By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Twinkle Cavanaugh Currently serves as a commissioner on the Public Service Commission of Alabama (PSC). She running for office to become the Commission’s president.
Cavanaugh is a graduate of Auburn University. She and her husband have three children. They are active members of First Baptist Church in Montgomery, and they are involved in numerous community organizations.
APR: Why did you choose to serve on the Commission and what motivated you to run for the office of president?
CAVANAUGH: I think that the American dream should once again be in reach of all Alabamians. Just like my parents and my grandparents wanted for me, I want my children and my future grandchildren to have opportunity right here in Alabama. I don’t want them to have to move away to make their American dream come true. So, we have to do what we can do to create more jobs and better paying jobs for all for Alabamians.
Believe me, I have been a small business owner and I understand that government has never, ever created a job. But what I mean is creating an environment so that real jobs can be created by real entrepreneurs here in Alabama and families can go back to work and have a real hope of opportunity and that is what I will fight for.
APR: I was recently sent a copy of the new ad by your opponent Kathy Peterson. Would you like to talk about the ad? Or do you want to ignore it?
CAVANAUGH: I’ll be glad to, I anticipated that I would get a question every once and a while about it and the way I look at is that right now, in Alabama, our economy is anemic and we don’t have time to waste on silly ads and personal insults. This isn’t about personalities it is about getting Alabama back to work.
We need to get to the business of helping Alabamians that are hurting. We need someone like myself that will go in and fight for the jobs that we need and these ads will not add a single job or put anybody back to work. So I want to keep the focus of this campaign on jobs in Alabama and improving our economy in Alabama because that is what the people of Alabama want to hear about.
APR: You have been at the PSC for a little over a year now, is that right?
CAVANAUGH: Right. Very shortly over a year. I was elected last November 2 and the PSC is unusual in the fact that you usually take office that night at 12:01 a.m. and they hadn’t even gotten the election returns in by 12:01 a.m. for a lot of the races so it was probably 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning when they called my race and I was actually sworn in the next morning. I was elected in the election cycle two years ago but I have been serving for about a year.
APR: So it has been two years since you were elected?
CAVANAUGH: Yes, November of 2010.
APR: In the course of serving, what are some of the things that you have seen that have made you want to take on the higher responsibilities and what are the things that you believe need to be done at the commission that will help folks in Alabama?
CAVANAUGH: I believe that we can use the Public Service Commission as one of the tools in our toolbelt to put Alabamians back to work to make our state open for business by creating a good environment for business.
I think it is time we have a focused objective here at the Commission. As a commission we have the job of putting out a strong economic environment for businesses to look at that want to locate in Alabama. We can’t just sit back and hope for jobs. We have got to take action and, like I said, use every tool in our economic toolbelt.
Under my leadership, I will set the PSC’s premier objective as job creation. We will play an active role in industrial recruitment through the tools that we have here at the Commission. As the president of the Commission I always jokingly say (but it is really not a joke) I will have three top priorities: Jobs, jobs, and jobs.
I love to give the ThyssenKrupp story (building new carbon steel and stainless steel processing facilities in southern Alabama) as an example. ThyssenKrupp decided to locate in Alabama and the very next day, if you will remember, the then-Governor of Louisiana got on national television and said that they couldn’t compete with the energy prices given in Alabama.
That brought thousands of jobs to our First Congressional District down in Mobile, Baldwin, Washington and Escambia, all of those counties got thousands of jobs and that is what we are talking about. What stories will we be able to tell 2 years, 4 years and 10 years down the road because of things we have been able to do?
Keeping our utility rates as low as possible, and reliable as possible is what many companies are looking at when they are deciding to expand or to grow in Alabama.
One of the things that I have done here at the Commission, I have been on the Barack Obama Administration and I call up his liberal cronies in DC that are so out of control. I have been on them the whole time.
As president of the Commission, I will make standing up against the job-killing environmental mandates that they put out in Washington and make them absolute priority because we have got to make sure (as usual) that the folks in Washington aren’t trying to pick on us here in Alabama, drive up our utility rates and basically put us out of business.
Let’s face it, we are feeling a pinch from what is going on in today’s environment, in today’s economy and we don’t need higher utility rates because of extremists in the Barack Obama Administration and that is what they are.
I will continue to send that message, that we have had enough and I will fight for our rights in Alabama to use our natural resource of coal. Coal is one of our greatest natural resources in Alabama. I tell people Barack Obama is not about improving the environment, what he is about is playing radical politics with our ability to produce energy at a low cost right here in Alabama.
It is really just regional economic attacks from Washington on states like Alabama that don’t support his liberal agenda. If they are serious about cleaning up our environment (and listen, I have three children and I want to make sure that they have a clean environment but there is always a trade off) they have got to look at it and say, “How much can families really afford to pay?” Because you have to pay for all of the infrastructure and the changes.
Over the last 25 years, the [environmental] cleanup has been fantastic and it was wanted and it was needed. But you have got to strike a balance. You can’t give three-year mandates from the Obama EPA Administration or the White House and expect the people of Alabama to be able to pay for things in three years. That is too quickly and it’s not responsible.
But if they would give us reasonable timeframes and reachable goals then I think everyone would want to work together and make sure we have the cleanest environment possible. But what they are doing now is a regional attack on us so they will hurt Alabama families and keep them from using our most abundant resource which is coal.
They don’t like to give us credit in Alabama that we use hydroelectricity, we use natural gas and we use some nuclear and those are cleaner fuels than coal but like today on the front page of the ‘Birmingham News’ they talked about the coal ash from the coal. Yes, but you have got to have it. That is a natural byproduct when you use coal.
But look at the environment of where we are today and where we were 25 years ago—our price of energy and the fact that we can still keep our costs down and bring jobs to this state. We have got to strike a balance but we have got to have a fighter in the PSC that will fight for keeping the jobs here in Alabama.
APR: Reagan when he first came into office kind of ignored to some degree some of the environmental issues and then all of a sudden he sort of realized that he really needed to focus on this but he did it in a balanced way and not going to extremes.
I think sometimes we forget that we have to look at the past and the future and take a balanced approach to cleaning up our environment. On that must be weighed against jobs and families and what is best for individuals. We don’t want to leave a mess for our kids to clean up but we also don’t need to destroy the families economic future in the process.
CAVANAUGH: Exactly. A rational approach but like I said, President Obama and his administration they are not for the environment, they are for playing radical Chicago-style politics and that is why we need to send him back to Chicago. I hope we can do that this year. I think he thinks by putting pressure on us he can send the car manufacturing jobs back to the Northeast.
They are not going back to the Northeast, if his administration succeeded in destroying our economic opportunity in Alabama the car manufacturers will send the jobs overseas.
We can’t have that. We have to stop hemorrhaging the jobs that we already have in Alabama and we have got to make it so more businesses want to locate here in Alabama and that our children will have the opportunity to stay here in Alabama and work. And that is what is important.
You asked my why did I choose the PSC and I will tell you. Being a small business owner I understand the importance of lower utility rates, reliable utilities. When you own a restaurant and your power goes out, you are out of business for that day. So, I know that you have to have reliable power.
The PSC is not a glamorous job. Most people aren’t even aware of what the Public Service Commission does, but I have served as chairman of the Republican Party when we had two members of the Public Service Commission elected and they were both Democrats. I thought to myself, the next time there is one up I am running because I know that I can do better for Alabama than the current Commission. So I ran, and I also ran against someone this last time that didn’t show up for work.
That is one thing, in fact on the front page of my website, it says, “Commissioner Cavanaugh calls herself the working commissioner because she comes to work everyday and tries to keep Alabama’s utility rates some of the lowest in the nation. She has a three-pronged approach to regulating utilities. Commissioner Cavanaugh insists on reasonable rates for consumers, reliable utilities for consumers, which facilitates recruiting jobs to our great state.”
And that has been my philosophy while I have been here. You can’t do the job if you are not engaged everyday. And that is what I have done. I have been engaged, I have gone to see our fantastic story of ThyssenKrupp. I have gone down there and toured the facility and watched them make the steel. I wanted to see it. They are a large energy user in the state of Alabama and we regulate that energy and the contracts. I wanted to see for myself ThyssenKrupp,
I wanted to see the coal plants, to see the dams that produce our hydroelectricity, I have toured the nuclear plant.
You know, you have to be an on-the-job commissioner willing to always think outside the box of how you can go to work and fight for Alabama families to have the environment that we need and to have the jobs we need and to put the food on the table for our families.
It’s exciting for me. I am, actually, a science major and a lot of this is very technical. I will tell you that when I got here most of the building consisted of accountants and engineers and you work with a lot of different companies that are very technical so there are a lot of technical things and it takes a while to get up to speed if you truly want to be able to be engaged in the job and so that is what I have done.
APR: Some have mistakenly called you a career politician but this is your first elected government position.
CAVANAUGH: I am no career politician I have been working in the trenches for a long time and I have worked on conservative causes like lower taxes and less government and making sure that we keep Alabamians working but I have only been in office for one year. It has been an exciting year.
It has been a time when I have been able to take on the EPA. I personally took them on in a meeting in Washington where I stood up in a crowded ballroom of over 1,000 people and said, “With all due respect to the people who President Obama appointed, they have got the wrong message and they are hurting Alabama families.” And I am going to stand up and let them know that we are not going to put up with it.
I think in the beginning the other commissioners from around the country were a little astounded that a new commissioner would be willing to stand up. But I wasn’t elected to be a peacemaker with other commissioners around the country. I was elected to take care of the families in Alabama and they were kind enough to give me this job so when I went to Washington to represent the people of Alabama I stood up in a crowded ballroom and went toe-to-toe with the director of the EPA and let them know that Alabama families were most concerned about keeping utility rates low so that we can keep jobs in Alabama and keep food on the table.
In part two of our interview Commissioner Cavanaugh talks more about the future and direction of the commission as well as decisions she has made in her roll as commissioner.
Trump Truck and boat parades this weekend
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.
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.
COVID-19 hospitalizations, new cases continue to rise
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
“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.