7 months ago

Report: Washington, D.C.-based Club for Growth urging Sessions to run for his old seat

After Yellowhammer News on Monday morning reported that former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is seriously considering a bid for his old Alabama Senate seat, Politico later in the day provided some context into one of the groups supporting the potential candidacy.

According to Politico, Washington, D.C.-based Club for Growth is among a group of “high-profile allies pushing [Sessions] to run for his old seat.”

Speaking to Politico, Club for Growth president David McIntosh stated, “The Club for Growth has in the past and would once again encourage him (Sessions) to run for that Senate seat.”

“We were enthusiastic way back early on that Sessions, when he retired from the attorney general spot, might go back to the Senate,” he added. “At that point he didn’t want to think about that because he was just finishing up one job. I’m very encouraged he’s now seriously considering it.”

What many view as Sessions’ biggest liability if he runs for the Senate has also been an issue in recent years with Club for Growth — President Donald Trump.

Trump has been harshly critical of Session’s performance as attorney general, also lobbing personal attacks at the native Alabamian.

On the other hand, Club for Growth spent over $11 million against Trump in the 2016 primary cycle, becoming known as a leader in the “Never Trump” movement. This was the first time in the organization’s history it got involved in a presidential primary.

The Hill in 2016 even published an article headlined, “Club For Growth is Trump enemy No. 1.”

McIntosh was actually quoted in that article, saying, “[Trump’s] not really a conservative. He’ll tell what he wants you to hear, and who knows what he’d do if he got into office.”

Club for Growth’s policy positions center on supporting a free-market economic system, including free trade.

Sessions, in contrast, was actually the first high-profile elected official to back Trump’s campaign early on in the primary race.

However, Trump recently said he wished that endorsement never happened and publicly declared that Sessions’ tenure as AG was “a total disaster.”

“He was an embarrassment to the great state of Alabama,” Trump remarked. “And I put him there because he endorsed me, and he wanted it so badly. And I wish he’d never endorsed me.”

Sessions, for his part, has refused to utter a bad word about the president. In fact, Sessions endorsed Trump’s reelection bid earlier this year and has spoken in staunch support of policy priorities of his administration since Sessions left it.

The deadline for Sessions to qualify as a Republican candidate for Alabama’s 2020 Senate race is Friday, November 8.

He would join a crowded field led by former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville, Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01), former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, Secretary of State John Merrill and State Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs).

Sessions has $2,480,802 left in his federal campaign account from his previous service in the Senate.

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

17 mins ago

Cameras (AKA the government) on every corner — A Crisco sorta slope

I remember the collective groan that went up from motorists when “red light cameras” became a thing. Suddenly, it didn’t matter if the police were around to see you push your luck with a changing traffic light.

Big Brother always would.

The heightened accountability at busy intersections felt a bit creepy and oppressive, but most drivers shrugged it off as the price we must pay for safer roadways.

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Now the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) is considering the requests of multiple public and private entities to use rights-of-way to install more surveillance equipment. In 2020, we’re way past red-light cameras and license plate readers; on the table now are other technologies such as legacy surveillance cameras and gunshot detection arrays.

Some will argue that more information in the hands of law enforcement is always a good thing and increases our collective safety. There are indeed legitimate reasons to equip law enforcement with the tools they need to do their jobs well.

But when it comes to increased surveillance and the privacy of law-abiding citizens, we are standing on a slope covered in Crisco.

Data and surveillance information are only as noble as the hands that hold them, and the laws that govern their use.

It’s one thing to allow the collection of license plate numbers when a red-light infraction is detected. (And even this is an imperfect law enforcement mechanism; it tells you to whom the offending car is registered, but not who was driving.) But legacy surveillance cameras are another level altogether.

Cameras set up to allow the government to monitor our daily lives remotely should alarm those who value individual liberty and who want to restrain government. As much as we respect our friends in law enforcement, and acknowledge the challenges of their task, the fact remains that they are an arm of the government.

In its April 2 public notice detailing the permitting process for the installation of such equipment, ALDOT acknowledged the privacy concerns at stake and demonstrated a willingness to restrict permits to local governments and law enforcement agencies. Additionally, the agency says that “the use of accommodated sensors and all collected data shall be strictly limited to law enforcement or public safety purposes, whether maintained or stored by the governmental entity or any private service provider.”

The question then becomes: who gets to decide what is and is not a legitimate law enforcement and public safety purpose? The former is a broad category, the latter even more so.

This is a question with profound implications for personal privacy and should be governed by carefully structured law.

It is too important to leave to the interpretation of departmental regulation and scant oversight. Surveillance and data collection technology advance so rapidly that leaving these permits available to any device or technology that may be deemed useful to law enforcement and public safety is far too broad.

Why?

Because we evaluate these questions and calculate risks in practical terms based on the technology known to us today. But what about technology that will emerge tomorrow? Are we willing to write a blank check and leave it in the hands of ALDOT and law enforcement agencies?

Admittedly, our engagement with the internet and cellular networks has made the concept of personal privacy all but a joke in modern life. Heck, I’ve traded some privacy away so that Chick-fil-A can have the sandwich I ordered on their app ready at the precise moment I roll into their parking lot.

But at least when it comes to my phone or computer, I reserve the right to throw it off a bridge one day and retreat from digital view. Government-installed cameras in public spaces and on roadways strip us of that option entirely.

I’m not sure allowing the government to know our every move even yields the promised safety, but I do know that it costs each of us something.

Our lawmakers should get to work capping that cost and keeping Big Brother on a leash.

Dana Hall McCain, a widely published writer on faith, culture, and politics, is Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute; reach her on Twitter at @dhmccain.

API is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to free markets, limited government, and strong families; learn more at alabamapolicy.org.

40 mins ago

UAB says thank you to area restaurants and others for supporting Meals for Heroes program

A campaign to feed front-line health care workers caring for coronavirus patients raised more than $76,000 and served more than 16,000 meals in less than five weeks. Meals for Heroes, which launched April 1 and closed in early May, was a collaboration between the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s advancement office and the UAB Department of Food and Nutrition Services. It was created to feed health care providers and administrative staff at UAB hospitals and the remote COVID-19 testing site where long shifts and busy schedules often leave them no time to purchase food.

“The donation through Meals for Heroes provided meals to lab personnel on April 20, during National Lab Appreciation Week,” said Sherry Polhill, associate vice president for Hospital Laboratories, Respiratory Care and Pulmonary Function Services at UAB Medicine. “UAB Hospital Labs appreciate the Birmingham community for their generosity and acts of service.”

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UAB Football head coach Bill Clark and his wife, Jennifer, along with the Heart of Alabama Chevy Dealers, gave $10,000 to the campaign, which placed orders with local restaurants and caterers in an effort to help support community partners and bolster Birmingham businesses. Many partners provided in-kind meal donations, including Milo’s Tea Co., Jimmy John’s, Newk’s and other restaurants. UAB Food Services worked with businesses to ensure specific food safety guidelines were met, and also served more than 5,800 meals to compassionate care caregivers.

“The outpouring of support from churches, synagogues, restaurants, businesses and individuals in our community has been amazing,” said Charlotte Beeker, associate vice president for Food, Nutrition and Guest Services at UAB Medicine. “The donations made by these groups and so many others to support the Meals for Heroes campaign just shows what a great community we live in. Our health care workers have been heroic in their efforts during this pandemic and our community has been equally heroic in their flood of care and encouragement.”

At the end of the Meals for Heroes campaign, the remaining gift balance was $21,000, which Beeker says will be used to continue feeding health care workers caring for COVID-19 patients.

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

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

16 hours ago

Southern Company turns to Alabama manufacturer for face masks

With government guidelines recommending people use protective face masks and practice safe social distancing during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Southern Company has turned to local businesses to supply its needs and protect public health while also helping support the economy.

Southern Company’s partnership with HomTex, a family-owned textile company in Cullman, is one recent example. Alabama Power is a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Southern.

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Founded in 1987, HomTex has transitioned from producing bedding and home products to manufacturing up to 300,000 masks per week. That number is expected to continue to ramp up as the company becomes more familiar with the process.

The shift to mask production has allowed HomTex to keep all 150 of its employees working, with an expansion in the works.

“When this opportunity presented itself, a lot of people in the textile industry looked to HomTex to lead,” said Maury Lyon, HomTex vice president of apparel. “It has been a tremendous blessing to provide a high-quality and filtered product that hopefully is helping keep people safe. It is also unique that we could provide a U.S.-made product that we could put into our communities.”

So far, Southern Company has ordered over 1.5 million dust masks from HomTex, along with 500,000 cloth masks. The masks are shipped to Alabama Power’s Materials Distribution Center before being sent all across Southern Company’s footprint.

“Southern Company is committed to helping our communities thrive no matter the time or circumstances,” said Jeff Franklin, Southern Company senior vice president of supply chain management. “HomTex is doing critical and tremendous work for our community and we are thrilled to partner with them. Southern Company will continue to do our part to keep our communities healthy during the national response to COVID-19.”

Last week, Alabama Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth visited the HomTex facility in Cullman. He is working alongside the company to help it receive U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for its masks. Lyon said the company expects FDA approval within the next week.

FDA approval is only needed for masks used in medical settings. It isn’t required for facial coverings recommended for most workers and for members of the public when social distancing can’t be effectively maintained.

Last month, HomTex announced a $5 million project that is expected to create an additional 120 jobs in Cullman and position HomTex as a permanent U.S. producer of personal protective equipment at a time when domestic production of the gear is considered a national security priority.

According to a story posted on the state Department of Commerce website Made in Alabama and reported by Alabama NewsCenter, the company secured a $1.5 million loan from the Cullman County Economic Development Agency to cover the down payment on the equipment. It has worked with the commerce department and others on incentives to accelerate the project.

In addition to its headquarters and plant in Cullman, HomTex has a distribution center in Vinemont and manufacturing facilities in North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

“Nothing moves this fast in the textile industry, and the fact we were able to do this over the course of days is amazing,” said Jerry Wootten, HomTex CEO. “We really just wanted to help our community and find a way to serve them first.

“It is unique that we could use our skills to help the community this quickly. It has been a blessing to supply these needs,” Wootten said.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

18 hours ago

The need for education reform didn’t die with the defeat of Amendment One

When voters defeat a proposed state amendment, it is often thought that the matter is put to rest. That is often the case, but when Alabama’s voters went to the polls in March and shot down a proposal to replace the elected state board of education in favor of one appointed by the governor, they only answered the question of the board’s composition.

They did not answer the deeper problem of the board’s accomplishment.

Whatever the makeup of the board, the problem of the state’s bottom-of-the-barrel ranking in education persists, and that’s the real problem that demands the state’s attention. Fortunately, some concrete proposals have recently come to light.

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As part of a legislature-approved expenditure in 2019, the state department of education underwent a lengthy evaluation process by the Boston-based Public Consulting Group. The report was done with an eye towards improving the mission and function of the board of education. Without saying as much, the report reinforces the noted problems with the board, much of which inspired the call for an appointed board, but the report is also an opportunity for the elected board to correct much of its own shortcomings. The report was presented to the board a couple of weeks ago, with more detail provided in the report’s executive summary. (The full report can be found here.)

The report makes many suggestions, but it hones in on five specific goals.

The first is the most pertinent: the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) must take ownership of education reform and accomplishment in the state. That seems obvious enough, but reality is that the ALSDE has spent years operating in something of a caretaker role while the overall achievement of the state has remained in a steady state of decline. Indeed, this is largely why some advocated for a complete overhaul of the board’s structure; because elected politicians won their spot on the board through political maneuvering and have done nothing to move the needle of achievement in the state.

It’s true that most of the education reform in Alabama has originated in the Legislature in recent years. That’s not an optimal situation; it would be better if those reforms were enacted either by appointed officials who don’t directly face the voters, but at least the school board faces reelection on the basis of its achievements on education alone, as opposed to legislators whose record is on multiple issues which may only be tangentially related.

Yet the legislature has been proactive precisely because the board has done next to nothing in terms of real reform to education in Alabama. Given the sorry state of affairs, that is inexcusable.

There are countless education reformers around the country of all ideological persuasions – left, right, and center – doing interesting and innovative work, and much of it in dialogue with one another. It takes minimal effort to become acquainted with those ideas, but thus far, the state board has proven itself to be uninterested.

That must change.

The report’s executive summary details other items. The ALSDE must “develop and implement a strategy to action plan,” as the current arrangement leaves it constantly reactive, instead of taking a proactive approach to improving and then sustaining high levels of achievement in the state. The summary goes on to state that the ALSDE must set clear priorities in terms of both academic standards and student data and information. As a former educator, this is vital.

State standards must be clear, and while they should constantly be in review, they should be largely left alone long enough to be implemented and performed for a reasonable period of time.

The summary presents two additional items.

The ALSDE must begin to hold local districts accountable for their performance. Everyone recognizes that there are multiple externalities that can affect a district’s performance, but those factors cannot prevent the state from asking the central question: “Is this district doing its job?” Until that question can be confronted clearly and directly by all involved, Alabama is destined to stay where it is.

The ALSDE must make thorough use of data and be willing to confront all local districts with it.

The summary closes by noting that the internal structure of the ALSDE itself must be overhauled, with a deep investment on staff training. Reading between the lines, it seems that this very important department of state government is beset by many of the problems that hamper bureaucracies large and small. One interesting idea is the proposal to create regional ALSDE offices that can work in closer collaboration with local districts. This could be a very helpful step that gives the state greater knowledge of the specific strengths and weaknesses of individual districts.

Voters made their choice on Super Tuesday.

The state board of education will remain an elected body for the foreseeable future, but the professional analysis makes plain the need for a systematic overhaul.

It is critical that the board take these recommendations to heart and begin the process of implementation. That process should not stop with them; voters should spend time with this report with an eye towards the next election cycle.

The report is not just a blueprint for how the board should correct itself. It is a blueprint for voters to hold accountable a cast of politicians who have for too long provided little more than hospice care to a department of education that has failed at its most basic task.

Matthew Stokes, a widely published opinion writer and instructor in the core texts program at Samford University, is a Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit educational organization based in Birmingham; learn more at alabamapolicy.org.

21 hours ago

Rep. Martha Roby: Raising mental health awareness during COVID-19

As you may know, May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Mental health has become a pressing issue, impacting tens of millions of people each year in the United States. Nearly one in five American adults live with mental health disorders and illnesses according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has surely heightened stress, fear, and anxiety for many Americans. During uncertain times like these, it is important to care for yourself and those close to you by focusing on mental health.

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The current state of the nation due to COVID-19 can be overwhelming. Taking proper care of yourself and others can help manage this anxiety. Be sure to find ways for you and your family to reduce stress such as connecting with friends and family over the phone or participating in exercise and other outdoor activities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises these quick tips for stress management during COVID-19:

–Take breaks from COVID-19 news and social media content.
–Make time to sleep, exercise, and unwind.
–Take care of your body.
–Reach out and stay connected.

One way to lower stress that surrounds COVID-19 is to ensure the information you take in regarding the pandemic is factual. Contradictory information exists online that can create unnecessary and avoidable stress, which can further impact one’s worrisome feelings toward the virus. Find a reliable source that is trustworthy to gather information. A resource that several public officials have recommended as a dependable outlet for information is the state health department. Know the facts about coronavirus, and help stop the spread of rumors.

Americans continue to adjust to unaccustomed lifestyle changes. With these rapid changes implemented in our daily routines, it is normal to feel uncertain or skeptical. Alabama has been under some form of stay-at-home order for over two months now, and the participation has played an important role in slowing the spread of COVID-19 in many communities across the state. That does not mean adjusting to new, unfamiliar routines has been easy. Investing in care and protecting your mental health is essential during these challenging times. For more information on coping with stress during COVID-19, visit the CDC website. For general information on mental health, call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama, with her husband Riley and their two children.