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New Year Promises To Be Interesting

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Both Alabama and Auburn play in bowl games on Thursday to start the New Year off right…with football and more football.  That said, 2015 is already shaping up to be a huge year in Alabama politics and your Alabama Political Reporter is already hard at work covering the stories that shape your world.  With 2014 coming to a close, we are looking ahead to what we expect to be the highlights of the New Year.

The General Fund Budget Crisis – the housing bubble explosion that set off the Great Recession is long past; but the State’s employment situation has never fully recovered.  The percentage of Alabamians actually participating in this economy remains depressed as are wages for the average worker.  Poorer Alabamians require more services, like Alabama Medicaid, pay little State income taxes and have less to spend, thus generate more limited sales taxes.

All this means that State revenues remain largely insufficient…..particularly in the General Fund where soaring Medicaid costs and a large prison populace are constant drains on an ever increasing portion of the General Fund.  The Bentley administration and the Republican Super Majority artificially propped up the General Fund in 2012 with a raid on the Alabama Trust Fund.  The temporary revenue spike from that raid, gave the State’s General Fund a brief respite now that money is gone and the legislature is facing a $250 million hole in the General Fund budget.

The Mike Hubbard Trial – the Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives is expected to be easily re-elected for another four years as Speaker when the legislature meets in January for the organizational session for this quadrennium.  That will be the easy part for the State Representative from Auburn.  In March, Speaker Hubbard is expected to go on trial for 23 counts of public corruption.  The prospect of a sitting Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives standing trial on felony corruption charges and then leaving the court room to go preside over a session of the Alabama House of Representatives that evening promises to be a media circus that will likely draw national media attention.

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The Lottery – the State needs revenue and some members of the legislature are willing to do anything to get it.  Polls show that most Alabamians are receptive to some sort of a State lottery.  Of course polls back in the 1990s showed that the lottery was popular back when Governor Don Seigelman (D) staked his governorship on a lottery vote….and lost.  That lottery promised to send kids to college, fund pre-kindergarten and computers for classrooms…it went down in flames when it went to the voters.  A lottery that funds primarily Alabama Medicaid and Alabama’s prisons that puts little or no money in the pockets of upper and middle class voters seems like a much harder sell.

Scholarship Granting Organizations – the Alabama Education Association (AEA) came hard after its Republican Super Majority foes in 2014 elections on the issue of the Alabama Accountability Act and lost.  Every AEA backed GOP challenger in state Senate races lost and then the super majority took three seats from undermanned Democrats.  The AEA knocked off about 6 or 7 Super Majority House seats in the Republican Primary; but then saw more Democrats get knocked off in the General Election blunting whatever gains the once powerful teachers union gained in the primary.  That Republican Super Majority is angry at the AEA and is promising to take it out on the public schools.  The big winner in this is expected to be the Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGOs).  Currently, the Alabama Accountability Act allows only $20 million to be diverted from public education to the SGOs.  The Alabama Political Reporter is hearing chatter that that number is expected to climb to $100 million and the number of students eligible for the scholarships to substantially increase.

More Corruption Indictments – In 2014 state Representative Greg Wren (R-Montgomery) plead guilty to using his office for personal gain.  State Representative Barry Moore (R-Enterprise) and Speaker Hubbard were both indicted in the Lee County Public Corruption investigation (Moore later was found not guilty by a jury).  The Alabama Political Reporter believes there will be more indictments and likely another investigative Grand Jury in 2015.

New ALGOP Leadership – the Alabama Republican Party is the de facto ruling party in the state of Alabama.  Democrats were not competitive in any of the last three elections.  They might return; but not for at least four years.  This means that all things Republican have an over-sized influence as GOP incumbents worry more about GOP Primary voters than they do general elections in districts where Republicans routinely win with commanding majorities.  Alabama Republican Party Chairman Bill Armistead had put his stamp heavily on GOP politics and philosophy during his tenure as Chair.  A new Chair and a new party leadership will be elected in February.  How will the new Chair affect issues across the state moving forward?

Presidential Politics – Democratic Presidential politics look like it will be very similar to 2008 where the more moderate wing of the Democratic Party rallies around Hillary Clinton while the more hardcore left looks for a Hillary alternative, like possibly Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders.  Republican Presidential politics meanwhile looks like utter chaos at this point.  Rick Perry, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich even Mitt Romney and Alabama’s own Jeff Sessions are just some of the numerous names being seriously bandied about in GOP circles in what looks like an unusually wide open field.  Your Alabama Political Reporter will be there as the aspirants to America’s highest office come in and out of our State.

Marijuana – this issue gets more complicated every year.  In 2014, the State legislation was passed that would allow oil derived from marijuana to be administered to persons with severe epilepsy (Carly’s Law).  Whether or not this treatment is effective or if federal law is being violated are still issues that will come up in 2015, as in the recent unexpected announcement by the Obama administration that recognized Indian tribes would be allowed to sell medicinal marijuana potentially in defiance of State laws.  Alabama’s Poarch band of Creek Indians (PCI) are studying this controversial proposal.  If PCI were to move towards cashing in on this lucrative monopoly, would that spur the State legislature to decriminalize medical marijuana?  Could taxing medicinal marijuana be a potential new State income source?

Medicaid – the State has passed legislation to switch Alabama’s troubled Medicaid program from a direct provider payment system administered by the State of Alabama to a managed care model run by regional care organizations (RCOs).  This model is designed to limit the escalating costs of the program.  The RCOs and the potential expansion of Medicaid are issues which we will follow closely in 2015.

Prison Reform – the State has to find a way to decrease its prison population and find ways to modernize its aging correctional facilities in 2015 or potentially face a Federal takeover of the troubled prison system.  Sentencing reforms and prison privatization are subjects being widely discussed.

Tax Increases – this is the first year of the quadrennium.  Voters have three years to forget about anything that legislators do to them this year, thus 2015 is the year where legislators are most likely to do something unpopular.  Governor Robert Bentley (R), who will not have to ever face voters again, has proposed ending a number of state tax deduction which would cost Alabama taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars each year.  Some members of the Bentley administration claim this is not a tax increase because it does not raise tax rates.  That assertion has been dismissed by many as being ludicrous.  The Alabama Political Reporter believes that additional income tax dollars would go to the education trust fund by law and cannot be diverted to the general fund.  Many have suggested budget reform so that Alabama will have just one budget, this idea however would have to go to the voters.  Could there be a special election in September?

Charter Schools – there are a lot of rumblings from super majority sources that a charter school bill is coming.  Education reform advocates have been busy promoting school choice to legislators and moving more children out of the heavily unionized Alabama public schools is being talked about as another way to strike back at AEA.

Common Core – conservative opponents of Alabama’s controversial College and Career Ready Standards are organizing for the next legislative session.  They are determined to see legislation passed that would see the unpopular curriculum replaced during this legislative session.  Most Common Core backers in the legislature however saw reelection in 2014 so this is likely to be an uphill fight.

Casino Gambling – PCI operates three “electronic bingo” halls in Atmore, Wetumpka, and Montgomery.  None of these establishments are licensed by the state of Alabama and the state collects no tax revenues from the Indian gaming.  Will Alabama compromise with the Indians and set up a Compact acknowledging that the Indians have a de facto monopoly under federal law on gaming in exchange for a share of the revenue?  Could a wider expansion of bingo bill pass a Republican controlled state legislature and go to the voters in 2015?

Constitution Reform – Alabama’s 1901 Constitution is the oldest and longest State Constitution.  In 2014 an article by article rewrite of the constitution in a secret committee came to a screeching halt when Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) ruled that Senate President Del Marsh (R-Anniston) and the State legislature had exceeded their authority.  Legislators are expected to bring back this controversial issue in 2015.

Partisanship in Washington – for the last four years legislation passed the U.S. House of Representatives and died a slow death in the U.S. Senate where hundreds of bill were never brought to the floor of the Senate by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada).  That changes next week when new GOP Senators are sworn in.  Voters across the country rejected Team Obama and elected Republican candidates to numerous offices, including the Senate. 

Your Alabama Political Reporter will continue to provide unmatched coverage of your Alabama Congressional Delegation and their views on the issues affecting Alabama and the world.

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Elections

Kay Ivey attends HudsonAlpha’s grand opening of Paul Propst Center

Brandon Moseley

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via Kay Ivey for Governor campaign

Wednesday, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) was in Huntsville for the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology’s ribbon cutting ceremony for their newest expansion.

The Paul Propst Center is a 105,000 square foot building and is named to honor the memory of the father of Huntsville businessman and philanthropist William “Bill” Self Propst. Propst’s father, Paul, was a North Alabama minister.

“Technology is rapidly advancing in today’s world, and this facility will give scientists, educators, and entrepreneurs an opportunity to not only keep up but lead the way in biotechnology.” Governor Ivey said, “Following the ribbon cutting, I had a chance to tour HudsonAlpha’s new center and see firsthand the great work going on here. I fully anticipate and look forward to what revolutionary breakthroughs are next.”

“The research, education and economic development efforts happening at HudsonAlpha are revolutionizing the way that Alabamians live and the way the world lives, which is why I am so proud to join them in expanding those efforts through the addition of the Paul Propst Center,” Gov. Ivey said. “Thanks to HudsonAlpha, Alabama will be the state to make good on the promise of having 21st-century healthcare and agriculture.”

In addition to Gov. Ivey the event was attended by Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, Alabama Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia), Alabama State Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), U.S. Representative Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville), and Huntsville area economic developer Nicole Jones.

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“HudsonAlpha is a leader in biotechnology and genomic research. Once again, they are on the cutting edge with the opening of the Paul Propst Center,” Rep. Brooks said. “The Paul Propst center is truly a state of the art building and will strengthen a workforce that continues the advancement of the biosciences economy in North Alabama. I was proud to participate in their ribbon cutting today.”

“This campus is a shining star for the state of Alabama, for this community, and the world stage,” Speaker McCutcheon told WHNT Channel 19.

“Bioscience, one of the State of Alabama’s targeted industries, brings in an estimated annual economic impact of $7.3 billion,” Nicole Jones told the Alabama Political Reporter. “The vision of HudsonAlpha Founders Jim Hudson and Lonnie McMillan contributes significantly to that number, and more importantly, enhances the quality of life of mankind.”

“At HudsonAlpha, members of the public and private sector partner to make innovations in biotechnology happen.” Nicole Jones added, “HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, literally and metaphorically, is built upon principles of collaboration. It has been an incredible opportunity to witness the institute’s growth over the past decade. Huntsville, Alabama is changing the world with the brilliant minds at HudsonAlpha.”

The Paul Propst Center is made possible by the state of Alabama and community support, including the generosity of Mr. Propst.

“Throughout my career, I have been focused on improving people’s health. My family and I continue to work towards these goals,” said Propst. “I see those working at HudsonAlpha with the same commitment to making life better. We are honored to be able to support HudsonAlpha as they continue to grow and make advancements.”

“HudsonAlpha is really helping us develop an industry that will drive not only the future of Huntsville but the future of healthcare as we know it. Cures for diseases will come out of HudsonAlpha that will impact the lives of our children and children’s children for decades to come,” said Mayor Tommy Battle.

“HudsonAlpha has accomplished so much in the only ten years, all of which would not have been possible without the support our community,” said HudsonAlpha co-founder Jim Hudson. “Cutting the ribbon today on the Paul Propst Center was a special moment not only for me, but all of us at HudsonAlpha and in Huntsville.”

The Propst Center has a similar look and feel to the flagship building at 601 Genome Way, the Propst Center will house components of HudsonAlpha’s education and research programs, and growing biotech companies. The details in design, glass walls, common sidewalks, a grand staircase, are intended to create a “team science” environment and contribute to the culture of collaboration.

“The vision of the institute’s founders is to see discoveries and advancements quickly occur with research and business working together,” said HudsonAlpha Vice President for Economic Development Carter Wells. “Today, we celebrate not just the continuation but a strengthening of the culture of collaboration and innovation created 10 years ago.”

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Elections

Jay Mitchell campaigns in St. Clair County

Brandon Moseley

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Republican nominee for the Alabama Supreme Court Jay Mitchell addressed the influential St. Clair County Republican Party at City Market Grill in Pell City Thursday.

Mitchell said that he wants to go to Montgomery and be part of, “Restoring confidence in what we do in Montgomery.”

Jay Mitchell said that he was born in Mobile and grew up in the Wiregrass. When he was ten, his family moved to Homewood. Mitchell went to Birmingham Southern where he played basketball and was part of a Division 3 basketball national championship team. Mitchell went to the University of Virginia School of Law, where he met his wife.

Mitchell and his wife, Elizabeth live in Homewood, with their four children. Jay is a partner with Maynard, Cooper & Gale in Birmingham. He has handled numerous cases at both the trial and appellate levels. He is recognized as one of the top attorneys in the United States

Mitchell said that if he is elected to the Alabama Supreme Court he is going to focus on what does the law say. “I believe that we have a responsibility as the Judiciary to stay on the right side of our boundary line and not become some sort of a super legislative group.”

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“I am not running for a paycheck, I am not running for a safe seat,” Mitchell said. I am going to Montgomery to work.

Mitchell said that he is glad that if he goes to Montgomery that St. Clair County District Attorney Richard Minor (R) will be working in the Judicial Building with him. Minor is the Republican nominee for the Court of Criminal Appeals. Minor has no Republican opponent.

Mitchell said that retired St. Clair County Judge Jim Hill does a great job representing St. Clair County in the Alabama legislature.

Mitchell said that “there is a great forgetting going on” right now. We are forgetting how the country was founded, the liberties guaranteed by the Constitution, and how men have sacrificed to protect our liberties. Mitchell promised that if he is elected to the Alabama Supreme Court that he will take time to talk to school groups. I am committed to do my part to help educate the next generation about this country.

Mitchell’s race is one of just two state appellate court races where the Democrats fielded a candidate. Mitchell faces Jasper attorney Donna Wesson Smalley (D) in the November general election.

Associate Justice Tom Parker (R) is running against Jefferson County Judge Robert Vance (D) for Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.

Former St. Clair Republican Party Chairman Paul Thibado said that we need to put a lot of effort into recruiting new people particularly young people to the county party. St. Clair County should be an industrial mecca.

St. Clair County Republican Party Chairman Lance Bell said that the newly elected St. Clair County Republican Party representative on the State Republican Executive Committee Emory Cox has had to resign his post because he has taken a job in the White House.

The St. Clair County Party Executive Committee members there elected St. Clair County School Board Attorney John Rhea to fill the vacancy. There was no opposition.

Bell said that Richard Minor was also stepping down from the State Republican Executive Committee and that the county party executive committee will vote on his replacement next month. The October meeting is tentatively set to be held in Moody.

St. Clair County Circuit Clerk Annette Manning Hall reminded the Republicans present that absentee ballots become available at her office on Monday, September 24.

Bell said that Kay Ivey’s St. Clair County Chairman Bill Morris was going to need help manning stations at the polls on election day.

Gov. Kay Ivey (R) faces Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter “Walt” Maddox (D).

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Shelby announces $4 Million in critical opioid treatment grants for Alabama community health centers

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) announced that 15 community health centers located in Alabama have received a total of $4,038,000 in federal grant funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to support increased treatment and prevention for opioid and substance abuse.

“It is of the utmost importance that we work to fund the fight against the national opioid crisis,” said Senator Shelby. “Nearly every county in Alabama is affected by this growing problem. These HHS grants will allow community health centers across the state to provide treatment to patients with opioid and substance abuse and support addiction prevention programs, helping our communities tackle this widespread epidemic.”

The grants were awarded to community health centers in: Bayou La Batre, Birmingham, Centreville, Gadsden, Huntsville, Mobile, Montgomery, Parrish, Selma, Scottsboro, Troy, and Tuscaloosa.

64,000 Americans were killed from drug overdoses in 2016, more than were killed in a decade of fighting in the Vietnam War. More than 300,000 Americans have been killed by opioids since 2000. In 2016 more than 20.1 million Americans were addicted to prescription painkillers and/or illicit opioids.

Responding to the unprecedented drug crisis has been a priority of the administration of President Donald J. Trump (R).

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“We are already distributing nearly $1 billion in grants for addiction prevention and treatment, and more than $50 million to support law enforcement programs that assist those facing prison and facing addiction,” the President said. “We have also launched an $81 million partnership to research better pain management techniques for our incredible veterans.”

The President’s proposed Federal Budget requested $3 billion in new funding in 2018 and $10 billion in 2019 for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to combat the opioid epidemic by expanding access to prevention, treatment, and recovery support services. The funding would also go toward addressing mental health concerns.

On September 19, HHS awarded nearly $352 million to 1,232 community health centers across the nation, including the 15 in Alabama, through the Expanding Access to Quality Substance Use Disorder and Mental Health Services (SUD-MH) awards. The SUD-MH awards support health centers in implementing and advancing evidence-based strategies that best meet the substance use disorder and mental health needs of the populations they serve.

The following 15 community health centers in Alabama will receive the $4,038,000 in grant funding:

  • Bayou La Batre Area Health Development Board, Inc., Bayou La Batre – $285,000
  • Christ Health Center, Inc., Birmingham – $285,000
  • Alabama Regional Medical Services, Birmingham – $285,000
  • Aletheia House, Inc., Birmingham – $201,750
  • Cahaba Medical Care Foundation, Centreville – $296,000
  • Quality of Life Services, Inc., Gadsden – $293,000
  • Central North Alabama Health, Huntsville – $285,000
  • Health Services, Inc., Montgomery – $285,000
  • Franklin Primary Health Center, Inc., Mobile – $285,000
  • Mobile County Health Department, Mobile – $285,000
  • Capstone Rural Health Center, Parrish – $287,250
  • Rural Health Medical Program, Inc., Selma – $285,000
  • Northeast Alabama Health Services, Inc., Scottsboro – $110,000
  • S.E. Alabama Rural Health Associates, Troy – $285,000
  • Whatley Health Services, Inc., Tuscaloosa – $285,000

“Addressing the opioid crisis with all the resources possible and the best science we have is a top priority for President Trump and for everyone at HHS,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “The more than $1 billion in additional funding that we provided this week will build on progress we have seen in tackling this epidemic through empowering communities and families on the frontlines.”

“This week, HHS updated its strategic framework for tackling the opioid crisis, which uses science as a foundation for our comprehensive strategy,” said Admiral Brett Giroir, Assistant Secretary for Health and Senior Advisor for Opioid Policy. “With these new funds, states, tribes, and communities across America will be able to advance our strategy and continue making progress against this crisis.”

Earlier this week, Senator Shelby voted to pass “The Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018,” which was a bipartisan effort of over 70 U.S. Senators and includes proposals from the Senate Committees on: Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions; Finance; Judiciary; Commerce, Science, and Transportation; and Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.

The legislation would improve detection of illegal drugs at the border, improves the sharing of Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs data between states, and aims to reduce the use and supply of dangerous drugs.

Senator Richard Shelby is the Chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.

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Will Christine Blasey Ford testify before Senate Judiciary Committee or not?

Brandon Moseley

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Christine Blasey Ford has alleged that she was groped by Brett Kavanaugh when they were both teenagers and that another student had to pull him off of her.

That student, Kavanaugh’s Georgetown Prep classmate Mark Judge denies Ford’s account. Judge said Ford’s allegation never happened: “It’s just absolutely nuts. I never saw Brett act that way.”

Kavanaugh has denied that the incident has ever taken place.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is now begging Ford to agree to come to Washington to testify.

The committee will hold a special session on Monday and has invited both Kavanaugh and Ford to testify on the allegations. Only Kavanaugh has accepted. As of press time, Ford has agreed to testify but not on Monday and even though she is the accuser she is demanding that Kavanaugh testify first. Traditionally the accuser testifies first and the accused is allowed to testify second. Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has not yet agreed to Ford’s highly unusual demands.
Some Republicans have argued that if she does not come Monday that the Senate Judiciary Committee should just go ahead and vote and send the nomination to the full Senate.

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“The Democrats and special interest groups have only one goal – delay and stop the nomination of Bret Kavanaugh,” said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel. “Of course, Christine Blasey Ford refuses to testify. She is being used as a political pawn to delay the hearing. Only after Senate Democrats were unable to delay or stop the confirmation process did they bring this 36-year-old allegation which they held for six weeks. The confirmation hearing needs to move forward, and this mockery of the system and disrespect to a good man must end.”

Some have compared Ford’s Washington Post story that he had sexually misused 15 year old Christine Blasey Ford to last year’s Washington Post story that then U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore has sexually misused 15 year old Leigh Korfman.

“Brett Kavanaugh, like me, has withstood numerous investigations and vetting by the most rigorous legal and political authorities,” Judge Moore said in a statement. “The timing of these accusations in the midst of the U. S. Senate’s confirmation for a seat on the U. S. Supreme Court, like those allegations against me only 32 days before the final election for the United States Senate last year, is indeed suspect and show the depths to which liberals will stoop to stop opposition to their agenda.”
Senate Democrats used similar character assassination tacticsto fight the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Christine Blasey Ford is expected to make a decision today on whether or not she will testify.

Brett Kavanaugh is President Donald J. Trump’s second nomination to the Supreme Court.

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New Year Promises To Be Interesting

by Brandon Moseley Read Time: 9 min
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