4 years ago

Down goes The Machine! UA elects first black SGA president in four decades

Elliot Spiller, new University of Alabama SGA President (Photo: Spiller campaign)
Elliot Spiller, new University of Alabama SGA President (Photo: Spiller campaign)

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The University of Alabama on Tuesday elected its first black student government association president in almost forty years, and in the process toppled the fabled “Machine,” a coalition of sororities and fraternities that has controlled campus politics for much of the past century.

The student body elected Elliot Spiller, a junior from Pelham, to be their SGA leader, marking only the second time in history the school has chosen a black student for the post. Cleo Thomas was the first in 1976.

Spillers told al.com‘s Melissa Brown he is “shocked and thankful” to be given the opportunity.

“This is my third time at this, and each time I’ve grown tremendously as a leader and a person,” he said. “I’ve never lost hope, hope for this university and what we’ll accomplish in the next year. The real work begins tomorrow. To all the students who voted for me, thank you. It’s because of you we have the opportunity to bring sustainable change here to Alabama.”

The University of Alabama electing a black SGA president will be the angle many in the national media take with Spillers’ impressive victory, and rightfully so, considering it has happened so rarely. However, for those who have spent time around the University of Alabama campus, it is his ability to overcome “The Machine” that may be most remarkable.

For over a century The Machine has held almost total sway over Greek life and the SGA on UA’s Tuscaloosa campus.

The so called “secret society” has been the topic of a cover story in Esquire magazine. It’s been featured in the New York Times. It’s been accused of election-rigging, voter fraud and intimidation. It was even blamed by some for the SGA being shut down for several years in the wake of harassment and assault allegations.

In Spillers’ race, security cameras caught students presumed to be supporting his Machine-backed opponent stealing one of his large campaign banners from the front of a fraternity house.

But The Machine has also been responsible for electing UA SGA Presidents who have gone on to become some of the most successful and respected leaders in Alabama history.

Here’s a partial list:

1915-16 Lister Hill, the first UA SGA President, became a United States Senator
1920-21 Joseph W. Sewell played for the New York Yankees with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig
1923-24 John J. Sparkman became a United States Senator
1928-29 Albert Boutwell, Sr. became the Mayor of Birmingham
1935-36 Hugh Davis Merrill, Jr. became Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives
1951-52 Robert Smith Vance became a Federal Judge
1952-53 William J. Edwards III became a U.S. Congressman
1955-56 Walter W. Flowers became a U.S. Congressman and was a key democrat on the Watergate Panel. When Nixon lost his vote on the panel, he knew he had to resign.
1967-68 Don E. Siegelman became Alabama Secretary of State, Attorney General, Lt. Governor and Governor
1974-75 William Bell Blount became the Chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party

And in the past 100 years, there had only been seven Alabama students who conquered The Machine to become SGA president without their blessing. With his election Tuesday, Elliot Spillers became the eighth, and he’s got some pretty big shoes to fill.

Here are the handful of non-Machine SGA presidents who came before him:

1936-37 Carl A. Elliot became a U.S. Congressman.
1963-64 Donald Wilbur Stewart became an Alabama State Senate and United States Senator
1970-71 James W. Zeigler served on the Alabama Public Service commission and is now State Auditor
1976-77 Cleophus Thomas, Jr. became the first black SGA President, went on to Harvard Law and served on the UA Board of Trustees
1978-79 A. Jerry DeVaney, after whose election The Machine added sororities to their ranks to bolster the size of their voting bloc
1983-84 John N. Bolus
1986-87 John Merrill, served in the Alabama House of Representatives and is now Secretary of State

“When I enrolled at Alabama and started looking at the history of the SGA Presidents, those people were the ones who were in key positions in leaderships in our state — senators and congressmen, even a governor,” Secretary of State Merrill told Yellowhammer. “Before I became SGA President, The Crimson White (student newspaper) asked me, ‘What is the Machine?’ And I told them, ‘The Machine is select coalition of fraternities and sororities that is specifically designed to influence and dominate campus politics.’ They still use that description to this day.”

And although the office he currently holds involves a much higher level of responsibility, Merrill says that his experience in student politics at Alabama undoubtedly prepared him for what he’s doing now.

“I didn’t run my campaign for Secretary of State any different than how I ran my campaign for SGA President. I went to see people where they were. I met with key leaders. I raised money. We had billboards, ads, brochures and t-shirts. We got statewide news coverage. So the opportunity to participate in the SGA thoroughly prepared me to know how to participate in the electoral process and how to be successful at it.

“It is a good training ground,” Merrill said in conclusion. “The main thing I learned very early on after getting elected SGA President was that it’s about getting things done, not getting credit for getting things done. I’ve carried that with me ever since.”


7 hours ago

University of North Alabama adopting new tuition plan

The University of North Alabama is switching to a tuition plan that officials say will result in increased costs for some students but not others.

Officials at the school in Florence say they are reducing the total number of student fees from seven to one, and fees will be included in the overall tuition cost.

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A statement says students taking 15 hours will see a maximum increase in expenses of 4.1%.

But some could pay less, and costs will not change for others.

School officials say a lag in state funding is a continuing problem.

North Alabama’s vice president for business, Evan Thornton, says the school has deferred maintenance and capital needs totaling more than $160 million.

The school has an undergraduate enrollment of about 6,200 students.
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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7 hours ago

Nathan Lindsay joining governor’s office from BCA

Another high profile staffer from the Business Council of Alabama (BCA) is joining Governor Kay Ivey’s senior level team.

The governor on Monday announced that Nathan Lindsay will join her office as director of appointments effective July 1.

This position is charged with spearheading the meticulous work that goes into Ivey meeting her duty to appoint qualified, representative and appropriate people to positions on the state’s various boards and commissions.

A press release from the governor’s office outlined that Lindsay assumes the role with an extensive background in state government and the private sector, which uniquely qualifies him to advise the governor in this capacity.

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Most recently, through his work in political and governmental affairs at the BCA, Lindsay interacted with members of the business community throughout the Yellowhammer State, which significantly adds to his ability to identify and select candidates for various appointed posts.

Additionally, Lindsay’s early career included time in then-Governor Bob Riley’s office where he served as aide to the governor from 2006 to 2011. Lindsay also worked in the governor’s communications office as deputy press secretary and advised Riley on education policy.

“Nathan brings to our team a wealth of knowledge that I know will serve the state well,” Ivey said in a statement. “In addition to his expertise and insight, Nathan is a man of character. The men and women of my staff must have a strong work ethic, a depth of knowledge and a heart for public service. Nathan certainly embodies all of these characteristics.”

Lindsay earned his bachelor’s degree from Faulkner University. During his time at Faulkner, he served as SGA president and later, in 2018, he was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award for the College of Arts and Sciences.

“As governor, I have the important responsibility of appointing qualified individuals to serve on the more than 450 boards and commissions in our state. These men and women must not only be highly-qualified, but they should also be a true reflection of our great state,” Ivey added. “I am confident we will continue to find the best people to serve our state, just as I am certain Nathan will serve my Administration exceptionally well in this position. His experience speaks for itself, and he shares my goal of moving Alabama into a better future.”

This comes weeks after Leah Garner departed BCA to become Ivey’s communications director.

Mark Colson also left BCA to become head of the Alabama Trucking Association recently.

Update 5:55 p.m.:

BCA President and CEO Katie Boyd Britt released a statement commending Ivey on the hire of Lindsay.

“Nathan’s background and expertise in political affairs combined with his political acumen uniquely qualify him to serve the governor and the state in this capacity,” Britt said. “I have no doubt Nathan will do an outstanding job, and I commend Governor Kay Ivey on this excellent addition to her staff.”

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

8 hours ago

Alabama listed as one of the top 20 most patriotic states in America

A WalletHub report released Monday revealed Alabama to be on of the top 20 most patriotic states in America.

Ranked 19 overall on the list, with a score of 47.43, Alabama ranked first for the “Civics Education Requirement.”

The report “compared the 50 states across 13 key indicators of patriotism” and “ranges from share of enlisted military population to share of adults who voted in the 2016 presidential election to AmeriCorps volunteers per capita.”

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With one as “Most Patriotic” and 25 as “Average,” Alabama received the following rankings:

  • 5th – Average Number of Military Enlistees per 1,000 Civilian Adults
  • 30th – Active-Duty Military Personnel per 100,000 Civilian Adults
  • 17th – Veterans per 1,000 Civilian Adults
  • 1st – Civics Education Requirement
  • 12th – Share of Civilian Adult Population in Military Reserves
  • 10th – Share of Adults Who Voted in 2016 Primary Elections

Alabama also ranked eight overall for ‘Military Engagement.’

The report, which compared red states to blue states in terms of patriotism, found that red states were more patriotic. Red states received an average rank of 23.67, while blue states received an average rank of 28.25.

Kyle Morris also contributes daily to Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter @RealKyleMorris.

9 hours ago

Brooks: ‘Really dumb’ for Democrats to elect candidates mainly on ‘skin pigmentation or their chromosomes’

In an interview on WVNN’s “The Dale Jackson Show”on Friday, Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-05) lamented that many Democrats have become more interested in racial and gender identity politics than the welfare of America.

Coming off of her much maligned comments comparing American immigration facilities to “concentration camps,” host Dale Jackson asked the north Alabama congressman if he believes that Democrats in Congress will allow Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) to continue to serve as their “de facto face and leader.”

“Yes,” Brooks answered succinctly, promoting a follow-up request for his reasoning.

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“Well, she is where she is,” Brooks explained. “She’s got a lot of political power. She’s got a lot of support — surprisingly.”

“There are large, large numbers of American citizens who have bit off on this socialist stuff, who have bit off on this victimization stuff, who have bit off on thinking that the most important criteria in determining whether to elect someone is their skin pigmentation or their chromosomes — which is really dumb, OK,” he continued. “We oughta be electing people based on their character and based on their public policy positions.”

“But, notwithstanding that, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has become the face of the Democratic Party in many different respects, and she does have great influence as evidenced by the presidential candidates on the socialist Democrats’ side who are trying to cultivate her support,” Brooks added. “They want her endorsement.”

Listen, starting at the 8:25 mark:

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

9 hours ago

Democrats hope it’s 2017 all over again, Republicans just want the nightmare to end

In 2017, Roy Moore won a Republican primary run-off against an extremely flawed Luther Strange. Strange wasn’t just a regular candidate — he had the cloud of his appointment, and he was dogged by former Gov. Robert Bentley’s investigation, impeachment and resignation.

Alabama Republicans, outside of U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), were reluctant to criticize Roy Moore because they knew doing so would hand the Senate seat to now-Senator Doug Jones (D-AL).

But this is different.

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State Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) told the Montgomery Advertiser that he blamed the GOP establishment in 2017, but still thinks Moore can’t win in 2020.

He stated, “I do not believe, with the numbers I look at, that Roy Moore at the end of the day can get the nomination.”

State Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) dismissed Moore when asked about the candidates, saying, “If you look at the candidates, you got Roy Moore. I don’t think we need to say more there.”

Later, he all but endorsed U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope) by saying Byrne “would do the best job.”

Secretary of State John Merrill, a potential future Moore opponent, believes Moore has an uphill battle against Jones.

“I think it would be extraordinarily difficult for Judge Moore to be successful in a general election campaign against Senator Jones,” Merrill outlined.

He added, “I also think it would be difficult for Judge Moore to secure the Republican nomination.”

Congressman Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville), who endorsed Moore in 2017, has already endorsed State Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs) and is on record saying former U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions would be a favorite.

“I do believe that Jeff Sessions would clearly be number one in the poll rankings, based on his having been such a great senator on three principle issues: free enterprise versus socialism; deficit and debt; and border security,” he explained.

Say what you will, but you do not usually see these kinds of pronouncements from Republicans in the middle of a primary.

Democrats hope 2017 is going to be repeated in 2020, but there are many different factors that will matter.

Roy Moore is already fatally flawed as 300,000+ Republicans voters abandoned him in 2017 and stayed home. Many of those voters will vote in the primary in 2020, but will not vote for him.

U.S. Representative Mike Rogers (R-Saks) expressed a similar sentiment on CSPAN last week.

“I personally don’t think Roy Moore is going to be our nominee, but whoever our nominee is will prevail in November because you’ll have the full complement of Republican voters turning out turning out to vote,” he said.

This is not 2017.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN.