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3 years ago

Happy Warrior: A little-known Alabamian is conservatives’ secret weapon in DC

Congressman Gary Palmer's Chief of Staff William Smith.
Congressman Gary Palmer’s Chief of Staff William Smith.

For the past 15 years, a little-known Alabamian has been a secret weapon for some of Congress’s most conservative lawmakers. He calls himself a “Happy Warrior,” who is a level 15 conservative on scale of 1-10. And he has a famous name, though he’s never been confused with a movie star while walking around Capitol Hill.

His name is William Smith. And at first blush, his life probably sounds pretty familiar to many people from the South.

“I center my life around 3 things: faith, family, and football,” Smith explained while sitting in Yellowhammer’s downtown Birmingham offices.

But a deeper look into his life story reveals a fascinating journey that has taken him from the fields of rural Alabama, to the golden coast of California, to the halls of power in Washington D.C.

After growing up in Ozark, Alabama, Smith attained his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Alabama. He went on to earn a masters degree in library science from UNC Chapel Hill before moving to the west coast to be a research librarian at the University of Southern California Law School.

It was while he was soaking up the SoCal sun that Smith received a phone call that would change his life.

“About 10 months into the job I received a phone call from a guy named Ed Haden, whom I had worked with at the Alabama Supreme Court,” Smith recalled “He said, ‘I’ve got a job and I want you to take it.'”

The job was a staff position on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, which included one of Smith’s home-state senators, Jeff Sessions.

Committee staffers are tasked with crafting much of the policy that gets enacted into law. It’s often an arduous job that includes long hours, intense research and very little fanfare. It was right up Smith’s alley.

“I must have been insane (for taking the job) because at the time I was literally working 35 hour a week and playing a lot of golf,” he laughed. “But I said I’d take it.”

Smith immersed himself in the work for the next four years (2001-2005), quickly becoming a highly respected policy expert before deciding to return to his home state to practice law. It proved to be a short-lived detour. Just over two years later he returned to D.C. and soon found himself back in familiar surroundings. Sen. Sessions had risen to become the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee and asked Smith to join him once again, this time as his chief counsel. When Sessions became the ranking member of the Budget Committee, Smith joined him once again as chief counsel on the committee tasked with the monumental undertaking of crafting the federal budget.

Although African-Americans have for generations tended to support liberal Democrats, Smith said being a conservative Republican came naturally to him, thanks to the values instilled in him while growing up in rural Alabama.

“Why aren’t more (African-Americans) Republicans?” He asked rhetorically. “You could look at some people who are out to make a profit and prey off people, like some of the national leaders, like Al Sharpton. But down in the local area where I grew up the values are more consistent (with conservatism). You would find traditional marriage, pro-life and all of those values that are consistent. I think anyone who thinks their values are inconsistent hasn’t really examined the (African-American) community that well.”

How to turn the appeal of conservatism into a “30-second sound bite,” Smith lamented, is the difficult part.

“The difficult thing is when a liberal says, ‘I’ve got a government solution for you,’ it’s hard to come back and say, ‘Well, I’ve got a limited government principle.'”

But while Smith may struggle to boil his conservative ideas down into made-for-television soundbites, he has flourished while helping Sen. Sessions and other conservatives craft key reforms, from entitlements to immigration and countless issues in between.

In late 2014, Smith’s work caught the attention of a fellow policy wonk, Gary Palmer, the former think tank president whom Alabama’s Sixth Congressional District had just elected to represent them in the United States House of Representatives.

Palmer invited Smith to be his chief of staff, the top post in congressional offices. Smith accepted, making him the only black Republican chief of staff in Congress, although it’s a distinction he has not spent much time thinking about.

“Most of the interactions I have with people have to do with policy,” he explained. “I think most of the people who have interacted positively with me is because they share my philosophy. Most of the people who have interacted negatively with me is because they are not as conservative as I am. If I have received any resistance it has to do with the philosophy that makes me say, ‘No, just because we (in government) can do something here doesn’t mean we should.’ I don’t think it has anything to do with race.”

So, how does one of the most conservative people on Capitol Hill fill out his staff? A tough interview process that weeds out the unprincipled applicants from the “Happy Warriors.”

One of the questions he asks all interviewees, Smith revealed to Yellowhammer, is “On a scale of 1 to 10, with liberal being 1 and conservative being 10, where do you rate yourself and why?”

Where does Smith himself rank?

“I would say on a scale of 1 to 10 I would probably be a 15,” he quipped, garnering a chuckle from everyone in the room.

Once those applicants make it through Smith’s crucible and onto the team, he runs a different type of office than many veteran staffers may be used to.

“When I say the philosophy is faith, family, and football, that’s really what it is,” he explained. “So we live out our faith, we care for our families, and we talk about football. If we do all of that we are going to have fun. Nothing is so serious in the office that we need to have a crisis moment. Now, the stuff we are working on is serious. We want to see the debt reduced and religious liberties protected.

“You have to be a ‘Happy Warrior,'” he continued. “We have to go in and fight to limit the size and scope of government. When we win, we are going to high five. When we lose, we are still going to high five because we enjoyed the battle. That’s kind of the mentality we need to have in the office. We want people who come in, roll up their sleeves and work hard. But you have to have joy, whether you win or lose. Those are the people we try to recruit.”

We had to ask Mr. William Smith if he ever got confused with the Hollywood actor of the same name.

“Well, I don’t think anyone has ever confused me with being Will Smith the movie star, except for when I first moved to Los Angeles,” he laughed. “Anytime you have the name Will Smith and your name goes into the phone directory the young girls begin to call. So when I moved to L.A. I had to disconnect my answering machine because everyday I would receive a number of phone calls from Will Smith fans wanting me to call them back.”

Smith’s phone is still ringing, even though he’s in D.C. But now, Alabamians can rest assured he’s advocating for a limited government solution to whatever problem is being thrown at him from the other end of the line.


7 mins ago

Former U.S. AG Jeff Sessions, former Air Force One Commander Mark W. Tillman highlight 2019 ALGOP Winter Dinner

BIRMINGHAM — Friday night before a packed ballroom at the Sheraton Hotel, the Alabama Republican Party hosted its annual winter dinner with not just one, but two featured guests.

As advertised, retired Col. Mark W. Tillman, who served as the commander of the Presidential Airlift Group and chief pilot for the president of the United States from 2001-2009, wooed the audience with his tales of serving in that role, including the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The evening’s festivities also included an appearance from former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who served as one of the state of Alabama’s U.S. senators from 1997 through 2017.

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During brief remarks to the audience gathered for the event, Sessions stressed advancing policies on immigration and America’s workers, especially those making less than $50,000 annually. During that address, Sessions received three standing ovations from those in attendance, suggesting he remains very much in favor with Alabama’s Republican hierarchy.

Immediately after Sessions addressed the crowd, former Alabama Republican Party chairman Edgar Welden honored Sessions and his wife by announcing they established an endowed scholarship in Jeff Sessions and his wife Mary Sessions’ name at Montgomery’s Huntingdon College, their alma mater.

Tillman, who was the featured speaker, offered attendees insight into commanding Air Force One and serving former President George W. Bush. Tillman discussed the threats and perceived threats from the “fog of war” that followed after terrorist attacks on New York City’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon in northern Virginia.

Col. Mark Tillman speaks to the ALGOP Winter Dinner, 2/22/2019 (Jeff Poor/YHN)

Tillman also appeared on Huntsville’s radio WVNN earlier in the day to talk about that and how technology had changed since his time as the Air Force One commander.

Alabama Republican Party chairwoman Terry Lathan told Yellowhammer News following the event she was pleased with the attendance and was excited they were able to honor Jeff Sessions. Lathan is up for reelection on Saturday at the party’s winter meeting.

@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.

2 hours ago

Alabama documentary up for an Oscar this weekend

Nearly 80 years after Walker Evans and James Agee shined a light on life in Hale County, Alabama, Greensboro and its environs are taking center stage again, this time in RaMell Ross’ Oscar-nominated documentary film, “Hale County This Morning, This Evening.”

“Hale County This Morning, This Evening” follows Daniel Collins and Quincy Bryant, and their families, for five years. The documentary is done in an experimental, non-narrative style. Ross says it’s more about watching and being than listening and concluding. “It’s trying to show what it’s like to be a young black man in the historic South,” he said. What you’ll see then is a whole lot of hanging out and large swaths of everyday life. Ross’ unique mix of content plus form has been heralded as revolutionary and got attention early on from grant-funders and tony arts organizations like the Sundance Institute and New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

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“The reason why I didn’t make the film an installation or an art piece, why I turned it into a documentary, is because of the amount of people you can reach,” he said. “The film is an experience. It’s supposed to be participated in. I wasn’t interested in telling you anything. I wasn’t interested in making anything clear but allowing you to sort of fill in the gaps and to feel and to witness as much as possible.”

Ross grew up a military brat and considers Virginia to be “home.” He ended up in Alabama after applying to teach a photo course via the Hale Empowerment and Revitalization Organization(HERO). After completing two weeks of teaching, he fell in love with the community and made the move to Hale County. Since arriving in 2009, Ross helped build Pie Lab and managed the HERO youth program. He also picked up a video camera and started filming.

“Hale County,” the finished documentary, bears little resemblance to Ross’ original intention. “It started off as a small project and has snowballed into what it is now,” he said. The film has struck a chord with audiences and reviewers alike. The New York Times named “Hale County This Morning, This Evening” one of the Best Films of 2018, calling it “pure cinematic poetry.” The Los Angeles Times called it “an experience that is simple, complex and revelatory,” and The Village Voice raved, “It’s not every day that you witness a new cinematic language being born. …”And then there are the awards: Sundance Film Festival “Special Jury Prize Documentary,” Cinema Eye Honors “Outstanding Non-Fiction Feature Award,” Gotham Awards “Best Documentary” and, of course, the Academy Awards nomination for “Best Documentary Feature.”

With news of the Oscar nod came a peppering of congrats and well-wishes on his Facebook page. But Ross, who remains as grounded as his subject matter, responded with a humble, “I mean, the stars have aligned on this one 🙂 thanks ya’ll.”

Despite all the accolades, which include having Danny Glover on board as the documentary’s executive producer, Ross is not planning to “go Hollywood” anytime soon. He now owns land and a trailer and plans to keep roots in Greensboro, while also teaching at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. “I have a lot of projects in the works,” he said. “I’m committed to the area.”

“Hale County This Morning, This Evening” is showing in select theaters. It is available on iTunes and can be streamed on the PBS website.

The 2019 Academy Awards broadcasts on Sunday, Feb. 24.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 hours ago

Mentored hunts renew enthusiasm for mentors

One of the mantras adopted by those who love the outdoors is “pass it on,” which means introducing somebody to hunting, fishing or other outdoors activities when you get the opportunity.

For the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division, one facet of that effort comes in the form of the Adult Mentored Hunting Program, where seasoned hunters take new or inexperienced adult hunters to one of WFF’s Special Opportunity Areas (SOAs) for a weekend in the woods hunting deer, turkeys or small game.

What WFF has realized is the mentors, who have many years of experience in the hunting field, are benefitting from their role as much or more than the folks who are being mentored.

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One case in point is Bill Gray, Supervising Wildlife Biologist in WFF’s District IV. The longtime WFF biologist was admittedly reluctant to head out just before Christmas to fulfill a mentor’s role at the hunt at the Portland Landing SOA.

By the end of the weekend, Gray had a new outlook on the experience, and he had gained a new friend.

“When you’ve hunted for a long time, you take a lot of things for granted,” Gray said. “You kind of lose the magic like when you were young and first learning to hunt. Through the progression over the weekend, I got to watch him (James Hopper) learn and be excited and notice some things that were special to him.”

One example was how excited Hopper became when he viewed a deer for the first time through a riflescope.

“That was an eye-opener for me and how important this program can be and what a great opportunity we have to share our world as hunters,” Gray said. “Really for me, it was a way for me to bring back some of that wide-eyed wonder and true joy. It’s not that I don’t enjoy hunting anymore. I do. I love it, but you get kind of numb to some of the things that are old hat to you. To these guys, it’s not. And to see how excited they get has renewed my interest in hunting and being able to usher more people across that threshold who may be interested in becoming a hunter.”

On Hopper’s first hunt, the deer came in late and were too far for his comfort zone in terms of making a quality shot.

On the second day, a buck came through about 35-40 yards from the blind, but Gray had to make sure the deer met the minimum requirements for harvest. By the time Gray saw the deer, it was weaving through the trees and disappeared.

Gray said Hopper couldn’t hide his disappointment on Sunday morning when the rest of the hunt’s participants were busy cleaning deer and feral hogs.

“I said I’ve got to try to help this out,” Gray said. “We exchanged phone numbers. I got him down to my place the first week in January. He drove five hours south to my place in Barbour County.”

One of those aspects of hunting that experience often mitigates turned into the deciding factor on the Barbour County hunt.

“He came very close to taking a deer,” Gray said. “But he spooked the deer with the safety. He was using the safety like he was taught on the range. When he clicked that safety off, he said the deer trotted away and didn’t look back. I didn’t think to show him how to put some downward pressure on the safety and slide it forward real quietly. As much as he has to learn about being a good hunter, I have as much to learn about being a good mentor.

“But he was very excited and not dejected about not getting a buck for the second time. I sent him home with some deer meat, and they loved it.”

Since then, Hopper purchased a deer rifle similar to the one he used on the mentored hunt to get ready for a new season.

“Part of my experience was I felt like I made a new friend,” Gray said. “We weren’t able to get together before the season ended, but I’m as excited about being there with him when he gets his first deer as he is about getting his first deer.”

As unlucky as Gray’s hunter was, Drew Nix had the opposite experience on his mentored hunt at the Cedar Creek SOA.

Nix, the WFF Forester, has been mentoring hunters for many, many years and has recruited quite a few people into the realm of license-buying hunters. Nix said those people he introduced to hunting included youth, adult non-hunters and physically disabled individuals.

His hunter on the Cedar Creek SOA happened to be a person who was very familiar with firearms, a retired Army guy who now serves as a military contractor to teach marksmanship.

“He was from rural New York and was very well-versed in firearms, but he had never been hunting,” Nix said. “During his active duty, he never had the opportunity to pursue hunting.”

On the adult mentored hunts, the person who draws the spot is allowed to bring a hunting companion. However, sickness forced the hunter’s companion to drop out. The hunter was then given permission to bring his 11-year-old son.

On the first hunt, several deer came into one of the fields that had recently been constructed on the SOA, including one buck that met the criteria for permissible harvest.

“I told the gentleman it was a legal buck, but I would wait because we were sitting on an exceptional piece of property,” Nix said. “He held his composure. After about 10 minutes, no other deer came in. He said, ‘If you’re telling me that’s a legal deer, I would like to go ahead and harvest that deer.’”

Nix said when the hunter got the rifle up he noticed a significant anomaly.

“It cracked me up,” he said. “From the waist up, he was rock solid. From the waist down, it was like a small earthquake was going on. His legs were vibrating the whole blind. But he took a good shot and made a clean kill. The deer ran out of the food plot about 5 yards. He and his son were really charged up and wanted to put their hands on the deer, but I told them to wait and see if a doe came in. Sure enough, he took a doe later that afternoon with another clean, ethical shot. They were just ecstatic.”

The hunter even added another doe to his take before the weekend was over, which meant he went home with a cooler stuffed with venison.

“When we were butchering the deer, the guy I mentored let me get finished with half of the first deer and then he took over,” Nix said. “He pretty well cleaned and quartered the rest of the deer. Then he called his buddies and had a processor lined up in Pelham before he left Cedar Creek.”

Nix admitted to the group of hunters at dinner one night that he wasn’t too enthusiastic to miss rutting activity where he hunts, but that he had a “great” time as a mentor.

“The big takeaway from this is this used to be done by family members – dads, uncles or grandfathers,” he said. “In today’s world, we’ve kind of skipped a generation of folks who did not hunt and are not hunters. That seems so foreign to us. For someone who has been hunting for a long time, you may not see the value in doing this until you’ve done it.”

Justin Gilchrist is the wildlife biologist in charge of the Dallas County SOAs, Portland Landing and Cedar Creek, and he is grateful to see a lot of hard work reach fruition during the mentored hunts.

“For me, these hunts have been very rewarding,” Gilchrist said. “We put in a lot of time managing the resources and getting things ready for the hunts. Getting to mentor these people who have never been in the woods in their life is very special to me. We get to take people out and teach them about firearms and hunting. We show them deer sign and what to look for when scouting, like a hard mast (acorns, etc.) crop. Nothing compares to watching their reaction when a deer walks out. Then you watch them be successful and get excited about their first deer. To see them take a deer on land where we’ve done a lot of work is very rewarding. It pumps me up.”

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

18 hours ago

Birmingham lawmaker aims to make it easier to view police body camera video

An Alabama lawmaker from the Birmingham-area is reportedly trying to make it easier to access public records regarding police body cameras.

Rep. Juandalynn Givan (D-Birmingham) and her staff are rewording a bill that first stated access to public recordings should not be accessible.

“Why isn’t that body cam treated like any other public document? Why it is any different from the Freedom of Information Act?” Givan asked, via WBRC.

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Givan claims House Bill 36 would give victims, families, their family members, attorneys and the media more access to police body camera footage. Givan’s mission was initiated after the police-involved shooting death of E.J. Bradford at the Galleria Mall in Hoover.

“No one should have to go six months, three months, four months out without being able to see a video or see a recording,” Givan said.

Per WBRC, the Alabama Broadcasters Association is claiming that body camera footage is essential in being transparent and accurate reporting.

“Broadcasters have that responsibility It’s part of their roles as public servants,” Sharon Tinsley, president of the ABA, said. “We’re licensed in the public service and it’s our role to be in that place for the public where they can’t often be.”

While Givan’s plan has been met with positivity surrounding her mission, she has also been met with pushback.

Sgt. Heath Boackle, an executive board member with the Birmingham Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 1, says a rush to release body camera video could potentially jeopardize investigations.

“The concern would be if it comes out and it’s not the totality of the events before the case is even heard in a court of law, it could taint the jury and it also could give issues or concerns to the people that are seeing it without knowing all the facts,” Boackle said.

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

18 hours ago

Two winners from an Alabama law that requires local government fund newspapers: Goodloe Sutton and Alabama Media Group

Alabama’s law on legal notices and public notification is not that different than the laws of other states that require state and local government must advertise in local print newspapers for matters of the public interest. This means government entities must take tax dollars and hand them over to media companies in exchange for advertising that almost no one reads.

These laws may have served a purpose decades ago, but in 2019 it is hard for anyone to argue that counties should have to publish entire voter roles in local newspapers and pay for the privilege to do so. But that is the law right now and it is costing state and local government in Alabama millions of dollars.

The law is absurd for multiple reasons, but it is also an unfair burden on some cities.

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The city of Huntsville spent close to $115,000 on this issue in 2018, while the city of Hoover spent roughly $10,000 dollars on state-mandated advertising on local matters.

Why?

As Hoover City Councilman John Lyda put it, they are lucky enough to not have a newspaper in their city limits.

“We are a bit unique in that the law states that certain things must be advertised in a paper that is ‘published in your city.’ Other items must be published regardless,” he stated. “Oddly enough, we do not have a paper published in Hoover so our costs are significantly less. In the last fiscal year ending Sept 30, 2018, we only spent $10,800.”

Sorry, citizens of Huntsville, we have a completely archaic law in place that forces you to spend tax dollars on an issue that is so important that there are some cities that don’t have to participate in it at the same level and cost.

So, we have established that the costs are uneven and that taxpayers are the big losers here.

Who are the winners? Media outlets, and I will highlight two big winners.

The newspaper editorial that garnered national attention from Linden, Alabama, was published in a newspaper that made $350,000 last year because of current Alabama law.

Excerpt via Montgomery Advertiser:

On Twitter, Joshua Benton, the director of Nieman Journalism Lab, posted an archived advertisement that Sutton posted in late 2018 in an attempt to sell the paper.

In the sales pitch, Sutton said the paper pulled in over $350,000 in “legal ads.” Benton posited that those ads may serve as a major funding source for the paper, which, if correct, would bring in $6,700 in government-mandated funding per weekly issue.

Not bad for a local rag with 3,000 subscribers.

Alabama is funding these racist rants.

The other big winner? Alabama Media Group.

AMG operates newspapers in Birmingham, Mobile and Huntsville. All of those local papers are raking in gobs of money from local governments (see $115k from Huntsville and $153k from Madison County).

But it gets worse. Alabama Media Group received over $500,000 from the state of Alabama last year (some may be non-mandated spending, but most is not).

How about 2019 so far?

This is an affront to fiscal conservatism and common sense. Alabama legislators must reign this in.

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