The Wire

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

    Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

    Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

    Excerpt:

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

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

4 hours ago

State Rep. Terri Collins: Why I am endorsing Bradley Byrne for Senate

(T. Collins/Contributed)

After considering all the candidates, I am endorsing Bradley Byrne in the Republican Primary for Alabama’s U.S. Senate seat.

Over the years, I’ve worked with Bradley on a number of issues important to our state. I’ve also been able to get to know him on a more personal level, and he is exactly the type of person we need to represent us in the Senate.

Bradley is the Christian, conservative fighter that we need in Washington to protect our Alabama values. There are a number of very troubling issues right now that really strike at the core about what it means to be an American, and we need a strong senator like Bradley Byrne who will have our back and not back down from the fight.

Bradley has been under attack recently by the Democrats for speaking out and standing up for his faith and what he knows is right. I commend Bradley for not backing down when the going gets tough.

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This past legislative session, Alabama was in the national spotlight for standing up for what a majority of Alabamians know to be true: life starts at conception. I was proud to sponsor the Human Life Protection Act, which sets up a Supreme Court challenge to Roe v. Wade and recognizes the sanctity of life. I appreciated Bradley’s support and encouragement as we went through the fight to pass the bill.

It was a fight, but Alabamians don’t back down from a challenge when the going gets tough. We fight for what we know is right. As a sixth-generation Alabamian, I know Bradley has that fighting spirit in his blood. We need Bradley in the Senate to fight for our rights, fight for the sanctity of life and to get us back to the foundational values that have made America so great.

Bradley has also been standing up for life in Congress. He is a pro-life champion who has consistently voted to protect the unborn, defund Planned Parenthood and make sure that all human life is protected. Bradley has a 100% record with National Right to Life and an A rating from Susan B. Anthony List, a leading pro-life organization.

Bradley and I want the same things for this state. We want Alabama to be a prosperous place to live, work and raise a family. Bradley understands and knows how to get the job done. On day one, he will be ready to go to work for Alabama, and I know he will serve our state well for many years.

I’ve seen Bradley go through fights before – just as we were in a fight over the pro-life bill last year – and I can say that no one is better prepared for the fight in the Senate than Bradley.

So, I encourage everyone to join me in voting for pro-life champion Byrne for U.S. Senate. He is the Christian, conservative fighter that will make Alabama proud.

Terri Collins is a state representative from Decatur

19 hours ago

The refugee question

(API/Contributed, YHN)

Alabamians have been watching in recent weeks to see how Alabama will handle the question of refugee resettlement. Other Republican governors have been split on the question, with Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee allowing refugees into his state and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ending his state’s participation in the program.

As Gov. Lee pointed out in public comments following his decision, there is a great deal of misunderstanding surrounding the issue.

Many Americans hear the word “refugee” and think of undocumented migrants seeking asylum at our southern border, unvetted and unsorted. In reality, individuals who are termed refugees and thus eligible for resettlement have already gone through an average of two years of vetting, first by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and then by the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP).

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People do not apply to be refugees. They are identified by the UNHCR based upon their displacement from their home country and a high degree of vulnerability: women, children, and those with significant medical needs rise to the top of the priority list. Ditto for those who have survived violence or torture. Once identified by the UN as qualified for consideration, the UNHCR conducts an extensive screening process to weed out individuals who might present a security risk.

The U.N. then refers those who qualify on to the US or other nations who offer resettlement opportunities. With the referral comes a great deal of data to aid the potential host nation in completing its own screening: iris scans, fingerprints, bio scans and records from numerous interviews and background checks.

The U.S. then conducts a second, equally thorough screening process to confirm the need for resettlement and rule out security risk.

For the lucky ones who survive this two-year gauntlet of questioning and waiting, this is where they are connected with one of nine non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for resettlement and subsequent support. Many of the NGOs are faith-based organizations like World Relief or the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

All of this occurs before any refugee is placed in a state like Alabama, Tennessee or Texas.

When asked why he chose to maintain Tennessee’s participation in the program, Lee defended the decision and shared about his wife’s work with female Kurdish refugees who have resettled in Nashville. The women became refugees after their husbands, translators for the U.S. military, were killed.

“I’m not turning my back on those people,” he said.

Lee, like all Republicans, believes in the need for a secure border and a safer, more orderly immigration process for our nation.

But he understands the difference between an illegal immigrant and a refugee. That difference is vast.

Alabama is a very red state largely because Alabama is a very Evangelical Christian state. We are bent toward conservatism because of our deeply held convictions about the value of human life, the necessity of religious liberty, and our distrust of big government.

But it’s those same core beliefs about the value of human life and the right to practice our faith as we see fit that should combust in the people of Alabama and set fire to a yearning to minister to women and children in crisis.

It’s that same gut-level desire to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ to the “least of these” that should have us crawling over one another trying to get to our nearest NGO to help with resettlement efforts.

To welcome refugees is not to risk ourselves. It is simply to give a tiny portion of our abundance of safety, economic opportunity and liberty to those who have none.

You and I will incur more risk getting on the freeway to get home from work tonight than we will at the hands of resettled refugees.

There is, of course, a discussion to be had about how many such people we can accommodate, and how to best accomplish resettlement and assimilation into our culture. But as a Christian — and in light of the facts, rather than unfounded fears ginned up by political rhetoric and an erroneous conflation of the illegal immigration problem with the refugee question — I believe that Tennessee Governor Lee’s persistence in offering a safe harbor to the hurting is correct.

I hope Alabama will join Tennessee and make a decision that fully reflects the Christian faith of which our state is so quick to boast.

Dana Hall McCain, a widely published writer on faith, culture, and politics, is Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research and educational organization based in Birmingham; learn more at alabamapolicy.org.

1 day ago

Sessions: Making Alabama’s judiciary great again

(Jeff Sessions/YouTube, YHN)

President Trump has done a tremendous job nominating smart, qualified and tough conservative judges to the federal judiciary. But there are a lot more vacancies to fill, and he needs another term to finish what he started. While Supreme Court justices receive most of the attention, federal appeals court judges are nearly as influential.

Like the justices, they are appointed for life and hear cases touching on religious freedom, free speech, gun rights, abortion, criminal law, immigration and government regulation issues. Because the Supreme Court hears only 0.1% of appeals, these are essentially the most significant federal courts in the country.

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When President Obama was sworn in on January 20, 2009, only one of these 13  federal appeals courts — the Ninth Circuit — was controlled by activist Democratic appointees. When he left office, nine of 13 circuits were controlled by Democratic appointees. Despite President Trump’s historic gains on the federal courts, if he is not reelected in 2020, the courts would flip back to the left — placing at risk his greatest legacy.

Most federal judges serve for several decades, and so their actions continue to impact the country long after the President who appointed them leaves office. For example, nearly half the federal circuit judges still hearing cases in Chicago were appointed by President Reagan. These numbers are the reason why some say that judicial appointments are President Reagan’s greatest legacy. And he certainly made an impact on the Supreme Court, elevating Justice Rehnquist to Chief Justice, who led the “the Rehnquist Revolution” that began to return power to the states, appointing Justice Scalia, one of the greatest jurists in our nation’s history. He also appointed 83 circuit judges, surpassing each of his four successors. But many of these judges are no longer on the bench and those who continue to serve are nearing retirement.

While President Reagan’s judicial legacy is at its twilight, President Obama’s judicial legacy has just begun to impact the country. And while President Reagan understood that our constitutional system depends on an impartial judiciary that will interpret the law as written, President Obama openly sought activist judges who would promote liberal policy preferences that Congress and the American people would not adopt. His Supreme Court nominees — Justices Sotomayor and Kagan — both of whom I opposed — are two of its younger members and over half of his appellate judges could feasibly sit on the courts for the next 40 years.

During my time as the ranking member of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, I led Republicans in successfully blocking President Obama’s most extreme judicial nominees who exhibited leniency for sex offenders and violent criminals promoted radical left-wing policy agendas like “constitutional welfare rights, rejected originalism and the limited role of the judiciary, and were openly hostile towards the right to bear arms, religious liberty, private property rights (to name just a few). So when President Trump was elected, he had over 100 judicial vacancies to fill and he has delivered, nominating two outstanding Supreme Court justices and over 50 appellate judges.

Indeed, just a few years ago, there were many federal judicial vacancies in Alabama — vacancies that President Obama tried to fill with progressive appointees. Alabama’s federal courts — as we know them — were one election away from a dangerous transformation. But Senator Shelby and I stood together through eight grueling years of the Obama presidency and blocked all but two of his nominees to our federal bench — including one appointee to a powerful appeals court. Fortunately, a lot has changed since President Trump was elected. In less than half the time President Obama was in office, President Trump has appointed five times that many highly qualified lawyers to sit on Alabama federal courts — including the first female judge in Montgomery and the first African-American judge in Mobile. More great Alabama judges are on the way.

One of President Trump’s first appeals court nominees was Judge Kevin Newsom of Birmingham. Before his nomination, Judge Newsom was a partner at one of Alabama’s oldest law firms and served as the chief appellate lawyer for the state of Alabama, where he argued in support of the Ten Commandments and against the use of federal law to prosecute abortion protestors. This past November, President Trump nominated Judge Andrew Brasher of Montgomery to the same court. Just 38 years of age, Judge Brasher also served as Alabama’s top appellate lawyer, where he tirelessly defended Alabama laws from lawsuits brought by Planned Parenthood and the ACLU. Once confirmed, Judge Brasher could sit on this court for the next 50 years. Judges Newsom and Brasher are — as President Reagan said of one of his judicial appointees — the kind of judges the American people want on the federal courts; judges who believe in the rule of law, who revere the Constitution and whose sense of fairness and justice are above reproach.

While President Trump has done great work filling judicial vacancies, whoever is elected president in 2020 will be responsible for filling even more vacancies. President Obama’s judges have upheld Obamacare, forced transgender bathrooms in public schools, struck down reasonable voter identification requirements, endlessly blocked the enforcement of our immigration laws and taken over schools and police departments. Whoever the Democrat party nominates to run against President Trump will appoint judges who are even more radical and will accelerate the left’s march to eviscerate the Constitution. With a third of the federal appellate judiciary hanging in the balance, the American people must decide whether they want more of President Trump’s originalists or President Obama’s progressives confirmed to the federal bench for life.

I promise you this — if I am so fortunate as to return to the U.S. Senate, I will continue the work I started as a leading voice in support of the President’s historic efforts to make the judiciary great again.

Jeff Sessions served as the 84th Attorney General of the United States, as Senator from Alabama, and as Ranking Member on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.

Byrne: Impeachment is nothing to smile about

(U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne, White House/Facebook, YouTube)

For three years now, the American people have been forced to endure the efforts by Democrats and the liberal mainstream media to impeach President Trump and remove him from office in the face of his clear electoral victory in 2016. They have tried everything, from a needless special prosecutor investigation, which resulted in nothing, to an Adam Schiff-coached whistleblower who admitted he had no firsthand information and relied on news articles by that same liberal media.

The farce produced just two articles of impeachment, neither of which alleges “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors” as required by the Constitution. An unprecedented and totally partisan process in the House produced nothing that Democrats could even allege is impeachable.

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Then Nancy Pelosi, after insisting for weeks that impeachment couldn’t wait and had to be done by Christmas, held onto the articles, refusing to send them to the Senate as is required. This prolonged the spotlight on her, as the ever-worshipful liberal media gushed over her political brilliance, ignoring the inconvenient fact that her strategy of forcing the Senate to adopt her preferred process for the trial completely failed.

The Constitution is clear. While the House has “the sole Power of Impeachments,” the Senate has “the sole Power to try Impeachments.” And the Constitution clearly states that each house of Congress sets its own rules. Pelosi had no right or power to dictate trial rules to the Senate. Her behavior was unconstitutional and brought embarrassment and dishonor on the House. So, I filed a resolution censoring the speaker for her inappropriate behavior.

Finally, last week as Democrats began to abandon Pelosi’s position, she relented, and the House appointed seven “managers” to present the House’s articles and “case” to the Senate. Led by Schiff, who literally made-up words for the transcript of President Trump’s call to the President of Ukraine in his first day of impeachment “hearings,” and by the bumbling and incompetent Jerry Nadler, the House managers will finally have to behave according to the rules of a truly fair process, presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the competent John Roberts, who will tolerate none of the misbehavior the Democrats repeatedly engaged in as this mess moved through the House.

Pelosi couldn’t stand to lose her spotlight, and, in one last shameful act, had a “signing ceremony” where she and other Democrats smiled and laughed as she pronounced President Trump “impeached forever” and handed out pens. Even some of her adoring fans in the liberal media said she went too far.

What now? The Senate will meet every day except for Sundays beginning at 1:00 p.m. Every senator must attend. They cannot talk or bring electronic devices. They will initially hear the House managers’ “case” for the articles of impeachment, and then the president’s lawyers will finally be allowed to present his case. Be prepared for the House managers to be longwinded and ineffective. Be prepared for the president’s team to be briefer and speak clearly to the essential points of weakness in the articles. Then senators will be allowed to ask questions through Chief Justice Roberts.

What happens next is unclear. Will the Senate dismiss the articles? Will they acquit the president? Will they unnecessarily delay things further by calling witnesses? We don’t know.

But, we do know that not a single Republican voted for these articles in the House and even a few Democrats voted against them. One Democrat changed parties over the vote. We also know there are not nearly enough senators to meet the two-thirds threshold to remove President Trump from office. And we know this will have all been a complete waste of time.

This fall, in the general election, the American people will finally have their say, as the framers of our Constitution intended. I predict Pelosi, Schiff and Nadler won’t be smiling.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope. He is a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Byrne: More important than ever to fight for the Second Amendment

(B. Byrne/Facebook)

Once again, the radical left has taken things too far. Recently, the Virginia legislature voted to put unconstitutional restrictions on law abiding citizens regarding the right to bear arms. These new laws go directly against the Second Amendment, which unequivocally guarantees this right.

Don’t be fooled: while the fight today is in Virginia, that doesn’t mean our Second Amendment rights are safe here. Any attempt to restrict the Second Amendment will have consequences across the country. If we let the radical Left get away with this, they will try this at the federal level next.

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The Constitution couldn’t be clearer when it comes to the Second Amendment: “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” There are no qualifiers or restrictions in that statement. The Second Amendment is straightforward and crystal clear.

This is about more than just the rights of gun owners. This is about defending the Constitution against attacks from those who wish to rewrite our laws, destroy our values and fundamentally transform our country.

Our Founding Fathers would roll over in their graves if they were able to see the steps that Virginia’s Democrat politicians have taken to restrict freedom. Now more than ever, freedom loving Americans across the nation have to remain vigilant and push back against policies that threaten our God-given, inalienable rights.

The Declaration of Independence makes it clear that our rights come from God, our creator. The government was intended to protect the rights that were gifted from God, not place restrictions on our rights.

As a gun owner myself, I have always fought to protect the Second Amendment. I have consistently voted for concealed carry reciprocity, to make sure that Americans are able to carry their firearm across state lines. I’ve voted to protect the right to carry on federal lands, which is incredibly important for hunters and outdoorsmen. I’ve also strongly advocated to end restrictions against carrying a gun on military bases. It is ridiculous to think that American service members trained in the defense of their nation cannot defend themselves on their own bases.

Last year, I led some of my conservative colleagues in supporting the Second Amendment during a major Supreme Court case against the City of New York. The liberals in New York City passed grossly overreaching and unconstitutional ordinances infringing on the Second Amendment. It is crucial we continue confirming conservative judges so that we have justices on the bench that will honor their oath and protect the Second Amendment in times like this when are rights are under attack.

It is saddening to see that now, in 2020, the tyranny our forefathers fought against with blood, sweat and tears is returning. Let us be honest with the American people: gun control is not about safety. It is about power. Radical Democratic politicians are attempting to strip power away from the everyday American before our very eyes.

With their latest political games, the radical left is not just attacking gun owners. They are again trying to tear our Constitution and our country apart by growing government and putting more restrictions on law abiding Americans.

It is more important now than ever before that Alabama has a senator who will fight back against the radical left and who will always stand up for the Second Amendment. That’s why I’m running for the Senate: to defend the Constitution and protect our Second Amendment rights.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope. He is a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate.

5 days ago

Animal welfare and economics

(American Kennel Club/Twitter)

Dog owners in Canberra, Australia, must now walk their companions daily or face a $2,700 fine, due to a 2019 animal welfare law recognizing dogs as sentient beings. Does requiring the humane treatment of animals restrict the property rights of humans and the functioning of economies?

I will not let rain, sleet, snow or dark of night deter me from walking my dogs. Dogs’ unbridled enthusiasm for a walk is so marvelous that I never want to let them down. I will confess, though, that I’ve violated Canberra’s new law.

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Political philosophers’ theories of rights describe how humans should treat each other. Humans have the capacity for rational, deliberative action. Furthermore, political rights establish the conditions for the exercise of our rational capacities. Although beyond my professional expertise, based on my understanding, I would be reluctant to say that animals have rights.

Nonetheless, I think animals should be treated humanely and ethically, even though people disagree about what exactly constitutes humane treatment. And standards for humane treatment have changed over time. In the 1800s, owners could beat horses or mules for failing to do work.

Some critics dismiss animal rights when proponents do not extend rights to insects. An advocate willing to swat mosquitos rejects what critics see as the logical extension of animal rights. I think humans can hold ourselves to whatever standards of treatment we want. We can have inconsistent standards across species and decide to treat cute animals better. And we need not compromise our health and safety; we can, for instance, spray mosquitos.

The most relevant animal treatment issues today involve hunting and eating meat. My personal opinion here is irrelevant. But standards of care for animals have increased over time, so I can imagine hunting and eating meat being banned someday.

Do requirements for humane treatment compromise the property rights that provide the basis for our economy? As a free-market economist, I normally defend peoples’ economic freedom to use their property as they wish. Shouldn’t economic freedom include the freedom to organize dog fights?

Perhaps I am rationalizing, but I do not believe so. Property rights are ultimately rights to use things we own in certain ways. Ownership of animals may entail fewer rights than ownership of, say, furniture. Parents have more limited decision rights for their children than for themselves and can lose parental rights for abuse or neglect. Since standards of humane treatment can be inconsistent, we may decide that killing pigs or cattle but not dogs or horses for food is OK.

Would the banning of meat decimate agriculture? The impacts would be significant; the U.S. has over 90 million cattle, 70 million hogs and 230,000 poultry farms. The 2.3 million Americans working in agriculture will likely continue to do so, probably growing crops instead of raising animals. We have already seen a more radical transformation, however, as 80% of Americans worked in agriculture in 1800.

Banning meat would cause ranchers losses on the poultry and livestock they owned. However, meat is unlikely to be banned until many more Americans first become vegetarians. Fewer meat-eaters would reduce livestock populations and prices, reducing the losses from an eventual ban.

Animals, though, may not benefit from vegetarianism. The vast majority of America’s 70 million hogs are alive today because they are being raised for market. Most farm animals would not exist if we did not eat meat.

Is it better for an animal never to be born than born and raised to be eaten? Population ethics wrestles with a version of this question. China’s one child policy controlled population growth, but millions of children were never born. Does a higher quality of life for those lucky enough to be born offset the lives that never were?

Humanity is arguably making moral progress: slavery has been abolished, war is becoming rarer and we insist on humane treatment of animals. Ownership, limited by norms of humane treatment, leads humans to care for animals. Evolving standards of humane treatment need never cause economic calamity.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and host of Econversations on TrojanVision. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Troy University.

5 days ago

Steve Flowers: Methodists have dominated high offices in Alabama history

(YHN)

Even though there are more Baptists than Methodists in Alabama, historically Methodists have held more of the prominent political posts in the Heart of Dixie. If you look closely at these leaders’ lives, a good many of our leaders have been sons of Methodist ministers.

The most famous Methodist minister in the state over the past 50 years has been the Rev. John Ed Mathison of Montgomery. He has been the confidant and counselor to a great many of Alabama’s leaders, as well as being the greatest inspirational and dynamic speaker of our time. John Ed founded and pastored the Frazer United Methodist Church in Montgomery. He shepherded his flock in the capital for 36 years.

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His younger brother is a remarkable man, very similar to John Ed. The Rev. George Mathison served numerous churches in Alabama. However, he is best known for being the minister of the First Methodist Church of Auburn, where he was their beloved pastor for 26 years. His flock referred to him as Brother George.

John Ed and George were born to be Methodist ministers. Their father was a renowned Methodist minister. They were both athletes in college. John Ed and George are both outstanding tennis players.

The First Methodist Church of Dothan is where many of the leaders of the Wiregrass have attended over the years. Dr. Mike Watson has been a leader in the Methodist Church throughout his illustrious career. He recently retired as a Bishop of the Methodist Church. He and his wife, Margaret, grew up in the First Methodist Church of Dothan. Two Alabama Attorney Generals, Bill Baxley and Richmond Flowers, came from First Methodist in Dothan. Congressional candidate and businessman Jeff Coleman is also an active member of this church.

Our legendary United States Senator and Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Howell Heflin was the son of a Methodist minister. Heflin was a master storyteller and having grown up in the Methodist Church was an active layman in the church. He loved to eat. He would say, “The sacred bird of the Methodist was fried chicken.” The Methodist practice of moving their preachers around caused Heflin to be born out of Alabama. Heflin would say, “My father was over in Georgia doing missionary work among the heathen.”

Alabama’s most prominent and prolific political icon, George Wallace, was a Methodist. Our legendary United States Senators Lister Hill and John Sparkman were both Methodists.

State Rep. Steve Clouse has been a member of First Methodist in Ozark his entire life. State Rep. Bill Poole and Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox are members of the First Methodist Church of Tuscaloosa. Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle is a Methodist and his grandfather was a Methodist minister.

Former Senator Jeff Sessions is a lifelong, devout Methodist. He even went to the Montgomery Methodist founded college, Huntington. BCA President Katie Britt and her husband Wesley attend the First Methodist Church of Montgomery. Current Chief Justice Tom Parker and his wife Dottie attend Frazer United Methodist of Montgomery, the church made famous by John Ed Mathison.

Congressman Robert Aderholt and his wife, Caroline, met at the Methodist college of Birmingham-Southern College and were married in the Methodist church, but are now Anglicans.

The Baptists have been taking their rightful place at the head of the table in recent years. Our Governor Kay Ivey is a Baptist. She attends First Baptist Church of Montgomery. The legendary pastor there, Jay Wolfe, has been the confidant and pastor to a good many of our recent state leaders. PSC President Twinkle Cavanaugh and her husband, Jeff, are also active members of First Baptist Church of Montgomery. Twinkle teaches Sunday School and Jeff is a deacon.

Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth is a Baptist and has been a youth leader in his church. Secretary of State John Merrill is an active member of Calvary Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa. State Senator Greg Reed of Jasper is a Baptist. Greg has been a lifelong member of First Baptist Jasper. Alabama Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell is a deacon of his church, Hillcrest Baptist of Maplesville, where his family has attended for generations.

We have a couple of state leaders who are Presbyterians. The two most prominent are our Senior United States Senator, Richard Shelby and state Treasurer John McMillan.

We have two token Episcopalians, Mobile/Baldwin Congressman Bradley Bryne and the congressman who preceded him, Jo Bonner, who is currently Governor Ivey’s Chief of Staff.

In bygone days if you wanted to be elected to anything in North Alabama, you had to be a member of the Church of Christ. Not so much today. The only member of that church today, who is a prominent state political leader, is State Senator Jabo Waggoner, Jr., who represents an over the mountain, Birmingham silk-stocking district.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

Roby: More flexibility for America’s working parents

(M. Roby for Congress/Facebook)

The American workforce has witnessed considerable change in dynamics during the 21st Century: it is more diverse than ever before.

Statistics consistently show the percentage of U.S. families with at least one working parent is on the rise, and it’s no secret that today’s working parents struggle to balance the demands required of them by their jobs and their children.

Time is the most precious resource, especially for mothers and fathers who are putting forth their best efforts to manage families while simultaneously excel in their careers. These hard-working parents deserve and need more choice and flexibility in their daily schedules in order to accomplish both. As a working mom myself, I understand the challenges parents face in managing these responsibilities. I always say that Congress cannot legislate another hour into the day, but we can update our laws to allow more choice and fairness in how employees choose to use their time.

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As the dynamics of the workplace have changed over time, our policies that govern the workplace have not adapted to keep up with these changes. I am proud to again introduce the Working Families Flexibility Act of 2020. This piece of legislation offers compensatory time, or “comp time,” benefits in lieu of cash wages for overtime, allowing private-sector workers the same opportunity that currently exists in the public sector.

This bill amends the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 and removes an outdated and unnecessary federal restriction on the use of comp time in the private sector for hourly employees. Comp time would be completely voluntary for the employer and employee with strong worker protections to prohibit coercion. This is the same legislation I have introduced numerous times, and it passed the House on several occasions. This change in law would provide more flexibility for working moms and dads who need more time to manage their families.

Think about it this way: should a working dad be forced to use all of his vacation time to be involved in his child’s school? Should a military mom have to take sick leave in order to make sure her child is properly taken care of? Whether it’s a parent coaching a child’s sports team, caring for a sick or elderly family member, or getting children to and from school and extracurricular activities, family responsibilities often require parents to take time away from work.

As times have changed, so have demands on our time. This is one proposal that would offer private-sector American workers more freedom and more control over their time in order to spend it the way they choose. This piece of legislation is about the working moms and dads across the country who value their time. I am honored to introduce this bill again in order to show my support for all of the working parents across our nation and to hopefully make life a little easier for the moms and dads in our American workforce.

Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama, with her husband Riley and their two children.

1 week ago

Preventing preventable crimes

(C. Ward/Contributed, YHN)

It seems like every time I look at the news there is another case of a missing person. Every one of these cases is heartbreaking, and, in fact, many are preventable. I don’t know about you, but every time I read about one of these cases, I find myself thinking about the ways in which we can prevent another unnecessary crime against one of our children.

As I travel around my district talking with people this is an issue continues that to be talked about, we can and should be doing more to protect our young people.

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Like many of you, I have been shocked as we learn more about those responsible for many of the disappearances and murders. These people should have never been on the streets to begin with as they were out on bail and awaiting trial for another violent crime which they committed.

That is why I plan on filing legislation that would strengthen our bail laws and prevent those who are accused of especially heinous crimes such as rape, murder, human trafficking or other violent offenses which cause harm to others from getting out on bail and killing again. It is clear that we have a select number of rouge judges who will not implement tough rulings to keep these criminals off of our streets while they await trial to answer for their crimes. These people should be in jail, not released into communities free to victimize another innocent person.

Let me be clear, I fully support our criminal justice system and strongly believe we have the best system in the world. However, we should also not allow needless crimes to happen to innocent victims at the hands of violent offenders who are using loopholes in the system.

This has to stop. It is past time that we protect our citizens from violent offenders who should be in jail and not free to roam the streets preying our friends and family. If this legislation prevents one more person from being abducted and killed at the hands of a known criminal, it will be worth it.

Cam Ward represents District 14 in the Alabama State Senate, which includes all or parts of Shelby, Bibb and Chilton counties. He serves as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Follow him on Twitter: @SenCamWard

Rogers’ report from Washington: The situation with Iran and Democrats

(Congressman Mike D. Rogers/Facebook)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In this new year and decade, the world remains a very dangerous place.

Recently, President Trump had the opportunity to take out a very bad actor who wished harm on Americans and was responsible for the deaths of 600 U.S. soldiers.

In Baghdad, Qasem Soleimani, an Iranian commander, was killed by some of our brave men and women serving in uniform.

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A known terrorist is now eliminated, and I strongly stand with President Trump on his bold and decisive actions.

But Democrats have been quick to rush to Iran’s defense. Can you believe that?

Because Democrats are so blinded by their complete hatred for President Donald Trump, they cannot even acknowledge the death of this terrorist was done in the interest of the United States’ national security.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi even brought a war powers resolution to the House floor in an attempt to tie the hands of our president.

As a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee and the ranking ember on the Committee on Homeland Security, I strongly opposed this blatant politically-driven move.

Making it harder for any president to keep our homeland and citizens safe is irresponsible and just plain dangerous.

As I said in my speech last week on the House floor, “This resolution maligns our President, undermines our national security and makes a martyr of a man who killed nearly 600 Americans.”

Democrats can’t bring themselves to acknowledge that President Trump was right to take out Soleimani or support the Iranian citizens protesting for their freedom. Instead, they continue their attempted coup in the form of the sham impeachment process.

President Trump’s record of accomplishments is clear and irrefutable. Unfortunately, Speaker Pelosi and Democrats just can’t put America first.

U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers is a Republican from Saks. 

1 week ago

When it comes to health care, one-size-fits-all benefits none

(C. Cannon/Contributed)

Alabamans face enough challenges when it comes to accessing high-quality, comprehensive health care — particularly in our many rural communities where families are more likely to be uninsured or underinsured. While the promise of Medicare for All or a public option may sound alluring, these kinds of government-controlled health care insurance systems would likely only make it that much harder for patients in need to access and afford the vital care they need.

According to a recent study released by FTI Consulting, introducing a public option to “compete” on the ACA’s health care exchanges would eventually crowd out the individual insurance marketplace and force millions of Americans off their private insurance. In fact, the study found that after the introduction of the public option “20 percent of state marketplaces would no longer offer a single private insurance option by 2028.” By 2050, that figure would grow to nearly 70%, “representing nearly a quarter of marketplace enrollees.”

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The study also found that within the first year following the introduction of a public option, “over 130,000 Americans enrolled in ACA coverage would be forced off of their existing health care plan.” Over a decade, that figure would swell to up to 2 million, and by the end of that decade, over 7 million Americans would no longer have access to private health insurance. Instead of giving patients more options, the study found that the public option would reduce choices and force Americans into a one-size-fits-all government health insurance system.

As someone who has worked in the health care insurance industry for 16 years, I can attest to the fact that one-size-fits-all rarely works when it comes to health care coverage. That is part of the reason that policymakers should be working to strengthen and protect the current blend of private coverage, employer-sponsored plans, and government programs like Medicare and Medicaid that currently provide so much flexibility for patients.

Instead of supporting this level of choice and flexibility, a public option or Medicare for All system would only lead to higher costs for hardworking American families, less access for and a lower quality of care, and less control over the doctors and treatments that would be covered for patients in need. Patients would end up spending more for poorer health care outcomes as private and employer-sponsored premiums rise because the public option or Medicare for All system would slash payments to doctors, forcing providers to shift those costs to those in the private market. This is no way to solve America’s health care woes.

Instead, we need to consider innovative ways to bring care directly to the underserved populations and rural areas while lowering health care costs in Alabama and across the country. Services such as telemedicine and direct primary care (DPC) allow more Alabamians to get access to the primary care services they need even if they lack existing insurance coverage. Since much of the state’s rural areas do not have access to adequate internet, Alabama must improve broadband access in these areas to even offer services like telemedicine. By offering mobile health services, patients are able to access healthcare services at a lower cost than face-to-face consultations.

I have said it before and will say it again—our health care system may not be a perfect one, but with the passage the Affordable Care Act (ACA), it is one in which roughly 290 million Americans have access to health care coverage, including essential benefits. The path forward should not be to scrap all the progress we have made, but to continue to build upon, improve and strengthen the ACA through practical reforms that will help lower costs and expand coverage to more Americans who need it.

Ultimately, it is through these small, but practical policy improvements — like continuing to expand Medicaid in the states that have yet to do so, increasing federal subsidies to help working-class Americans not covered by their employers afford coverage, reprioritizing education around enrollment periods and offering innovative ways to bring telemedicine to rural and underserved areas — that we can strengthen our health care system. That’s what legislators should be focusing on instead of pushing for absolute governmental control over our health care insurance system.

Curtis Cannon is a board member and speaker for Employee Benefit Advisors and Managing Partner of Axis Recovery, a healthcare consulting firm in Alabama.

1 week ago

Guest: Time to give equal recognition to all Cherokee County veterans who died in WWI, WWII

(Scott Lloyd/Contributed)

It is time for the monument in front of the Cherokee County Courthouse to be retired and replaced with a new monument that will give equal honor to the sacrifices of all local service members who gave their lives for our country in World War I and World War II.

Image of the monument as follows:

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What you might not notice without close inspection is that the list goes all the way through alphabetical order twice. There is a small section at the end with the names of four service members. These four, who made the same Ultimate Sacrifice as the others, are listed as an afterthought. It is as if their lives were worth less than those of the veterans whose names precede them.

The horrendous thing about these four veterans being treated as less worthy is the word that precedes their name: “COLORED.”

That’s right. In 2020, we still have a monument on display that not only uses the word “COLORED” but treats these men who gave their lives for our country as afterthoughts because they were “COLORED.”

I have no doubt that the VFW members who placed this monument in 1950 meant well, and thought that this was an adequate acknowledgement for these service members. Surely, however, 70 years later, we have learned that no veteran who gave his life for our country should be treated as if his sacrifice was less because of his race.

I will close by giving a special mention of the names of these four men. I hope that their living family members will join me in calling for this monument to be retired to the Historical Museum and replaced with a new one that gives equal recognition to all the local veterans who gave their lives in these wars.

CHARLIE BERRY
JAMES COVINGTON
ROBERT L. HARRIS
TOBIE W. KELLY

Scott C. Lloyd is a Cherokee County deputy district attorney who resides in Centre, Alabama

1 week ago

Alabama and the critical importance of small cells

(Dr. George S. Ford/Contributed, Pixabay, YHN)

The United States is in the midst of a wireless revolution. With the deployment of fifth-generation (5G) technology, American consumers are about to see mobile broadband speeds explode exponentially, unlocking a wide range of new possibilities.

But the deployment of 5G will not come easy. To make 5G a reality, U.S. mobile operators must install new “small cells” throughout their service areas. While one would think that local governments would welcome this new technology with open arms, some local authorities have a sordid track record of using their rights-of-way monopolies to extract concessions from providers to line the city’s coffers. Such tactics delay deployment and ultimately raise the price of 5G services.

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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has long-recognized this problem and has attempted to take steps, where practicable, to encourage local governments to speed up the tower siting approval process. While the FCC has made some in-roads, the problem of local government abuse is far from solved.

Recognizing these jurisdictional challenges, over 25 states — including Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, Tennessee and Arkansas — have stepped up and passed some sort of small cell legislation to accelerate 5G deployment. To Alabama’s credit, it tried to join these states when the legislature took up a bill last year which would have, among other reforms, limited the fees a city could charge for a small cell installation and streamlined the timeframe for local approval of new small cell deployment. While the bill ultimately did not pass, it is widely expected that this bill will be reintroduced in 2020. The bill does not impinge on the fees and review process of reasonable localities but targets egregious behavior and bad acts, ensuring fairness and uniformity to telecommunications providers.

Needless to say, some local governments in Alabama are none too pleased about the bill’s reintroduction. Their arguments are uncompelling.

Take, for example, Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller. According to a recent op-ed penned by the mayor, the proposed bill would “transfer significant local resources to private companies … without securing any guarantee of public benefit in return.” The mayor should be a bit more accurate with the facts.

Contrary to Mayor Fuller’s assertions, the proposed bill does not “transfer significant local resources to private companies.” All the proposed legislation would do is to create a streamlined permitting process and establish uniform parameters for application review and approval. In fact, under the proposed legislation, not only will local governments be allowed to review permit requests, including site locations, but they will also be permitted to deny a small cell application for numerous reasons, including legitimate public safety concerns, noncompliance with applicable codes, noncompliance with lawful height restrictions and spacing requirements, noncompliance with lawful historic district requirements and more.

Mayor Fuller’s claim that removing local barriers to 5G deployment will not produce any public benefit is also belied by the mayor’s own words. Indeed, the mayor himself acknowledges that 5G is a “crucial foundation for smart city initiatives” and that high-speed 5G services “are critical for the delivery of education, economic development, employment and a variety of services necessary for success and progress in the 21st Century.”

Auburn Mayor Ron Anders is even more hyperbolic. Mayor Anders recently wrote an op-ed in the Auburn Villager in which he argued that the proposed bill would strip cities’ “constitutional authority to make local decisions that impact … local infrastructure.” With all due respect to Mayor Anders, perhaps a lesson in Civics 101 at our shared alma mater Auburn University is in order: municipalities are creatures of the state — not the other way around — and thus a municipality’s authority is limited to what the legislature bestows or withholds. Contrary to the belief of Auburn’s mayor, a political subdivision of a state (that is, a city) does not have greater constitutional authority than the state itself.

At the end of the day, the hard reality is that many local governments in Alabama still have not developed a process for reviewing small cell applications. Many municipalities levy fees and delays that greatly exceed those of neighboring states. As a result, tower and antenna citing in much of Alabama continues to remain stuck in a morass of local politics. If Alabamians want the rapid deployment of and economic benefits from 5G technology across the state, then enacting a reasonable, state-wide uniform tower citing process will go far toward ensuring the rapid deployment of vital 5G wireless infrastructure.

Dr. George S. Ford is the Chief Economist of the Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal & Economic Public Policy Studies, Washington, DC. Dr. Ford is an internationally-recognized expert in IT economics and policy. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama, and has served on Alabama’s Broadband Task Force under two governors. He holds a PhD in Economics from Auburn University.

Byrne: With Soleimani dead, the world is safer

(Bradley Byrne/Facebook, Tasnim News Agency/Wikicommons, YHN)

You may not have known his name, but the most dangerous man in the Middle East has finally received justice for a lifetime of brutality.

Before being taken out by an American airstrike, Iranian General Qasem Soleimani was a major general in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and commander of its extra-military, clandestine Quds Force. He left his stain on this world by organizing, training and leading terrorist groups across the Middle East and beyond.

The blood on his hands included that of at least 600 Americans and thousands more.

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Consider the scope of his activities. Soleimani attacked Americans in Afghanistan. His forces were active throughout Iraq. He armed Hezbollah with rockets that have indiscriminately killed women and children in Israel. He attempted attacks in Europe against our allies. He even planned at least one failed bombing in our nation’s capital.

To put it simply, he was a terror mastermind. Taking Soleimani off the battlefield leaves a gaping hole in the Iranian regime’s ability to orchestrate terrorist activities throughout the Middle East. Make no mistake, the Middle East, and the entire world, is safer without him.

We can’t be naive. The evil Iranian regime’s goal is to destroy the West and its way of life, no matter the cost. Soleimani and the government of Iran have never had any intention of adhering to any global norms or abiding by any treaties.

That’s why policies of appeasement towards Iran are misguided and dangerous. The Obama-era Iranian deal was, at best, an empty public relations victory for the Obama administration that did little to slow down Iran’s public support for global terrorism and quest towards its goal of securing nuclear capabilities. In reality, as we pumped up their economy with billions in cash and sanctions relief, Iran never wavered. With international scrutiny relaxed, Iran successfully took their operations underground. Iran continued and even escalated its proxy support of terrorist groups while the Iranian deal was in place. And Soleimani was the unquestioned leader.

Unlike the previous President who drew a “red line” regarding Assad’s evil Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons, President Trump means what he says. He made clear that any Iranian attack on Americans would be punished. The killing of Soleimani came just days after his proxies attacked our embassy in Baghdad and a military base in Kenya that resulted in the loss of an American life.

President Obama may have capitulated in Syria, but global terrorists and the regimes who support them now know with certainty that President Trump does not make idle threats. He will act decisively to defend Americans and our interests around the world. After two face-saving attacks from Iran in the region that took no American lives, the Iranian regime appears to be wisely deescalating their aggression.

Last week, House Democrats introduced a War Powers Resolution designed to discredit President Trump for using his constitutional powers to eliminate Soleimani. It is disappointing that when Congress should be showing national resolve and unity against an evil Iranian regime, Democrats are playing politics. Last week, I received a classified briefing from national security officials that made clear the continued threat Soleimani posed to Americans. We should be thanking the president and the brave men and women who successfully carried out this attack, not engaging in political grandstanding.

The evil Iranian regime is growing weaker at home. President Trump’s sanctions are continuing to damage Iran’s economy. Iranians are protesting in the streets, shouting “death to the dictator!” After President Trump’s show of American strength, the Iranian government can’t risk further antagonizing the United States. Their leaders would be wise to continue their de-escalation.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope. He is a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate.

2 weeks ago

Prosperity and inequality

(Pixabay)

The world has achieved an unprecedented level of prosperity. Economist Deirdre McCloskey has labeled this the Great Enrichment. For the first time in human history, standards of living for ordinary people – as opposed to emperors or kings – have risen above subsistence.

Historical estimates of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita, economists’ preferred measure of living standards, dramatically document the Great Enrichment. Economist Angus Maddison began this project, now continued at the University of Groningen Growth and Development Centre. The dollar figures mentioned here are in 1990 dollars, adjusted for inflation, and comparable across countries.

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Professor Maddison estimated world GDP per capita in 1 AD to be $445. One thousand years later, it was $436, meaning complete stagnation for a millennium. Slow progress then began, with GDP rising to $566 in 1500 and $667 in 1820 before really taking off, reaching $875 in 1870, $1,525 in 1950 and $6,049 in 2001.

This represents an incredible improvement in the quality of billions of human lives. The World Bank defines extreme poverty as GDP per person of $2 per day or less. Essentially the world was poor until the middle of the 19th Century. And little progress was occurring. In most countries, over a century there would likely be no meaningful improvement in living standards.

The Great Enrichment began in Great Britain and the Netherlands around 1700. Britain and Holland remained the two leading world economies until the U.S. caught up in 1870 and became the world’s leading economy before World War I.

Over the past 50 years, prosperity has extended across the globe. China and India have received the most attention. Living standards have increased by factors of nine in China since 1976 and four in India since 1990. Prosperity in the world’s two most populous nations has really boosted global GDP.

Africa missed out on growth during the 20th Century. But numerous African nations are now becoming significantly richer. Since 2000, living standards have increased by 50% in Kenya, over 100 percent in Namibia, Sudan and Tanzania and 600% in Angola.

The Great Enrichment provides perspective on America’s current concern with income inequality. Enormous differences in wealth certainly exist. Jeff Bezos is worth over $100 billion, while the average household is worth $97,000. Several Democratic presidential hopefuls propose ambitious plans to reduce inequality.

Redistributionist policies take the existence of wealth as given. Economist John Kenneth Galbraith argued in The Affluent Society that since we had become a prosperous nation, we could now afford to address societal ills. This reasoning has become received wisdom.

Economic history, by contrast, shows that today’s wealth is the exceptional condition. America has billionaires, and a billion dollars is more money than one could spend in several lifetimes without wasting it. Yet, even America’s poor households enjoy a standard of living that kings and emperors of the past would envy.

The Great Enrichment has made the average person become wealthy for the first time. Unfortunately, prosperity has not been equally shared. Perhaps human society cannot produce wealth without inequality. Wake Forest University philosopher James Otteson offers this perspective:

What presents us with an uncomfortable dilemma is that the clear lesson from human economic history seems to be that the only way we have ever discovered to enable substantial numbers of people to rise out of poverty is a set of political-economic and cultural institutions that also engender inequality.

Many Americans believe in American exceptionalism, that our nation is somehow better than others. America helped drive the Great Enrichment and was the first nation founded on the principle of freedom. Yet some of America’s founders owned slaves. I’ll let others debate if we’re exceptional.

America’s accomplishments are due to our laws and constitution. I do not believe that America is immune from the forces shaping social interaction among humans. The American flag and the Pledge of Allegiance do not guarantee prosperity.

Just as freedom must be protected by every generation, prosperity must continue to be produced. If a quest to address income inequality compromises the conditions necessary for prosperity, we might once again find ourselves all equally poor.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and host of Econversations on TrojanVision. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Troy University.

2 weeks ago

Roby: We can all help fight human trafficking

(Representative Martha Roby/Facebook, Pixabay, YHN)

The state of Alabama reached several significant milestones and experienced many successes in 2019. We commemorated the 200th anniversary of Alabama’s statehood, saw a record low unemployment rate and witnessed new economic growth and development taking place across the state.

When there are so many positives to celebrate, it can be simple to overlook the unwanted storylines hiding in the shadows. While it was a year full of monumental moments and exciting celebration in Alabama, there are still serious issues across the state and country that are desperate for our intention: one major problem being human trafficking.

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The White House recently issued a Presidential Proclamation declaring January 2020 as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. This proclamation also highlights the 20-year anniversary of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA). With the enactment of TVPA, the United States took significant steps in the fight against human trafficking and related offenses by making them a federal crime attached with severe penalties. I have pushed efforts, along with my colleagues in Congress, and working with the Administration to prevent human trafficking by passing and signing several pieces of legislation into law, including the Abolish Human Trafficking Act, the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act and Trafficking Victims Protection Act. Rest assured that we will continue our best efforts in this fight as 2020 progresses.

Human trafficking, unfortunately, affects millions across the world. Many times, unseen problems are the most dangerous of them all. It may seem easy to write off human trafficking as an action that only takes place in Third World countries, but it happens in our very own Alabama communities and around the United States every single day. Human trafficking is a multi-billion dollar criminal enterprise and one of the fastest-growing illegal industries in the world, and it is growing at an extremely alarming rate. The International Labour Organization estimates that there are nearly 25 million victims worldwide. The underground nature and secrecy of these operations make it difficult for authorities to accurately estimate the total number of victims across the United States. Until we beat this horrific problem altogether, there is much work to be done.

Human trafficking can take many forms, and it is hard to know the full scale of its impact. Even though it is a larger issue that is faced no matter the country you live in, there are ways in which we can take responsibility to tackle trafficking head-on. It is crucial to be aware of what is going on around you in your community. If at any point you have information on a potential trafficking case or believe you have witnessed something questionable, act fast and immediately contact the Alabama State Bureau of Investigation at (334) 242-1142 or visit their website to file a report at https://www.alea.gov/sbi. Hotlines and helplines are also critical components of human trafficking prevention, and they can be powerful tools. You can contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline by calling 1 (888) 373-7888 or texting 233733.

Even if you are unsure of your suspicions, it is always best to contact someone about what you may have seen. Your efforts can help raise awareness and even potentially save lives. Let’s all do the absolute best we can to look out for one another in our communities. We must continue to make it evident that this terrible form of modern-day slavery has no place in our country and that we will remain committed to fighting it every step of the way.

Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama, with her husband Riley and their two children.

Byrne: Fighting the swamp spending culture

(B. Byrne/Facebook)

The national debt of our country now stands at a staggering $23 trillion. By failing to act, we are placing an unearned and undeserved burden on our children and grandchildren. That is why I voted no when Speaker Pelosi rammed the $1.4 trillion 2020 spending bills through Congress in December.

We are spending too much money in the funding bills that Congress passes every year. But, these annual bills that get so much attention are just a part of the problem.

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Most Americans do not know that around 61% of federal spending is on autopilot. Another 8% is spent on interest on the debt. That leaves just over 30% of federal spending for Congress to actually control each year. In 2020, the federal government will spend $4.826 trillion dollars, and $2.962 trillion of that will go out the door in the form of mandatory spending without Congress ever taking a vote on it. Unless Congress acts, the mandatory spending number will only grow larger with time.

As long as certain requirements are met, these mandatory spending programs receive money almost automatically. This is contrary to what our founding fathers envisioned when they gave Congress the power of the purse and allows Congress to have a convenient excuse to duck hard spending choices.

Within mandatory spending are many entitlement programs that we are wasting billions of dollars on and that are in desperate need of reform. These include programs like Medicaid, Disability, Obamacare, Food Stamps and other welfare programs.

With spending for these programs on autopilot – and rising every year – the incentive to pursue new reforms and innovations to more responsibly spend taxpayer money is not there. Once mandatory spending programs are established, there can be very little future accountability for their operation.

For example, in 2009 during the Great Recession, the federal government spent $59 billion on food stamps. At the time, this was a record-breaking number, a 41% increase, but it was supposed to go down as the economy improved and we got over the financial crisis. Unbelievably, during the best economy in years, we will spend $63 billion in 2020 on food stamps! These are dollars that could go towards important priorities such as increasing our military readiness or reducing the national debt. Yet, Congress has ceded control of them and the spending continues to rise.

Until we address the inherent problems with mandatory spending, our progress towards increasing spending accountability will be limited. That is why I have introduced H.R. 5538, the Mandatory Spending Control and Accountability Act. My bill would end all autopilot spending other than the Social Security retirement program, Medicare, TRICARE and VA Benefits. That reduces mandatory spending to a manageable 35% of the federal budget and limits autopilot spending to just programs people have earned through their work or service to our country.

Making programs like Obamacare and food stamps subject to the annual Congressional spending process will make Congress more accountable for those dollars. It will give us new sources to cut to reduce the deficit or to reprogram for priorities like protecting our national defense or job training without having to borrow new money.

Most importantly, it’s just common sense. Imagine if your family had a serious credit card problem, but you consistently tried to fix it by only changing 30% of your spending. You probably would not get very far, just like Congress hasn’t over the years.

I take seriously the responsibility to be a wise steward of your tax dollars. My bill won’t do everything to fix our debt and deficit, but it is an important start. I will continue fighting against the swamp culture that resists making tough decisions on spending, and I will continue working towards spending your money responsibly.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope. He is a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Ainsworth: President Trump continues keeping his promise to make America great again

(Will Ainsworth/Facebook)

Trump Derangement Syndrome has reached epidemic level among extremist liberals and their allies in the national news media, and its symptoms were in full manifestation last week when the president retaliated for the unprovoked attack on the U.S. embassy in Iraq.

As everyone is aware by now, angry mobs violated American soil and laid siege to our embassy as brave U.S. Marine guards protected our diplomats inside.

Upon learning that the riots were not spontaneous protests, but rather fully orchestrated attacks planned and organized by Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, President Trump took immediate and forceful action.

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Soleimani led a group that the State Department had officially declared a “foreign terrorist organization” and was directly credited with the deaths of 608 American soldiers.

As his vehicle was leaving the Baghdad airport, Soleimani, whose mere presence offered even more evidence of his involvement in the embassy attack, was struck and killed by laser-guided Hellfire missiles fired from a U.S. drone traveling at 230 mph.

Four other violent, Iran-backed militia leaders and four senior Iranian military officials were also killed by the silent Reaper drone, which was piloted by soldiers located several hundred miles away.

President Trump posted a lone image of an American flag on his Twitter account shortly after the strike.

Rather than celebrating the death of known terrorists whose hands were permanently stained with the blood of hundreds of U.S. soldiers, Nancy Pelosi, the entire field of Democrat presidential candidates, vacuous Hollywood stars whose opinions count for naught, and the members of the leftist press hailed Soleimani as some kind of martyr who was immorally targeted for destruction.

Even after the Pentagon announced it possessed information that Soleimani was “actively developing plans to further attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,” the mournful wails of Washington liberals continued unabated.

Perhaps they would have been happier if President Trump had followed the Obama-era policy of Iranian appeasement by offering pallets of cash in hopes of purchasing their good will and friendship.

But just as Chamberlin’s appeasement of Hitler failed in the 1930s, the weak-kneed Obama approach has proven equally impotent today.

I applaud President Trump for using a show of power to teach the Iranians that they may disrespect our culture and way of life, but they must respect our strength and might if they wish to survive.

Even before their irrational reaction to Soleimani’s death, there was ample evidence to show that liberals were in the deepest throes of Trump Derangement Syndrome.

Consider for a moment that since President Trump took office, the U.S. economy has sustained the longest expansion in our nation’s history, the stock market consistently sets new record highs and unemployment is at its lowest level since statistics have been kept.

Similarly, Alabama reaches new employment benchmarks each month, and many businesses are finding it hard to hire new employees because there are more jobs available than workers to fill them.

New industrial expansions are announced across our state almost daily, and many Alabamians who felt hopeless just a few years ago possess renewed hope today.

Rather than celebrating the man whose generous tax cuts and pro-business philosophy created this historic economy, liberals in Congress chose, instead, to reward him by passing baseless impeachment articles while simultaneously denying him the basic due process rights that the Constitution guarantees.

Since taking his oath of office in 2017, President Trump has kept the promises he made to the citizens who elected him.

He has made America strong again.

He has made America safe again.

He has made America prosperous again.

And he has made America great again.

I continue to offer President Trump my thanks and my full-throated support, and I encourage all of my fellow Alabamians to join me in doing the same.

Will Ainsworth is the Republican Lieutenant Governor of Alabama.

3 weeks ago

How much does government assist the poor?

(PIxabay, YHN)

Americans care about assisting the less fortunate, and over 100 government programs carry out this task. A closer examination, however, reveals that much of this funding goes to other purposes. This raises questions about how best to assist Americans needing help.

I will focus on two programs, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Medicaid. Other programs experience similar diversions. For instance, subsidized college loans often help students from well-to-do families attend elite schools.

TANF provides cash assistance to America’s poor. It was created by the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act to replace Aid to Families with Dependent Children. TANF is what most people probably think of as government welfare.

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In 2017, Alabama spent $202 million on TANF, or $220 for every poor Alabamian. Much of this was not cash assistance. For instance, Alabama spent $5 million on education, training and work programs that year. This makes sense, given the emphasis of the 1996 reforms on work requirements and training to end long-term dependence. Yet TANF also funds child care, pre-kindergarten, child welfare services, home visitation programs, and programs to encourage two-parent family formation and prevent out-of-wedlock births. Administration costs amount to 7 percent of TANF spending nationally, and distressingly almost 13 percent in Alabama. Cash assistance totaled just 23 percent of total TANF spending.

Medicaid covers disabled Americans as well as the poor, as established in the 1965 legislation. Care for the disabled is expensive, consuming over one-third of program spending. But Medicaid also covers nursing home care for the non-disabled elderly, which accounts for 21% of spending.

Why does this happen? As many observers note, poor Americans are not an influential interest group. They do not vote at a high rate and cannot afford the most powerful lobbyists in Washington or Montgomery. By contrast, senior citizens possess significant political clout. Diversion of Medicaid dollars to nursing home care should perhaps not surprise anyone.

The political problem seems intractable: more political influence for the poor would fix the problem but is also the source of the problem. Except I think we can push this further.

If the poor are so politically weak, why do so many programs assist the poor? Wouldn’t politically influential seniors find it easier to just get politicians to pay for nursing home care than redirecting Medicaid funds?

Americans’ desire to help their fellow citizens in need explains politicians’ appropriations for Medicaid and TANF. Political influence is necessary, however, to prevent diversion to other purposes. Government is like a game played on two levels. The visible, surface game involves legislation and appropriations by Congress or the states. The game beneath the surface involves regulations and rulings which determine how the money gets spent.

Americans’ desire to help ensures appropriations to programs like TANF and Medicaid. But because the poor lack the political resources to shape the detailed rules, funds do not get spent as intended. Helping the poor through government is challenging.

We might accept diversion of funds as a cost, like shipping costs. We may simply have to spend $2 to get $1 to TANF and Medicaid beneficiaries. But I think that private philanthropy offers a more effective alternative.

The charitable sector has costs. Bogus “charities” have basically siphoned off donations through ridiculous salaries paid to officers and staff. Today watchdog groups like Charity Navigator and GuideStar can readily identify fake charities. With a responsible charity, donated funds get used for the intended purpose.

America has a range of charities pursuing alternative ways of helping persons in need. We donate over $400 billion to charity annually, even with scores of government programs assisting the poor. Tax cuts tied to a walk-back of government assistance would, I believe, significantly increase charitable giving. Medicaid is so poorly funded that patients in many states struggle to find doctors willing to treat them. Philanthropy offers much more potential to assist Americans.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and host of Econversations on TrojanVision. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Troy University.

3 weeks ago

Roby: Looking back and moving forward

(M. Roby/Facebook, PIxabay, YHN)

It is hard to acknowledge that 2019 has come to an end, and a new year is upon us. Not only are we stepping into a new year, but we are moving into a new decade. We have seen a significant surge in development for Alabama, and the effects can be found as far as each corner of the state. With this new decade comes a fresh opportunity for greater growth and development across our state.

As I take a moment to look back on the year of 2019, I am reminded of all the many accomplishments we made this year in Congress. The House of Representatives passed several critical pieces of legislation that greatly impacted our nation and the state of Alabama including: a disaster relief package that included aid for Wiregrass communities affected by Hurricane Michael, NDAA for Fiscal Year 2020 to support our defense, USMCA to bring trade negotiation improvements with our neighboring trading partners and a spending package to keep the government funded throughout the year.

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Focusing closer on Alabama, our state saw a great amount of successes this past year. The Alabama Department of Labor announced that the state reached a record low unemployment rate. From November 2018 to November 2019, Alabama’s unemployment rate fell from 3.8% to 2.7%, which was the largest drop across the country. We witnessed extreme job growth and development across the state, along with the announcement of the creation of thousands of new jobs for Alabamians.

We are fortunate to experience this remarkable time in our state’s history. Aside from our stable economy and major economic growth, Alabama recently celebrated 200 years of statehood. I was proud to attend festivities commemorating this memorable time in our Capital City, and these events brought Alabamians from North Alabama all the way down to the Wiregrass together in celebration.

With the end to another significant year in Congress, I am quick to remember what an honor and privilege it has been to represent Alabama’s Second Congressional District for the past nine years. I want to thank the people of the Second District for trusting me to serve them and be their voice here in Washington. I am grateful for this unique platform that allows me to dedicate my efforts to serving the needs of my constituents. The cares and concerns of our District are guiding principles for every decision I make in Congress. I look forward to continuing to serve my constituents in this new year, and I am hopeful to see the excellent progress we will continue to make together in our state.

Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama, with her husband Riley and their two children.

3 weeks ago

Tommy Tuberville: Make America fiscally fit again

(Tuberville for Senate/Contributed)

Federal spending is snowballing out of control. The U.S. government’s national debt is skyrocketing, recently hitting a record high of $23 trillion. While hardworking Republican Senators in Washington are proposing budget solutions, clueless Democrats on the other side of the isle are pushing for bills that would increase government spending by billions of dollars more. Our country’s current spending level is not only unsustainable but also detrimental to our future. It’s time to balance the budget.

Let’s be honest — no one enjoys being put on a restrictive budget. But creating a smart plan for allocating funds is crucial for financial prosperity. We all have experience budgeting on the micro-level by managing our families’ household expenses. Cutting back on excessive spending on things like dining out, for example, seems painful at the time, but saving money for our children’s future college educations is worth it in the long run. I’ve also been responsible for managing large budgets during my time as head coach. No one is exempt from budgeting — not even the federal government. It’s imperative that we take action now to preserve our nation’s economy for the future.

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U.S. Senator Rand Paul has proposed an attainable solution to our debt problem: the Penny Plan. With this bill, the government would spend one penny less for every on-budget dollar that they spend for five years, and over this time period, a balance would be achieved. As a part of the plan, Social Security wouldn’t be affected, and Health Savings Accounts (HSA) would be increased so Americans can cover health-care costs. The Penny Plan is a no-brainer, and I’ll be a strong Republican vote in the Senate to help pass Dr. Paul’s bill into law.

It’s up to the levelheaded, fiscally conservative voices in Washington to support President Trump’s agenda, and I’ll use my Republican vote in the Senate to support legislation that helps maintain our economy’s upward climb. Less spending and smaller government are the keys to our nation’s financial success, and a robust economy is the key to maintaining the United States’ position as the strongest country in the world.

Tommy Tuberville is a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Alabama

Byrne: 2019 — A year in review

(U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne/Facebook)

At this time last year, I predicted that the upcoming year with a Democrat majority in the House would be much different. While most activity in the House centered around efforts to impeach our president, I did not let that stop me from fighting for you and our state.

One of our most significant victories this year for Alabama was reforming the Medicare wage index formula. For three decades, hospitals in rural states like Alabama have been underpaid in Medicare reimbursements. Upon taking office, I began fighting for a fix.

With the election of President Trump, I found that we had an administration willing to listen and work with us, and as a result, Alabama’s hospitals have begun receiving significantly higher Medicare reimbursements. In the past, these dollars were siphoned off towards high population areas like New York and Los Angeles at an unfair rate.

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I was also proud to lead the Trump administration’s school choice bill in the House, the Education Freedom Scholarship and Opportunity Act. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos asked me and Senator Ted Cruz to be their champions in Congress for this Trump policy priority, and support continues growing for our bill.

It was an honor to join President Trump several weeks ago in an education roundtable at the White House and to advocate for providing options for students locked into failing schools.

As a member of the Armed Services Committee, I’m proud of my record advocating for a strong national defense. This year Congress passed an important National Defense Authorization Act that enables us to rebuild our military readiness after years of stagnation in the Obama administration.

The bill allows for continued counter drug enforcement at our border, accelerates programs to counter Chinese and Russian aggression, and authorizes important bipartisan nuclear modernization programs. It also gives our troops the largest pay raise in a decade, repeals the widow’s tax, and establishes the Space Force.

Sadly, our Second Amendment rights are under assault like no time in our history. I was proud to lead 120 of my colleagues in filing a brief before the Supreme Court in support of protecting these fundamental American rights.

The case, N.Y. State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. City of New York, will determine if New York’s ban on transporting a handgun to a home or shooting range outside city limits is constitutional. Our Constitution is clear that the right to bear arms shall not be infringed, and I am glad to have had so much support from my colleagues in taking a stand against these radical efforts to take away our gun rights.

Finally, just weeks ago, the House passed President Trump’s USMCA trade deal to replace NAFTA. Our state stands to benefit significantly, particularly our automobile manufacturing and agriculture sectors as well as steel, energy and high-tech. The USMCA is projected to create 176,000 new American jobs and raise our GDP by $68.2 billion. We will reap benefits from this deal for years to come.

Of course, I continued holding constituent town halls throughout Southwest Alabama, and I have now held over 125 since taking office. Your input is important to me, and I appreciate everyone who has participated over the years. We have a great state full of amazing people, and I am glad to be among the leaders in Congress in the number of town halls held.

Thank you for allowing me to represent you in Congress. I will continue fighting for you in 2020.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope. He is a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate.

4 weeks ago

Many questions remain about Gulf Coast passenger rail

(Pixabay, YHN)

The Southern Rail Commission (SRC) is urging the Mobile City Council to commit $3 million in public money to match a “one-time federal grant opportunity” for which they are applying – but it appears they are applying prematurely. For several years now, the SRC has been pushing for new passenger rail service between New Orleans and Mobile. The SRC has come forward with urgent requests on multiple occasions, first approaching the Governor, and now the Mobile City Council, claiming each time that this opportunity for renewal will be “lost.” However, in their efforts to promote passenger rail, the SRC is short-circuiting the established process for ensuring the orderly and effective coexistence of passenger rail service and freight rail service – both of which must operate on the same rail lines.

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This coexistence is critical to the freight rail service which is relied upon by some of the largest employers in the states of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, and requires an initial impact study that will ensure a passenger rail implementation that will not negatively impact commerce. It has been reported that the host railroads (CSX & Norfolk Southern) are currently working with Amtrak on the terms of such a study. Once agreed upon, the impact study is estimated to take four to six months to complete. While the SRC has referenced a previous freight rail study that was conducted when they were contemplating long-distance service between New Orleans and Orlando, updated freight information and service times must be modeled in order to get an accurate picture of the impact to current and future freight rail service.

The SRC touts the economic benefits of tourism resulting from passenger rail, but any such benefits must be weighed against any negative financial impact to freight rail commerce. To that end, the freight impact study could help answer the following questions: What is the impact of increased rail traffic to current industries depending on freight rail service? What is the impact to potential expansion of area industries and the recruitment of new manufacturers who may consider reliable freight rail service in their site selection? With recent investments in the Port of Mobile, is new passenger rail traffic an enhancement or hindrance to the continued success of one of our state’s key economic engines? The elected officials being asked for financial commitments to passenger rail – and the taxpayers who will be footing the bill – deserve answers to these questions.

Most recently, the SRC has stated they intend to apply for a federal grant under the Restoration and Enhancement (R&E) program for the operation of this passenger service. But in addition to the operational costs of passenger rail, there must also be an assessment of the necessary infrastructure improvements to allow passenger rail and freight rail to operate on the same lines. Several SRC members have indicated that the state of Alabama and Mobile County will be approached to help cover some of these costs, which are also unknown until the completion of a full study between the parties. Will the City of Mobile be asked to further subsidize passenger rail if either of those entities balk at a funding request?

Governor Ivey has made it clear she would like the benefit of the freight rail impact study completed before committing state funds for Gulf Coast passenger rail. Should the City of Mobile commit funds without having the complete information the Governor has requested? Rather than proceeding under this “cart before the horse” scenario, the SRC should allow the study to be completed so that everyone has the benefit of full information. Our state and local economy, the jobs associated with it, and the taxpayers who will foot the bill, deserve no less.

The Alabama Railway Association is a non-profit association that was founded in 2003. It is a trade organization that represents all railroads in Alabama, from Short lines to Class I Railroads, along with many Associate Members that supply services and/or materials to support railroad operations.

The purpose of the Alabama Railway Association is to promote and support Alabama railroads within the state of Alabama, to assist in improving rail service within the state of Alabama, to increase railroad safety awareness within the industry and to the public, and to provide for interchange of ideas and cooperation among railroad businesses and state and local governments.

Maeci Walker is the executive director of the Alabama Railway Association

4 weeks ago

Steve Flowers: Remembering some Alabama legends we lost in 2019

(Wikicommons, Auburn University College of Agriculture/Contributed, Alyce Spurell/Twitter, Alabama House Republican Caucus/Facebook, Dimitri Polizos/Contributed, Mayor Randall Woodfin/Facebook, WVUA 23/Facebook, WKRG/Twitter, YHN)

As is my tradition, as the old year comes to a close, I like to pay homage to legendary Alabama leaders who have passed away. We lost some legends in 2019.

Although he was a nonpolitical leader, Bart Starr passed away this year at 85. Starr was best known for being the quarterback of the great Green Bay Packers teams that won the NFL Championship perennially. Starr was the leader of Coach Vince Lombardi’s dynasty teams.

Starr died during Memorial Day weekend in Birmingham. He left an indelible legacy that was vast and greater than just being a pro-quarterback. Starr was a Packer and Alabama Football legend. However, Starr’s grace, humility and love for his wife Cherry is what made him a great man. Starr grew up in Montgomery. He was a successful businessman after his NFL career.

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Legendary State Representative Pete Turnham of Auburn died in his beloved city in September. He was three months away from being 100. He served 40 years in the Alabama House of Representatives and during that tenure he made sure that Auburn University was taken care of in the state budget. Mr. Pete was one of my best friends. We sat together in the House for 16 years.

A lion and giant of the Alabama House of Representatives, Rick Manley, passed away in January at 86. Rick served the people of Demopolis and West Alabama in the Legislature more than 25 years. He was one of the most astute parliamentarians to ever serve in the legislature. Rick Manley served as chairman of both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. He was also an outstanding attorney and served in a leadership role within the Alabama Law Institute. Manley served a term as Speaker Pro Tem of the Alabama House.

Representative Jimmy Martin of Clanton died in May of cancer on the last day of the 2019 Regular Legislative Session. He was 80. He knew almost everyone in Chilton County. He and his brother ran their family funeral home.

State Representative Dimitri Polizos of Montgomery passed away in March at 68. He was a longtime Montgomery restaurant owner. He was very well liked and respected in the Capitol City. Dimitri was typical of many of today’s Republican legislators. He was a small business owner and a conservative. Dimitri was not only a successful restaurateur, he also was very active in and an integral part of the Greek community and the Greek Orthodox Church. Polizos served six years in the Legislature; prior to that he served six years on the Montgomery County Commission.

Chris McNair passed away in May at 93 in Birmingham. Mr. McNair was a former Jefferson County Commissioner. Chris McNair was a first-class gentleman. We served together in the legislature. We became good friends. He loved photography. He was always taking pictures, in fact it was his business/profession. His daughter Denise was one of the four little girls who were killed by a bomb at the 16th Street Baptist Church in downtown Birmingham in the 1960s. The girls were attending Sunday school. Chris served 15 years on the Jefferson County Commission. He loved his family and his community.

Legendary former Tuscaloosa mayor, Al Dupont, passed away in July at age 94. He served as mayor of the Druid City for 25 years, retiring in 2005. He was colorful and beloved by many. He was a decorated veteran of World War II and won two Purple Hearts. He was among the first wave of troops who stormed Normandy on D-Day. He epitomized the greatest generation.

Former 1st District Congressman, Jack Edwards, passed away in September at 91. Edwards was one of the first Republican congressmen elected from Alabama in 1964 since Reconstruction. Congressman Edwards served his Mobile/Baldwin County District for exactly 20 years from 1965-1985. Edwards was a stalwart advocate for a strong military. He was a ranking member of the Defense Appropriations Committee.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist.  His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers.  He served 16 years in the state legislature.  Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.