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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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Opinion | Kay Ivey’s official calendar is surprisingly empty

Josh Moon

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In late-August and early-September, there was one question dominating Alabama’s governor’s race.

Where is Kay Ivey?

The governor at that point had scarcely been seen in a few days. In one 10-day stretch, she held no public events and somehow managed to avoid even local ribbon cuttings and bridge openings. And her opponent’s campaign was raising questions about her lack of activity.

Walt Maddox, at that point, had already challenged Ivey to a series of debates. She declined, offering a number of excuses, including that she was “busy governing the state.” She had also told her Republican primary challengers that she was “too busy” to debate them.

So, I wanted to know: Who was telling the truth? Was it a big deal? Was Ivey too busy?

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There was only one way to find out: I filed an Alabama Open Records Act request for Ivey’s official calendar for a three-week span (Aug. 24 through Sept. 14).

That span, I figured, would provide a solid look into Ivey’s days and would cover all of the days that the Maddox campaign had questioned her whereabouts.

On Wednesday, after paying $17 and some change to a public entity to produce public records that the public had already paid to be produced once, APR was provided with copies of Ivey’s official calendar.

Counting every entry on the calendar for 21 days — including travel time to and from the governor’s mansion (which apparently takes 30 minutes) and air travel to a variety of meetings and ribbon cuttings — there are less than 60 hours accounted for.

That’s less than three hours per day.

But it’s actually worse than that, because most of that time is compacted into a handful of days, leaving large chunks of time — whole calendar pages — simply blank.

In total, seven days were blank. Three other days had just one entry.

In one calendar week — Sunday, Sept. 2, thru Saturday, Sept. 8 — Ivey’s calendar shows just three and a half hours of scheduled time.

That week, her days were completely blank on Sunday, Labor Day Monday and Tuesday. She had a single phone call on Wednesday and a single meeting on Thursday. She hosted the Alabama Association of Regional Councils on Friday morning and wrapped up the grueling week with a proclamation signing at 10:30 a.m. that Friday.

I’ll remind you that this is the governor — a governor in the midst of a campaign.

You would think her calendar would be crammed with events and meetings and staff scrums and trips all over the place.

But … there’s just nothing.

And that’s not normal. I know that for a fact.

I’ve been to the Alabama Archives and sorted through the official calendars for the last three governors of this state. None of their calendars look like Ivey’s. Not even close.

I shared photos on Facebook Wednesday night of entries from random days on Robert Bentley’s calendar. In some instances, his days spilled over onto a second page.

The same was true with Bob Riley. His days, like Bentley’s, seemed to be planned from morning until night. Every day. Even on the weekends.

What’s happening with Kay Ivey should raise eyebrows and a ton of questions. Mainly: Can she actually do this job?

I think that’s a fair question at this point, after the public freeze-ups, the long disappearances, the managed time by her staff, the refusal to debate, and now these nearly blank calendar days.

And then there are two other questions:

Who is running this state?

And who are you voting for?

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Anti-abortion group National Right to Life endorses Ivey

Brandon Moseley

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National Right to Life announced their endorsement of Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) in the Nov. 6 general election.

Ivey said she proudly accepted the endorsement from National Right to Life, the third pro-life organization to endorse Ivey as Governor.

In a letter announcing their support for Kay Ivey, National Right to Life Executive Director David O’Steen and Political Director Karen Cross described Governor Ivey as a “strong advocate for life.”

National Right to Life applauded Governor Ivey’s support of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act as well as her opposition to using taxpayer dollars to fund abortions and abortion providers.

“All Alabama voters who are concerned with the right to life and with the protection of the most vulnerable members of the human family should vote to reelect you as governor so that you can continue to advance vital pro-life public policies,” said Cross and O’Steen.

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Governor Ivey’s opponent, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter “Walt” Maddox (D) has been running ads touting his pro-life and pro-gun credentials, which is odd for the modern Democratic Party; but Ivey is the one with the endorsements from the Susan B. Anthony List, Alabama Citizens four Life, and the National Rifleman’s Association (NRA). The NRA magazines with their Kay Ivey endorsements arrived in NRA households across Alabama on Tuesday.

“This endorsement reflects your commitment to strengthening a culture of life. We look forward to working with you to protect the most vulnerable members of the human family – unborn children and medically dependent or disabled persons – whose lives are threatened by abortion or euthanasia,” said Cross and O’Steen in their letter.

Kay Ivey has served two terms as Alabama’s state Treasurer and two terms as the Lieutenant Governor. She was elevated to Governor in April 2017 when then Governor Robert Bentley (R) resigned after the House Judiciary Committee began impeachment hearings. Ivey grew up on a cattle farm in Wilcox County, attended Auburn University, went to work as a school teacher, then went to work in state government.

Ivey’s campaign is emphasizing her administration’s strong job growth, robust economic growth, increasing pre-K access, and workforce development as reasons to elect her as governor. Mayor Maddox’s campaign is promising to extend Medicaid benefits to more people, raise fuel taxes, a state-sponsored lottery, taxing sports gambling, and a gambling agreement with the Poarch Creek Indians.

The general election will be on Tuesday, November 6. Also in this election, voters gets to vote on Amendment Two which states that nothing in the Alabama Constitution can be construed as allowing abortions to take place. The growing pro-life movement is hopeful that the U.S, Supreme Court will eventually overturn the highly controversial Roe versus Wade ruling that forced the states to allow abortion on demand.

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Opinion | A breakdown of Ivey’s ever-changing story on her Colorado illness, trooper demotion

Josh Moon

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It’s tough to keep a good lie going.

The problem isn’t so much the original lie, even if it’s a doozy. The trouble comes on the back side, when you have to start piling lies on top of lies to make that original lie hold up. And then you have to keep it all straight.

The Kay Ivey administration knows what I’m talking about.

Unless a whole bunch of other people are lying, Ivey and her staff have been lying all over the place to try and cover up a 2015 incident in which Ivey, then the state’s lieutenant governor, suffered a series of mini-strokes. Or at least something that appeared to be mini-strokes, or TIAs.

They’ve been scrambling ever since.

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And over such a dumb lie, too. Who cares if a 70-year-old woman had a mini-stroke, or something that appeared to be a mini-stroke? Hell, 30-year-old men and women who are in decent shape have those things. They’re not necessarily indicative of poor overall health, although they do indicate a higher risk for future strokes.

But still, why lie? I’m guessing a lot more people would vote for a gubernatorial candidate who admitted to having a mini-stroke than for one who everyone knows is lying about a mini-stroke and who wrongly punished a state trooper for simply following the protocols of his job.

It seems Ivey now finds herself in the latter category. And I think it’s important to understand how we got here.

In this world of abundant news, it’s easy to forget facts and leave entries off the timeline. So, let’s paint this full picture.

Ivey’s “health issue” occurred in 2015 when she was in Colorado Springs for a meeting of the Aerospace States Association. According to her own comments about the incident, she felt lightheaded during the meeting’s opening day, a Friday, and was admitted to the hospital that day. She was released on Sunday.

For the better part of two years, the coverup of the incident was successful, because, let’s be honest, who really cares what’s happening in the personal life of the lieutenant governor. But shortly after Ivey ascended to the big chair following Robert Bentley’s embarrassing demise, whispers about her poor health began.

In May 2017, citing multiple sources close to the governor, APR’s Bill Britt published the first account of the health scare and the coverup, including details of Ivey having a state trooper working her security detail, Drew Brooks, demoted and shipped off to work in a drivers license office in Houston County.

Ivey and her top officials screamed it was fake news.

In multiple settings, including a sitdown interview with al.com’s Mike Cason, Ivey and her chief of staff, Steve Pelham, flatly denied almost all of it.

Ivey said she had actually suffered from “altitude sickness,” which apparently requires a three-day hospital stay now. She told al.com’s Leada Gore that the trooper, Brooks, was “promoted,” because working drivers licenses in Dothan at a 25-percent pay reduction is every cop’s dream assignment.

Pelham told Cason that there was no directive and no punishment.

And for a while, it all died down.

But on Tuesday, the bad lie came back to life, as they have a tendency to do. This time, Britt had a bigger story: Collier, the head of ALEA, was on the record backing up every word of what Britt and APR reported back in 2017.

And we got the receipts too.

Collier, the guy who actually signed Brooks’ transfer order, confirmed that Ivey’s head of security reported to him in 2015 that Ivey was suffering from “stroke-like symptoms” and was being rushed to the hospital in Colorado. Collier reported that information to Bentley and remained in contact with the security detail.

Sometime after Ivey returned from that trip, she summoned Collier to the law offices of Balch & Bingham, because those offices are the Alabama equivalent to the Bada Bing, apparently, where all the bad plans in the state are concocted. At that meeting, she informed Collier that she wanted Brooks demoted and transferred, and claimed Brooks had attempted to hack her email.

Documents obtained by APR show that Brooks — who Ivey and Pelham claimed was promoted — was actually forced off the lieutenant governor’s security detail — a highly sought after position with top pay — and moved to Dothan to give license exams for about $300 less per month in salary.

Does that sound like a promotion?

But you know what’s coming now, right? More lies to cover up the faltering lies.

Later on Tuesday, Ivey’s office released another letter from her doctor to prove that she is in great health and absolutely, 100-percent has never had a stroke. Small problem: in discussing the Colorado incident, Ivey’s doctor stated that she was hospitalized in Denver, which is a little more than an hour from Colorado Springs, where Ivey was when she became ill.

It’s tough to imagine a three-day hospitalization at a large hospital an hour away for altitude sickness. But then, this isn’t my (fictional) story.

So far, the Ivey camp hasn’t addressed Collier’s allegations about Brooks. Instead, Ivey tried to blame the whole thing on Walt Maddox, which, if true, really confirms that we should all be voting for Maddox because that dude’s a wizard.

It’s a sad state of affairs. But that’s usually the case when lies start to unravel.   

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Democrats outraise Republicans in several key statewide races

Chip Brownlee

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The first weekly campaign finance filings ahead of November’s election show Democrats raising more money with more individual donors in at least three key statewide races.

While Republicans are maintaining fundraising leads in the race for governor, secretary of state and lieutenant governor, Democrats raised more money than their Republican opponents in the races for attorney general, chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court and state auditor.

Even in the gubernatorial race between Republican Gov. Kay Ivey and her Democratic challenger, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, Maddox had more individual donors — 399 to Ivey’s 138. In fact, Democrats had more individual donors in the six major statewide races except in the campaigns for lieutenant governor. Republicans do have more cash on hand, in most of the statewide races, providing them more of a war chest as the election nears.

The most notable development in the key statewide races is in the race for attorney general. Democratic candidate Joe Siegelman, the son of Alabama’s last Democratic governor, Don Siegelman, outraised Republican Attorney General Steve Marshall.

Siegelman reported raising $101,609 between Oct. 1 and Oct. 12, beating Marshall’s reported cash contributions amounting to $81,125. Siegelman reported at least 200 itemized contributions, though a few were from the same donor, while Marshall had far fewer donors. Marshall reported only 26 itemized contributions, eight of which were from PACs. Those PAC contributions made up the majority of his fundraising at $49,500.

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Marshall’s largest contribution came from ALA Forestry PAC, which gave his campaign a $25,000 contribution. He also accepted two $10,000 contributions from ABC Merit PAC and Qualico Steel Company, a private business.

Nine of Siegelman’s 200 contributions came from PACs, amounting to $47,500 of his $101,609 in contributions.

Siegelman’s largest single contribution came in the form of two different contributions totaling $20,000 from the North Alabama PAC, which purports to support economic development, and $25,000 in total from four different chain PACs — CASH PAC, ET PAC, Leadership PAC and T-Town PAC II — associated with Tuscaloosa’s Michael Echols, a longtime player in local Tuscaloosa and state politics. Echols’ PACs also donated to Ivey, Maddox and the Democratic candidate for chief justice, Bob Vance, in addition to several localized races.

Echols’ PACs earlier this year donated to Marshall’s Republican primary challenger, former Alabama Attorney General Troy King, whom Marshall defeated in the June Republican primary.

Siegelman ended the last filing period with $287,249 in his account, compared to Marshall’s $211,298, largely because Marshall heavily outspent Siegelman more than four-to-one.

In the race for chief justice, Jefferson County Circuit Judge Bob Vance, the Democrat, raised $153,401 through Oct. 12, compared to Parker, who raised only $1,050, which was largely from one $1,000 donation. Vance is also far outspending not only Parker, but most of the other statewide candidates. He spent nearly $571,000 in the first of the month, finishing with $132,920 in his account. Parker spent $63,589, ending the period with $119,425 in cash on hand.

Vance reported 765 different donations during the period to Parker’s three itemized donations.

$15,000 of Vance’s contributions also came from Echols’ PACs.

Republican nominee Will Ainsworth continues to outspend and far outraise his Democratic challenger Will Boyd. Ainsworth, currently a state representative, reported $171,500 in contributions from 68 donors to Boyd’s $2,880 from eight donors. Ainsworth finished the period with $353,100, while Boyd has only $5,336 in his account.

In the race for secretary of state, Republican Secretary of State John Merrill raised $16,950 from 40 separate donations, while Democratic challenger Heather Milam raised $6,427 from 49 separate donations. Merill finished the period with a large war chest of $192,522 to Milam’s $4,342 balance.

Democratic state auditor candidate Miranda Joseph ($3,035) outraised incumbent Republican State Auditor Jim Zeigler, who reported no contributions, though Zeigler outspent Joseph. Zeigler spent $2,567 to Joseph’s $1,846 in expenditures. She reported 12 separate donations while Zielger posted no donations during the period. He finished the period with $11,303 on hand, while Joseph ended with $4,781.

The election is on Nov. 6, and candidates will be required to file weekly finance reports and major campaign finance reports immediately if they accept individual itemized donations of more than $10,000. Candidates that receive or spend more than $5,000 a day during the eight days leading up to the election will also be required to file daily reports.

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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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