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5 months ago

Business Council of Alabama seen as ‘still effective,’ leadership speculation ‘totally false’

Lawmakers and political observers say the Business Council of Alabama still has plenty of pull in the state despite some loses in the State House and speculation about the future of the group’s chief executive officer.

“I think it’s been effective,” said William Stewart, a political science professor at the University of Alabama who argues that supermajorities actually limit the impact of lobbying groups. “But on the other hand, I don’t think it needs to be as effective as it was in the past.”

The organization’s chairman, Perry Hand, also recently dismissed as “totally false” an article by the Alabama Political Reporter claiming BCA’s executive board had agreed to oust CEO Bill Canary. His contract runs until December 2020, a spokesperson said.

“Trying to bend us to their will, the bloggers have even taken to personal attacks on me, as chairman,” Hand wrote in an email to Yellowhammer News. “We will never be intimidated into bad decision making. The BCA has seen similar tactics in the past, but we will not let our rivals distract or divide us.”

The article didn’t cite any named sources.

Hand said the BCA will continue to look to create a climate in Alabama that is conducive for the growth of existing businesses and recruitment of new ones. He said the organization represents one million working Alabamians through its member companies, which include a wide cross-section of every segment of the state’s business community.

“Our organization is a deliberative body guided by our by-laws and our legislative agenda that is developed by our active members of all sizes,” Hand wrote. “That agenda is adopted by our board of directors annually in advance of every legislative session and focuses on improving major areas that impact every single business in Alabama: Education/Workforce, Healthcare, Infrastructure and Regulations. And, from a national platform, the BCA is Alabama’s exclusive representative to the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.”

The BCA is known as one of the more powerful and wealthiest of the state’s major trade associations.

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.

“The BCA finished 2016 with a balanced operating budget and a surplus of $7,447,” Hewston wrote, adding that the BCA currently has  “zero debt” and “more than one-year’s operating budget in reserves.”

Recent wins and losses

Political columnist Steve Flowers, who is an outspoken critic of Canary, wrote last year that the BCA lost three agenda items in 2017: raising the state gas tax to pay for infrastructure improvements, quashing a bill to require businesses to cover advanced autism therapies in insurance plans and revising the Alabama Accountability Act, which allows parents to move their children from schools placed on the state’s failing list to other schools.

Hewston argued that Flowers clearly handpicked certain items to paint an inaccurate picture.

She said that 2017 marked the first time in 25 years that serious conversations of investing in the state’s failing infrastructure occurred in earnest, and that Gov. Key Ivey, House Speaker Mac McCutcheon and Senate President Pro Tem Del March were among the state leaders who supported renewed infrastructure investment.

She said a wide coalition of business groups support the measure.

“They know that to continue creating jobs in this state, we cannot ignore this issue for another 20 years,” she said. “Now, everyone is talking about solutions to this problem instead of ignoring the problem.”

Among other successful pieces of legislation that BCA was actively engaged in included an update of the Alabama Jobs Act to better help Alabama’s economic development team retain and recruit jobs, more funding for education programs to increase student proficiency and improve the workforce and the defeat of Mandatory Unitary Combined Reporting, a business tax increase pushed by the Alabama Education Association.

“These were all major issues for Alabama’s job creators,” Hewston said.

Because the BCA is such a large coalition of state businesses its hands are on so many pieces of legislation, said State Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster). Therefore, he said it’s hard to give the group a letter grade on effectiveness.

Ward noted that while BCA failed on the gas tax and the autism therapy legislation, it was successful on the 2017 Alabama Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit, which provides a tax credit to owners of homes or commercial properties who substantially rehabilitate properties listed on or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

“I think there was the perception that when Republicans took over in 2010 that they’d get whatever they wanted,” Ward told Yellowhammer News. “They’ve won some and they’ve lost some, but that’s politics for you.”

The autism therapy bill gained nearly unanimous approval in the Alabama Legislature and will require employers of at least 50 workers to provide advanced autism therapies as part of their insurance coverage.

But even then, the BCA enjoyed some success by working to ensure that smaller businesses wouldn’t be affected by the legislation.

The heated debate created plenty of tension: Sen. Dick Brewbaker (R-Pike Road) threatened to filibuster the remainder of the 2017 session if the autism therapy bill didn’t make it to the floor for a vote.

He made it apparent he still holds a grudge against BCA when he recently tweeted, “If either of the candidates running for my old Senate seat, district 25, accepts an endorsement or money from BCA I’m (for whatever it’s worth) endorsing the other one.”

Hewston said that 158 candidates in 140 state legislature races this year have sought the endorsement of ProgressPAC, the BCA’s lobbying arm. It has made endorsements in 116 of those races and spent more than $557,000 in those contests.

Interest groups with less influence?

Canary has led the BCA since 2002, a period of dramatic economic development that coincided with the historic Republican takeover of the State Legislature in 2010.

Stewart, who has studied the effect of supermajorities across the country, told Yellowhammer News that the ensuing GOP supermajority now requires fewer results from lobbying groups like the BCA. Although some have speculated that Canary may be to blame, the professor said he believes that’s a minor issue in the discussion.

“I don’t see it as a Canary issue,” he said. “The interest groups like BCA just don’t have the power they once had.”

BCA never stood a chance on the autism therapy bill, Stewart said.

“Legislation like that, that affects children, legislators don’t want to go back to their districts in an election year and tell constituents they voted against their children,” he said.

(Editor’s note: This article is the second of a two-part series examining the current controversy surrounding the BCA. The first can be read here, along with an editorial written by the Yellowhammer Multimedia Executive Board.)

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Passion and purpose: How an Alabama based software company is helping the United Cajun Navy organize Hurricane Michael relief efforts

When Hurricane Michael tore through the Florida panhandle and parts of the Carolinas last week, Alabama native Hammond Cobb didn’t waste any time helping those tragically devastated by the storm.

Cobb called the United Cajun Navy, a well-known Louisiana volunteer group and immediately got to work mobilizing their team’s volunteer efforts with the help of his software company, Serquest.com

Cobb says Serquest is a “software system that is designed to put people into action faster.”

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Essentially a LinkedIn for nonprofits, Serquest gives organizations the ability to create an online ‘resume’ for their organization where they can list current volunteer opportunities and donation needs.

The United Cajun Navy has their urgent needs listed on Serquest.com. Groups of volunteers, individuals or corporations who want to assist Florida residents affected by Hurricane Michael can sign up or donate here.

Cobb says the United Cajun Navy a “democratic and lean volunteer network of people who save lives first, ask questions later and don’t ask for compensation for doing the right thing.”

He said government agencies can often be slow when it comes to helping people get what they need and by partnering with the Cajun Navy, he knew people would get the assistance they needed, and quickly.

“We help people now and do paper work later,” Cobb said.

In addition to hosting volunteer needs on his organization’s website, Cobb created inspirational video ads and public service announcements to encourage people to volunteer.

At the end of the day, Cobb said his mission for Serquest revolves around, “connecting people to people.” A nonprofit for nonprofits, he sees Serquest as a personal network centered approach to helping volunteer organizations.

1 hour ago

Sessions conducting ‘most aggressive campaign against leaks’ in DOJ history

After 39-year-old former FBI Special Agent Terry J. Albury was sentenced on Thursday to 48 months in the District of Minnesota in connection with his unauthorized disclosure and retention of classified national defense information, Attorney General Jeff Sessions confirmed the DOJ is in the process of “conducting perhaps the most aggressive campaign against leaks in Department history.”

“We are conducting perhaps the most aggressive campaign against leaks in Department history,” Sessions said in a release. “Crimes like the one committed by the defendant in this case will not be tolerated—they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and punished … Today’s sentence should be a warning to every would-be leaker in the federal government that if they disclose classified information, they will pay a high price.”

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According to court documents, Albury worked as a Special Agent in the FBI’s Minneapolis field office at the time of the disclosures, held a Top Secret//Sensitive Compartmented Information security clearance and his daily duties provided him access to sensitive and classified FBI and other U.S. government information.

The court documents also say that, beginning in 2016 and continuing through August 2017, Albury knowingly and willfully disclosed national defense information, classified at the Secret level, to a reporter. Albury employed methods to avoid detection, including printing documents that he created by cutting and pasting portions of an original document into a new document so as to avoid leaving a record of having printed the original, classified document. Albury also accessed documents on a classified computer and took pictures of the computer screen in order to photograph certain classified documents. Those additional classified documents were recovered on an electronic storage device found during a search of his home.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

1 hour ago

Byrne: Odds better than 50/50 GOP keeps House — ‘There is truly a Kavanaugh effect going on here’

FAIRHOPE – What a difference a month can make for Republican lawmakers in Washington, D.C.

Heading into the summer, most political watchers anticipated that the GOP was set to lose at least the House of Representatives in the upcoming midterms. By mid-August, some Republicans thought losing the Senate was even a possibility.

However, the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court associate justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh appeared to have been a game-changer for Republicans, and according to Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope), the public’s reaction to the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings could be enough for Republicans to hold on to both the House and the Senate.

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In an interview with Yellowhammer News shortly before taking the stage to introduce Gov. Kay Ivey at a rally at Fairhope’s Oak Hollow Farms, Byrne said Republican voter enthusiasm has swung in the opposite direction.

“I got to tell you this, I was a little concerned about a month ago about enthusiasm,” Byrne said. “I don’t have that problem anymore. People are very enthusiastic. Look at the crowd we got in here tonight. Phone calls to my office have ramped up dramatically. There is truly a Kavanaugh effect going on here.”

“Republicans are beginning to pick up in the polls all over the country,” he added. “We got some races we were not competitive in, but now we are. We got some races that are pretty clear we’re going to win now that Democrats are beginning to pull out. We’re going to pick up at least one seat, maybe two in Minnesota. This race is far from over, and all the reports of Republicans losing the House are premature.”

Byrne said as of right now he thought the odds of Republicans maintaining the House were “better than 50/50.”

The Fairhope Republican was non-committal on the upcoming race to determine who would be the leader for Republicans after the midterms and fill the void left by the outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.)

“I told everybody I don’t want to talk about the Speaker race until we figure out what we’ve got as a result of this election,” he said. “Let’s stay focused on the election. We’ve got two candidates right now, Kevin McCarthy and Jim Jordan, they both happen to be good friends of mine. So, we’ll see where we are after the election. I hope they’re running for Speaker and not Minority Leader. That’s the big thing we want to avoid is if they’re running for minority leader. My anticipation is after we get back from the election, we’ll have a pretty spirited election.”

Byrne, however, did put in a plug for fellow Alabamian Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Hoover), who is making a bid to lead the House Republican Policy Committee.

“My good friend Gary Palmer is running for chair of the Republican Policy Committee, an elected part of the leadership,” Byrne added. “I want to make sure we stay focused on helping Gary get across the finish line because that’s important.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and is the editor of Breitbart TV.

2 hours ago

Governor Ivey criticizes ‘Lying Liberal Walt Maddox’

After Democratic gubernatorial nominee and Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox on Thursday held a press conference to spread unsubstantiated allegations about Governor Kay Ivey’s health and accuse her of a coverup 19 days before Election Day, the governor’s campaign responded by giving the Democrat a new moniker – “Lying Liberal Walt Maddox.”

“Apparently Walt Maddox isn’t just a liberal. He’s a lying liberal,” Ivey’s campaign said in a statement. “The people of Alabama will see this for what it is – a desperate false attack from a shameless politician who will say or do anything to get elected.”

Ivey has repeatedly denied the allegations about her health since last year, and her doctor even refuted them this week, providing a detailed letter to back up the conclusion that Ivey is in good health.

Besides the allegations regarding the governor’s health, the Maddox camp is alleging that then-Lieutenant Governor Ivey had a member of her protective detail demoted and transferred over her 2015 hospitalization in Colorado.

Ivey’s campaign said, “As it relates to the officer, that’s another Maddox whopper. News outlets reported last year that the officer actually received a promotion and raise in late 2015.”

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Polling has shown Maddox losing by 20 – 25 points, and now Planned Parenthood and other out-of-state liberal pro-abortion groups have funneled in approximately $1 million to Alabama in an effort to drive Democratic turnout up and defeat a pro-life constitutional amendment that Maddox also opposes. Additionally, billionaire funder of liberal causes George Soros this week put $200,000 into a group of Tuscaloosa PACs that is Maddox’s biggest contributor, accounting for approximately 30 percent of his total funds raised over the course of the campaign.

“Walt Maddox is pushing these last second lies because his half baked liberal ideas have him losing in a landslide. With less than three weeks to go, not even $200,000 from George Soros can save him,” Ivey’s campaign commented.

In a separate press release later on Thursday, the Ivey campaign pointed to another of Maddox’s “lies,” this time saying his own words even prove his deceit.

“It appears that Walt Maddox has gotten tangled up in his own twisted web of lies,” the statement began.

The campaign then detailed a three-day timeline that seemingly reveals a glaring contradiction.

“It all started on Tuesday when Spencer Collier told Al.com ‘he has not been contacted by the campaign of Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox,'” Ivey’s campaign outlined. “On Wednesday, Maddox followed up with a statement to the AP that he was ‘shocked to learn’ about these allegations.”

The governor’s campaign continued, “But today, Walt Maddox accidentally admitted that both he and Collier lied. When asked by Al.com during a press conference today whether he had contact with Collier, Walt Maddox provided a detailed account of a meeting he held with Spencer Collier several weeks back. Maddox admitted, ‘Spencer contacted me a few weeks ago and wanted to meet… He told me what he was going to do.'”

As reported by John Sharp, Maddox campaign spokesman Chip Hill confirmed Thursday afternoon that Collier and Maddox had not initially told the truth about having contact before the allegations were made on Tuesday.

Hill said Maddox and Collier have known each other for 25 years, when they both played football at UAB.

“They talk often,” Hill admitted. “Spencer contacted Walt and told him what he wanted to say.”

This revelation has led many observers to question why Collier waited until three weeks before the election to come forward, if the allegations are not politically motivated as he claimed.

“Another day. Another lie. Another broken promise from Walt Maddox,” Ivey’s campaign concluded.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

Effort underway to have Alabama inmates vote this election cycle

As reported first by the Troy Messenger, an effort is underway by the Pike County NAACP to have eligible inmates vote in Alabama’s upcoming November 6 general election.

Only inmates convicted of “crimes of moral turpitude” are disqualified from voting, however being in prison obviously bars inmates from heading to the polls on Election Day. This is where absentee voting comes in; yet, incarceration is not currently available as an option on the state’s absentee ballot request forms.

“There’s nowhere on the absentee ballot application that lists being incarcerated as a reason you can vote absentee,” Jamie Scarbrough, Pike County absentee election manager, explained. “You have to be out of the county, have a physical impairment, a work conflict, a member of the armed forces or a student in another county.”

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Request form aside, Secretary of State John Merrill advised that inmates who have not been disqualified can still vote absentee from prison.

“Anybody that is incarcerated that has not been convicted of a disqualifying felony is still eligible to vote,” Merrill outlined. “They obviously cannot vote in person, so they would have to vote absentee. As long as they are not convicted of a disqualifying felony, they have a right to cast a ballot for the candidate of their choice.”

Even though some worry that misrepresenting one’s reason for voting absentee on the request form could lead to civil or even criminal liability, Merrill expressed his doubts that anyone would sue an individual for exercising their lawful right to vote and Pike County District Attorney Tom Anderson said inmates voting absentee would not likely be prosecuted since the law does allow them to vote.

“I’m willing to bet the law would allow it. I think the argument would be that the form didn’t comply with the law. They obviously haven’t updated the form … If I were them, I would write ‘incarcerated’ on the application because you’ve got to do something,” Anderson said.

There have been attempts to change the absentee ballot applications in recent state legislative sessions and Merrill said the issue will be brought forward again in the coming session, which begins in March.

“The questions on the absentee application have long been antiquated and out of date,” Merrill remarked. “If someone is incarcerated, we know where they are and know why they can’t get to the polls. We’ve worked on changing the absentee application the last two sessions to make sure it is usable, workable and meaningful, which it is not currently.”

Until then, groups like the Pike County NAACP are focused on registering eligible inmates to vote and getting them to submit their absentee ballots while incarcerated.

The statewide deadline to register for the November 6 general election is Monday, October 22, with three registration options: in person by the close of business at your county board of registrars’ office (typically 5:00 p.m.), online by 11:59 p.m. that day or postmarked by that day.

Per the Secretary of State’s website, the deadline to apply for an absentee ballot is Thursday, November 1. The deadline to return an absentee ballot is Monday, November 5.

See the full list of crimes that disqualify inmates from voting here.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn