4 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.


8 hours ago

University of North Alabama adopting new tuition plan

The University of North Alabama is switching to a tuition plan that officials say will result in increased costs for some students but not others.

Officials at the school in Florence say they are reducing the total number of student fees from seven to one, and fees will be included in the overall tuition cost.

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A statement says students taking 15 hours will see a maximum increase in expenses of 4.1%.

But some could pay less, and costs will not change for others.

School officials say a lag in state funding is a continuing problem.

North Alabama’s vice president for business, Evan Thornton, says the school has deferred maintenance and capital needs totaling more than $160 million.

The school has an undergraduate enrollment of about 6,200 students.
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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9 hours ago

Nathan Lindsay joining governor’s office from BCA

Another high profile staffer from the Business Council of Alabama (BCA) is joining Governor Kay Ivey’s senior level team.

The governor on Monday announced that Nathan Lindsay will join her office as director of appointments effective July 1.

This position is charged with spearheading the meticulous work that goes into Ivey meeting her duty to appoint qualified, representative and appropriate people to positions on the state’s various boards and commissions.

A press release from the governor’s office outlined that Lindsay assumes the role with an extensive background in state government and the private sector, which uniquely qualifies him to advise the governor in this capacity.

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Most recently, through his work in political and governmental affairs at the BCA, Lindsay interacted with members of the business community throughout the Yellowhammer State, which significantly adds to his ability to identify and select candidates for various appointed posts.

Additionally, Lindsay’s early career included time in then-Governor Bob Riley’s office where he served as aide to the governor from 2006 to 2011. Lindsay also worked in the governor’s communications office as deputy press secretary and advised Riley on education policy.

“Nathan brings to our team a wealth of knowledge that I know will serve the state well,” Ivey said in a statement. “In addition to his expertise and insight, Nathan is a man of character. The men and women of my staff must have a strong work ethic, a depth of knowledge and a heart for public service. Nathan certainly embodies all of these characteristics.”

Lindsay earned his bachelor’s degree from Faulkner University. During his time at Faulkner, he served as SGA president and later, in 2018, he was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award for the College of Arts and Sciences.

“As governor, I have the important responsibility of appointing qualified individuals to serve on the more than 450 boards and commissions in our state. These men and women must not only be highly-qualified, but they should also be a true reflection of our great state,” Ivey added. “I am confident we will continue to find the best people to serve our state, just as I am certain Nathan will serve my Administration exceptionally well in this position. His experience speaks for itself, and he shares my goal of moving Alabama into a better future.”

This comes weeks after Leah Garner departed BCA to become Ivey’s communications director.

Mark Colson also left BCA to become head of the Alabama Trucking Association recently.

Update 5:55 p.m.:

BCA President and CEO Katie Boyd Britt released a statement commending Ivey on the hire of Lindsay.

“Nathan’s background and expertise in political affairs combined with his political acumen uniquely qualify him to serve the governor and the state in this capacity,” Britt said. “I have no doubt Nathan will do an outstanding job, and I commend Governor Kay Ivey on this excellent addition to her staff.”

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

9 hours ago

Alabama listed as one of the top 20 most patriotic states in America

A WalletHub report released Monday revealed Alabama to be on of the top 20 most patriotic states in America.

Ranked 19 overall on the list, with a score of 47.43, Alabama ranked first for the “Civics Education Requirement.”

The report “compared the 50 states across 13 key indicators of patriotism” and “ranges from share of enlisted military population to share of adults who voted in the 2016 presidential election to AmeriCorps volunteers per capita.”

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With one as “Most Patriotic” and 25 as “Average,” Alabama received the following rankings:

  • 5th – Average Number of Military Enlistees per 1,000 Civilian Adults
  • 30th – Active-Duty Military Personnel per 100,000 Civilian Adults
  • 17th – Veterans per 1,000 Civilian Adults
  • 1st – Civics Education Requirement
  • 12th – Share of Civilian Adult Population in Military Reserves
  • 10th – Share of Adults Who Voted in 2016 Primary Elections

Alabama also ranked eight overall for ‘Military Engagement.’

The report, which compared red states to blue states in terms of patriotism, found that red states were more patriotic. Red states received an average rank of 23.67, while blue states received an average rank of 28.25.

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

10 hours ago

Brooks: ‘Really dumb’ for Democrats to elect candidates mainly on ‘skin pigmentation or their chromosomes’

In an interview on WVNN’s “The Dale Jackson Show”on Friday, Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-05) lamented that many Democrats have become more interested in racial and gender identity politics than the welfare of America.

Coming off of her much maligned comments comparing American immigration facilities to “concentration camps,” host Dale Jackson asked the north Alabama congressman if he believes that Democrats in Congress will allow Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) to continue to serve as their “de facto face and leader.”

“Yes,” Brooks answered succinctly, promoting a follow-up request for his reasoning.

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“Well, she is where she is,” Brooks explained. “She’s got a lot of political power. She’s got a lot of support — surprisingly.”

“There are large, large numbers of American citizens who have bit off on this socialist stuff, who have bit off on this victimization stuff, who have bit off on thinking that the most important criteria in determining whether to elect someone is their skin pigmentation or their chromosomes — which is really dumb, OK,” he continued. “We oughta be electing people based on their character and based on their public policy positions.”

“But, notwithstanding that, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has become the face of the Democratic Party in many different respects, and she does have great influence as evidenced by the presidential candidates on the socialist Democrats’ side who are trying to cultivate her support,” Brooks added. “They want her endorsement.”

Listen, starting at the 8:25 mark:

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

10 hours ago

Democrats hope it’s 2017 all over again, Republicans just want the nightmare to end

In 2017, Roy Moore won a Republican primary run-off against an extremely flawed Luther Strange. Strange wasn’t just a regular candidate — he had the cloud of his appointment, and he was dogged by former Gov. Robert Bentley’s investigation, impeachment and resignation.

Alabama Republicans, outside of U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), were reluctant to criticize Roy Moore because they knew doing so would hand the Senate seat to now-Senator Doug Jones (D-AL).

But this is different.

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State Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) told the Montgomery Advertiser that he blamed the GOP establishment in 2017, but still thinks Moore can’t win in 2020.

He stated, “I do not believe, with the numbers I look at, that Roy Moore at the end of the day can get the nomination.”

State Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) dismissed Moore when asked about the candidates, saying, “If you look at the candidates, you got Roy Moore. I don’t think we need to say more there.”

Later, he all but endorsed U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope) by saying Byrne “would do the best job.”

Secretary of State John Merrill, a potential future Moore opponent, believes Moore has an uphill battle against Jones.

“I think it would be extraordinarily difficult for Judge Moore to be successful in a general election campaign against Senator Jones,” Merrill outlined.

He added, “I also think it would be difficult for Judge Moore to secure the Republican nomination.”

Congressman Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville), who endorsed Moore in 2017, has already endorsed State Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs) and is on record saying former U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions would be a favorite.

“I do believe that Jeff Sessions would clearly be number one in the poll rankings, based on his having been such a great senator on three principle issues: free enterprise versus socialism; deficit and debt; and border security,” he explained.

Say what you will, but you do not usually see these kinds of pronouncements from Republicans in the middle of a primary.

Democrats hope 2017 is going to be repeated in 2020, but there are many different factors that will matter.

Roy Moore is already fatally flawed as 300,000+ Republicans voters abandoned him in 2017 and stayed home. Many of those voters will vote in the primary in 2020, but will not vote for him.

U.S. Representative Mike Rogers (R-Saks) expressed a similar sentiment on CSPAN last week.

“I personally don’t think Roy Moore is going to be our nominee, but whoever our nominee is will prevail in November because you’ll have the full complement of Republican voters turning out turning out to vote,” he said.

This is not 2017.

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