11 months ago

John Merrill on the stump: U.S. Senate hopeful talks immigration, culture, fiscal responsibility and attacks opponents

FORT PAYNE – If you have spent any time in politics around the state of Alabama, you have likely heard one of Secretary of State John Merrill’s talks about the progress he has made while in office, which is usually accompanied by figures like the number of voters registered or taxpayer dollars saved to back up his claims.

However, since announcing his candidacy for U.S. Senate last week, Merrill the U.S. senatorial campaigner is not as well known.

At an appearance on Saturday before the monthly Dekalb County Republican Breakfast Club meeting, Merrill laid out some elements of his campaign and argued why he thought he was the best candidate among the field of declared Republican candidates seeking the party’s nod.


Merrill acknowledged that he was not with President Donald Trump from the very beginning given his support for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in the early stages of the 2016 presidential election cycle. However, he said once Trump won the nomination he gave his full support from then through now, despite some “hard” times along the way.

“People will tell you they want to be your United States Senator because they want to support the president,” he said. “I’ve supported the president. I supported the president when he was the nominee. I remember being in Cleveland at the Republican National Convention. I was being interviewed by CSPAN on the floor of the convention. And the lady that was interviewing me – she said, ‘Have you always been a supporter of the nominee, Donald Trump?’ And I said, ‘No, ma’am. I supported Mike Huckabee in the primary, and I don’t make any apologies for that. But I’ll tell you this: Not only did I not support him then, but 85% of the people that are here didn’t support him, either. But you want to know something? We’re all supporting him now because he’s our nominee and he’s going to be our next president. And he’s going to help turn this country around.’”

“From that point to November, there were a few times it got hard for a few people to support him. It didn’t get hard for me, and it didn’t get hard for y’all,” he added. “Because we understood what he was trying to do. That is why when I become your next United States Senator, we’re going to help build the wall. Why are we going to do that? Because we’re going to stop the bleeding of illegal immigrants that are coming in this nation.”

With those remarks, Merrill earned the gathering’s applause and touted being the only candidate in the race to have helped Trump on immigration given that included among his duties of being Alabama secretary of state, he has promoted voter registration and photo identification and insured the integrity of the voter rolls, which he said has kept illegal immigrants off voter rolls and out of the election process.

The U.S. Senate hopeful also railed against the move toward socialism by some on the Democratic side of the aisle.

“We’ve got to push back against that socialist agenda that’s being advanced by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, by Senator Chuck Schumer, and by Speaker Nancy Pelosi,” he said. “We have to push back against what they’re doing because they will continue to tear down the basic foundational principles of our country and what has made our country great today.”

Merrill also urged fiscal responsibility, and pointed to his opponents, presumably referring to former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope) and former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville.

“You ask the other candidates how you push back against record spending, where have you been. Ask how they’ve cut their budget, how they’ve cut staff,” he said. “Because you’re not going to get a positive answer from somebody who expanded the court system. You’re not going to get that answer from somebody who has been in Congress who has been a part of the swamp. And you’re not going to get that answer from an athletic administrator football coach who says I need more coaches and more money. You’re not going to get that answer from them.”

According to Merrill, he had, in fact, cut his operation to do more with less by downsizing his staff from 49 to 36 and significantly expedited business filings that once ranged from taking seven to nine months before confirming receipt, to same-day service.

“We’re not operating at the speed of government anymore,” he added. “We’re operating at the speed of business.”

Merrill took a jab at Byrne for his remarks about the proposed toll for the new Mobile Bay Bridge. Byrne told a town hall meeting in Magnolia Springs last week he had “pretty much done as much” as he could do, to which Merrill seemed to indicate was an unsatisfactory response.

“Those people are not prepared to do what I can do for you,” he said. “They don’t have the proven track record that I have of accomplishment and effectiveness to show you what they’ll be able to do when they’re there. One of them is already there. They asked him about a major bridge project that’s going on down in Mobile. He said, ‘I’ve done all I can do. My hands are tied.’ What if you told your son who is out working in the yard you needed that wood finished and he said, ‘Daddy, I’ve done all I can do. I’m through.’ You’d jerk a knot in his tail until he got out there and got it right.’ We need people who are not going to accept ‘no’ for an answer. We’re going to find a way to get it done. That’s what my daddy taught me. That’s what y’all’s daddy taught y’all.”

He fielded a question from the group gathered about the shift in the culture and noted that some of that shift could be attributed to the changes in pop culture, including what was being shown on television.

“[T]hat’s what we’ve allowed to happen,” Merrill said. “How have we allowed it to happen? There are no more good TV shows on like ‘Gunsmoke,’ ‘Bonanza,’ ‘The Virginian,’ ‘Andy Griffith,’ ‘I Love Lucy.’ We don’t have those shows anymore. We’re too interested in homosexual activities. We’re too interested in seeing how this family’s finding a way to mess on this family or to see how people are trying to date on TV, or having wife-swapping on TV. That’s what we watch. When we push back against that, and we quit allowing it to be in our homes – that’s how those changes have occurred because we’ve allowed them to slowly but surely come into our lives.”

Merrill pledged that he and his wife Cindy were willing to face the scrutiny of what is likely to be a very competitive statewide campaign.

“One of my friends asked me, he said, ‘John, are you prepared to go through what you’re going to have to go through if you run for the United States Senate,’” Merrill said. “He asked me this on the Sunday before the Tuesday. He said, ‘Are you prepared for the attacks that you’ll face and that Cindy will face? Are you prepared to stand up and fight against that? Is it worth it to you to go through what you’re going to have to go through and pay the price to make it happen? Is it worth it?’”

“’And I said, ‘Ron, let me ask you a question,’” he continued. “He said, ‘OK.’ I said, ‘Is the Republic worth it? Is the Republic worth it? It is worth it to me. And I know it is worth it to y’all and that’s why there is a room full today because y’all understand it. We have got to stand and push back, and continue to fight and support the president and to make these changes that we have to make in order to protect and defend our country as we have known it to be or it will cease to be that way.”

@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.

15 hours ago

Southern Company turns to Alabama manufacturer for face masks

With government guidelines recommending people use protective face masks and practice safe social distancing during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Southern Company has turned to local businesses to supply its needs and protect public health while also helping support the economy.

Southern Company’s partnership with HomTex, a family-owned textile company in Cullman, is one recent example. Alabama Power is a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Southern.

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Founded in 1987, HomTex has transitioned from producing bedding and home products to manufacturing up to 300,000 masks per week. That number is expected to continue to ramp up as the company becomes more familiar with the process.

The shift to mask production has allowed HomTex to keep all 150 of its employees working, with an expansion in the works.

“When this opportunity presented itself, a lot of people in the textile industry looked to HomTex to lead,” said Maury Lyon, HomTex vice president of apparel. “It has been a tremendous blessing to provide a high-quality and filtered product that hopefully is helping keep people safe. It is also unique that we could provide a U.S.-made product that we could put into our communities.”

So far, Southern Company has ordered over 1.5 million dust masks from HomTex, along with 500,000 cloth masks. The masks are shipped to Alabama Power’s Materials Distribution Center before being sent all across Southern Company’s footprint.

“Southern Company is committed to helping our communities thrive no matter the time or circumstances,” said Jeff Franklin, Southern Company senior vice president of supply chain management. “HomTex is doing critical and tremendous work for our community and we are thrilled to partner with them. Southern Company will continue to do our part to keep our communities healthy during the national response to COVID-19.”

Last week, Alabama Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth visited the HomTex facility in Cullman. He is working alongside the company to help it receive U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for its masks. Lyon said the company expects FDA approval within the next week.

FDA approval is only needed for masks used in medical settings. It isn’t required for facial coverings recommended for most workers and for members of the public when social distancing can’t be effectively maintained.

Last month, HomTex announced a $5 million project that is expected to create an additional 120 jobs in Cullman and position HomTex as a permanent U.S. producer of personal protective equipment at a time when domestic production of the gear is considered a national security priority.

According to a story posted on the state Department of Commerce website Made in Alabama and reported by Alabama NewsCenter, the company secured a $1.5 million loan from the Cullman County Economic Development Agency to cover the down payment on the equipment. It has worked with the commerce department and others on incentives to accelerate the project.

In addition to its headquarters and plant in Cullman, HomTex has a distribution center in Vinemont and manufacturing facilities in North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

“Nothing moves this fast in the textile industry, and the fact we were able to do this over the course of days is amazing,” said Jerry Wootten, HomTex CEO. “We really just wanted to help our community and find a way to serve them first.

“It is unique that we could use our skills to help the community this quickly. It has been a blessing to supply these needs,” Wootten said.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

17 hours ago

The need for education reform didn’t die with the defeat of Amendment One

When voters defeat a proposed state amendment, it is often thought that the matter is put to rest. That is often the case, but when Alabama’s voters went to the polls in March and shot down a proposal to replace the elected state board of education in favor of one appointed by the governor, they only answered the question of the board’s composition.

They did not answer the deeper problem of the board’s accomplishment.

Whatever the makeup of the board, the problem of the state’s bottom-of-the-barrel ranking in education persists, and that’s the real problem that demands the state’s attention. Fortunately, some concrete proposals have recently come to light.

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As part of a legislature-approved expenditure in 2019, the state department of education underwent a lengthy evaluation process by the Boston-based Public Consulting Group. The report was done with an eye towards improving the mission and function of the board of education. Without saying as much, the report reinforces the noted problems with the board, much of which inspired the call for an appointed board, but the report is also an opportunity for the elected board to correct much of its own shortcomings. The report was presented to the board a couple of weeks ago, with more detail provided in the report’s executive summary. (The full report can be found here.)

The report makes many suggestions, but it hones in on five specific goals.

The first is the most pertinent: the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) must take ownership of education reform and accomplishment in the state. That seems obvious enough, but reality is that the ALSDE has spent years operating in something of a caretaker role while the overall achievement of the state has remained in a steady state of decline. Indeed, this is largely why some advocated for a complete overhaul of the board’s structure; because elected politicians won their spot on the board through political maneuvering and have done nothing to move the needle of achievement in the state.

It’s true that most of the education reform in Alabama has originated in the Legislature in recent years. That’s not an optimal situation; it would be better if those reforms were enacted either by appointed officials who don’t directly face the voters, but at least the school board faces reelection on the basis of its achievements on education alone, as opposed to legislators whose record is on multiple issues which may only be tangentially related.

Yet the legislature has been proactive precisely because the board has done next to nothing in terms of real reform to education in Alabama. Given the sorry state of affairs, that is inexcusable.

There are countless education reformers around the country of all ideological persuasions – left, right, and center – doing interesting and innovative work, and much of it in dialogue with one another. It takes minimal effort to become acquainted with those ideas, but thus far, the state board has proven itself to be uninterested.

That must change.

The report’s executive summary details other items. The ALSDE must “develop and implement a strategy to action plan,” as the current arrangement leaves it constantly reactive, instead of taking a proactive approach to improving and then sustaining high levels of achievement in the state. The summary goes on to state that the ALSDE must set clear priorities in terms of both academic standards and student data and information. As a former educator, this is vital.

State standards must be clear, and while they should constantly be in review, they should be largely left alone long enough to be implemented and performed for a reasonable period of time.

The summary presents two additional items.

The ALSDE must begin to hold local districts accountable for their performance. Everyone recognizes that there are multiple externalities that can affect a district’s performance, but those factors cannot prevent the state from asking the central question: “Is this district doing its job?” Until that question can be confronted clearly and directly by all involved, Alabama is destined to stay where it is.

The ALSDE must make thorough use of data and be willing to confront all local districts with it.

The summary closes by noting that the internal structure of the ALSDE itself must be overhauled, with a deep investment on staff training. Reading between the lines, it seems that this very important department of state government is beset by many of the problems that hamper bureaucracies large and small. One interesting idea is the proposal to create regional ALSDE offices that can work in closer collaboration with local districts. This could be a very helpful step that gives the state greater knowledge of the specific strengths and weaknesses of individual districts.

Voters made their choice on Super Tuesday.

The state board of education will remain an elected body for the foreseeable future, but the professional analysis makes plain the need for a systematic overhaul.

It is critical that the board take these recommendations to heart and begin the process of implementation. That process should not stop with them; voters should spend time with this report with an eye towards the next election cycle.

The report is not just a blueprint for how the board should correct itself. It is a blueprint for voters to hold accountable a cast of politicians who have for too long provided little more than hospice care to a department of education that has failed at its most basic task.

Matthew Stokes, a widely published opinion writer and instructor in the core texts program at Samford University, is a Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit educational organization based in Birmingham; learn more at alabamapolicy.org.

21 hours ago

Rep. Martha Roby: Raising mental health awareness during COVID-19

As you may know, May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Mental health has become a pressing issue, impacting tens of millions of people each year in the United States. Nearly one in five American adults live with mental health disorders and illnesses according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has surely heightened stress, fear, and anxiety for many Americans. During uncertain times like these, it is important to care for yourself and those close to you by focusing on mental health.

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The current state of the nation due to COVID-19 can be overwhelming. Taking proper care of yourself and others can help manage this anxiety. Be sure to find ways for you and your family to reduce stress such as connecting with friends and family over the phone or participating in exercise and other outdoor activities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises these quick tips for stress management during COVID-19:

–Take breaks from COVID-19 news and social media content.
–Make time to sleep, exercise, and unwind.
–Take care of your body.
–Reach out and stay connected.

One way to lower stress that surrounds COVID-19 is to ensure the information you take in regarding the pandemic is factual. Contradictory information exists online that can create unnecessary and avoidable stress, which can further impact one’s worrisome feelings toward the virus. Find a reliable source that is trustworthy to gather information. A resource that several public officials have recommended as a dependable outlet for information is the state health department. Know the facts about coronavirus, and help stop the spread of rumors.

Americans continue to adjust to unaccustomed lifestyle changes. With these rapid changes implemented in our daily routines, it is normal to feel uncertain or skeptical. Alabama has been under some form of stay-at-home order for over two months now, and the participation has played an important role in slowing the spread of COVID-19 in many communities across the state. That does not mean adjusting to new, unfamiliar routines has been easy. Investing in care and protecting your mental health is essential during these challenging times. For more information on coping with stress during COVID-19, visit the CDC website. For general information on mental health, call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama, with her husband Riley and their two children.

22 hours ago

Hyundai and Sony ink multi-movie promotional partnership

The next Alabama movie star may hail from Montgomery, have four wheels and a Smartstream engine.

Hyundai Motor Company and Sony Pictures Entertainment announced a new multi-movie promotional partnership Wednesday that will see Hyundai cars and technology promoted in five upcoming feature films.

The announced movies include “Uncharted,” based on the popular video game of the same name and due out July 2021 starring Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg and Antonio Banderas. Sequels to “Spider-Man: Far from Home,” due in November 2021, and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” due in October 2022, are two other announced titles.

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Two other undetermined Sony feature films will also be included in the deal.

Specific Hyundai models to be featured have not been disclosed. Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama produces the Sonata and the Elantra sedans and the Santa Fe SUV. Beginning next year, it will add Hyundai’s first pickup, the Santa Cruz crossover, to its lineup.

The pickup launch in 2021 seems ripe for a major movie promotion that year.

A friendly, neighborhood Santa Cruz, anyone?

HMMA’s $388 million engine plant in Montgomery is also one of the first in the world to produce the Smartstream G1.6 T-GDi engine that will feature the world’s first continuously variable valve duration (CVVD) technology.

“It is exciting to see the Hyundai brand involved with upcoming movie productions,” said Robert Burns, vice president of Human Resources & Administration at HMMA. “Even though the release doesn’t specify an Alabama-built vehicle, we can hope a Sonata or Santa Fe will get a cameo.”

Beyond movie appearances of existing and concept vehicles, the partnership presents opportunities to leverage Sony for marketing content and immersive entertainment, to co-create virtual reality and gaming experiences, and to co-produce events.

“This strategic partnership with Sony Pictures will allow customers to understand and experience our  human-centered future mobility vision through innovative vehicles and technologies, illuminating a way forward for transforming how we move, interact, and design our lives for optimal benefits,” said Wonhong Cho, executive vice president and Chief Marketing Officer of Hyundai Motor. “We will offer various ways to inspire our customers and movie fans around the globe.”

Hyundai Motor will also offer substantial marketing support and the companies will collaborate on a wide range of ancillary content-creation.

“This deal embodies the true definition of the word partnership,” said Jeffrey Godsick, executive vice president of Global Partnerships and Brand Management and head of Location Based Entertainment at Sony Pictures Entertainment. “The deal has many layers, including substantial marketing support, but its real potential and impact come from groundbreaking content that we will develop together.”

At the consumer technology showcase event CES 2020, Hyundai Motor Company unveiled its innovative vision for urban mobility to help revitalize human-centered future cities. The three-pronged approach to realize the vision includes:

  • Urban Air Mobility (UAM), a new form of mobility utilizing air space to drastically reduce transit time;
  • Purpose Built Vehicle (PBV), an eco-friendly urban mobility device allowing customization for diverse lifestyles; and
  • Hub, a space for mobility transfer and community activities.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

23 hours ago

Rodney Scott talks barbecue, new Alabama restaurants, overcoming COVID-19

Those who ordered Rodney Scott’s barbecue at the Market at Pepper Place Memorial Day weekend may not have realized it was the James Beard Award-winning chef and Barbecue Hall of Fame semifinalist himself loading their cars with ribs and pulled pork.

Scott would be more recognizable if not for the face mask – though it was well-branded with the Rodney Scott’s BBQ logo.

The logo and, most importantly, the food are becoming more and more recognizable in Alabama thanks to the growth of the restaurants outside of Scott’s original Charleston, South Carolina, location.

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Birmingham’s Pihakis Restaurant Group has partnered with Scott to build more restaurants. The first opened in Birmingham’s Avondale neighborhood more than a year ago and will be joined by one in Trussville later this year and one in Homewood next year. An Atlanta location is also in the works.

The Avondale location got a full year under its belt before the COVID-19 pandemic slammed the restaurant industry. Scott said luckily the shift to takeout-only didn’t hurt the barbecue business as much as some others.

“That’s one of the awesome things about barbecue. You can take barbecue and you can reheat it if necessary,” he said. “You can drive it home and it’s not a problem to take it home and enjoy it the same way that you would if it came right off of the fire.”

With the partial reopening of dining rooms and hopefully a slowdown in the spread of coronavirus during the summer, Scott sees light at the end of the tunnel.

“This pandemic, this too shall pass,” he said. “We’re going to be great. Everybody is definitely going to eat again.”

That’s not just a partner in the Pihakis Restaurant Group and the 2018 James Beard Best Chef Southeast talking, it’s also a current semi-finalist for the American Royal Barbecue Hall of Fame.

“It’s an honor just to be mentioned, honestly,” Scott said. “Just to be connected with some of the greats. That’s huge for me.”

With summer barbecuing season now under way, Scott offered some safety tips for those firing up their grills and smokers at home, which you can watch in the video below. He also shares how he likes to sauce his own meat.

Rodney Scott shares his grilling and marinade tips from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Grilling at home is great, but considering the economic damage wrought by the pandemic Scott encourages people to support restaurants and others in the food industry. Scott was the featured chef Memorial Day Weekend at the Market at Pepper Place, where customers are supporting local farmers and food vendors by ordering items online and picking them up.

Watching customers have their cars loaded with fresh produce, bread, goods and his own barbecue was inspiring, Scott said.

““We will get through this,” he said.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)