1 year 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

4 hours ago

Playoff committee ranks Alabama No. 5, Auburn No. 12 – Five takeaways

The college football playoff committee announced its next round of rankings on Tuesday evening, and sent a few messages in the process. Here are five takeaways:

1. The committee has now taken two inconsistent approaches to ranking Alabama. Committee chairman Rob Mullens went to great lengths last week to say the committee held the Crimson Tide in high regard for its personnel and overall ability. Yet, in this week’s ranking, the committee dropped Alabama below a Georgia team which has shown it does not have an elite unit on either side of the ball and has a home loss to a bad South Carolina team on its resume.

Georgia beat a mediocre Missouri team last weekend. Alabama took a close loss — now the best loss in the country — to No. 1 LSU with a hobbled Tua Tagovailoa. If the committee indeed held Alabama in high regard last week, this week’s events should have done nothing to vault Georgia ahead of the Tide.

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2. “Auburn is the most important non-contender in all of college football.” Those were the words of ESPN studio host Rece Davis. Perhaps that was the network’s finest analysis of the evening. The fate of three highly-ranked teams is tied to the outcome of Auburn’s remaining games. The No. 12 Tigers face No. 4 Georgia this weekend and No. 5 Alabama in the Iron Bowl in three weeks. We wrote earlier this week about how Crimson Tide fans will want to practice saying ‘War Eagle’ heading into Auburn’s matchup on Saturday. An Auburn win is good for Alabama any way you cut it.

Oregon is sneaking around the top-four itself, and so for Auburn to keep winning would help their loss in Dallas look a little more forgivable. Auburn will now have a few hundred thousand extra fans in its corner by kickoff on Saturday.

3. Alabama now gets to see how the other half lives. The reality is that by this point in any season most teams get into the playoff as a result of some other teams’ misfortune. That’s rarely been the case for Alabama. The Tide have largely steamrolled into the playoffs year after year. At No. 5, with some future conference champions right behind them, Alabama needs some help. Clemson looking past one of their remaining inferior opponents and choking away a game would help. But so would some losses from one of the teams behind them. Which brings us to…

4. The committee sure wants to place a PAC 12 champion in the playoff this year. It’s been three years since a PAC 12 team made the playoff. There have only been two teams from the conference to ever make the top-four. The committee seems to be angling for that to change this year. Oregon came in at No. 6 this week, and Utah came in at No. 7. It certainly look as if the committee is setting up a strategy to put one of those two in the playoff as a conference champion. Alabama could use Utah and Oregon to take another loss to become a two-loss champion. A statement win against Auburn (who beat Oregon) in the Iron Bowl would help make its case, as well.

5. The Big 12 will be sitting this year’s playoff out. The committee does not think highly of the Big 12 — at all. One-loss Oklahoma is ranked No. 10, while undefeated Baylor is ranked directly behind two two-loss teams at No. 13. The message from the committee is clear: the Big 12 should make other plans for New Years. Even seven-time national champion Minnesota made the leap to respectability with its No. 8 ranking this week. Oklahoma and Baylor can only dream.

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia

8 hours ago

Dale Jackson: You’re the real MVP, Jeff Sessions

Jeff Sessions is still the MVP of the Trump administration.

Sessions’ tireless work in his time as a U.S. senator laid the groundwork for President Donald Trump’s America First agenda, and his early endorsement gave Trump the legitimacy he needed to win over conservatives to put him in the White House. He was one of the president’s most trusted advisors on the campaign trail, traveling all over the country with him to pitch their unified agenda.

The two were united because most of the policies that make Donald Trump so popular in the state of Alabama were championed by Jeff Sessions for decades before Trump sought public office.

Without Sessions, Trump probably doesn’t make it into the White House.

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The former attorney general joined WVNN radio on Tuesday to discuss why he jumped on the Trump train so early, saying, “What I felt so good about was that I’d come to take a very strong stand on immigration, on defending American manufacturing, even I thought we needed to be more careful, a lot more careful on getting involved in wars around the globe. And boy, President Trump came forward, he seized the public’s attention, he advocated those issues and I thought he would follow through with them, and he has.”

Despite that, the unfair criticism from the president has flowed relatively freely, but Sessions has refused to, as he called it, “waffle” in his support of Trump.

Sessions told “The Dale Jackson Show” that he thinks Trump is still doing a good job to this day.

“I traveled with him all over the country, and I believe in him and his agenda and he’s performed, I think, exceedingly well,” he shared.

Of course, every one of Sessions’ opponents in this Senate race will try to diminish an honorable and successful career to one thing: His time as AG and Trump’s reaction to his reasonable recusal from all things Russia.

In the interview, Sessions addressed concerns about his recusal in the Russian collusion investigation, explaining he felt it was clearly black and white.

“I believe that [recusing] was the only thing I could do,” he explained. “I believe we reviewed it carefully, and the regulations in the Department of Justice are specific. If you are a participant in a campaign, and I was a high level, full, just totally campaigned for Trump. I held a title of foreign national security advisor. So that was the deal. And it says explicitly, you can’t investigate your own campaign.”

Sessions also argued that as a member of the campaign, he knew there was no collusion, adding he was not afraid of an investigation into it because he knew nothing had happened.

My takeaway:

As the Mueller report reflected, Sessions was 100% correct. He was right to recuse himself.

And not only was Sessions 100% correct on that, but the president gained some major political points by being cleared by Robert Mueller, who was heralded for years by the left-wing media as being above reproach.

He will also gain from beating the media and their Democrats on impeachment.

But if the president had just listened to former Attorney General Sessions, he would have been a lot better off, both legally and politically, because everything Sessions predicted about the investigation bore out as he said it would, with a full exoneration of the president.

Meanwhile, Sessions was fighting to help build the wall, expand free speech to college campuses around the country, fight back on DACA, defend religious freedom, and most importantly, begin the investigation into the origins of the Russia collusion investigation.

Everything good about Donald Trump has the fingerprints of Jeff Sessions all over it.

For that reason, Sessions remains the MVP of the Trump administration and is someone the president should be very thankful he had, and still has, on his team, regardless of how the 2020 U.S. Senate Republican primary plays out.

Listen:

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

8 hours ago

Jessica Taylor endorsed by GOP State Rep. Will Dismukes in AL-02 race

PRATTVILLE — Conservative Republican congressional candidate Jessica Taylor on Tuesday was endorsed by State Rep. Will Dismukes (R-Prattville) in the race to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Martha Roby (AL-02).

A group of supporters braved the cold to stand behind Taylor, as Dismukes stood alongside her, at Heritage Park in historic downtown Prattville for the announcement.

Dismukes, a first term state legislator, recently withdrew his candidacy for this same Second Congressional District seat, citing not being able to raise the requisite funds to competitively continue in the race.

Speaking on Tuesday, he enthusiastically threw his support behind Taylor, who is a businesswoman and attorney from Prattville.

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“As a candidate for Congress, I highlighted my conservative plan to end abortion on demand, protect our Christian values and enact term limits on members of Congress to help President Trump drain the swamp,” Dismukes said. “However, after thoughtful prayer, I decided recently that it was not my time to seek election [for AL-02].”

“Our country desperately needs a new generation of conservatives to take on radical socialists like AOC, Ilhan Omar and their ‘squad.’ That’s why, today, I’m endorsing Jessica Taylor for Congress. Because she will go and fight socialism that is a major threat to our democracy, and I believe in my heart that Jessica is the right leader for this district, for this state and for this country,” he continued.

“She has the courage, the principles and the hook-shot to take on the radical leftists, protect the right to life, defend the second amendment and help President Trump drain the swamp!” Dismukes added, referring to Taylor’s viral campaign announcement video.

Taylor expressed her appreciation for Dismukes’ endorsement before speaking briefly on some of her campaign’s focuses.

“As conservatives, we must push back against the radical left’s teaching of our generation that socialism is an ideology that we should embrace,” Taylor stressed.

“As your congresswoman, I will go to D.C. to protect life, the Second Amendment and support President Trump,” she continued. “We need a new generation of conservatives who can fight “The Squad,” AOC — all of the folks who are brainwashing our generation.”

She outlined that a recent poll stated that over 70% of millennials responded that they support socialism and approximately 1/3 even responded that they support communism.

“This is something that we cannot accept,” Taylor commented.

You can view a video of Tuesday’s announcement event here.

Other qualified GOP candidates in the race include Wiregrass businessman Jeff Coleman, former Alabama Attorney General Troy King and former State Rep. Barry Moore (R-Enterprise).

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

9 hours ago

U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt names Kerry Knott chief of staff

Congressman Robert Aderholt (AL-04) on Tuesday officially announced the hire of Capitol Hill veteran Kerry Knott as his chief of staff.

Knott most recently ran Knott Strategies, LLC, where he helped Ravi Zacharias International Ministries focus on Washington, D.C.-based ministry opportunities. Knott notably helped create “At The Table,” a new event series designed to bring influential people together across industries to address important cultural and policy issues.

In a statement, Aderholt said, “I am very excited to be bringing Kerry Knott onboard as our new Chief of Staff.”

“Kerry is extremely talented. His many years of service in both the public and private sectors give him a great wealth of information and the skills needed to oversee my office staff and achieve our legislative priorities. As a native of Guntersville, Alabama, I know Kerry will always make serving the people of the 4th Congressional District the top priority in our office, everyday,” the congressman added.

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Knott’s congressional experience is extensive, including serving from 1985 to 1998 as the chief of staff to former House Majority Leader Dick Armey. In this role, Knott helped craft the 1994 “Contract with America,” which helped Republicans regain control of the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years.

“Congressman Aderholt has a great heart for our nation and for the state of Alabama,” Knott stressed. “It shows by his character, his integrity and in his effectiveness. It’s an honor to join his team and to help him accomplish his plans for our nation and for the 4th District of Alabama.”

Knott and his wife, Michelle Morgan Knott, live in Arlington, Virginia, with their three children: Sydney, Charlie and Austin. He is a native of Guntersville and graduated from Guntersville High School in 1978 and Auburn University in 1982.

Knott fills the void left by former Aderholt chief of staff Brian Rell, who recently departed to lead the D.C. office of Birmingham-based Balch and Bingham.

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

10 hours ago

Schumer deputy fundraising for Doug Jones

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), the highest-ranking member of the Senate Democratic leadership besides Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), is now publicly raising money for endangered Senator Doug Jones (D-AL).

In a recent tweet, Durbin urged his followers to donate to Jones’ campaign.

The tweet links to a fundraising landing page with Durbin’s own campaign logo on it.

“Contribute now to help Doug Jones beat Jeff Sessions in Alabama’s Senate race,” the page urges.

This follows a trend of national Democrats fundraising for Jones based off of former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions entering the crowded Republican primary to reclaim his old Senate seat.

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Senator Kamala Harris’ (D-CA) presidential campaign launched a fundraising blitz with contributions split between her campaign and Jones’, and Sens. Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) have followed suit. Schatz also serves on Schumer’s Senate Democratic leadership team as chief deputy whip.

Per Murphy, his and Schatz’s respective fundraising appeals raised $40,000 for Jones’ campaign in the first day alone.

Jones welcomed the support, tweeting, “It is awesome to be in the company of such great friends – and true public servants.”

In the past three quarters, Jones raised 77%, 88% and 88%, respectively, of his individual itemized contributions from outside the state of Alabama.

Californians and New Yorkers have been Jones’ largest sources of funding, with the Washington, D.C. area and other liberal metropolitan strongholds like Chicago also playing major roles.

In addition to Sessions, the competitive GOP Senate primary field includes former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville, Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01), former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, Secretary of State John Merrill and State Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs).

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