7 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

10 hours ago

GoFundMe raising money for fallen Auburn PD officer William Buechner

A GoFundMe has been established in memory of Auburn Police Department Officer William Buechner, who was shot and killed in the line of duty late Sunday night.

A representative of the fundraising platform has confirmed its authenticity to Yellowhammer News. The GoFundMe will establish a memorial fund to assist Buechner’s family.

While the initial goal was set at $10,000, the campaign has already blown through that benchmark in less than 24 hours, raising over $20,500 as of 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday.

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Buechner leaves behind a wife (Sara) and two children, including a one-year-old daughter.

In addition to raising funds, prayers are also being requested for the family.

Governor Kay Ivey on Monday ordered flags in Alabama to be flown at half-staff until sunset on Saturday to honor Buechner.

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

10 hours ago

Randall Woodfin: Alabama abortion ban could end two tech companies bids to locate in Birmingham

Since passage and being signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey, the fallout from the new abortion ban has been harsh for many in Alabama.

Opponents of the law warned passage would not only impact Alabama’s reputation, but it could also threaten economic development opportunities for Alabama.

On Tuesday, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin claimed that in fact was the case.

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Birmingham FOX affiliate WBRC reported that the abortion ban could be the reason two tech firms could take a pass on locating in Birmingham.

Woodfin did not disclose the name of the firms.

Yellowhammer News reached out to the Birmingham mayor’s office and the Birmingham Business Alliance, which functions as the metropolitan area’s chamber of commerce, about the merits of the report and is still awaiting a response.

@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.

11 hours ago

‘Party of no?’ Democrats block lottery bill in Alabama House, end best chance of Medicaid expansion

MONTGOMERY — SB 220, State Sen. Greg Albritton’s (R-Atmore) clean paper-only lottery bill, failed on a procedural vote in the Alabama House of Representatives on Tuesday, essentially killing the bill.

Democrats joined with hardline conservatives to stop the bill from even getting fully debated on the floor in a 53-36 vote, with one abstention. Fifty-four affirmative votes were needed (60% of those voting) on the procedural motion, meaning the lottery failed by a single vote.

Political observers were quick to note that Democrats have been pushing a lottery for the past two decades, campaigning on the right of the people of Alabama to vote via referendum on the issue. However, on Tuesday, Democrats stood in the way of that becoming reality.

The bill had been passed by the Senate but seems to be dead in the House. Observers believe this was the best chance a lottery had of getting to a referendum this quadrennium and for the foreseeable future.

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State Rep. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark) carried the bill in the House. He presented a substitute during a committee meeting last week that changed the revenue distribution in the bill so that 75% of funds would flow to the state general fund, while 25% would go to the Education Trust Fund. The committee adopted the substitute unanimously during that previous meeting. On advancing the bill itself, the only two “nay” votes in committee were Democrats.

The bill passed beforehand by the Senate did not allow for any revenue to benefit education.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) has said that lottery money benefitting the general fund would protect the education fund.

The general fund has obligations that are expected to grow significantly in coming years, including Medicaid and the corrections system.

Despite the fact that the House Minority Caucus, i.e. the House Democrats, have said Medicaid expansion is their number one priority, killing the lottery bill on Tuesday ended their best chance of achieving that goal.

House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville) had a conversation with Marsh recently in which Marsh told Daniels Medicaid expansion was not possible right now because of a lack of general fund revenue to fund the expansion. However, Marsh added to Daniels that lottery revenues bolstering the general fund could make Medicaid expansion a realistic option.

On Tuesday, Democrats complained that SB 220 would not raise the maximum amount of money possible because it did not expand other forms of gaming, like slot machines, or legalize existing electronic bingo operations in places like Greene County or Macon County.

Clouse expressed that his bill would raise more revenue than the alternative, which of course is not having a lottery at all. SB 220 was projected to generate $167 million in revenue for the state annually once the lottery got fully operational.

Procedurally, SB 220 could be brought back up by the House if Democrats stop blocking the lottery legislation.

Update 4:50 p.m.:

Proponents of the lottery in the House will likely attempt the procedural motion again on Tuesday night. Only one attempt at reconsideration is allowed by the chamber’s rules.

It is important to note that 63 votes would be needed for final passage, even if the 60% of those voting threshold is met on the procedural vote.

Update 8:15 p.m.:

Clouse told reporters the lottery will not come back up on Tuesday.

State Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur) told Yellowhammer News that she intends to bring an amendment to the lottery legislation to make the revenue be split equally between education and the General Fund.

Daniels told Yellowhammer News that giving more of the revenue to the Education Trust Fund would not win over his party’s votes, saying their opposition is “much broader than that.”

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

12 hours ago

‘Real and painful consequences’: Ala. Secretary of Commerce, Toyota head ‘profoundly disappointed’ by Trump trade action

President Donald Trump has now concurred with a Department of Commerce Section 232 report that deemed imports of automobiles and automobile parts as a “national security threat,” with the president’s determination seriously worrying Alabama’s automobile manufacturing industry and economic development leaders.

The Department of Commerce report, delivered to Trump on February 17, concluded that imports of automobiles and certain automobile parts threaten to impair the national security of the United States. On Friday, Trump announced that he has completed his review of the report and agrees with its conclusion.

The president has ordered U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to open a negotiation process with affected countries like Japan and, if agreements are not reached within 180 days, tariffs could be instituted on auto and auto parts imports from those countries.

Focusing on Japanese automobile manufacturers alone, Alabama is home to a Honda manufacturing facility in Lincoln, and the under-construction Mazda-Toyota joint venture in Huntsville features two Japanese auto giants.

In a statement on Tuesday, Akio Toyoda, who is president of Toyota and chairman of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA) emphasized that he “is profoundly disappointed by President Trump’s announcement.”

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Speaking on behalf of JAMA, Toyoda said, “We are dismayed to hear a message suggesting that our long-time contributions of investment and employment in the United States are not welcomed. As Chairman, I am deeply saddened by this decision.”

“For JAMA member companies, providing the best possible vehicle options for our customers is our top priority. We now have 24 manufacturing plants, 45 research-and-development/design centers, and 39 distribution centers in 28 states, and have cumulatively invested approximately $51 billion in manufacturing facilities alone,” he outlined. “It is also important to remember that, even during the Great Recession, JAMA member companies made great efforts to maintain employment, and currently we provide more than 93,000 direct American jobs. According to a new study, a total of over 1.6 million jobs (including intermediate and spin-off jobs) in the U.S. are supported by Japanese automakers. These numbers speak for themselves about JAMA member companies’ long history of local contributions and commitment as U.S. corporate citizens, and we are certain that neither imported vehicles and parts nor our American operations ‘threaten to impair’ the U.S. national security.”

Toyoda also warned that potential moves like tariffs down the line from the United States could have major consequences for places with large auto industries like Alabama.

“Any trade restrictive measures would deliver a serious blow to the U.S. auto industry and economy, as it would not only disadvantage U.S. consumers, but also adversely affect the global competitiveness of U.S.-produced vehicles and suppress company investments in the U.S,” Toyoda advised.

He continued, “We believe that free and fair trade as well as a competitive business environment based on international rules support the global competitiveness of the U.S. auto industry, leading to consumer benefits and sustained growth of the U.S. economy.”

“JAMA member companies strongly hope that President Trump understands our desire to further contribute to the U.S. economy and employment and that the dialogue between the governments of Japan and the U.S. leads to an outcome that supports the development of the auto industries and economies of both nations,” Toyoda concluded.

In a statement to Yellowhammer News, Alabama Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield said “the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Section 232 findings… set the stage for tariffs that threaten to seriously disrupt the operations of” the state’s auto manufacturing operations “and put Alabama jobs on the line.”

Canfield explained, “Automakers based in Europe and Japan have made profound contributions to Alabama’s economy through significant investment and job creation that has enriched families and communities. Mercedes-Benz opened a manufacturing facility in Alabama 22 years ago; today, that complex has seen nearly $6 billion in investment and is home to thousands of jobs. Between them, Honda and Toyota have invested well over $3 billion in their Alabama manufacturing operations and employ more than 5,000 people in Alabama. Toyota and Mazda are currently investing another $1.6 billion to open an auto assembly plant in Alabama with 4,000 new jobs. Auto suppliers for these automakers have also invested heavily in operations in Alabama — and they continue to do so.”

“Over the years, Alabama has formed strong partnerships with these automotive companies,” he added. “We’ve also made many lasting friendships with industry leaders, including Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota Motor Corp., who personally came to Alabama’s capital to announce the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA assembly plant in 2018, and the top leadership at Honda and Mercedes.”

“We regret to see these relationships imperiled by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Section 232 findings that set the stage for tariffs that threaten to seriously disrupt the operations of these Alabama manufacturing operations and put Alabama jobs on the line. We will continue to work to help the Trump administration understand that these proposed tariffs will have real and painful consequences for many hard-working Alabamians and companies that have established roots in our state,” Canfield concluded.

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

13 hours ago

Conservatives and liberals should agree — it’s time to #DefundAPTV

There is a public relations crisis gripping Alabama and it must be addressed by the Alabama legislature.

The risk is so real that tourism could plummet, businesses could flee the state and educated young people could choose to move out of their home state for a more welcoming state.

A gay rat is marrying a gay aardvark and they have invited the gay rat’s third-grade students to the wedding and Alabama Public Television  (APTV) refused to carry it.

Seriously.

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Let’s ignore how unlikely it is that a teacher would invite his students to his wedding, let’s ignore that the main character wears glasses but not on his ears and let’s ignore that this is somehow an aardvark.

(Arthur/Facebook)

Let’s ignore all of that and focus on the real issues here. Should the state of Alabama be using taxpayer dollars to fund any of this?

“Arthur” already has a controversial past in Alabama. In 2005, APTV blocked another showing of the show because there was a character with two gay moms.

A Google search says, “Arthur often deals with important issues families face such as asthma, dyslexia, cancer, diabetes, and autism spectrum disorder.”

Super-edgy stuff.

But the real problem is this kind of censorship should lead to liberals demanding that the entire entity of Alabama Public Television be disbanding for refusing to show the kind of diversity they demand out of all forms of entertainment, including Marvel’s cinematic universe.

Conservatives should be demanding that we eliminate APTV altogether because there are plenty of other outlets doing the same kind of programming and there is no need for state resources to be propping up this kind of programming.

This programming is not cheap.

These resources can go somewhere else instead of fueling the culture wars that are ripping our state apart and giving us a black eye nationally.

So…

If you are a liberal, contact your legislators and demand they #DefundAPTV for daring to erase this beautiful and brave cartoon rat and aardvark’s wedding.

If you are a conservative, contact your legislators and demand they #DefundAPTV and rein in this reckless spending on programming that is attempting to brainwash our young people.

Eliminate this menace today (and get rid of Alabama Public Radio while you are at it).

(Arthur/Facebook)

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