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Davis, Part 3: Transparency in campaigns and what is next

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

APR: When we sat down with republican leaders , and others to explain Alabama Political Reporter, I told them that I don’t kid myself that after 20 years in power without being unchecked that the Republicans will be as corrupt as they consider the Democrats to be today. I think the press is partly responsible to help politicians from heading down the wrong road at least expose their corruption when they do and I intend to do that. But I also think if you have one-party rule like any nation of one-party rule then there is a tendency toward bad ideas that lead to corruption. Any number of unwanted things can happen when government is allowed to go unfettered and flourish under one banner.

DAVIS: “I agree, one-party rule does not work from Moscow to Montgomery. One-party rule does not work. It did not work for Democrats, it will not work for Republicans because one-party rule means that you really never have to question what you believe.

artur-davis“If your side can win elections simply by sticking an ‘R’ next to a candidate’s name, that means you never have to really examine the things that you believe. You never really have to do a gut check on things you believe are working or not. And it means that, as a practical matter, we don’t have the kind of competition that we need to really push both political parties to be better.

“If only one political party can win an election, and the only competition that happens, happens in primaries, there is a whole set of ideas that will never be advocated in Alabama politics.

“I would like to see a competitive two-party system or I would like to see a system in which a third party or an independent force would provide a home for people who didn’t feel connected to one party or the other.

“What I see today, is a Democratic Party in Alabama that has no new ideas, a Republican Party that does have ideas but those ideas haven’t always been tested and some of them work better than others and some will not work at all. And I see a significant number of people, frankly, just disengaged from Alabama politics.

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“You know people often say to me, ‘Well, haven’t you kind of given up on Alabama politics?’ (And I point to them because there are a whole lot of people in the State of Alabama who seem to have given up on Alabama politics.) There are a whole lot of people sitting in Montgomery and Birmingham right now who seem to have disengaged from Alabama politics. That is not a function of where you live but a function of can you make a difference. I see a lot of people who have concluded that the system is so locked in the status quo that there is no real opportunity for new voices to be heard. I see a lot of people who have disengaged from Alabama politics.”

APR: If you tomorrow found yourself the head of a news organization, what might be your advice in say “better coverage” or how do we make, from the press’ point, more transparency in government? How do we demand it? Because the news bureaus are shutting down in Montgomery, you do not have people down there with institutional knowledge of what is going on. And basically, right or wrong, the newspapers get painted as liberal, most of my colleagues in the press in NYC or in Alabama are much more liberal than probably their neighbors. Of course some of my friends in the media think because they are more educated that it has made them more liberal. I’m not sure that is the case though, I know people that have great educations that have no thought process.

DAVIS: “I would say that if you are running a newspaper, the most important thing that I think any newspaper can do is (one thing that I think journalism as a whole in Alabama can do) to press candidates on what they believe.

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“I was frankly struck during my campaign how uninquisitive most journalists were about public positions in the campaign.

“When I was running, my Democratic opponent took a range of different positions on different issues. He was against the healthcare bill, and then he was for it. He was against gambling, then he was for it. He was against extending unemployment benefits to part-time people, then he was for it. But I didn’t see the press really care.

“On the Republican side, I didn’t see the press spending a whole lot of time asking Dr. Bentley, ‘exactly what is your relationship with AEA and tell me where you disagree with AEA. We don’t really care you got money from them, we know that. That is really not so much the issue, the issue is what does the money mean to you?’

“I didn’t see the press spend a whole lot of time on that. They were usually willing to take only a surface level position. So, I think it is important for you guys [APR] to not take the surface level position. I think it is important to do the homework.

“Second of all, it is very important to look where the money is coming from in politics. And with the Alabama press, I can’t speak for the national press, I am more aggressive about this, but the Alabama press wasn’t always willing to follow the money trail.

“Look to see where is a candidate looking to get resources. All candidates have to raise money, and there is nothing wrong with that, but it is important for the public to know where the money is coming from and it is important to ask every candidate, “Where do you differ from the people who are helping to finance your campaign?”

“Candidates love to say, ‘Oh, I am simply getting money from people who support the things that I support. Who are you going to go to? To your enemies?’ That is what candidates always say. Pro-business candidates say, ‘Well, I am pro-business.’ Pro-gambling candidates say, ‘I am pro-gambling. Of course, Milton McGreggor gave me money.’

“The question that you guys and ladies ought to ask is, ‘Tell me where you disagree Mr. Pro-business candidate with the business lobby that is giving you money? Is there any issue that you disagree with them on?’ ‘Mr. Pro-gambling candidate who is getting money from the casino operators, tell me where you disagree with them.’ I think you would be surprised at how many candidates will very quickly decide that the interview is over at that point.”

APR: When we were in St. Clair County we tried to get the word out as to the differing policy positions or where campaign money was coming from but we were just a small voice and not really in the arena.

DAVIS: “Not enough news people were doing what you were doing. One newspaper, whether it is the Birmingham News or the Montgomery Advertiser or one St. Clair paper is not going to make the difference.

“This is something journalism has to do in the State of Alabama. You have to press these people and ask the question, ‘Tell me what, not just again, where you agree with your friends (we know you agree with your friends on some things, probably most things). Tell me where you disagree with your friends.’

“Because I would submit to you that is really the measure of a politician. How often that person is willing to break ranks with the people who support them because if you are simply a mouthpiece from the people who are pouring money into your campaign that doesn’t give me a lot of confidence in what kind of governor you will be. I want to see where you differ, as a voter, I want to see that.”

APR: During the next election, we plan to have reporters with video recorders following candidates to multiple campaign stops. That way if their campaign position changes when they are Moody from say, Montgomery, we will have it for the voters to view.

DAVIS: “I would encourage you to do that because having been to a whole lot of candidate forums and heard a whole lot of campaign speeches, you would be surprised how many people say different things in different places.

“And I’m not talking about different emphasis, I’m not talking about moving your head around a little bit when you speak to a black group and be perfectly still when you speak to a white group. I am talking about people saying one thing in one place and the opposite thing in another place.

“I can’t tell you how many candidates I have seen do it and to the point that they actually view themselves as clever for doing it. It would be one thing if a candidate did that and thought, ‘You know what, I hate that I had to do that.’ But, when I see candidates walk around and believe that it is a sign of their political skill and believe that is how you do it, that you go in front of one group and say one thing and say the diametrical opposite to another.

“We had 18 debates in the governor’s race and I wish all 18 of them had been televised. It turned out not one of them was.

“One of the constant challenges that we faced in our campaign was frankly trying to correct misstatements and trying to say to people, ‘Okay, this is what this person said to you, you know a week ago they said the opposite,’ or ‘That is what this person said to you after the debate, did you catch what they said during the debate?’ It was amazing.”

APR: When are you coming back?

DAVIS: “You know people ask me that question all the time and the most direct answer I can give you is my wife is working here now, I’m working here now, and this is where we are.

“I don’t exclude the possibility of returning to Alabama in the future. I don’t exclude that possibility, however there is no master plan to do it. The reality is…I have made it very clear the whole course of my career…I like politics, politics is something I enjoy. I think I was a very good member of Congress. I think I was a very good candidate.

“We didn’t get the results we wanted but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you weren’t a good candidate and that you wouldn’t have been a good official but to run for office you have to have two things: You have to have donors and you have to have a support base.

“You know its not always advertised and talked about but it is the reality. You can’t get out there by yourself. And second of all there has to be an opening and your talent needs to fit that opening.

“I recognized last year when I lost the Democratic primary that a lot of doors were closed to me because I made a decision that rather than being good cheerleader or a good party soldier that I was going to speak my piece. I frankly did that before the primary. And I made a decision to keep doing that.

“I knew that was going to antagonize a range of people. I didn’t do what a lot of candidates do when they lose elections which is to say, ‘Oh everything I did I wish I had done the opposite way. Please forgive me and please help me next time.’ That is not the route that I chose to follow, so I knew that would close some doors to me.

“I am not a partisan. I’m not someone that believes that Republicans are evil and Democrats have all the answers and because I am not a partisan, for me to have a chance to win I would have to be in an environment where frankly there was a chance for all kinds of people to be able to vote for me.

“I have had various people encourage me to run for office. I had several major national donors encourage me to run for Congress as an independent in the 7th district. They said they believe that there need to be more independents in Congress and they believe that there needs to be that viewpoint and they are interested in supporting a group of folks out there who may be running in various states.

“I have already served in Congress, so that is not something that is on my radar screen to do. There were people who encouraged me to run for chief justice when Sue Bell Cobb announced that she wasn’t running.

“I have had people encourage me to run for mayor of Montgomery in the next election. That is four years off.

“The reality is today, I am not focused on any of those things. I made a decision not to seek office in the 2012 election cycle and barring something completely unexpected happening that would just completely change the political dynamic in such a way that all people needed to show up and kind of report for duty, absent something like that happening I wouldn’t be a candidate in 2012 and as I said, beyond that is a long time in politics.”

We want to thank Congressman Davis for his candid and frank conversation, we value his insight as an intelligent Alabamian who has served his state with honor and distinction. We wish him the best and a bright future whatever he does in the future.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Elections

Trump Truck and boat parades this weekend

Brandon Moseley

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Trump boat parade

As Election Day draws near, Alabama Republicans are excited about promoting the re-election of Donald J. Trump as President and the election of Tommy Tuberville for U.S. Senate. This weekend two pro-President Trump events are happening in the state. There will be a truck parade from Ashland to Phenix City on Saturday sponsored by the Clay County Republican Party, while there will also be a boat parade on Wilson Lake in the Shoals sponsored by the Colbert County Republican Party on Sunday.

The pickup trucks will assemble at the Ashland Industrial Park in Clay County, 8240 Hwy 9, Ashland. There is a pre-departure rally at 10:00 a.m. central standard time. The trucks will depart at 11:00 a.m. and then proceed on a parade route that will take them into the bitterly contested swing state of Georgia. The Trump Pickup Parade will wind through east Alabama and West Georgia traveling through LaGrange and Columbus before concluding near the Alabama/Georgia line in Phenix City, 332 Woodland Drive, Phenix City at approximately 2:00 p.m. central time. Speakers will begin at 3:00. Trump flags will be on sale at the event.

The Phenix Motorsports Park will be hosting what sponsor hope could possibly the world’s largest Pickup Tuck parade in U.S. history that is routing over 50 mile through Georgia in effort to “pickup” President Trump’s numbers in GA.

A number dignitaries have been invited to address the Phenix City rally, including Coach Tuberville. Former State Sen. Shadrack McGill, Trump Victory Finance Committee member former State Rep. Perry O. Hooper Jr., and Paul Wellborn, the President and CEO of the largest Family owned Kitchen Cabinet manufacture in the USA are among the featured speakers who have committed to speak at the event.

Entertainment will be provided by: Charity Bowden, an up and coming country music singer who was the runner up on “The Voice”. Charity will sing ‘I am Proud to be an American’ as well as songs from her Voice performances. The McGill Girls will also perform. The three beautiful and talented sisters will be singing patriotic songs in three part harmony. Geoff Carlisle, a professional DJ will be keeping the crowd pumped with music and entertainment.

Following the speakers and the entertainment there will Trump truck-vs- Joe Bidden truck races down the drag strip for the finale.

The Northwest Alabama boat parade will be on Sunday. The boats will gather at 2:00 p.m. near Turtle Point and then the flotilla will parade around the open waters of Wilson Lake til 3_00 p.m.. There will be a contest for best decorated Trump boats.

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Trump supporters have held a number of large boat parades across the state to show their support for the re-election of Pres. Trump.

Boat parade sponsors say that this parade will be: pro-American, pro-law enforcement, pro-military.

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Health

COVID-19 hospitalizations, new cases continue to rise

Eddie Burkhalter

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COVID-19 Corona Influenza Virus Molecules Image Stock Photo

The number of rising hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Alabama is a concerning sign of a possible coming surge of the disease, state health experts said Friday. Alabama hospitals were caring for 888 coronavirus patients Friday, the highest number since Sept 9. 

UAB Hospital was caring for around 80 COVID-19 inpatients Friday afternoon, said Dr. Rachael Lee, an infectious disease specialist at UAB, speaking to reporters Friday. UAB Hospital hasn’t had that many coronavirus inpatients since Aug. 18, when the disease was surging statewide.

“We have been dealing with this since March, and I think it’s easy for us to drop our guard,” Lee said. 

Alabama added 3,852 new coronavirus cases on Friday, but 1,287 of them were older positive antigen tests, conducted in June through October and submitted to ADPH by a facility in Mobile, according to the department. Still, Alabama’s daily case count has been increasing, concerning health officials already worried that as the weather turns colder and the flu season ramps up, Alabama could see a surge like the state had in July.

Alabama’s 14-day average of new daily cases was 1,247 on Friday, the highest it’s been since Sept 4. Over the last 14 days, Alabama has added 17,451 new COVID-19 cases.

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Friday’s inclusion of those older positive test results throws off the day’s percent positivity, by Thursday the state’s percent of tests that were positive was nearly 16 percent. Public health officials say it should be at or below five percent or cases are going undetected.

The state added 16 COVID-19 deaths on Friday, bringing to total confirmed deaths statewide to 2,859. Over the last two weeks, 206 deaths were reported in the state. Alabama’s 14-day average of new daily deaths on Friday was 15.

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Alabama state health officer Dr. Scott Harris told APR by phone Friday called the rising new cases and hospitalizations “worrisome.”

Harris noted the data dump of older confirmed cases in Friday’s data, but said “but nevertheless, I think it’s clear our numbers are going up.”

Harris said it’s not yet clear what’s causing the continued spread, but said it may be due at least in part to larger private gatherings. ADPH staff has mentioned a few outbreaks association with such gatherings, but Harris said it’s hard to know for certain if that’s the major driver in the state’s rising numbers.

“It’s football season and the holidays are coming up and school is back in session,” Harris said. “I think people are just not being as safe as they were.”

Harris noted that on ADPH’s color-coded, risk indicator dashboard, red counties, which denotes counties with rising cases and percent positivity, the 17 red counties on Friday were distributed across the state.

“So there’s not one event, or even a handful of events. It seems like there’s just a lot of things happening in a lot of places,” Harris said.

Alabama’s rising numbers are mirrored in many states. The U.S. reported more than 71,600 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, nearing the country’s record highs, set in July.

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News

Birmingham approves $1.3 million contract for real-time crime center technology

Woodfin repeated that facial recognition capabilities will not be used in accordance with the contract.

John H. Glenn

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The Birmingham City Council approved a five-year, $1.3 million contract with Motorola this week to provide new technology for the police department’s real-time crime center amid unease and public concern over the potential use of facial recognition software within the new systems.

Mayor Randall Woodfin insisted in his remarks made before the council that the new technology is meant to integrate existing hardware and technology inside the real-time crime center. “You’re not buying any additional new equipment,” he said, “You’re buying something to integrate all those systems.”

The software suite includes Motorola Solutions’s CommandCentral Aware, a system that aggregates video, image and other data information into one interface, and BriefCam, a “video synopsis” system that will further integrate and analyze information from Birmingham’s ShotSpotter systems, public cameras and police body cameras.

Briefcam offers facial recognition capabilities, which was the main concern of community members speaking before the council, and the risk that use of the technology could disproportionately affect Black people. Facial recognition technology has a record of racial bias and misidentifies Black people at rates five to 10 times higher than white people.

“Despite assurances that there will not be facial recognition implemented at this phase that does not prevent it from being implemented in the future,” said Joseph Baker, Founder of I Believe in Birmingham and one of the Birmingham residents voicing concern on the proposal. “I believe that this software, if fully implemented, can easily lead to violations of unreasonable searches.”

Another resident who spoke against the resolution was Byron Lagrone, director of engineering at medical software solutions company Abel Healthcare Enterprises. Lagrone pointed to IBM and Amazon as examples of companies that have halted or abandoned facial recognition and object tracking software altogether over racial bias concerns.

“The prevailing attitude, among technical people is this technology is not effective, and it causes high amounts of harm for next to no gain,” Lagrone said.

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Woodfin repeated that facial recognition capabilities will not be used in accordance with the contract.

“It’s explicit in this contract that facial recognition will not be used,” Woodfin said, “[If] facial recognition wants to be used in the future of this city. It would have to be approved by this body. … The mayor’s office or the police department doesn’t have unilateral power to use facial recognition. That is not part of what our contractual relationship is with Motorola.”

Woodfin also clarified that the total $1.3 million price of the contract will not be paid as a lump sum but spread out over the five-year commitment.

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The city council voted 8 to 1 to approve the contract, with District 8 Councilman Steven Hoyt speaking in favor of the use of facial recognition capabilities.

“You can’t say, ‘I’m going to build a house but I’m not going to use the restroom,’” Hoyt said. “If it’s in the house, you’re going to use the restroom. … If it has the capability of facial recognition, guess what’s going to happen? You’re going to use it. I’m going to vote for it because I know we’ve got to have every tool we can garner to fight crime, because it’s out of hand.”

Hoyt also suggested a review of the information collected by the new system apparatus.

“I do think, for the public’s sake, we need to have some way we review that and see how it’s being used,” Hoyt said. “We need that to go along with this.”

District 3 Councilwoman Valerie A. Abbott — who said she was the victim of a burglary the day before the vote — echoed the mayor’s insistence that the facial recognition capabilities would not be deployed unless authorized by the city council, reading a letter from Motorola stating “in order to enable facial recognition, Motorola will require an addendum or change order to the contract,” which would have to come before a public meeting of the city council.

“I too would not want facial recognition,” Abbot said, “I’m voting in favor of this because the majority of my constituents are telling me they want more and better policing, capture of criminals, prevention of crime.”

District 5 Councilman Darrell O’Quinn was the lone no vote among the near-unanimous city council, stating that he had “some reservations about how we’re doing this and will vote my conscience.” 
Later, O’Quinn was quoted in BirminghamWatch, saying his vote reflected his concerns about “taking on a new debt obligation in the midst of a projected $63 million shortfall in revenue.”

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Elections

Opinion | Doug Jones’s pathway to victory: Substance over lies

Jones said his work in the Senate should prove to the people of the state that party matters less than productivity. 

Josh Moon

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Alabama Sen. Doug Jones speaks during the Democratic National Convention.

Alabama Sen. Doug Jones believes voters will ultimately see through Tommy Tuberville’s lazy campaign and lies, and that enough of them will be moved by his work over the last two years to send him back to D.C. 

Jones’ comments came during a lengthy interview on the Alabama Politics This Week podcast. He also discussed his plans to address some of Alabama’s most pressing issues and also praised Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican.  

But it was Jones’ comments about Alabama voters — and whether too many of them are incapable of moving away from the Republican Party — that were most interesting. Jones still believes there are open-minded voters in the state, and that there isn’t enough attention being paid to polls showing a growing dissatisfaction in Alabama with President Donald Trump. 

“There are a number of things that Donald Trump has done that people (in Alabama) don’t agree with,” Jones said. “There are a number of things that he’s done that’s hurt Alabama and that they’re not OK with. That’s where I come in.”

Jones said his work in the Senate, where he’s sponsored the most bipartisan legislation over the last two years, should prove to the people of the state that party matters less than productivity. 

“I tell everyone, you owe it to yourself to look at every candidate and every issue,” Jones said. “I do that. I’ve been a Democrat all my life but I don’t think that I have ever pulled a straight lever. Because I look at every issue. I will tell you that there have been times that I didn’t vote for people who are Democrats for whatever reason — I just couldn’t do it. I think we owe it to ourselves to do that.”

Jones had the perfect example to drive the point home. 

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“Y’all all know our state auditor, Jim Zeigler? Jim wasn’t always a Republican. Jim’s first runs for office were as a Democrat. 

“I rest my case.”

You can listen to the full interview at the Alabama Politics This Week website, or you can subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. 

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