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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.”


1 hour ago

Alabama WFF Ramps Up CWD Sampling Effort

With positive tests for chronic wasting disease (CWD) in Tennessee and additional positives in Mississippi, the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division has ramped up testing in north Alabama.

WFF officials set up manned sampling stations in Hackleburg the first weekend of the new year and followed with sampling last weekend in Waterloo.

Self-service sampling stations were recently set up by WFF in north Alabama to accommodate drop-offs 24 hours a day.

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WFF Director Chuck Sykes said testing for the always-fatal disease, which is caused by a rogue protein called a prion, has been ongoing since 2002, but the positive tests in neighboring states caused WFF to increase its sampling effort.

“The Mississippi positives made us test more in the areas that joined Mississippi,” Sykes said. “When the deer in Tennessee tested positive, it prompted an increased level of testing where it fell within the response zone. Those positives just prompted us to increase our surveillance in those areas.”

Sixteen deer were brought in for sampling at the Hackleburg station, but Sykes said the interaction with hunters who didn’t harvest deer may have been the most productive aspect of the manned sampling station.

“We didn’t know what to expect, but I consider it a success for a volunteer check station,” Sykes said. “More important than the 16 deer brought in, we had two times that many hunters stop by and ask questions. It was a really good way for our staff to get in front of the public, and the public to be able to ask questions one-on-one.”

Sykes and the WFF staff discovered that, although the Division has been immersed in the CWD Response Plan, it has yet to be widely discussed in the public.

“We (WFF) are up to our eyeballs in CWD,” Sykes said. “Even though we’ve offered seminars, done articles and put up billboards, a lot of people don’t pay attention until it hits close to home. A lot of the questions were just basic CWD knowledge that the average hunter in Alabama doesn’t understand. What is it? Why is it a problem? What makes it different from other diseases? These were very positive interactions. There was nothing negative about it.”

Sykes said the self-service sampling stations are part of the standard protocols of the CWD Response Plan (https://www.outdooralabama.com/deer-hunting-alabama/chronic-wasting-disease-what-you-should-know).

“With the positives in Mississippi and Tennessee within 50 miles of our border, that prompts us to do more testing in those areas,” he said. “It’s been shown time and time again that hunter-harvested deer and road-kills are the best ways to achieve samples and to get the most out of those samples. Just going in and randomly shooting deer is okay, but in areas that have had CWD for a long time, there is a higher predominance in road-kill deer and hunter-harvested deer because they lose their sense of wariness. The most effective way to sample is by hunter-harvested deer and working with ALDOT (Alabama Department of Transportation) to identify road-kills.”

Above all, Sykes said he wants hunters to continue to pursue deer just like they always have.

“Again, this is not something to cause people to quit hunting,” he said. “We need them to become educated on what CWD is. Don’t rely on what they’ve heard at hunting camp or what they saw on Facebook. Talk to us to try to understand the disease and what we’re doing to try to prevent it.”

Sykes reiterated how hunting, especially deer hunting, is a cornerstone in Alabama’s culture and economy. Hunting has an almost $2 billion impact annually on Alabama’s economy.

“This is not a hunter issue,” he said. “This is not even a deer hunting issue. This is a State of Alabama economic issue and a way of life issue. We need people to understand what’s going on, and we need their assistance to gather these samples in the most efficient way so we can stay on top of it. Heaven forbid, if it does get here, we will be prepared to mitigate the risks as much as possible.”

Previously, tissue samples had to be sent out of state to be tested for CWD. In 2018, WFF provided funds for the Alabama Department of Agriculture to purchase CWD testing equipment, which was set up at Auburn University. The equipment and technician have been certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and can test up to 90 samples per day.

Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship said the new CWD testing equipment speeds up the state’s response time considerably.

“We don’t have to wait on anybody,” Blankenship said. “We take our samples to the Department of Agriculture lab at Auburn University. We will get those test results quickly and be able to respond as soon as possible.”

The freezers for the self-service sample stations are located in Fayette, Lamar, Marion, Franklin, Lauderdale, and Colbert counties and are available to receive deer head samples 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

At the self-service locations, hunters must first remove the deer’s head with 4-6 inches of neck attached. For bucks, antlers can be removed at the base of each antler or by removing the skull plate before bagging the head. Hunters will then place the head in the provided plastic bag and tie it closed. They will need to complete all sections of the Biological Sample Tag, and attach the tag to the bag with a zip tie. Hunters will take the bottom receipt portion of the Biological Sample Tag before placing the bagged head in the freezer. All materials needed to drop off a sample are provided at each freezer location.

Locations of the self-service CWD drop-off sampling sites are:

Fayette County, Fayette County Extension Office, 650 McConnell Loop, Fayette, Ala., 35555

Lamar County, Hunter’s Gold Processing, 11634 County Rd. 9, Millport, Ala., 35576

Marion County, Watson’s Grocery, 5658 State Highway 19, Detroit, Ala., 35552

Franklin County, Fancher’s Taxidermy, 715 Newell Rd., Red Bay, Ala., 35582

Lauderdale County, Florence Frozen Meats, 1050 South Court St., Florence, Ala., 35630

Colbert County, Yogi’s Texaco, 17750 US Highway 72, Tuscumbia, Ala., 35674

Hunters can also have deer sampled at any WFF District Office (www.outdooralabama.com/wildlife-section) or at the WFF office in Marengo County at 1105 Bailey Dr., Demopolis, Ala., 36732, phone number 334-289-8030. WFF offices are open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Before dropping off the sample, hunters should call ahead to make sure a biologist is available.

Sykes said the test results will be emailed to the hunter within three to four weeks.

Currently, self-service freezers are located throughout northwest Alabama only because of the increased surveillance samples needed in the response zones of the CWD-positive locations in Mississippi and Tennessee.

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

15 hours ago

Mo Brooks to continue key service for Tennessee Valley on House Armed Services Committee

Friday, Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-5) announced he will again serve on the highly influential House Armed Services Committee in the 116th Congress, with increased seniority this time around.

Brooks has served on the important committee for the Huntsville area since taking office in 2011. He will also receive a second committee assignment to be revealed by the House Republican Steering Committee next week.

Among Republican members of the Armed Services committee, Brooks’ seniority has improved to 16th out of 26. His seniority among the full committee membership has officially yet to be determined, but it is expected to improve as well.

In a statement, Brooks emphasized the committee assignment’s importance to his district.

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“The military side of Redstone Arsenal employs roughly 30,000 Tennessee Valley residents,” Brooks said. “In light of the dramatic cut in Republicans on the Armed Services Committee (as we moved from majority to minority status), I am pleased my Republican colleagues chose me to continue serving on Armed Services, where my growing seniority empowers me to better protect America’s national security and promote Redstone Arsenal’s role in providing that security.”

Brooks concluded, “The Tennessee Valley is experiencing rapid economic growth in large part because of Redstone Arsenal’s reputation as a center of excellence. Quite frankly, we often do what no one else in the world can do. Recognizing this, I again successfully competed for a position on Armed Service, which annually produces the National Defense Authorization Act, the primary mechanism whereby Congress authorizes Department of Defense programs.”

Subcommittee assignments for the House Armed Service Committee will be announced in the coming weeks.

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

16 hours ago

Aderholt: ‘Abortion ends a human life, plain and simple’ – ‘Not a matter of religion vs. science’

With the March for Life in full swing in Washington, D.C on Friday, Congressman Robert Aderholt (AL-4) released a statement mourning “the loss of more than 60 million unborn children” since Roe v. Wade became law of the land.

Wednesday, January 22 is the 46th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision on abortion.

“Today, thousands of Americans joined together to mark the 46th anniversary of a terrible moment in American history – the Supreme Court ruling on Roe vs. Wade,” Aderholt said. “Since that court ruling, we have mourned the loss of more than 60 million unborn children. We must continue to fight for these children who do not have a voice of their own.”

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The congressman added, “This is not a matter of religion vs. science. Science itself shows us that these are not just masses of tissue. I feel calling these unborn children a fetus instead of what they are, an unborn child, is simply a measure to ease guilty consciences. Science has proved that an unborn child’s heart begins beating just 18-21 days after fertilization, that an unborn child’s brainwaves can be detected just 6 weeks after fertilization, and that at 10-11 weeks after fertilization, every organ system is in place.”

“These facts add up to one conclusion, abortion ends a human life, plain and simple,” Aderholt concluded.

In the 116th Congress, Aderholt serves as ranking member of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science, and Related Agencies for the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

He is also a member of that committee’s Defense Subcommittee and its Agriculture Subcommittee, as well as the Helsinki Commission.

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

17 hours ago

Report: Doug Jones ‘holding the same position as Nancy Pelosi’ on border wall — ‘Dead man walking’ in 2020

An article published by The New York Times on Friday explained that Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) is taking “the same position as Nancy Pelosi” regarding border security, despite interviews with Jones’ constituents affirming that this stance is unpopular amongst Alabamians.

The piece opens by reminding readers that Jones won in December 2017 while calling himself a “Doug Jones Democrat,” or someone who would not toe the party line.

Yet, his time in office has not necessarily seen this promise come to fruition on key votes, including Jones coming out against the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh and key pro-life bills.

His voting record has even led constituents and Republican activists to accuse Jones of being more loyal to House Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) than the wishes of the majority of Alabamians.

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Now, the New York Times pointed out, “Mr. Jones finds himself holding the same position as Nancy Pelosi, the liberal House speaker: Reopen the government, then negotiate on border security.”

“By taking on President Trump and the border wall, which are both popular in Alabama, and refusing to give ground on the shutdown, the senator may be the last ‘Doug Jones Democrat’ to win here anytime soon,” the article advised.

The publication then backed up this assertion with the comments of Alabama voters from diverse backgrounds, including a one-time Jones supporter.

“I voted for Jones, I did,” Ann Lynch, an 86-year-old retired schoolteacher in Huntsville, told The New York Times. “But he doesn’t support the wall. I don’t like that, of course. I think we need it. Trump knows we need it.”

Angie Gates, a restaurant owner outside of Huntsville, summarized, “If Doug Jones doesn’t support the wall, I don’t support him.”

This statement comes in spite of Gates’ family-owned business losing significant lunch business because a prison training program was shut down during the current funding standoff.

“For us, because we’re a small town, the shutdown is kind of difficult. But there’s also things in politics that may be worth doing,” she explained.

Jones siding with the Democratic Party on the hot-button issues of the day do not appear to be gaining him any extra voters in 2020.

“Senator Jones, bless his heart, he’ll be a one-term senator,” Sheila Pressnell, 61, said. “The only reason he got it was because he was up against a child predator.”

Pam McGriff, the owner of a custom interior car detailing shop in Holly Pond and a Republican, remarked, “If he would go up there and balk the Democrats, like Schumer and Pelosi, and say, ‘Hey, I think Trump is right,’ and all that kind of stuff, I wouldn’t mind splitting my ticket.”

However, her husband Wayne has seen enough out of Jones already.

“He should support what the people of Alabama want, which is the wall,” he said. “[Jones] shouldn’t be there, and next time he’ll be voted out.”

Jones is even facing pressure from the epitome of a statesman, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL).

On Friday, during a speech in Mobile, Shelby said, “I like Doug Jones. I work with him. But we need to have a Republican.”

In an interview with The New York Times, Shelby made his thoughts clear on the current impasse in partial government shutdown negotiations.

“The president is not going to blink, and he shouldn’t,” Shelby said, adding that he would tell furloughed federal workers to “get your Democrat friends to the table and negotiate with us.”

While it is perhaps unsurprising that Republicans are bucking Jones, what should concern him is the seeming lack of belief among Democrats in the state that he can win re-election, especially after the lopsided 2018 general election results in the Yellowhammer State.

During a presidential election cycle in 2020, assuming he is facing a candidate not named Roy Moore, Jones faces an uphill battle of historic proportions with the electorate and even the enthusiasm gap of his own supporters.

Former Congressman Parker Griffith (AL-5), who helped Jones in 2017 and continues to support him, admitted, “He’s a dead man walking.”

“[Jones] leaned into his base, and his base is not big enough to elect him,” Griffith concluded.

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

17 hours ago

Alabama breaks two Department of Labor records

Friday, Governor Kay Ivey announced that the state of Alabama had broken two of its Department of Labor records.

According to the Alabama Department of Labor, Alabama had the highest average weekly earnings ever from December 2017 to December 2018. Total private average weekly earnings were $857.77 in December 2018, up $46.41 from December 2017.

Ivey shared her excitement on social media and also announced that Alabama had reached the largest over-the-year percentage growth on record.

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“We reached the largest over-the-year percentage growth on record at 2.2%, representing an increase of 44,300 jobs, as well as the highest average weekly earnings ever,” Ivey wrote on Facebook.

Alabama State Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh (R-Anniston) also reacted to the news of accelerated Alabama job growth with excitement.

“It is great to see that Alabama is outpacing the nation and breaking records for job growth. This has been one of the top priorities of the GOP Legislature over the past several years,” Marsh said in a statement to Yellowhammer News. “From passing the largest tax cut in a decade to enacting responsible balanced budgeting that forced the state to live within its means, Alabama is proof that conservative pro-growth policies work. I look forward to continuing to make Alabama one of the best places in the world to do business.”

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