10 months ago

Former congressman Artur Davis running for Montgomery mayor, calls on Steven Reed to recuse himself

Former congressman Artur Davis (D-AL) is running to be Montgomery’s next mayor.

While the election will not occur until August 27 of next year, Davis believes the race, which is expected to feature Montgomery Probate Judge Steven Reed, could present a similar problem as the current gubernatorial race in Georgia, where Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp is running against former state Rep. Stacey Abrams.

A national controversy has erupted in that race, with Democrats accusing Kemp, who oversees the elections process in his current role, of purging likely Democratic voters from the rolls. Davis is worried that the same type of opportunity for “impropriety,” or at least “the appearance of impropriety,” will exist in the 2019 Montgomery mayoral race, as Reed will oversee the election as probate judge in which he is also expected to be a candidate.

In an exclusive interview with Yellowhammer News, Davis confirmed his own campaign for mayor and called on Reed to recuse himself from overseeing the upcoming election, turning over that responsibility to Secretary of State John Merrill’s office.

Basic tenets of a fair elections process

For Davis, this all comes down to core principles of American representative democracy – that elections should be fair and free, with citizens having trust in the integrity of the process. He also boiled it down to an analogy that should hit home for Alabamians of all stripes.

“As great as Nick Saban is, he doesn’t get to referee the games he plays in,” Davis outlined. “And that’s really what this comes down to here. If Nick Saban doesn’t get to referee games he plays in, then why should a candidate, in effect, get to referee the game he’s playing in?”

Davis also pointed to the situation as an example of potential hypocrisy by Democrats, saying “my guess is some of the same folks assailing Kemp won’t have much to say about Reed trying to referee a game he is playing in.”

What goes into overseeing an election in Montgomery County?

Davis then explained what overseeing an election looks like in reality, specifically when it comes to a county’s probate judge.

“The probate judge runs the election process. And it’s not a passive role. I’ve known Judge Reed for many years, I’ve been to many forums with Judge Reed, and every time I’ve heard Judge Reed describe his role, he stands up and says, ‘I run the elections in Montgomery County.’ That’s accurate – that’s a fact,” Davis said.

He continued, “And what does it mean to run elections in Montgomery County? Not only does it mean that you handle the administrative tasks of having poll workers, manning precincts, making sure the machinery runs properly, not only do you handle the administrative tasks but processing candidate applications and candidates’ qualifying checks, those things frankly don’t tend to involve a lot of subjective judgement. But there’s an element of the process that’s enormously subjective that I don’t think a lot of voters appreciate in Montgomery.”

That under-appreciated, “enormously subjective” duty of the probate judge is verifying the necessary amount of signatures that candidates must get to even be on the ballot.

“A lot of voters are not aware that to get on the ballot in Montgomery, to run for mayor or city council, you have to turn in signatures,” Davis advised. “And for mayor, those signatures have to be a certain percentage of the folks that voted in the last election.”

While that bar was not high in the 2015 mayoral race because of low turnout in 2011, a high turnout in 2015 means a relatively large amount of signatures to get in 2019.

Yet, it is not really the number of signatures, time-consuming as they are, that has Davis worried; it is the fact that Reed’s probate office can subjectively reject any signatures that they want to. In Davis’ experience (he ran for mayor in 2015), this is more than a theoretical problem.

“Guess who is in charge of deciding whether or not signatures are valid? It’s Judge Reed’s staff,” Davis commented. “And I don’t mind telling you, in the last election process, several of us candidates kept getting calls to the probate judge’s office that they had disqualified our signatures. And we had to keep coming back and keep coming back. Well, what if Judge Reed were a candidate and his staff is sitting there evaluating whether or not his opponents are turning in valid signatures? And whether he’s turning in valid signatures? Because he’s not exempt from that process.”

In addition to the probate judge’s office holding the key to ballot access in Montgomery, Davis explained that the office also “has a very important role” that can be subjective when it comes to absentee ballots.

“The probate judge’s office is in charge of making sure absentee ballots are properly filed. Well, guess what? That’s not just an administrative process in Montgomery today. Because of new laws in Alabama, new requirements around voter I.D. and absentee ballots, there’s a subjective process that goes on. As there should be,” Davis said.

He continued, “What this comes down to for me and, I think, a lot of voters and people in this community, can you trust a player in the game to be the referee?”

Reed’s history only compounds the more inherent issues

Davis believes that for many in the Montgomery area, this natural distrust is fueled by the probate office’s behavior under Reed’s leadership. The former congressman opined that things have gone downhill since former Probate Judge Reese McKinney left office.

Specifically, vote totals are now taking conspicuously longer to be reported to the secretary of state’s office on election night since Reed took office, Davis said.

“A lot of us wonder, why did it take two hours for returns in races to come in in Montgomery County? Why does it take longer to count the votes in Montgomery County than it takes to count the votes statewide? Why is it that you have the AP in a position to call statewide races and multiple other contests but you only have eight percent of the vote reporting in Montgomery for two hours? And then all of a sudden, the number magically jumps to 90 percent? That’s something a lot of us wonder about,” Davis outlined.

The problems cannot be chalked down to a lack of resources, Davis advised.

“It’s not like this is some rural backwater,” Davis remarked. “We’re the second largest county in the state. Why is it that Montgomery is the only large county that has not implemented many of Secretary Merrill’s reforms? Why is it that Montgomery continues to have human beings involved in processes that are handled digitally in other big counties?”

These perceived red flags exacerbate the general fairness issues surrounding Reed potentially overseeing an election in which he is also a candidate.

“If we had a smoothly flowing election process in Montgomery, it might be a different story,” Davis added. “You might have more confidence. You might feel, ‘Well, Montgomery’s process is so smooth, mechanical and transparent that it will essentially run itself.’ I certainly don’t have that confidence as a voter.”

More issues that Davis has witnessed with Reed’s probate office include not having nearly enough poll workers for major elections (especially the Jones/Moore U.S. Senate Special Election last December) and registered Democrats – who are not loyalists of the Alabama Democratic Conference (ADC) – facing challenges and even changes to their party registration and eligibility to vote in certain races. Then, there is the very clear example of state Rep. John Knight (D-Montgomery) being told he could not vote in the Democratic Party primary runoff for a state Senate seat this year. While the problem was seemingly resolved after public outcry, Knight was running against the “Reed Machine” in that race, adding to the perception of “impropriety” in the probate office.

Steven Reed’s father is Joe Reed, the infamous, longtime head of the ADC, otherwise known as the “Black Political Caucus of Alabama.” This organization is widely known to wield a stranglehold on Montgomery and statewide Democratic politics, with the ADC most recently flexing its muscles against a failed takeover attempt of the state party by Sen. Doug Jones (D-Mountain Brook).

“You have the probate office calling people in the days after the primary runoff election this July, asking them what primary they voted in. [The probate office] ought to be able to tell you that. I think that’s kind of their job, not the other way around,” Davis said.

He continued, “All of these problems with long lines because we don’t have enough poll workers, these problems with returns, these problems with candidates in races being told they voted in the other primary – look, let’s just say I was born at night but it wasn’t last night.”

Davis believes Reed should announce his office’s recusal from overseeing the mayoral race

If Reed runs for mayor, as he is expected to, Davis stopped short of calling for his resignation as probate judge. However, Davis said that he and his office should be entirely removed from the electoral process for that race.

“He should pick up the phone and call someone who I think he respects and I know I respect – that’s John Merrill,” Davis advised. “And I think he should ask John Merrill to run the election process [in the Montgomery mayoral contest]. There’s a precedent for this – if a district attorney has a conflict in a case, he calls the attorney general to prosecute the case… if there’s a case involving a local judge, all the other judges in the circuit recuse themselves and someone from another area comes in. Not necessarily because the judges would be biased, but because they know that the appearance of impropriety would be there for some people in the community.”

This is another key point that Davis wanted to make. While no one can truly know if impropriety by Reed or his office would exist ahead of the election, the appearance of impropriety would undoubtedly exist. That in and of itself is reason for Reed to recuse himself.

On this, Davis added, “Steven should do the right thing. I like Steven, he’s a nice guy and I’ve known him and his family for a very long time. Seems like a fair-minded person. The fair-minded thing would be to call John Merrill and to ask John Merrill’s office to run the election process and to staff up the election process – to handle the certification of candidates to be on the ballot, to handle the processing of absentee ballots and to handle the vote count on election night.”

Davis is not afraid of the “Reed Machine”

Speaking of the Reed family, Davis has experience running against Joe Reed’s strong-arming organization. And he is looking forward to doing so again.

“I’ve beaten the Reed Machine the last two I’ve run in Montgomery. Governor’s race in 2010, we didn’t have a good night in 2010 but we still beat Joe Reed in Montgomery; Mayor’s race in 2015, the Reed Machine worked very hard for a candidate who came in third… we beat [the Reed candidate] in every single box in Montgomery, beat him in all the black boxes where ADC has influence. Won 11 of the 13 African American boxes in this community despite ADC putting out smear sheets against me and working hard against me and campaigning against me and calling me everything but ‘a child of God.’ I’ve beaten the Reed Machine in two elections in a row,” Davis explained.

The mayoral race should be about substance, not process

Davis said that the next mayor of Montgomery will be elected based on their qualifications and vision for dealing with the city’s very real problems. Davis’ top two platform items center on public education and economic development.

“Our school system has become a disgrace for our children,” Davis emphasized. “Economic development is not where it needs to be in this community… Crime is higher in this community than it needs to be for a city of our size.”

The issue of education is very personal to Davis because his experience growing up in Montgomery’s public education system laid the foundation for his lengthy resume of accomplishments.

“I went to Cloverdale and Jeff Davis and that was good enough for me to be a National Merit Finalist, to make perfect scores on AP exams, to go to Harvard and to be an award-winning student. To be a congressman by the time I was 35 years old – I got the foundation for that from Montgomery public schools,” Davis outlined.

He added, “The reality is, the election next year oughta be a conversation about where Montgomery goes in the future. And that conversation shouldn’t be diverted by questions about whether the process is fair.”

Davis was a Democratic member of Congress from 2003 – 2011. A Montgomery native and graduate of Harvard for undergraduate studies and law school, Davis notably switched his party affiliation to Republican in 2012 and spoke in support of presidential nominee Mitt Romney at the Republican National Convention that year. This came after he was the first congressman outside of Illinois to endorse then-Senator Barack Obama for president in 2007, with Davis giving one of his nomination speeches and serving as one of his national campaign co-chairs that cycle. He later became the only member of the Congressional Black Caucus to vote against Obamacare.

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

14 hours ago

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama announces sponsorship of Montgomery’s bike share program

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama announced Friday a partnership with the City of Montgomery to help sponsor Montgomery’s bike share program.

Blue Cross, Baptist Health and Wind Creek Hospitality are collaborating to launch the new program, which is an innovative biking system aimed at improving the quality of life and increasing tourism in downtown Montgomery.

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“We are proud to partner with the City of Montgomery as we work together to build healthier communities across Alabama,” said Koko Mackin, vice president of Corporate Communications and Community Relations, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama in a press release. “Montgomery’s bike share program is an excellent opportunity to provide workers, residents, and visitors a new and convenient way to get around and enjoy our capital city.”

The Montgomery bike share program will be operated by Pace, a micro-mobility vendor. According to the announcement from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, bike stations are placed in prominent locations throughout Montgomery’s city-center.

Bike station locations include the Rosa Parks Library/Museum, First White House of the Confederacy, City Hall, Renaissance Hotel & Spa, Old Alabama Town, Morgan Library, Kress Building, Wright Brothers Park, the Alley and the Intermodal.

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

15 hours ago

The Alabama Education Association protects the status quo by opposing charter schools

There are good things happening in education within the state of Alabama, but overall, the quality of education in this state lags behind the rest of the country.

In the past, the Alabama Education Association (AEA) claimed they were an organization that fought for quality education, but the results of their decades of control on the state, and the Alabama Democratic Party, were hardly anything to write home about.

Now, the AEA is in a completely different position. They are the adversary and the loyal opposition, and they are out of power.

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The late Paul Hubbert, who ran the AEA and Democratic Party with an iron fist, is long gone. His predecessor, Henry Mabry, oversaw a wipeout of the AEA’s allies in elected office. No one reading this even knows what unfortunate soul is leading this weakened, but still relevant organization in 2019.

Legislators in the past feared the AEA, but now they are hardly aware of their existence outside of an active email list and subservient “journalists” who are trying to relive their glory days as the sun goes down.

The 2019 AEA is stuck in neutral, at best, they are seen as an annoyance and nothing more.

Recently, Alabama State Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) announced that there would be an increase in funding to recruit charter schools to give interested parents more options for their children’s educations.

The quadrupling of their funding will allow $400,000 to recruit new schools, but Marsh highlighted part of the problem with the AEA by pointing out that some of those resources will have to be used to fight the AEA as they sue the state over the creation of charter schools.

Another organization just received a $25 million federal grant to attract charter schools to the state which could bring in 15 additional charter schools.

Will the AEA support them? No, they will fight them. They will fight them at every step.

They could put them in the worst school districts, and they would be opposed.

They could put them in the best school districts, and they would be opposed.

The AEA’s opposition to these programs is based on nothing except fear of competition. They, of course, claim they support “good charter schools,” but there doesn’t seem to be much evidence to back that up.

The AEA sues charter school startups.

The AEA applauds when charter schools are stalled.

Does the AEA actually support charter schools? No.

Does the AEA support vouchers? No.

Does the AEA support school choice? No.

The AEA is an advocate for their members, and that is fine, but they do not seem like they are not good advocates for education and seem to have no desire to change that.

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

16 hours ago

Former NFL star Michael Vick speaks in Alabama, credits God with turning life around

Former NFL star Michael Vick visited Alabama A&M University in Huntsville on Thursday, speaking to students about how he turned his life around after being infamously imprisoned for approximately 18 months from 2007-2009 due to his involvement in a dog-fighting ring.

According to a report by WAFF, Vick stressed the importance of second chances in life.

He also explained that for him, successfully taking advantage of his big second chance was due to Vick turning to God for answers.

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His faith, bolstered in prison, gave him clarity with what his life mission was, Vick told the students.

Vick also commented on the importance of positive role models in life.

“Second chances mean everything to me, man. People who stood at the forefront, who allowed me to be put in that space, they deserve all the credit. I was just a guy who needed them at a critical time in my life,” Vick said.

You can watch WAFF’s report here.

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

17 hours ago

John Merrill on Mobile Bridge toll: ‘I’m not for putting an additional tax burden on the backs of people’

You can count Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill among those with reservations about supporting the proposed toll plan for the new I-10 Mobile Bay Bridge project offered by the Alabama Department of Transportation.

Merrill, who is a candidate for the Republican nomination for Alabama’s U.S. Senate seat up in 2020, told Huntsville radio WVNN’s “The Jeff Poor Show” that he thought there were alternatives for the proposal.

“I’m not for putting an additional tax burden on the backs of people who would use that to gain access to a worksite or family members or church or social gatherings,” Merrill said, “when we can find a way to pay that toll that they believe that needs to be charged in order to make sure that project can become a reality.”

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“We’ve been able to do it before. We can do it again. We need to make sure we’re working with all of our public and private partners to make sure the basic viability of the project is where it needs to be before we start talking about these unbelievable numbers that are increasing the burdens on the backs of our people.”

Merrill pushed back against critics who had suggested the bridge not be built on the backs of taxpayers statewide, noting the amount of tax revenue generated by both Mobile and Baldwin Counties.

“You realize the enormous amount of resources that are generated in Baldwin and Mobile Counties through tax revenues, which is far, far superior to any other part of the state of Alabama,” he said. “So when people start talking about how tax burdens need to be shared, I’m sure that the people in Baldwin and Mobile Counties prefer to have all the ad Valorem taxes and all the sales taxes that are produced by people going to the beach just designated for and used for their part of the state each and every year instead of them sharing it with the entire state in the general fund or the education trust fund because they are able to supplement a lot of things that go on in Central Alabama and North Alabama because of what is generated in South Alabama. I’m quite sure they would like to keep all of those resources, too. So, when it comes to things like this, we all need to work together to come up with the best solution overall.”

Merrill urged the state to avoid building a “Taj Mahal-type project,” borrowing a phrase from former Gov. Fob James.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

18 hours ago

State Rep. Tommy Hanes to introduce resolution calling for the expulsion of Ilhan Omar from Congress at ALGOP Summer Meeting

The Alabama Republican Party’s summer meeting in Auburn on Saturday may not be the ideal forum for such a gesture, but when State Rep. Tommy Hanes (R-Bryant) calls for the expulsion of U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) from the U.S. House of Representatives, it certainly will not go unnoticed.

Earlier this week, Hanes announced he would pursue such a resolution that would encourage Alabama’s congressional delegation to call for the expulsion of the freshman Minnesota congresswoman.

During an appearance on Huntsville radio WVNN’s “The Jeff Poor Show” on Thursday, Hanes offered justifications for his resolution.

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“What this resolution is going to do is ask our Alabama delegation in Washington to sort of get the ball rolling on this – see if they can unseat this lady,” Hanes said. “The reason for it is – in my opinion, she just continuously breaks the oath of office. She’s broken the office several times. She just completely ignores the U.S. Constitution, and she’s just totally against Israel.”

“So, we come up with the resolution to present to the body on Saturday, and hopefully it will pass,” he continued. “And it will sort of give a good clear shot at where the people in Alabama, at least the GOP, stand with Ms. Omar.”

The Jackson County Republican said he expected to have a lot of allies in pushing for this measure.

“Most conservative Republicans – I think you’ll find that most of them feel the same way we do about it,” Hanes said. “And what I mean is the way I feel about it and the way the Young Republicans here in Jackson County feel about it. I just can’t see them not passing it.”

See resolution below:

ALGOP Rep. Omar Expulsion Resolution (courtesy State Rep. Tommy Hanes)

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.