5 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.

2 hours ago

Stars, including Alabama luminaries, come out for ‘Rockers on Broadway’

As Dolly Fox watched “Rockers on Broadway,” a New York fundraiser she produced, unfold a couple of weeks ago, she realized it was a full-circle moment for her.

Her mother, Yolande Betbeze Fox, had won the talent preliminary and the title crown at both the Miss Alabama and Miss America pageants, and Dolly Fox herself had gotten some early performing experience in musicals at Town and Gown’s Summerfest in Birmingham. Now, former Miss Alabama Callie Walker was on stage at New York’s Le Poisson Rouge, singing a duet with her sister, Scarlett, who appeared in Broadway’s “Carousel.”

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“This is all about mentoring kids in the arts,” Dolly says about “Rockers on Broadway.” “Mom would have never gotten where she ended up without training with the most wonderful mentors and teachers along the way. Now that I’m an only child, I feel like it’s important to use some of my mother’s money to give back to other young, talented women.”

At the top of that list is establishing a new Miss Alabama scholarship in memory of her mother, who died in 2016, and “Rockers on Broadway.”

In its 26th year, “Rockers on Broadway” was founded by Donnie Kehr, who starred on Broadway in “The Who’s Tommy.” The idea came from the show’s director, Des McAnuff, and Pete Townshend of The Who. The idea was to give the rock opera’s performers – mostly Broadway performers — experience performing in rock clubs.

That has continued year after year, presented by the PATH Fund (Performing Artists That Help) and benefiting several charities.

This year’s event honored Tony Award-winner LaChanze and Grammy-winning producer Russ Titelman and featured performances from Broadway luminaries and up-and-coming artists such as the Walker sisters.

“This event went so well,” says Fox, who has been a member of the PATH board for four years. “Callie and Scarlett were amazing. They were so rehearsed and professional. They really knew their stuff.”

Callie and Scarlett Walker sang “Enough is Enough” (a hit for Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer).  Alexa Ray Joel, daughter of Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley, was among the performers, and her mother was in the audience.

“It was such an awesome evening,” Scarlett Walker says. “Having the opportunity to perform alongside the most amazing vocalists and musicians in the business was so magical.”

Her sister agreed.

“It honestly was one of the most exhilarating and fun performances I have ever been a part of,” Callie Walker says.

Dolly, whose father was Matthew Fox, president of Universal Pictures, had a famous champion herself in Andy Warhol, the pop artist who was a friend and a boss when she was an editor for his Interview magazine.

“Andy was such a mentor to me,” she says. “He came to everything I did, no matter how bad it was. I had such great mentors, and the parallel to Andy is actually quite relevant. He did that for me, and I’m trying to use any clout I have to do that for others.”

And her mother would be with her every step of the way, says Fox.

“We’re finding talent and mentoring it and giving it a leg up,” she says. “She would absolutely love this.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 hours ago

Roby: Celebrating 200 years of Alabama

For many, December 14 will be just another day to cross off the calendar; it’s another day closer to the holidays and the new year. For Alabamians, it marks one of the greatest celebrations to date in the history of our state. On December 14, 1819, Alabama was incorporated into the Union as the nation’s 22nd state. From North Alabama all the way down to the Wiregrass, Alabamians join together to commemorate the 200th anniversary of statehood to honor the beloved place we call home.

There are many incredible stories to be told about the historical impact made by our fellow Alabamians. The state has deep roots in our nation’s history.

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Many Alabama natives, some temporary and some permanent, were involved in critical turning points in American history. Alabama emerged as the center of the American Civil Rights Movement half a century ago and was home to pivotal events such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Ms. Rosa Parks, a civil rights activist and Montgomery native, is widely known as the “first lady of civil rights.” Montgomery leaders recently unveiled a statue in downtown Montgomery recognizing Rosa Parks for her bravery and to serve as a reminder for future generations to continue down a path of righteousness. Ms. Parks’ actions changed the course of history, and her legacy will be remembered forever. Atlanta native Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., served as a pastor at Montgomery’s Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and led the fight for equal rights. Parks and Dr. King represent faces of courage, strength, and equality for all. History changed right on our very own Alabama soil.

Not only is our state widely known for central moments in history, but we are also globally recognized for our presence in industries that are vital components to the success of our country. The agriculture industry is the state’s largest industry and is the largest employer in the Second Congressional District. Our state is home to thousands of acres of fertile farmland. Approximately half of the peanuts grown in the United States are cultivated within a 100-mile radius of the city of Dothan, also known as the “Peanut Capital of the World.”

Additionally, Alabama plays an integral role in the aerospace and defense industries with these two industries contributing to over 60,000 jobs in the state. North Alabama is home to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Redstone Arsenal, and the Anniston Army Depot, while Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base and Fort Rucker are located across the southern region of the state.

These are just a few examples of the incredible, rich history that our state has to offer, and I wish I could include them all. One initiative that does honor each of these milestones is ALABAMA 200 which was designed to celebrate the people, places, and history of the state over a three-year time span. Beginning in 2017 and culminating with the state’s 200th birthday in 2019, ALABAMA 200 curated events and activities across all 67 counties to engage with Alabamians far and wide. Teachers, students, organizations and local leaders are among those included in these exciting events bringing local community residents and even visitors together. On Saturday, December 14, the state will participate in a finale commemoration in the Capital City. It will be the largest birthday celebration the people of Alabama have seen, and it is a unique and special opportunity to gather and honor the history and people that make the state of Alabama great. I am extremely excited to join the people of Alabama to celebrate our state’s history.

If you are able, I highly encourage you and your family to attend the events of the ALABAMA 200 finale celebration. There is no better way to pay tribute to the state we each hold so close to our hearts than by gathering in the Capital City to praise our great state.

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

6 hours ago

Alabama Power Foundation marks 30 years of giving

It’s hard to imagine a time when the Alabama Power Foundation didn’t exist, especially for the dozens of organizations throughout the state that have advanced with its support.

For three decades, the foundation has looked for ways to elevate Alabama and boost communities through charitable giving, giving back more than $230 million to the communities that Alabama Power serves.

“Since our founding 30 years ago, we have prided ourselves in being a catalyst for change and for service to the state of Alabama,” said Myla Calhoun, Alabama Power Foundation president and vice president of Charitable Giving at Alabama Power.

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Alabama Power Foundation marks 30 years of giving from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Organizations that focus on education, the environment, health and human service, civic and community, arts and culture and other areas have benefited.

“We really enable our partner agencies to do what they do best,” Calhoun said. “So, when we talk about our success, really it’s their success that we’re proud of.”

Success like that the Literacy Council of Central Alabama has enjoyed.

“Ever since (our founding), Alabama Power Foundation has been a really strong supporter,” said Katrina Watson, president and executive director of the Literacy Council of Central Alabama. “We couldn’t be where we are without the Alabama Power Foundation’s long-standing support.”

Mark Dixon, president of A+ Education Partnership, said the Alabama Power Foundation doesn’t just give money but takes an active role in ensuring programs are successful.

“Alabama Power Foundation and Alabama Power Company have been a big supporter of ours since day one and over the years provided a lot of funding that really allows us to grow our mission, which is to create great schools for every child,” Dixon said. “We do two programs in schools – the Alabama Best Practices Center and A+ College Ready – and part of that is expanding great training for teachers and advanced placement programs for students. Alabama Power helped us fund those as a partner from the very beginning.”

Calhoun said the foundation’s mission fits in with the history of Alabama Power, with the ultimate goal of elevating the state.

“We believe and it is our hope that what we do creates a platform that makes economic development and community development and, really, the health and vitality of the state a bit easier,” she said. “And that’s what gets us going every day and that’s what makes us think strategically about the work that we do. And that’s what helps us to empower the agencies who day in and day out are doing the hard work in the communities where we serve.”

Grant recipients talk about the importance of Alabama Power Foundation from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

20 hours ago

Alabama-built USS Mobile christened in its namesake city — ‘Best that America has to offer’

MOBILE — At Austal USA’s world-class shipbuilding facility in its namesake city, the future USS Mobile (LCS 26) was christened on Saturday in front of a crowd of thousands of attendees.

The future USS Mobile is an Independence-variant littoral combat ship (LCS) currently under construction in Alabama’s Port City.

Dignitaries, Austal employees, community leaders and U.S. Navy personnel attended the ceremony, which was set alongside — and, for part of the crowd, under — the ship in a massive construction bay.

A symbiotic mixture of patriotism and local pride was the theme of the day, which while celebratory in the trademark Mobile fashion, also turned somber at moments, as the reality of what the ship symbolizes hit home.

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A family tradition

A moment of silence was held at the beginning of the program to honor Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, as well as all of the service members who have, continue to and will put themselves in harm’s way for our nation.

Later, to begin his remarks, U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (AL-01) called for a moment of silence to honor the lives lost at Pensacola Naval Air Station on Friday.

“A loss anywhere in the Navy family is a loss for all of us,” he said.

Family was indeed a major component of the day.

Byrne’s wife, Rebecca, is the ship’s sponsor. Their three daughters are the ship’s matrons of honor, which, as the congressman afterward explained, means that one of them would take over in Mrs. Byrne’s stead if she became unable to continue her duties as sponsor.

“So as long as this ship’s in the United States Navy, a Byrne woman will take care of it, I guarantee you,” he added.

Both Rep. Byrne and Mrs. Byrne come from storied naval lineage.

In fact, the congressman’s grandmother worked at a Mobile shipbuilding company during World War II, one of many “Rosie the Riveters” who were cranking out one Liberty ship for the Navy every week in Alabama during that war.

That grandmother was herself made a sponsor of a Navy ship, the Afoundria, after her Merchant Marine son, the congressman’s uncle, was lost at sea in 1943 after his ship was sunk by a German U-boat.

Mrs. Byrne explained that one of her relatives was a U.S. Naval officer who served on over 30 missions to the Arctic in the early 1900s, including Admiral Peary’s famed expedition to the North Pole in 1909. Additionally, Mrs. Byrne’s great grandfather was a ship captain from Nova Scotia.

And, just this year, one of the Byrnes’ daughters married a Navy surface warfare officer.

History aside, the Navy is now very much part of the family’s present.

Mrs. Byrne commented, “I know now what it means to be a Navy family, which makes this day even more special for me.”

A city of builders

While the Byrnes have long-running ties to the open seas, so too does the city of Mobile have a storied history of excellence in shipbuilding.

From building the H.L. Hunley, the first submarine ever to sink a ship, in 1863 to Alabama Dry Dock and Ship Building Company’s historic work from 1917 until well into the 1970s to what Austal USA is accomplishing today, Mobile has made its mark by making ships.

Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson, speaking on Saturday, remarked, “We are a city of makers, of builders, innovators and inventors.”

Austal is now the prime contractor for two cutting-edge U.S. Navy ships: the Independence-variant LCS and the Spearhead-class Expeditionary Fast Transport (EPF).

To date, Austal has delivered 10 of 14 contracted EPFs and 10 of 19 contracted LCS to the Navy, making the company’s Mobile facility the nation’s fifth-largest shipyard in the process. These 20 ships have been delivered just in the past five years, and Saturday marked the third christening in 2019 alone.

The Independence-variant LCS is a high-speed, shallow draft multi-mission ship capable of operating independently or in a group. These ships are designed to defeat growing littoral threats and provide access and dominance along coastal waters. A fast, maneuverable, and networked surface-combatant, LCS provides the required warfighting capabilities and operational flexibility to execute focused missions such as surface warfare, mine warfare and anti-submarine warfare.

Austal USA president Craig Perciavalle stated, “We are blessed to have christened so many ships through the years, but this one is special. It is a distinct privilege to build a ship named after your namesake city and this has truly been a community effort. The support we have received from Senator (Richard) Shelby, Senator (Doug) Jones, Congressman Byrne, the county and city has been incredible and has played a major role in our success to date.”

“With incredible speed, volume, flexibility and firepower, Mobile will be the coolest, most formidable small surface combatant on the planet, one that meets the needs of the Navy of today, while having the adaptability to meet the needs of the Navy of tomorrow — a ship that will represent the best that America has to offer across the globe for decades,” he added.

While LCS 26 will become the fifth USS Mobile in history, the ship will be the first of its name to actually be built in Mobile. Then-Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus in September of 2016 authorized the naming.

Stimpson stressed, “Our community is profoundly grateful for this tribute.”

The first USS Mobile was a side-wheel steamer that operated as a Confederate government operated blockade runner. It was captured by U.S. forces at New Orleans in April 1862, commissioned as Tennessee and later renamed Mobile.

The second Mobile was reportedly a passenger liner operated by Hamburg Amerika Lines between Germany and the United States until the outbreak of World War I. It was taken over by the Allied Maritime Council and assigned to the U.S. after the Armistice and commissioned March 1919.

The third Mobile (CL 63) was commissioned March 24, 1943. It participated in numerous campaigns in the Pacific during World War II and received 11 battle stars for her service by the time she was decommissioned in May of 1947.

The fourth Mobile (LKA 115) was an amphibious cargo ship that served from September 1969 until decommissioning in February of 1994. The captain of that vessel was actually in attendance at the christening on Saturday.

‘Fair winds and following seas’

Each speaker during Saturday’s program gave their version of wishing the future crew members of LCS 26, some of which were in the crowd — including the future first captain of the ship, protection in their travels and service to come. This included Perciavalle, Stimpson, Rep. Byrne and Mrs. Byrne, as well as: Carlo Zaffanella, vice president and general manager of maritime and strategic systems for General Dynamics Missions Systems; Frederick J. Stefany III, principal civilian deputy to the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition; Vice Admiral John G. Hannink, judge advocate general of the Navy; and Pastor Chris Bell of 3Circle Church.

“I wish you fair winds and following seas,” Rep. Byrne said. “Let me add, as we Irish say, may God hold you in the palm of His hand. And to you all, may God bless you, may God bless our great United States Navy and may God bless the United States of America.”

After Bell gave the invocation for the ship, Mrs. Byrne formally blessed the future USS Mobile through breaking a bottle of sparkling wine across the bow — as is a time-honored Navy tradition.

In his closing remarks, Stimpson presented the future crew members with a key to the city, which will always sail with LCS 26.

“I want to convey that this ship will sail with the support of our entire city,” the mayor emphasized, saying its future crew members should all consider themselves honorary Mobilians.

Stimpson concluded, “My prayer is that this ship and all who sail upon her will always have the protection of the Holy Spirit [and] the bay upon which she was built, for there is no greater protection.”

You can watch a live stream of the event here.

Read more in Yellowhammer’s live-tweet thread from the event here.

The future USS Mobile is slated to launch in the spring of 2020, after which it will undergo acceptance trials. Upon completion of these trials, the ship would subsequently be delivered to the U.S. Navy and an official commissioning, expected in 2021, would then be held.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

22 hours ago

Alabama’s Hangout Music Festival announces initial 2020 lineup

The Hangout Music Festival, the three-day music event at Gulf Shores, announced the lineup for its 11th annual event to take place May 15-19, 2020.

Here are the artists scheduled to attend:

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The 2020 Hangout will once again include access to beach clubs and Hammock Beach along with beach volleyball, yoga, disco skating at the full-sized Roller Rink. Camp Hangout, dance parties and other activities are among the offerings. Get a full list here.

Tickets go on sale Monday, Dec. 9 at 10 a.m. with a variety of ticket offerings ranging from general admission to a host of VIP options – all-inclusive VIP, Super VIP, Big Kahuna and Cabana packages. Visit here for details on ticket packages and prices.

Fans can purchase presale tickets via American Express or Tunespeak. The AMEX presale starts Friday, Dec. 6 at 8 a.m. and is open to all American Express card holders. The Tunespeak presale starts Friday, Dec. 6 at 10 a.m. and customers can sign up for access at hangoutmusicfest.com. Both presales end Monday, Dec. 9 at 9:30 a.m.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)