6 months ago

Two open congressional seats in the Heart of Dixie in 2020

Governor Kay Ivey has had a very successful first year as governor. One of the coups she pulled off was getting the legislature to pass legislation granting the governor the power to appoint the Board of Pardons and Paroles. The new law will give her all the new appointments to the Parole Board. Previously, the three-member Board picked the director.

The new law went into effect on September 1, 2019 and Gov. Ivey wasted no time selecting the new director. She appointed longtime political figure, former Attorney General and former Mobile County Circuit Judge Charlie Graddick.

Ivey also supported a measure that would make the state school board appointed rather than elected. This proposal will have to be approved by Alabama voters in next year’s election. This one may have tougher sledding. Alabamians are reluctant to give up their rights to vote for their public officials.

Agriculture Commissioner Rick Pate is continuing a great summer political tradition in Montgomery. Pate, who is Alabama’s 27th Commissioner of Agriculture, hosted the 9th Annual Tomato Sandwich luncheon. The menu included homegrown Wiregrass tomatoes and corn on the cob. It also includes lots of politics. Some of those in attendance were former Agriculture Commissioner and now State Treasurer John McMillan, Secretary of State John Merrill, State Auditor Jim Ziegler and State Senators Will Barfoot and Tom Whatley.

Second District Congresswoman Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) made a surprise announcement in late July that she was not going to seek reelection to a sixth two-year term next year. Roby was considered safe in the seat after withstanding a challenging election year in 2018. She drew significant opposition in the GOP Primary after her 2016 announcement that she was not supporting Donald Trump. Even though she received less votes than most of the other Republican members of the Alabama House delegation, she did survive and would have had smooth sailing and a long tenure in the House. She was on good committees and was one of only 13 female Republican congresswomen in the U.S. House. Therefore, she was a darling in the eyes of the House leadership and had a bright future in Congress.

My guess is that she simply burned out on the demanding life of Congress where you are constantly campaigning and raising money, flying back and forth to Washington and actually doing the job of voting your district’s wishes and handling constituents’ work. She also has two young children and a husband who has a successful law career.

She made the right decision for herself. She will have a much more enjoyable and rewarding life, and if, she practices law or lobbies, a much more lucrative lifestyle.

This leaves two open Republican seats. This second district seat, which encompasses all of the Wiregrass, parts of Montgomery and the burgeoning counties of Elmore and Autauga, will be a wide-open and very contested and interesting race. It is a Republican district.

The early favorite to win the seat is Dothan businessman Jeff Coleman. He has been very involved civic wise in the Wiregrass and statewide for years. He will also have unlimited personal funds and will spend them.

Whoever wins the second district seat will be subject to an alteration in the district. We are expected to lose a seat after the 2020 census. Most observers expect this second district to merge into a portion of the third congressional district. It will more than likely pick up the Auburn-Opelika-Lee County area.

In addition to the second district open seat, the first congressional district is a battle royale. Bradley Byrne has vacated this congressional seat to make a race for the U.S. Senate. A trio of stellar candidates are vying to be the congressman from the Mobile-Baldwin area. It will definitely remain a Republican seat. Vying for the GOP nomination are State Representative Chris Pringle, former State Senator Bill Hightower, and Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl. This one will probably be more interesting than the second district.

2020 is shaping up to be a good political year in the Heart of Dixie. The primaries are early on March 3, 2020.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

1 hour ago

Lewis touts McCutcheon; Brooks touts Trump, his record with space and defense

Alabama Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) this week endorsed Chris Lewis in the GOP primary race in the Fifth Congressional District.

The surprise endorsement by McCutcheon caught many in the state off-guard because this race has flown under the radar and polling shows this race, like all of U.S. Representative Mo Brooks’ (R-Huntsville) previous primaries, handily in the bag.

But McCutcheon’s endorsement rightly got the attention of multiple media outlets and observers of Alabama politics with many wondering what this was really all about.

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So when Brooks saw the endorsement and a hostage-style video promoting it by McCutcheon, Brooks responded by highlighting the most coveted endorsement a Republican candidate for any office could get: President Donald Trump.

Brooks told Yellowhammer News:

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!

While speaking to WVNN on Friday, Brooks noted that the endorsement on the bounds of support from the space and defense industry is laughable.

“If Mac McCutcheon is saying that Chris Lewis has more support in Research Park, that is categorically false. We have received more support from the state and defense community, vastly, vastly, vastly, vastly more support from the state and defense community than Chris Lewis has,” he told “The Dale Jackson Show.”

Brooks also touted his seniority, and how that plays into serving his district in Washington, D.C.

“The people who engage in space and defense know that my growing seniority on science, space, and technology and on House Armed Services, coupled with more than a hundred occasions in which I’ve been able to get favorable language into legislation that they’ve wanted me to get for the benefit of our country and what we do in the Tennessee Valley,” he added. “They’re my primary support base in Congress: space and defense.”​

My takeaway:

This is all pretty interesting, but the idea that a McCutcheon endorsement on these grounds can overcome the booming North Alabama economy that Brooks has been a part of since being part of the Tea Party-wave in 2010 is false.

The Trump endorsement might make better television and radio spots, and it will definitely help Brooks, but the real issue is that Lewis and McCutcheon can’t point to how Brooks hasn’t served his district well — because he has.

Barring some massive bombshell to follow up this endorsement, a battle of endorsements between Trump and McCutcheon seems like a fight that was over before it started, much like the Brooks/Lewis race.

Listen:

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN.

2 hours ago

Human clinical study begins at UAB for groundbreaking brain tumor treatment

The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) continues to evolve as a worldwide leader in biomedicine, research and innovation.

Incysus Therapeutics, Inc., a Birmingham-based biopharmaceutical company, has now announced the initiation of a Phase 1 clinical study of a novel Drug Resistant Immunotherapy (DRI) technology for the treatment of patients with newly-diagnosed glioblastoma.

This trial is being conducted at UAB and is now active and open for enrollment.

Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM or glioblastoma) is a devastating and fast-growing brain tumor that typically results in death within the first 15 months after diagnosis. GBM is inherently resistant to conventional therapy and accounts for approximately 52% of all primary brain tumors.

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A release from the company outlined Incysus’ innovative DRI approach, which seeks to combine conventional chemotherapies with a γδ T cell-based immunotherapy to modify the tumor microenvironment and drive the immune system. By using alkylating agents such as temozolomide, chemotherapy can activate immunity through the upregulation of the DNA damage response (DDR) pathway. A significant challenge is that such chemotherapies also kill the white blood cells needed to drive an immune response. Incysus’ technology “chemo-protects” immune cells to allow them to remain functional while DDR activation creates an immune signal that allows directed killing activity against cancer cells.

Incysus is the first company to use this type of therapy in patients, and the research marks a landmark moment for Incysus, the overall biotech industry in Birmingham and anti-cancer research across the globe.

Dr. L. Burt Nabors, MD, the co-head of neuro-oncology at UAB and the study’s principal investigator, stated, “The initiation of this clinical trial represents a significant milestone towards developing effective immune-based therapies for the treatment of GBM. We are pleased to work with … the team at Incysus to bring this innovative therapy to patients for the first time.”

Further information on the clinical trial is available here.

Incysus is a UAB spinoff company. Its success in the Magic City — and this kind of potentially revolutionary research spearheaded by UAB — is a prime example of why many legislative and industry leaders in the state, especially in the Birmingham area, are calling on Governor Kay Ivey to fund a world-class genomics facility at the university. They argue that the project could make Birmingham the “Silicon Valley of Biomedicine.”

RELATED: Planned UAB genomics project could make Birmingham the ‘Silicon Valley of Biomedicine’

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

2 hours 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.

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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.

3 hours 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.

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“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.

4 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.

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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