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Analysis | Democratic candidates offer idealistic goals in debate. Realities remain unseen

Sam Mattison

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Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, former Chief Justice Sue Cobb and former state Rep. James Field gathered in Birmingham on Wednesday in a televised debate by WVTM 13.

The debate, while eventful in moments, was plagued with common solutions by Democrats in the state.

Here are the highlights of the night:

Maddox and Cobb spar over minimum wage

When it came time for candidates to ask each other questions, Cobb did not hold back and confronted Maddox on a decision he made to oppose a proposal to increase the minimum wage in Tuscaloosa to $10.10 in 2016.

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The former chief justice said that actions spoke louder than words and questioned Maddox’s commitment to raise the minimum wage, which has been a talking point of Democrats for years.

Maddox defended the decision by pointing to a law that was going through the Legislature at the time. The bill would have prohibited municipalities and local governments from increasing the minimum wage. It eventually passed out of the body and was signed into law.

According to reporting from AL.com at the time, Maddox had been informed by Tuscaloosa’s attorney that the city did not have the authority to raise the minimum wage and the Tuscaloosa mayor re-iterated that point at Wednesday’s debate.

Maddox said that he swore an oath to follow the “laws of the land” and also said that passing the proposal to raise the minimum wage would have embroiled the city in “costly litigation.”

Cobb, who has served as a legal authority, disagreed and continued to criticize Maddox.

The continued attacks led to a back-and-forth between the two candidates, which is not allowed per the debate rules. Cobb, while engaging with Maddox in an argument, restarted her time and Maddox was not allowed to respond.

Lotteries

Perhaps the most used solution during the debate was a state lottery to pay for Alabama’s budget shortcomings. The budget shortfall, mostly from the large Education and General Fund budgets passed this year, will reach into the tens of millions unless Alabama makes plans to stave off the deficit.

All the candidates have proposed a state lottery to fix the problems in the state, whether they be in improving education or shortfalls in the General Fund Budget. The candidates floated those same plans on Wednesday by proposing the funds go to lofty budget items like Education, Work Development, and Mental Health Funding.

Actually passing a lottery, however, is an issue that has plagued the state government for years.

While Republican leadership has cozied up to the idea in recent years with support coming from as high as Gov. Robert Bentley’s administration, passing a lottery bill in Alabama has been an arduous task for state legislators.

The most recent bill, proposed by Huntsville Republican Sen. Paul Sanford, never made it to the Senate floor after narrowly passing its own committee. The main hang-up for most lawmakers is finding a lottery bill that has the right language and does not overextend the powers of the state government.

Senate President Del Marsh, R-Anniston, cited this very reason for not supporting Sanford’s bill.

Even if a lottery bill were to clear the Legislature, it still must contend with a popular vote in the state, and the citizens of Alabama voted down a lottery proposal in the 1990s.

Candidates on Wednesday all said the time for another vote has come, but it is unclear if the Legislature is ready to act on lottery proposals.

When asked about solutions to the funding shortfalls that did not include a lottery, Cobb and Maddox indicated that the problems could not be solved without a lottery.

“I don’t think you can take the lottery out of the equation,” Maddox said.

Fields took a different approach and proposed an overhaul of Alabama’s taxes. He also said the government would face tough decisions as they decide how to fund a system with little revenue.

Marijuana Debate

A brief question segment dealt with the question of Marijuana legalization in the state. While all candidates proposed relaxed solutions, Maddox was by far the strongest by advocating for decriminalizing the drug.

Cobb took a softer approach and said we needed to move towards medical marijuana. She said Alabama’s drug laws were “out of step” with the rest of the nation.

While bills like Sen. Dick Brewbaker’s in 2018, which advocated relaxing punishments for possession of Marijuana, passed favorably out committee, an outright decriminalization of the drug hasn’t picked up traction in the Legislature.

Domestic problems also include a contingent of senators and representatives who bitterly oppose the relaxation of drug laws and would likely stop any bills like Brewbaker’s from passing out of the body.

The decriminalization also seems unlikely as U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a former Alabama Politico himself, has indicated that the Justice Department will crack down on states that evade the federal prohibition on drugs.

Blue Wave

Unsurprisingly, the three candidates pointed to Sen. Doug Jones’ victory over favored Republican Roy Moore last year as an indicator that a Democrat can win in Alabama.

Jones, a once thought long shot, defeated Moore by a significant margin and was seated in Washington earlier this year.

The candidates hope to be part of a “blue wave” that Democrats say will fall on the country in the 2018 midterms as a result of the Trump administration’s unpopularity. In December of last year, Jones’ victory in Alabama sent shock waves around the country and many pointed to his win as a sign of changing times in the YellowHammer state.

But to others, Jones’ victory was the result of a special election with a controversial, firebrand GOP candidate who lost the backing of Republicans after allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced in a Washington Post report.

Jones’ victory did leave an infrastructure of support as volunteers were the foot soldiers of his campaign, but it is unclear if national Democrats are willing to fund the campaigns in Alabama when they could focus on other battleground states and districts that hold a more strategic advantage.

WVTM will host a Republican Debate tonight that will feature every candidate except for Gov. Kay Ivey, who had other events to attends, and Michael McAllister, who was found dead on Wednesday.

Editor’s Note: This article originally incorrectly stated the news station as WTVM in the lede of the story. The correct call letters are WVTM.

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Secretary of State’s Office begins voter fraud investigation in Wilcox and Perry Counties

Brandon Moseley

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Turnout in Tuesday’s primary runoff was just 12.7 percent across the state. That percentage, however, varied wildly across the state.

Many Democrats did not vote as there were not any statewide Democratic runoffs. Understandably then, the counties with the worst voter participation rates were Democratic dominated Black Belt Counties. Choctaw County was the worst in the state with an incredibly low .59 percent. It was followed by Hale with 1.53 percent. Third worst was Sumter with 1.6 percent followed by Bullock with 2.8 percent.

The Blackbelt had the worst voter turnout; but it also recorded by far the highest turnouts in Tuesday’s runoff election.

The Wilcox County probate judge’s race was apparently so exciting that 44.1 percent of voters turned out despite the heat and no statewide Democratic races.

Wilcox County has 11,058 people. 1,631 of those are under 18. There are only 9,423 voting age persons in the county, but an impressive 9,383 of them are registered voters. That is almost an impossible 99.59 percent voter registration rate. An incredible 4,167 of those voters made time in their day to cast a ballot in Tuesday’s runoff. 4,061 of those voted in the Wilcox County probate judge race, between Democrats Chris Stone and Britney Jones-Alexander. Alexander won the contest. The 44.41 percent voter turnout for the poor Black Belt county was three and a half times the state average.

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Perry County had a 36.35 percent turnout and they were followed by Dallas at 35.43 percent and Greene at 34.08 percent.

The Secretary of State’s office has some suspicions about the success of some of these rural community organizers ability to turn out their votes. Secretary of State John Merrill has launched an investigation into Wilcox and Perry Counties because the number of absentee ballots appears to be unbelievably high.

Sec. Merrill told the Alabama Media Group’s John Sharp that his office is “looking into to prospects of absentee broker operations, in which campaign workers or people with an unknown organization, exchange gifts or cash for absentee ballots.”

Secretary Merrill has said that he wants to make it easy to vote; but hard to cheat.

Below are voter participation rates for all 67 counties:
Wilcox – 44.41%
Perry – 36.35%
Dallas – 35.43%
Greene – 34.08%
Covington – 31.32%
Marion – 27.85%
Fayette – 27.71%
Lamar – 26.19%
Lowndes – 25.47%
Walker – 25.01%
Clay – 24.12%
Coosa – 23.8%
Macon – 21.95%
Crenshaw – 21.09%
Blount – 20.77%
Elmore – 18.92%
Geneva – 18.73%
Marshall – 18.72%
Chilton – 18.08%
Coffee – 18.07%
Autauga – 17.39%
Montgomery – 17.34%
Bibb – 17.02%
Pike – 16.61%
Tallapoosa – 16.42%
Henry – 16.4%
Dale – 15.67%
Baldwin – 15.57%
Houston – 15.03%
Jackson – 14.33%
Limestone – 13.16%
Jefferson – 12.6%
Winston – 12.27%
De Kalb – 11.68%
Chambers – 11.23%
Pickens – 11.18%
Cullman – 11.03%
Shelby – 10.99%
Colbert – 10.79%
Etowah – 10.77%
Franklin – 10.73%
Talladega – 10.3%
Calhoun – 10.22%
St. Clair – 10.08%
Butler – 9.97%
Cleburne – 9.72%
Mobile – 9.49%
Randolph – 9.44%
Lee – 9.41%
Morgan – 9.07%
Barbour – 8.45%
Cherokee – 8.45%
Marengo – 8.01%
Clarke – 7.79%
Madison – 7.66%
Lawrence – 7.43%
Escambia – 7.24%
Lauderdale – 6.88%
Washington – 6.7%
Monroe – 6.46%
Tuscaloosa – 5.94%
Russell – 4.95%
Conecuh – 3.68%
Bullock – 2.8%
Sumter – 1.6%
Hale – 1.53%
Choctaw – 0.59%

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Elections

Walt Maddox, statewide candidates host forum in Gardendale

Brandon Moseley

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Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox will headline a forum for Democratic candidates at the Gardendale Civic Center on July 30 at 6 p.m. Maddox will be joined by a host of other statewide legislative and local candidates.

Maddox claims that he offers voters a path forward out of the state’s corruption and funding crisis.

“It’s the same crisis we’ve been facing for the last seven years,” says gubernatorial candidate Maddox. “If we don’t do something today, there will be no tomorrow; we need safe infrastructure, access to healthcare and good paying jobs.”

The organizers say they “put people before party” so they can bring about change in Alabama.

“As taxpayers, we have been shortchanged for too long,” says former Gardendale City Councilman Blake Guinn, who is working for the Maddox campaign and is one of the forum’s organizers. “I’m tired of being last in everything but football. I’m looking for candidates who have the energy, intelligence, and vision to move this state forward.”

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Most Alabama politicians are just “rubberstamp” what their national party says, says Jennifer L. Greer, a retired university assistant professor who lives in Gardendale and is also organizing the forum. “I don’t care about Washington. I care about Alabama and getting services for my tax dollars, like Alabama’s First-Class Pre-K in every community.”

Maddox will be joined at the Gardendale forum by:

  • Danner Kline, candidate for U.S. House of Representatives, 6th Congressional District.
  • Judge Robert “Bob” Vance, Democratic candidate for Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.
  • Dr. Will Boyd, Democratic candidate for Alabama Lieutenant Governor.
  • Joseph Siegelman, Democratic candidate for Alabama Attorney General.
  • Heather Milam, Democratic candidate for Alabama Secretary of State.
  • Donna Smalley, Democratic candidate for Alabama Supreme Court, Place 4.
  • Cara McClure, Democratic candidate for Public Service Commission, Place 1.
  • Kari Powell, Democratic candidate for Public Service Commission, Place 2.
  • Veronica R. Johnson, Democratic candidate Alabama House District 51.
  • Danny Carr, Democratic candidate for Jefferson County District Attorney.

The event is free and open to the public.

Democrats have renewed enthusiasm after Doug Jones defeated Roy Moore for U.S. Senate. Prior to that win, the last Democrat to win a statewide office in Alabama was Lucy Baxley, who was elected to president of the Alabama Public Service Commission in 2008. The last time a Democrat won a gubernatorial election was 1998, when Don Siegelman defeated incumbent Republican Fob James.

The general election will be November 6.

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Elections

Attorney General Steve Marshall defeats Troy King for GOP nomination

Brandon Moseley

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Republican voters went to the polls and elected Steve Marshall as the Republican nominee for Alabama Attorney General.

Marshall was appointed as District Attorney by then Governor Don Siegelman (D).

Tuesday night Marshall thanked his supporters and his team and said that there would be a new vision for Alabama going forward.

“What reaffirms me is I’m not going to do this alone,” Marshall said. “I’m with amazing warriors that have a passion to help the people of this state. I can tell you tonight they are ready to go to work and I’m ready to let them go, let them at it.”

Marshall said in a statement, “Before almost every athletic event in which I competed, the last words from my father were always “don’t leave anything on the field.” I can say with certainty that, in this campaign, we have left it all on the field. I remain forever grateful for all the volunteers who have devoted countless hours over the course of the last 13 months and the dedicated staff who worked on the campaign. We have given Alabama a clear choice. And, I am steadfast in the belief that God is sovereign and He is good in the result.”

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The race pitted the current Attorney General Steve Marshall versus former Attorney General Troy King.
King was appointed Attorney General by former Governor Bob Riley (R) in 2004. He was elected to his own term in 2006; but was defeated in the 2010 Republican primary by lobbyist Luther Strange.

Steve Marshall was appointed as AG by then Gov. Robert Bentley (R) after appointing Strange to the U.S. Senate. Marshall was the District Attorney of Marshall County for many years. He switched to the Republican Party in 2011.

Troy King campaigned vowing, “We have got to take this state back from the grips of violent crime.” King described himself as the only Republican running in this Republican runoff and he had support from many prominent conservatives, most notably retired Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court Roy Moore who sent out 50,000 letters of endorsement to his most committed supporters across the seat. Trump advisor Roger Stone flew in Monday to endorse King and prominent Trump backer Perry Hooper Jr. also endorsed King.

None of it helped. Republicans voted to stick with Marshall. As of press with 100% of precints reporting: Marshall had 211,562 votes 62 percent. Troy King had just 129,409 votes 38 percent.

Marshall was supported by most of the business groups in Alabama and he was endorsed by 41 of the 42 district attorneys.

Steve Marshall raised $3,233,610 in contributions much of it from out of state plus $20,215 in in-kind contributions, outraising Troy King by over a million. King raised $2,225,663 plus $16,218 in in-kind contributions.

King has accused Marshall of using the Republican Attorney General’s Association (RAGA) to skirt Alabama’s 2010 law banning PAC to PAC transfers. Marshall says that since RAGA is not Alabama based the PAC to PAC transfer ban law does not apply to them. King filed a lawsuit; but the Montgomery judges dismissed the lawsuit saying that he does not have jurisdiction over RAGA as it is out of state.

Marshall defended his campaign in an interview with WSFA TV Montgomery.

“We have followed the rules and done the right thing,” Marshall said. On King’s lawsuit Marshall said, “I think it was a desperate act for a candidate that was losing. Nothing that we have done is inconsistent with Alabama law.”

RAGA contributed over $700,000 to Marshall’s campaign.

“RAGA and those Republican attorney generals are fighting a very important fight in this country,” Marshall said. “I don’t have any regrets in this campaign.”

King conceded that Marshall won the election but did not drop his complaint with the Alabama Ethics Complaint over the RAGA money, which King claims may have come from Mississippi gaming interests and pharmaceutical companies regulated by the AG.

Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) Chair and Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge congratulated Marshall in a statement:

“What a great night for Steve Marshall and the people of Alabama,” Rutledge said. “Steve is a dedicated conservative who has always stood for the rule of law and defended the Constitution. A fierce advocate for Alabama, Steve is also an incredibly decent man.”

“Steve Marshall is completely committed to serving his state and tomorrow he will wake-up and get right back to work. Steve will continue to combat opioids and violent crime,” Rutledge added. “He will continue to fight for Alabama families. RAGA is proud to stand with Steve Marshall – a big congratulations to my friend and colleague on his victory tonight.”

Marshall suffered the loss of his wife, Bridgette, just last month. When asked how her suicide affected the race Marshall said, “People see me more now as a person than as a political figure and know that we suffer too.”

Marshall will now face Joseph Siegelman (D) in the November 6 general election.

 

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Analysis | Democratic candidates offer idealistic goals in debate. Realities remain unseen

by Sam Mattison Read Time: 5 min
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