The Wire

  • The surprising link between Alabama seafood, timber and U.S. national security, and how Shelby is leading the way


    There are plenty of areas of debate over exactly how and where the U.S. should spend its foreign aid dollars. But for Alabamians in particular — and the entire Gulf Coast region more broadly — the international assistance that flows into cracking down on illegal wildlife trafficking is paying massive dividends, both economically and, perhaps more surprisingly, in terms of national security.

    A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation indicates Americans grossly overestimate the amount the federal government spends on foreign aid.  The average answer was foreign aid accounts for a whopping 31 percent of spending. Fifteen percent of respondents actually thought it represented over half of the U.S. budget.

    In reality, according to the Congressional Research Service, it accounts for about 1 percent total when military, economic development and humanitarian efforts are combined.  And it is paying massive dividends for Alabama.

    Here’s how:

  • Rep. Byrne to Hold 12 Town Hall Meetings

    From a Congressman Bradley Byrne news release:

    Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL) announced today that he will hold twelve town hall meetings during the August District Work Period.

    Known as the “Better Off Now” Town Hall Tour, Congressman Byrne will hold public town halls in each of the counties that make up Alabama’s First Congressional District. Byrne will discuss how the American people are better off now thanks to a booming economy, stronger military, and safer communities.

    Byrne ranks among the top of all Members of Congress for the number of town hall meetings held. Since assuming office in late 2013, Byrne has held over 100 town hall meetings, including meetings over the phone and through Facebook.

    All the town hall meetings are open to the public and free to attend. All the information can be found online below.

  • HudsonAlpha technology director to present at Google Cloud conference

    Excerpt from a HudsonAlpha news release:

    HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology Technology Director Katreena Mullican has been invited to present at the Google Next ‘18 conference in San Francisco, Calif, July 24-26.

    Google Next is an international conference where more than 10,000 developers, technology leaders, and entrepreneurs come together to have a collaborative discussion about the Google Cloud Platform.

    Mullican has more than 20 years of experience in architecting Linux, virtualization and hybrid cloud solutions. As HudsonAlpha’s Cloud Whisperer, Mullican brings her expertise in automation of on-prem composable and public cloud infrastructure for scientific applications and workflows to the Institute.

    “HudsonAlpha is one of the top sequencing centers in the world, so it’s my job to think outside the box to design hybrid platforms appropriate for our sequencing and research workloads,” said Mullican.

    Mullican will participate in a Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) Cloud Talk Tuesday at 1:00 pm in the South Hall to discuss how HudsonAlpha uses the composable HPE Synergy platform for an on-premises Kubernetes cluster that can scale to Google Cloud Platform.

3 years ago

Ala. Republican delegation votes unanimously against funding Planned Parenthood

Alabama Representatives Robert Aderholt, Bradley Byrne, Mike Rogers, Mo Brooks, Martha Roby, and Gary Palmer
Alabama Representatives Robert Aderholt, Bradley Byrne, Mike Rogers, Mo Brooks, Martha Roby, and Gary Palmer

WASHINGTON — Though Congress ultimately passed a “continuing resolution” (CR) Wednesday funding the federal government, including abortion provider Planned Parenthood, for the next two months, it wasn’t without significant pushback from Alabama’s  congressional Republicans, who all voted against the bill.

The CR has become an oft-used short-term funding mechanism that essentially circumvents the normal budgeting and appropriations process by putting lawmakers into do-or-die funding situations. The CR passed Wednesday is particularly short term, running out on December 11th.

Congressman Mo Brooks (R-AL5), in particular took issue with this method of appropriating federal funds.  “Continuing resolutions are the absolute worst way to fund the federal government,” Brooks said in a press release after the vote. “They continue past spending habits that do not reflect changing circumstances and priorities.  They continue America’s irresponsible deficit spending.  They are last-second spending bills timed to risk calamity in order to force bad policy and pork spending down the throats of otherwise responsible Senators and Congressmen.

“Continuing resolutions wreak havoc on communities like those that surround Redstone Arsenal and Marshall Space Flight Center because they inhibit the ability of federal government contractors to let military and NASA contracts that provide jobs to more than 30,000 Tennessee Valley workers.  How can government contracting officers award contracts when they only have funding for days, weeks, or, in this case, two months?”

Both of Alabama’s Senators voted against the bill as well.

“While I believe that it is critical for the government to stay open and running, I opposed this short-term funding measure because it does not put an end to taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood,” said Sen. Shelby. “Senate Democrats have continually blocked our efforts to ensure that taxpayer dollars are focused on women’s health care and protecting the innocent lives of the unborn. I will continue to support pro-life policies while also pushing for conservative priorities in our appropriations measures.”

Sen. Sessions delivered a speech on the floor of the senate last week imploring Congress to “do its duty” and use the power of the purse to defund Planned Parenthood and protect life, but his remarks fell on deaf ears.

Senate GOP leadership said they would not take drastic measures to pass a bill defunding the organization, fearing the blame would fall on Republicans if a partial shutdown of government services occurred because President Obama vetoed their bill.

Alabama’s Republican congressmen unanimously stood against the funding measure.

Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL1)“As I have said before, I refuse to make a habit of voting for short-term spending bills that fail to address our nation’s spending issues and continue the dangerous cycle of governing from crisis to crisis. It has been over four years since the Senate has passed an individual appropriations bill, and that is the root of the problem. We must return to passing individual, targeted funding bills that allow Congress to set national priorities, and this bill failed to do that.”

 “The federal government should not be sending a single penny to Planned Parenthood or any group that performs abortions. The House has now acted on multiple occasions to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood, and it is the Senate’s turn to follow our lead.”

Congresswoman Martha Roby (R-AL2)“I have always been upfront with those I represent about the low likelihood of defunding Planned Parenthood, especially in a stop-gap spending bill. Pro-life advocates in my state and around this country understand the math. And, while they hope Senate Democrats will change their hearts, they don’t really expect them to. What they do expect is for us to try; to fight to the end; to exhaust every possible option in our effort to stop their tax dollars from flowing to this organization.”

Congressman Robert Aderholt (R-AL4): “This afternoon I cast a vote against the Continuing Resolution that was before the House of Representatives.  My no vote was for one reason; in that this legislation continues to fully fund Planned Parenthood.  In good conscience I could not vote to continue the flow of taxpayer dollars to an organization that engages in something so horrific as selling parts of aborted babies.

“Let me be clear, I don’t support a government shut down. However, this was simply a vote to do what’s right. I, along with my fellow Republicans, was willing to fund every department, every service and every agency of the federal government except for Planned Parenthood. It is hard to believe the Democrats in the Senate would filibuster continued government funding for the entire federal government for one program like Planned Parenthood.”

Congresswoman Terri Sewell (D-AL7), Alabama’s lone Democrat, voted to approve the bill.

“Congress cannot continue to govern crisis-by-crisis. We narrowly averted a government shutdown with today’s vote, and that’s not a position where we should be. The American people should expect more from the leaders they elected to serve them.

“I voted in favor of a Continuing Resolution that maintains government funding through December 11, 2015. I am cautiously optimistic that Congress can come up with a long-term solution before the December deadline, and I urge my colleagues to put aside partisan politics in order to do what’s best for our nation.”

3 years ago

Congresswoman Sewell visits Alabama National Guard Special Forces in Iraq

C/O Congresswoman Sewell’s office

WASHINGTON — Congresswoman Terri Sewell (D-AL7) met this week with members of the Alabama National Guard’s 20th Special Forces unit while receiving briefings on the current U.S. Department of Defense training mission with Syrian fighters and the Iraqi Army during a four-day trip to Iraq.

“Our brave men and women in uniform play an integral role in Iraq, and my visit to Ebril and Baghdad deepened my appreciation for the sacrifices they have made to protect our country,” said Rep. Sewell  I was especially honored to meet with members of the Alabama National Guard’s 20th Special Forces division, and to learn more about their vital mission in Iraq. I want to thank these remarkable Alabama National Guardsmen for their exemplary service to our nation during their deployment in Iraq. I am especially proud to acknowledge the critical role that Alabama troops are playing in the fight against global terrorism.

Congresswoman Sewell is a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

On Facebook, Congresswoman Sewell said she wishes to salute the brave men and women working to keep our country safe.

National Guard’s 20th Special Forces are known as the “quiet professionals.” According to National Guard’s 20th Special Forces website, “The soldiers who make up the 20th Special Forces Group (Airborne) of the Army National Guard are unique professionals with an unconventional method for waging war and an innovative approach to winning…”They are the best at what they do. Their training, intelligence, courage and esprit de corps make them so.”

As part of U.S. Special Operations Command, The Alabama National Guard’s 20th Special Forces Group (A), are currently deployed in Northern Iraq in the Kurdish Region. They primary assignment is to advise and assist the Iraqi Army and Peshmerga Forces as they prepare to fight and ultimately defeat ISIS.

3 years ago

Civil Rights heroine Dr. Amelia Boynton Robinson passes away at age 104

Dr. Amelia Boynton Robinson (Photo used with permission of Dr. Boynton Robinson's family)

Dr. Amelia Boynton Robinson (Photo used with permission of Dr. Boynton Robinson's family)
Dr. Amelia Boynton Robinson (Photo used with permission of Dr. Boynton Robinson’s family)

A pioneer in the Civil Rights movement, Amelia Boynton Robinson, died Wednesday at the age of 104, (1911-2015).

Earlier this year Dr. Boynton Robinson suffered a stroke had been hospitalized at Nolan Hospital in Montgomery since July 10.

A victim of the brutal beatings on “Bloody Sunday” while crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma fifty years ago, Boynton Robinson is also known for her contributions to the voting rights movements. Her home was used as a field office for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders amidst the voter drives in Selma during the 1960s.

Boynton Robinson ran for Congress in 1964, and though she was unsuccessful her candidacy made her the first African American and first woman to run. In 1990 Boynton was honored for her contributions to the civil rights movement with the Martin Luther King Jr. Medal of Freedom.

A 1927 graduate of the then-Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, she was depicted in the movie Selma by actress Lorraine Toussaint, and when her health precluded her from attending a screening of the film, Paramount Pictures arranged to host a private viewing in her home with some of her closest friends and fellow veterans of the movement. At the conclusion of the film the whole room was emotional, and Boyton Robinson—who has been critical of previous depictions of her place in the civil rights fight—proclaimed “It was good, the movie is fantastic.”

Dr. Boynton Robinson made headlines in January when she stole the show at the State of the Union Address in Washington, D.C. by telling former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, “People always talk about, ‘I stand on the shoulders of people like you.’ Get off my shoulders, do your own work.”

Dr. Boynton Robinson attended the event as a guest of Alabama Congresswoman Terri Sewell (D-AL7).

Congresswoman Sewell expressed her condolences in a statement Wednesday.

“Mrs. Amelia Boynton Robinson will not only be remembered for her invaluable contributions as a matriarch of the voting rights movement but she was also the first black woman from the State of Alabama to run for Congress. Without her courageous campaign for the 7th Congressional District, I know that my election to this seat in 2010 would not have been possible. Her sacrifices paved the way for me to walk the halls of Congress and I will carry my love and admiration for her in my heart each and every day.”

According to the Encyclopedia of Alabama, Boynton was born in Savannah, Georgia. In Georgia she worked as an educator and in Selma, AL she worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture teaching local residents how to grow food and about nutritional health care.

Even towards the very end of her life she remained a constant symbol and advocate of the civil rights movement. Bruce Boynton, her son, says this about his mother’s legacy, “The truth of it is that was her entire life.” He continued saying, “She was a loving person, very supportive — but civil rights was her life.”

3 years ago

Alabamians celebrate progress, fight for reforms on the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act

Voting Booths
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Fifty years ago today, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law which outlawed discriminatory voting practices, such as literacy tests and poll taxes, which were adopted after the Civil War to prevent African-Americans from registering and exercising their right to vote. It also established new legal protections for minority voters at the polls.

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill (R-AL) will join with the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the historic legislation.

“The state of Alabama and her people played pivotal roles and were featured in defining moments in the civil rights movement,” Secretary Merrill said in a press release. “It is because of the courage shown in Selma, Alabama, that we have made progress not only as a state, but a Nation. The passage of the Voting Rights Act has allowed us to make significant steps toward voting equality. As Secretary of State, I will continue to remind our citizens the importance of exercising their right to vote, and I will work to ensure that all eligible Alabamians can exercise their right to vote.”

Originally, Alabama and other southern states were subject to federal preclearance of any changes in voting law under section 4(b) of the VRA. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down that provision in the case of Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder as it violated the “equal sovereignty of the states” by requiring that only some states get approval from the federal government based on “40 year-old facts having no logical relationship to the present day.”

Contrary to popular belief, the Shelby County case did not completely eliminate the ability of the federal government to screen states’ voting laws under section 5, but merely eliminated Congress’ section 4(b) formula which was last updated in 1975. The federalism question surrounding the general idea of preclearance went undressed as the elimination of the formula rendered it inoperable.

Alabama’s sole Congressional Democrat, Terri Sewell (D-AL7), believes that the lack of federal oversight leads to discrimination. In a press release commemorating the VRA’s anniversary, Sewell specifically cited Voter ID laws as the voting rights issue of today.

“We need not count marbles in a jar or memorize the name of every county judge, but new barriers have replaced overt efforts to suppress voter turnout,” Sewell wrote. “These new barriers – such as voter ID laws or changing polling locations without public notice – have been passed off as measures needed to protect the vote, but in reality they have only made it harder to vote.”

In the 2008 case of Crawford v. Marion County Board of Election (Indiana), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that a statute requiring voters to present photo identification is constitutional as it is closely related to a state’s legitimate interest in preventing voter fraud, modernizing elections, and safeguarding voter confidence.

Last March, Alabama passed a Voter ID law requiring Alabama voters to show a photo ID before being allowed to vote. The law went into effect for the 2014 elections.

Numerous types of photo IDs can be used by voters, including an Alabama driver’s license or non-driver ID, college ID, military ID, government employee ID, federal ID or passport. However, the Alabama Secretary of State’s office said today that they believe roughly 250,000 adults in the state do not currently have any form of photo identification.

For those folks, the State of Alabama is offering a free voter ID, which can be obtained at any local county board of registrars’ or Dept. of Public Safety office or at the secretary of state’s headquarters in Montgomery. Forms of non-photo ID that can be used to obtain a free photo ID include most IDs with a person’s full legal name and date of birth. Fishing and hunting licenses, social security cards, birth certificates, marriage records, military records, Medicaid and Medicare documents and school transcripts are all acceptable.

3 years ago

Alabama Congressional Republicans unanimously support bill defunding ‘Sanctuary Cities’


Alabama Representatives Robert Aderholt, Bradley Byrne, Mike Rogers, Mo Brooks, Martha Roby, and Gary Palmer
Alabama Representatives Robert Aderholt, Bradley Byrne, Mike Rogers, Mo Brooks, Martha Roby, and Gary Palmer

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a vote of 241 to 179, the U.S. House of Representatives approved Thursday the “Enforce the Law for Sanctuary Cities Act” in response to growing outrage over lack of immigration enforcement which some believe led to the death of Katie Steinle in San Francisco earlier this month.

The bill cuts off specific federal law enforcement grants for sanctuary cities—municipalities which refuse to cooperate with the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) or other government agencies charged with immigration, or have laws that bar law enforcement from inquiring about a suspect’s immigration status.

All six of Alabama’s Republican representatives voted in favor of passage, while the state’s lone Democrat, Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL7), voted against it.

“If a city chooses not to cooperate with the federal government in enforcing immigration law, then they should not receive the benefit of federal law enforcement funding,” said Rep. Gary Palmer (R-AL6), “The rule of law must always remain a high priority for every elected official if we are to maintain our constitutional order.”

In his explanation of his vote, Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL1) cited not only his duty to his constituents, but his duty as a father. “There’s been a failure here, and in part, it’s our failure, and I don’t think it’s too much for any of us to understand the human component of that [Kate Steinle’s] father. And this is not an isolated incident, unfortunately. If it’s not an isolated incident, it’s going to happen again until somebody stops it.”

“And it seems to me it’s the responsibility of those of us in public office to stop it, and here is an opportunity to stop it, and I would not be doing my duty as a Congressman – I also would not be doing my duty as a dad – if I didn’t stop it,” he continued.

Congressional Republicans from Alabama have followed the lead of their Senate counterpart Jeff Sessions, who introduced a bill seeking to close loopholes in the federal government’s enforcement of immigration law. In other contexts, Sessions has gone as far as to say officials from sanctuary cities should be prosecuted.

According to the Center for Immigration Studies, 200 municipalities nationwide could be classified as sanctuary cities. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) estimates that from January 1 to August 31 of 2014, more than 8,100 deportable aliens were released after being arrested by sanctuary jurisdictions. Of the 8,100 aliens released by sanctuary jurisdictions, approximately 1,900 were later arrested yet again. In many instances, these illegal immigrants were subsequently arrested more than once.

3 years ago

Alabama congressional delegation splits on short-term highway bill

c/a Flikr user Ken Hurd

c/a Flikr user Ken Hurd
c/a Flikr user Ken Hurd

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 312-119 to pass a short-term extension of Federal transportation funding. Congress has been dealing with transportation funding shortfalls estimated at about $16 billion per year. Since 2005, lawmakers have not passed a transportation bill that lasted longer than two years.

House Republican leadership says the stopgap measure will buy time to negotiate a long-term highway bill which must be completed by July 31.

“We don’t like patches more than anybody else does,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman and former VP candidate Paul Ryan (R-WI) said. “But this patch is necessary to make sure that [construction] projects don’t stop.”

Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL1) is not happy with the continual use of patchwork funding packages. “At some point we have to draw the line on these short-term highway funding bills, and I think that time has come,” he said. “By continually putting off tough decisions, we are being fiscally irresponsible and making it impossible to move forward with large scale infrastructure projects like the I-10 bridge over the Mobile River.”

The state’s lone Democratic representative, Terri Sewell (D-AL7), voted in favor of passage, but shared in Byrne’s displeasure with the non-comprehensive nature of the deal. “It’s disappointing that Congress once again has failed to propose a long-term solution to invest in our nation’s roads, bridges, and rails,” she wrote in a press release. “The Highway and Transportation Funding Act of 2015 is yet another Band Aid, but without this temporary fix the Department of Transportation would be unable to fund any new commitments to fix our aging infrastructure.”

Alabama’s Congressional Delegation was split down the middle in the final roll call. Reps. Martha Roby (R-AL2), Mike Rogers (R-AL3), Robert Aderholt (R-AL4), and Terri Sewell (D-AL7) voted for the bill while Reps. Bradley Byrne (R-AL1), Mo Brooks (R-AL5), and Gary Palmer (R-AL6) voted against.

The $8 billion ‘patch’ now goes to the Senate where an amendment tacking on the revival of the Export-Import Bank will be considered. This issue creates a major problem for House conservatives who voted for the bill’s original passage.

The charter for the Export-Import Bank of the United States expired at the beginning of this month, ending a New-Deal Era government program that opponents considered to be corporate welfare writ-large and a free market distortion.

Not only is the return of Ex-Im on the table in the Senate, but many are considering an increase in the Gas Tax to fund the long-term transportation budget fix.

The 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax has been the main source of income for the Highway Trust fund but the federal government has outspent its revenue intake by $16 billion per year. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated it will take about $100 billion, in addition to the existing gas tax revenue, to pay for a six-year transportation funding bill which is why Senate liberals are calling for an increase.

While transportation supporters have pushed for a gas tax increase of as much as 15 cents per gallon to pay for a long-term infrastructure funding bill, Republican leadership has ruled out a tax hike.

3 years ago

Alabama congressional delegation split on No Child Left Behind reforms

(Photo: Uncommon Schools)
(Photo: Uncommon Schools)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Student Success Act Thursday morning 218-213 renewing some portions of No Child Left Behind while eliminating others.

The House bill would prohibit the Department of Education (DOE) from exerting control over state academic standards and would instead apply existing provisions to the Common Core standards, which have been adopted in Alabama.

The bill eliminates the Adequate Yearly Progress Metric (AYP) which allows DOE to determine how every public school and school district in the country is performing academically according to results on standardized tests, and repeals the federal Highly Qualified Teachers (HQT) requirements that designate federal funds to educational agencies for the purpose of improving the student achievement through the professional development of teachers and principals.

Conservatives supported several amendments to the bill including one that would allow states to opt-out of No Child Left Behind standards, but the amendment failed 195-235.

Heritage Action, the Heritage Foundation’s political arm, key voted the amendment.

“The underlying bill is not worth passing unless this amendment is adopted,” Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham said in an interview with The Hill. Those at Heritage and other conservative groups believed that the opt-out feature was necessary for the bill to gain their support.

The Alabama delegation was divided on the bill with Reps. Bradley Byrne (R-AL1), Martha Roby (R-AL2), Mike Rogers (R-AL3), Robert Aderholt (R-AL4), and Gary Palmer (R-AL6) all voting in favor and Reps. Mo Brooks (R-AL5) and Terri Sewell (D-AL7) voting against it.

Roby, who helped write portions of the bill, said in a press release, “It is past time for Congress to replace ‘No Child Left Behind’ with sensible policies that return control back to the states and local communities where it belongs. I’m pleased the House passed the Student Success Act, and I hope the Senate will work with us to achieve final passage soon.”

Rep. Bradley Byrne agreed. “It’s time for the federal government to get some humility,” he said in an issued statement. “Washington bureaucrats don’t know how to educate our children, but our local superintendents, school boards, teachers and principals do. So let’s empower them.”

Although the supporters of the bill herald it as a significant step in Federal Education reform that gets Washington out of the way, conservative opposition claims that it is nothing more than Washington business as usual.

In an interview with Yellowhammer News, Rep. Mo Brooks warned “The actual bill that passed the house will not be the bill that becomes law when the senate is through with it.” He opposed the bill because “It advances the Federal Government’s intrusion and dictates into local education matters for at least another three years. I believe that the Federal Government’s intrusions and mandates into k-12 education have been counterproductive to the quality of public schools in America.”

“The federal government needs to butt out of all k-12 education matters and Congress should be repealing every one of the federal government’s k-12 mandates, not extending them for any number of years as the bill we voted on yesterday would do,” Brooks added. “K-12, throughout the history of America, has been a uniquely city, county, and state function. It is not by coincidence that the rise of Federal Government intrusion into local public school matters has coincided with a very significant decline in the quality of education being offered by public schools as measured by test scores of students going through the system.”

Representative Terri Sewell opposed the bill but for different reasons than her conservative colleague. Because of a provision that allows federal Title 1 funds to “follow” students from traditional public schools to public charter or private schools, Sewell wrote, “I cannot support the reverse-Robin Hood approach to educational funding contained in H.R. 5, the so-called Student Success Act. This bill would divert Title 1 funds away from poor school districts to wealthier schools, further tilting the playing field against underprivileged children.”

The Senate is currently considering a different piece of legislation to renew No Child Left Behind. If it passes, the houses will have to go to conference to hash out the differences.

3 years ago

Sewell sponsors bill to reinstate federal oversight of Alabama’s voter laws

(Photo: Flickr)
(Photo: Flickr)

WASHINGTON — Congresswoman Terri Sewell (D-AL7) introduced legislation Wednesday that would reinstate federal oversight of several states—including Alabama—with troublesome histories of voter suppression.

The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 June 2013 decision, ruled that key portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were unconstitutional, particularly the section that required Alabama and several other states to seek permission from the federal government before making substantive changes to voter laws.

Sewell’s proposed law, the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015
, would require Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Arkansas, Arizona, California, New York, and Virginia to once again seek that preclearance.

The bill would also allow federal courts to add more states to the list if their voter laws are shown to be discriminatory in practice, not just in intent.

Should one of these states, however, could be removed from this list if they have no “voting rights violations” for 25 years.

“There is an urgent need to protect the progress we have made since the courageous Foot Soldiers of the Voting Rights Movement dared to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge 50 years ago,” said Rep. Sewell in a press release announcing her support of the bill. “We have inherited their legacy, and the fight to ensure that all Americans can participate in our political process continues today. The Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015 takes an expansive view of the need to protect access to the voting booth, and will offer more voter protection to more people in more states.”

“The updated coverage formula in this bill will ensure that states, like Alabama, are required to obtain federal preclearance for changes to voting practices and procedures that could have a discriminatory impact. Alabama has a storied history of voter suppression, and it is ironic that the same state that launched the voting rights movement has become fertile ground for its demise.”

Another provision of the bill would expand federal courts’ ability to stop a new voter law from being enforced as it makes its way through the legal system.

“On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, I urge my colleagues to recommit ourselves to restoring the promise of voter equality. We cannot silence any voices in our electorate. Our nation will cease to be a democracy if we limit access to voting.”

3 years ago

Alabama delegation could decide whether ‘ObamaTrade’ passes or not, here’s why

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) prepares for a television interview in the Russell Senate Office Building (Photo: Facebook)
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) prepares for a television interview in the Russell Senate Office Building (Photo: Facebook)

All eyes will be on the Alabama Congressional delegation Friday as the U.S. House votes on whether or not to grant President Obama Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), or “fast track authority” to enter into international trade agreements that Congress will not be able to amend.

Conservatives like Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) have warned that passing TPA would cede too much power to the executive branch, increase America’s trade deficit and threaten jobs. But the bill has garnered the support of big business groups and Republican congressional leadership, who plan to pass the bill on Friday, paving the way for the Obama administration to enact numerous international trade deals that have been negotiated behind closed doors.

So secretive has the process been on one such deal — the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — that members of Congress are only allowed to read it in a locked room in the U.S. Capitol, but are not even allowed to take any of it with them to review with their staffs.

According to Sen. Sessions’ analysis, giving President Obama “fast track authority” would allow any future trade agreements, including the TPP, to be considered “living agreements,” which could be updated and changed without congressional oversight.

“Promoters of TPA should explain why the American people ought to trust the Administration and its foreign partners to revise or rewrite international agreements, or add new members to those agreements, without congressional approval,” said Sessions. “Does this not represent an abdication of congressional authority?”

An unusual coalition of Congress’s most liberal and most conservative members appear to agree on concerns that the deal could hurt American workers, but that opposition may be more than offset by the support the deal has garnered from major business interests.

As a result, the final vote on TPA on Friday could, according to Sen. Sessions, come down to a “razor-thin” margin, and Alabama’s delegation could swing the vote one way or the other.

As of Thursday evening, Alabama congressmen Mo Brooks (R-AL5) and Gary Palmer (R-AL6) have very publicly opposed TPA and Congressmen Robert Aderholt (R-AL4) and Terri Sewell (D-AL7) are believed to be leaning “no” as well. But it is unclear right now where Congressmen Bradley Byrne (R-AL1), Martha Roby (R-AL2) and Mike Rogers (R-AL3) will land, especially with Congressional leadership urging their members to support the bill.

A unanimous Alabama delegation would not only be significant in terms of their own seven votes, but could also swing other southern delegations off of the fence and firmly into the “no” camp.

In August of last year, Alabama’s delegation almost singlehandedly orchestrated a conservative victory on immigration, they may have another shot Friday on “ObamaTrade.”

3 years ago

Sewell: Any trade agreement must protect Alabama workers and industries

Courtesy of US Steel
Courtesy of US Steel

WASHINGTON — Representative Terri Sewell (D-AL7) is urging the nation’s lawmakers to make sure any trade agreements approved by Congress and the president include protections for American workers and industries, particularly the steel industry, which has a significant presence in her West Alabama congressional district.

“My vote on trade legislation hinges on stronger trade enforcement provisions on anti-dumping and currency manipulation, which directly affect the steel industry in my district,” said Rep. Sewell in letter to U.S. House leadership. “Any trade legislation that comes before the House must contain provisions that protect American workers and industries against unfair competition and deceptive trading practices. At the very least, the House should adopt measures to timely consider anti-dumping and countervailing claims before the International Trade Commission (ITC), and provide the Department of Commerce with the flexibility to use prices that are not distorted when calculating dumping.”

In recent years China has been accused of both manipulating their currency to be worth less than the dollar—making their exports artificially less expensive—and so-called “dumping,” or flooding the market with underpriced goods to undermine competition, particularly in the steel market.

While China is not included in negotiations surrounding the much-debated Trans-Pacific Partnership, some of the countries involved have been implicated in facilitating the nation’s unfair trade practices.

“One-sided trade practices like dumping and currency manipulation are hurting American businesses, particularly our steel industry, and the U.S. trade remedy laws only correct the problem after the fact,” wrote Sewell. “By the time that the process has been completed, American workers have already been laid off and our businesses have already lost their market share.

“American industries should not be forced to compete on an uneven playing field. Unfair trade practices hurt our domestic economy and our competitiveness abroad.”

Several lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been adamant that any potential trade agreements with other countries both enforce fair trade practices and protect American workers.

Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions (R), has written multiple op-eds in national newspapers and letters to leadership urging Congress not to weaken its authority by giving the president “fast-track” authority. Sen. Sessions has also warned that approving a “living agreement” trade partnership could weaken U.S. immigration laws and displace American workers.

Sources in Washington say leadership is considering scheduling a vote on the TPA for later this week.

As for Rep. Sewell, in her letter she intimates that Alabama’s workers—particularly those in the 7th district—are her top priority.

“The steel industry supports an estimated 63,000 jobs across Alabama, and is one of the largest employers in the 7th Congressional District of Alabama,” Sewell wrote. “We cannot afford to lose even one job because other countries are not playing by the rules.”

3 years ago

Sewell slams effort to ‘compromise historical integrity,’ rename Edmund Pettus Bridge

Terri Sewell, D-Birmingham
Terri Sewell, D-Birmingham

SELMA, Ala. — A campaign by some Democratic leaders in the state legislature to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge the “Journey to Freedom Bridge” may have found support in the Alabama Senate this week, but Selma native and Congresswoman Terri Sewell (D-AL7) is slamming the proposed change, saying it would “compromise the historical integrity of the voting rights movement.”

“The bridge is an iconic symbol of the struggle for voting rights in America, and its name is as significant as its imposing structure,” Sewell said in a statement to

Named for Edmund Pettus, a Confederate general, Grand Dragon of the Alabama KKK, and Democratic U.S. Senator, the bridge was the site of the “Bloody Sunday” protests where civil rights marchers were beaten for trying to cross it.

Later protesters, including Martin Luther King, Jr., came back despite the violence, crossing the bridge, the demonstration was lauded as one of the most beautifully ironic symbols of the civil rights movement, and is recognized as a significant catalyst of the voting rights act passed later that year.

“There are many things in our society to change that are more significant than the name of a bridge, but removing this vestige of the past will serve as a parallel to the ongoing journey towards equal rights, fair representation and open opportunity,” reads the resolution, sponsored by state Senator Hank Sanders (D-Selma).

Sewell disagreed vehemently with the spirit of the resolution, remarking, “As inheritors of the legacy surrounding the historical events that took place in Selma, we must safeguard that history — good and bad — and resist attempts to rewrite it.”

Yellowhammer CEO Cliff Sims also spoke out against the renaming of the bridge on his radio program Wednesday, calling it an attempt to “whitewash” Alabama’s history.

“How awesome is it that the march for freedom — both literally and figuratively — for so many black Americans went right over a bridge named after a KKK leader?” He asked rhetorically. “Good overcame evil. That’s powerful symbolism. Instead, we’re apparently going to whitewash our history and rename it ‘The Journey to Freedom Bridge.’ Nothing could ever take away from the courage displayed by the people who crossed that bridge — and it truly was a ‘journey to freedom’ — but political correctness annoys me to no end.”

The Alabama legislature ended its 2015 sessions Thursday evening without passing the resolution, so it will need to be brought up again at a later date to be considered.

3 years ago

Federal judge from Ala. accused of domestic abuse resigns, avoids possible impeachment

Judge Mark Fuller in court
Judge Mark Fuller in court

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Federal District Judge Mark fuller, who was accused of domestic abuse last fall, delivered his resignation letter to President Obama Friday, effective August 1st.

A report by Atlanta-based legal blog The Daily Report surfaced shortly thereafter indicating that Fuller’s resignation may have been an effort to avoid impeachment from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Perhaps best known for presiding over former Alabama Democratic Governor Don Siegelman’s corruption trial, Fuller, whose George W. Bush appointment was supported by Senators Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL), had very few allies in either party after the domestic violence allegations surfaced.

Alabama’s lone Democratic congressional representative, Congresswoman Terri Sewell (D-AL7), said Fuller had “violated the public trust,” but his resignation was not justice.

“News of Judge Fuller’s impending resignation is a welcome outcome to a very painful breach of the public trust,” Sewell said in a press release Friday. “His resignation will be the culmination of a drawn out process that was woefully unnecessary. The public trust was violated the moment his wife phoned the police.

“Justice was not served. We sent the wrong message to victims of domestic violence by allowing a federal judge to collect a paycheck — without managing a caseload — and ultimately having his record expunged.

“Fuller failed to uphold our most fundamental values. Perhaps the only consolation is that he has chosen to spare his family and our nation of the expense of a drawn out impeachment process.”

Last fall, Alabama’s other female representative, Congresswoman Martha Roby (R-AL2) spoke out on the issue of domestic violence, saying that tolerating abuse indirectly condones the crime and inhibits victims’ willingness to seek help.

“As a society, we cannot tolerate domestic violence. When abusers are not held accountable, it serves to indirectly condone the crime and has a chilling effect on victims,” said Roby.
“Almost one in every three women has experienced physical violence at the hands of their partner, according to The Centers for Disease Control. The same report concluded that domestic violence is a ‘public health burden’ in America today.

“Domestic abuse cannot be tolerated, explained away or swept under the rug,” Roby explained. “It must be confronted head on, and abusers must be held accountable. Our sons and daughters are paying attention, and how our society handles this moment matters a great deal.”

Alabama’s two Republican U.S. Senators came right behind Roby and immediately called for Fuller to resign.

“The American people’s trust in our judicial system depends on the character and integrity of those who have the distinct honor of sitting on the bench,” said Sen. Richard Shelby. “I believe that Judge Mark Fuller has lost the confidence of his colleagues and the people of the state of Alabama. I urge him to resign immediately.”

“Judge Fuller’s unacceptable personal conduct violates the trust that has been placed in him,” Sen. Jeff Sessions added. “He can no longer effectively serve in his position and should step down.”

Fuller’s 12-year stint on the federal bench will end on August 1.

3 years ago

Conservative group grades Alabama congressmen on their ‘courage to stand up to big govt.’

Conservative scorecard

WASHINGTON — The American Conservative Union, the grassroots organization most well-known for hosting the massive annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), released its grades for members of the 113th Congress this week, and Alabama’s delegation earned both approval and disdain.

“For 44 years, our ACU Ratings have been considered the gold standard in determining a Member of Congress’ courage to stand up to big government liberals and to stand strongly in favor of policy positions important to conservatives,” said ACU Chairman Matt Schlapp. “Our award-winning Senators and Congressmen are fighting to protect the rights and freedom of all Americans by honoring President Reagan’s three-legged stool of economic, national security, and cultural conservative issues.”

For receiving a grade between 80-90%, four members of Alabama’s delegation — Reps. Byrne, Rogers and Brooks, and Sen. Shelby — each earned the ACU Conservative Achievement Award. Sen. Sessions received the higher Conservative Excellence Award for scoring between 90-100%.

So, how did all of Alabama’s congressional delegation stack up?


Bradley Byrne (R-AL1) — 88%
Martha Roby (R-AL2) — 56%
Mike Rogers (R-AL3) — 84%
Robert Aderholt (R-AL4) — 61%
Mo Brooks (R-AL5) — 84%
Spencer Bachus (R-AL6 now retired and replaced by Gary Palmer) — 72%
Terri Sewell (D-AL7) — 8%


Jeff Sessions (R) — 96%
Richard Shelby (R) — 88%

In addition to ranking the Alabama delegation, ACU Chairman Matt Schlapp noted how several presidential hopefuls fared.

“Another interesting fact in our analysis is the stark reminder that Hillary Clinton is no moderate,” he said. “While many in the media portray her as more centrist than self-described Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders or fringe activist Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Clinton’s lifetime rating of 8.13 percent is within two percentage points from those extremists.”

Only one of the GOP’s presidential candidates scored 100% on the scorecard, Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Fellow hopefuls Rand Paul and Marco Rubio each received a 96%.

3 years ago

Sewell calls for ‘compassionate release’ of corrupt former Birmingham mayor Larry Langford

Former Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford

Former Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford
Former Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Former Birmingham mayor Larry Langford is currently serving a fifteen year federal felony sentence for his part in a massive corruption case that gripped the state’s most populous city a few years ago, but as his health has deteriorated recently, Congresswoman Terri Sewell (D-AL7) is renewing a call to allow for his “compassionate release.”

“Justice should be fair, but merciful,” Rep. Sewell said in a press release. “Larry Langford’s health is continuing to deteriorate, and I strongly believe that he should be granted a compassionate release.”

“I wrote a letter in support of his previous request for a reduced sentence that was unfortunately denied,” she continued, “however, this has not deterred me from pressing ahead with this important issue on behalf of Mayor Langford, his family and the greater Birmingham community. I am working with Mayor Langford’s family to arrange a meeting with the Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Charles Samuels, Jr., and U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch in order to advocate for his release.

Just last week, supporters of the former mayor held a small rally in front of a courthouse in the city.

The 67-year-old Langford was recently hospitalized for pneumonia, and has reportedly developed a malignancy as well as blood and respiratory problems.

He is currently being held and treated at the Lexington Federal Medical Center in Kentucky.

“Mayor Langford should be at home with his family,” Rep. Sewell wrote. “He poses no threat to our community, and should be released given his rapidly declining health.”

3 years ago

Alabama congressmen push for companies to invest in training skilled workforce

Representatives Terri Sewell (D-AL7) and Bradley Byrne (R-AL1)

Representatives Terri Sewell (D-AL7) and Bradley Byrne (R-AL1)
Representatives Terri Sewell (D-AL7) and Bradley Byrne (R-AL1)

WASHINGTON — Two Alabama members of Congress from different parties are teaming up to sponsor a workforce development bill focusing on filling 2 million jobs across the country with skilled American workers over the next decade.

Workforce Development Tax Credit Act, which was reintroduced by Reps. Bradley Byrne (R-AL1) and Terri Sewell (D-AL7) last week, would create federal tax credits for businesses that offer apprenticeship programs and additional credits for companies that hire apprentices.

“The workforce needs in the United States are rapidly changing, and skills training is becoming more important than ever before,” Rep. Byrne said in a recent press release. “That’s why I am proud to join my friend and colleague Terri Sewell in introducing the Workforce Development Tax Credit Act. By encouraging businesses to partner with community colleges and universities to advance workforce training initiatives, we can help connect Americans with the skills they need to get a job and meet growing industry demands.”

The bill would create incentives for manufacturing companies to hire apprentices, then retain them after their year-long apprenticeship was completed. The credit would be for 50% of wages (up to $2,000) paid to an apprenticeship employee during an apprenticeship period, and (2) 40% of wages (up to $6,000) paid to such an employee during a post-apprenticeship period. Byrne and Sewell say this would decrease turnover and increase the number of manufacturing jobs staying on U.S. soil.

“A strong manufacturing sector is crucial for our nation’s economic growth and prosperity,” Rep. Sewell emphasized. “The Workforce Development Tax Credit Act encourages businesses to work with community colleges and universities to develop apprenticeship programs that will lead to more skilled workers. Emphasizing skills training will enable our country to maintain its competitive edge, and help bring more Americans into the middle class. I am proud to sponsor this bill with Bradley Byrne, my friend and fellow Alabamian, and I look forward to its passage.”

Alabama has been ranked as one of the best states in the nation for its business-friendliness, and has become a auto-manufacturing powerhouse over the last decade as well. As a state that has come to value its manufacturing sector so highly, Alabama has put a larger emphasis on workforce development in recent years.

This year Governor Bentley created the Alabama Workforce Council (AWC) to target the needs of the state’s manufacturers and better prepare the state and its workers for the next round of challenges.

Vice Chairman of the AWC, George Clark, said The Workforce Development Tax Credit Act is in “total alignment with the goals of the Alabama Workforce Investment Board and with the recommendations made by the Alabama Workforce Council regarding public/private partnerships,” signaling Alabama’s manufacturing sector is also on board with the proposed legislation.

The bill was originally proposed in 2013, but was never voted on by a committee.

3 years ago

Medicare ‘doc fix’ splits Alabama congressional delegation

YH Medicaid Expansion
WASHINGTON — A Medicare “doc fix” bill passed by the U.S. House Thursday drew wide bipartisan support, but failed to receive the votes of two of Alabama’s Congressional delegates.

Congressmen Mo Brooks (R-AL5) and Gary Palmer (R-AL6) were two of only 37 House members who voted against the measure, which the CBO estimates would add nearly $200 billion to the debt over the next decade.

President Obama praised the bill in his speech in Birmingham Thursday afternoon, calling it how Congress is “supposed to work.”

So what exactly is a “doc fix?” In 1997 Congress decided to reign in the growth of Medicare costs by passing a measure called the “Sustainable Growth Rate” in the Balanced Budget Act that required payments to physicians from Medicare to grow no faster than the rate of the economy. Congress has overridden these growth checks 17 times since they were instituted, but has offset the costs approximately 98% of the time. The fix passed Thursday offsets less than half of the costs with cuts elsewhere.

In addition to increasing payments to doctors, the bill introduces means testing for higher-income recipients.

Congressman Brooks told Yellowhammer Friday morning that the bill didn’t do enough to ensure the Medicare system remained solvent, and the only parts of the bill that were offsetting costs came by “forcing Americans who have been successful and have worked hard throughout their lives to pay even more for their Medicare coverage.”

“What we should have done,” Rep. Brooks said, “was slowly but surely made the age at which people can receive Medicare to whatever level is necessary to offset these Medicare costs so that Medicare will be solvent.”

“I have a medical advisory committee that consists of physicians in the Tennessee Valley, and I asked my medical advisory committee to examine this legislation and recommend to me how I should vote. A majority of these doctors disagreed with this bill, and asked me to vote against it,” said Brooks.

“The fact that both Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama were strongly for this financially irresponsible bill ought to have sent up a red flag of warning to more Congressmen,” Brooks concluded.

When Yellowhammer asked Rep. Palmer’s office why the Congressman had voted against the measure, a spokesman simply responded, “Because it wasn’t paid for.”

The bill has been derided by some conservative groups, including the Heritage Foundation’s political arm Heritage Action, for its contribution to the debt and failure to address many of the the fundamental problems within Medicare. Heritage Action key voted the bill for inclusion on their congressional scorecard.

The other five members of Alabama’s congressional delegation all voted for the bill. Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL2) said the fix was “a solution that is both lasting and healthy for our country over the long term. This plan makes sure seniors who rely on Medicare aren’t denied access to doctors.”

“I hope today’s victory is an indicator that House Democrats and Republicans can work together to tackle other issues of critical importance for all Americans,” Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL7) said in a release Thursday.

The Senate plans to take up the bill when it returns from its two-week recess, and has indicated that it will move for the measure to be passed quickly.

3 years ago

Report: Alabama’s Sewell could succeed Pelosi as top House Democrat when she retires

Terri Sewell, D-Birmingham
Terri Sewell, D-Birmingham

WASHINGTON — Analysis by Politico this week names Alabama’s sole Congressional Democrat Terri Sewell (AL7) as one of the prospective replacements for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi upon the former Speaker’s eventual retirement.

Pelosi’s previous heir apparent, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD8), has announced his intention to run for Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski’s seat, leaving an opening in House Democratic leadership.

“It’s a good bet the next-generation leadership team will be more diverse, younger and more willing to split with Democratic traditions like the rigid adherence to seniority,” the Politico article says.

Among a few other candidates, Politico named Sewell as one of the favorites to fill the leadership spot of 2nd in line to Minority Leader.

“Sewell is known for her sprawling network in D.C., and has earned a reputation within the (Congressional Black Caucus) as a team player who can advance the caucus’ agenda within the party,” Politico said. “She’s well-liked by the current African-American leaders and has struck up a friendship with Pelosi since being elected in 2010.”

The decision would be particularly important in the eventuality that the Democratic Party regains control of the House of Representatives, as the Speaker has enormous power over development of legislation and setting the legislative agenda.

Pelosi runs a famously tight ship, and the Democratic Party’s ability to make members hold the party line against GOP opposition has already proven a major strength since Republicans gained majorities in both houses of Congress this year.

While Sewell isn’t the only member mentioned by the article, it is clear that the Democratic party is insistent that more of its top leadership be females or minorities. Rep. Sewell’s vast network and relatively moderate political stances could make her one of the stronger candidates for the job.

3 years ago

Obama’s Birmingham speech to push for more govt. regulations on consumer finance industry

President Barack Obama (Photo: Christopher Dilts)
President Barack Obama (Photo: Christopher Dilts)
President Barack Obama (Photo: Christopher Dilts)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — President Barack Obama will visit Birmingham, Alabama on Thursday and plans to deliver remarks aimed at ratcheting up regulations on the short-term loan industry, according to U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell.

Sewell said the president’s remarks will address “the urgent need for stronger consumer protections and increased transparency.”

“The economy is slowly recovering, and many of my constituents rely on payday loans to help make ends meet,” Sewell said in a statement. “I recognize the need for emergency credit, but we must also ensure that these products help consumers, rather than trap them to a perpetual cycle of debt.”

How exactly does the payday loan industry work? Dr. Peter G. Klein, a Research Fellow at the Alabama-based Mises Institute, explains:

Payday lending, sometimes known as a “payday advance” or a “deferred deposit” loan, is a short-term two- to four-week loan backed by a postdated personal check that a borrower agrees to cover with sufficient funds out of his or her next paycheck. In effect, the borrower issues a postdated check to the payday lender in exchange for immediate cash, usually in the amount of $100 or $200.

The typical fee for this service is $15 or $20 per $100 borrowed, so the postdated check is written for an amount equal to the sum of the desired loan plus the related fees. The payday lender holds the check until the agreed-upon date, at which point it is cashed and (hopefully) covered by the borrower’s payday deposit.

Critics of the short-term loan industry argue that it exploits lower-income customers and leads them to borrow money at high interest rates.

In 2013, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley took proactive steps to curtail predatory lending practices in the state. In an effort to enforce the $500 cap on payday loans, the governor created a centralized database to keep track of consumers’ short-term loan debt in real time.

“If someone has several loans at the same time, and they all carry high interest rates, it’s easy for that person to get trapped in debt,” said Bentley. “This database can help people avoid that.”

Some companies have filed suit to block the implementation of the database, but most of the major payday loan companies support it.

But while the governor and other well-meaning consumer advocates have tried to put commonsense safeguards in place, many liberal groups — including Alabama Arise here in the Yellowhammer State — have pushed for policies that companies in the payday loan industry say would shut them down entirely. President Obama has joined their push to cap interest rates at a level far lower than they are currently set.

However, short-term loan industry proponents say their companies are simply filling a need in the marketplace. They also note several differences between the products they offer and the products being offered by credit card companies, banks and credit unions, most notably their willingness to make unusually high-risk loans. In other words, the payday loan interest rates reflect the risk the companies are taking by making the loans in the first place.

Dr. Klein of the staunchly free-market Mises Institute said he believes short-term loans are “a legitimate means of extending credit to poor and low-income households who may not otherwise be able to obtain loans due to poor credit histories.”

He also expressed concerns with further government intervention in the marketplace, for which President Obama is expected to continue advocating in his upcoming Birmingham speech.

“Further government intervention is not the answer,” he said. “Indeed, it is previous government regulation in the consumer finance industry that has, in part, led to the rapid growth of the very payday lending practices so reviled by critics. As always, the law of unintended consequences prevails, leading to outcomes that are directly opposite those sought by government regulators.”

3 years ago

Ouch: Alabama congressional delegation averages 59% on fiscal conservative ‘scorecard’

United States Capitol
United States Capitol

Fiscally conservative political action group Club for Growth has released its Congressional Scorecard for the 2014 session, and Alabama’s delegation ended up with an average score of 59 percent (out of 100).

Club for Growth bases its Scorecard on a series of “Key Votes” it broadcasts to legislators and its national network whenever “it is imperative that lawmakers strike down legislation that will raise taxes, increase harmful regulations, and grow our already massive government.” At the end of the year, Club for Growth tallies how each member of Congress voted.

Every member has both a score for the year, and a lifetime score.

Each year, the organization gives a Defender of Economic Freedom Award to each member with a 2014 and lifetime score of more than 90.

None of Alabama’s congressional delegates will receive the award for 2014.

“2014’s Congressional Scorecard has few surprises,” Club for Growth President David McIntosh said in a press release accompanying the 2014 scores. “In general, those who believe in economic freedom will be recognized for their consistency and those who do not, will not.”


So, how does the Alabama delegation stack up?

Club for Growth house

The 59 percent score for the whole delegation is dragged down by Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Birmingham), the delegation’s lone Democrat, who scored a 2 on the 2014 scorecard. The remaining six Republicans average a score of 69.

Mo Brooks (R-AL5) is the closest in the House to being considered a “Defender of Economic Freedom.” Senator Jeff Sessions had a stellar year according to the Club for Growth’s rubric, with an eye-popping 2014 score of 98, but also fell just short of receiving the award due to a lifetime score of 87. Sen. Shelby scored a 76 on the 2014 scorecard.

Alabama’s lowest scoring Republican member was Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL2). According to Club for Growth, Rep. Roby’s low score is the result of her support of the “Cromnibus,” farm bill, federal flood insurance, and “bailout of the Highway Trust Fund,” among other key votes. Rep. Roby’s score of 46 actually puts her a few points below the highest scoring House Democrat, Jim Matheson (D-UT4) who came in at 50.

Because the current Scorecard only includes key votes from 2014, newly-elected Congressman Gary Palmer (R-AL6) is not included, while the member he replaced, Spencer Bachus who retired last year, is.

Nationwide, eight House members received a perfect score from Club for Growth, and only one Senator—the now-retired Tom Coburn (R-OK).

The group will present the “Defender of Economic Freedom Award” to a total of 34 members of Congress this year.

3 years ago

Alabama’s lone congressional Democrat defied her party and attended Netanyahu speech, here’s why

Terri Sewell, D-Birmingham
Terri Sewell, D-Birmingham

WASHINGTON — While dozens of Democrats boycotted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress Tuesday of this week, Alabama’s only Democrat in Congress, Representative Terri Sewell (D-AL7) chose to attend.

“Israel is our closest ally in the Middle East and, as a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, it is especially important for me to hear Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s assessment of the growing crisis in the region,” Rep. Sewell said.

Nearly 60 members of the Democratic party, including Vice President Joe Biden, skipped out on the speech, calling it disrespectful to Obama that the President was not informed of the Prime Minister’s invitation before Netanyahu’s address was scheduled. The White House has also cited the upcoming Israeli elections, and ongoing nuclear weapons talks with Iran as reasons they did not attend. The President reportedly did not watch the speech.

Sewell agreed with some of her colleagues in the party, saying she “strongly disagreed with Speaker Boehner’s decision to circumvent the White House,” but said she decided to attend because she “believe[s] it is important to hear from America’s closest partner in the Middle East.”

“The purpose of this event should be to strengthen the unbreakable bond that ties our two nations, not to highlight any divisions that fall along party lines,” Rep. Sewell said. “I hope that today’s speech does not set a precedent, and that the Speaker works more closely with the Administration to ensure this does not happen again.”

Though House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi stated she was “insulted” by Netanyahu’s speech, it resonated strongly with Congressional Republicans, prompting many in Alabama’s delegation to speak in support of the Prime Minister’s visit.

“Netanyahu gave an excellent portrayal of the dangers associated with Iran obtaining nuclear weapons,” Representative Mo Brooks (R-AL5) said in a statement after the speech. “A nuclear Iran threatens not only Israel, but the peace of the entire world. I pray the American people, and the world, are listening”.

“The diplomatic relationship between the United States and Israel is one of America’s most important,” Congressman Gary Palmer (R-AL6) said. “This is based not just on common interests, but common values. Like America, Israel is democratic, guarantees religious freedom, and is governed by the rule of law. Like America, not only was Israel was born out of adversity, but on an idea.”

Representative Bradley Byrne (R-AL1) had a few strong words for the President in his press release about Netanyahu’s visit. “I believe President Obama could learn a thing or two from Prime Minister Netanyahu and the need for a clear strategy to defeat our nation’s enemies,” Byrne said. “In both his speech to Congress and my visit with him last year in Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu demonstrated the ability to articulate a case to the people and build consensus. I wish our President would follow his lead.”

3 years ago

AL lawmakers lead effort to award America’s highest civilian honor to Selma marchers

Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala.
Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala.

WASHINGTON — Senators Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced legislation Thursday to award the highest civilian honor to the Selma marchers whose bravery created a turning point in the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

“It is fitting that we honor the courage and determination of the civil rights marchers at Selma 50 years ago,” Senator Sessions in a release Thursday. “This was a truly pivotal event in the drive to achieve the right to vote for all Americans—a right which had systematically been denied. This action was historic and dealt a major blow to the deliberate discrimination that existed, producing a positive and lasting change for America. Those who stood tall for freedom on that fateful day deserve to be honored with the Congressional Gold Medal.”

The medal would honor the “foot soldiers” who participated in the “Bloody Sunday” march over the Edmund Pettus Bridge, “Turnaround Tuesday,” or the final march from Selma to Montgomery in March 1965. The violent and traumatic events of the marches, which are depicted in the recent film “Selma,” are credited with helping to trigger the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibited the voting disenfranchisement of African Americans.

“We are forever indebted to those brave Americans—men and women of diverse age, color, and creed—who gathered in Selma 50 years ago to march on the frontlines in the fight for equality and justice,” said Senator Booker. “As an American who stands on the shoulders of their courageous sacrifice, I am proud to honor these unsung heroes who victoriously overcame bigotry and hate by walking in unwavering love and peace.”

Alabama Congresswomen Martha Roby (R-AL2) and Terri Sewell (D-AL7) sponsored the House version of the bill, which had 303 co-sponsors and passed unanimously by a vote of 420-0 on February 11th. The Senate bill has 66 co-sponsors so far, including Alabama’s senior Senator, Richard Shelby (R). The bill needs one more co-sponsor before it is eligible to be considered by the Senate Banking Committee, which Sen. Shelby chairs.

Once the bill is passed and signed by the President, the sponsors of the legislation will meet with the US Mint to design the medal itself, which must then be approved by the Secretary of Treasury before being cast at the Philadelphia Mint. Traditionally, brass replicas of the medal are also sold as souvenirs to help cover the costs.

In March, leaders from across the world, including President Obama, will participate in a commemorative march in Selma recognizing the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement.

3 years ago

Keystone XL Pipeline officially approved by Congress, Obama promises veto

Keystone pipeline
WASHINGTON — Congress officially passed authorization for the Keystone XL pipeline, but President Obama has vowed to veto when the bill hits his desk.

The US House passed the legislation Thursday evening 270-152. The entire Alabama Congressional delegation voted for the measure, including Terri Sewell (D-AL7), the state’s only Democrat in Congress, who bucked her Party’s leadership — including the White House — to vote with her Alabama colleagues. She was one of only 29 House Democrats to do so.

The bill is expected to land on President Obama’s desk on February 23rd, after Congress returns from its Presidents Day recess. If President follows through with his promise to veto the bill it will only be his 3rd veto since taking office. Republicans in Congress are not expected to have enough support to override a veto, though the pipeline enjoys strong bipartisan support.

The Keystone XL Pipeline is phase 4 of an existing pipeline, and its status has languished for the last several years as the Obama administration refuses to approve its completion, citing environmental concerns. Keystone XL would have the ability to transport up to 830,000 barrels of heavy crude oil across the United States every day from oil fields as far north as Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast. The State Department estimates building the pipeline could provide as many as 42,000 jobs.

“This commonsense project will create thousands of good-paying jobs, mutually benefit both us and our good friends North in Canada, and set the stage for more and much-needed American energy projects,” Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions said after the Senate passed Keystone authorization in January. “For the President to veto this bill would be to put the irrational, discredited demands of a few far-left activists over the interests of thousands of American workers.”

Keystone has been waiting for six years to gain permission to complete the pipeline from the Obama administration, which has dragged its feet by conducting numerous environmental and economic surveys.

3 years ago

Entire Alabama delegation bucks Obama, votes to build Keystone Pipeline


WASHINGTON — It isn’t often all nine of Alabama’s Congressional delegates—7 members of the House and 2 Senators—agree on something, but they’re all on the same page when it comes to building the Keystone Pipeline.

Terri Sewell (D-AL7), the state’s only Democrat in Congress, bucked her Party’s leadership — including the White House — to vote with her Alabama colleagues. She was one of only 31 House Democrats to do so.

Thursday afternoon the Senate voted 62-36 to approve the pipeline, and once the Senate amendments are approved by the House it will land on President Obama’s desk, where he has repeatedly threatened a veto.

The Keystone XL Pipeline is phase 4 of an existing pipeline, and its status has been languishing for the last several years as the Obama administration has refused to approve its completion, citing environmental concerns. Keystone XL would have the ability to transport up to 800,000 barrels of heavy crude oil across the United States every day from oil fields as far north as Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast. Supporters estimate building the pipeline could provide as many as 42,000 jobs.

Earlier this month at a town hall meeting in Bessemer, Rep. Sewell explained her decision to vote for the pipeline. “I have pipefitters and electricians in my district that are going to get good-paying jobs because of that,” she said, indicating that U.S. Steel’s pipe-building operations in Alabama would benefit directly. “Those good-paying jobs need to stick around.”

Rep. Sewell added that she supports an “all of the above” energy policy which she said is “the best approach to achieving true energy independence while spurring critical job creation.”

The White House maintains its veto threat despite the successful bipartisan passage of the Keystone authorization.

“This commonsense project will create thousands of good-paying jobs, mutually benefit both us and our good friends North in Canada, and set the stage for more and much-needed American energy projects,” said Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions. “For the President to veto this bill would be to put the irrational, discredited demands of a few far-left activists over the interests of thousands of American workers.”

The administration was expected to make a decision on the pipeline by February 2nd, but Thursday’s vote may force the President’s hand to act before the weekend.

After six years of decrying an obstructionist Congress, the Obama administration now finds themselves having to decide between signing the bi-partisan bill on the President’s desk and acquiescing to the leftwing environmentalist wing of Democratic Party.

4 years ago

104-year-old Alabamian steals the show at State of the Union festivities

Amelia Boynton Robinson during her 103rd birthday party

Amelia Boynton Robinson during her 103rd birthday party
Amelia Boynton Robinson during her 103rd birthday party

105-year old Alabamian and civil rights icon Amelia Boynton Robinson was Rep. Terri Sewell’s (AL-07) guest at the State of the Union address last night, but her age didn’t stop her from getting a little sassy and stealing the show.

Before the State of the Union address Boynton Robinson was able to meet with President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder. Last night Rep. Sewell recalled a particularly amusing interaction between Boynton Robinson and Attorney General Holder.

“Perhaps the funniest thing she said, she said to Eric Holder. She said people always talk about, ‘I stand on the shoulders of people like you. Get off my shoulders, do your own work.'”

A victim of the brutal beatings on “Bloody Sunday” while crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma fifty years ago, Boynton is also known for her contributions to the voting rights movements. Her home was used as a field office for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders amidst the voter drives in Selma during the 1960s.

Boynton Robinson ran for Congress in 1964, and though she was unsuccessful her candidacy made her the first African American and first woman to run. In 1990 Boynton was honored for her contributions to the civil rights movement with the Martin Luther King Jr. Medal of Freedom.

She was depicted in the movie Selma by actress Lorraine Toussaint, and when her health precluded her from attending a screening of the film, Paramount Pictures arranged to host a private viewing in her home with some of her closest friends and fellow veterans of the movement. At the conclusion of the film the whole room was emotional, and Boyton Robinson—who has been critical of previous depictions of her place in the civil rights fight—proclaimed “It was good, the movie is fantastic.”

Boynton Robinson’s health also complicated her trip to the Capitol to watch the State of the Union address.

“We didn’t find out until the eleventh hour because … her medical team had to OK her leaving the state of Alabama,” Rep. Sewell said. “I think that for me the most poignant moment was when she got to meet with the president before he spoke, and it was awesome. Really awesome.

“For her to make the journey to Washington, D.C., for the State of the Union and for her to get the chance to meet the president, and for him to say, ‘I am here because of you,’ and her tears, I mean it was special moment.”

Rep. Sewell added, “For me, I think she sums up the movement. Her perseverance, her bravery, her courage, and she was so excited.”

“I feel as though [Rep.] Terri [Sewell] and I have a bond that cannot be broken,” Boynton Robinson said in a statement to The Huffington Post. “I am delighted that she invited me as her guest to hear our President give the State of the Union address. I appreciate the work of her entire staff and my assistants in Tuskegee who helped make my trip to Washington possible. I will forever remember this day.”