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2 weeks ago

Lawsuit claims Congressional maps dilute black voters in 3 states including Alabama

A Democratic political group launched a legal campaign Wednesday to create additional majority-minority congressional districts in three Southern states, claiming the current maps discriminate against black voters.

Attorneys filed separate federal lawsuits in Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana, challenging congressional maps lawmakers in each state approved in 2011.The lawsuits filed on behalf of several black voters in each state are backed by the National Redistricting Foundation, a nonprofit affiliate of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which is chaired by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

The suits claim the districts violate a section of the Voting Rights Act by depriving black voters of an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice to the U.S. House of Representatives.

They ask the courts to block the three states from holding any more congressional elections under their current maps.

The new lawsuits mean there now are redistricting challenges pending in a dozen states — in some places, multiple lawsuits —alleging racial or political gerrymandering in U.S. House or state legislative districts.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule later this month on at least two of those cases alleging unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering by the Republican-led Legislature in Wisconsin and the Democratic-led Legislature in Maryland.

Though likely too late to affect this year’s elections, the lawsuits could force districts to be redrawn in advance of the 2020 elections.

The timing is important because any court rulings could set precedents for when all states must redraw legislative districts based on the results of the 2020 Census.

During the last round of redistricting, Republicans who swept to power in many state capitols in 2010 used their newly enlarged majorities to draw districts that Democrats contend have made it harder from them to regain power during the past decade.

Democrats aided by Holder and former President Barack Obama are attempting to better position themselves for the next round of redistricting by backing state legislative candidates, lawsuits and ballot initiatives that would shift redistricting powers away from lawmakers to independent commissions in some states.

“The creation of additional districts in which African Americans have the opportunity to elect their preferred candidates in each of these states will be an important step toward making the voting power of African Americans more equal and moving us closer to the ideals of our representative democracy,” Holder said in a statement Wednesday.

The National Redistricting Foundation also is helping finance pending lawsuits in North Carolina, Texas and Virginia.

Matt Walter, president of the Republican State Leadership Committee, accused Holder of “resorting to politically-motivated litigation aimed at taking away the constitutional authority of elected state legislators to draw district lines.”

“The cynical lawsuits filed today by Holder and the Democrats are crass attempts to rally the left-wing base and to elect more Democrats through litigation, instead of running winning campaigns on policies and ideas that voters actually want,” Walter said in an email Wednesday.

Each state’s chief elections official is named as the defendant in each lawsuit.

Holder was serving as attorney general under Obama when the Justice Department cleared the 2011 congressional maps in Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana as complying with the Voting Rights Act. But that doesn’t prohibit subsequent lawsuits asserting violations under a different section of the act.

Republicans hold commanding congressional majorities over Democrats in each of the challenged states, controlling six of the seven U.S. House seats in Alabama, 10 of the 14 seats in Georgia and five of the six seats in Louisiana.

All of the Republican House members for those states are white and all of the Democratic representatives are black.

The lawsuit challenging Louisiana’s map claims state lawmakers illegally limited minority voting influence by “packing” black voters into one majority-minority district and “cracking,” or spreading them out, among other districts. Louisiana’s U.S. House districts shrank from seven to six in 2011 because of slow population growth.

The Alabama suit claims the state’s 2011 map illegally “packs” black voters into its sole majority African-American district, now represented by U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, and “cracks” voters among three other districts.

The lawsuit contends that Alabama’s black population is large enough, and geographically compact enough, to form a second majority-minority district.

State Sen. Gerald Dial, a Republican who sponsored Alabama’s 2011 redistricting plan, said the map reflects the state’s population.

“I think their complaint is not grounded,” Dial said Wednesday.

The Georgia lawsuit claims lawmakers redrew the 12th congressional district to excise black voters in Savannah and add white voters from two counties, reducing the district’s black population of voting age from 41.5 percent to 33.3 percent.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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31 mins ago

Ex-NFL, Alabama player Keith McCants arrested on drug charge

A former defensive end for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the University of Alabama has been arrested on drug charges in Florida.

Pinellas County Jail records show 50-year-old Keith McCants was arrested early Monday near St. Petersburg.

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He’s charged with a felony count of possession of crack cocaine and driving with a revoked or suspended license.

He bonded out of jail, but records don’t list a lawyer.

Jail records show multiple arrests since 2010. His most recent arrest was in January, for driving with a suspended license.

Court records show he faces a July 10 court date.

McCants made the All-America Team at Alabama and was selected fourth overall by the Buccaneers in the 1990 NFL Draft.

His career ended in 1995. He also played for the Oilers and Cardinals.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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2 hours ago

Former news production building in Birmingham sells for $1.5 million

The former Birmingham News production building has been sold for $1.5 million.

Al.com reports the buyer is looking to transform the 97,000-square-foot building into a self-storage facility.

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The Birmingham Design Review Committee approved the concept in February.

“As a Birmingham native we are excited to be a part of the continued revitalization of downtown Birmingham.

We look forward to providing first class service in this self-storage project for the business community and the growing residential population in the city center,” Brent Fields, one of the owners of News Properties LCC, said in a statement.

The former news production building was built in 1982 on 1.60 acres.

Alabama Media Group moved the printing of the Birmingham News to Atlanta last year.

Eddie Greenhalgh, first vice president of investments, for Marcus & Millichap’s Birmingham office, says the conversion of the building to self-storage represents a wider revitalization of Birmingham’s downtown area.

Birchfield Penuel & Associates is the architect.

Christy Roddy and William Ledbetter of Cushman & Wakefield-EGS Commercial Real Estate represented the seller, Advance Local Media, the parent company of Alabama Media Group. Greenhalgh also represented the seller.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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Bill ‘Bubba’ Bussey receives heart stent, shares special moment with nurse

Bill “Bubba” Bussey, beloved radio co-host of the Birmingham-based and wildly popular “Rick and Bubba Show,” said his Friday morning procedure went well and was all smiles in an Instagram photo he shared after a successful heart stent placement.

“We are out! All good, now just a lot of recover time and being very very still. Your prayers have been heard and felt!!!” he wrote on Instagram.

Bussey is in his early fifties and was on his feet Friday, writing on Instagram that “Bubba seems to be feeling better,” sharing a playful moment with an “unnamed nurse” he helped with her “volley.”

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Early this morning, Bussey said in an Instagram post with the St. Vincent’s East location stamp that he shared a special moment with a retiring nurse:

“So many people to thank for the great care I got this weekend… but this lady ‘Miss Sandra’ was retiring after 30 plus years of nursing. I was her last patient, of her last shift!! She checked my pulse on the way out the door! Happy retirement Sandra! Thanks for letting me be a part of this special moment.”

From all of us at Yellowhammer News, get well soon, Bubba!

3 hours ago

Alabama college ending aquaculture program after 27 years

An Alabama college is citing declining enrollment for a decision to ends its aquaculture program after 27 years.

Gadsden State Community College says it will discontinue the courses next spring.

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School spokeswoman Jackie Edmondson tells The Gadsden Times the program was one of the few of its kind in the nation.

The program teaches students to care for aquatic life in natural and captive environments.

Enrollees work with fresh- and saltwater fish and plants in tanks and ponds.

But the program can’t support itself any longer because enrollment is down.

Statistics show 27 students have completed the program in the last five years, or slightly more than five per year.

The teacher, Hugh Hammer, says only one of the last 10 graduates is employed in the area.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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17 hours ago

In new book, Alabama’s Victoria Hallman reminisces about time as Hee Haw Honey

Victoria Hallman and Diana Goodman were in attorney Bruce Phillips’ office one day reminiscing – Goodman about her time dating Elvis Presley, Hallman about her relationship with Buck Owens, both about their time as Hee Haw Honeys on the long-running television variety show “Hee Haw.”

“We sat in his office and talked it up and started telling stories,” recalls Hallman, an Alabama native and longtime fixture on the Birmingham music scene before she headed to Hollywood. “Bruce said, ‘You two sound just like this show my wife watches, “Sex and the City,” except yours is true.’ We thought about it and decided we should write a book.”

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That was 2010, and this week, “Hollywood Lights, Nashville Nights: Two Hee Haw Honeys Dish Life, Love, Elvis, Buck & Good Times in the Kornfield” was published.

The book includes both women’s stories, both written by Hallman, who has done freelance writing for Flower magazine and her own blog.

“I wrote as Diana, and I wrote as Victoria,” Hallman says. “I called her every Monday night, and we did about an hour’s worth of conversation each time. The next day, I would sit down and write as Diana, using her words as much as possible.”

It’s almost two books in one, with sections labeled “Diana” and “Victoria.”

“I told Diana her life is so interesting, many of the Elvis fans will probably just skip over my part and go to her part, and my fans may skip to my parts,” Hallman says. “It was purposefully written to be like that.”

Hallman’s early years in Birmingham included stints with bands like the Ramblers, Bob Cain the Cain Breakers and the Bachelors. She was a big draw during the 1970s at the popular Bachelor’s Showboat on Morris Avenue in downtown Birmingham.

Eventually, Hallman went to Hollywood to work with Bob Hope, whom she met when she was an opening act for him at a Homecoming performance at the University of Alabama.

Hallman’s section of the new book begins with her meeting Owens, one of country’s biggest stars, while she was performing with Hope. She began performing on the road with Owens and his Buckaroos, and a relationship developed.

“There’s just a magic about creating music that’s … very intimate,” Hallman says of the romantic relationship developing. “There’s a creative process that ‘s very sexy. We were together for awhile. It wasn’t a secret.”

In 1979, Hallman joined the cast of “Hee Haw,” the TV series Owens had hosted for a decade with Roy Clark. The show featured some of country’s biggest stars performing their music, as well as comedy segments with the cast, including Minnie Pearl and young women known as the Hee Haw Honeys. Many of the comedy bits took place in the “Kornfield.”

The Hee Haw Honeys included Hallman, Goodman, Linda Thompson (who would marry Bruce Jenner), Gunilla Hutton, Barbi Benton, Misty Rowe and Lulu Roman, among others.

Hallman has fond memories of her time on “Hee Haw,” which lasted until 1990. In the book, she talks about working with guest stars such as Ed McMahon, Kathy Mattea, Naomi Judd, Ray Charles and others. In addition, she talks about the camaraderie among the Hee Haw Honeys.

“We’re still great pals,” she says. “Misty Rowe and Lulu and I and Barbie sometimes have been performing in a Hee Haw Honey reunion stage show. We stay in constant contact. We were members of a sisterhood that has stayed intact all these years.”

Although there was a downside to her long run as a Hee Haw Honey, Hallman wouldn’t trade it for anything.

“’Hee Haw Honey’ kind of eclipsed everything else, and it was hard to be taken as a serious actress or singer, but it was apparently the way my career was supposed to happen,” she says. “George Lindsey would tell you that happened with him and Goober, but he finally came to terms with it, and so have I. It’s great. I have to be glad of it.”

“Hollywood Lights, Nashville Nights,” which is available on Amazon, details Hallman’s first marriage to (and divorce from) Jim Halper. She has been married to Franklin Traver for 25 years, and they live in Nashville.

Hallman still has family in Alabama and has returned to Birmingham to perform from time to time, including at the final City Stages music festival and, in 2012, when she was inducted into the Birmingham Record Collectors Hall of Fame.

“No town has ever held my heart like Birmingham,” she says. “Any success I’ve had is because of Birmingham. The more I’m in Birmingham, the happier I am.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)