1 week ago

Challenges, opportunities ahead as North Alabama strives to remain an epicenter of America’s national security industry

It is no secret that Alabama contributes heavily to the U.S. national defense. From rocket manufacturing facilities and Redstone Arsenal in North Alabama to the shipbuilders and Coast Guard base on the Gulf Coast, Alabama is key to the military, intelligence community, law enforcement and space sectors.

What many may not know is how reliant these industries are on politics and policy at the federal and state levels. For decades, the Alabama congressional delegation, led by U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), has consistently secured authorization and funding for major defense and space projects to be completed in the Yellowhammer State. These efforts require countless hours of appropriations and policy negotiations in Washington, enabled by Shelby’s seniority on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.

With Shelby set to retire in 2022 and several new faces in the congressional delegation, the Alabama defense industry and state leaders are concerned about the flow of federal dollars running dry in the coming years. However, it is not all doom and gloom. U.S. Representatives Mike Rogers (AL-03), Robert Aderholt (AL-04) and Mo Brooks (AL-05) continue to hold key positions which will help continue Alabama’s dominance in the defense industry. In addition to these veteran lawmakers, newly elected U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) and U.S. Representative Jerry Carl (AL-01) secured key committee and subcommittee assignments which will further aid in these efforts.

This article is the first of three covering the major challenges and opportunities the Alabama congressional delegation and state leaders will face to maintain Alabama’s preeminence in national security. Covering all of Alabama’s defense interests would take a more in-depth and lengthy study, so this is by no means intended to serve as an encyclopedic record of all the incredible work being performed in the state.

The natural geographical starting point for this topic is North Alabama, home to some of the state’s — and the nation’s — most treasured defense manufacturers, headquarters and program offices. Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville houses NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, the Missile Defense Agency, the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Center, the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Missile and Space Intelligence Center and the FBI’s future “HQ 2” among many other government offices. The Rocket City also hosts countless defense contractors including Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Dynetics and Raytheon Technologies who perform most of the work to support the government presence in North Alabama.

While there are many pressing priorities in North Alabama for its leaders in Washington, there is one that requires the most effort, as its success could drive further growth — while its demise could be devastating.

This issue is protecting the Air Force’s decision to base U.S. Space Command in Huntsville. The Space Command decision, made in the final weeks of the Trump administration, is being contested by states who claim the decision was political in nature and represents a final effort by the former president to punish states he failed to secure in the 2020 election. Senators from California, Colorado, Nebraska and New Mexico have been vocal supporters of reopening the basing decisions, leading the Defense Department’s inspector general to open an inquiry into their accusations.

The good news is that the facts are on the side of Alabama, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin — an Alabama native — and the Air Force have defended the original decision to base Space Command in Huntsville. The area’s relatively low cost of living, deep talent pool of highly qualified personnel, its growing federal footprint and the availability of the necessary facilities at Redstone Arsenal are what drove the Air Force’s decision, not politics.

That said, Huntsville is not out of the woods yet. The efforts to reopen the basing decision process will continue given the economic impacts at stake. The Alabama congressional delegation must continually combat the effort, which they are well equipped to do.

To start, Shelby still has about two years left in his term, during which he will continue his role as the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee and its Defense Subcommittee which oversees all military and intelligence community funding.

Additionally, Shelby’s new colleague,  Tuberville, secured a coveted spot on the Senate Armed Services Committee and its Strategic Forces Subcommittee that oversees military space programs. With these assignments, he will be at the table for all major policy and legislative negotiations on the military issues, including any legislation covering Space Command basing. Shelby and Tuberville will need to team up and coordinate their efforts on their respective committees to combat any legislative efforts to deprive Huntsville of Space Command.

Another major tool for Alabama is the key positions its representatives hold in the lower chamber. Rogers recently became the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, where he will be the decisive voice on military issues for House Republicans. Rogers is a long-time supporter of Space Command, having previously chaired the Armed Services subcommittee covering military space issues and helped lead the effort to create Space Command and the Space Force. Space Force is the newest military branch and is responsible for organizing, training and equipping space personnel for the joint force, including to Space Command which is charged with fighting and winning future wars that extend into space.

Also on the House Armed Services Committee are Brooks — who has now been endorsed by Trump to replace Shelby in the Senate — and newly elected U.S. Representative Jerry Carl (AL-01); they will also be able to lend a voice and vote to the effort to retain Space Command.

Lastly, but certainly not least, Aderholt is a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee and, like Shelby, is also a member of the Defense Subcommittee. Aderholt, who serves as the ranking Republican on the subcommittee governing NASA’s budget, will be able to multiply the efforts of Rogers, Brooks and Carl through advocacy and language in appropriations bills and negotiations for the next fiscal year.

In all, Alabama’s strong representation on the House and Senate committees governing military spending and policy will be key to safeguarding Space Command’s presence in North Alabama. With a combined effort, it will be difficult for states to scuttle the economic impact Space Command will supply not only to Huntsville, but the entire state and Tennessee Valley region.

Beyond Space Command, there are many other important issues to be minded in Washington. The Huntsville-based ICBM-defense program, continued investments in hypersonic weapons being built by Dynetics and Lockheed, and support for United Launch Alliance’s world-class space launch vehicle manufacturing facility in Decatur are among the many challenges lying ahead. Each of these, and many more, will require concerted and coordinated efforts by Alabama’s federal and state elected leaders to maintain North Alabama’s role as an epicenter of America’s national security industry.

Jake Proctor is a former intelligence officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency and previously held staff and defense policy positions for U.S. Senators Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Luther Strange (R-AL), and Joni Ernst (R-IA). He is a Birmingham native and graduate of the University of Alabama and the U.S. Air Command and Staff College.

12 hours ago

U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers: ‘Shameful’ Pelosi blocking Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act — ‘Simply supporting infanticide’

Congressman Mike Rogers (AL-03) on Wednesday released a scathing statement regarding House Democrats blocking consideration of the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.

Rogers announced that he has signed onto a discharge petition that would force Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to bring this legislation — H.R. 619 — up for a vote in the House.

“As a father of three children and a Christian, this legislation is so important to me,” stated Rogers, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.


All six Alabama Republicans in the U.S. House are cosponsors of H.R. 619, which was was introduced by Reps. Ann Wagner (R-MO) and Steve Scalise (R-LA) in January. The bill would ensure any baby born that survives an abortion would receive the same standard of medical care as a baby born under normal circumstances.

“I will never understand how any human would not support caring for a tiny, living baby that survives an attempted abortion,” he continued. “Anyone who is okay with not helping these babies is simply supporting infanticide. I will always stand up for the rights of the most innocent among us, and it’s shameful that Nancy Pelosi will not even bring this critical legislation up for a vote.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

13 hours ago

Alabama Senate passes bill banning biological males from competing in female sports

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Senate on Thursday passed HB 391, which would would prohibit biological males from competing in public school female sports — and vice versa.

The legislation, which only applies to public K-12 schools, would prohibit competition by one gender against another, unless the event specifically is intended to include both genders.

HB 391 was carried in the Senate by Sen. Garlan Gudger (R-Cullman) and is sponsored by Rep. Scott Stadthagen (R-Hartselle).

“A public K-12 school may not allow a biological female to participate on a male team if there is a female team in a sport. A public K-12 school may never allow a biological male to participate on a female team,” says the amended version of the bill passed by the Senate.


In sports where there are not separate competitions for females and males, such as football, both genders would still be able to participate together.

“This bill is significantly important to protecting the integrity of women’s sports,” stated Gudger. “Our sisters, daughters and granddaughters deserve to compete in fairly organized sports without being put at a disadvantage. I appreciate Representative Stadthagen for having me carry this bill in the Senate, and I commend him for his diligent work on this critical issue.”

More than a dozen states are considering similar restrictions on high school athletes to prevent what they view as an unfair advantage in competition.

The Senate’s vote on HB 391 was on party lines, 25-5. This comes after two Democrats supported and one Democrat abstained in a committee vote on the bill just two weeks ago. View a tweet thread from Thursday’s Senate debate here.

HB 391 now heads back to the House for concurrence or nonconcurrence. It originally passed the lower chamber in a bipartisan 74-19 vote.

“It is unreasonable for biological males to compete against females in high school sports,” Stadthagen commented. “Allowing this to happen does not put female athletes on a fair and level playing field with their biological male counterparts, and that is what this bill aims to resolve. I was pleased to hear that my colleagues in the upper chamber value the integrity and justness of female sports, and I thank Senator Gudger for handling this bill in the Senate.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

14 hours ago

Senate passes Alabama Second Amendment Preservation Act

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Senate on Thursday passed SB 358, which would create the Alabama Second Amendment Preservation Act.

Sponsored by Sen. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa), the bill would outlaw state and local governments — including law enforcement agencies thereof — from enforcing any federal firearms act, law, order, rule or regulation that becomes effective after January 1, 2021.

The party-line vote by the Senate was 22-5.


“I took an oath of office when sworn into this body to defend the Constitution of this country and this state,” stated Allen. “As an elected official, I will do everything in my power to preserve the rights of Alabamians, especially those granted by the Second Amendment, and I will always push back on any proposals that seek to limit the freedoms bestowed upon us.”

“The Alabama Second Amendment Preservation Act ensures the people of Alabama are protected from any unnecessary overreach by the federal government and is meant to be a check on proposals that infringe on our right to self-defense coming from the Biden Administration or the Democratic controlled Congress,” he continued. “SB358 is about safeguarding our God-given rights to protect our families and homes. The Second Amendment says the right to bear arms shall not be infringed upon, and with this piece of legislation, Alabamians can feel confident that their rights are being protected.”

Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) and Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham) argued that SB 358 would violate the Supremacy Clause. The Democrats said the act, as a result, would ultimately be ruled unconstitutional by the judicial system after costing the State of Alabama significant money to defend it in court.

“We don’t need a ‘Second Amendment Preservation Act’ in the state of Alabama,” said Singleton. “The constitution does that already.”

He noted “the bill really does no harm,” before adding that he does not like the message it sends.

You can view a tweet thread on Senate debate regarding SB 358 here.

The Alabama Senate’s vote came after President Joe Biden last week began rolling out executive orders on gun control.

RELATED: Speaker Mac McCutcheon: As Biden attempts to roll back Second Amendment freedoms, Alabama House Republicans stand in the breach to protect them

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

16 hours ago

Tim Vines confirmed as newest Auburn University trustee

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Senate on Thursday unanimously confirmed Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama CEO Tim Vines as an at-large member of the Auburn University board of trustees.

He will complete the final three years of the unexpired term of Gen. Lloyd Austin, who resigned from Auburn’s board in January after he was confirmed as the nation’s secretary of defense.

Vines has worked at BCBS of Alabama since 1994. He rose through the management ranks at Blue Cross until he was elected to his present position in 2018. The LaFayette native graduated from Auburn’s Harbert College of Business in 1988 with a degree in finance. He was also a member of the Auburn baseball team.


“In addition to his business and management credentials, the Trustee Selection Committee nominated Tim Vines for the position because of his dedication to Auburn University and its students,” stated Wayne Smith, who serves as board president pro tem.

This dedication includes Vines giving an annual scholarship to the Harbert College of Business. He is an Auburn Alumni Association lifetime member, a member of the James E. Foy Loyalty Society and a member of the 1856 Society. The Birmingham Auburn Club awarded Vines its 2019 Distinguished Auburn Alumnus Award.

He also served as the 2018 Auburn University summer commencement speaker, where he encouraged graduates, “Serve well by serving others. In life or in your chosen profession, ask what you can do to help others. … Whatever you do, make sure you do it with excellence.”

Vines’ term will expire on February 8, 2024.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

17 hours ago

Alabama State Parks launching historic corporate giving, improvement campaign

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey on Thursday joined the Alabama State Parks Foundation, local corporate leaders and other stakeholders at Oak Mountain State Park to announce unprecedented efforts aimed at investing millions of dollars into park improvements.

The governor spoke about an $80 million bond issue for park improvements that must be approved by voters through a constitutional amendment in the 2022 general election if the state legislature approves it this session. House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) and Rep. Wes Kitchens (R-Arab) are sponsoring this legislation, which passed the House on Tuesday and now heads to the Senate for consideration.

“Alabamians love and cherish the State Parks, and we must make sure they are maintained and available for generations to come,” Ivey remarked. “I support the use of state bonds to make the needed enhancements throughout the state parks system.”

Additionally, the non-profit Alabama State Parks Foundation (ASPF) on Thursday announced the launch of its corporate giving campaign with a goal of raising an additional $14 million in the next five years for needed park improvements.


ASPF kicked off this campaign with pledges of $250,000 by Buffalo Rock Company and $100,000 from the Alabama Power Foundation.

“Since the creation of the Alabama State Parks Foundation in 2018, we have worked to improve and enhance our State Parks, and our corporate giving campaign is another significant and important step for our organization,” ASPF president Dr. Dan Hendricks stated. “I also applaud and thank Governor Ivey for her visionary leadership and support of the State Parks system.

“We believe this innovative public-private partnership will maximize our efforts to help the Alabama State Parks system maintain its place as one of the state’s true treasures,” he added.

The prospective bond issue and ASPF’s fundraising would fast-track projects to expand campgrounds, add cabins and improve internet connectivity, among other priorities.

A majority of funding for Alabama State Parks – 80-90% annually – is generated through user fees for rental, lodging, golf and other amenities in the parks. The system’s finances can also be impacted unexpectedly, such as the tornado that damaged Oak Mountain last month, Hurricane Sally damaging Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores last fall, and another tornado wreaking havoc on the campground and day-use areas at Joe Wheeler State Park in December 2019.

State parks attracted a record 6.27 million visitors in fiscal year 2020, and enhancing facilities or building additional ones should help that number continue to grow.

“Our state parks system is run as efficiently as ever, but there are plenty of needs in every one of the 21 parks — both the small and larger parks,” said Chris Blankenship, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation. “What Governor Ivey and the Alabama State Parks Foundation have done is create a funding framework for how we can modernize and enhance an already dynamic State Parks system and make it better than ever.

“We plan to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money, as well as funds so generously donated by the corporate community,” he concluded. “Our state parks offer so many amazing outdoors adventures for all Alabamians, and we appreciate so many people working so hard to help us continue that legacy.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn