By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Recently, we had the pleasure to speak with Representative Patricia Todd (D-Jefferson County). Todd is head of an AID organization in Birmingham, she is a passionate advocate for the rights of her fellow Alabamians. She is a liberal progressive who believes in working with people of all political persuasions to find common ground and understand to benefit all. She is a smart and thoughtful woman who has a lot to say and a reason to say it. This is part one of our conversation.
APR: Lately, we Alabamians have gotten a fair amount of bad press but we always seem to be painted as backwards folks, we are no doubt traditional.
TODD: It is definitely a conservative state, definitely the Bible Belt and people who have lived there all their lives have a very narrow kind of perspective about the world. You find people who come here who have lived in other areas or internationally and they have a far broader perspective and are usually a lot more accepting of people who are different.
And the other thing about being in politics, which I have been doing this for a long time, but I have become so disgusted and disenchanted with the national discussion about any issue. We have lost the ability to have civil discourse and to be able to sit and talk about a issue and talk about all the opportunities and choices and make good policy decisions or have a discussion where you are trying to build consensus.
I think things we face today are so critical that it demands our full attention and nonpartisanship because everybody in this country wants us to grow and be successful and have thriving communities where you can find jobs and have great education. You know, everybody wants that but it does take work. You can’t keep drawing the line in the sand and saying, “Well, you are of the other party so I don’t want you to get any credit and I may have to keep these secrets to myself and use them later.” We should be beyond that.
APR: You would hope, on the website is a one and half hour interview with Artur Davis, no matter what your feelings are of Artur, I think he is a very smart man.
TODD: Oh absolutely!
APR: One of the things that he said was that because the Democratic Party had been in power so long, and really only ruled by a few people, in his mind Joe Reed and Paul Hubbert, he felt that it had run out of ideas. And if the only idea that you have is that we are going to give you bingo and take more money from gambling interests then sooner or later people are going to stop voting for you. Most people in our state are more conservative, so Democrats are going to have to tell people what they are going to do for them. Tell them what they will do differently than Republicans.
TODD: Well, yes. You are absolutely right. Of course, I believe that the two-party system is completely broken. I think it is the reason that Congress gets locked up. I mean it costs us so much in this divisiveness that we have created where you have to be on one of two sides of an issue. Our country and our opinions are far greater than two options. I think that is why you have a lot more people saying that they are independent who will look at the ballot and vote for both democrats and republicans…if we can even get them to the polls.
The majority of people who are eligible to register to vote, are not. I don’t know what that percentage is, but it is 25 to 30 percent, I would think. So, that automatically decreases the amount of people engaged. And then you have people who are even willing to go register to vote, and then you have the people who are interested enough to go to the ballot that day. We have all that data, we have tracked every election. It is heartbreaking and the fact that we are still so divisive, it’s either you are for or against it and it is never that simple.
APR: You are right, but don’t you think that politicians paint things in that light simply because they don’t think that the voting public is paying that much attention anyway?
TODD: Well, I think they are trying to appease a group, either the folks that elected them, or people that they are getting money from. I am not saying that all legislators are like that. There are some that really want to make change. But it is on a spectrum where some people, like myself, are going to speak the truth are going to work with either party. I try to listen to the opposition, think about options that might be better that we can all live with and work to make that happen. I don’t think about, “Oh, gosh, this is going to cost me votes?” or, “Oh, gosh, I’m not going to get that money again from ALFA,” or “Oh, I may not be re-elected if I don’t do this, that or the other.” I just don’t think that way.
APR: Well, then you are very different than many politicians I know.
TODD: I know. I just think about, I have a lot of faith in the American people and the people from Alabama. I think we all know that we could be better. I think lots of people are frustrated with the lack of leadership or vision. We still have the racism issue here and it does make a difference when certain decisions are made on both sides.
It has gotten to the point where when people talk about an issue it is more about them. They think more about “how it helps me” instead of stepping back and looking at it from a community perspective.
APR: Right, but you are fighting human nature, don’t you think? To do things in our self interest is sort of primal.
TODD: Yes, it is. But, here we are in the Bible Belt where the Christian faith teaches you that you should go out and do good for others. So, this is an interesting thing to me that we have so many people who, the churches are packed on Sunday morning, but yet they leave that church and then, “Its all about me.”
APR: I wouldn’t disagree. Do you think that the retirement of Mr. Hubbert and Dr. Reed is going to make a difference in the party or has too much credit been given to them? Do they really have the power that people like Bradley Byrne and Artur Davis say that they do or had?
TODD: Yes. They were the major donor to the party. Now, let’s remember that Dr. Reed is leaving AEA but he is not giving up his position up within the party. He will still be vice-chair for minority affairs and that is where he really controls things. I don’t know who would succeed him but I do know that his sons are very engaged in that as well.
Don’t get me wrong. I think our party has done a far better job than the Republican Party, obviously in the diversity of who we represent because we are diverse. We have black, white, yellow, gay, straight, conservative, liberal whereas Republicans really don’t have that.
APR: Yes, I will say that the Democrats are more diverse. But I also think that there are plenty of open-minded people who vote under the GOP banner.
TODD: Well, I think that there are Republicans that are more libertarian who believe that it is “government off [our back] and so what you want to do with your personal life is fine.” I hear that a lot from Republicans who feel government is too big.
APR: So, then, how do we begin to heal the divide then if that is the case?
TODD: Well, you go out and start talking about it. You’ve got to allow those kinds of conversations to happen instead of having a debate format. We even set it up to be divisive. Why not just have a conversation.
Do you remember, Bill Moyers, I believe, did this years ago on TV where he got four or five people together and they just talked about an issue? Why can’t we do more stuff like that?
APR: I would love to and one of the ideas for this project is to set up a studio and have a once a week “What’s the Big Idea?” Have people in from all stripes and say, “Okay, this is the big idea this week. What do we do about it?”
TODD: Well, let me tell you something, there is something like that that has happened. The School of Public Health at UAB has a new project called “The Edge of Chaos.” They have taken part of their building and set it up to be like a think tank room. I don’t know if they have certain hours or what, but I am looking into that. They set that to be exactly what we are talking about. You may have a problem and you have people coming in and suggestion solutions and then you are dialoging. That’s exciting to me.
APR: The new session is right around the corner what do you look forward to and how do you feel the atmosphere will be when the new session starts?
TODD: Well, we’ve had a year to sort of look at and see how things were going to be handled having the Republicans in charge. I think everybody will be a little better prepared this session than last. Of course, this is a time when we are all getting our legislation drafted and trying to look at what the budgets are going to be like. Budget hearing will start in January. We’re all focused on that. I think it will be a very smooth session. I think we will have heated discussions about immigration. We have to do something about the budget we can not continue to have this year after year of just barely hanging on and that means you have to look at revenue. Everybody just doesn’t want to do that but we wouldn’t be good policy makers if we didn’t look at that, take it seriously and look at all of the options available to us. We leave a lot of money on the table that other states are collecting. We have a lot of entities in the state that do not pay their full 4 percent sales tax. If we did away with all of those exemptions, not charitable or religious organizations, but everything else, we would have take tax off groceries.
APR: Why do you think there is not a will to do that?
TODD: Because of people and the “no new tax” pledge. They get stuck there and are unable to negotiate.
APR: I think most people believe that if people or companies aren’t paying their share and there is not a real reason to grant an exemption or that it is a good-old-boy deal or corporate welfare then it is not a new tax, it is closing tax loopholes.
TODD: Yes, but these entities are big, big interest groups that have a lot of money and power in Montgomery. That is exactly why we have the exemptions or the discounted sales tax rate. Every single one you look at, and I have got them all, for example, new cars, when you buy a new car in Alabama you pay 2 percent sales tax. If you go in and buy groceries, it is 4 percent. Now, honestly, which one is more important?
But look at why that is so the automobile association obviously fought very hard to get that discounted sales tax rate and the governor wanted that so that they could recruit new manufacturers into Alabama. I get that. People don’t remember that. The truth is that people don’t make a decision about what car they are going to buy and they can’t even tell you what the sales tax rate is on the car anyway. I have tested this, every group that I have spoken to I have asked two questions, “Can you tell me how much sales tax you paid on the last car that you bought?” Nobody knows. And I said, “Did it make the determination on what car you were going to buy based on sales tax?” “No.” It’s a no-brainer, but people are so afraid that they will get backlash because now it is going to cost me more to buy a car. But you know if we don’t have these kind of dialogs where we can talk about it and somebody come back and say, “Well, maybe we bring that up and leave the rest alone.” But it is things like the food for baby chicks…hello, ALFA…parts for ships…hello, Mobile…. It is so clear to me when I look at this stuff that no wonder we have gotten into this situation.
In part two, Representative Todd go deeper into what she believes needs to come out of the nest legislative session.
Jones says Senate race a choice between “substance and leadership, and nothing”
“One of the great disappointments in this campaign is that Alabama is not really getting choices between substance and substance,” Jones said.
Speaking outside the Calhoun County Democratic Party headquarters in Anniston on Friday, Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, told a group of supporters that Alabamians haven’t gotten a look at what his Republican opponent might do if he wins the Nov. 3 election.
“One of the great disappointments in this campaign is that Alabama is not really getting choices between substance and substance,” Jones said. “They’re getting a choice between substance and leadership, and nothing — nothing. We have not heard anything from Tommy Tuberville about what he really wants to do.”
While Jones has held numerous interviews with the media, and regular web briefings over the summer and in recent weeks, Tuberville’s campaign seems to prefer the safety of keeping Tuberville from making possible gaffs or damaging statements in interviews.
Tuberville hasn’t agreed to interviews with traditional media outlets, or to debate Jones, and instead has focused on conservative talk radio spots, speaking to smaller Republican groups and at private parties.
Tuberville’s campaign has ignored or denied our numerous attempts to interview Tuberville, including another request on Friday. He also declined to attend a student forum held at Auburn University on Wednesday, which Jones attended. The forum was sponsored by the Auburn College Republicans and College Democrats.
“If you ever hear something Tommy Tuberville says, it is just simply this: ‘Build a wall. No amnesty. Drain the swamp.’ That ain’t him. That’s Donald Trump,” Jones said. “He cannot think for himself. He doesn’t think for himself.”
Jones spoke of his record of working to help veterans through legislation. And he referred to Tuberville’s nonprofit for veterans and reporting that indicates, through tax records, that less than a third of the money raised for Tuberville’s charity went to help veterans.
“I don’t just create charities and send only pennies on the dollar. I do things for the veterans of this state and this country,” Jones said.
Jones also made a case for Alabamians to remember the contributions past Democrats made in the state. Jones said it was Democratic Sen. John Sparkman who helped build Alabama’s Redstone Arsenal.
“It was a Democrat, Lester Hill, who built the rural hospitals around here that Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell and Tommy Tuberville are trying to destroy,” Jones said. “It was Howell Heflin who built up agriculture in this state. Those are the Democrats. It was Franklin Rosevelt that put electricity in this state. We’re going to do the same thing for broadband. People forget those things. They forget those things because we’ve let other people define us with lies.”
Jones plans to visit Jefferson County on Saturday, then on to the Black Belt and Mobile on Sunday with another stop in Birmingham on Monday afternoon.
“The goal is to get everybody out. That’s the thing if we want to continue to ensure Alabama moves forward — moves forward and not backwards, to continue to have somebody, if I do say so myself, somebody that’s just not going to damn embarrass us,” Jones said.
“We’ve had too much of that in Alabama,” Jones said, “and I bet you it won’t be a year that Tommy Tuberville would be an embarrassment to this state because he doesn’t know the issues. He doesn’t know what to do, and he’s dang sure not going to know what to do when Donald Trump is not president of the United States.”
Jones encouraged supporters to be skeptical of recent polling. One such recent poll, by Auburn University at Montgomery, puts Tuberville ahead of Jones by 12 percentage points, 54 to 42.1. An internal poll by Tuberville’s campaign puts Tuberville ahead by 15 percentage points, while an internal poll from the Jones camp put Jones ahead by one percentage point.
“Don’t listen to these polling folks that come in, and they don’t know Alabama, and they don’t know what they’re doing. We’re tracking this race, and I can tell you, everything has been moving in our direction the last two months,” Jones said.
People standing along roadsides holding his signs and showing support, Jones said, is “the energy we’ve got out there. That’s what you can’t poll.”
Ellen Bass of Anniston, standing outside the Calhoun County Democratic Party headquarters just after Jones spoke, told APR that she has numerous Republican friends who are voting for Jones.
“My hat’s off to them because they’re coming out,” Bass said. “They recognize that he is a better candidate.”
Ciara Smith, 21, newly elected to the Anniston City Council, told APR outside the headquarters building that Jones is the better candidate.
“I think that he’s educated. I think that he speaks with passion and heart,” Smith said. “And he knows what he’s talking about, which is important, and which is more than we can say about the other candidate.”
Speaking to APR after his speech to supporters, Jones said that he feels very good about the state of his campaign.
“Everything we’re seeing is moving in our direction,” Jones said. “And the more he stays hidden, the better it is for us.”
Inmate assault injures two St. Clair prison correctional officers
The assaults happened at approximately 7:30 p.m. and both officers were taken to a local hospital and treated for those non-life-threatening injuries.
Two correctional officers at St. Clair Correctional Facility were injured in an inmate-on-officer assault on Monday, the Alabama Department of Corrections confirmed to APR.
Among the two officers who sustained non-life-threatening injuries was a basic correctional officer (BCO), a position created in May 2019, who are not Alabama Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission (APOST) certified and who cannot transport inmates, work perimeter fencing or in towers.
The other officer injured was a full correctional officer, Alabama Department of Corrections spokeswoman Samantha Rose told APR in a message Friday. The assaults happened at approximately 7:30 p.m. and both officers were taken to a local hospital and treated for those non-life-threatening injuries and subsequently released, according to Rose.
“The ADOC condemns all violence in its facilities, and the actions taken by the inmate against ADOC staff are being thoroughly investigated,” Rose said. “As the investigation into this incident is ongoing, we cannot provide additional detail at this time. More information will be available upon the conclusion of our investigation.”
The ADOC created the new basic correctional officer position to bolster the state’s woefully understaffed prisons. The creation of the position was also at the suggestion of experts ordered by a federal court to study the department’s staffing problems, ADOC attorneys wrote to the court in a filing in 2019.
The ongoing lawsuit is over the state’s handling of mental health in prisons.
The Southern Poverty Law Center and the Alabama Disability Advocacy Program filed the 2014 suit arguing the state was indifferent to the health of inmates dying by suicide in greater and greater numbers.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs in June argued that ADOC was far behind on the court-ordered hiring new additional officers. It has been more than two years since U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ordered the Alabama Department of Corrections to hire an additional 2,000 correctional officers by 2022.
U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson in a previous opinion wrote that prison understaffing “has been a persistent, systemic problem that leaves many ADOC facilities incredibly dangerous and out of control.”
“Taken together, ADOC’s low correctional-staffing level, in the context of its severely overcrowded prisons, creates a substantial risk of serious harm to mentally ill prisoners, including continued pain and suffering, decompensation, self-injury, and suicide,” Thompson’s previous opinion continued.
The SPLC in court filings late last year expressed concern over the use of basic correctional officers in Alabama’s overcrowded and understaffed prisons. ADOC attorneys have argued to the court, however, that BCO’s are adequately trained to do their jobs and are needed for the department to hire the necessary number of officers per the court’s timeline.
In a court filing on Thursday, attorneys for the plaintiffs asked the court not to again delay site visits to Alabama prisons by two experts who are tasked by the court to determine which positions should be filled by correctional officers and which by BCO’s and which by another new position, called cubical correctional officers, who are to have no direct interaction with inmates.
Those visits were to begin in May, but both parties in the suit agree to wait due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the threat it posed to the experts, who are particularly vulnerable to the disease due to “age and other factors,” according to court records.
Both parties again agreed to postpone those visits in June for those same reasons, those records show. ADOC seeks a third extension but attorneys for the plaintiffs argue that the experts can visit the prisons while keeping themselves, prison staff and inmates safe from harm of COVID-19 and that thousands of employees and contractors enter Alabama prisons daily.
The plaintiff’s attorneys argue in the court filing that the expert guidance is needed because ADOC wishes to use BCO’s and cubical correctional officers to comply with the court-ordered hiring of additional staff by Feb. 20, 2022.
“Ensuring adequate staffing is of upmost importance to address the constitutional violations underlying mental health care within ADOC,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote to the court Thursday.
ADOC in May was employing 494 BCO’s, a 57 percent increase in the number of BCO’s employed in Oct. 2019, according to ADOC’s staffing numbers. The number of correctional officers working in Alabama prisons fell by two percent during that time, dropping from 1,319 to 1,287.
Slow absentee voting in Tuscaloosa sparks outrage, possible legal action
Among the issues were incredibly long lines that left some voters waiting more than five hours and an inefficient process that managed to take in fewer than 100 absentee ballots in six hours.
Long lines and slow absentee ballot processing in Tuscaloosa County have left voters outraged and incumbent Sen. Doug Jones’s campaign threatening legal action.
On Wednesday, Jones’s campaign attorney, Adam Plant, sent a letter to Tuscaloosa County Circuit Clerk Magaria Bobo, outlining a number of issues with ongoing absentee voting and promising to take legal action if Bobo doesn’t improve the process on the final day, Friday. Among the issues documented by Plant were incredibly long lines that left some voters waiting more than five hours and an inefficient process that managed to take in fewer than 100 absentee ballots in six hours.
Additionally, Plant noted that Bobo has hired her family members to help process absentee ballots and at least one family member had made disparaging remarks on social media about voters.
“You and those acting on your behalf are suppressing the vote of qualified Alabama voters,” Plant wrote in the letter. “If you are unable or unwilling to execute your duties competently, and allow Tuscaloosa voters to exercise their voting rights without undue burdens, we will take further action.”
In an interview with the Montgomery Advertiser on Wednesday, Bobo noted that her office had received more than 13,000 requests for absentee ballots — a remarkable uptick from the 3,000 or so her office usually receives — and there had been problems in managing that number of ballots while also adhering to social distancing guidelines within the office.
However, as Plant’s letter notes, the massive increase in absentee ballots for this election shouldn’t have been a surprise. Also, Secretary of State John Merrill had made additional funds available to absentee managers to facilitate hiring extra staff, purchasing additional computers and staying open for longer hours to accommodate the anticipated increase.
In a press release on Wednesday, the Alabama Democratic Party criticized Bobo and her family members, and the release included screenshots of Facebook posts from Bobo’s daughter lashing out at voters who complained about the long wait times.
“No voter should have to wait in line for hours to exercise their rights,” said ADP executive director Wade Perry. “We should leverage every tool we have to make voting easier, not harder. Also, it should go without saying that election workers should not insult the very people they are employed to serve. If Ms. Bobo is incapable of processing voters quickly, someone else needs to do the job.”
Jones campaign calls Tuberville a “coward” after no-show at Auburn forum
“Tuberville is hiding because he knows that on every front — policy, experience, character, competence — he loses to Doug Jones. Hands down,” Jones’s campaign said.
There are only four days left before election day, and incumbent Democratic Sen. Doug Jones’s re-election campaign is slamming Republican challenger Tommy Tuberville, accusing him of “hiding” and calling him a “coward.”
On Wednesday, Jones addressed an Auburn University forum. Tuberville did not attend.
“Tonight, the College Democrats and College Republicans at Auburn University co-hosted a debate between Doug Jones and Tommy Tuberville, offering students a chance to ask the candidates about the issues that matter most to Alabama,” the Jones campaign said in an email to supporters. “But Tuberville never showed up – he’s too scared to face Doug… even on his own home turf. Tuberville has repeatedly refused to debate Doug Jones. He’s consistently refused to be interviewed by the press. He’s refused to tell Alabama the truth about who and what they’re voting for – and it’s clear why.”
“Tuberville is hiding because he knows that on every front — policy, experience, character, competence — he loses to Doug Jones. Hands down,” the campaign continued. “If he won’t tell the truth, we will. Tuberville expects to win this race off of his blind allegiance to the President and his party affiliation. But Alabamians know better.”
“People deserve to know who they’re really voting for if they vote for Tuberville: someone who … won’t protect our health care, doesn’t believe in science, has no idea what the Voting Rights Act is, and doesn’t care about the lives and livelihoods of Alabamians,” the Jones campaign concluded. “Alabama will never elect a coward. Pitch in now and help us spread the truth about the man hiding behind the ballot.”
“I am disappointed that Tommy Tuberville is not here,” Jones said. “I think it is important that people see two candidates side by side answering the same questions.”
Tuberville meanwhile is canvassing the state, speaking to rallies and Republican groups to turn out the Republican vote for himself and President Donald Trump. Tuberville spoke at Freedom Fest in Madison County on Thursday and at the Trump Truck Parade rally in Phenix City.
“It’s time Alabama had a U.S. senator who represents our conservative beliefs and traditional values,” Tuberville said in Phenix City. “It’s time Alabama had a U.S. senator who supports the Second Amendment, the right to life, and putting God back in the classroom.”
Polling consistently shows Tuberville with a commanding lead over Jones. Real Clear Politics lists the race on their current board as a likely Republican win. FiveThirtyEight’s election model gives Tuberville a 79 percent chance of defeating Jones.