgomery Advertiser.

BlueCross BlueShield is now the fourth major company this week to formally leave the BCA. Alabama Power led the procession out the door on Monday, while Regions Financial Corp. and PowerSouth announced their departures soon after. A lack of confidence in BCA’s leadership and direction drove each company to their respective exits.

Some key implications of these events stand out today.

No viable business organization in Alabama can exist without these companies.

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There will always be a place for single industry associations that represent smaller sectors of the economy to deal with specific issues such as the construction trade, auto sales or the practice of medicine. However, any group seeking to drive public policy on the larger issues of economic development and industrial recruitment must count these companies, Alabama’s largest employers, among its membership.

These companies cultivate and maintain an unmatched grassroots presence across Alabama.

These companies touch millions of Alabamians in communities across the state. Together, they have employees, offices or consumers in every county.

The ability to engage policy-makers on the local level and address issues for the good of the state’s jobs and economy is essential to the process. Proper advocacy involves having a good feel for the pulse of communities. Linemen, bank tellers and administrative personnel are active in their communities and elected officials care what they think. It is impossible for any group to replicate the type of reach these companies enjoy.

The financial health of BCA is now in peril.

The Yellowhammer Multimedia Executive Board has written about BCA’s financial health. Even before the exit of these major members, expenses had gone up and revenues down.

These four companies carry a significant portion of the load when it comes to operational funding, sponsorships and political action and education advocacy contributions. One estimate places the loss from these members leaving at 25 percent of BCA’s annual budget.

Billy Canary has to vacate BCA immediately.

Businesses do not operate well in conditions of uncertainty. So it follows that Alabama’s largest business organization should also not operate under its own looming uncertainty of leadership.

In a letter Monday, BCA Chairman Perry Hand indicated for the first time that Billy Canary would be leaving his current post at some undetermined date before the beginning of next year. BCA’s own news organization also wrote vaguely about a leadership transition.

The details surrounding Canary’s departure, and the extent to which he will stay involved with the group, remain nonexistent. BCA has seemingly enacted the first ever transition plan without any actual transition.

None of this is good for its membership, and none of this is good for Alabama’s economy.

The first step back is a clear and decisive change at the top.

The Yellowhammer Multimedia Executive Board is comprised of the owners of the company.

Alabama Power first to exit BCA

(W.Miller/YHN)

A letter sent today by Mark Crosswhite, Chairman, President and CEO of Alabama Power, signaled a dramatic shift in the balance of Alabama political influence. Crosswhite’s letter notified Business Council of Alabama Chairman Perry Hand of Alabama Power’s immediate withdrawal from the BCA.

The Yellowhammer Multimedia Executive Board has written prior about the need for a change in leadership at the BCA and outlined some of the issues facing the group. Now, in addition to announcing the company’s withdrawal, Crosswhite’s letter serves as an instructive record as to how exactly Alabama’s business community has reached this point of fracture.

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Most of the state’s largest employers have been members of the BCA since its inception, having played a role in its creation. At the time, the mindset of manufacturers and other related industries from across the country and around the world had begun to change. And so these Alabama business leaders recognized that opportunities existed for Alabama under a single, cohesive voice for jobs and economic development.

Thus, the BCA was formed. No longer were jobs anchored to the northeast or foreign countries. The BCA stood out in Alabama as an advocate for the types of policies that created an economic climate favorable to industrial recruitment and job retention.

The BCA fought for lower taxes, preservation of our right-to-work status and a law-abiding appellate court system. These were the successes of the 1990s and early 2000s.

Then BCA participated heavily in the Republican takeover of the Alabama Legislature. The years following should have been the high water mark for the organization. It had seemingly set itself up for sustained success based on the potential number of relationships awaiting it.

Instead, something else happened. The depth and breadth of its relationships contracted rather than expanded. The implementation of its agenda became about settling personal scores. Its internal focus moved away from the basic functions of advocacy.

As a result, weaknesses began to show, and BCA ultimately arrived at the place described by Crosswhite in his frank assessment of the organization’s standing. During the last Republican caucus election for Speaker of the House, according to several members who were in attendance, one of the baseline questions to candidates involved whether they would be willing to stand up to BCA. That is a truly remarkable demonstration of how far the BCA brand has fallen.

The BCA’s federal influence has diminished, too. Its leadership is no longer welcome in the offices of those at the highest level of Alabama’s delegation. Given where these things stand, it is easy to see why Crosswhite describes BCA as “divisive” and how membership has become “a liability rather than a benefit.”

So much opportunity exists, once again, for our state. With Trump’s tax and regulatory policies pushing our economy into high gear, Alabama is poised to reap the rewards. The business community quickly finding new leadership – whether under its existing structure or something new – is essential to its success.

The Yellowhammer Multimedia Executive Board is comprised of the owners of the company.

Era of anti-incumbency may be ending in Alabama

(W.Miller/YHN)

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon pulled off a feat previously unseen in the speaker’s office: He protected every one of his incumbent members in the Republican primary. Voters throughout Alabama re-nominated all fifteen Republican House members who had primary opposition.

McCutcheon’s success is certainly a product of his coordinated effort with House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter and their political team. It also may be signaling a shift in the political winds in Alabama and elsewhere. As we chronicled in our post-primary analysis, in the immediate aftermath, it is difficult to identify a common theme to this primary.

One theme that does not exist, though, is anti-incumbency.

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As with a lot of things in life, politics sees its share of ebbs and flows. It was not more than a dozen or so years ago that incumbents strategically placed “Re-Elect” or “Keep” in front of their names on their political signs and literature. This was an advantage they enjoyed. These words let everyone know they currently held the office they sought. It conveyed experience, and that was a good thing.

Then the unrest of the 2010 and 2014 election cycles happened. No longer did anyone want to advertise that they held office. Gone were the words “Re-Elect” or “Keep” from campaign logos. Candidates ditched the stately look of suit and tie. In came shirt sleeves and public appearances only in their community or anywhere that did not remotely resemble a government building. Incumbent officeholders were especially sensitive to not create the appearance of a traditional politician.

Campaigns tend to be lagging indicators. The best and most successful campaigns are those which most quickly discern how voters feel and then adapt. This change in approach was all in response to the dissatisfaction that already existed on the ground or had already shown itself in election results. In many cases, strategies changed too late, or not at all, and incumbents lost. For many challengers during those cycles, the simple fact that they were not the incumbent became the foundation of their campaigns. And incumbents acted as if they had never run for office before.

The Republican primary results on Tuesday showed us something different, once again. McCutcheon’s incumbent effort went 15-0. Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed’s own incumbent protection program only lost a single race.

Governor Kay Ivey faced three opponents and a massive amount of money and still roared to victory without a runoff. Ivey has run for political office every four years since 2002, yet Republican primary voters were unfazed.

John McMillan, the presumptive State Treasurer, has been around Alabama politics for decades. He began by serving in the State House and most recently served two terms as Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries. McMillan coasted to victory with 61 percent of the vote in a field of three.

Voters know what they want from their elected officials. It may take some more time to understand, but it is possible the electorate’s anxiety toward officeholders has faded.

The Yellowhammer Multimedia Executive Board is comprised of the owners of the company.

5 takeaways from the Alabama primary elections

(Governor K. Ivey/Flickr)

After more than a year of continuous campaigning, TV ads and more signs than ALDOT has time to take down, Alabama finally let its voice be heard in yesterday’s primary elections. Here are five things we took away from the results.

Kay Ivey is a juggernaut in this state. Governor Ivey received 56 percent of the vote and avoided a runoff in a field of four. To put in perspective how resounding a victory she achieved, her opponents collectively outraised her by nearly $200,000 and still did not come close to holding her under 50 percent. Some will say that Governor Ivey benefitted from the inherent contrast to her troubled predecessor, Robert Bentley. To some extent, that may be true. However, if campaigns are supposed to provide voters with a window into how a prospective officer holder will govern, then Ivey showed she is a focused, confident leader. She never strayed from her message and, when confronted with controversy, she responded with a decisiveness and clarity that should be in campaign consulting textbooks.

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If you like primary runoff elections, the next six weeks are for you. Primary election runoffs are akin to re-trying cases in court. They tend to be stale affairs because the candidates are mostly litigating the same issues all over again, after having done so the previous twelve months. The only people who like runoffs are the candidates who came in second because it means they are still alive in pursuit of their office. First place finishers dread the runoff, as do the donors who begin getting phone calls all over again. Perhaps voters dread runoffs more than anyone, as turnout tends to drop significantly when it is time to vote. Alabama has runoffs in some big races, including for Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Ag Commissioner, Supreme Court Place One and the seat in Congressional District Two. So the signs are not going away for at least six more weeks.

Republican dollars from D.C. are about to pour into the Second Congressional District. How a race this fascinating stayed so relatively quiet is a mystery. The runoff will feature incumbent Congressman Martha Roby versus former Congressman Bobby Bright. What makes this race so interesting is each candidate’s perceived vulnerabilities. Roby came out publicly against Donald Trump prior to the General Election in 2016. Bright previously served in this same seat … as a Democrat … who voted for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker. This race may defy the rule of runoffs stated above. Neither candidate has made any serious attempts to exploit the weakness of the other. In Roby’s case, she may have known she was headed to a runoff, regardless, and preferred Bright as her opponent. So it behooved her to hold her fire and not create an opportunity for another candidate with a cleaner record to fill the gap. In Bright’s case, how does he contrast Roby’s opposition to Trump with any credibility after having voted for Pelosi? As is the practice with congressional incumbents, Roby will receive a ton of help from her party’s apparatus in D.C. However, we suspect they will learn a lesson from the Strange-Moore primary and participate far more discreetly.

It is difficult to find a common theme from yesterday’s results. In 2010, 2014 and Trump’s election in 2016, voters sent a clear message that they had grown tired of business as usual in elected office. A promise to fight the establishment became the predominant campaign message during those election cycles. Yesterday’s results seem to indicate that the anti-establishment mood has faded. Up and down the ballot, a lot of incumbents won. Some lost. Kay Ivey has run for office every four years since 2002. Voters never blinked and delivered her an easy win in a crowded field. Some political observers theorized going into this primary that Trump’s election might have the effect of relieving voters of all their anxiety toward the establishment. That could be the case. It may be that as the year goes on we can look back and identify a common theme to all of the successful campaigns.  But right now there does not seem to be one.

The Democrats held a primary and it turned out how they wanted it. Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox cruised to the Democratic nomination for governor by gaining 55 percent of the vote in a field of six candidates. It has been a few years since Alabama Democrats had a primary to which anyone paid attention. The fluke Doug Jones win has at least made people look up again. What is remarkable is their continued ability to somehow get the results to match those desired by a handful of people at the top of the party machine. Twelve to eighteen months ago, Sue Bell Cobb seemed as if she was the candidate perfectly suited for the Democrat nomination. However, once party leadership introduced Walt Maddox onto the statewide scene, the outcome became clear. It remains to be seen if any of this will matter in the end.

The Yellowhammer Multimedia Executive Board is comprised of the owners of the company.

Will it be déjà vu for Alabama Republicans?

(J. Bonner/Facebook)

Have you ever heard of Cara McClure? Odds are that after this Tuesday’s election you will become very familiar with her name.

While most of the attention about the election of Public Service Commission (PSC) Place 1 has been focused on the lewd comments and actions of candidate Jim Bonner, the real winner in all of this is Ms. McClure. She is running as the lone Democrat in the race.

We are going to make a prediction; if Jim (not Jo) Bonner were allowed to continue with his candidacy and win the Republican primary next Tuesday, we are going to witness a very competitive election for PSC Place 1 in November. One that Cara McClure could win.

A Democrat, in Alabama, winning statewide against a Republican … sound like a recent memory?

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Jim Bonner was recently censured by the Republican party of Alabama because of sexist, anti-semitic and racist comments that he’s repeatedly posted online. Additionally, he has filed for bankruptcy, had multiple liens against him and has been drawing disability from the federal government. However, he has been well enough to run for public office in every cycle for the past 8 years. The campaign finances from his previous unsuccessful bids for office are in as much disarray as his personal finances.

Over the last two weeks, he’s appeared on multiple radio shows and thumbed his nose at those who have voiced their outrage for his comments and outright disgusting behavior. He’s chalked it up to over-sensitive liberals. Truth is, he’s really turned off a large base of Alabama’s GOP and that showed in the action taken by its steering committee just this week.

Cara McClure, on the other hand, has run a campaign straight out of the Doug Jones playbook. Quietly, she is sitting back and letting her most likely opponent on the other side of the aisle get all the attention – the kind of attention she wants him to receive. McClure is the founder of the Black Lives Matter movement in Birmingham and has advocated publicly for designating the Magic City a sanctuary city. She is enjoying national attention for her campaign and appeared recently on MSNBC. This free media will likely continue to benefit her through the November election.

Alabama’s Republican party has started something they need to finish. Or, will Cara McClure be the next Doug Jones?

The Yellowhammer Multimedia Executive Board is comprised of the owners of the company.

It’s decision time for the Business Council of Alabama

(Pixabay)

The great U.S. Army General Norman Schwarzkopf often remarked that far more danger lies in not making a decision than in the consequences that result from making a decision.

Here is the point at which the executive committee of the Business Council of Alabama finds itself. The executive committee is scheduled to convene tomorrow to consider whether to start a new chapter, under new leadership, or to maintain the organization’s status quo through inaction.

During the last several months, a steady stream of people have reached out to us because they were dissatisfied. And, if there is one thing we have learned from this information, it is to listen to people of influence.

It is our belief that three particular areas of concern require a decision for new leadership at the BCA

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First, the fact of the matter is that over the last several years the organization’s effectiveness and influence have diminished significantly. We consider ourselves uniquely positioned to make an assessment here, and we have chronicled some of the organization’s deficiencies in the policy-making process. The inability to carry out the critical functions of advocacy should, by itself, lead to a decision for change.

However, we also understand that these things do not happen in a vacuum. Nearly all executive committee members have their own businesses to run. They are not involved in the day-to-day machinations of state government. It is possible that the only information they receive channels through the organization itself. In addition, several committee members have long-standing friendships with BCA President Billy Canary. It is natural that those relationships may shade their perspective on the current situation.

And so if our first area of concern does not resonate with BCA decision makers, for whatever reason, then we would point out the fact that Mr. Canary no longer has a working relationship with key Alabama elected officials. Among the things we have learned from those reaching out to us is the fact that Mr. Canary is no longer welcome in the offices of those with great influence in Alabama’s federal delegation and at the top of the Alabama State Legislature. By any measure, this renders BCA incredibly weak as it tries to participate in the process. We would submit that, in fact, it is a fatal flaw in the organization’s structure. We doubt that the executive committee would ever make a new hire of someone if the prospective candidate was unwelcome in the offices of such high-ranking elected officials.

If for some reason neither of these two concerns draw the BCA executive committee to a decision, we would think there is a final, practical consideration at work: the organization’s finances demand a decision. As we have previously detailed, the BCA’s financial health is in peril. Expenses are up, contributions are down, and this directly impacts the organization’s ability to function. Furthermore, if the members choose to maintain the status quo, several of the state’s largest employers may feel compelled to start a new, healthier organization to advocate on behalf of Alabama’s economy. BCA will become nothing more than a shell.

Our message to the executive committee is simple: please put the best interests of the organization first. You owe it to the organization, not just one person.

General Schwarzkopf made another observation about making decisions while in a position of leadership. He said, “The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it.”

Mr. Canary has served the organization for more than fifteen years. Transition is never easy.

But it’s decision time.

The Yellowhammer Multimedia Executive Board is comprised of the owners of the company.

 

Financial health of Business Council of Alabama could be in jeopardy

(W.Miller/YHN)

According to many lawmakers, recent years have not been kind to the Business Council of Alabama’s lobbying efforts.

And based upon financial filings, recent years may not have been kind to the organization’s fiscal health, either.

The BCA’s 2016 IRS Form 990 filing, which is required of 501(c)6 nonprofit organizations, does not paint a rosy picture of finances. An examination of the document reveals that contributions and income have decreased while salaries and expenses have increased. 

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The document showed $4,142,334 in revenue and $4,776,029 in expenses, a deficit of $633,695. (The previous year showed a minimal surplus of $95,433.)

President and CEO Billy Canary’s total compensation that year was $627,595. Another $782,131 was transferred to ProgressPAC, the BCA’s lobbying arm.

Nancy Wall Hewston, senior vice president of communications for BCA, told Yellowhammer News in an email that public finance reports from 2016 showed only a “snapshot” in time and shouldn’t be used to determine an organization’s overall financial health.

But the IRS filing guidelines state that Form 990 is the primary mechanism by which an entity exempt from income tax is required to ”publicly disclose the organization’s annual returns.”

The BCA’s financial standing is facing even more uncertainty with the potential departure of several of its largest members.

Executives from three separate companies representing some of the highest contributors of the organization have told Yellowhammer News that a failure to change the organization’s leadership may compel some of the state’s largest employers to leave BCA and form a new entity with the goal of more effective advocacy on issues directly involving jobs and the economy.

These companies leaving could result in substantial funding losses for BCA. One estimate indicates the BCA would lose more than 25% of its already imperiled annual budget.

The Yellowhammer Multimedia Executive Board is comprised of the owners of the company.

It’s time for the BCA to hit the reset button

(YHN)

At a time when the business community in Alabama should be enjoying a tremendous amount of influence with Republican supermajorities in the Legislature, strong economic development support from the governor, and the state’s lowest unemployment rate in history, its largest association, the Business Council of Alabama, is in the middle of a leadership crisis of epic proportions.

The sun is shining for business in Alabama and its leadership should be making hay, but they are not.

Instead, some of the largest employers in the state are working overtime to push out the longtime head of the BCA, Billy Canary. Why? Well, if you listen to legislators in the State House, they feel a strong disconnect from the business community and it is beginning to show.

Legislation that should be a “chip shot” for business in Alabama is running into roadblocks because of personality conflicts, ego and a desire to settle old scores. There are usually more than one thousand bills filed in any given legislative session, making education, communication and advocacy critical functions for any entity wishing to advance their policy initiatives. And, yet, a consistent criticism of the BCA has been its inability to carry out these critical functions as part of its participation in the policy-making process.

The BCA’s diminished effectiveness and influence seem to demonstrate that criticism in these areas is warranted. In many cases, what’s best for business is being overshadowed by petty power struggles and political whims, which isn’t good for the people who show up to work every day trying to make payroll.

Something has to give.

The growing frustration boils down to Canary and his leadership style. Canary is a native New Yorker who has taken a street fighter approach during his time at BCA. For years, this served him well. Canary’s brash style played a vital role when the Democrats ruled the state and the Alabama Education Association dominated the flow of legislation. He had a boogeyman to go to battle with every day and his members loved it.

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No one questioned that he was the right man for the job in this environment.

In 2010, Canary and the BCA went “all-in” on a plan to wrestle control of state government from the Democrats and the AEA and won big. The Republicans picked up supermajorities in the House and Senate and, all of a sudden, the BCA was the king of the mountain. The Democrats and AEA were in shambles and continue to show no signs of making a meaningful recovery.

To the victor goes the spoils and the BCA had a nice run for a couple of sessions following the takeover, namely in the area of education reform. However, when you’re on top in Montgomery, even if you spent years fighting the boogeyman, you become the boogeyman by default. This sudden role reversal seemed difficult for Canary to navigate and his brash, sometimes arrogant style has begun to rub many in the Legislature, as well as corporate titans across the state, the wrong way.

As a result, the BCA is not nearly as effective as it could be. An entity that should be enjoying the type of influence the AEA had in Montgomery for many years is struggling to pass mundane bills.

Mr. Canary, you did a tremendous job taking the BCA to the top. You were the right man for that job and should be forever recognized for your efforts. However, it is time to pass the torch to someone with a different leadership style than yours. In “The Godfather”, Don Corleone understood the difference between a wartime and peacetime consigliere. The time for a wartime consigliere has passed. A peacetime consigliere is needed to make some hay while the sun is shining for Alabama businesses.

It’s time to hit the reset button at the BCA in the interest of its hardworking members who are providing jobs to the vast majority of the citizens of our great state.

The Yellowhammer Multimedia Executive Board is comprised of the owners of the company.

Are economic developers lobbyists? What you need to know about Alabama’s most misunderstood ethics bill

(W.Miller/YHN)

Last week saw the end of the 2018 legislative session in Alabama, with the final days providing this year’s fill of political drama and heated debate. Perhaps the most controversial bill was the Legislature’s passage of a bill that distinguishes the role of economic developer in the state from that of lobbyist. This might be the most misunderstood issue seen in Alabama in quite some time, and if you rely on the opinion writers of the state for the facts surrounding this issue, then you’d be sure to believe that any legislator voting for its passage should be next in line for indictment.

Alabama has had no shortage of scandal surrounding governmental leaders, so it is understandable that any change to ethics laws should be scrutinized to ensure that all elected officials are held accountable.

If only HB317 had any effect on those laws, the rhetoric of the media would be warranted. Sadly, we live in a place where Chicken Little has been right too many times and Alabamians have seen the political characters in our story crash from the sky.

Here are the facts:

— When the newly elected Republican Legislature passed sweeping ethics reform in 2010, there were not many economic developers in the state who also considered themselves lobbyists.

— Traditionally speaking, and defined by the law, lobbying is described as “promoting, opposing or in any manner influencing the of legislation before any legislative body”.

— So, as far as the normal course of business goes for an economic developer, only in the event you are being paid to influence legislation would you be considered a lobbyist.

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— However, section 36-25-1.1 of the Alabama Code states that “Lobbying includes promoting or attempting to influence the awarding of a grant or contract with any department or agency of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of state government.”  Theoretically, this language could mean that an expansive number of activities or roles are defined as “lobbying”, including those involved in incentivizing new jobs and investment.

— More notably, site selection consultants who represent the private companies looking to expand or locate to Alabama would fall into the category of lobbyist.  The implications here could be catastrophic to Alabama’s ability to compete for new jobs and investment.

— Once the question was raised, those in the profession did the right thing, they sought clarity from the Alabama Ethics Commission to determine how to define the act of lobbying for their professional community.

— After years of considering this topic, a draft opinion issued by the commission indicated that it was unclear on whether or not the profession should consider themselves lobbyists and further stated that the lack of clarity was certainly a problem under the current definition of the law.

Why the bill is necessary:

The current law defines terms in a way that creates more questions than it provides answers and the Alabama Ethics Commission was unwilling to clarify the terms and regulations that apply to this profession. The more than 500 economic developers in our state have been operating in a grey area for years, uncertain of their professional obligation to comply in part or whole with the current law.

Here’s why economic-developers-as-lobbyists doesn’t work:

Let’s say economic developers are defined as lobbyists who have to register any entity that pays them. For most, this would be the chamber of commerce or industrial development board that employs them.  Sounds simple, right? The group would fulfill the annual educational requirements of any lobbyist and continue to comply with the financial requirements associated with elected officials.  There is not one developer in the state who would object to that, right?  Wrong.

What about the group of consultants who shop for locations across the country?  Each one would have to register with the Ethics Commission by January 31st each year on the off chance they may have a project in Alabama, then make an extra trip to Montgomery to attend lobbyist training.  As a former site selector, I can assure you, when tasked with the process of elimination, any location that requires you to jump through these types of hoops gets chopped out of the gate.

The current code of nebulous ethics laws on the books today would further require disclosure of confidential project information that would preclude the process from taking root in Alabama.

So why are our headlines filled with new project announcements if economic developers can’t do their jobs?

Only recently have the scope of these concerns been called into question.  Alabama has been a leader in recruiting jobs and investment while operating under the assumption that those who are responsible for recruiting and expanding our economy are not considered lobbyists unless they are actively influencing legislation at the state level.  The law’s language had to be addressed and clarified or those headlines would be a thing of the past.  Without the passage of HB317, the clear-as-mud terms of the law and the Ethics Commission’s inability to provide clarity would be a sign to all those representing corporate investment that Alabama, once a major competitor, is now closed for business.

What now?

The new clarity in the law is not perfect, far from it.  But regardless of whether economic developers are considered lobbyists or not, elected officials still have to play by the same rules enacted in 2010.  Nothing has changed in that department.

To the members who sorted through the rhetoric and voted in favor of this bill, thank you for allowing those responsible for the good headlines to continue to do their jobs.  Perhaps this election cycle, instead of chastising those in the Legislature that have actually done something toward providing solutions, we should consider our votes for those who are willing, even temporarily, to solve the hard problems.

The Yellowhammer Multimedia Executive Board is comprised of the owners of the company.

BCA endorsement is a real head-scratcher

Campaign season is officially upon us.  Yard signs are popping up at every street corner and on trees along our roadways, the monthly FCPA reports showing candidate fundraising activity are on full display and endorsements are being rolled out by groups across the state.  While there has been an age old debate about the true value of endorsements, especially from elected officials, there is no question that an endorsement from the likes of ALFA, the Business Council of Alabama, the Realtors Association, just to name a few, can prove to be a major shot in the arm for a candidate seeking statewide office in Alabama.

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Aside from the very large campaign checks they can dole out at a moment’s notice, these groups have a strong network of very politically active members across the state who ban together to turnout the vote for candidates who align with their interests.  The endorsements, on many levels, can provide a little-known candidate instant “street cred” and very quickly propel their candidacy to new heights.  So, it is no mystery as to why potential candidates can spend more than a year ahead of an election cycle traveling to local ALFA meetings and visiting with key business leaders to lay the groundwork for just the opportunity to win a coveted endorsement.  Quite simply, being shunned by one of these groups may not break one’s campaign but receiving their blessing can certainly make one’s campaign.

The Alabama Civil Justice Reform Committee, or ACJRC to the Montgomery insiders, was established in the 1990s by a wide range of business associations banding together to recruit and finance conservative judicial candidates to put an end to the “tort hell” environment created over the years by the trial lawyers that had embedded itself inside of the Alabama Court System.  The effort, conducted by none other than famed political consultant Karl Rove, was wildly successful and, over time, turned the state’s court system from one of the least business-friendly in the country into one of the most.  This feat was not easy and the ACJRC continues to work to build a wall around the court system to protect it from anti-business forces.

So, when the Business Council of Alabama made the decision to endorse Mobile County Circuit Judge Sarah Stewart in the race for Supreme Court, to say the other business associations in Montgomery were stunned would be an understatement.  It could be likened to Tua Tagovailoa shedding his Alabama jersey in the National Championship game, walking to the Georgia sideline and lining up at quarterback for them on the next series.  Those who had worked so hard to preserve the coalition were angered because they fully understand the aforementioned benefits that come with a major endorsement.

According to the ACJRC, one should look no further than a case involving South Alabama Brick to understand that Stewart’s judicial record is far from business-friendly.  Her ruling, eventually overturned by the Alabama Supreme Court, would have required business and property owners to warn independent contractors along with their employees of any potential hazards, no matter how large or small, they could encounter while on the job site even if the contractor had more expertise regarding the issue.  Furthermore, the burden of making sure the contractor’s employees were operating in a safe manner would have been unduly placed on the business owner regardless of whether or not the contractor had implemented his or her own operational safety standards.

However, the specifics of this particular endorsement aside, the more important issue may be the fracturing of the coalition on this race and the Business Council’s unwillingness to explain the endorsement to us and others. The civil justice arm of the business community is now pitted against what used to be its single strongest member. These groups have held the line and worked arm in arm for years. The fact that the Business Council would change jerseys on this one is truly a headscratcher.

The Yellowhammer Multimedia Executive Board is comprised of the owners of the company.

(Image — Yellowhammer News Graphic)

There’s only one choice for conservatives in Alabama Senate race

Tomorrow’s special election for the United States Senate was supposed to have been a mere formality for the Republican nominee.  And, yet, this election has turned our state into a center of controversy and the object of scorn directed at Alabama voters from those outside of the state’s border.

Our readers have flooded us with messages of confusion, dismay, dissatisfaction, anger and resolve.  Many of those feelings we share with them, particularly the attacks on Christian conservatives.  We care about Christian conservatives because that is who we are.  When we see attacks aimed at our friends, neighbors and readers, and an election with so much at stake, we feel compelled to speak up.

As a news outlet, we have not been afraid to wade into the controversy surrounding Roy Moore.  We believe many of the things the women have said. We also believe some of the allegations have been credibly refuted. One woman has admitted that she falsified certain parts of the evidence that she put forth. Forty years is a long time. The uncomfortable reality in a situation like this is that memories fade and recollections become foggy. Many aspects of our justice system reflect that reality.

The validity of these claims aside, our disappointment with Moore centers primarily on his handling of the allegations. He initially acknowledged that he had known some of the women but nothing inappropriate occurred.  Then he changed his story. Perhaps he made the political calculation that a full on denial of anything and everything was the path to victory. In our estimation, that amounted to unnecessary deception.

Moore has been the object of intense scrutiny for more than two decades. Liberal groups who think that the words “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion” should mean something other than what they do have fought him relentlessly for years. They have spent millions of their Hollywood-elite dollars to oppose him. During that time, nothing along the lines of these allegations has ever surfaced.  And we are also encouraged by the fact that certain social norms acceptable forty years ago have dissolved for the better.

None of this has stopped the attacks. Attacks on our state, our citizens and our beliefs.

At the end of the day, regardless of the circumstances 40 years ago, we’re not going to defend the actions of Roy Moore back then or his evasiveness during this special election.  If the allegations are true, they are simply reprehensible.  However, we’ll default to the position of our country’s forefathers and conclude that a man is innocent until proven guilty.  

Either way, we’re with you Senator Shelby, Alabama does deserve better.  Our hope is that when this seat is open again in 2020 that a conservative all Alabamians can be proud of will emerge.  The problem is, right now, there is so much more at stake than simply Roy Moore.

By every true measure, President Donald Trump has governed conservatively – just as the vast majority of the voters in our state expected he would. One of his first acts was to nominate Jeff Sessions to the position of Attorney General. He has fixed the job-killing and tyrannical regulatory mess at agencies like the Department of Energy, the EPA, the CFPB and the FCC.  He has nominated conservative judges who are committed to upholding the Constitution at every level of the federal judiciary. President Trump has shown the fortitude to implement foreign policy recognizing America’s values and protecting our interests as evidenced by the dismantling of ISIS.  Just last week he ordered our embassy in Israel moved to its rightful place in Jerusalem.  He has also pushed through what will be the most comprehensive tax reform package in years.  There is even more work to be done.

Those opposing Roy Moore have tried to float the idea that write-in votes are an acceptable choice. They are not. There are two choices tomorrow: Roy Moore or Doug Jones. There are only two men from whom you can choose to support President Trump’s agenda and represent our values in the United States Senate.  And be sure about this, conservatives who choose to sit this one out are, in fact, choosing a candidate.  A non-vote on Tuesday is a vote for Doug Jones.

Roy Moore will support President Trump’s agenda.  Moore will protect unborn children, help repeal Obamacare and guarantee that Trump’s conservative judicial nominees get confirmation. Jones will not. Moore will vote similarly to how Jeff Sessions voted. Jones will not.

This is why we are all being attacked. They resent our faith and our values. This is also why we urge you to vote for Roy Moore in tomorrow’s election.

 

The Yellowhammer Multimedia Executive Board is comprised of the owners of the company. 

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