Mayor Maddox responds to Alabama gubernatorial candidate questionnaire

Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, a candidate for the Democratic Party’s nomination for governor, recently responded to the questionnaire prepared by the Alabama Policy Institute and Yellowhammer News. His answers are below.

POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY AND PRINCIPLES

Question: What is your political philosophy and, if elected, how would it shape the way you govern?

Maddox: — I believe in effective and transparent government based on sound policies, and ethical leadership that relies on best management practices.

— I offer Alabama a New Covenant where our leaders wake up every day ready to fight for the people without regard to party. By placing results above rhetoric, we will forge a way forward that will make a real difference in the issues facing Alabamians.

— My approach to policy proposals is to identify the issues, opportunities, and problems related to making Alabama better; learning all relevant facts; establishing policy goals that serve Alabama citizens; cataloging potential policy alternatives that support those policy goals; balancing the interests of all parties affected; and then through careful analysis determining the best policy moving forward.

How have you demonstrated your commitment to your political philosophy?

— As Mayor of Tuscaloosa, this approach to transparent and effective government has been part of my everyday practice in serving the people for almost two decades. Important data is posted on the web, policy initiatives are discussed openly in public meetings that are webcast and archived, the concerns of stakeholders are heard and considered, and policies are implemented in a fair and equitable manner.

— The Tuscaloosa Forward Plan that was developed in the recovery from the tornado of April 27, 2011 is an excellent example of how I see solutions to problems being developed by bringing all stakeholders together with experts and area leaders, to sort through what was often competing interests with both short and long term components, to find solutions that best meet the needs of the entire community.

What is the most important role of the governor?

— The governor must first and foremost fulfill the constitutional oath to support and defend the constitutions of the state of Alabama and of the United States, acting as the chief executive officer of the state to see that the laws are faithfully executed.

— Equally important, the governor must be a leader in proposing laws and policies that benefit all of Alabama, and be the face of the state who takes responsibility for its direction, progress, and even mistakes.

What is the most challenging social issue facing families in Alabama? Does government have a role in helping to solve that problem, and if so, what would you propose?

— Perhaps the best answer is to identify the common theme underlying the solutions to most of Alabama’s problems: they are opportunities for economic development. The expansion of Medicaid will not only provide insurance to our most vulnerable citizens, it also will stoke our healthcare industry with more high paying jobs and creation of advanced medical treatments. The Alabama Education Lottery will instill $300 million new dollars per year into Alabama’s economy even as it improves workforce development, making Alabama more attractive to new industries. Fixing our roads and bridges will not only make us safer, it will create jobs both directly through highway construction, and more importantly by providing the quality infrastructure that new factories and businesses look for in site selection.

Alabama has four abortion clinics operating across the state, and Planned Parenthood has announced plans to build a new clinic in downtown Birmingham. How do you feel about these clinics and what would you do as governor about any taxpayer funds they receive?

— I’m a pro-life Democrat who is concerned that many Republicans are more pro-birth than pro-life. Perhaps Sister Joan Chittister best summed up my feelings when she said “I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”

— Although I am personally opposed to abortion, under the law of the land a woman has a right to choose up until the point of fetal viability. The federal Hyde Amendment prohibits use of federal funds to pay for abortions except those that endanger the life of the woman, or that result from rape or incest, and Alabama law does not provide any state funds for abortions. The courts will ultimately decide which of Alabama’s several laws regulating abortion are constitutional, including any restrictions on new abortion clinics. As a governor sworn to uphold the federal and state constitutions and the laws of Alabama, I will faithfully execute Alabama’s laws within the constitutional limits defined by the Supreme Court.

EDUCATION

PUBLIC EDUCATION

Alabama is ranked number forty-seven on U.S. News and World Report’s list of Best States for Education, and ranked number 1 in Pre-Kindergarten quality. As far as public education reforms, there have been many suggestions for improvement including increased investment in STEM education, distance learning, and reforming teacher tenure. What reforms would you propose or support to improve public education and prepare Alabama’s children for school success and lifelong learning?

— Initiatives for reform arise from good intentions, but they all run head on into a major problem: chronic underfunding. My proposal for the Alabama Education Lottery will infuse Alabama with $300 million new dollars annually, to be spent in four major areas: Universal First Class Pre-K, to extend Alabama’s top tier Pre-K program to all of our children instead of less than a quarter or a third of 4-year olds; The Foundation Program Promise, which will help close the funding gap between schools systems with fewer resources and those with more; Community Innovation Grants, which will provide wrap around services to address problems like mental health and poor family environments which prevent learning; and College Scholarships and Workforce Readiness, which will be there for our high school graduates to lift themselves even higher.

ALABAMA STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION

Dr. Eric Mackey was recently named Alabama’s next State Superintendent of Education. The governor serves as a voting member of the Alabama State Board of Education. What vision for Alabama do you share with the new superintendent and where do your philosophies differ? How will you prioritize Alabama’s school children in your role on the Board?

— I look forward to working with Dr. Mackey and learning more about his philosophy of education. I agree with much of what I know about him, that Alabama needs long-term solutions instead of quick fixes, and that education curricula must be more rigorous, with an emphasis on preparing students for a 21st century economy based on information and technology. I admire his work in helping make Alabama Pre-K a highly respected program, which still needs to be expanded statewide. I will expect Dr. Mackey to elevate Alabama’s public schools. That starts with closing the funding gaps between schools where property values are high and rural schools which struggle. Our schools also need more wrap around services because health, mental health, and social problems all stand in the way of learning. My Alabama Education Lottery will address all these issues as well as send more students to colleges, universities, and work force training.

SCHOOL SAFETY

The recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida reignited the discussion about school safety. President Trump has suggested arming teachers while others have argued for increased use of school resource officers and funding for mental health programs. As governor, how would you ensure the safety of Alabama’s children in public schools?

— My School Safety Plan was released earlier this year and calls for five areas of action. (1) We must harden our schools through better design standards, use of technology, and the presence of armed law enforcement security officers. (2) Faculty, staff, and security officers at all schools must be trained in the proper reaction to active threats. (3) Ban weapons at schools except those possessed by trained security personnel. (4) Develop protocols to identify and act upon potential attackers. (5) Support reasonable gun control measures like universal background checks, higher age limits for the purchase of assault weapons, and keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, the mentally ill who are a danger to themselves or others, and those on the terrorist watch list.

SCHOOL CHOICE

In 2015, Alabama became the 43rd state to approve legislation to authorize charter schools. Many states now allow parents to transfer their child from a failing public school to a non-failing public school, to utilize education savings accounts or school vouchers, or to send students to alternative schools using tax-credit scholarships, allowing parents greater control in their child’s educational endeavors. How should school choice fit into Alabama’s education system?

— I’m certainly for better schools but charter schools and use of public funds for private schools don’t appear to be the answer their advocates claim. Rather they’re just another source of controversy and a diversion of public funds from school that are already underfunded. What I’d prefer to see is all the momentum and energy behind advocating for school choice be put into making all our public schools better. Many of the ideas behind alternative schooling can be generalized, but this should be done within the system that serves all public school children.

FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY

TAX CODE

In Alabama, the bottom 20% of earners pay 10% of their income in state and local taxes while the top 1% only pays 3.8% of their income in the same taxes. If elected, what would be the future of the state income tax and do you see this disparity as a problem?

— Alabama’s regressive tax structure problems involves more than just its income tax. Powerful land owners have long successfully lobbied to keep property taxes low. This in turn causes an unhealthy dependency on income, sales, and other taxes, which for the most part are not distributed according to wealth or ability to pay. Once Alabama is ready to have a serious discussion with itself and face the truth, it will be possible to enact revenue neutral tax reform that distributes the burden of operating state and local governments in alignment with how wealth is distributed. Those with an interest in keeping the current system falsely characterize such tax reform as tax increases or redistributions of wealth, and it is that perception that we must overcome before reforms win the support of the people.

STATE AND LOCAL TAXES

According to the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy, Alabama boasts the 12th most regressive state and local tax system in the nation. One contributor to this ranking is our combined 9% grocery tax (only four states tax groceries more than Alabama). In 2017, Governor Bentley proposed decreasing the grocery tax by 4%. If you are elected, would you suggest changes to the grocery tax?

— I support eliminating the state sales tax on groceries. But to do so we must offset the lost revenues with another source. One idea is to eliminate the state deduction for federal income taxes, which would require a constitutional amendment to be voted on by the people. Unfortunately, at the local level, state law limits sources of revenue municipalities and counties can adopt, which would make eliminating local sales taxes on groceries impossible unless a new source of revenue replaces it. We must look at ways to free up the dependency of local governments from sales taxes so that all taxes on groceries can be eliminated.

INFRASTRUCTURE INVESTMENT

US News ranks Alabama’s roads and bridges as the 16th and 21st best in the country, respectively. Even so, every neighbor of ours—except Mississippi—has roads and bridges that rank in the top 10. Alabama also ranks 45th in terms of broadband access. If elected, what would you prioritize as the most important infrastructure investment projects, and what innovative options would you propose to fund such projects?

— I support the plan put forth by the Alliance for Alabama’s Infrastructure, which was founded by the Business Council of Alabama, Chambers of Commerce across the state, businesses, industry associations, and professional groups – all of whom understand that quality roads and bridges are critical to improving Alabama’s economy. Not only must we take a long, hard look at our decreasing fuel tax revenues, which today bring in the equivalent of 35 cents per gallon less than in the mid-1990s, we also must look toward the future as hybrid and electric vehicles continue to cause the same wear and tear on roadways while paying less in fuel taxes. We get what we pay for, and right now we’re paying for roads and bridges that become more dangerous every day and are less attractive to new industries.

STATE-RUN LOTTERY

Most states resort to installing a state-run lottery to increase revenue and pay for government projects. Do you support a lottery to solve the state’s fiscal woes? Why or why not?

— The Alabama Education Lottery is a cornerstone of my campaign. It will bring in $300 million every year to make college more affordable for Alabama students, expand Pre-K to every child in the state, provide wrap around services to address health, mental health, and social problems that prevent learning, and close the funding gap between school systems in high and low property value districts.

THE RIGHT TO WORK

JOB CREATION

The Census Bureau suggests that Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee are creating more jobs than Alabama. As governor, how would you foster job creation that rivals our neighbors to the north, east, and south?

— The first thing we must do is get our workforce ready for jobs of the 21st century. This is an employer’s number one concern and so it should be our number one priority. The Alabama Education Lottery will provide funding for workforce development and apprenticeships as well as higher educational attainment, and restructuring our workforce development efforts to be more effective and efficient will make every dollar invested in our future count. Second, we must rebuild our crumbling roads and bridges. Economic development cannot happen if new businesses and industries have no confidence that essential transportation infrastructure will be in place. Alabama is blessed with a strong work ethic, abundant natural resources, and a geographic location that puts us in position to lead the south in job and wage growth. All we need are the missing pieces of the puzzle that have been neglected for too long.

ROLE OF LABOR

Alabama is a right-to-work state. In your opinion, what is the proper role of organized labor and should Alabama remain a right-to-work state?

— I support the right of labor to organize. The minds and muscles of Alabama workers are the backbone of all our industries, and those workers have a legal right to unite for the betterment of them all. Unions have done so much to help wage growth and job safety of working people. Understanding this, in 2016, Alabama voters included right to work as part of our constitution. Therefore, so long as it remains the law of Alabama, as governor I will be sworn to uphold the individual rights of all workers, even as I continue to support the right of workers to unite for their common good.

OCCUPATIONAL LICENSING IN ALABAMA

The state of Alabama licenses 151 different occupations and over 20% of Alabama workers need a license to work. If elected, how would address these regulations—regulations that both the Obama and Trump administrations have regarded as problematic?

— Much of Alabama’s occupational licensing structure is an inconsistent, ad hoc, unreasonable mess. Licensing should be about assuring only that individuals who perform services to the public are qualified and properly regulated, and should not be an income generator that squeezes money out of multiple layers of the same business and falls disproportionally on lower wage jobs. We should start with common sense reforms. Many lower level licenses can be subsumed by license holders who are responsible for their performance. For example, there’s no need to require a license to shampoos someone’s hair when a licensed cosmetologist is responsible for 100% of the training, approval, and supervision of the person doing the shampoo. We must eliminate duplicative and unnecessary licensing boards. We must align fees for licenses that legitimately have rigorous standards with the costs of administration.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

OPIOID EPIDEMIC

According to the CDC, Alabama is the state highest-prescribed with opioids, with more prescriptions than people. Opioids are the main driver of overdose deaths and, in 2016, 756 Alabamians died from drug overdoses. As governor, how would you tackle Alabama’s share of this national crisis?

— The expansion of Medicaid is a major first step in overcoming many of Alabama’s problems, including opioid and other drug abuse. The expansion will increase the availability of and access to treatment and counseling that we so desperately need. We also need to improve prescription drug monitoring and make medical treatments more widely available, like Suboxone, which alleviates the pain of opioid withdrawal but is too expensive for most to afford without assistance. Detox units, residential and outpatient services, consultation among addiction specialists and other providers must be expanded. UAB’s Addiction Recovery Program provides an effective model that can be replicated statewide for a medically supervised approach to early sobriety including intensive therapy, 12-step fellowship, trauma and grief work, and family support. Overdose remedies like Narcan must be widely available to both emergency first responders and the general public. We must implement common sense initiatives like warm handoffs so that people who seek emergency medical treatment for drug overdoses are automatically connected to a treatment program – and, of course, that begins by making sure treatment programs are available.

CRIME PREVENTION

Alabama has the third highest murder rate in the country. As governor, how would you address crime and what policies, specifically, would you propose?

— The governor should meet with leaders in law enforcement and experts in criminal conduct to find the most effective ways to reduce crime, with consideration given to such approaches as keeping children in school longer – a proven deterrent to criminal behavior; identification of threats in the community; behavioral intervention programs; using technology tools that detect patterns of criminal behavior and provide evidence to make arrests; providing our youth with opportunities for learning skills, recreation, and service to the community as alternatives to drugs and crimes; hot spot and focused policing – faster reaction to crime trends to proactively stop crimes from being committed; eliminate blighted housing; community policing; and responsible and reasonable gun laws.

PRISON REFORMS

Alabama has received national attention for the state of its prisons and a federal judge recently called inmate care “horrendously inadequate”. How would you address this issue, and do you support the use of private prisons?

— Alabama’s prison system is driven largely by court order or continuing efforts to stave off court orders, and private prisons are a pathway to even more headaches. Nobody likes to talk about prisons, but it is our duty as a society to provide safe and secure prisons that comply with standards of human decency while also serving their punitive purpose. Our prison system is severely overcrowded and are at risk for federal court takeover. We are not rehabilitating our prisoners or treating those with mental health problems, which puts them at high risk to commit further crimes and return to prison. Once we embrace the fact that 90% of prisoners will one day return to society, then perhaps we can accept the fact that rehabilitation of prisoners – with educational opportunities, job skill training, and mental health and drug abuse treatment – is just as important as meting out punishment for the crime.

CIVIL ASSET FORFEITURE

Some states are eliminating provisions that allow police to seize property without securing a criminal conviction. Do you support the use of civil asset forfeiture by law enforcement and the provision that allows agencies to keep the proceeds of seized property? Why or why not?

— Civil asset forfeiture can be an effective tool in combatting drug trafficking. However, there are too many stories about people who are never charged with crimes falling victim to the relatively low standards for seizing property when there is a mere suspicion of criminal activity. I believe in the 2nd amendment, but I also believe in the due process clause of the 14th But before we eliminate what can be an effective law enforcement tool, we need to gather evidence of how Alabama law enforcement agencies are using civil forfeitures. Therefore, I support the bill that failed in the last legislative session to require detailed reporting by law enforcement agencies as to how and when assets are seized, the suspected crime underlying the seizure, how the funds or assets are used by the agency, whether there was ultimately a conviction in the case, and similar data. We also need to consider whether funds from forfeited assets should continue to go to the law enforcement agencies or instead into the general funds of state and local governments. This would remove the so-called profit motive from law enforcement. We must work toward the day when assets are not seized unless there’s strong assurance they were used in criminal activity, ideally only after a conviction. Gathering data so that we may formulate strategies that fight crime effectively while retaining fundamental fairness in our justice system is the best start.

The Alabama Policy Institute, headquartered in Birmingham, is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to strengthening free enterprise, defending limited government, and championing strong families. To learn more about their work and how you can help, please visit alabamapolicy.org.

22 mins ago

Urban Ministry tackles West End community needs

A visit to Urban Ministry proves to be equally eventful and heartwarming.

It’s lunchtime and the cafeteria is packed. The aroma of home-cooked meats and fresh vegetables billows through the air. Once inside the cafe, the tables are packed. Patrons are eating and communing just as they would at any other eatery.

Urban Ministry Executive Director Melodie Agnew walks around greeting customers with a welcoming smile.

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Agnew is equally comfortable greeting lunch guests and advocating for those served in this community.

Urban Ministry meeting community needs one soul at a time from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Ministering through healthy meals

There are several novelties about this spot called West End Cafe, or WE Cafe, which makes it unique among its restaurant neighbors.

For one, the produce doesn’t come from a local market. It is harvested just steps away in West End Garden, or WE garden, the community garden.

Those who abound financially, and even those who don’t, break bread together. Hearty soul food in a welcoming environment is the common thread regardless of person’s pay scale, and all are welcome.

WE cafe started as a soup kitchen, but now people come and pay as they can. So educators, volunteers and community and business leaders can sit at family-style tables where food is prepared fresh.

The garden fruits and vegetables are also sold at local markets. These include Pepper Place and twice-weekly at Princeton Hospital.

The WE Cafe is open each Wednesday from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Meeting more than financial needs

Some customers also have a great need for suitable housing.

Not only does Urban Ministry provide assistance with rent, home repairs and maintenance like painting, Urban Ministries partners with the Salvation Army to provide energy assistance to elderly and disabled clients through Project Share.

Urban Ministry has the largest Project Share clientele in Birmingham.

[Related: Project Share meeting community needs]

Agnew says the new Energy Assistance Portal( EAP),created by Alabama Power, is an invaluable resource to the agency.  Agency leaders say EAP provides a user-friendly platform for intake workers to quickly access information needed to post real-time energy assistance pledges and payments.

This in turn gives more time for workers to serve clients.

Under a broad umbrella, their work covers financial needs, but in its simplest form, it’s all about providing a better quality of life for adults who are in need, along with their children.

A record number of children enrolled in summer school. Staff had to prepare for 90 schoolchildren this year at Urban Ministry – including meals, activities and accommodations for each student.

And Agnew says it doesn’t stop there.

“In addition to our students, families of these students also come with various needs. Urban Ministries works to help support those needs of families with the help of our church and corporate partners.”

Empowering those they serve 

For Agnew, serving as executive director holds a two-fold meaning. She can look out her office window, where she grew up in West End just steps from where she sits today. Not only does she serve this community: she and her family are a part of it.

Her great-grandfather and grandfather had businesses in the community. Her father and grandmother were educators in the community. She saw them providing opportunities for the community.

Agnew believes in not only providing programs and resources for neighbors, but investing in people by teaching them to be their own advocates and support. The work is great, but Agnew’s determination and vision are without end.

Prior to joining Urban Ministry, Agnew worked as executive director of the Norwood Resource Center,where she dedicated her time to supporting families and building vibrant neighborhoods.

Agnew says she wants to leave a legacy of service and strengthening her community, just as her family did.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

13 hours ago

Opposition research: When is the right time for a campaign to attack their opponents?

This time of year before an upcoming spring primary election, I get asked a lot, “When are we going to see some opposition research dropped from campaigns?”

Long-term strategy during a political campaign can be a fragile thing knowing when to start and complete certain tasks. It’s an easy decision to have a campaign web site early on. It’s easy to decide that raising money early on is crucial to getting the campaign off on a solid foundation. Hiring staff and consultants is done early and adding more throughout the campaign is an easy call to make. When to open a campaign office and getting volunteers is also an easy decision to make. However, timing is everything, especially when it comes to knowing when to drop a piece of opposition research on an opponent. If a campaign uses what they have too early and in the wrong way, they run the risk of it leaving the voters’ minds in advance of Election Day. If a campaign waits too long, voters can turn off any information because towards the end of a long campaign season, voters get tired of all the ads and revolt against any and all campaign happenings.

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As a veteran opposition research consultant, I have been involved in well over 100 political campaigns over a span of 28 years, and have seen about all there is to see regarding opposition research and there is no concrete answer as to when a campaign should drop a piece of oppo on an opponent. Every campaign is different and having people on the team that know from experience when oppo should be dropped helps, but still isn’t a guaranteed way to know when to release the information.

These are some of the factors that go into the decision of when to release opposition research:

  1. If your campaign is hanging on by a thread: If your candidate has damaging opposition research on any other candidate who is even or above them in the polls, releasing the information can turn a campaign around and give it life due to the attention they will get once the oppo is released to the public. Holding information “for later” many times is never used because your candidate doesn’t make it until Election Day. If you have it, use it.
  2. If you are being attacked by an opponent: The old saying, “Fight fire with fire,” applies here. It could be deemed school-yard antics, but if your candidate is getting ravaged by another campaign, one way to stop it or at least slow it down is to release your own opposition research on the candidate that is attacking you. Many think that this sort of behavior turns off voters, but in reality, it works.
  3. To raise money: Donors love to see a candidate who will fight and will reward them accordingly if they feel that they have something to say and can win. Releasing opposition research on opponents can make some donors think twice about who they will support especially if what you have on an opponent is quite damaging to their campaign. Remember that an overwhelming majority of possible donors don’t have access to the information that you do, so releasing it to the public makes sense in a financial standpoint.
  4. To bake it in: If your campaign has incredible opposition research especially on the perceived front-runner, that in your opinion can dramatically affect the outcome of the race, releasing it early in the campaign season and hammering it daily can serve to “bake it in,” the voters’ minds.
  5. To drive the last nail in a coffin of an opponent: If one of your main opponents’ campaign is losing steam, some consultants like to do all they can to knock them out of the race by piling on with opposition research. Other consultants like to stay out of it and allow the opponent to slowly descend in the polls and drop out when the money dries up. I have found that both are credible strategies, however, if you want to use a boxing analogy, when you have an opponent on the ropes, you go for the knock-out and don’t back off in order to give him time to catch his second breath.
  6. Being the last word: For years, consultants have believed that all opposition research should be released a few days before Election Day. Their thought process was that if they waited that deep into the campaign season to release information, their opponent wouldn’t have time to adequately answer the attacks. That thinking has become antiquated due to the 24-hour news cycle that we currently live. Candidates have the ability now to answer attacks via a number of social media platforms, by talk radio appearances, and doing their own TV ads that answer the attacks. Technology and social media has changed the world and certainly has had a dramatic effect on political campaigns as well.

One thing is for sure, opposition research is always going to be used as a strategy and campaigns who know how to gather it and when and how to use it correctly can mean the difference between winning and losing a campaign.

Brad Presnall is a veteran Alabama-based political opposition and vulnerability research consultant. He can be contacted at bpresnall@hotmail.com.

14 hours ago

Three siblings share cancer diagnosis caused by rare genetic mutation

At first glance, Kevin, Kiala and Keaira Perkins may seem like typical 17-, 14- and 11-year-old children, respectively. But, after getting to know them, you might be shocked to find out that all three have suffered from thyroid cancer.

The siblings, from Madison, Alabama, all suffer from a rare genetic condition called multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN2A), a rare, hereditary condition occurring in roughly one in 35,000 people in the United States. It is caused by a mutation in the RET gene, which provides instruction for producing a protein that is involved in cell signaling and is needed for the normal development of several kinds of nerve cells.

“In December 2018, Kevin was tested for MEN2A by his pediatrician, and later received a call from UAB and Dr. Herb Chen,” said LaToya Wade, the mother of Kevin, Kiala and Keaira. “Dr. Chen said, ‘we need you here as soon as possible,’ and soon after we met with Dr. Chen, we scheduled surgery for Kevin.”

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Soon after Kevin’s surgery to remove his thyroid, Kiala and Keaira underwent the same testing. The result: Both tested positive for MEN2A.

People with MEN2A have one functioning RET gene and one that triggers cells to divide abnormally, causing tumors in the endocrine system and other tissues. MEN2A, identified in the children’s father and aunt by the aforementioned blood test, leads to medullary cancer of the thyroid, pheochromocytoma – tumors in the adrenal gland – and hyperparathyroidism, which causes excessive calcium in the blood and can lead to kidney damage. If one parent has MEN2A, the children have a 50 percent chance of inheriting the same mutation.

“Thyroid cancers, including medullary thyroid cancer, start out so small that you don’t notice them,” Chen said. “With genetic testing in patients with MEN2A, if the child tests positive, I can tell a parent there is a 100 percent chance their child will develop thyroid cancer.  Importantly, we can do surgery ahead of time to remove the thyroid before the cancer develops.”

Chen, chair of the UAB Department of Surgery, says cases like the Perkins’ are an example of how genetic testing can diagnose someone’s risk and eventual prevention of cancer by doing prophylactic surgery (an operation before the cancer develops in the organ).

To treat the Perkins family, Chen removed the thyroids of all three children in addition to Kiala’s parathyroid. They will have to take medications for the rest of their lives to make up the hormones their body loses after removing the thyroid glands.

It is a small sacrifice to prevent a larger problem.

“We were fortunate to treat the Perkins family while their cancers were very, very small,” Chen said.

Wade said finding out a loved one has cancer is always scary, let alone three of her children. However, she knew her family would be in the best of care with Chen and Nurse Practitioner Kelly Lovell.

“For me, this was a trying process,” Wade said. “When your kids have surgery, you never know what’s going to happen. I just didn’t know what was going to happen. I didn’t want to tell them I was nervous, so I had my moments alone, and I just kept praying. My mind was all over the place, but now they are doing well. They’re on top of their game.”

Chen agreed the siblings have a bright future ahead.

Kevin, a senior in high school, plans to study engineering in college, while Kiala and Keaira want to become an actress and a doctor, respectively.

Wade said she hopes her family’s story will help others seek genetic testing, so doctors can prevent more cases of thyroid cancer from developing.

Chen, who also serves as a senior scientist with the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB, echoed her wishes.

“We’re taking a cancer that could cause harm and completely removing it before it starts,” he said. “That’s why it is so important that people hear about this condition.”

If you would like to learn more about this rare genetic condition, the UAB Endocrine/Neuroendocrine Neoplasia Program of the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Department of Surgery in conjunction with AMENSupport Foundation will host a multiple endocrine neoplasia patient conference Saturday, Nov. 16.

For more information, visit the Department of Surgery’s website.

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s UAB News website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

16 hours ago

Alabama couple grow produce delivery service from the ground up

With summer in full swing, it’s the prime season for fresh fruits and vegetables. But who wants to get up at dawn on Saturday morning to make the trip to the local farmers market to buy produce?

That’s no longer necessary in the Birmingham area. In April, Will and Hayley DeShazo launched till, the city’s first-ever service that delivers produce fresh from the farm directly to your doorstep.

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The DeShazos said their idea for an online market grew out of “selfish motives.” While they were dating, they loved to cook together and eat locally grown, healthy foods, but getting to the market became a hassle.

“We love fresh produce, but we don’t necessarily love the challenges of getting fresh produce,” Will said. “We had been spending every Saturday for the past several years at the farmers market, but it was always difficult to work our schedules around it. In January, we were having brunch, and we looked at each other and said, ‘Why is buying local food so difficult?’”

Now married, Will and Hayley began their search for a better way.

The Cahaba Heights couple have a background in marketing. Will also had learned a lot about the use of local ingredients while working as a waiter’s assistant after college at Hot and Hot Fish Club, one of Birmingham’s most exclusive restaurants.

Till will shop Alabama farmers markets for you from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

With experience guiding them, the DeShazos began using Facebook and email to canvass people who enjoy eating healthy foods and to develop partnerships with local farmers. The response was overwhelming.

“We found that people not only wanted something like till in the Birmingham area, they needed it,” Hayley said. “There are stories of people who literally don’t have transportation to the farmers market, or who are disabled and can’t drive a vehicle to the market. There are people who work on Saturday mornings and can’t get to the market. We found everybody wants it, so we decided we’re doing it.”

Till offers a wide selection of produce, including fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs, along with meats and pantry items, such as breads and baked goods.

The selection of available products is ever-changing, depending on the season, Will said.

“We update our website regularly,” he said. “We don’t want people to think they can only eat local in June, July or August. That’s so not true. Some of the best fruits and vegetables are found in the wintertime.”

Customers can order online for $12 a month or $99 a year. The delivery service is currently available to 10 Birmingham-area ZIP codes.

Free pickup is also available at the DeShazos’ drive-through location next to Doodles Italian ice in Cahaba Heights.

Ordering produce is easy. Customers can order online anytime between Sunday and Wednesday. When they sign up for the service, customers will receive an insulated bag, which they will fill with ice packs and leave on their porch on delivery days. On Saturday mornings, the till team delivers the goods and notifies you when they have arrived.

“Till is a metaphor for all of the options that the food industry in America gives us,” Hayley noted, explaining the premise behind the business’s colorful name. “We’ve been accustomed to getting the food we want, when we want it, without knowing where it comes from or what nutrients it has in it. Till is a metaphor for searching for all the options that are in the ground right beneath you, which is locally sourced food.”

Hayley added that spreading the word about the importance of eating nutritious food is a large part of the job.

“Teaching people to eat seasonally and change their lifestyle can be a challenge,” Hayley said. “We are used to having a wide variety of items available at the grocery store. But we have to realize that processed foods are lacking in nutrients and have been treated with pesticides that can cause health issues. But when you sacrifice these items and choose local produce, your life is changed.”

Realizing that thousands of Alabamians are going hungry every day, Will and Hayley are also giving back through their farm-to-door delivery service. They are donating a portion of the local produce to Grace Klein Community, a nonprofit that provides food to those in need. Customers can donate to Grace Klein directly through the till website.

The DeShazos said their favorite part of the business has been meeting their customers – many of whom have become friends.

“It’s fun starting at the grassroots level and getting to know our customers,” Will said. “We know that food is the one thing that connects everyone. Some of our best moments as families have been eating food around the table. Getting to know our customers while we’re still small is allowing us to create, pivot and tweak our service based upon our till members’ needs.”

Hayley said although Will is the entrepreneur in the family, she is thrilled that they took the plunge.

“I’ve never considered myself a risk-taker and probably would not have started the business without Will,” Hayley said. “But I’ve always been super-passionate about local produce and supporting Alabama farmers. Alabama is an amazing place, and you can grow amazing foods in Alabama because of our soil. I’m proud of the resources we have in our state, and I’m proud of our farmers and want to help people learn about the foods available to them.”

To learn more about till or sign up for the delivery service, click https://usetill.com. Along with ordering food, customers can check out the DeShazos’ recipe blog, which offers tasty ways to turn local produce into memorable dishes.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

19 hours ago

University of Alabama named top college football program of last 150 years; Auburn no. 20

The University of Alabama has been ranked as the best college football program over the last 150 years, with Auburn University also representing the Yellowhammer State well.

A report by ESPN’s Stats & Information Group used a formula based on the number of national championships, the winning percentage for the best 50 seasons in program history and the winning percentage over the past 150 years, with the most recent 50-year block being weighted heaviest, followed by 1919-1968 and then 1869-1918 coming in as holding the least weight.

Additional adjustments were made to account for discrepancies across divisions and eras, such as national championships below the FBS level counting at 50%, national championships before the poll era (1936) counting at 50% and winning percentages when a team was not in Division I being reduced by 10%.

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Using ESPN’s formula, the University of Alabama was awarded a 74.9 rating.

ESPN outlined, “The Crimson Tide’s history is a panorama of strength and longevity: From Wallace Wade in 1925 to Nick Saban five times in the past decade, four coaches have won a national championship. Seven have won an SEC title. Twelve have at least one 10-win season. Everyone wins there — except Ears Whitworth (4-24-2, 1955-57). But Bama fans even love him. Without Ears, Bear Bryant wouldn’t have heard Mama call.”

The University of Notre Dame was ranked second with a 72.9 rating, followed by Ohio State at 69.6, the University of Oklahoma at 68.5 and the University of Southern California (USC) at 67.25.

Auburn also received a high ranking, coming in at 20th best with a 56.82 rating.

The only current SEC schools ranked above Auburn, besides the Tide, were the University of Tennessee and Louisiana State University (LSU) at numbers 14 and 15 respectively.

ESPN wrote, “What’s it like to live in the shadow of the most successful program in the history of college football? Why, it’s pretty successful, thanks for asking, and War Eagle. The Tigers won national titles in 1957 and 2010, and stopped Alabama from playing for national titles with momentous upsets in 1972, 1989 and 2013 — and a true Tiger fan would have a hard time telling you which was more enjoyable. Auburn became a more successful program in the last generation, when the Tigers began playing home games on campus instead of in Birmingham, two hours away. The Tigers waited more than a century for a true home-field advantage.”

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