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12 months ago

Lay Lake Christmas Boat Parade a floating gallery of lights

Joe Sullivan decorates his boat for the Lay Lake Christmas boat parade. (Bernard Troncale / Shorelines)

 

Lakes on a winter night are silent things. Flapping with little waves when a wind sweeps in. Luxurious views you can only see in your imagination. Inky black places not the least bit inviting – unless, of course, it’s the holiday season and there’s a boat parade.

Take the happy event on Lay Lake the second Saturday of every December, which finds spectators and a fleet of festooned pontoons reporting with glee to Beeswax Creek Park, where the evening commences at 5:15. People flock to watch the boats pass Paradise Point Marina (5:50), Cedar Creek (6:30), Okomo Marina (7) and Bozos Marina (7:35) with church groups, Boy Scouts, holiday parties and lake residents camping out on shorelines flickering with campfires and a s’more or two.

It’s a merry toss-up as to who’s the most delighted – the boaters or the up to 3,000 spectators along the way. “I wish I could show you a video of what we see from out on the water,” says Joe Sullivan, who has led the event for at least 10 years (or is it 16 or 17? He’s having too much fun to count). “The best part for those of us on boats is nearing the people and hearing the kids go ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh.’ You can hear them shout ‘Merry Christmas’ to us – and that is why we do it. My daddy was a founding member of the HOBO association, and it’s also my last tie to him.”

‘The people are waiting’

Whipping up a parade each year is a combination of pluck, luck, prep and the weather. “I don’t think we’ve ever ridden it in shorts – it can get cold out there on the water,” Sullivan continues. “Fog and too much rain can literally stop the parade – you can’t navigate in fog – but mostly we just get out there and go. We take it slow and just try not to hit the boat in front of us. The only rule in this whole thing is safety. And we know the people are waiting.”

The sheriff’s boat sets the pace (with the Water Patrol at the end and the Coast Guard Auxiliary in between). Pontoons drift at an idle – maybe 5 mph or less – along the 10-mile course. Last year’s boat count numbered some 30-plus vessels (though it’s hard to count them when you’re in one yourself, Sullivan says with a laugh). And each is a floating gallery of colored lights and themes.

One of the years they staged a contest, Butch Whitten’s boat, shared with friend Ralph Lucas, won hands-down. “People on the shore think it’s different boats going by, but it’s all ours,” he says of operating 16 buttons, each of which switches the light show to a new scene. “You look once, turn away, then look back and see something completely different – all with music from Elvis’ ‘Blue Christmas’ album.”

For instance, there’s a brightly lighted dolphin jumping an arc over the boat. Blink. A helicopter with spinning rotors. Blink. A Christmas tree blazing with multicolors. Blink. Santa and a sleigh pulled by running reindeer (which wore out but may return to the repertoire).

“We don’t have an artistic bone in our bodies,” Whitten says. “We just string those lights on this old houseboat of ours that has a little cabin sitting on it – the kind of a hybrid they used to make in Sylacauga years ago – and we just leave the lights strung on there all year long. Christmas is the only time we crank up that boat.”

At this time of year, they crank it a lot. “Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s we’ll go out on the water, turn on those scenes and see who flashes their house lights at us – that’s the way we know they see us. And, of course, if we think of a new scene each year, we add it. Colored lights on the water at night look good; that’s what it boils down to.” Whitten, by the way, participated in the first Lay Lake Christmas Boat Parade 24 years ago.

Jim Davis, who also won during the brief contest era, struts the same theme each year. “Kids love trains,” he says, “So I made a frame and strung it with lights and used hula hoops with lights for the wheels. I use PVC pipe to curve the roof over the engine. And last year I put a smoke stack on it and might put a second one on this year – maybe with dry ice with a spotlight to look like steam.”

The hula hoops gave way a while back to bigger, rope-lit metal wire wheels with a few “chasing lights” to add action. Davis invites friends for holiday cruising during the season, aiming his stern – choo-choo blazing – toward sloughs not included on the parade route. Like Whitten, he glories in the shouted greetings and is known to yell “Merry Christmas Back Atcha.”

Keeping it going

Sullivan, Whitten and Davis are boat parade veterans. Newcomer Brandy Contorno, who came to Lay Lake as a bride several years ago, is infusing the event with youthful passion while respecting its heritage. “Thank goodness for Brandy,” Sullivan says without hesitation. “She brings good energy.”

Contorno, married to lake dweller Nick, attended the parade one year when the boat count sank to single digits – a rare but every-so-often occurrence. “I thought immediately that Lay Lake is a tight-knit community and that we needed to get the word out,” she said. With Sullivan’s blessing, she revved up social media, peppering Facebook sites like Layke Living [dedicated to all things Lay Lake]. They issued zippy, and very frequent, email blasts to the lake’s boating community. Then came the fliers bordered with bright holiday bulbs, appearing in prominent spots anywhere a lake resident might visit. The result: a swelling of numbers, bringing boats decorated by young and old alike.

“I love holiday lights in general,” Contorno admits, adding that their pontoon resembled “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” with its exuberance. “They’re kind of my thing at this time of year, so I just really wanted to help on this.” She adores the variety – a mixed bag of old-fashioned lights, anything marked down in price for after-holiday sales, and brighter-than-bright LED models. It’s definitely every designer for himself out there, with hodgepodge reigning as the prevalent style.

Rather than relax and reflect, the new parade promoter vows to surpass last year’s turnout both on land and water. One thing is certain: One more Contorno will be aboard the 2018 boat when baby Mac, due in February, joins the ranks. “We hope this will become his tradition, too,” she says. “And that Mac can someday keep the torch lit for his generation.”

By Carolanne Roberts. This story was written for Alabama Power’s Shorelines.

Alexander Shunnarah gives back to the community with the first annual ‘Shunnarah Seasons of Giving’ initiative

Most people know Alexander Shunnarah for his infamous “Call me Alabama” slogan and the massive trail of billboards commonly spotted by travelers along I-65. However, what many aren’t aware of is Shunnarrah’s heart for giving back to the city he calls home.

To show his love and appreciation for Birmingham, the Alabama lawyer just launched the first ever “Shunnarah’s Seasons of Giving” initiative and is surprising locals in the community with various acts of service throughout the month of December.

Shunnurah described this initiative as a, “…small part in giving back to the community and paying it forward.”

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To begin the month-long program, Shunnarrah stopped by Etheridge Brother and Sister Barber and Beauty Shop in downtown Birmingham last week where he gave locals an opportunity to receive a complimentary haircut.

“It’s been a great initial kickoff in the seasons of giving,” Shunarrah said.

In addition to these pop-up visits, Shunnarah’s law firm is partnering with The Shoe Clinic LLC for the clinic’s third annual ‘Saving One Sole at a Time” Sneaker, Sock and Coat Drive. The drive will take place at The Shoe Clinic LLC on Saturday, December 15th from 12:00 – 4:00 p.m.

Donations are accepted now through December 15th. Both organizations hope to collect 500 sneakers and coats, and 1000 pairs of socks by December 15th.

To donate to the sneaker, sock and coat drive, visit one of the two drop-off locations listed here:

The Shoe Clinic
1801 11th Ave S. Birmingham, AL,

Alexander Shunnarah Law Firm
2900 1st Ave. S. Birmingham, AL.

To see where Alexander Shunurrah visits for the next “Shunnarah’s Seasons of Giving” pop-up, visit his Instagram page at @alexander_shunnarah.

2 hours ago

West Alabama woman points to bullying, race after her nine-year-old daughter’s suicide

A mother in west Alabama is grieving after her nine-year-old daughter, McKenzie Adams, died by suicide.

CBS 42 reported Monday that Jasmine Adams’ daughter was a fourth grader at U.S. Jones elementary school in Demopolis, which is close to the family’s home in Linden.

Following her tragic death on December 3, Adams reportedly advised CBS 42 that McKenzie told her teachers and her assistant principal a number of times that she was being bullied.

“She told me that this one particular child was writing her nasty notes in class. It was just things you wouldn’t think a nine-year-old should know. And my baby, to tell me some of the things they had said to her, I was like where are they learning this from,” Adams shared.

Adams also opined that race played into the bullying, as McKenzie rode to school with a white family friend every day.

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“Part of it could have been because she rode to school with a white family,” Adams outlined. “And a lot of it was race, some of the student bullies would say to her ‘why you riding with white people, you’re black, you’re ugly. You should just die.'”

Alex Brasswell, the Demopolis City Schools attorney, advised that the case is under investigation.

“We are working fully with the Demopolis and Linden police department. They are doing a joint investigation of these allegations. We are cooperating fully and I can’t comment on any of the aspects of the investigation until they conclude it,” Brasswell said.

Adams said that she believes that the school system let her daughter and her family down. She also explained that McKenzie only attended U.S. Jones in Demopolis because she had previously been bullied at the local school in Linden.

“I just felt that our trust was in them that they would do the right thing,” Adams said, “And it feels like to me it wasn’t it wasn’t done.”

“That was my angel, you know. She was a straight ‘A’ student, very smart,” Adams emphasized.

Funeral services for McKenzie are scheduled for Saturday at 11:00 a.m. at U.S. Jones elementary school.

Watch the full report:

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

3 hours ago

7 Things: Nation of Islam is leading Hoover boycott, gas tax may meet some resistance in Alabama, President Trump seeks a new chief of staff and more …

7. More Americans get news from social media than from newspapers

— Somehow, more Americans get their news from social media (20 percent) than print newspapers (16 percent). This is because of a steady decline in newspapers, but both get crushed by the Internet and television.

— American television consumption of news is still the most popular of all mediums at 49 percent, while 43 percent use “either news sites or social media” according to a Pew Research Center study.

6. Protesters were arrested in Washington D.C. for “protesting” for a “Green New Deal

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— The Democrats’ new face, Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, has a trillion dollar plan to solve the climate crisis and create “16 million new good-paying jobs.” Ocasio-Cortez supporters in D.C. participated in a “take over”of  the offices of Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA).

— Police arrested protesters for “unlawfully demonstrating in the Cannon and Longworth House Office Buildings,” but Democrats showed support for them with Hoyer tweeting, “I welcome visitors from @sunrisemvmt to my office today, and I’m happy to hear from them about one of the most pressing issues of our time. Speaking out is exactly what our democracy is all about, and I appreciate their passion. The new Dem Majority will #ActonClimate.”

5. Senator Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and soon-to-be Speaker Nancy Pelosi may offer up some border funding

— With the December 21 budget deadline nearing, Democrat leaders say they will offer President Donald Trump $1.3 billion in funding for a border wall, but Trump wants $5 billion.

— Trump lacks leverage here, except a government shutdown. He put out a series of tweets including, “I look forward to my meeting with Chuck Schumer & Nancy Pelosi. In 2006, Democrats voted for a Wall, and they were right to do so. Today, they no longer want Border Security. They will fight it at all cost, and Nancy must get votes for Speaker. But the Wall will get built…”

4. The drama over Hillary Clinton’s emails continues as Judicial Watch does the work the FBI/DOJ should

— U.S. District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth called it “one of the gravest modern offenses to government transparency” and ordered the U.S. Departments of State and Justice to determine “(a) whether Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email while Secretary of State was an intentional attempt to evade FOIA; (b) whether the State Department’s attempts to settle this case in late 2014 and early 2015 amounted to bad faith; and (c) whether State has adequately searched for records responsive to Judicial Watch’s requests.”

— While the FBI/DOJ seems to have dropped this case in the Obama-era, one activist group continues to fight for the transparency that the then-secretary of state worked so hard to avoid by creating a homebrew server, bleach bit-ing the hard drives and smashing mobile devices.

3. Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie could be the next White House chief of staff even after commenting that President Trump could be criminally exposed

— After Nick Ayers, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, turned down the White House job, the speculation machine ramped up and came up with new options for the job, including former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former campaign adviser David Bossi and Representative Mark Meadows (R-NC) for White House chief of staff.

— Christie may be a favorite because Trump reportedly wants “a functioning White House,” but he said on ABC’s “This Week” that the President seems to be in some legal trouble because of Michael Cohen’s issues with the Southern District of New York, citing “[t]he language in the sentencing memo is different from what we’ve heard before”

2. Gas tax increase may be hitting a snag; Gas prices in Alabama are below the national average

— All three of Alabama’s biggest dogs support a new gas tax: Governor Kay Ivey, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh and Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, but local legislators are finding the issue to be a bit of a harder sell to their constituents given the ALGOP/GOP’s anti-tax positioning.

— Currently, Alabama’s average price of gasoline is $2.08 a gallon, which is far below the national average of $2.42 a gallon. Alabama’s price has decreased seven cents in one week and 36 cents in one month.

1. The Nation of Islam is leading the boycotts in Hoover and sees it as a “war” to separate races

— The Birmingham chapter of the Nation of Islam, which Yellowhammer News notes “is deemed an “extremist,” “deeply racist, antisemitic” “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center” is leading a boycott movement in Hoover that has a goal of moving black-owned businesses out of Hoover and in to majority-black areas of Birmingham.

— As the protesters attempt to make Hoover go “broke,” yet another arrest for blocking freeways in Hoover has taken place, bringing the total to three as the city of Hoover appears to have had enough of the protesters.

4 hours ago

Hoover boycott leader defends Louis Farrakhan, talks about ‘the enemy’

Student minister Tremon Muhammad, who leads the Nation of Islam’s Birmingham mosque, took to Facebook Monday evening to defend Louis Farrakhan and attack the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and “all of those that are aligned with them.”

Muhammad, who posted his thoughts in an approximately 45-minute Facebook Live video, was reacting to Yellowhammer News’ article from earlier that day that revealed he was leading the Hoover boycott efforts in the wake of Emantic “E.J.” Bradford, Jr.’s death in an officer-involved shooting at the Riverchase Galleria on Thanksgiving night.

“[W]hat’s happening in Birmingham is just a sign of what’s going to be happening all across America,” Muhammad said.

He called Yellowhammer News “the enemy” and reaffirmed that the Nation of Islam’s involvement leading the Hoover boycott was part of a bigger plan.

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Locally, this is an opportunity for them to immediately advance their agenda.

“Boycott Hoover and build up black Birmingham,” Muhammad summarized.

Again using the term “the enemy,” he affirmed that the Nation of Islam’s efforts were to be a “war” against the City of Hoover and its citizens, however Muhammad emphasized they were not advocating violence.

“So, the word ‘war’ was used a few times [last week at the protesters’ organizational meeting], but of course we know that language – the English language – is not our language,” Muhammad asserted, gesturing to himself. “You taught it to us, I’m just trying to do the best I can with it.”

He then said that he has been using “war” in strictly figurative terms when it comes to unrest in Hoover, before asserting that, “You have never heard the Nation of Islam call for a race war.”

It should be noted, in context, that Muhammad said at the meeting he referenced last week that “the Nation of Islam does not subscribe to the theory of nonviolence.”

“If we go out there, we ain’t going out there to play. If we go out there, and we get engaged in combat, … If they touch one of our sisters or hit one of our young people or hit one of the brothers, we’re not out there just to fight,” Muhammad emphasized. “Everybody and everything got to die on sight.”

In the video, Muhammad then read a definition of “war” and then explained that he would continue using the word to describe the Nation of Islam’s efforts in Hoover and the Birmingham metro area.

“The creation of the City of Hoover was an act of war against Birmingham,” Muhammad reflected.

About a minute later, while talking about “white flight,” Muhammad seemed to take his definition of “the enemy” to mean white people in general. Later on, he also criticized “oreos,” which he defined as “black on the outside and white on the inside,” as well as “graham crackers,” which he referred to as “brown on the outside.”

Muhammad transitioned into a line-by-line analysis of Yellowhammer News’ article, starting with the opening line that references the SPLC calling the organization an “extremist,” “deeply racist, antisemitic” “hate group.”

“By black people – no. By the masses of white people – no. By the Southern Poverty Law Center. Stop right there,” Muhammad retorted.

The minister then launched into a tirade against the SPLC, referring to their “wicked pen” and saying if they could not prove their claims about the Nation of Islam, they should “shut [their] mouth.”

Muhammad then referenced a recent speech made by the Nation of Islam’s leader Louis Farrakhan, outlining that Farrakhan had “challenged the Southern Poverty Law Center, the ADL and all of those that are aligned with them.”

The ADL is focused on opposing anti-semitism, while working for civil rights for all. The SPLC describes itself as being “dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society.”

Just this year, Farrakhan compared Jewish people to “termites,” saying, “I’m not an anti-Semite. I’m anti-Termite.”

Muhammad, in the video, continued to defend Farrakhan, saying he was not an “extremist,” “deeply racist” or “anti-semitic.”

“I’ve got a question for you. Did Farrakhan bring you into slavery?” Muhammad asked his followers.

After asking more similar rhetorical questions, Muhammad said, “Farrakhan didn’t do none of that, Farrakhan redeemed fallen humanity.”

It should be noted that members of the Nation of Islam, Farrakhan included, hold a core belief that the white race was created by a black scientist named Yakub (it is their characterization of the biblical Jacob) thousands of years ago. The Nation of Islam refers to the race he created – white people – as “devils” while black people are the “Original People.”

The organization’s doctrine, which is shunned by mainstream Islam, also holds that black people’s destiny is to wrestle control of the world back away from these “devils” and put them in their supposed rightful place.

Indeed, Farrakhan has not been shy about this belief. When asked by Tim Russert in a 1997 appearance on “Meet the Press,” Farrakhan acknowledged his belief that “whites are blue-eyed devils,” adding the following:

In the Bible, in the Book of Revelation, it talks about the fall of Babylon. It says Babylon is fallen because she has become the habitation of devils. We believe that that ancient Babylon is a symbol of a modern Babylon which is America.

In the video, Muhammad continued, “The only thing [Farrakhan] did was raise his people up to a certain level [from what] they put us in. So, you charge a man that’s trying to pick us up from the condition that you put us in and you’re gunna charge him with hate.”

He went on to criticize Yellowhammer News’ article as trying to separate him from mainstream members of “the movement” and thanked the publication for saying he was following in Farrakhan’s footsteps, calling that a “compliment.”

Tremon Muhammad with Louis Farrakhan

“Trying to force brother Carlos [Chaverst] to say he’s not with [us], trying to force me to say I’m not with him, but we are family. … Even if we disagree, we’re not going to disagree in front of you, Yellowhammer,” Muhammad said.

He then continued to selectively go line-by-line attempting to rebut Yellowhammer News’ article, skipping over parts that quoted both he and Farrakhan in their own words, as well as a key line noting, “This group is so virulently ‘racist’ that they are founded on the belief that white people, as well as Jewish people, are ‘devils.’”

While his method of rebuttal throughout most of the video was to lash out at the SPLC, the ADL, Yellowhammer News, etc., simply saying they were lying and challenging them to “prove it” throughout, the clearest example of his struggle with the truth came during his version of Malcolm X’s assassination, which was quite unequivocally false.

Regarding Malcolm X’s death, Yellowhammer News originally wrote the following:

Many have blamed the organization for his assassination, with three of its members being convicted in his killing. The so-called ringleader of the three, who confessed to firing upon Malcolm X, was promoted to become the head of the Nation of Islam’s Harlem mosque after his release from prison.

In the video, Muhammad responded directly to this passage, concluding, “That did not happen.”

“You are a damn liar,” Muhammad said. “I want to say something else but I’m trying to be a good representative of the ‘honorable minister’ Louis Farrakhan. But I really want to tell you what kind of liar you are. And really I can say that you’re a God-damned liar. Because God damns all liars.”

He continued to say that there was “only one man that confessed to actually shooting Malcolm X” and “that man didn’t even get out of prison.”

“Prove it!” the Muhammad emphasized, ending his claims about the assassination.

The facts do not support Muhammad. Three Nation of Islam members were convicted of the murder. Talmadge Hayer (Thomas Hagan), Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson were all convicted. Hayer maintained the other two charged were innocent but a decade after his conviction admitted four other Nation of Islam members participated in the killing. Malcolm was shot 21 times.

All three of the convicted men were eventually released from prison, despite life sentences. Butler, today known as Muhammad Abdul Aziz, was paroled in 1985 and became the head of the Nation of Islam’s Harlem mosque in 1998. In prison Johnson, who changed his name to Khalil Islam, rejected the Nation of Islam’s teachings and converted to Sunni Islam. He was released in 1987. Hayer, who also rejected the Nation’s teachings while in prison and converted to Sunni Islam, is known today as Mujahid Halim. He was paroled in 2010.

Nevertheless, Muhammad decried that his followers were being misled – and not by him.

“[W]hen you throw these lies out here and then our people read it, and some are young and don’t necessarily know the history, or you may be a little ignorant, I’m not being disrespectful, ignorant of the ways or the history of the Nation of Islam and you may believe what they say, that’s why I gotta come out here and knock out the brains of falsehood,” Muhammad claimed.

He added, “I know the steps of the white man, because Farrakhan trained me well.”

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

Bradley Byrne: The light and life of President George H.W. Bush

Our nation came together last week as we mourned the loss of a truly great American. No matter our race, religion, creed or political party, we were drawn toward the light that was President George H.W. Bush.

His life spanned nearly 100 years of American history and was dedicated to serving the United States.

History often records the works of great leaders. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill all led with a sense of service and devotion to their people. But what makes a leader truly special is humility, humor and a deep moral code guiding their every day.

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President Bush embodied those very attributes.

His biographer, Jon Meacham, summed up the Bush life code best in his eulogy, saying, “Tell the truth. Don’t blame people. Be strong. Do your best. Try hard. Forgive. Stay the course.”

In every walk of life, President Bush did just those things. Integrity guided everything he undertook, and his lifetime of achievements testify to this. He was a decorated war hero in the Navy during WWII, an extremely successful businessman in Texas, congressman, ambassador to the United Nations, chairman of the Republican National Committee, chief of the U.S. Liaison to the People’s Republic of China, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Vice President and president of the United States of America.

His sense of humor was always charming, sometimes teasing, but never out of malice or needling. He knew how to tell and take a good joke, and he loved to make people laugh.

He took everything he did seriously and with dignity. His first and foremost goal was to serve the American people to the best of his ability and let the thousand points of light in our communities shine bright by one small act of kindness and devotion to each other at a time.

In his inaugural address, President Bush emphasized this point: “What do we want the men and women who work with us to say when we are no longer there? That we were more driven to succeed than anyone around us? Or that we stopped to ask if a sick child had gotten better, and stayed a moment there to trade a word of friendship?”

Since his presidency, George H.W. Bush has remained an example of leadership. For him, it was never about accolades as much as it was about service to the American people.

He was the brightest of those thousand points of light in everything he did. The light that shone through him came from his devotion to his country, to his family, and to God.

I had the honor to pay my respects to President Bush in the Capitol Rotunda and attend the funeral service held in the National Cathedral last week. It was the most moving church service I have ever attended. The testimony shared by everyone there spoke to a life well lived and firmly grounded.

He loved life and loved the people he spent it with. As his son, President George W. Bush, said at the service, “The idea is to die young as late as possible. … As he aged, he taught us how to grow old with dignity, humor and kindness. And, when the good Lord finally called, how to meet Him with courage and with joy in the promise of what lies ahead.”

President George H.W. Bush will be remembered as a true American leader; someone who served totally, cared deeply, laughed fully and loved completely.

As we move on to the New Year, I hope that in some small way we can embody just a small measure of those traits. If we do, one can only imagine how much brighter the light of our nation will shine.

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