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2 years ago

POWER & INFLUENCE 50: Alabama’s most powerful & influential business leaders

The Yellowhammer Power & Influence 50 is an annual list of the 50 most powerful and influential players in Alabama politics and business — the men and women who shape the state.

This year’s list is being released in three segments: Government officials and politicians, lobbyists and consultants, and today’s segment, business leaders.

Don’t miss Yellowhammer’s 2nd Annual Power of Service reception honoring the men and women on the Power & Influence 50 list who leverage their stature to make a positive impact on the state. The event is set to take place Friday, May 13th at the Grand Bohemian Hotel in Mountain Brook. Last year’s event attracted a who’s who of Alabama politics and business, including the Governor, Lt. Governor, Speaker of the House, Pro Tem of the Senate, numerous members of Congress, dozens of state legislators and many of the state’s top executives, lobbyists, opinion leaders and political activists. For more information on the event click here and to purchase tickets click here.

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Rick Burgess, nationally syndicated talk radio host, Rick & Bubba Show

As the only media personality on the Power & Influence 50, Burgess is a unique fit among the state’s business elite. He and his co-host, Bill “Bubba” Bussey, have built a radio empire that gives them an unmatched platform to entertain listeners across Alabama and beyond, as well as advance their Christian, conservative worldview and political agenda.

Burgess represents the duo on the Power & Influence list because he has shown a greater willingness to throw his weight behind political candidates in recent years, most notably Congressman Gary Palmer, whom Burgess helped propel into office with a giant wave of ads featuring his endorsement. He has also become one of the state’s most outspoken opponents of gambling expansions of any kind.

Candidates will be lining up to garner Burgess’s backing in the years to come, but he’s already proven to be very picky when it comes to supporting politicians. That makes his endorsement even more valuable.

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Mark Crosswhite, CEO, Alabama Power Company

Crosswhite is now two years into his tenure atop the Power Company and continues to impress with his exacting approach to both internal company operations and governmental affairs.

APCO’s operation is so vast that almost every state policy has the potential to affect their business in some way. For that reason, the company has been an active player for decades in every nook and cranny of state government — from the county and municipal levels up to the legislative and executive branches.

Crosswhite served as Alabama Power’s Executive Vice President of External Affairs for almost three years; then became CEO and President of Gulf Power, another Southern Company subsidiary. He was then Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President of Southern Company from mid-2012 until March of 2014 when he became CEO of Alabama Power at the age of 50.

With seemingly limitless resources, Crosswhite and Alabama Power wield influence on a level that most others — including many on this list — can only dream of.

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Garry Neil Drummond, CEO, Drummond Coal

The Drummond family built a multinational coal juggernaut off of a $300 loan from Walker County Bank in Jasper, Alabama, using three mules as collateral on the note.

As the third generation CEO (he took over the company in 1961 and spurred it on to previously unfathomable heights), Mr. Drummond has endured the Obama administration’s wrath to an extent that few Americans can even imagine.

No other industry in America has been the target of such fierce opposition from the government, but Drummond has thrived by diversifying his company’s holdings and continuing to run one of the most efficient mining operations in the world.

Forbes ranks him as Alabama’s wealthiest individual, which means he is one of the few Alabama businessmen who routinely gets courted by national politicians. Presidential candidates have been known to carve out chunks of entire days to try to get on Mr. Drummond’s calendar for a meeting.

For most businessmen it works the other way around. Drummond’s in a league of his own in the Yellowhammer State. He doesn’t just work for a giant company — he is a giant company.

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Joe Espy, President, Melton Espy & Williams PC

Espy is the preeminent criminal defense attorney in Alabama and the first call when almost any top tier political figure needs legal counsel. When it comes to needing the type of representation Espy provides, there are no party lines. He has represented Democrats and Republicans alike. He currently reps the governor, which means he will likely be omnipresent in political circles for the foreseeable future.

On top of his highly successful law practice, Espy is also a University of Alabama Trustee, placing him in rarified air among the state’s business elite.

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Grayson Hall, CEO, Regions Bank

Hall has banking in his bloodstream. There was little doubt where he was headed after earning his MBA at the University of Alabama and later graduating from the Stonier School of Banking. He has been working his way up since then and now helms the largest publicly traded company in Alabama.

He is a fierce believer in the concept of “shared value,” which is essentially the idea that all company initiatives should create value in some way for its customers, employees, shareholders and communities. That approach has earned Regions the best reputation among banks nationally, up from No. 19 just a few years ago.

In addition to his enviable position atop Regions, Hall also serves on a handful of other influential boards of directors, including Alabama Power’s.

Every ambitious politician from Alabama or passing through the state — from members of Congress to presidential candidates — has Hall on their call list.

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Johnny Johns, Chairman, President and CEO, Protective Life Corporation

The soft-spoken CEO of Protective Life Corporation has an unrivaled rolodex and intense desire to leave the state of Alabama better than he found it. Under Johns’ leadership, Protective has been a philanthropic powerhouse in the Birmingham community. After merging with Tokyo-based Dai-ichi Life Insurance Co. last year, the newly combined companies donated a stunning $4.1 million toward initiatives that will impact medical research, education and culture in Alabama for many years to come. This year the company donated $500,000 toward to the UAB Athletic Foundation’s $15 million goal for a proposed Football Operations Building.

Johns is on numerous influential boards of directors, including Regions Financial Corporation, Southern Company and the University of Alabama System.

His influence on Alabama’s political landscape extends back to the mid-90s when he and a group of powerful businessmen put together a successful effort to flip Alabama’s courts — which had become known as “tort hell” — to Republican control. He was also a major contributor to the 2010 effort to end 136 years of Democratic control in the Alabama legislature.

Johns is one of the first calls for any aspiring statewide candidate.

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Terry Kellogg, CEO, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama

Kellogg has spent three decades with BCBS, rising up through the ranks to become the company’s CEO in 2010. He has earned a reputation for being brilliant and not scared to tell it like it is. BCBS of Alabama maintains the largest market share of any health insurer in the country.

Under Kellogg’s leadership, BCBS has been one of the most politically active companies in Alabama, maintaining a strong presence at the Statehouse and actively engaging in a wide variety of policy issues. He has guided the company well through the tumultuous implementation of ObamaCare.

Kellogg told the Birmingham Business Journal last year that his leadership style is inspired by Dwight Eisenhower.

“Eisenhower was on the ground everywhere,” he said, “present all the time and accessible.”

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Thomas M. “Tommy” Lee

Lee is president and CEO of Vulcan, Inc., an aluminum manufacturer based in Foley, and he’s got over four decades of south Alabama business and political connections at his disposal. He is a former Chairman of the South Baldwin Chamber of Commerce and a past winner of the Walton M. Vines Free Enterprise Person of the Year.

He is making his first ever appearance on the Power & Influence 50 this year due in large part to his ascendance to the chairmanship of the Business Council of Alabama, a powerful voice representing the statewide business community’s interests before state government.

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John McMahon, Chairman, Ligon Industries

McMahon is the kind of industrialist who would fit right in in the pages of an Ayn Rand novel — a legendary investor in the Alabama business community whose holdings span diverse industries and dot the U.S. map. He is also on numerous influential boards of directors, including Protective Life Insurance Corporation, ProAssurance Corporation, National Bank of Commerce, Cooper/T. Smith Corporation and UAB Health Systems.

He keeps his head down and avoids the spotlights, but anyone in the know understands just how influential he has been and continues to be in Alabama politics. He was a key player in the business community’s revolt against “tort hell” in the mid-90s, a movement whose impact continues to ripple across Alabama’s economic landscape. Since then he has been a powerful ally for numerous powerful politicians, including state legislators, members of congress and presidential candidates.

When McMahon calls, everyone answers.

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Claude B. Nielsen, CEO, Coca-Cola Bottling Company UNITED, Inc.

Claude Nielsen joined Coca-Cola Bottling Company UNITED, Inc. in 1979 and has been the company’s CEO since 1991. Under his direction, Coca-Cola UNITED has become the largest privately held Coca-Cola Bottler in the United States and is the 7th largest privately held company in Alabama.

He flexed his muscle politically last year by personally making calls to lawmakers in an effort kill a proposed soda tax increase. One legislator who was on the fence about the issue told Yellowhammer, “Once he called, I was a ‘no,’ end of discussion.”

That’s the level of influence that has propelled Nielsen onto this year’s Power & Influence 50.

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Craft O’Neal, Chairman and CEO, O’Neal Industries

O’Neal runs Birmingham’s second largest private company, a $2.5 billion per year juggernaut that employs roughly 370 people in the Magic City alone.

The O’Neal name is golden in Alabama business circles. His grandfather founded O’Neal Steel, which is now O’Neal Industries, and his father ran the company for many years as the younger O’Neal worked his way up and ultimately succeeded him as chairman and CEO.

O’Neal flexed his muscle this past year by helping pull together a group of Birmingham heavyweights to resurrect UAB football. With O’Neal playing a key role, the group navigated a labyrinth of political challenges and ultimately succeeded, a result that could have a profound impact on the Birmingham community for decades to come.

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Jimmy Parnell, President, CEO and Chairman, Alfa

Simply put: Parnell is a great American.

He was driving a tractor when he was five and managing his family farm’s payroll by age 12. His subsequent success in private business (he’s a partner in his family’s beef cattle farm and timber business) and deep farming background (he’s a fifth generation farmer) prepared him for his current role as CEO of Alfa, an organization whose agriculture and insurance interests make them one of the top players in Alabama’s economic and political landscape.

There isn’t an organization in the state that can touch Alfa’s grassroots capabilities. When their members get engaged on an issue or back a candidate, it matters. Their governmental affairs team is one of the largest and most active on Goat Hill.

It is hard to believe there was a time prior to Parnell’s tenure when Alfa was behind the curve in adjusting to Republican control after the 2010 election cycle. With Parnell at the helm, they’re not behind the curve on anything — ever.

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Jimmy Rane, CEO, Great Southern Wood Preserving Incorporated

Alabama’s preeminent entrepreneur built a multinational lumber empire from the tiny town of Abbeville, then devoted his resources to sustaining and developing his hometown’s economy and culture. As a result he is beloved by the local community and revered by his employees.

Rane, who is commonly known as the “Yella Fella” after portraying that character in popular Yellawood TV commercials, now owns and runs the largest lumber treatment company on the planet.

Politically, Rane has long been one of the Republican Party’s most influential supporters, even while Democrats held total sway over the state. He was a major financial backer of the GOP’s successful effort to takeover the legislature in 2010, and remains a close ally of legislative leadership.

He is the most influential member of the Auburn University board of trustees, currently serving as president pro tem.

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Britt Sexton, CEO, Sexton Inc.

Anyone who can position himself as a vocal leader on the University of Alabama Board of Trustees must have some serious juice. Behind the scenes, Sexton has been a major part of waking the sleeping political giant that is the UA System.

He is one of the state’s most successful investors, with business interests ranging from financial services and private equity to software and real estate.

His financial resources have allowed him to become one of north Alabama’s most significant philanthropists.

And when it comes to politics, any ambitious politician would do well to try to enter his orbit, because while many other power players of his stature are in the twilight of their careers, Sexton has decades ahead of him.

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Gary Smith, President & CEO, PowerSouth

Smith has really shepherded a new era at PowerSouth. The company has gone from a small co-op at odds with the state’s largest utility, to a major statewide player in economic development and energy policy and a partner with Alabama Power.

Their influence will continue to grow in the political space with the founding of the The Energy Institute of Alabama, an advocacy group aimed at promoting the state’s energy sector that is being chaired by PowerSouth VP Seth Hammett.

Smith has put together a good team with a mix of veterans and young talent. This is his first year on the Power & Influence 50. Expect him and his company to continue to rise in the years to come.

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Zeke Smith, Executive Vice President of External Affairs, Alabama Power Company

There has been a lot of internal shuffling at Alabama Power in recent months, which has actually allowed Smith — a longtime member of the Power & Influence 50 — to consolidate power with regard to the company’s enormous external affairs operation.

He has drawn rave reviews for his leadership on the Alabama Workforce Council, an organization that is leading the effort to redesign the state’s workforce development initiatives and prepare the next generation to compete in the global marketplace. Smith was personally tapped by the governor to spearhead the group, just one example of his stature in the upper echelons of Alabama’s political and business structure.

He is one of the few individuals whose political network and influence is felt in both Montgomery and Washington. Whether you’re a freshman state legislator or a long-time United States senator, you want Smith in your corner.

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Finis St. John, IV, Attorney

“Fess,” as he is known, is perhaps the most influential member of the University of Alabama Board of Trustees and currently serves as the System’s Athletic Chair. He has been a fierce proponent of the UA System’s multi-campus setup. Most recently he has been the driving force behind the UA System getting more involved in federal and state governmental affairs, an initiative that could change the state’s political landscape in profound ways.

St. John’s family has a long history in Alabama politics. His father served as president pro tem of the senate in the late 1970s.

Today he and his wife run a highly successful law firm in Cullman. They are the only husband-wife pair who are members of the American College of Trial Lawyers, which is a big deal in the legal community.

St. John is Chairman of the Board of Directors for Southern Community Bankshares and First Community Bank and also is Chairman of the Board of Directors and co-founder of Cullman Environmental.

He has carved out an influential space for himself, in spite of not being based in the traditional power centers of Birmingham or Montgomery.

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Lee Styslinger, III, CEO, Altec Inc.

From Birmingham, Styslinger runs an electric and telecommunications equipment manufacturer whose products can be found getting work done in over 100 countries.

His political influence, similar to his business interests, expands outside of Alabama. He is among the first Alabamians any aspiring Republican presidential candidate will try to get on the phone. When Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney came to Alabama, Styslinger was their guy. When Jeb Bush sought an Alabamian to activate his giant fundraising base in the state, Styslinger is the man he tapped to do it.

He is a member of the extremely powerful Business Roundtable, a group of CEOs of major U.S. corporations, and of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Perhaps most impressively in sports crazed Alabama, Styslinger is a member of the Augusta National Golf Club and part of the Masters Tournament Committee.

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Mike Thompson, CEO, Thompson Tractor

When it comes to infrastructure projects in the state of Alabama, few people are as engaged as Thompson, whose machines have helped build an unfathomable number of miles of highway in the Yellowhammer State.

He was one of the key financial backers of the Republican takeover of the state legislature in 2010, and on the national level he is a coveted “bundler” for presidential candidates, most notably the Bushes.

Thompson has been known to call state lawmakers into his office to personally persuade them to support legislation he cares about. They usually get on board quickly.

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Dr. Robert Witt, Chancellor, University of Alabama System

The UA System is Alabama’s largest employer and the umbrella organization for the state’s most iconic institution. That alone would make Witt one of the most influential individuals in the state, but in the same way he executed an unprecedented growth strategy in his previous post as president of the System’s flagship university, he is now taking the System’s political influence to new heights as well.

With the teachers union crippled, Witt and his allies on the UA Board saw an opportunity to fill the power vacuum with an advocacy group focused on education outcomes, rather than just teacher benefits. Witt now chairs Alabama Unites for Education, and is building out a multi-pronged political operation that includes lobbying, grassroots advocacy and candidate recruitment and support.

Witt is one of the few individuals whose influences touches all of Alabama’s “big three” — politics, business and sports.

2 hours ago

Rep. Gary Palmer warns Brett Kavanaugh brouhaha threatens America’s ‘experiment in self-government’ — ‘I think this is going to have consequences for the Democrats’

On Friday’s broadcast of Alabama Public Television’s “Capitol Journal,” Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Hoover) expressed his skepticism over the sincerity of Senate Democrats regarding the sexual misconduct allegations aimed at U.S. Supreme Court associate justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Palmer warned that weaponizing a “scandal” in these situations may impact the country’s ability to self-govern.

“It looks to me like since the Democrats had this information as early as July, or maybe earlier than that, and they didn’t bring it forward — this was intended to derail the confirmation, not to do justice for an individual who claims to have been harmed,” he said. “And the thing that really concerns me about all of this, regardless of what side of the aisle you’re on, is how this impacts our ability to continue this experiment in self-government because when you weaponize scandal as a political weapon  — it’s very destructive to the process, not just the individuals involved, but the entire process.”

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He added that ultimately, this could backfire on Democrats.

“I think this is going to have consequences for the Democrats,” Palmer added. “At some point, you can cry wolf too many times. And again, I think this is dangerous for people that have been harmed. It will get to the point where it’s just another claim. And at the same time, you’ve got Keith Ellison, who I serve with in the House, who has a claim against him by a woman who is being totally dismissed by the left, even though there’s more evidence there. There’s text messages, documentation from her doctor — you see where this is heading? I’m very concerned for our country and what we’re doing to ourselves. I think it has dire consequences down the road.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and is the editor of Breitbart TV.

4 hours ago

Rep. Martha Roby: Tax reform 2.0 gains momentum

Less than a year ago, Congress passed and the President signed into law the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to simplify our complicated tax code and lower rates for all Americans. Thanks to tax reform and other pro-growth policies, our economy is booming. You don’t just have to take my word for it – here are some numbers from the month of August:

–U.S. employers added more than 200,000 jobs as wages increased at the fastest year-on-year pace since June of 2009.

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–Unemployment claims reached a 49-year low. The last time jobless claims fell to this point, it was December of 1969.

–Small business optimism hit a new record high.

–The number of individuals employed part-time who would prefer full-time work but could not find it has fallen to the lowest level since before the 2008-2009 recession.

–U.S. manufacturing grew at the fastest pace since May of 2004.

These numbers all serve as proof that the American people are better off now than they were just two years ago. I am eager to see this strong momentum continue, and I am glad to report that we aren’t slowing down our efforts to foster economic growth right here in the United States. Recently, the House Ways and Means Committee passed Tax Reform 2.0, a series of bills that would modify and build upon the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

The first bill in the series, H.R. 6760, the Protecting Family and Small Business Tax Cuts Act of 2018, would put in place several changes to the individual income tax rate. Since the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act provisions are set to expire at the end of 2025, perhaps the most important changes H.R. 6760 would implement are making the tax rate changes and the Child Tax Credit permanent.

According to a Tax Foundation study, making these individual income tax changes from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act permanent would increase long-term Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2.2 percent and create 1.5 million new full-time equivalent jobs.

The second bill in the series, H.R. 6757, the Family Savings Act of 2018, includes a number of important reforms to retirement accounts. For example, individuals would be able to contribute up to $2,500 into a savings account annually, and any withdrawals would be tax free.

The third bill in the series, H.R. 6756, the American Innovation Act of 2018, would allow businesses to deduct their start-up costs. Businesses could either deduct the lesser of their start-up expenses, or for firms with more than $120,000 in expenses, deduct a flat amount of $20,000.

Our tax reform overhaul provides much needed relief to American families, creates jobs here in the United States, grows our economy, and allows hardworking taxpayers to keep more of their own money in their pocket. We now have a unique opportunity to continue delivering on our promise to give the American people more of the results they deserve.

Committee passage of Tax Reform 2.0 is just the first step in the legislative process to make parts of our tax overhaul permanent. I will continue to listen to the people I represent in Alabama’s Second District and work alongside my colleagues in Congress to improve this package of legislation as we move towards advancing these pro-growth policies to the House floor for a vote.

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby is a Republican from Montgomery.

5 hours ago

What you need to know about Alabama proposed constitutional amendments 3 & 4

On November 6, Alabamians will vote on four proposed statewide constitutional amendments. Although the first two amendments will likely receive the most attention (API’s analyses can be found on our website), amendments three and four deserve notice as well. They are, in fact, changes to the longest known constitution in the world.

We’ll start with Proposed Amendment Three, which addresses the University of Alabama’s Board of Trustees.

Currently, the Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama System – which governs UAB and UAH in addition to the Tuscaloosa campus – is composed of three members from the seventh congressional district (which includes Tuscaloosa), two members from each of the other six congressional districts, the governor and the state superintendent of education.

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If approved, this amendment would require that the Board continue to be made up of members of congressional districts as drawn on January 1, 2018. This means that, in the case that Alabama gains or, more likely, loses a congressional seat in 2020, the makeup of the board of trustees would not be affected nor thrown into disarray.

Additional stipulations include the removal of the state superintendent of education from automatic membership on the board and of the requirement that board members retire after their 70th birthday.

It is worth mentioning that the bill allowing this University of Alabama-specific amendment passed unanimously in both the State House and Senate.

Amendment Four, in contrast, will have a significantly wider impact if approved.

This amendment addresses something Alabamians have been hearing about for a while now–special elections. It is important to note on the front end, however, that it does not address special elections for the U.S. Congress like that of 2017. Instead, it impacts vacancies in the state legislature.

If accepted, legislative vacancies that occur on or after October 1 of the third year of a quadrennium (in other words, seats that become open only months before the final session of the legislature’s four-year term) would remain vacant until the next general election.

Currently, the governor is required to schedule a special election when state legislative vacancies occur. These elections cost the state money, create voter fatigue, and according to Senator Glover, the amendment’s sponsor, are “just bad government.”

In an interview with API, Senator Glover described one case where, thanks to a late special election, a legislator was sworn in on the last day of session. Cases like these, where relatively powerless legislators are added to the state payroll, will not occur if the amendment is approved.

The main purpose, according to Glover, is to “save some money and confusion.” He estimates that, if this language had been on the books earlier, the state would’ve saved “just under a million dollars” in 2018 alone. For example, this amendment would prohibit what will, come November, be four separate elections for Alabama’s 26 Senate seat in less than a year.

Additionally, the amendment received unanimous support when it passed the Senate and overwhelming support in the House earlier this year.

Although these two amendments are not as polarizing as amendments one and two, both are attempts to make the state better, and they should not be ignored.

Parker Snider is Manager of Policy Relations for the Alabama Policy Institute, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to strengthening free enterprise, defending limited government, and championing strong families.

6 hours ago

Alabama SoS John Merrill: ACLU of Alabama lawsuit for Twitter blocking ‘a publicity stunt’

In an interview that aired on Friday’s episode of Alabama Public Television’s “Capitol Journal,” Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill elaborated on his response to a lawsuit filed on behalf of blocked Twitter users by ACLU of Alabama, which he initially called a “political hack job.”

Merrill told “Capitol Journal” host Don Dailey given that the suit has not been delivered to him or his office, it was a “publicity stunt.”

“Frankly, I still haven’t seen the lawsuit, which tells me that this is a publicity stunt,” he said. “There’s no lawsuit that’s been delivered to the office of the Secretary of State, and that’s been presented to me personally. I first learned of this from the media.”

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Merrill explained the distinction between his personal Twitter account and the one that was established by his office.

“I use my Twitter account because it’s my personal account,” he added. “Now we have an office account ‘@alasecofstate’ … no one has ever been blocked from that. People can follow that at will if they choose to. My personal account, ‘@JohnHMerrill’ not only covers the things I do as your secretary of state but also all the personal things that I do.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and is the editor of Breitbart TV.

8 hours ago

Surrogate chooses life: Alabama woman saves unborn child

In Matthew 22, we are painted a vivid picture of Jesus being cornered by the Pharisees and the Herodians.

Maybe you remember He was asked if it is right to pay taxes to Caesar. This was a well-crafted plan on the part of the Pharisees, not only in asking the question but also in bringing along the Herodians, a group who possessed a fierce loyalty to Rome and its god Caesar.

If He says “no, it isn’t right,” He risks being arrested (at least) and thrown into jail for what amounts to treason. If He says “yes, it is right,” He would basically be admitting Caesar’s “deity” and undermining all of Jewish teaching. He would then be reprimanded by Jewish authorities.

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It was a no-win situation as far as the Pharisees were concerned. I’m sure they were licking their chops in anticipation of Jesus’ impending downfall.

And so, we have Jesus posed with the question of if it is right to pay taxes to Caesar. It is a question I so desperately wish he would have answered differently. If he had, I could be both holy and rebellious come every April.

Of course, He answered it with wisdom and grace, first asking for a coin and to be told whose inscription is on it. He is told it is an image of Caesar. He then replies with the famous line, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” I wonder if someone in that moment thought about asking, “What exactly is God’s?”

Jesus would have then answered, “Whose image is on you?”

What does it mean that we have been created in the Imago Dei – the image of God?

A recent story here in our very own state has driven this point home to me.

Haven Kincaid is a delightful, 26-year-old wife and mother of two (mother of one, prior to this story). She has a passionate heart for troubled youth whom she works with on a daily basis. Her family history is incredible, worthy of a whole separate article, honestly.

Suffice it to say, they are all an extremely close-knit group.

Drawing from the compassion in her heart and the history of her mother having had much difficulty in bearing children, she felt led to become a surrogate mother. One year ago, she came into contact with a foreign couple who could not bear children.

Haven’s heart broke for them, so she agreed to become a surrogate mother for their first child. After the initial testing and implantation, she was pregnant by December of 2017.

Haven and her husband, James, stayed in contact regularly with the couple. Conversations were rooted in anticipation.

“What will you name the baby if it’s a boy or a girl?”

“How will you decorate the nursery?”

“Who’ll get up to feed in the middle of the night?”

The positive energy of this international agreement was palpable between the two families. What’s more, the couple had only two viable embryos to use; excitement was abound when the first took with such ease.

There were no complications, and the donor couple was footing the bill for the whole process. Literally all they needed was a willing heart and a “hospitable” womb; they would take care of the rest.

What they received in Haven ended up being much more than they asked for and definitely more than they expected.  Little did they know, and by the grace of God, Haven is a woman of incredible character and impeccable moral fortitude.

There are times in life when you are presented with a shock. Maybe you come home to find your dog has eaten the meat that was left to thaw (this has never happened at the Hodges home).  Just as there are light-hearted surprises, however, you’ll agree there are just as many instances of horrific revelation. The death of loved one; a terminal diagnosis; a sudden car accident; all are evidence we live in a broken world.

This broken world, though, is under the sovereign rule of God, in whose image we are created. The one true and loving God chooses to use these instances of shock and awe to draw us closer to Him.

When the baby was at 10 weeks’ gestation, Haven and the donor couple decided to have her (Haven) undergo genetic testing (a non-invasive prenatal test called Panorama, taken as a sample from the mother’s blood) in order to get an early glimpse of the baby’s gender and to screen for any genetic abnormalities.

“When I found out the results,” Haven remembers. “I immediately knew the couple would not be accepting of this. Something told me they would push back.”

Haven’s blood sample yielded results strongly indicative of a baby girl with Trisomy 21 – Down Syndrome.

Haven admits she had a heightened level of anxiety due to this. However, it was not the diagnosis unsettling her nerves; she knew in her heart the donor couple would see this as something gone wrong.

Her mind quickly turned to the surrogacy contract signed in the beginning which had an abortion clause. She and James, believing abortion is wrong, were assured this clause was rarely (if ever) enacted; this was basically just a formality of a standard contract reaffirming whose “property” the developing baby was.

In other words, it’s up to the donating couple what is and isn’t done while their baby is in utero. They signed the surrogacy contract with the advice that “the abortion clause is just a formality; it never happens.”

Months later, she learned not only do these things indeed happen, but also her initial fears of the donor couple were spot on. The donor couple suddenly ceased all communication with Haven and James, save for one request: abort the pregnancy and retry for a “normal” baby.

Like I said, sometimes in life you are presented with a shock.

Haven was dismayed, appalled, heartbroken.

Retry for a normal baby…what does that even mean?!” she thought.

Were they suggesting that a baby with Down Syndrome is something less than human?

Were they affirming their belief that this chromosomal abnormality would yield a child unfit and unworthy of life?

Haven’s mind raced with thoughts of what trouble was ahead. There was never a doubt in her mind as to what she should do. She knew when she made her choice to do what was right, though, all hell would break loose.

She felt maybe–just maybe–if she gave the couple some time to cool off and adjust to the news they would change their minds. To buy some time, she offered the compromise of waiting a few more weeks for an official amniocentesis to be performed.

After all, tests are just tests, they can be wrong. Who knows? Maybe this test was wrong and the amniocentesis would show no evidence of a genetic abnormality.

The donor couple agreed. At about sixteen weeks, Haven underwent an official amniocentesis.

It strongly confirmed the results of the initial Panorama testing.

At that moment, Haven and James knew the world would be blessed with a precious and perfect baby girl with Down Syndrome. They knew what they had to do; they knew the life of a precious image-bearer of God was hanging in the balance.

Through the support of her physician and her lawyer, Haven communicated to the donor couple she would indeed not be having an abortion. In fact, not only was she going to deliver the baby but she and James also decided to adopt the child into their own family.

“No, please don’t do that,” said the donor couple. “We couldn’t bear to know that our child was out there somewhere in the world suffering.”

Suffering? Haven was astounded at their outright foolish line of reasoning; Down Syndrome hardly amounts to what is considered “suffering.”  At this point, the cards were on the table: the donors would rather kill the child than allow it to be born with Down Syndrome.

Clearly, their worldview allows them to play the role of God in their own lives, and that’s exactly what they were doing. They were deciding who is worthy and unworthy of life.

In other words, they were acting as judge, jury, and executioner.

Word came back to Haven the couple would be hiring a legal team to fight this breach of contract. They were planning on coming to Alabama to fight Haven’s decision. At this point, Haven’s baby girl was at approximately sixteen weeks gestation.

Fear set in at the Kincaid household.  Would they force her to get an abortion? At this point, she knew Alabama’s law held that abortion is legal up until 20 weeks; she had four weeks to stall the legal process as much as possible.

If she carried to full term, would she have to sign over parental rights to parents who truly wanted the baby to be dead? The questions piled higher and higher. Then, a glimmer of light appeared.

It is no secret that Alabama’s laws are a bit antiquated in some ways. In this instance, however, it played to Haven’s good fortune. Under Alabama law, any child born to a woman and her husband is legally that couple’s child.

At last, a moment of hope in an otherwise dark situation, as this overruled the conditions of the international surrogacy contract.

Through a complicated process of arbitration, middle ground was achieved without the donor couple setting foot inside the U.S.

Haven and James would indeed adopt the child and a no-contact agreement would be signed. There would be no communication between the two parties for any reason whatsoever.

However, the donor couple would pull all funding, past and present, for the pregnancy and delivery. At this point, Haven and James were responsible for all medical expenses starting with the beginning of the pregnancy. This would include the implantation, ultrasounds, blood testing, physician expenses, etc.

Haven and James reasoned this was a small price (literally thousands of dollars) to pay considering the victory that was just accomplished. Obviously, the life of this amazing child was, and continues to be, worth much more than that to the Kincaid family. Obviously, the life of this amazing child was worth nothing other than death to the donor couple.

And so, with tears in my eyes and joy in my heart, it is my distinct honor and pleasure to announce that Scottsboro is home to a precious image-bearer of God – Nadia Lucille Jean Kincaid. She has a small congenital heart defect common for Trisomy 21, but she is otherwise a normal, healthy baby girl.

As you read this, have you ever wondered what makes your life valuable?

God has revealed to us from the beginning of time we are made in His image. That is where our inherent value rests. That is why even the most ardent atheist will be saddened at the loss of a loved one; that is why we all watched in horror when the Twin Towers fell seventeen years ago.

When human life is lost, regardless of age, we mourn the loss of an innately valuable person who bears the image of God. Humankind, above all other earthly life, has intrinsic value and worth. This cannot be given to, or taken away from, us by the government or by the fleeting desires of popular culture; this inalienable truth is literally woven into our very being.

Nadia’s story is evidence that all human life is valuable, whether at nine weeks or ninety-nine years it is worth fighting for. Babies are not mistakes; babies are blessings. Nadia is an incredible blessing, and so is Haven.

We are blessed to have them as a part of our community.

If you’d like to donate to Haven and James in order to help with their medical costs, please visit www.gofundme.com and search for “Surrogate Chooses Life.”

Born and raised in Scottsboro, Dr. Andrew Hodges is a local internist who enjoys reading, writing and running. When not at the office or on a run, you can find him on the water with his wife, Sarah, and two boys, Carter and Miles.

(Courtesy of JC Sentinel)