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6 years ago

Interview with Rep. John Merrill, Candidate for Secretary of State

Cliff Sims: Let’s start with the question that immediately jumped to my mind when you told me you were considering running for Secretary of State, why do you want to leave the legislature after only one term?

John Merrill: I love serving in the State House more than anything I’ve ever done in public or community service. The only reason I would even consider evaluating potential candidacy at this time is due to the fact that the incumbent is term limited and cannot seek re-election. If I chose not to offer myself now, there is no doubt in my mind that in four to eight years from now I would look back at the person serving and will know that I could have done a better job and I could have been more committed to the people of my state than that individual. Leaving a safe seat, in the community that I love, demonstrates my commitment to serve the people of the entire State of Alabama.

Sims: What qualities do you think make a good secretary of state?

Merrill: Discipline, diligent, detailed-oriented, problem-solver

Sims: What experience do you have that will make you a good fit for the job?

Merrill: I have proven myself to be a successful manager of people as President of the Student Government Association at the University of Alabama, as Director of Business Development at the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama, as Director of Community Relations and Community Education for the Tuscaloosa County School System, most recently, as a Business Development Officer for First Federal Bank, my roles as a community volunteer, and as a successful legislator in the Alabama House of Representatives, uniquely qualify me for this position.

Sims: Do you think it will be challenging to win statewide office after only one term in the House?

Merrill: It’s challenging just to win a seat in the Alabama House of Representatives. I cannot imagine entering into an electoral process and it not be challenging. It would be both a unique and welcome experience.

Sims: Tell Yellowhammer readers a little more about your background and what you’d done prior to being elected to the legislature.

Merrill: I was born in Wedowee (Randolph) County and raised in Helfin, Alabama where my father was a bi-vocational pastor, circuit clerk, and probate judge of Cleburne County. My mother was a school teacher for thirty years, and my sister and I lived in the same house from childhood, until we went away to school. At Cleburne County High School, I participated in basketball, baseball, and many clubs and organizations. I also served as the President of my Student Council. I became an Eagle Scout from Troop 206 in 1980. At the University of Alabama, I was very involved in extracurricular activities, including intramural sports and the Student Government Association, where I served as a Student Senator, Vice President, and SGA President. My wife Cindy, from Phil Campbell, Alabama, and I met and were married at Calvary Baptist Church, where we still attend today. While at the University, I also had the privilege to serve two congressional internships, one for Congressman Bill Nichols and one for Senator Howell Heflin. These efforts led me to become the Governmental Affairs Intern at the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama. Subsequently, I have served as a National Account Executive and Manager at Randall Reilly Publishing, as the Assistant Director of the Tuscaloosa County Industrial Authority, where I helped to recruit Mercedes Benz, as the Director of Business Development at the Chamber of Commerce, and as the Director of Community Relations and Community Education for the Tuscaloosa County Schools. Most recently, I have served as the Business Development Officer for First Federal Bank. I have been involved in numerous local, state, and national professional, civic, and service organizations.

Sims: Alabama Republicans have dominated the state political landscape since 2010, but the Party seems to be struggling nationally. What do you think it will take for the Party see a resurgence on the national level?

Merrill: I think that the Party needs to return to its core values of individual freedom, liberty, less intrusive government, more efficient delivery of services, and creating a more favorable climate for individual development, growth, and responsibility.

23 mins ago

UAB archaeologist leads expedition to discover 800 Egyptian tombs

Dr. Sarah Parcak, an archaeology professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), recently led an expedition that discovered over 800 Egyptian tombs, according to a press release by the university.

The expedition, which was a joint venture between UAB and the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities, revealed one of the largest sites of Middle Kingdom tombs in all of Egypt that dates back 4,000 years. The discovery was made at Lisht – the name of the ancient burial ground.

“We were able to gain insight into ancient Egyptian life from the tombs based on artifacts we found,” Parcak, a professor in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences, said. “The Middle Kingdoms artifacts were looted, much like other sites we have seen. However, we learned more about the underground network of tombs that connect individuals to the afterlife.”

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Lisht is part of a series of excavations documenting tombs and collecting images and GPS coordinates to assemble a regional database, which is partially funded by National Geographic and intended to answers questions about ancient Egyptian life.

Parcak will be presented the 2018 Lowell Thomas award at a dinner in October at The Museum of Science in Boston. This award recognizes Parcak’s groundbreaking discoveries as an Egyptologist, such as the Lisht ancient burial ground and others.

The UAB professor has been hailed as “Like a modern-day Indiana Jones” for her renowned use of satellite images to locate lost ancient sites. As a “space archaeologist,” Parcack analyzes the high-resolution imagery collected by satellites in order to identify subtle changes to the Earth’s surface that might signal man-made features hidden from view.

The winner of the 2016 Ted prize, Parcak’s techniques have helped locate 17 potential pyramids and more than 3,100 potential forgotten settlements in Egypt alone. She has also made important discoveries in the Viking world (as seen in the PBS Nova special, Vikings Unearthed) and across the Roman Empire (as shown in the BBC documentary, Rome’s Lost Empire).

In one of her several TED talks, Parcak recalled being asked about her favorite discovery.

“The answer’s easy: my husband, Greg,” she said.

Parcak outlined their story, “We met in Egypt on my first dig. It was my first lesson in finding unexpected, wonderful things. This began an incredible archaeological partnership. Years later, I proposed to him in front of our favorite pair statue of the Prince and Princess Rahotep and Nofret, in the Cairo Museum, dating to 4,600 years ago.”

She explained her choice in proposal locations, which has a powerful meaning behind it.

“I thought if I was going to ask Greg to spend the rest of this life with me, then I should ask him in front of two people who had pledged to be together for eternity,” Parcak said. “These symbols endure because when we look at them, we’re looking at mirrors. They are powerful reminders that our common humanity has not changed.”

She added, “Many archaeologists have devoted their lives to unraveling the mysteries of the past under hot suns and Arctic winds and in dense rainforests. Many seek. Some discover. All worship at the temple of possibility that one discovery might change history.”

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

1 hour ago

Maddox against constitutional amendment ‘acknowledging the sanctity of unborn life’

Democratic nominee for governor and Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, in a Monday interview on the “Matt & Aunie Show,” said that he will vote against the pro-life “Amendment Two” on the November 6 General Election ballot.

Per the Alabama Policy Institute (API), the proposed amendment “would add language to the state constitution acknowledging the sanctity of unborn life and stipulating that the state constitution provides no right to abortion.” It will place Alabama in prime position to further limit or ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is eventually rolled back or overturned.

“I can’t vote in favor of that because, again, it is not going to provide that exemption, if I understand it correctly, that we need,” Maddox said, referring to exceptions (exemptions) he supports in the cases of rape, incest or the life of the mother. To be clear, Alabama law does allow abortions in these cases and the constitutional amendment does not alter this.

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The Democratic candidate later asserted that a governor has “no role over” the issue of abortion, even though the governor can sign or veto legislation restricting or expanding abortion rights and access in the state.

In fact, Amendment Two will be important regardless if Roe v. Wade is revisited, per state Rep. Matt Fridy – a lawyer well versed in constitutional law.

Fridy, per API, explained that in the year 2000, “the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that their state constitution provided higher protection for abortion than the federal constitution. As a result, an array of the state’s pro-life measures were struck down by the court, which argued that they were unconstitutional on the state level.” Tennessee eventually passed an amendment – similar to the one Alabama will vote on this November – to explicitly decree that their constitution did not, in fact, guarantee any such right.

Fridy wants to eliminate any opportunity for what happened in the Volunteer State to happen in Alabama, and the proposed amendment would be effective to that end.

Nonetheless, Maddox seemed to criticize Governor Kay Ivey for her proud pro-life stance.

“I find it, as a citizen of this state, very disingenuous that someone wants to be in our state’s highest office [who] wants to talk about something they cannot do anything about,” Maddox claimed.

It should be noted that Maddox’s core campaign issue, legalizing gambling in Alabama, would have to come about through a constitutional amendment – which would not come across the governor’s desk for approval.

Maddox, when pressed in the interview, refused to say whether he supported the federal funding of Planned Parenthood. He also said he did not know enough about the Alabama Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Act and the ongoing legal battle surrounding the law to say whether he supports it or not.

Ivey supports the pro-life law, which bans the most frequently used second-trimester abortion procedure, and wants to take it before the United States Supreme Court. It has the potential of being the historic case that rolls back or, albeit less likely, overturns Roe v. Wade.

“[A]ll this rhetoric about things that are beyond our control are going to continue to diminish the lives of Alabamians across this state,” Maddox added.

Full interview below:

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

2 hours ago

7 Things: Kavanaugh confirmation drama continues, Maddox still has no clue how to pay for his Medicaid expansion, Trump declassifies information related to Russia investigation and more …

7. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) makes an appearance in a local city council race

— Municipal elections are generally low turnout and non-partisan, but the campaign to elect former state school board member Mary Jane Caylor to the Huntsville City Council is now invoking her opponents’ support of the failed 2016 presidential candidate.

— The Facebook post hitting “Liberal Elite Frances Akridge” for her support of “Bernie Sanders – along with a dozen ultra-left candidates – several of which also describe themselves as Socialist Democrats” and says that Huntsville needs “conservative, proven, and principled leadership.”

6. Second-grader in Alabama shoots himself in school, but does not have a life-threatening injury

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— In a letter to parents, Huntsville City Schools Superintendent Christie Finley says a small child was shot in the hand after a student pulled the gun out of a book bag and shot himself in the hand while showing off the gun.

— The Madison County assistant district attorney says there is no criminal liability for the parents, explaining, “There is really no criminal liability for a second-grader unless the parent somehow sent the gun with the second-grader, there is really no criminal liability for them.”

5. Federal judge gives the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Census Bureau more time to respond to a lawsuit brought by Alabama 

 — Attorney General Steve Marshall and Congressman Mo Brooks brought the lawsuit to stop counting illegal immigrants in the once-a-decade counting of citizens.

— If the federal government continues with its plan to count and include illegals in its census count for representation, the state of Alabama could lose a Congressional seat, an Electoral College vote and federal funds.

4. President Donald Trump is ordering the release of FISA memos details and text messages sought by the House

— The president ordered the items declassified hoping to show there was a deep state conspiracy against him and his campaign. This includes parts of Carter Page’s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and “all FBI reports” prepared in connection with the FISA warrant request.

— Trump also called for every text message sent from former FBI Director James Comey, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, former FBI agent Peter Strzok, former FBI lawyer Lisa Page and Bruce Ohr related to the Russia investigation to be released.

3. Democratic gubernatorial nominee Walt Maddox has a plan to pay for Medicaid expansion — it’s not good

— Maddox said on Birmingham’s Talk 99.5 “Matt & Aunie Show” that he would pay for Medicaid expansion with a tax on existing gambling and expanding sports gambling.

— If they taxed current gambling at seven percent, it would bring in roughly $15 million a year, while sports gambling could bring in $30 million a year in neighboring Mississippi (with about 60 percent of the population) — far short of Maddox’s $150-200 million price tag.

2. President Donald Trump says of Kavanaugh nomination, “If it takes a little delay, that’s OK”

— President  Trump made it clear that a delay would be fine but he is not backing down from supporting his choice for the Supreme Court.

— Trump continued to point out that Kavanaugh never “had a little blemish on his record” and repeated a point that Republicans are using to defend the judge, noting he had been through six FBI vettings (FBI will not investigate) and none of this came up until right before the vote.

1. Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser both say they will testify 

— Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is forcefully pushing back against accusations that he attempted to rape 36 years ago when he was 17-years-old. He told Sen. Orrin Hatch that “he was not at a party like the one [Ford] describes.”

— The nominee and his accuser will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, even though Democrats held the letter, refused to participate in phone calls with Kavanaugh, and continue to call for delays or a withdrawal.

Rep Byrne: Setting our funding priorities

I know this may be hard for you to believe, but there was a major, bipartisan victory in Congress last week that failed to gain any of the attention it deserved. I want to highlight some of the progress we made last week and explain why it should matter to those of us back in Alabama.

Last week, both the House and the Senate passed a funding bill that covered three very important parts of our government: military construction and veterans services, energy and water development and Legislative Branch operations.

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I am pleased to see us passing targeted funding bills instead of waiting until the last minute to pass a massive omnibus funding bill. Over the last few years, the House has been able to pass funding bills only to see the process stall out in the Senate.

Thankfully, since Alabama Senator Richard Shelby became Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, the process has actually been moving again in the Senate. This has allowed us to focus on passing the smaller funding packages that are targeted toward our priorities.

So why is this funding bill important? Obviously, funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is important for our state, given the large number of veterans that call Alabama home. The bill includes the largest dollar amount in funding for the VA in our nation’s history. This means the VA will have the resources necessary to take care of our veterans, hire high-quality employees, and cut back on the claims backlog.

There have been serious issues at the VA over the last few years, so I am pleased the funding bill dedicates more for the VA inspector general. This money will allow for stronger accountability at the VA as we work to make sure no veteran is left behind.

The bill also includes funding for military construction programs in Alabama and across the country. As we work to rebuild our nation’s military, we must not forget about our military infrastructure. This funding includes money set aside for military housing programs. If we are to retain the best and brightest in our military, we need to ensure they have first-class facilities.

Next, the funding bill sets aside funding for the Army Corps of Engineers. Those of us in Southwest Alabama know the important work the Corps does on a daily basis to keep our waterways open and navigable. This is important to those of us who like to spend time on the water for recreational purposes, but it is especially important for our economy since so much of our commerce is conducted on waterways.

Just consider the Port of Mobile and the important commerce that goes in and out of that Port each day. Under this funding bill, the Corps will receive $7 billion for navigation projects, the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, and to help with flood prevention and restoration projects. This money is very important for our country, but especially important for our state.

Finally, the bill funds our nation’s nuclear security strategy by dedicating money to support our nation’s nuclear weapons and the Navy’s nuclear reactors. The bill sets aside money to ensure nuclear weapons do not fall into the wrong hands and funding to prevent against cyber attacks. Our national security must always be the top priority.

As you can see, this commonsense government funding bill is good for our country and Alabama. I was pleased to see it pass the House on a strong vote of 377 to 20, and I hope we can keep up the positive momentum to continue getting the job done for the American people.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

High school RTW program sets pathway for AlabamaWorks! Success Plus

By: Garth Thorpe, workforce development manager, The Onin Group

The skills needed for today’s modern workplace are shifting, and leaders are working diligently to prepare the next generation of workers. However, there is a growing skills mismatch looming across our country – evidence that the “you must go to college and be successful” narrative, which has been built into the fabric of many of our educational institutions, no longer applies. That’s especially true in Alabama.

College isn’t the only gateway to success, as Gov. Kay Ivey said earlier this year when she announced her AlabamaWorks! Success Plus initiative, with a goal of adding to the workforce an additional 500,000 Alabamians with high school-plus credentials by 2025. This initiative emphasizes the need for businesses and educational institutions to prepare students for the workforce of today and beyond.

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Today, companies are desperately seeking prospective employees who have skills that do not necessarily require a four-year degree. This demand is across virtually all business sectors — healthcare, manufacturing, technical and industrial, to name just a few.

I became involved in credentialing and workforce development at Central High School in Tuscaloosa. The principal of Central High, Dr. Clarence Sutton Jr., was faced with a serious dilemma on his hands. He saw some of his graduating seniors who weren’t going to college falling through the cracks of society without any work or purpose.

Once we learned about the need facing Central High School and met Dr. Sutton personally, we immediately adopted his high school as our own. To solve the unemployment barrier facing graduating seniors at Central High, Ōnin brought employers together to tackle this issue. In conjunction with Phifer Inc., we designed a catalyst for change that could be applied throughout the entire state of Alabama.

The High School Ready-to-Work Program is an employer-led initiative that creates a career pathway for high school seniors and builds a local talent pipeline for industries. Students take part in a semester-long course that begins with six weeks of AIDT’s Ready-To-Work soft skills training, problem-solving and various work-readiness skills. The next 12-13 weeks cover industry-specific content that is designed by local employers to meet real, local hiring needs.

Each industry week creates a work world for the students to step into and explore. Upon successful completion of the High School Ready-to-Work program, students receive a National Career Readiness Certificate and an Alabama Certified Worker Certificate. With a job placement percentage close to 90 percent, this program has successfully created career opportunities for the students.

The High School Ready-to-Work program has since expanded rapidly to more than 15 other schools in west Alabama. It is also spreading to multiple schools in the Birmingham metro area and beyond.

True impact requires new forms of collaboration, so as this High School Ready-to-Work program grows across Alabama, Ōnin is seeking additional collaboration with employers and others to prepare today’s youth for tomorrow and jobs without letting anyone slip through the cracks. It’s a challenging goal, but one in which we must all unite to achieve.