6 months ago

Simpson on ALDOT claim AASHTO standards deemed I-10 Bridge requirements: ‘That bothers me that people say if somebody thinks it’s a law, that’s a law’

Last week, State Rep. Matt Simpson (R-Daphne) and Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) director John Cooper engaged in a spirited back-and-forth at an informational session hosted by ALDOT for legislators from Mobile County. During the meeting, Cooper made impromptu remarks and claimed the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) had broad authority in determining what is law and what is not law when it came to constructing a highway project that receives federal money, which would include the proposed I-10 Mobile Bay Bridge.

As it stands now, that bridge would be tolled given its enormous $2.1 billion price tag. That amount has ballooned with some pointing to ALDOT’s interpretation that the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) standards being used by Cooper as the basis for the plan reconstructing the existing Bayway portion so that it is at a higher elevation and would, in theory, be able to withstand a potential 100-year hurricane storm surge.

Late Friday, Mobile’s FOX 10 WALA cited an unnamed federal official denying Cooper’s claim. However, during an appearance on Mobile radio’s FM Talk 106.5 on the heels of last week’s ALDOT meeting, Simpson questioned the notion of the FHWA being able to decide what is and is not law and what is not as Cooper had claimed.

“Director Cooper tried to explain to me it was circular with the federal, state highway officials, interstate highway association – that those become law because those become adopted,” he said on “Mobile Mornings.” “They become circular. And the problem I have with that is let me put my hand on it and just see where this is law. Let me see what has happened here because if it is law, maybe we can apply for a waiver from our federal delegation. Maybe we can see what we can do to come through and do something else. But they haven’t been able to show that yet. And I think that’s where things went and got a little sideways.”

“When Director Cooper starts saying, ‘Well, if somebody in the transportation business, and he talked about the federal government and doing these loans, and doing the grants and all these – if somebody believes it’s a law, then that’s a law,” Simpson added. “I believe his direct quote was if one of these officials things it’s a law, then it’s a law.”

Host Sean Sullivan scoffed at the idea a bureaucrat would make such a proclamation, to which Simpson expressed his desire for government to “do better than that.”

“That’s not what we were created for,” he said. “You know, as a lawyer – that bothers me that people say if somebody thinks it’s a law, that’s a law. Come on, man — we’ve got to do better than that.”

On the storm surge issue, Simpson said ALDOT officials pointed to three previous bridges that fell to storm surge. Yet, they were all rebuilt without tolls, which Simpson indicated begged the question of why ALDOT would handle this project ahead of a potential 100-year event differently.

“Here’s the thing that we tried to bring up with that: They brought up three different examples of those storms [Wednesday] due to storm surge,” he said. “It was Pass Christian, Miss., Biloxi, Miss. and New Orleans, La. Well, my question to them was those three bridges got rebuilt. And as far as I’m aware, none of those bridges had tolls on them. In the event that this storm is a 100-year storm and knocks down this bridge, then we get a new bridge from FEMA money that the people of Alabama don’t have to pay a toll on. So, why are we spending so much money on these 100-year flood levels? The Bayway was built in ’77. [Hurricane] Frederick came in in ’79. The Bayway withstood Frederick. I mean, it’s just one of those things of let’s just see if we’re supposed to come up with a better plan by October 7 but let’s put everything on the table, go back to the drawing board and figure out how to come up with a better plan.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

6 mins ago

Amendment One puts kids first, politicians last

When Alabamians take the to the polls on Super Tuesday, they will either be concerned with the Democratic nominee for President of the United States or the Republican nominee for the United States Senate. More important to the future of Alabama is a constitutional amendment that would end our current model of a popularly elected state school board in favor of one appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state senate.

Supporters of Amendment 1 argue that this would be a major step in improving Alabama’s permanent residence at the bottom of the education barrel. As it is currently designed and managed, the state board of education is doing very little to improve the quality of education in the state. Board members are trying, but clearly nothing is working very well. Supporters of the amendment argue a shake up is the best hope for improving education in Alabama. In some respects the argument does not go far enough. That is because the current process creates negative incentives for board members; because they hold their office at the behest of voters, there is every incentive for them to avoid upsetting their constituents.

677

That is the chief problem with the board as it is currently construed. Board members are not uncaring or ignorant or irresponsible. Instead, they respond to the whims and wishes of voters or other powerful political interests. No matter what politicians say, they are inevitably swayed by the whispers of voters and donors. Not because they are corrupt, but because they are human. All people are prone to this, which is why the framers of the Constitution created a system that checked and balanced one human tendency against another. It’s true that voters can provide a check on board members, but that argument does not account for an additional problem.

The second problem with the current system is that voters have limits to their knowledge about education in our state. Committed parents and citizens can often learn a lot about their own schools and school districts, but rarely does even the most passionate citizen have the time and mental energy to devote beyond that. Should Amendment 1 pass, the state Senate would have a direct responsibility to ensure that the governor appoints quality people to the board, but also to make certain that the Board is making progress in evaluating and improving the quality of education in our state.

Critics argue that an appointed board would lend itself to cronyism. That’s possible, but the executive and legislative branch often have competing interests, even when they share the same partisan and ideological commitments. Those competing concerns would help smooth over concerns about patronage and cronyism. Still, the amendment will not be an easy transition given the natural tendency of politicians towards vanity and self-promotion. The current system is of a worse nature, however, as it leaves the governor and senate almost powerless to impact education policy, which is instead run by another group of politicians with little incentive to do anything that might upset the voters who put them there.

But shouldn’t voters have a say in these matters? No, at least not directly. This is because education policy is a difficult matter, and it is hard for voters to adjudicate the success or failures of these policies beyond the very narrow window of their own experience. It’s fine that we elect local school boards; they are indeed local, and voters often see those board members at church or line at Piggly Wiggly. Only the most politically involved voters are likely to have any encounter with their board members, who are busy juggling very difficult conflicts within their own districts. Each district contains such a variety of constituents that it is almost impossible for board members to adequately address those concerns, instead pandering to the one or two constituencies most likely to keep the member in office.

There is a final reason to support Amendment 1. A central feature of modern politics is the tendency of politicians to see themselves as mouthpieces instead of statesmen. Some of that is natural but other parts of it are due to the incentive structure within our own government. This is as true in Montgomery as it is in Washington D.C., and Alabamians should care far more about the goings-on in our state capital than in our nation’s capital. Since our legislature is stripped of any real influence in state education policy and therefore little accountability to voters, it leaves them free to demagogue and pander on the issue without really having to stand before the voters and take account for their time in office. The same is true for the governor. By making the governor and the state senate responsible for staffing the state school board as part of an ongoing process of appointment and confirmation, these branches of our government would finally have real skin in the game. The success of our schools would be their success, and the failure of our schools would be theirs, also.

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.

36 mins ago

Gary Palmer honors the late NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson on House floor

U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Hoover) honored Katherine Johnson with a speech in the House chamber on Thursday.

Johnson, who passed away recently at the age of 101, was one of America’s most important mathematicians in the space race. She pioneered a place for African-American women at NASA and was portrayed in the Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures.

“Despite intense discrimination throughout her years at NASA she remained committed to advancing America’s space program,” said Palmer during his speech in her honor.

125

“She hand-calculated the flight path for America’s first crewed space mission in 1961, and also helped calculate the trajectory for the famed 1969 moon landing,” continued Palmer.

Palmer also recounted the famous anecdote when astronaut John Glenn was about to become the first American to orbit Earth and he demanded that Johnson do the calculations for his mission. Glenn trusted Johnson more than he trusted NASA’s new computer system.

Watch:

“I stand with my colleagues in the House and with countless other Americans in gratitude for Mrs. Johnson’s hard work and pioneering spirit that have undoubtedly made our country a better place,” Palmer concluded.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

2 hours ago

Shelby, Jones introduce legislation to make Alabama’s Black Belt a National Heritage Area

U.S. Senators Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Doug Jones (D-AL) have introduced legislation to establish the Alabama Black Belt National Heritage Area, authorizing 19 counties in the Yellowhammer State’s Black Belt Region as an official National Heritage Area (NHA).

The bill – entitled the “Alabama Black Belt National Heritage Area Act” and designated S.3363 – would allow for federal funding to be directed to the region over the span of 15 years. U.S. Reps. Robert Aderholt (AL-04), Mike Rogers (AL-03), Terri Sewell (AL-07) and Martha Roby (AL-02) have introduced a companion bill in the lower chamber, underscoring the bipartisan and bicameral nature of the effort.

“Designating Alabama’s Black Belt region as a National Heritage Area will not only promote tourism, but it will also increase public awareness of the natural, historical, and cultural assets our state has to offer,” Shelby said in a statement on Friday.

“Investing in this region to preserve these unique and diverse resources is important for future generations. If passed, this legislation could have significant impact for years to come,” he added.

224

NHAs are partnerships between the National Park Service (NPS), states and local entities to protect and support conservation and public access. Through public-private partnerships, NHAs create a diverse, community-driven approach to increase heritage conservation, economic development, recreation and tourism. Currently, the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area is the only NHA in the state.

“Alabama’s Black Belt counties were originally named due to the area’s rich, black topsoil,” Jones stated. “While that is still an accurate depiction of the area, another is of the Black Belt’s rich history and culture. The 19 counties that make up Alabama’s Black Belt has been home to some of our greatest artists, writers, and leaders. This legislation will help preserve and celebrate this historic region through much needed investment.”

The established area would include Bibb, Bullock, Butler, Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Monroe, Montgomery, Perry, Pickens, Sumter, Washington and Wilcox Counties.

The legislation names the Center for the Study of the Black Belt at the University of West Alabama (UWA) as the local management entity. The designation of a local entity, like UWA, ensures its ability to address the interests and needs of those in the surrounding communities, according to Shelby’s office.

Shelby introduced similar legislation during the 111th Congress and the 113th Congress.

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

3 hours ago

National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council endorses Jeff Sessions in Alabama’s U.S. Senate race

Friday, the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Council announced its endorsement of former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in Alabama’s U.S. Senate race.

The National ICE Council represents approximately 7,600 officers, agents and employees who work for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) throughout the United States and its territories and possessions.

The National ICE Council endorsement comes just days before Alabama Republicans are set to vote in the party’s primary on Tuesday.

448

“On behalf of the men and women of the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council, we’re proud to endorse Jeff Sessions for Senate in the State of Alabama,” Chris Crane, president of the ICE Council, said in a statement. “We know Jeff Sessions and we know what he stands for. As the United States Attorney General, Jeff Sessions led the fight against sanctuary cities and illegal immigration, and was an unwavering champion of law enforcement officers across the nation. As a U.S. Senator, Jeff Sessions was the strongest supporter in the U.S. Congress of ICE, its mission, and its employees. We have no doubt that Senator Sessions will pick up right where he left off – standing up for law enforcement and the enforcement of our laws. We know he will continue to lead the fight against sanctuary cities that threaten our communities and endanger our law enforcement personnel across the country. And we know that he will keep fighting against radical open border policies that threaten our national security.”

“Jeff Sessions has always stood up to The Swamp and always worked to hold Washington accountable,” he added. “We need him now more than ever to stand up for what’s right and stand with President Trump to keep America safe.”

Sessions applauded the endorsement in a statement of his own, and warned of the threat sanctuary cities, open borders and illegal immigration pose to the nation.

“The men and women who serve with the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement are honorable law enforcement officers who serve at the center of this nation’s effort to end illegal immigration,” Sessions said. ‘I am honored beyond words to have the ICE Council’s strong endorsement. We have fought side by side against the powerful, special interest forces that constantly work to further the lawlessness that is occurring at the border. We stood side by side in the effort to elect President Trump. Sanctuary cities and open borders are a threat to our nation. They encourage illegal immigration, protect dangerous criminal gangs, and undermine the rule of law.”

“I am extremely proud of this endorsement,” he added. “No organization has been more committed to law and our national sovereignty than the ICE officers. Their endorsement is therefore extremely valuable. I believe the people of Alabama should recognize how important this endorsement is in understanding who can be most effective in the Senate. I have fought to stop sanctuary cities and I will not rest until our immigration laws are enforced and dangerous aliens are taken off the streets.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly and host of Huntsville’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN.

4 hours ago

McCutcheon endorses Chris Lewis in AL-05 GOP primary — ‘Time to make a change’

Alabama Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) on Thursday announced his endorsement of Congressman Mo Brooks’ (AL-05) Republican primary challenger, Chris Lewis.

In a brief video filmed outside the State Capitol and released by Lewis’ campaign, McCutcheon explained his support.

“Many people and organizations across North Alabama have discussed with me that it is time to make a change in our congressional seat,” the speaker said. McCutcheon represents parts of Madison County and Limestone County.

He further spoke to Lewis’ service in the United States military.

343

Lewis is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Naval War College. He retired as a commander from the Navy after 23 years of service. His extensive experience reportedly includes multiple combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, service as a strategic analyst for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a decade of defense acquisition experience and Contract Transition Team Lead for Arnold Engineering Development Complex at Arnold Air Force Base.

“Chris has proven his commitment to our nation through his military service,” McCutcheon remarked.

The speaker also highlighted some of the groups who have endorsed Lewis’ bid, including the Alabama Farmers Federation’s political arm.

“I believe Chris has the heart of a servant leader and would be a fine congressman for North Alabama,” he concluded.

Brooks has been endorsed for reelection by President Donald Trump.

The primary will be held on Tuesday, March 3.

UPDATE 12:15 p.m.

Responding to the McCutcheon endorsement, Brooks told Yellowhammer News in a statement, “I love the endorsement contrast!”

He continued, “I have the strong endorsement of President Trump, a man I worked hard with to CUT TAXES on American families and secure America’s borders! In contrast, Chris Lewis has the endorsement of legislator Mac McCutcheon, whose greatest expertise has been RAISING TAXES on struggling Alabama families!”

“Personally, I wouldn’t want the endorsement of a tax hiker! But, hey, if Chris Lewis wants to go to Washington to raise taxes, he picked the right endorsement to get! Similarly, Chris Lewis has ALFA’s backing,” Brooks added. “No surprise there. ALFA is a special interest group that intensely lobbies me for open borders, more welfare, and taxpayer payments for capital improvements on ALFA members’ land, greatly enriching ALFA members at taxpayer expense. Again, I stand with President Trump and border security. Chris Lewis stands with special interest groups that support open borders and prefer to hire cheap foreign labor rather than pay American workers a living wage. I will take that border security contrast any day of the week!”

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