4 years ago

Everything you need to know about Alabama’s most competitive Congressional race (AL-02 analysis)

It is shaping up to be a relatively calm election year in Alabama. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) is on track to easily win re-election, none of Alabama’s state-level office-holders are on the ballot, and six of the state’s seven U.S. House members have drawn little or no opposition. If it wasn’t for the SEC Primary making Alabama a bigger player in the presidential race, there wouldn’t be much electoral action at all. The lone exception is in Alabama’s Second Congressional District, where Martha Roby has attracted her first serious challenger since taking office in 2011.

Becky Gerritson is the President of the Wetumpka Tea Party, one of Alabama’s most active and effective conservative political advocacy groups. She garnered national attention in 2013 for her impassioned testimony before Congress detailing the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.

Martha Roby is currently in her third term serving the people of Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. Prior to being elected to Congress, she worked as an attorney and served as a city councilman in her hometown of Montgomery.

Going into what promises to be a spirited contest, Roby an Gerritson both have their strengths and weaknesses. Here are a few to consider:

Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL2)

Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL2)
Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL2)


— Incumbency —

This may seem counterintuitive because of the anti-incumbent sentiment of the electorate (more on that in a moment), but there are reasons why incumbents have won over 80 percent of Congressional elections over the past 50 years, and over 90 percent in some election cycles.

While Gerritson can only opine, Roby’s office gives her the opportunity to act. For instance, last week she launched a “last-ditch effort” to defund Planned Parenthood, introducing an amendment to immediately stop all federal funding to Planned Parenthood for the next year until investigations into the organization are seen through. The amendment passed the House, and Roby railed on the issue from the House floor multiple times. Roby was also selected to be a member of the Benghazi Select Committee, which means she’ll be questioning Hillary Clinton in front of a national audience in a few weeks.

Those are opportunities no mere candidate can replicate.

Being the incumbent also means Roby is starting with a large name recognition advantage, and much of the money — both inside and outside of the District — is going to flow to her, which brings us to Roby’s second strength…

— Fundraising —

Roby is starting the campaign with a $700,000 head start, a well-established donor base in the District, and motivated donors inside the Beltway who don’t like to possibility of adding another tea partier to the fractious House GOP caucus.

— Constituent services record —

It doesn’t get a lot of media attention, but the most direct interaction many constituents have with their member of Congress is through their constituent services staff inside the District.

Yellowhammer occasionally receives emails and phone calls from exasperated Alabamians who do not know who to contact about some government-related problem or another. The handful of times those contacts have compelled us to connect the individuals to the right person in Roby’s office, they have delivered in a big way.

Members’ voting records matter (keep reading for more on that), but if you’re the wife of a military veteran and your member of Congress helps you navigate the VA bureaucracy to get what you need, they’re going to get your vote next time around, period.


— Incumbency —

Both a strength and a weakness? Yep. People really hate politicians right now, and they hate Congress even more. Being a politician who’s a member of Congress? Yikes.

— Close ties to Leadership —

Roby has been a close ally of outgoing House Speaker John Boehner, who many conservatives view as the poster child for everything that is wrong with a squishy, stand-for-nothing Republican Party. She is also a close ally of likely incoming House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Those relationships have helped Roby land a prized slot on the House Appropriations Committee, but they also made her a card-carrying member of the GOP Establishment, as far as many grassroots conservatives are concerned. That’s a label no one wants to carry in a Republican primary right now.

— “Scorecards” —

Roby’s ratings on the conservative “scorecards” are the lowest among Alabama’s Republican congressmen. Here are her lifetime scores on several of them:

American Conservative Union: 70%
Freedomworks: 56%
Heritage Action: 56%

The organizations who create these scorecards identify key votes, co-sponsorships, letter sign-ons and other criteria to create the scores. Each organization has different criteria, making the finale tallies somewhat subjective. But even though some congressmen argue their scores are not reflective of their full body of work in office, the scorecards have become something of a litmus test among grassroots conservatives, and are therefore a significant and relevant part of the GOP primary process. You can bet that the above scores will show up in anti-Roby campaign advertisements.

Some of the votes that have put Roby at odds with the Washington conservative watchdog groups are votes that likely play well with the Second District’s large military and farming communities, and it only takes a brief conversation with Team Roby to see that she’s planning to make her record the centerpiece of her campaign.

But on bills where GOP Leadership cut a deal with the White House or congressional Democrats and conservatives felt like they could have done better, chances are Roby backed her Leadership. That is going to take some explaining, and as Ronald Reagan once said in his diary, “If you’re explaining, you’re losing.”

Becky Gerritson

Tea Party activist Becky Gerritson addresses a press conference in Montgomery after the Supreme Court's same-sex marriage decision.
Tea Party activist Becky Gerritson addresses a press conference in Montgomery after the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision.


— Organizing —

Gerritson is an activist at heart, and her ability to organize grassroots conservatives in and around Wetumpka has been nothing short of impressive.

In 2012, Governor Robert Bentley and Republican leaders in the Alabama legislature pushed a statewide ballot initiative to allow them to patch a budget hole by borrowing $437 million from the state’s oil and gas trust fund. The amendment passed by a wide margin statewide, but the Gerritson-led “Don’t Bust the Trust” campaign resulted in Elmore County, where Wetumpka is located, being one of a very small number of counties where the amendment was voted down.

The local tea party’s grassroots efforts also led to them electing one of their own, Mike Holmes, to the state legislature in a special election last year.

Gerritson will be counting on that organization to overcome Roby’s fundraising and infrastructure advantages.

— Outsider status —

A military homemaker-turned-political-activist takes on the IRS, demands Congress hold them accountable, then makes appearances around the country trying to rally citizens to do the same. It’s a compelling outsider’s story at a time when the electorate is inclined to give political newcomers a shot.

Prior to announcing her Congressional bid, Gerritson had also signed on to be Alabama co-chair of Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign, aligning her with America’s most outsider-y federal politician.

— Polished presentation —

Gerritson has presumably had some professional media training. She’s done national TV interviews. She’s spoken at dozens of events in Alabama and around the country. She’s delivered impactful testimony before a U.S. House panel. All of that experience is going to pay off during her run for Congress.

She’s already shown herself to be an effective communicator during the rollout of her campaign. Her comments to the media have come across as fiery, but serious, a balance that some first-time insurgent candidates have trouble finding.


— Fundraising —

Gerritson’s fundraising ability is really more of an unknown than a weakness as of right now, but without the personal wealth to self-fund, she does not have an easily identifiable base of donor support to draw from. And starting with a $700,000 disadvantage is never good.

One major question mark is whether outside groups like Heritage Action, The Madison Project or Club for Growth will drop money into the race. Those groups don’t donate directly to candidates, but could somewhat level the playing field with “independent expenditures,” which means buying ads independent of either campaign attacking Roby or boosting Gerritson.

— Absence of an obvious wedge issue —

Roby’s aforementioned voting record will give Gerritson some ammo to shoot at the incumbent’s conservative credentials, but on the big issues that casual political observers will recognize, Roby has generally been on the side of conservatives.

Gerritson has said the Planned Parenthood scandal is what ultimately compelled her to run for Congress. Roby’s been one of Congress’s most vocal advocates for stripping taxpayer funding for the controversial abortion provider, even passing a bill through the House to do exactly that. Gerritson also spent significant time in her campaign announcement speech hammering on the VA and ObamaCare and touting her support for the military. Roby does not appear vulnerable on any of those issues, either.

Unlike other incumbents who were recently defeated (Eric Cantor) or got a scare (Thad Cochran), Roby has maintained her primary residence in the District, returns home most weekends, and maintains a relatively full calendar of town halls and meetings with mayors and local groups. As a result, it will be a challenge to paint her as out of touch with local residents.

The Gerritson campaign may end up making this race entirely about the insider vs. the outsider, and that has the potential to be very effective, but it is difficult to identify a specific issue area that is going to create a wedge for Gerritson to exploit.

9 hours ago

Why go to college?

More than three million students will begin college this year, many pursuing degrees needed for high paying jobs. Amazingly, bachelor’s degrees open economic doors despite little evidence of significant learning in college. How can students who retain so little knowledge make so much money?

A college degree can identify people who employers want to hire. A recent book by George Mason University economist Bryan Caplan provocatively titled The Case Against Education argues that this signaling explains much of the college earnings premium.

The college earnings premium is real. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2018 college grads earned 64% more than high school grads who never attended college, and 39% more than associate’s degree holders. College grads are also less likely to be unemployed, with a 2.2% unemployment rate, versus 4.1% for high school grads. The earnings and unemployment differentials have both persisted for years.


Businesses require bachelor’s degrees for many jobs. Every time a business chooses college grads, they pay more. Profit-hungry businesses should not hire more expensive workers unless they create more value.

Economics offers two theories for education’s value. The first, called human capital, contends that learning makes workers more productive. In the human capital story, the college curriculum must be directly valuable to employers. High paying degrees, like economics, must teach skills businesses value more.

Alternatively, college degrees might allow students to signal characteristics which businesses desire; the content of degrees may be largely irrelevant. Life offers many examples of signaling. Romance and courting involve numerous signals, like engagement rings. A diamond is of little practical value, but signals the willingness to make a life-long commitment.

What does college signal? Professor Caplan argues three main traits: intelligence, conscientiousness, and conformity. Businesses desire workers who are smart, able to learn challenging material, and willing to follow rules. Conformity is probably becoming more important, as businesses can no longer afford workers who tell off-color jokes or express racial, religious or sexual intolerance.

Intelligence and ability to learn are valuable because the details of jobs differ greatly across employers. Employers must train workers to do a job their way. Employees must be willing to turn off their cell phones and pay attention.

How important is human capital versus signaling? Discussions of higher education policy generally presume human capital theory. Yet Professor Caplan contends that the college premium is about 80% signaling and 20% human capital. The content of education clearly has some relevance; engineering firms will not hire inexpensive social work majors over expensive engineers because they prefer graduates already familiar with engineering.

Professor Caplan presents a wealth of statistical evidence in support of signaling. Yet several puzzles demonstrate signaling’s importance. Perhaps most telling is the one mentioned above, the lack of evidence on long-term learning. Knowledge forgotten – of Shakespeare, calculus, or supply and demand – cannot be generating productivity. Furthermore, a student who is one or two classes short of a degree has acquired perhaps 95 percent of a degree’s human capital, but will face a significant salary penalty. And attending classes allows acquisition of knowledge without earning college credit, and has essentially no market value.

Signaling creates value for the economy even if course content is largely irrelevant. College helps employers find the workers they want. Yes, four years of college is costly, but everyone wants high paying jobs and would likely lie during an interview. Whether higher education provides efficient signaling depends on whether an alternative can separate high and low-quality potential workers at a lower cost.

The potential exists for excessive and wasteful signaling. Completing high school used to separate one from the crowd. Arguably we now use college degrees as a signal instead of high school diplomas. Credential inflation is potentially costly.

For parents of college students, signaling offers some solace. Even if Sally or Johnny seem to forget everything after the semester ends, passing forgettable classes can readily signal employers their willingness to learn a boring job.

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.

10 hours ago

VIDEO: Gun control, tolls are just a regional concern, racist Alabama Democrats and more on Guerrilla Politics …

Radio talk show host Dale Jackson and Dr. Waymon Burke take you through this week’s biggest political stories, including:

— Will a serious discussion about “gun control” take place, or will it be more politicking by both sides?

— Will toll talk spread beyond the citizens of Mobile and Baldwin Counties?

— Why are Alabama Democrats calling each other racist?


Jackson and Burke are joined by U.S. Representative Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) to discuss gun control, tolls, debt and the potential recession.

Jackson closes the show with a “parting shot” where he argues that American institutions should put Americans first.

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

11 hours ago

Alabama’s Margaret Renkl, writer for New York Times, launches first book, ‘Late Migrations’

A couple of years ago, Alabama native Margaret Renkl, who had made a career out of writing and editing, was stressed. Really stressed.

Living in Nashville, she had moved her mother up from Birmingham to help take care of her in her final years.

“After my mom died, and my husband’s parents had moved up here, too, it really was unbearable,” she says. “I was dealing with grief and caregiving, and two of my three children were still living at home. It was a lot.”


Then, at the Southern Festival of Books, Renkl ran into an editor from The New York Times. The newspaper was starting a new series, The End, about end-of-life issues, and he urged her to write about her experience.

“I ended up working, first thing in the morning, 15 minutes a day, on an essay about my mother’s death and my mother-in-law dying, and at the end of the month, I sent it in, and they bought it,” Renkl says. “I did another piece, and they bought that, also. By that time, I was feeling a lot more confident.”

Her mother-in-law had also passed away, so Renkl had a bit more time.

“I was still sorting through these issues about grief, but I didn’t think of them as a book,” she says.

But they were a book, at least the beginnings of one, and last month Renkl released “Late Migrations,” a book of essays about two of Renkl’s passions – her family and the natural world.

The book has received rave reviews from celebrities and bibliophiles alike. Oprah Winfrey’s O magazine says Renkl “guides us through a South lush with bluebirds, pecan orchards and glasses of whiskey shared at dusk in this collection of prose in poetry-size bits.” Author Ann Patchett says the book has the makings of “an American classic … beautifully written, masterfully structured and brimming with insight into the natural world.” Actress Reese Witherspoon says Renkl “is the most beautiful writer. I love this book.” “Late Migrations” has been featured on NPR and in Garden & Gun and People magazines, among others.

It’s all a bit surprising to Renkl, who graduated from Auburn University with a degree in English in 1984 and earned her master’s at the University of South Carolina.

“The structure is unusual, and the subject is often sad,” Renkl says. “It’s a meditation on grief some ways, and I think we as a culture aren’t comfortable talking about death and grief. I’ve been surprised and heartened by the response.”

Renkl was born in Andalusia, but she moved to Birmingham while in first grade.

“The world I lived in in Birmingham was completely different from the world I lived in heretofore,” she says. “We went back to lower Alabama all the time, because my grandparents still lived there. That was pretty foundational for the way I think of my growing-up years.”

Renkl’s father was in real estate development, building apartment complexes, and she and her family would move from site to site, wherever her father’s company was building a complex.

“It’s a little ironic that I spent so much time in the outdoors, because we were living in the woods that my father’s company was tearing down,” says Renkl, who graduated from Homewood High School.

She and her brother, Billy, an artist who provided illustrations for “Late Migrations,” forged their collaboration early on with childhood books of poetry and illustrations. Later, Billy would be her art director when she was editor of her high school newspaper and also when she was editor of the Circle literary magazine at Auburn.

After graduate school, Renkl taught high school, but in her 10th year of teaching, she found herself on bed rest while pregnant with her second child, and since she couldn’t teach, she had to “find a way to make some money.”

She launched a 12-year freelancing career with an essay for Glamour magazine and later edited Chapter 16, an online journal for Humanities Tennessee, for 10 years.

After that, The New York Times, a publication she had failed to sell freelance essays to after several tries, came calling, and she began writing for The End. The Times soon hired her to write a regular monthly column, and six months later, they asked her to write weekly.

“I asked for my first contract to be six months instead of a year, because I wasn’t completely convinced I could come up with something every week,” Renkl says. “Then I signed a contract for a year, then another for a year. I’m pretty happy with the arrangement.”

As a regular writer for The Times, Renkl writes about “flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South,” according to the newspaper. She has written about her familyanimals and politics.

In the meantime, Renkl was continuing to write essays about her family – the grief of losing her mother, mother-in-law and, earlier, her father – and, thanks to her disdain for the 2016 political season and its aftermath, nature. “I started writing a little nature blog that had pretty much zero audience, but writing about the natural world reminded me that what was happening in the political arena was only temporary,” she says. “At some point, the other women in my writer’s group said, ‘You know this is a book, right? … This is a book about longing and loss in many different contexts.’”

Milkweed Editions agreed and worked with Renkl on “Late Migrations,” which includes memoir-type essays along with essays on nature and drawings by her brother.

“This was his family, too,” Renkl says. “So it seemed natural to me to have my story of my family include work by him. … Also, Billy’s artwork is very often about birds and insects and stars and flowers and leaves.”

Initially, Renkl paired her work with pieces her brother had already created, but he ended up creating 20 original pieces for “Late Migrations.”

“As I was reading the early drafts of the book, I came to realize that I wanted to use my voice to amplify the beautiful connections between Margaret’s backyard observations of nature and her stories about our family,” Billy Renkl says. “Eventually, I decided to aim for a carefully calibrated relationship between images that seemed to reference the history of wildlife identification guidebooks and family photo albums – images that were equal parts objective observation and idiosyncratic family myth.”

Though some have referred to “Late Migrations” as a memoir, Renkl disagrees.

“To me, that means comprehensive and complete,” she says. “These essays make no pretense to be comprehensive. I’m not telling the story of my life. I consider it primarily to be a meditation on loss and human life and in the natural world. I took great comfort, in writing both sets of essays, in seeing how what happens to us in human life is being played out all around in the natural world.”

Renkl says her parents would have loved “Late Migrations.”

“They were so proud of me, and the book is a love letter to them,” she says. “It’s a love letter to family life, to the natural world. It’s a praise song. They would have loved that.”

Margaret Renkl will be signing “Late Migrations” on Sept. 4 at 6 p.m. at Pebble Hill in Auburn; and Read Herring books, 105 S. Court St. in Montgomery, on Sept. 5. You can find her book tour schedule here.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

13 hours ago

Samford University’s Ida Moffett School of Nursing receives $3.5M Nurse Practitioner Residency Grant

Samford University’s Ida Moffett School of Nursing will receive $3.5 million over four years to place nurse practitioner graduates in rural, underserved areas for primary-care residency. The grant is the largest in Samford University’s history.

The Advanced Nursing Education – Nurse Practitioner Residency Program Grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration is designed to prepare new nurse practitioners to deliver high-quality primary care in community-based settings. During the year-long program, nurse practitioner residents will complete academic coursework and clinical hours in underserved population locations.


“For nearly 100 years, Ida Moffett School of Nursing has prepared well-equipped, compassionate nurses to serve the underserved,” said Nena Sanders, vice provost of Samford’s College of Health Sciences and nursing school dean. “This grant affords us the opportunity to enhance the knowledge and skill sets of our graduates and intentionally place caring, competent nurse practitioners where the needs are greatest.”

The grant will facilitate the launch of the first residency program housed within the nursing school.

The program will focus on developing new family nurse practitioners with the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to improve the quality and safety of rural health care systems. According to professor and grant manager Stephanie Wynn, the program will place a special priority on addressing value-based care, telehealth, obesity and mental health issues.

“This residency program will distinctively position new nurse practitioners to face the complexities which occur when providing care to rural and underserved populations,” said Wynn. “Ninety-eight percent of Alabama’s counties are designated, either all or in part, as a Medically Underserved Area or a Health Professional Shortage Area. This program will transform communities by increasing the quality and quantity of primary-care providers who are trained to provide innovative, compassionate care.”

Fifty-five of Alabama’s 67 counties are considered rural, and only two of those 55 are considered to have the minimum number of providers available. According to Wynn, the state’s population-per-physician ratio well exceeds 3,000 to 1 in many rural areas. “Nearly 44% of Alabama’s population is living in rural areas, yet 70% of primary care physicians practice within Alabama’s five largest counties,” said Wynn. “Health care must shift to better meet the needs of today’s population.”

During their rotations, residents will receive training in vital telehealth technology reducing accessibility issues for patients who would otherwise need to travel long distances to seek care. “By providing residents with telehealth training, rural communities will gain direct access to specialists in the urban areas,” said Jill Cunningham, nurse practitioner department chair.

Cunningham and Wynn are leading the residency and curriculum development with the support of an interprofessional team of educators. The first cohort of 10 nurse practitioners will begin their rotations July 1, 2020.

“More than 20 years ago we launched a nurse practitioner program to fill a need within the health care system, and that vision hasn’t changed,” said Jane Martin, senior associate dean for Ida Moffett School of Nursing. “We are producing well-trained, compassionate nurse practitioners who are breaking health care accessibility barriers.”

Ida Moffett School of Nursing offers nurse practitioner coursework that is aligned with the needs of today’s heath care environment. Students choose from specialty areas such as family, emergency or psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, and entry points are available for associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree holders. Advanced practice registered nurse, nurse practitioner certificates are also available.
(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

14 hours ago

Josh Laney to head Alabama Office of Apprenticeship as skills program expands

MONTGOMERY, Alabama — Ed Castile, deputy secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce and director of AIDT, announced that Josh Laney has been named director of the newly established Alabama Office of Apprenticeship (AOA) as the state moves to expand a program that elevates the skill levels of workers.In his new role, Laney will partner with industries and education providers across the state to develop and expand traditional and industry-recognized apprenticeships for youth and adults.  He will also lead the AOA’s support of larger workforce development infrastructure for Alabama to identify and promote the recognition and use of valuable credentials.


Laney previously served as senior director for Workforce Development at the Alabama State Department of Education, where he supported local school system efforts to align the career technical training initiatives with workforce needs.

With over 20 years of experience in education, Laney’s career path has taken him from the classroom to administrative leadership in junior high and high school settings before assuming the role of career technical director for Phenix City Schools in 2011.

Under Laney’s leadership, the AOA will expand Alabama’s registered apprenticeship opportunities, resulting in additional skilled employees in the workforce and increased economic activity for Alabama.

“The Alabama Office of Apprenticeship is a game changer. Having someone like Josh who is passionate about education and dedicated to the growth and preparedness of our workforce is a home run for Alabama,” said Castile, who heads Commerce’s Workforce Development Division.


The establishment of the Alabama Office of Apprenticeship represents another step in Alabama’s strategic efforts to develop a comprehensive workforce system. Apprenticeship programs allow the state to meet the current and future demands of business and industry, while also creating greater opportunities for Alabamians.

Registered apprenticeship programs are innovative work-based learning opportunities that rely on business involvement and provide on-the-job training while also providing wages from employers during training.

Apprenticeship sponsors develop highly skilled employees, while reducing turnover rates and increasing productivity.

Alabama has five industry focused sectors for apprenticeships:  Healthcare, Construction/Carpentry, Information Technology, Distribution/Transportation & Logistics and Advance Manufacturing.

“The success of Apprenticeship Alabama over the last few years made us realize that we needed to go bigger,” Castile said. “With Josh’s extensive background in workforce development and education it was natural fit for agency.”

Laney’s appointment follows the passage of Senate Bill 295, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, which not only established the Alabama Office of Apprenticeship but also expanded the Apprenticeship Alabama Tax Credit from $1,000 to $1,250.

The legislation also increased the number of apprentices one employer may claim from five to 10, as well as the tax credit cap from $3 million to $7.5 million, and established the Alabama Apprenticeship Council.

The AOA will serve as the registration agency for all registered apprenticeships in the state of Alabama.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)