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4 weeks ago

Marsh, Reed discuss strategy behind preventing a ‘blue wave’ in Alabama, voter issues, Trump in wide-ranging interview

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) and Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper) recently sat down for a wide-ranging exclusive interview with Yellowhammer News, discussing the 2018 election cycle, the new composition of the Alabama Senate, the upcoming legislative session and everything in between.

The first part of this interview series examines the impressive electoral success that the Senate Republican Caucus experienced this campaign season. Marsh and Reed outlined how their strategy was formulated, as well as how it was executed with precision.

The rest of the series will look at the upcoming session with a focus on the crucial legislative priorities that the two Senate leaders shared.

Successful cycle – ‘No blue wave in Alabama’

It was a busy day at the Alabama Statehouse last week, with members in Montgomery for orientation. Amidst the excited buzz of legislators old and new, Yellowhammer News joined Marsh and Reed in the pro tem’s seventh-floor conference room, with the two leaders’ schedules already jammed pack almost four months away from the start of the 2019 session.

To start the wall-to-wall conversation, it was important to understand how the Senate – and its Republican caucus – got to where it is today.

The past quadrennium saw Senate Republicans with a supermajority already – 26 Republicans, one Independent and eight Democrats filled the chamber. However, after picking off the formerly Independent seat with Senator Donnie Chesteen’s (R-Geneva) election and holding off significant Democratic challenges elsewhere, the caucus is stronger than ever.

This historic feat did not happen overnight. As Marsh and Reed explained, a lot of planning, expertise and hard work went into the 2018 election cycle.

This started with the primaries that occurred in the spring, with the strategy and groundwork ahead of these really beginning in early 2017. Marsh outlined that, initially, Reed focused on supporting their incumbents in the primaries, while Marsh looked at the open seats that would be in play – whether that be through turnover or like the Wiregrass seat that was a pickup opportunity.

The blueprint they used in 2018 was built off of already-proven success.

“[W]here we’ve had success, in fact if you look at the policies since Republicans have been in charge and the things that have been accomplished in the state, including this great economy, a large part of that is because we went out and recruited candidates, made sure people were ready and willing to serve the state of Alabama, made sure they were able to raise dollars. And it was no different this time,” Marsh outlined.

At the end of the day, their mission was accomplished this cycle. Marsh reminisced on an initial planning meeting that he and Reed hosted before the cycle got underway.

“I remember sitting in front of my colleagues and saying, ‘My goal is to have 27 Republicans [in the Senate]. I think that’s what we should have based on this state.’ And by golly, we had 27 [after the election],” Marsh said.

He continued, “And, so if you look at the talk that was out there of a ‘blue wave,’ I think that it was made pretty clear that there was no blue wave in Alabama. People are happy with what the Republicans are doing, and they’re going to continue to be happy because we continue to bring good people down here to do the work of the state.”

The strategy

With the end result in mind, Reed began to advise on how they got there.

“I think some of the tactical pieces, to go along with what the Pro Tem said, were very important,” Reed outlined. “When you begin to look at the process and how it evolved, we tried to understand early on what the different members were doing. A lot of times, if people are looking at running or not running and those kinds of things, we worked to understand that as early in the process as we could.”

He explained that it was important to know who was running where to map out the allocation of resources and ensure that the Caucus was on track to hit the final goal of 27 members. It also helped in the long run that in many of the open seats, the primaries featured multiple candidates of “high-quality.”

“We wound up in the primary with what was a really good team. Of that 27, then you wound up with 14 of those 27 that had some kind of opposition in the general election, whether it was an Independent or a Democrat,” Reed advised.

He continued, “Then, we began to assess – looking at who were going to be the members, for whatever reason, based on their location, based on the votes in the past, based on who their opponent was going to be – and try to come up with a short list of those 14 who were going to be those that were the most vulnerable and [decide] how do we allocate our resources and our focus from top to bottom.”

With the encouragement of Marsh and Reed, all of the Republican candidates ran and worked hard. Through the leaders’ work in the background to assist the most vulnerable campaigns with much-needed resources, the funding and data were there to enable victory.

“We had some good help from different folks that were working within the campaigns,” Reed added. “You had some very capable campaign managers that we worked with closely. We had some different folks that worked with us across the board and worked with me as leader to try and help us understand, with some polling and some other things, where our focus needed to be.”

Driving the vote

While having a winning electoral strategy is always important, the only poll that matters is on Election Day. On top of all of their planning and allocation of resources, Marsh and Reed put an impetus on targeting likely Republican voters and encouraging them to exercise their right to vote.

“As we then narrowed into the election, there was a process really that was led by Senator Marsh – he and I worked on it together – that was an effort to try and work on getting out the vote,” Reed shared. “Recognizing in Alabama, that if you had the opportunity for a larger vote and you had an opportunity to get those folks to the polls, there are more of them that are Republican that not.”

Reed said Marsh “had a detailed plan” to increase turnout in conservative-leaning areas across the state and that the Republican Caucus members “bought into” this plan through the legwork of their own campaigns.

“I think the plan worked very well,” Reed remarked.

“It was aggressive, it was a plan that was focused more on just some traditional, ‘Hey, let’s do a poll and see where we are.’ This had elements of modeling and elements of much more deep data analysis that had a lot more to it to help us have much more definitive information on where we put our resources. I think it worked really well across the state,” the majority leader continued.

Marsh explained that the “bottom goal” of that plan was to get out the vote after the primaries were over.

“It’s getting out the Republican vote,” Marsh emphasized. “Our goal, as [Reed] said, through typical tactics you use plus the use of analytics, we had a whole new arena of people that we knew would vote Republican if we could get them to the polls. And we had a very aggressive campaign to do that, and I think you – the stats are already out – you look at the straight ticket voters in the state this past election, the beauty of that is we knew it would help our Senate candidates, but we also knew if you’re talking straight ticket voters, it helps every House candidate, it helps every statewide candidate – everybody benefited from that group of people we identified to get to the polls that would vote straight ticket.”

The issues on voters’ minds

While Alabamians in part were voting to continue the proven pro-growth, conservative leadership that Republicans have brought to Montgomery, there were hot button and wedge issues that drove people to the polls, too.

Obviously, this differed district-by-district, with divergent demographics and local wants and needs factoring in. However, some things stood out across the Yellowhammer State in the Senate Republican Caucus’ data analysis.

“It is different [by district], but based on the analytics – and it’s based on buying patterns and other data that’s obtained – you were able to literally send an individual mail piece to every [potential voter]. You knew who they were, and you knew based on this analytics what their issue was,” Marsh outlined.

He then said that in one district alone, different voters got different mail pieces, strictly depending on data. He gave the example that one individual may have gotten something on Second Amendment rights, while another in the same area received a piece on school choice.

Besides those two issue examples, “small government” and “efficient government” were on voters’ minds.

Marsh and Reed also pointed to the pro-life vs. pro-choice debate being a key driver of turnout, especially with Amendment Two having been featured on the statewide ballot. They added that Amendment One, regarding the display of the Ten Commandments on public property, also helped bring conservative evangelical voters out.

Then, the vocal opposition – backed by huge out-of-state liberal funding – to these popular social stances by Democrats just helped the Republicans even more.

“Through our process, we were able to identify some of that information and know how people felt,” Reed explained. “And, to Senator Marsh’s point, if we understood where they were on a number of those different issues, whatever their hot-buttons were, then being able to encourage them to go to the polls for reasons that were very important to them individually allowed us to wind up with a much higher turnout.”

Trump

Going back to the primaries specifically, Marsh added that anti-incumbency did factor in and was something that Reed and he had to account for. The pro tem attributed this largely to the “Drain the swamp” national political atmosphere spearheaded by President Donald Trump.

After the primaries, this anti-incumbency fervor was not an issue for the Republicans, as the election then tilted on strictly partisan lines for the most part. Yet, when it was Republican vs. Republican back in the spring, established records were not beneficial.

“Once you got through the primaries, then you could draw a real clear line that because these people were here and doing the right things, this economy’s great and do you want to go back the other way, here’s where the Republicans stand, here’s where the Democrats are,” Marsh advised.

He continued, “And the Democrats’ rally cry, literally, was expand Medicaid. We can tell you right now, that’s not the rally cry of Republicans. And so it became real easy after we got through those primaries.”

“But, unfortunately, I think there were people that, and I’ll use an example, there’s no two ways about it: Paul Bussman lost because he was an incumbent and had a good candidate running against him that was well funded,” Marsh said, going back to the primary caveat. “And I’m telling you, any [incumbent] candidate that cycle in a primary that had a good candidate – regardless of how good the economy was and how good the person was- that had money behind them could’ve had a problem because of this anti-establishment message that the Trump team drove home.”

Reed built off of this, saying that in the general election, some of the election results could be chalked up to a referendum on Trump and his presidency, as he remains very popular in Alabama.

“Support of the Trump agenda became a strong focus for many of our candidates,” Reed advised.

Marsh gave the example of the most competitive Senate race, which was between Sen. Larry Stutts (R-Tuscumbia) and Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow (D-Red Bay), with the pro tem saying that the “Trump coattails” factor was probably the difference between Stutts winning and losing.

He stated that their analytics had identified 8,000 more people in that district “that if they voted, they typically didn’t, but if they did they’d vote Republican.”

They were able to turn enough of this block out for Stutts to win an extremely tight battle.

When asked by Yellowhammer News if a similar situation existed in the Senate contest between Republican Andrew Jones and former Democratic Rep. Craig Ford (I-Gadsden), Marsh shared that their analytics and polling had shown that this race, while a “priority,” was not going to be as close as people in Montgomery thought it would be. The results bore their extensive data analysis out, as Jones blew Ford out by a margin of 60.6 percent to 39.2 percent.

This also reinforced their emphasis on straight ticket voting, as Ford ended up bearing all of the negatives of his Democratic past while not benefiting from straight-ticket Democratic votes.

“It was clear delineation,” Reed added of supporting Trump and his agenda in the general election. “At that point, at the end of the election cycle, we had already come through the Brett Kavanaugh issue, there had already been several things that were real focus issues at the federal level, so there was an easy way to draw a delineation between support of the president’s agenda. Whether it’s the Supreme Court, whether it’s infrastructure growth, whether it’s foreign affairs, whatever – supporting that at the state level was something that our Republican candidates could do that the others that were running really were not in a position to do. And, so, in the end, that was a strong topic – if you looked at the different issues that people were really enthusiastic about, if you were the candidate that was supporting the president’s agenda, then that was an important factor for a lot of voters.”

‘Icing on the cake’

Reed and Marsh specified that the Kavanaugh confirmation had been a large, positive spike in voter enthusiasm for Republicans, but that it gradually waned with time as the media coverage stopped and the election drew closer. However, Marsh brought up one very timely issue that certainly did not hurt conservative candidates in Alabama.

“[T]he icing on the cake was the march through Mexico of people approaching the border, which was ongoing every day,” Marsh said, referring to the caravan. “It’s almost like the closer they get to the border, the madder [Republican voters] got. So, there’s no doubt in my mind, that that was the icing on the cake, the end of the perfect storm.”

Speaking further of what solidified their electoral success, Marsh concluded that “between the analytics, the Kavanaugh [confirmation], between the march through Mexico, all that created a perfect day and allowed [the Senate Republican Caucus] to maximize” vote totals.

“And truly maximize,” Marsh added. “We won every single race we expected to win in the Senate. … It was the total defeat and collapse of this so-called Blue Wave.”

Reed stressed that their “long-term focus” paid off during the elections with “a clean sweep.” Now, the two Senate leaders will look to carry this momentum into the coming legislative session and quadrennium.

Be on the lookout for Yellowhammer News’ follow-up articles on what this will entail.

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

11 hours ago

South Alabama attorney’s pageant coaching inspires another TV series

One day, Andalusia’s Bill Alverson was an attorney whose accidental hobby was just something he loved to do.

The next day, a seven-page feature in The New York Times, chronicling his pageant-coaching story of Miss America wins, suddenly crowned Alverson as the “Pageant King.” Before you know it, there’s a front-row seat into his world on TLC’s “Coach Charming” and the CBS network buys the series rights.

Today, it’s a scripted show on Netflix – “Insatiable” – which has been picked up for a second season.

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An accidental hobby

Alverson is a Dothan native and Auburn University graduate who earned his law degree from the University of Alabama. He began practicing in Andalusia in the early 1990s, specializing in family law and criminal defense.

He did not make a practiced entrance into the pageant coaching world. Instead, he discovered the talent when prompted by his church choir director nearly two decades ago to help a local teen. Soon, word spread.

Over the years, Alverson honed his craft, making his way into the Miss Alabama Pageant system. When three of his clients earned back-to-back-to-back Miss Alabama titles, he transitioned to the national stage. Today, his client list includes three Miss America winners and scores of local, regional and national title holders.

“I feel that it’s our job to inspire those in front of us,” Alverson said. “When I look back on things, I can say that it’s been amazingly unbelievable. I never envisioned I’d be on a reality show, that I would have a TV show based on my life. Me? This small-town Alabama guy, who’d have thought it?”

But that’s exactly what happened. In 2014, Alverson’s rise as much-sought-after pageant coach landed him in The New York Times.

“I could not have planned it,” he said. “When I’ve done a lot of things to self-direct myself to create things, it has not been as successful. I do really well guiding others.

“I knew my path to go to law school and to become an attorney,” he said. “As an old-school Southerner, I guess when you have this dream, it takes a lot of faith.

“How I ended up on TV, it was completely out of my spectrum,” he said. “I met one person, who met one person who got an article written – seven pages in The New York Times. Angelina Jolie and Donald Trump haven’t even had that. Who else gets that? Me. Strange, right?”

That “unknown” factor played in Alverson’s favor. When the publication decided to accompany the written piece with a short video, Alverson was contacted by movie producers and directors all asking the same question: How does someone from Alabama wind up as a pageant coach?

Alverson’s quick wit, sharp tongue and all-honesty approach, which can be seen in the clip “Pageant King of Alabama” on YouTube, were all the makings needed for good television.

It just kind of happened

From there, the TLC show “Coach Charming” was born.

“Literally within 60 to 90 days after the article came out, I was signed by an agency and working with a production company for a nonscripted reality show,” Alverson said. “There is no way – and even as much as I like to create things to happen – could I have ever created a situation like that to happen.”

The TLC shows highlighted Alverson’s lawyerly approach to the clients he coaches, working on interview responses and perfecting their overall look and performance. It also gave insight into Alverson’s family life and how, while practicing law with his son, William, he managed to juggle the demands of a second career.

“The fun thing about (‘Coach Charming’) was I got to do it with my family,” Alverson said. “What a lot of people don’t know is that while that show was happening, we were simultaneously working on ‘Insatiable.’ It was crazy.”

Written by Lauren Gussis of “Dexter” and “Once Upon a Time” fame, the Netflix original series features Disney star Debby Ryan and Alyssa Milano, with Dallas Roberts filling the role based on Alverson’s experiences. It is the tale of a bullied teenager who – with the help of an attorney turned pageant coach who soon realizes he’s in over his head – turns to pageants to exact her revenge. The “darkly comedic” 13-episode series debuted Aug. 10 and has been picked up for a second season.

“It’s just fun,” Alverson said of the show and its creation process. “I get to do a cameo in the first episode. I did a few lines, but I think only one made it in. It was very surreal to sit on the set with all these famous people with a chair that said ‘Insatiable’ on the back and know this is my story.”

In its early stages, the show received strong criticism that it “fat-shamed” young women and was detrimental to their self-confidence. One woman led a petition for the show’s cancellation.

It wasn’t a surprise to Alverson.

“The woman is an international spokesperson on this issue and basically saw an opportunity,” he said. “After the show was released, her petition essentially died because it falsely represented the show and, in fact, the show does the exact opposite.

“The show is satire and is off-cuff humor, but it does show the negative effects of many different types of bullying and the results of being a victim of bullying,” he said. “It’s a comedy, but the show’s design is to evoke conversation, which clearly it has.”

His Hollywood moment

Since 2014, Alverson has traversed the strange path to Hollywood. Again, the word “surreal” comes to mind.

“I coach differently,” Alverson said. “I get why people say pageants are shallow and superficial. One of my lines in the (TLC) show was, ‘Life is a pageant.’

“It was true then, and it’s true today. It is. Everywhere you go. If it’s not, why are you dressing your kid cute for picture day? It’s how it affects you and what you do with it.”

Alverson described himself as “very lucky and very fortunate” to have met people who are successful. He credits his journey with those meetings.

“We all have ideas of what we would love for our life to be,” he said. “As a child, I wanted to be an ambassador. I remember watching TV and visualizing myself in it. Little did I know that one day, that would become true.

“When I coach, I tell my clients to be prepared for the unexpected, but also be prepared to move in any circumstances and direction you’re in,” he said. “That’s what I’ve tried to do – be prepared for what comes my way and be thankful for it all.”

So, what’s next on Alverson’s to-do list?

“My grandfather told me he always wanted to learn something new every day,” Alverson said. “If other opportunities present themselves to be on TV, I’m all for it. I want to travel more. I’m always intrigued with people. I want to spend more time with my grandchildren.

“I’m a big Romans 8:28 guy – ‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose,’” he said. “I’m not a celebrity. I’ve been to Beverly Hills and Hollywood. I’ve seen superstars, people who’ve been famous all my life. It was fun, but I hope – at the end of it all – I want to have made a difference when it counted the most.

“Because you know, the thing is, it could all be gone tomorrow,” Alverson said. “So, don’t get lost in who you really are. I am still the guy who likes to ski on Gantt Lake, who goes to Walmart. But today, I’m planning on going to a premiere for a TV show.”

This story originally appeared in Alabama Living.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

13 hours ago

UAB Head Football Coach Bill Clark: The heart of a champion

It’s halftime of the game against the Louisiana Tech University Bulldogs. The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Blazers are facing a tough conference opponent on the road.

“We went into halftime. It was close. I can’t remember the score,” said UAB Head Football Coach Bill Clark. “One of those feelings coming out in the second half, I felt good. We won it going away in the fourth quarter, which is what you want to see. Finish. [Winning] it going away in the fourth quarter against a good team on the road, I thought, ‘That’s what a championship team looks like.’”

The Blazers were tied with the Bulldogs, 7-7, at the half, then scored 21 unanswered points after halftime to win 28-7 in that October game.

‘A winner’

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Clark knows what a championship team looks like because he has championship mettle, says everyone who knows him.

“Bill Clark is a winner,” said Royal Cup Coffee CEO Emeritus Hatton Smith, a key fundraiser for the team. “He’s won every place he’s been, from Prattville [High School] to Jacksonville [State University]and [at UAB]. With two years of no football, he kept most of his staff together. … He has remained loyal to the UAB program and has become a very valuable commodity. … We are very fortunate we have a winner as our football coach.”

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin said, “Bill Clark represents not just the best of what UAB as a university offers but what [our city] offers. My favorite part is what he does off the field. … He’s intentional about character building. He believes in his students. [It’s not just about] coming here to play football, leaving early, … and attempting to go to the next level. Whether you go to the next level or not, [he tells student-athletes], ‘You need to complete school. You need to do your homework. You need to understand what community service means. You need to understand what giving back means. … The most important thing: You need to know what it means to be a part of the community.’”

Coach of the Year

The UAB football program was terminated after the 2014 season and reinstated in June 2015. After a two-season hiatus, in 2017 the team returned to the gridiron and went on to become one of the greatest college football comeback stories in recent history.

Clark, in addition to winning the prestigious Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year award, was also named the 2018 Sporting News Coach of the Year. This season, the UAB Blazers finished 11-3; captured their first Conference USA (C-USA) championship and first division title; made their first back-to-back bowl trips; and won their first bowl game.

“I just give him a great deal of credit for UAB having football and for the team being so fabulous and having such a level of can-do spirit and enthusiasm,” said Birmingham City Council President Valerie Abbott. “He himself is a game-changer. He set the example by staying. To me, that was big. The guy was out of a job. He didn’t have a team. … He stayed, and he kept beating the drum for the team.”

Brian Hilson, President and CEO of the Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA), said, “Had he not stayed, I don’t know that we’d be having this conversation. I don’t know that the football program would be as successful as it’s been, but it’s even better because of him and the way he has handled it.”

Clark, 50, never wavered in his belief that UAB deserved a football team.

“It was really a belief in this city,” he said. “It was our community. UAB is intertwined with the community, and the community is intertwined with UAB, which is intertwined with our fans. All of these were intertwined together. … This is something we deserve.”

That’s a point Clark made to anyone who wanted to bring UAB football back to Birmingham.

“We should have these kinds of expectations — that we can do things great, that we can work together and we can pull together,” he said. “Being an Alabama guy and a guy from around the area [he was born in Anniston], I knew how special this was and how special our people are.”

Community

Reviving a program that would need millions of dollars would take a special person, someone who grew up knowing what a team could mean to a community. That person was Clark.

“My dad was coach in Ohatchee and Piedmont, two small communities,” he said. “My mom played piano at [Oak Bowery Baptist Church in Ohatchee, where I grew up]. It was church and ball and school. That was all part of the community. It all went together. We [in Birmingham] are just on a bigger scale. It’s still a community.”

With that in mind, Clark pursued the return of the UAB football program with the tenacity of a linebacker rushing unabated toward a quarterback.

“I’ve had to be more than a coach,” he said. “To bring this program back, we had to raise money. … I was an [athletic director] when I was at Prattville, [and] I had to raise money all the time there. [Of course], when I was at [the University of] South Alabama, we started that program from nothing. … We had to build the facilities. We had to raise money. We had to create interest. We sold tickets. That’s why I talk about doing things the right way. When you do things the right way, people are going to get involved.”

Clark was adept not only at raising money but also recruiting, and he used his talents to assemble a coalition that would help provide both the funding and the foundation for the team’s return.

“When you’re recruiting, you’re selling. … You’re putting your best foot forward. You’re selling your school. You’re selling your city. You’re selling all these things, … [and] you’ve got other people doing it as well,” he said. “That’s the same thing we’re doing with our program. We’re selling it. What are the benefits of all this? What’s it going to do for the city? What’s it going to do for our community? You need to get involved.

“I think that was the pitch for us. This was about more than just UAB, even though UAB is the economic driver of this city, maybe the state. We are the number-one job producer in the state of Alabama. But it became a Birmingham thing.”

Setting the standard

Clark’s hard work paid off, and he has set the standard for others.

“I think Coach Clark’s commitment to the UAB football program is him saying he’s not afraid to take risks, he’s not afraid to fail, he’s not afraid to dare, [he has] a belief in this program,” Woodfin said. “Having a belief in those students and pushing those players sends a message to this nation and this world that UAB football not only is here to stay but is a winning program that produces a good product.”

Woodfin added that Clark pulled off a rare feat in the Birmingham area.

“When was the last time you saw the Birmingham business community respond the way it has as it relates to UAB football?” said Woodfin. “I think that was bigger than numbers. I think that was bigger than UAB. I think that was bigger than football. I think that was about what Coach Clark stands for and what he means to this community.”

Jack Williams, a longtime UAB supporter and former Alabama state representative, said, “Bill Clark deserves an incredible amount of credit not only for the success, obviously, that this team has had but [also for] the success this community has had in rallying together and building something really positive. They’ve put a great product on the field, and in the past two years Birmingham and Jefferson County have responded by supporting the games in numbers beyond what we had in any years previous.”

Family

Clark is aware of the momentum sweeping the community, but he remains humble. Even today, the coach doesn’t forget his roots — his dad, the coach; his mom, the church pianist; his wife, the nurse turned educator; and the 18- to 22-year-olds he grooms to become men.

“That’s why I always talk about family,” Clark said. “When you think about family you think about these things: ‘I’ve got your back.’ ‘We’re going to work together.’ We’re not always going to agree, but when you know I love you and we’re doing this because we really care about each other, good things are going to happen.’”

This story originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

14 hours ago

Alabama rocket builder ULA powers critical national security mission

The state of Alabama and one of its manufacturers proved again how vital their work is to the country’s national security when United Launch Alliance (ULA) successfully powered a new intelligence satellite into space.

ULA’s Alabama-made Delta IV Heavy rocket launched the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) satellite into space on Saturday from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The Delta IV Heavy is built at the company’s manufacturing plant in Decatur, with the plant being the largest such facility in the western hemisphere.

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“The Delta IV Heavy’s unique capabilities, as the only rocket with the ability to complete many [NRO] missions, have given our military the tools to keep America secure,” said ULA CEO Tory Bruno in a statement from the company.

The NRO is a joint Department of Defense-Intelligence Community organization and is tasked with operating the nation’s intelligence satellites used for national security.

ULA has a long history of providing the American intelligence community with launch capabilities.

“For generations ULA and our heritage rockets have launched national security payloads – providing critical communications capabilities to the intelligence community. Today’s launch marks ULA’s 51st successful launch supporting the defense community,” said Bruno.

Saturday’s launch was the eleventh time a Delta IV Heavy has been put to use and the 132nd mission overall for ULA.

ULA’s work has drawn the attention of some of the state’s most prominent elected officials lately.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) paid a visit to ULA’s plant this past week to view the progress of the Vulcan Centaur program.

The Vulcan Centaur is ULA’s newest program and is being manufactured and assembled in Alabama.

Bruno was quick to point out Saturday that the Vulcan Centaur will only enhance the ability of the nation’s military to gather global intelligence.

“ULA looks forward to strengthening our partnership with the Air Force as we develop our next generation rocket, the Vulcan Centaur, which will meet all DoD’s national security needs, delivering even greater capabilities than are available today to meet our Nation’s future challenges,” said Bruno.

State Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) noted that he had met with Bruno to discuss the company’s activity in the state.


ULA is a large employer within Orr’s state senate district.

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News.

15 hours ago

Wilsonville Elementary boasts first-class playground thanks to help from volunteers

It was good news and bad news for Wilsonville Elementary.

The good: The school was one of 107 in Alabama selected for the First Class Pre-K program in 2018-19.

The bad: The state grant for the program didn’t include $10,000 needed for the required playground equipment suitable for 4-year-olds.

The better: Gaston Steam Plant in Wilsonville donated $5,000, while its Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) chapter threw in $1,000 and was instrumental in getting Landscapes company to donate $2,000 in mulch.

The result: Combined with a donation from the town of Wilsonville, the playground equipment is up and teeming with children.

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“I can’t tell you the joy our pre-K students have had watching the pieces be delivered and seeing it assembled outside of their classroom,” said Principal Melody Byrne. “This would not have been possible without our friends at Alabama Power. They are like our family.”

Last year, Gaston APSO members:

  • Built a sensory room for special-needs students.
  • Were a book sponsor for the library.
  • Built shading for two playground benches.
  • Sponsored T-shirts for Special Olympics.
  • Sponsored a fishing trip for special education students.
  • Provided and presented awards to students at Awards Day.
  • Sponsored Read Across America Day and volunteered to read to the entire school, with The Cat in the Hat, Thing One and Thing Two making appearances.
  • Power-washed sidewalks.
  • Painted the railing leading to the front entrance.

Alabama Power is the epitome of a good neighbor to our school,” Byrne said. “It is impossible to put into words the great impact Alabama Power has had on our school. Specifically (APSO board member and maintenance team leader) Justin Bailey and the APSO team are our heroes. They consistently pour themselves into the lives of our students.”

“We like to be involved with our community and Wilsonville Elementary is our neighbor,” said Rhonda Mann, Plant Gaston team leader in maintenance planning.

APSO feels proud to be part of this endeavor as our community is growing. We as a company can help with that growth and help provide the things needed.”

Getting the pre-K program was a coup for Wilsonville, as First Class Pre-K was named last spring as the nation’s highest-quality program for the 12th year in a row by the National Institute for Early Education Research.

The goal is simple: Give students a solid foundation from which to begin academic studies. Studies show students in a high-quality pre-K program score higher on achievement tests; are less likely to repeat a grade, require remedial or special education; and are more likely to graduate from high school, go to college and get higher pay in the workforce. Conversely, they are less likely to be imprisoned or on government aid.

Research conducted by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama and UAB shows children participating in the pre-K program are more likely to be proficient in reading and math at every grade level.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

16 hours ago

Huntsville mayor Tommy Battle: Internet sales tax, gas tax revenue could fund road, bridge improvements

In an appearance Thursday on North Alabama radio’s WVNN, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle made a plea to state lawmakers to take on improving Alabama’s Interstate Highway System, explaining they were over-capacity — not just in his city, but throughout the state.

Battle noted the problem areas on Interstates 65 and 565 and suggested the different sources of taxation that could be used to finance improvements.

He also said that with the economic expansion, particularly the Port of Mobile, improvements to roads and bridges would be necessary.

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“I think we all know that we’ve got to do something with our highway system,” Battle said. “Our Interstate Highway System – [Interstate] 565 every morning, folks coming over from Tanner and Decatur basically come to a stop. It’s a parking lot for a little while as they’re headed over in the morning and the evening as they head back into their communities. The roads are over-capacity. We’re having over-capacity problems when you go on [Interstate] 65, and you hit that Calera area.”

“Now you have it when you come down, about mile marker 300 and you go from six lanes down to four lanes,” he continued. “You start having some tremendous back-up. And so, we got to do something with the roads and to do it. We’ve got to have the money to do it. The legislature has got to come up with how they’re going to do it. They have a new revenue of tax coming in, the SSUT, which is the internet sales tax – is coming in and could offer something for it. I’ve heard the talk about road taxes and putting taxes on gasoline.”

Battle acknowledged that he did not have all the answers.

“I don’t know what the absolute answer is,” he said. “I don’t have the numbers like the governor’s office, and the legislature does. But I know it is not just something we want to do. It’s something we have to do.”

The Huntsville mayor also warned that with the dredging of Mobile Bay and improvements to the Port of Mobile that will facilitate increased container capacity, Interstate highways would require improvements to handle the transportation of those containers.

“You think about what’s happening in Mobile right now – they’re going to dredge the bay and take on some bigger and heavier cargo container ships into the state docks down there,” Battle said.

“As they do that, every one of those containers will be on our Interstate Highway System. They’ll be on Interstate 10, or they’ll be on I-65, or they’ll hit 59, 20 or [85] as they come up. It’s just adding capacity to the roads that are already over-capacity.”

“You look at where both Amazon and Walmart both put in their distribution centers down in Mobile,” he continued. “Both of those facilities will be adding more traffic to the roads. What we’re seeing now is just kind of the start of an over-capacity problem that has to be taken care of one way or another.”

@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.