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Q&A | Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Countryman addresses issues

Brandon Moseley

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Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Countryman recently answered a candidate’s questionnaire sent by the Alabama Political Reporter.

APR: Alabama’s unemployment is at an all-time low, but there are still a lot of adult Alabamians who lack the skills and education to apply for most of the jobs that are coming. Do you have any ideas as to how to improve the employability of many adults in the current work force who are trapped in a cycle of minimum wage jobs?

Countryman: “First we have to take into consideration that Alabama’s current unemployment rate is slightly, if not totally, misleading. This is because the current administration is utilizing what’s known as a seasonally adjusted rate to factor the state’s unemployment, which lowers the unemployment rate below its actual rate. One of the best ways to tackle the problem of growing workforce that lacks the skills necessary to find better employment is through education. The struggle for financial security and industrial equality is nothing new, and we’ve seen this fall into the laps of each generation at some point. We can make the choice to either come up with innovative solutions to the problem, or we can attempt the same methods that we’ve been using for decades, but if it hadn’t worked yet then my money says that it probably won’t this go around either. To do the same things that we’ve done in the past, and yet expecting different results is the very definition of insanity. I propose that we start utilizing the expanding network of free education resources that are being offered by some of the nation’s top universities, and combine those resources with programs through the career centers around the state. Many of these universities offer free college educational courses in subjects ranging from computer programming to entry level skills for those entering the workforce in the clean renewable energy industry. And since many of the newer, and more competitive industries, are in the renewable energy industry we could tackle two problems at once. We can offer those who need to expand their job skills with the training and accountability system needed to get them to the point where they are able to become more financially secure, and at the same time bring a lot of new jobs into the state for the unemployed workers. Plus we can also combine my previous proposals with a basic college education or trade school training that is tuition free to those who are seeking more education to further their career opportunities. This has the potential, if implemented correctly, to drastically improve Alabama’s shortfalls in the workforce, and unemployment rates.”

APR: 267 people in Jefferson County died from drug overdoses last year and the state by some measures has the highest rate of prescriptions for opioids of any place in the world. What can be done to combat the growing opioid addiction rate in Alabama?

Countryman: “We need to start holding the pharmaceutical companies more accountable, tracking the prescriptions being dispensed by the information of the prescribing physicians and the information of the patients who are getting them filled.”

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“I wish that there was an easy answer to this,” This has been one of the questions I have been asked most often as well. I believe that we have to look at the pharmaceutical companies first. Second we have to look at the doctors that are prescribing these medicines to patients.”

APR: Should the state raise the minimum age to buy a firearm to 21?

Countryman: “Absolutely. I am not advocating for the repeal of the 2nd amendment. I believe that the 2nd amendment guarantees that citizens have a right to defend themselves with the assisted use of a firearm, within reason of course, from anyone who shows the intent and ability to inflict deadly harm towards themselves or their families. However if an individual has to be 21 to purchase a handgun then that should be true for rifles as well. Exceptions to this law should be made for those who are active law enforcement and military personnel, who should be able to purchase rifles for personal use and target practice as it relates to their occupation.”

APR: “Alabama has the 2nd lowest life expectancy in the country (behind only Mississippi). In some Black belt counties it is as low as 68 (over 8 years below the national average). Is there anything state government can do to improve the health of the people of Alabama?”

Countryman: “Yes, Medicare for all is something that the we can do. Healthcare is a human right and should be available to everyone regardless of income level. The big question that people have is how will we fund healthcare reform and expansion in our state, but I will discuss this in detail latter on in the interview.”

APR: “Some candidates are touting the lottery as a solution to state government’s fiscal woes. Are you concerned that regular lottery players tend to be the poorest and least educated citizens thus increasing the tax burden on Alabama’s poorest citizens, who already bear a disproportionate burden of the state’s finances through high sales taxes, utility bill taxes, insurance taxes, cigarette taxes, and alcohol taxes?”

Countryman: “No, I don’t think that a lottery would do that. I am in favor of a state lottery but I believe that it can’t be the only solution we bring to the table. What would happen if a future administration overturns the lottery? We need to ensure that we aren’t hanging all our hopes on one plan, and one idea. It really is poor leadership to base any solution on just one idea. That is why I am presenting a variety of solutions, so that all we have to do is to place a rounded gear inside our economic machine. It works better than just leaving the wrench in it.”

APR: “There are only 11 counties in Alabama with 100,000 or more residents and 36 counties below 40,000 residents. 25 of those have less than 25,000 residents. What would you do as governor to encourage economic development in rural Alabama?”

Countryman: “By utilizing my economic growth plan, which is built on clean energy solutions, we would be able to use the money generated from the recycling industry to bring high speed Internet to the rural areas, rebuild the roads and start looking into updating public transportation. If Alabama was to recycle all of its recyclable waste we could generate upwards to $750,000,000 in excess revenue.”

APR: The state Legislature just passed the second largest education trust fund budget in history; but revenues going into the state general fund historically are lagging; which is causing chronic funding issues with prisons, Medicaid, mental health, the courts, ALEA and other state agencies. Do you favor combining the two?

Countryman: “No, I do not because it’s easier to keep track of where the money goes, and we need to keep the allocated funds already dedicated to education there. The additional revenue needed for the general fund can be found in other areas.”

APR: Do you support Governor Ivey’s plan to sign a long-term lease with a private company that will build four new mega prisons and the state will then lease these new facilities from that corporation for ~$50 million a year going forward?

Countryman: “No. I think it’s a monumental waste of tax dollars. We have better options than that, and we just need to start thinking smart. There are cost effective ways to rehabilitate non-violent offenders that doesn’t involve having them locked up.”

APR: State Rep. Will Ainsworth introduced legislation which would allow teachers, who have taking firearms training, to carry guns in the classroom as a defense against school shooters. Do you support arming Alabama’s teachers?

Countryman: “No I do not, our teachers have enough responsibilities. There are much better and more creative and innovative ways to implement better security in our schools and as a matter of fact the solution is already there, Cellphones. Almost every student has a cellphone and right now they are thought of in a class room as an annoyance, we instead have them utilize their phones to study and do their class work on, in turn we turned a problem into a solution, the schools can also utilize the use of cell phones, Donated phones can be set up as I.P. cameras for security as well.”

APR: Certain facilities in Dothan, Shorter, Birmingham, Greene County, and Lowndes Countyoperated what they called electronic bingo; but the Alabama courts ultimately ruled that most of those games were actually a new form of gambling machine; which is banned by the constitution of Alabama. The Poarch band of Creek Indians (under the federal Indian gaming law) operate facilities that have machines similar to the ones that were ordered closed at the other establishments. Do you favor a constitutional amendment allowing existing dog tracks and bingo halls to operate “electronic bingo”; a broader constitutional amendment allowing gaming in any county where the commission supported it; or are you content with the status quo?

Countryman: “I lived in Houston County when a similar facility, as the ones you mentioned, called Country Crossing was in operation. I saw how the facility contributed to the local and regional economy firsthand. It was estimated that once every phase was completed that Country Crossing would have employed over 1500 people, created over 200 spinoff jobs and increased the tax revenue substantially. The first revenue check that Country Crossing paid out to Houston County on the revenue that their machines generated was 1.6 million dollars, and Houston County ended up with a surplus of 1.8 million dollars. It was established that Country Crossing would attract 2.5 million visitors each year. We also have some states which are similar to Alabama in demographics, where lottery is legal, showing statistics that less than 10 percent of those who purchase lottery tickets earn less than $24,000 a year, and with the greater majority of those who purchase lottery tickets were the middle and upper class. So given these findings I can certainly see the benefits that electronic bingo, dog tracks and lottery can have for the state and citizens when implemented correctly. I would be in favor of implementing an endorsement code on the back of an individual’s photo ID that indicates if a person is receiving EBT benefits. That way it will be more difficult for the individual to use EBT benefits to purchase lottery tickets or other gaming options. We could use this method at least until we are able to get the EBT system programed not to allow EBT to be used as a payment method for lotteries and such, similar to how we help prevent the purchase of alcoholic beverages using EBT.”

APR: The legislature is considering legislation that would allow state elected officials to ask the Alabama Ethics Commissioner for pre-clearance opinions to allow elected officials to take jobs and contracts that might otherwise be construed as violations of Alabama’s 2010 ethics law. State prosecutors have argued that the Ethics Commissioner does not have the authority to issue these “get out of jail free” opinions and that a letter from the Ethics Commissioner does not have legal standing. Is the Alabama Ethics Law too strict or does it need to be loosened?

Countryman: “The ethics laws in Alabama need to be rewritten from the ground up. There are one to many contradictory laws that make it confusing for the layman, and even equally confusing for some seasoned elected officials. This unfairly puts many elected officials at risk as their fate lays in the hands of other leaders and their interpretation of the ethics laws. One can simply look to Governor Sigelemans case for proof of that. Secondly the ethics laws need to be stricter and less vague. Currently there are way too many loopholes and poorly written laws that makes it all too easy for an elected official to get away with the unspeakable. We need to restore the citizen’s faith in government and at the same time have an ethics law that holds our elected officials accountable.”

APR: Alabama’s infrastructure is funded through fuel taxes; however as vehicles have gotten more fuel efficient that has resulted in some issues coming up with enough money to maintain roads and bridges across the state. Do you favor raising the fuel taxes?

Countryman: “No, because at this time it isn’t needed. Part of my economic growth plan is to bring more industry into the state that is in the clean renewable energy industry, and in the recycling industry. At present Alabama only recycles 10% of its consumer waste with 90% of its recyclable waste ending up in landfills. Currently Europe is using plastic waste as an alternative additive in asphalt road construction with great success. This method is up to 80% more affordable than traditional asphalt roads, lasts 300% longer and the introduction of plastic processing facilities in the state would generate up to 10,000 new jobs. These jobs would include those in the processing facilities, distribution centers, infrastructure jobs and other related positions that are a result of this industry. Plus in a 2015 study by the EPA we find that the recycling industry, and its related spinoff jobs, will generate over $500,000,000 annually in additional revenue for Alabama. So my plan has the capability to generate funds for infrastructure redevelopment, it creates jobs, it reduces the amount of waste in landfills, cleans our environment, provides clean energy solutions and it leaves enough of a surplus in the budget to help fund healthcare and our education system needs.”

The major party primaries are on June 5, 2018.

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Opinion | Collier’s allegations are not about Ivey’s health — they’re about retaliation

Josh Moon

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It’s not the (alleged) stroke, it’s the coverup.

That was the message from Walt Maddox and his campaign on Thursday, as they took shots at Gov. Kay Ivey for allegedly directing her security detail to cover up a health scare in 2015. She’s also alleged to have demoted a state trooper from her security team after he refused to conceal from his superiors a trip to the hospital Ivey was forced to take while attending a conference in Colorado.

And the story could use a little refocusing.

After APR’s Bill Britt wrote a story Monday that quoted former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency head Spencer Collier confirming the hospital trip for “stroke-like symptoms” and providing details of his conversations with Ivey about demoting the trooper, the story from state media outlets veered off course.

Instead of the focus landing on Ivey’s mistreatment of a law enforcement officer who was simply doing his job correctly, it became all about her health.

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Was she sick? Did she have a stroke? How’s her health these days?

Those are all fair questions.

They’re just not THE question that should have come from Collier’s revelations.

Because if Ivey did what Collier alleges, she possibly broke the law. And maybe, more importantly, she took money out of the pocket of a trooper who was trying to support a family simply because he refused to conceal her trip to the hospital.

That sort of behavior … well, we’ve seen that before in this state.

Mike Hubbard and Robert Bentley both went after law enforcement when they were initially caught in lies and illegalities.

Hubbard tried to defund the entire Alabama Attorney General’s Office and squeeze the prosecutors on his trail. He later launched public attacks against the lead prosecutor, Matt Hart, in a failed attempt to get out from under his misdeeds.

Bentley asked Collier, who was then head of ALEA, to lie to AG’s office investigators. And when Collier, after being terminated by Bentley for refusing to lie, told the world of the then-governor’s affair, Bentley set out to ruin the man.

Both Bentley and Hubbard wound up in jail for brief periods. And Alabamians wound up with more black eyes from the nation’s most corrupt state government.

That’s why this deal with the trooper matters so much.

Because it speaks to the character of Kay Ivey.

I mean, would she really demote this poor guy — the same trooper who sat by her hospital bed for three days — force him to uproot his family and go from the Montgomery area to Houston County, cut his pay and stifle his career because he followed trooper regulations instead of her improper/illegal directives?

Would she?

Because I think that’s something we should know.

Ivey, in response to Maddox’s comments on Thursday, told reporters that they should “check” the facts on the trooper, Drew Brooks.

I’ve done that.

I have copies from his personnel file showing where he lost pay and was sent from the governor’s security detail — a sought-after position — to giving out drivers licenses in Dothan — a very much not-sought-after position.



If Ivey has records indicating these things didn’t happen, I’d love to see them. And I’d also love to see records of her trip to Colorado in 2015.

Because right now, this is looking like a very familiar road.

A candidate who won’t debate. A politician who plays a little loose with the rules and law. A career politician who would do anything to stay in the game. A desperate politician who will stoop to any level to conceal their flaws and errors.

It all rings a bell, doesn’t it?

Mike Hubbard.

Robert Bentley.

Kay Ivey?

 

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Ivey campaign calls Maddox a lying liberal

Brandon Moseley

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The Kay Ivey campaign pounced after Walt Maddox contradicted himself and Spencer Collier at his news conference in Tuscaloosa.

Spencer Collier is a former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) head appointed by then Governor Robert Bentley (R). Collier thrust himself into the 2018 gubernatorial race by claiming that Ivey lied about an illness over three years ago back when she was Lieutenant Governor and then retaliated against a state trooper assigned to her security detail that allegedly was a source for an Alabama Political Reporter story about the hospital stay.

On Tuesday, Collier told Al.com “he has not been contacted by the campaign of Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox.”

On Wednesday, Maddox told the Associated Press that he was “shocked to learn” about the Collier allegations.

At his press conference on Thursday, Maddox told Al.com reporter that he had actually had a meeting with Spencer Collier several weeks back. Maddox admitted, “Spencer contacted me a few weeks ago and wanted to meet… He told me what he was going to do.”

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This embarrassing episode came on the heels of a Yellowhammer News report that Maddox’s struggling campaign has been bankrolled by far-left billionaire George Soros.

Maddox is running ads claiming that he will never lie.

The Ivey campaign wasted no time in taking advantage of Maddox’s gaffes.

“Apparently Walt Maddox isn’t just a liberal. He’s a lying liberal,” Ivey campaign spokesperson Debbee Hancock wrote in a statement. “The people of Alabama will see this for what it is – a desperate false attack from a shameless politician who will say or do anything to get elected.”

Hancock reiterated that the Governor and her doctor “have repeatedly disputed these lies and provided detailed accounts to back it up. As it relates to the officer, that’s another Maddox whopper. News outlets reported last year that the officer actually received a promotion and raise in late 2015.”

“Walt Maddox is pushing these last second lies because his half baked liberal ideas have him losing in a landslide,” Hancock stated. “With less than three weeks to go, not even $200,000 from George Soros can save him.”

Ivey took more than $100,000 from same Soros-backed PACs as Maddox

Collier was fired as head of ALEA by Bentley after a power struggle with alleged Bentley mistress Rebekah Caldwell Mason. Collier has been suing Bentley ever since. Collier became disenchanted with Ivey; because she has authorized using state funds to pay Bentley’s legal defense to fight Collier’s efforts to get a cash settlement from ex-Gov. Bentley. Collier is presently working as the police chief of Selma.

Walter “Walt” Maddox (D) is the Mayor of Tuscaloosa. He has never run a statewide campaign before and is struggling to find any issue that can cut into Ivey’s enormous 20 point lead in the polls. Maddox has run ads claiming that he is pro-life and pro-gun; but has conflicting statements on those positions. He has said that the Second Amendment has to be limited like the First Amendment. How that would work and what that means for gun owners is unclear. He has also said that he is pro-life; but opposes the pro-life Amendment Two, which is also on the general election ballot.

There are only eighteen days until the general election.

(Original reporting by the Yellowhammer News’ Sean Ross and the Alabama Media Group contributed to this report.)

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Zeigler: Change from Bentley to Ivey “removed a dark cloud over Montgomery”

Brandon Moseley

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State Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) told the Republican Women of Coffee County the resignation of former Gov. Robert Bentley “removed a dark cloud over Montgomery.”

Zeigler said he could see a real difference when Ivey took over in April 2017 after, “Bentley’s forced resignation.”

“During the two years I served with Gov. Bentley, I was never allowed inside the governor’s offices,” Zeigler said. “Once Kay Ivey took over, I was inside the governor’s offices six times in just the first two months, working with her staff on issues.”

Zeigler clashed frequently with the Bentley Administration even before his term began. Ultimately, Zeigler filed the first ethics complaint against Gov. Robert Bentley in March 2016. 13 months later the Alabama Ethics Commission found probable cause that Bentley was in-deed likely guilty of violation multiple counts of Alabama ethics and campaign finance law. Five days later, the House Judiciary Committee began historic impeachment hearings. On that same day, April 10, 2017, Bentley resigned and Ivey became governor.

As Governor Ivey has focused on: growing the economy. Unemployment has reached record lows and businesses are moving manufacturing to Alabama. The legislature has passed the second largest education budget in history. Kay has focused on increasing computer science classes, pre-K expansion, workforce development, and building new prisons.
Ivey is seeking a second term as governor in the November 6 general election. She faces Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter “Walt” Madox (D).

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While Zeigler had been a consistent critic of Bentley. Zeigler has not filed litigation against the Ivey administration but has been active on other issues, such as diversion of food funds by the outgoing Etowah County Sheriff.

While Ivey has led Maddox in every polls by large margins, Zeigler told the Republican group that some GOP voters “may be too confident. They think we Republicans have it made, so they don’t need to get involved and don’t need to vote. That is the quickest way to lose an election.”

Zeigler is seeking re-election in the Nov. 6 general election. He is opposed by Democratic nominee Miranda Karrine Joseph. This is the third time that Joseph has run for Auditor.

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St. Clair GOP urged to vote yes on Alabama Amendment Two

Brandon Moseley

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Rick Renshaw with the Alliance for a Pro-Life Alabama addressed the St. Clair County Republican Party at a meeting in Moody Thursday. Renshaw urged the gathered Republicans to vote Yes on Amendment two.

Amendment Two is a pro-life amendment that would clarify that nothing in the Alabama Constitution could be interpreted as guaranteeing a right to an abortion.

Renshaw said that the opposition is, “Sitting on $900,000. We have about a $1000. When I say they are going to outspend us a million to one, I mean that literally.”

We are not going to be able to run TV or radio advertising, Renshaw said. The opposition group is calling itself: “Alabama for Healthy Families. Can you be any more deceptive?”

We recently announced three co-chairs for our group, the Alliance for a Pro-Life Alabama: PSC President Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan, and Mary Sue McClurkin. She shepherded a lot of legislation through the House during her four terms.

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We have a statement from the Attorney General supporting Amendment Two, Renshaw said. Any state candidate is welcome to submit a statement supporting Amendment Two.

AG Steve Marshall (R) has been supportive of the pro-life cause.

“When the Democrats controlled the legislature, we were kind of conditioned to vote no on Amendments,” Renshaw said. We need to get over that. Renshaw said that he was good with all four of the statewide Amendments; but particularly Amendment Two.

Renshaw warned that Planned Parenthood and the Amendment Two opposition would use scare tactics and misinformation to defeat Amendment Two.

“They are trying to scare people about the nature of the Amendment.” Renshaw said.

Renshaw told the Alabama Political Reporter that Planned Parenthood PACs in other state are transferring funds to the Alabama for Healthy Families PAC in violation of Alabama’s PAC to PAC transfer ban law.

“Thank you for letting me come up here and speak,” Renshaw told the St. Clair County Republicans.

The Chairman of the St. Clair County Republican Party is Lance Bell.

Chairman Bell said that Sheriff elect Billy Murray (R) did not run for another term as a member of the state Republican Executive Committee because he did not want to appear on the ballot twice. Emory Cox ran for that seat; but he got a job in the White House so had to resign.

The St. Clair County Executive Committee then accepted nominations for the vacancy. Judge Phil Seay (R), a former St. Clair Republican Party Chairman, was selected unanimously to fill that vacancy on the State Republican Executive Committee.

“Thank you very much I really appreciate it,” Judge Seay said.

The Treasurer reported that the St. Clair County Republican Party had over $45,000 in their main checking account. The bass tournament and scholarships accounts are separate from that main account.

Judge Seay made a motion that $10,000 of that be used to pay campaign debts for Judge-elect Bill Cole (R), Judge-elect Richard Minor (R), support the campaign of State Senator Jim McClendon (R), and state house candidate Craig Lipscomb (R). The St. Clair County Repubican Steering Committee would be able to spend up to $10,000 at their discretion.

The motion passed unanimously.

Chairman Bell announced that the Party will have officer elections in February.

St. Clair County School Board Member Bill Morris (R) is heading the St. Clair County for Kay Ivey Campaign.

Morris said that the governor needed donations to her campaign and volunteers to work the polls on election day.

Chairman Bell said that Kay Ivey was leading her Democratic opponent by 20 percentage points in the latest polling but that the biggest concern is that Republicans get complacent and not show up on election day. “Make sure you go vote and bring your friends and family too.”

Judge Robert Minor (R) thanked the party members who contributed to the local charity, Lighten the Load which raises money so that children in the foster care system can have hard sided luggage so that when they have to move to a new location they have something to put their stuff in. “Most of them have to put their stuff in garbage bags,” Judge Robert Minor said. “We raised $6500.”

On November 20, St Clair County will be 200 years old. There will be birthday parties with cake at both the Ashville and Pell City court houses.

The general election will be November 6.

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Q&A | Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Countryman addresses issues

by Brandon Moseley Read Time: 11 min
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