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Interview, Part 1: Representative Ed Henry

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

Recently we had the opportunity to chat with freshman Representative Ed Henry from Decatur. Henry is a man of strong conviction and muscular determination. He is one to watch in the upcoming session.

APR: It may seem like a simple question but many times it go to the core of one’s beliefs, what motivated you to run for office?

HENRY: November of 2007, I was driving home from work and I heard a fellow on the radio talking about the housing problem and all of the issues that were coming up with people not being able to pay for the stuff that they had bought and he was asking, is it the government’s responsibility to essentially bail them out.
The more the fellow talked the more I agreed with him. So, I looked up this man I found out who it was…it was Mike Huckabee. This was prior to the his showing in the Iowa caucus. He was just getting started in Iowa. I started trying to find anybody in Alabama that was working with his campaign and there wasn’t anybody. So, I went online and I found that there was a “meet-up” group on Google only one guy was in and he said that he was for Mike Huckabee. I joined that meet-up group and he and I and two other people who had signed up. We were the first four people that actually met for Mike Huckabee in the state of Alabama.

By  the time he came to Alabama, our meet-up group had grown to several hundred in our town which spawned out to Madison, Huntsville and Marshall County. We were all going to these meet-up groups and helping them get involved. Burning DVDs with speeches Mike had given. I had a multi-DVD burner and we were just pumping stuff out so when he came I had the privilege of hanging out with him for several hours while he was in Huntsville just helping him.

I was very impressed with his demeanor and his character. It showed through that he was a real person. He wasn’t full of himself, he wasn’t phony. We knew it was a longshot for him to become a presidential contender but we worked hard. I was complaining to God about why can’t we get regular, everyday, ordinary people in government. God hit me really hard and said, “Because they don’t make themselves available. If you really care then make yourself available.”

I backed up real quick because that did not fit into mine and my wife’s plan.

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APR: That’s how it works isn’t it, God tells us something and we go, wait, wait, ah, you must mean someone else, I have other plans.

ed_henryHENRY: Yes, you are right. That night I came home and I told my wife what I thought God was leaning on me to do and she had the same reaction that I had, “No. Are you kidding? Let’s just help somebody else, do it.” For a good three months we began to pray. That was in January of 2008 when I met Mike. For three months we prayed, “Father, if this is not your will then close the doors. Take it away. Don’t make it available.”

So I went to my employer and I asked them what they thought and they were all for it. I went to various people trying to get some doors to close and they just kept flying wide open. Here I am an absolute nobody, just a worker bee in society in a primary that was an open race. The incumbent decided not to run after I announced so I had a Republican primary against a two-term mayor in our town. He had an endless supply of money. We’re just regular people, there is nothing special about us and I beat him two to one in every box in the district. So I mean it was crazy, it was insane. So that is how we got here.

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APR: So in your first year, you go down to Montgomery, what were some of your thoughts when you first got there.

HENRY: I was very optimistic and encouraged by the fact that there were so many representatives. One of my prayers during the campaign was, “God, stir the hearts and the minds of people around this state. Don’t send me down there by myself. Give me some people to work with and it came true. There is a good new group of us down there. I would say, out of the 24 Republican freshman representatives I feel really strong connections with more than 20 of them. About 20 of us are pretty close and work off of each other. There is no “this is mine” or “this is me,” it is all for the cause not for the glory.

APR: You had to make some tough choices because the Republicans came in there and had to make some decisions that had not been made for a hundred and some odd years, because the Legislature had just gone adrift. It was basically controlled by the AEA and the gamblers and special interests. Then all of a sudden here is a whole new crop of freshmen that don’t really owe their allegiance to anybody and a whole new leadership that has just been waiting in the wings for years to get their new ideas out there. So, you guys had to make some tough decisions.

Could you tell us a little bit about your decision-making process and some of the things that came up that you had to decide on, things that folks back in your district maybe didn’t understand that had to be explained.

HENRY: Any of the big decisions that we had, none of them were hard. They were all crystal-clear to me and I felt very strong in the fact that all of the votes that I made whether in regard to tenure, fiscal responsibility, not raising taxes, economic incentives, illegal immigration, all of those I campaigned heavily on. If anybody in my district did not know that I was going to vote that way then they just weren’t listening.

APR: So you were already prepared to do what you had to do?

HENRY: Right. I fully intended to do what we did. I was a little disappointed that we weren’t quite as strong as I would have liked for us to have been. But, the ethics reform, those were the easiest votes I have ever made in my life. We were fighting not only the Democratic Party but there were quite a few within our own party that we were fighting the other way.

APR: Well, how do you see that lining up from time to time? There is always different interests among people, sometimes rural against urban, sometimes the old school against the new freshmen. I am not asking you to give me anything specific unless you want to. Most people don’t understand the ins-and-outs of government at all much less the personalities that come into play.

HENRY: Right. And the personalities are huge. You build relationships down there. That is how you get things passed and things done through relationships. If I had to say an obstacle that we will have to overcome this year is going to be between your representatives that only have K-12 education and representatives that are protecting higher education. There is probably going to be a little bit of a riff there, I hope not too much. I can kind of see that one starting, there are already some rumblings out there. I can see that and that may not be along party lines. It may be purely a  K-12 versus higher education. I’ll be interested to see how it all begins to unfold when we get there.

APR: One of the things that I am interested in is your thought process as you go into this next session. You’ve got a year under your belt, you’ve got some things that are on your mind, some things you have learned. Can you share with me what your agenda is going into this session?

HENRY: I have a few small bills that will come through. Again, I don’t picture myself so much about Ed Henry as it is about good laws being passed or bad laws being repealed. I had a battle early on in my life with myself, I told you that the other day. I feel like I can do so much more if I am not the person in the lead—that I find somebody that has a good bill and I help them push it.

APR: Are there things that you are thinking about right now that are bills like that?

HENRY: I’ll tell you, something I want as much as anything and I don’t see our leadership pushing it is “Loser Pay” tort reform. I feel like the way the legal system works right now is almost extortion once somebody files suit on you. The attorneys kick in and you are going to pay money win or lose. I have a problem with that and I don’t have the answer to exactly what the answer should be because you don’t want to cripple people from not being able to sue. But at the same time, these lawsuits that are filed that are around $20,000, you might as well settle for $15,000 because it is going to cost you $20,000 to win and if you settle for $15,000 then you have saved $5,000. In actuality you are out $15,000 over something that should have never been brought to suit.

APR: The “Loser Pay” reform is a great thing but it is a tough one to implement, I understand, but there are ways of doing it. The other thing is putting some caps on medical lawsuits, putting some barriers to frivolous lawsuits. These are all things I think the people of Alabama want to see.

HENRY: I think they do too. I am definitely for that. I also want to see the legislature pass a law that opens up legal notice advertising up to competition. The newspapers have had a monopoly on printing legal notices for too long. This is something that needs to be available on the web free of charge to the public. That’s why I liked your article. [Newspapers a state-sanctioned monopoly]. Everything you printed in there I have been complaining about for a year now [newspapers and legal advertising].

APR: Let’s talk about your points on that. You’ve got some good points talking about how the cities, counties and state are spending all this money. If you want to talk about that…

HENRY: Yeah, I do. My argument has been that we shouldn’t be subsidizing private industry with requirements on our own government to publish these notices, but then in turn here we, as the government, require cities and counties to file these notices in private papers. So we pay the paper and then they the papers turn around and charge the public to see those publications. We are paying them and the public is paying them so truly how open to the public is that? Whereas if we put it on the Internet anybody can walk into a public library get on the Internet see the public notices absolutely free.

APR: One of the things that we experienced was, let’s say, when they are printing the delinquent tax list, the county is required, by law, to print the delinquent tax list, now the state will only pay ‘x’ amount of money per name on that list and that is all that they will pay so if the newspaper charges more then the county is on the hook for that extra money.

HENRY: Wow. I didn’t know how it worked. I didn’t know it worked like that.

APR: That is how it works. That’s part of the craziness to it because the state is only going to pay so much per name and then they have to make up the difference with more taxpayer money.

HENRY: That is your typical unfunded mandate. We mandate that you do this but we are not going to pay for all of it.

APR: That is exactly what they do when those notices are put in the paper.

HENRY: One other thing that we are going to have to start looking at in the state is how we handle Medicaid. There are some ideas out there with having Medicaid centers around the state that basically manage that care internally. I know that there are some entities outside our state that are trying to convince the state government to do a third-party managed care. I am not a fan of that. I think it just takes money out of the pot and gives it to somebody else and all they are going to do is provide a service.

APR: Are you going to set up Medicaid centers where certain facilities would be able to take the Medicaid patients?

HENRY: No. I think what is going to happen is we will probably have umbrellas where you will have an entity in each section of the state that manages the Medicaid dollars. At least they aren’t going to deny service. They are a healthcare provider and there is some liability that goes along with that denial of service. My problem with third-party is that all they are going to do is tell a physician that, “No. We are not going to pay for exam X. You can do it or not. We are not telling you not to do it. We are just telling you we are not going to pay for it.” So, then if that physician doesn’t do the exam and the patient has a complication the physician is the one that is on the hook for the lawsuit, not the third party. So this way this brings the liability back to the decision-maker.

APR: And always when it is closer to the person that is needing the response, needing the help you can make better decisions because you are closer to them.

HENRY: Right. That’s the idea and I hope that is the direction we are going. Whatever the way, the Affordable Healthcare (Obamacare) is going to put so many new people on our Medicaid roles that within the next two years, I don’t know that the General Fund will have enough money in it to cover Medicaid.

APR: And that is our biggest liability isn’t it?

HENRY: It is. That and prisons.
Representative speaks more in Part 2 about his thoughts on the up coming legislative session. 

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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Health

Alabama’s COVID-19 hospitalizations, cases continue rise

Average daily hospitalizations continue an ongoing increase as cases nationwide surge.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Alabama hit 863 on Wednesday, the highest daily count since Sept 4, as average daily hospitalizations continue a steady increase and cases nationwide surge.

UAB Hospital in Birmingham on Wednesday was caring for 72 COVID-19 inpatients — the highest number the hospital has cared for since Aug. 21. 

In the last two weeks, Alabama has reported an increase of 15,089 new COVID-19 cases, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health and APR‘s calculations.

That number is the largest increase over a 14-day period since the two weeks ending Sept. 9. On average, the state has reported 1,078 new cases per day over the last two weeks, the highest 14-day average since Sept. 9.

The state reported 1,390 new confirmed and probable cases Thursday. Over the last week, the state has reported 7,902 cases, the most in a seven-day period since the week ending Sept. 5. That’s an average of 1,129 cases per day over the last seven days.

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Alabama’s positivity rate, based on 14-day case and test increases, was nearly 16 percent Thursday, the highest that rate has been since mid-September.

Public health experts say the positivity rate, which measures the number of positive cases as a percentage of total tests, needs to be at or below 5 percent. Any higher, and experts say there’s not enough testing and cases are likely to be going undetected. 

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“I really won’t feel comfortable until we’re down to about 3 percent,” said Dr. Karen Landers, the state’s assistant health officer, speaking to APR last week

While new daily cases are beginning an upward trajectory, the number of tests administered statewide is not, contributing to the increasing positivity rate. The 14-day average of tests per day on Thursday was 6,856 — a nearly 10 percent decrease from two weeks prior. 

Over the last two weeks, ADPH reported 206 new COVID-19 deaths statewide, amounting to an average of 15 deaths per day over the last 14 days.

So far during the month of October, ADPH has reported 303 confirmed and probable COVID-19 deaths. In September, the total was 373. Since March, at least 2,843 people have died from the coronavirus.

The number of new cases nationwide appear to be headed toward a new high, according to data gathered by the COVID Tracking Project. The United States is now reporting nearly 60,000 cases per day based on a seven-day average. At least 213,672 Americans have died, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

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Courts

U.S. Supreme Court rules Alabama can ban curbside voting

“The District Court’s modest injunction is a reasonable accommodation, given the short time before the election,” the three dissenting justices wrote. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The Supreme Court, in a 5-3 decision, allowed Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill to ban curbside voting, staying a district court injunction that had allowed some counties to offer curbside voting in the Nov. 3 election amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Supreme Court’s majority in its order declined to write an opinion, but Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonya Sotomayor’s five-page dissent is included.

The lawsuit — filed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Southern Poverty Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Alabama and Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program — was brought on behalf of several older Alabamians with underlying medical conditions.

“The District Court’s modest injunction is a reasonable accommodation, given the short time before the election,” the three dissenting justices wrote. 

Sotomayor, who wrote the dissent, closed using the words of one of the plaintiffs in the case. 

“Plaintiff Howard Porter Jr., a Black man in his seventies with asthma and Parkinson’s disease, told the District Court, ‘[So] many of my [ancestors] even died to vote. And while I don’t mind dying to vote, I think we’re past that – We’re past that time,’” Sotomayor wrote. 

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill on Wednesday applauded the Supreme Court’s decision. 

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“I am proud to report the U.S. Supreme Court has now blocked a lower court’s order allowing the fraudulent practice of curbside voting in the State of Alabama,” Merrill said in a statement. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have worked diligently with local election officials in all 67 counties to offer safe and secure voting methods – including through the in-person and mail-in processes. I am glad the Supreme Court has recognized our actions to expand absentee voting, while also maintaining the safeguards put into place by the state Legislature.”

“The fact that we have already shattered voter participation records with the election still being 13 days away is proof that our current voting options are easy, efficient, and accessible for all of Alabama’s voters,” Merrill continued. “Tonight’s ruling in favor of election integrity and security is once again a win for the people of Alabama.”

Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, expressed frustration after the ruling in a tweet.

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“Another devastating loss for voters and a blow for our team fighting to ensure safe voting for Black and disabled voters in Alabama. With no explanation, the SCOTUS allows Alabama to continue making it as hard as possible for COVID-vulnerable voters,” Ifill wrote.

Curbside voting is not explicitly banned by state law in Alabama, but Merrill has argued that because the practice is not addressed in the law, he believes it to be illegal. 

A panel of federal appeals court judges on Oct. 13 reversed parts of U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon’s Sept. 30 order ruling regarding absentee voting in the upcoming Nov. 3 elections, but the judges let the previous ruling allowing curbside voting to stand. 

In his Sept. 30 ruling, Kallon wrote that “the plaintiffs have proved that their fears are justified” and the voting provisions challenged in the lawsuit “unduly burden the fundamental Constitutional rights of Alabama’s most vulnerable voters and violate federal laws designed to protect America’s most marginalized citizens.”

Caren Short, SPLC’s senior staff attorney, in a statement said the Supreme Court’s decision has curtailed the voting rights of vulnerable Alabamians.

“Once again, the Supreme Court’s ‘shadow docket’ – where orders are issued without written explanation – has curtailed the voting rights of vulnerable citizens amidst a once-in-a-century public health crisis. After a two-week trial, a federal judge allowed counties in Alabama to implement curbside voting so that high-risk voters could avoid crowded polling locations,” Short said. “Tonight’s order prevents Alabama counties from even making that decision for themselves. Already common in states across the South and the country before 2020, curbside voting is a practice now encouraged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It should be a no-brainer to implement everywhere during a pandemic; the Alabama Secretary of State unfortunately disagrees, as does the Supreme Court of the United States.”

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Education

SPLC files complaints in Pike County over suspension of two Black students

Both complaints, filed in Pike County Juvenile Court, ask the court to reverse suspensions of RaQuan Martin and Dakarai Pelton, both Black and former students at Goshen High School. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The Southern Poverty Law Center on Wednesday filed two complaints with an Alabama juvenile court alleging the Pike County Board of Education arbitrarily suspended two students in violation of their due process rights under the U.S. Constitution. 

“Students across Alabama continue to be excluded from school without regard for their due process rights, leading to unwarranted and unlawful suspensions and expulsions,” said Michael Tafelski, senior supervising attorney for the SPLC’s children’s rights project, in a statement. 

“This is particularly troubling for Black students who are three times more likely to be excluded from school for minor and subjective infractions than their white peers. Education is an important aspect of a young person’s life and the decision to exclude them from school should not be taken lightly,” Tafelski continued. 

Both complaints, filed in Pike County Juvenile Court, ask the court to reverse suspensions of RaQuan Martin and Dakarai Pelton, both Black and former students at Goshen High School. 

The complaints state that on Nov. 22, 2019, both students were approached by the school’s principal “in connection with alleged rumors that a group of students had ‘smoked’ that same day in the parking lot at school.” The principal alleged he had video security footage of them doing so, but wouldn’t show the students the footage, according to the complaints. 

Both boys told the principal that they had not used marijuana, but had both accompanied another student to their car in the parking lot, and both left when the other student showed them what appeared to be drug paraphernalia.

“The students, both seniors at the time, denied the allegations and even took drug tests that showed they had no drugs in their system that day. But the school refused to consider this evidence,” the SPLC said in a press release. 

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The complaints state that the district failed to provide the students proper notice, including details about their charges, evidence of wrongdoing, a meaningful opportunity to be heard or to present evidence of their own and question witnesses during their hearings. 

“Only you know what did or didn’t happen in that vehicle … you dodged a bullet here because we didn’t have the proof that we need,” said one school board member to one of the students during his hearing, according to the complaint. 

“There was no proper investigation at all,” said Shatarra Pelton, Dakarai’s mother, in a statement. “It was unorganized and overblown. The school was unable to produce any evidence other than hearsay.” 

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After a brief hearing, both seniors were suspended for the rest of the school year, missing out on a chance to finish their high school athletics and potentially missing out on college football scholarships as a result, the complaints state. 

Prior to their suspensions, both students had no disciplinary referrals and were making good grades, according to the complaints. 

“On Jan. 13, the students appealed the Council’s decision to the Pike County Board of Education, and the board agreed to consider allowing the students to return to GHS if they participated in drug treatment classes, passed urine and hair follicle drug tests and maintained perfect attendance at the alternative school. After completing all the requirements, the students returned to school on Feb. 21 – three months after their removal,” the SPLC said in the release. 

“He had a rough senior year, to say the least,” said Tasha Martin, RaQuan’s mother, in a statement. “He missed senior night, he missed everything.” 

“They didn’t get to play not one game,” Martin said. “They had some coaches visit them while they were in alternative school but when the coaches found out that they couldn’t go back to school, they stopped coming. Our families were devastated; sometimes me and Ms. Pelton would be on the phone and just cry to each other. It has been really tough.”  

“I want schools to understand that it’s not just a moment you’re ruining, you’re ruining a lifetime,” Pelton said. “With no factual basis, only an unproven accusation, you have just completely deterred a student’s life. Most schools say that they are there for their students, but you are showing them the total opposite.”

Pike County Schools during the 2019-2020 school year referred 49 students to a disciplinary hearing, according to the SPLC. Of those, 48 students were either suspended or expelled, and although Black students made up less than 50 percent of the student population, Black students made up 80 percent of the referrals.  On average, Black students make up 77 percent of all students referred for disciplinary hearings in the district, according to the SPLC.

Both complaints can be read here and here.

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News

Biden urges Democrats to support Doug Jones

In the email, Biden asked voters to split a contribution between the Biden campaign and Jones’s campaign.

Brandon Moseley

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Former Vice President Joe Biden appears at a campaign rally in Birmingham with then-candidate Doug Jones in 2017. (CHIP BROWNLEE/APR)

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on Wednesday asked Democratic donors to support the re-election of U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama.

“I wanted to reach out to you about an old friend of mine: Doug Jones,” Biden said. “You might not believe this, but I met Doug more than 40 years ago, when I was a newly-minted junior senator, and he was in his early 20s, just beginning what would become one of the most impressive and dedicated careers of public service I’ve had the privilege of watching.”

“Doug has devoted his entire career to fighting for justice,” Biden said. “He’s the man who would not rest until the Klansmen who killed four young Black girls in the 1963 Birmingham church bombing were finally brought to justice. Doug has shown us, even in our darkest moments, that hope for the American promise is never lost — and what we can do when we stand united.”

In the email, Biden asked voters to split a contribution between the Biden campaign and Jones’s campaign.

“I need Doug’s help in the Senate,” Biden said. “He’s running neck-and-neck in his race in Alabama right now, and he needs our help to win.”

Biden said this election is “a battle for the soul of our country” and “few places are those stakes as clear as in Alabama.”

“I remember in 2017 when everyone counted Doug out,” Biden said. “When they thought that a message of unity would lose in a state where a long history of division still runs deep. But when I visited Alabama to help Doug, I saw what he saw – Alabama was ready to come together.”

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Biden was an early endorser of Jones in the 2017 special election, when Jones defeated former Chief Justice Roy Moore in that election. Jones returned the favor in the 2020 Democratic primary, endorsing Biden when the former vice president was having difficulty raising money and was polling well behind Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont.

Jones campaigned hard with Biden in Selma and other campaign stops across Alabama prior to Super Tuesday on March 3.

“His win gave me hope,” Biden said. “I was both honored and proud to have escorted him onto the floor of the Senate and stood behind him when he was sworn in as a United States Senator. And his record has been extraordinary – passing 22 bipartisan bills helping farmers, military families, and those devastated by natural disasters. And in perhaps the most crucial fight of all – our health care – Doug has been there again and again standing up for all of us, especially those with pre-existing conditions. Every time we needed him to stand up for us, Doug Jones was there. I’m going to need Doug’s voice in the Senate. Alabama and America will need Doug’s voice in the Senate.”

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“Doug and I share a vision for a united country – one that puts faith over fear, fairness over privilege, and love over hate. And Doug, his campaign, and his career remind us that it’s a vision we can only realize if we come together,” Biden said.

In an Auburn University Montgomery poll, Biden trails Trump in Alabama by 17 points. Jones trailed former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville by 12 points. The Jones campaign claims that there has been a tightening of the race since then and it is a statistical tie. The Tuberville campaign disputes that claim.

Republican insider Perry Hooper Jr. said, “Whether it is the AUM poll, the Al.com poll, or internal polls by the (Tuberville) campaign, the margin is between 12 and 18 points in favor of Tuberville.”

The Jones campaign has been inundating the state airwaves with TV and radio ads due to the vast advantage that Jones has had fundraising. More than 82 percent of Jones’ money raised in the third quarter reporting cycle came from outside the state of Alabama.

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