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Ethics Commission: Not Subject to Ethics Laws

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

Here’s a little-known fact: The Alabama Ethics Commission is not governed by the laws it is charged with enforcing.

That was made abundantly clear when Commissioner Judge Charles Price voted with a conflict of interest at an Oct. 5th Commission meeting. The conflict arose when he voted yes on an Advisory Opinion that permitted the City of Montgomery to give money to the local Chamber of Commerce. Price, a retired Montgomery Circuit Judge, is a board member of the chamber and will shortly become its president.

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Commission Chair Judge Jerry Fielding and Commissioner James Jerry Wood both cautioned Price on his conflict, as did the Commission’s executive director Tom Albritton. Price acknowledged that his vote might present a conflict, but said he had his reasons for voting for the Advisory Opinion, allowing city funds to the Chamber. He did not, however, explain his reasons to the commission.

The Commission denied the opinion in a 2 to 3 vote. Price voted to approve it as did vice-chair Frank C. “Butch” Ellis, Jr.

Price did not commit a felony, nor any crime, because the Ethics Commission falls outside the scope of “Public Officials” or “Employees” under the State Ethics Code.

The law defines a Public Official as:

“Any person elected to public office, whether or not that person has taken office, by the vote of the people at state, county, or municipal level of government or their instrumentalities, including governmental corporations, and any person appointed to a position at the state, county, or municipal level of government or their instrumentalities, including governmental corporations. For purposes of this chapter, a public official includes the chairs and vice-chairs or the equivalent offices of each state political party as defined in Section 17-13-40.”

The code stipulates that a Public Employee is:

“Any person employed at the state, county, or municipal level of government or their instrumentalities… For purposes of this chapter, a public employee does not include a person employed on a part-time basis whose employment is limited to providing professional services other than lobbying, the compensation for which constitutes less than 50 percent of the part-time employee’s income.”

As with the Commission, this exception extends to the governing boards of universities and the Public Service Commission.

Was the omission of such authoritative bodies an unexpected error, or was it omitted by design? A question now left to the imagination of the public.

The Ethics Laws, passed in a 2010 Special Legislative Session, were crafted to allow exceptions for some and restrictions on others engaging in similar actions. The 2010 laws were designed by Gov. Bob Riley, along with Speaker Mike Hubbard and Business Council of Alabama (BCA) Chief Billy Canary for their personal advantage, while placing restraints on others to do the same. A good example is BCA’s ability to hold lavish parties while denying other lobbying groups from holding a smaller events.

There is a lot of talk about reforming the State’s Ethics Code. Some want to soften it so lawmakers can escape the fate of former Speaker Hubbard, who currently awaits his jailer. Lobbyists, without the size and influence of the BCA, believe they should be able to take a client to dinner or host a party without violating the law.

In this case, however, loopholes in the Ethics Code permit behavior by some to go unchecked while others are held accountable for their actions. Whether by design, or happenstance, many gaps in the laws are only discovered after the fact.

 

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Elections

Phil Williams says GOP will defend Senate District 10

Brandon Moseley

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Saturday Etowah County Republican Party Chairman Phil Williams told the Etowah County Republicans that the Republican Party would make sure that Cherokee County cattle farmer Andrew Jones will have the resources needed to defend the Senate District ten seat that Williams is vacating.

On June 5, Jones defeated state Representative Mack Butler, R-Rainbow City. Most political observers expected Butler to win the Republican primary; but the general election against state Representative Craig Ford (I from Gadsden) was considered to be a challenge. Jones defeated Butler 53.43 percent to 46.57 percent 12,516 to 10,907. The Alabama Democratic Party is not fielding a candidate in District 10.

“It is painful not to see Mack Butler in an elected position,” Chairman Butler said. “I have had plenty of discussions with Andrew Jones and with upper level and state leaders to make sure that he has all the resources he needs to make sure that a Republican holds that seat.”

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Williams said that he is impressed with how hard Jones worked and how popular he was in Cherokee County and the inroads that he had made even in Etowah County.

“I feel comfortable that Andrew will have the resources,” Williams said. “This race will be high profile. It is one of the few deeply contested senate seats in the state I have talked with Del Marsh and Andrew has talked with Marsh.”

Williams said that Marsh has assured them that there will be resources to help Jones.
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, is heading the efforts to re-elect a Republican senate majority.

Following the primary win Jones said in a statement:

“I’M EXCITED TO ANNOUNCE MY VICTORY in the State Senate 10 Republican Primary. I’d like to thank my family for their support, and I’d also like to thank Mack Butler for running a spirited campaign. I humbly ask all of Mr. Butler’s supporters for their help in the General Election on November 6. All of the credit for our victory goes to our volunteers and supporters, without whom our victory today would not have been possible. Many of you may not realize that we were outspent somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 to 1 in this campaign. We just continued to focus on taking our message directly to the voters. With our victory today, I hope we have shown that hard work and a clear message still has the power to resonate with Alabama voters.”

While Ford is running for the Senate as an independent, he was formerly the House Minority Leader for the Democrats.

State Representative Becky Nordgren, R-Gadsden, told the group, “I have started putting up signs after the primary. We are in it to win it and help push the liberals back.”

Gil Isabel is running for the House seat that Craig Ford is vacating to run for the senate.

“This seat has been held by a Democrat for many many years,” Isabel said. “I don’t want to overpromise and under deliver.”

Isabel said that it takes a team effort to represent Etowah County and that he is a team player.

“It is time for a change,” Isabel said.

Both Isabel and Nordgren face Democrats in the general election on November 6.

Democrats had held Senate District ten for many years until Williams upset longtime incumbent Larry Means, D-Attalla, in the 2010 election and then defeated a challenge from Means again in 2014.  In 2014 Williams beat Means 17,967 (52 percent) to 16,530 (43.9 percent),

Senate District Ten was redrawn in 2017 after the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus sued all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to have some districts redrawn to be more competitive for Democrats and provide more influence for minorities. A portion of staunchly Republican St. Clair County had been in the district. They no longer are and SD10 now includes more of Dekalb and Cherokee County in addition to Etowah County.

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News

The number of Alabamians working is at an 11-year high

Brandon Moseley

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Friday Alabama Department of Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington announced that Alabama’s wage and salary employment measured 2,042,400 in June, a ten-year high. The last time it measured at or above this level was in December 2007, when it measured 2,045,800. This is the largest number of Alabamians working since before the Great Recession.

“Wage and salary employment in Alabama continues to increase significantly month after month,” said Washington. “This month’s count is the second largest we’ve ever recorded, yielding only to pre-recessionary numbers. It represents the most jobs our economy has supported in more than a decade. Employers are hiring in Alabama, jobs are available in Alabama, and people are working in Alabama.”
Over the year, wage and salary employment has increased 21,600, with gains in the manufacturing sector (+4,600), the leisure and hospitality sector (+4,400), and the professional and business services sector (+4,000), among others.

Wage and salary employment increased in May by 7,000. Monthly gains were seen in the leisure and hospitality sector (+2,300), the manufacturing sector (+1,800), and the education and health services sector (+1,300), among others.

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“We know that our economy is supporting record numbers of jobs, and we also know that Alabamians are working in record numbers – the most in more than 11 years,” Washington added. “Twenty-one thousand more people are working now than they were last year. That means more Alabamians are supporting their families, and spending money in their communities.”

Congressman Mike Rogers (R-Saks) said, “Great news for the State of #Alabama under Donald J. Trump leadership! Wage and Salary Employment in our state at a TEN YEAR HIGH!

Alabama’s preliminary, seasonally adjusted May unemployment rate is 3.9 percent, a slight increase from April’s record low rate of 3.8 percent, and well below May 2017’s rate of 4.6 percent.

Shelby County has the lowest employment rate at just 2.7 percent. Cullman has just 3.1 percent. Marshall has just 3.2 percent. Washington County has the highest unemployment at 8.95 percent. Greene County has 7.2 percent and Clarke County had 6.9 percent.

Nationally the news has been good almost across the economy. The U.S. unemployment rate is just 3.8 percent.

For the first time since such record-keeping began in 2000, the number of available positions exceeded the number of job seekers, the Labor Department said earlier this month.

The U S. Labor Department reports that the total number of workers receiving unemployment benefits has dropped to just 1.75 million: the lowest number since December 1973 when the population and the workforce were much smaller than they are now.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) has been touting the incredible job numbers as she campaigns across the state for her own term as Governor. Republicans are hopeful that Americans will take not of the rising economic tides and will reward GOP candidates at the ballot box in November.

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National

Ivey says Trump Administration import tariffs would harm Alabama economy

Brandon Moseley

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(ADAM BRASHER/THE AUBURN PLAINSMAN)

Monday, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) warned the Trump Administration that import tariffs could harm the Alabama economy.

“Import tariffs and any retaliatory tariffs on American made goods, will harm Alabama.” Ivey said in a statement critical of proposed new tariffs on foreign imports by the Trump Administration.

Donald J. Trump (R) was elected President of the United States vowing to fight what he called one sided trade deals.

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“Alabama has a rich history as a leader in manufacturing, a legacy which continues in large part, through our five automotive original equipment manufacturers and our over 200 supporting suppliers that have helped establish “Made in Alabama” as an internationally-respected brand,” Ivey said. “Last year proved to be a banner year for auto industry growth in Alabama, with nearly $3 billion in automotive-related investments. Before the recent announcement of a new Mazda-Toyota plant, and other automotive-related growth, more than 57,000 Alabamians were already employed by our auto manufacturing sector, a number which is expected to increase. However, this growth could be stymied if tariffs are imposed on the goods we export around the world.”

“In 2017, Alabama reached a record high of $21.7 billion in exports, with our auto industry accounting for $10.9 billion of those exports,” Ivey continued. “The largest importers of Alabama made goods and services were Canada, China, Germany, Mexico and Japan – all countries which may be forced to reciprocate in response to any new import tariffs.”

“Import tariffs, and any retaliatory tariffs on American made goods, will harm Alabama, the companies that have invested billions of dollars in our state, and the thousands of households which are dependent upon those companies for a good-paying job,” Ivey wrote in her statement. “I strongly oppose any efforts that may harm those companies that employ thousands of Alabamians and contribute billions to our economy. I am committed to protecting Alabama jobs and consumers, the world over, who are proud to purchase products made in Alabama.”

Gov. Ivey was at the White House on Monday for a meeting of the National Space Council. President Donald J. Trump (R) addressed the group and announced the creation of his new Space Force.

Trump said on the Whitehouse web site: “From now on, we expect trading relationships to be fair and to be reciprocal.”

President Trump has imposed a number of tariffs on countries that the administration says do not have a fair trade relationship with the United States.  These nations include historic allies like France, Canada, and Mexico.  They also include China which the administration is threatening with strong trade penalties by the end of June.

The Trump Administration recently announced that the United States will implement specific investment restrictions and enhanced export controls for Chinese persons and entities related to the acquisition of industrially significant technology. The list of restrictions and controls will be announced by June 30, 2018.

The Administration wrote that: “China has consistently taken advantage of the American economy with practices that undermine fair and reciprocal trade. For many years, China has pursued industrial policies and unfair trade practices—including dumping, discriminatory non-tariff barriers, forced technology transfer, over capacity, and industrial subsidies—that champion Chinese firms and make it impossible for many United States firms to compete on a level playing field.”

“China’s industrial policies, such as its “Made in China 2025” plan, harm companies in the United States and around the world,” the Administration stated. “China imposes much higher tariffs on United States exports than the United States imposes on China. China’s average tariff rate is nearly three times higher than the average United States rate. Certain products are even more imbalanced, for instance the United States charges a 2.5 percent tariff on Chinese cars, while China currently maintains a 25 percent tariff on cars from the United States.”

“China has banned imports of United States agricultural products such as poultry, cutting off America’s ranchers and farmers from a major market for their goods.” the Trump Administration continued. “China has dumped and unfairly subsidized a range of goods for the United States market, undermining America’s domestic industry. In 2018 alone, the Trump Administration has found dumping or unfair subsidies on 13 different products, including steel wheels, cold-drawn mechanical tubing, tool chests and cabinets, forged steel fittings, aluminum foil, rubber bands, cast iron soil pipe and fittings, and large diameter welded pipe.

In January 2018, the Trump Administration ruled that China’s overproduction of steel and aluminum.
The head of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, Lawrence Kudlow recently wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post and released on the Whitehouse website.

“Our friends and foes alike should recognize that President Trump has been remarkably faithful in keeping his campaign promises,” Kudlow stated. “From massive tax cuts to historic regulatory reduction to forcefully challenging one-sided international agreements, he has done exactly what he said he would do. There’s a simple lesson in President Trump’s record of achievement: Believe him.”

“Nowhere is this lesson clearer than when it comes to President Trump’s passion as a trade reformer,” Kudlow continued. “President Trump supports a vision of free trade that is fair and reciprocal. As a pro-growth reformer, the president understands that fair and reciprocal trade can knock down barriers, open up export markets and increase investment, which is the path to lasting economic growth. But this vision has been thwarted in recent decades by a lack of reciprocity, along with unfair and often illegal trading practices, including massive intellectual property theft. Country after country has been putting our global trading system at risk by raising tariffs and non-tariff barriers, protecting sectors from automobiles to agriculture. So do not blame President Trump for taking decisive actions that protect our American workers.”

“Past U.S. administrations — both Republican and Democrat — have paid only lip service to dealing with this breakdown,” Kudlow stated. “Not President Trump. He has shown courage and decisiveness to prevent harm to the American economy and its workforce.”

Some economists have expressed fears that Trump’s proposed tariffs could lead to retaliation and a trade war that could result in a global economic down turn.

The unemployment rate in Alabama is just 3.9 percent.

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Ethics Commission: Not Subject to Ethics Laws

by Bill Britt Read Time: 3 min
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