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Interview Governor Bentley, Part 2

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

In the final part of our interview with Governor Bentley he talks about his commitment to rebuilding Alabama’s infrastructure and his vision for the future.

APR: For the upcoming session, any thoughts on your mind about what you are hoping to see come next?

BENTLEY: We have an agenda that that we are working on that we think is very important. There are four things that we want to do. Number one is we are going to create jobs in this state and what we got passed [Thursday] is just a part of it. So, we will have to work through those things. We are going to try to get our job creation bills out first.

robert-bentleyThen there is an education component to our agenda. We would really like to see some targeted, limited charter schools to see how they work. But that is all, we are not trying to hurt public schools and we don’t believe this will hurt public schools. I am a strong public school supporter. My children we to public schools, I went to public schools. I want them to be better, I want all schools to be better. So we are pushing that.

We have some other agendas, we want a lot of flexibility for all of our education systems. Not just charters but if people are doing well give them a little more flexibility. Let them come up with ideas. So we are for that.

We are for supporting our teachers, we really are. I want to give a tax credit to our teachers. If they spend money in their classroom, then let them get dollar for dollar back up to $300. All teachers do that so they need to get that money back.

So that was number two. Number three is the roads and bridges in the state, especially in the rural areas.

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APR: There are some bad roads and bridges out there.

BENTLEY: There are. There are. We need to preserve what we have. And that is the first thing we need to concentrate on.

I met just this morning with my Department of Transportation director. We are devising the way we are going to do that with GARVEE Bonds.

I do want some input from the counties, I want them to have a little skin in the game. I don’t think you ought to just give. Some can afford a little bit more than others.

These GARVEE bonds are really just future federal dollars that part of that will be used to pay off the bonds.

APR: Explaining that to the people is very important because it is a different type of bond.

BENTLEY: It is totally different. It is not going to cost any tax dollars except we are using the taxes that we already collect–we will be using some of the gasoline tax that we are already collecting to make some of the payment on the bonds. But if we go ahead and do it now and preserve those bridges and roads, we are actually saving because the inflation rate is going to be about six percent if we delay it and we can get the bonds at four percent.

Now, we are not talking about borrowing more money than we need. What we are going to do is work with the counties and we are going to get them to give us input on what they need in their county and the projects that they already have on the books that they would like to see done in their county. So, we are going to work closely with the counties and the county commissioners. Let them present those things to us and anything that they can do.

Now, we are going to make sure its right. That is why the Department of Transportation is involved, to make sure that the projects are done right. But anything that the county can do we are going to let them do it. If they can do it we want local people to do it.

APR: Well that does fit right in with making more jobs and economic development.

BENTLEY: Absolutely.

APR: Because if we don’t have the infrastructure, you can not continue to build businesses without having the proper roads and bridges.

BENTLEY: We have what is called “posted bridges” in this state. In other words you can’t drive heavy equipment or trucks or school buses across them. What we are doing with those, we are going to fix those first.

Now, we need to make sure that they are done correctly. That is why they need some oversight from our Department of Transportation. But, if they can do it themselves, obviously we are going to let them do it.

The fourth thing that we are really interested in, as far as our priorities, is we want to improve the healthcare of the people of this state, without invading into anybody’s privacy.

We are the most obese state in this country, or close to it. We need to everything that we can to help improve people’s lives.

It’s like infant mortality, a lot of it comes from babies having babies and how we can change culture.

I think that we need to work a lot through our churches and try to help with unwed mothers and things like this that really causes a lot of the infant mortality rates that we have.

Trying to keep mothers from smoking. Eleven point two percent of the babies that are born in this state, their mothers smoked. The infant mortality rate on those is 13.1 per 1,000 compared to 8.1 per 1,000, if you don’t smoke. So trying to get people to quit smoking, but just trying to make Alabama healthier.

What I am going to do is create a health alliance, not make government bigger, we are not trying to make a government entity. We are trying to streamline government and bring all of these entities together like the health department, medical schools, nursing schools.

We want to use tele-medicine to put specialty clinics out in the rural areas. I have these ideas on how to do that, that I think will really help do that in rural areas of the state–using nurse-practitioners.

Those are the four things that we are going to do.

Now, we have a problem right now with our budgets and we are working on that. I did present budget to the legislature. What was funny, I said, “I made the Republican Chairman mad, I mad the Democrats mad and I made AEA mad, so I must have done something right.”

We actually presented a good budget and we did it without hurting the classroom. We took a small amount of money from higher ed, but not very much, 4 percent, then 2 percent from the two-year colleges. But the foundation program, which is K–12, was not changed at all.

So it was a good budget but it also allowed us to put some money over into the General Fund. It keeps us from letting prisoners out. If we cut it as much as they say we are going to cut, without using both budgets, without trying to combine them a little bit, we would let out 12,000 prisoners.

APR: When I was on the show with Dana, he brought up the fact that they had made disparaging comments about your budget, and that is wasn’t going anywhere, and I said, “Don’t dare count the governor out yet.” I think you will get 90 percent of what you want.

BENTLEY: They are starting to soften a little bit. The legislators have not even looked at it. It is just the budget chairman. The education guys, they don’t want anything done with education money. The General Fund people, they would all be happy with my budget. One of them said some disparaging things also, but he ought to have been one that was happy about it.

APR: Well, Texas combined their budgets some years ago and it worked.

BENTLEY: There are 47 states that have one budget. I know that it probably won’t happen this year.

Without raising taxes, which I have vowed that we are not going to do, we are going to live within the money that the people send to Montgomery. I can tell you that people everyday out there in Alabama, they have to live within their means, and we are going to do the same thing in state government.

I am going to go this afternoon to meet with the editorial board at the ‘Press-Register,’ and I know one of the questions that they are going to ask me, “Well, Governor, why don’t you raise the cigarette tax or why don’t you raise the tax?” Well, I am not doing that. First of all, I promised the people that I wasn’t going to do that and I am going to live up to my promise.

APR: Most conservative don’t realize that is still raising taxes, do they?

BENTLEY: That’s right. That’s right. The other thing is, if you prop up that General Fund, you will never get anything done.

We wish the Governor every success and pray Godspeed, in all his efforts.

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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Crime

ACLU of Alabama calls on cities to address police excessive use of force

Eddie Burkhalter

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The ACLU of Alabama on Friday called on the state’s mayors to address police enforcement of protests and to reimagine the role of police in the wake of the death of George Floyd and others killed by police. 

Protestors in Huntsville and Mobile have been tear gassed and shot with rubber bullets by police, and numerous journalists covering demonstrations in recent days have been unlawfully detained

The unrest in Alabama is mirrored in demonstrations across the country, putting a spotlight on police brutality and the sanctity of the Constitutionally-protected right to protest. 

ACLU of Alabama’s full statement. 

Many Alabamians have joined the demonstrations happening across the country to protest police violence against Black people and demand justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and the many other Black men, women, and children who have been killed by police. In response, we have seen police meet these demonstrations with tear gas and rubber bullets in Huntsville and Mobile, we have seen police arrest journalists in Birmingham, and we have seen the Attorney General defend and praise the actions in Huntsville.

These are police actions meant to silence our calls for justice, and we cannot move forward when the response to protesting police brutality is more police brutality.

We need accountability and leadership from our elected officials. While the First Amendment does allow for reasonable restrictions to be enacted regarding the time, place, and manner in which protests and demonstrations take place, it is important to note that just because government officials can do it does not mean that they should.

Instead, it is imperative that mayors like Randall Woodfin, Tommy Battle, and Sandy Stimpson work with their city councils and city police departments to stop the use of militarized force during these protests. Employing these tactics is a gross misuse of police force and the city resources that fund them, and it is within the power of a city council to pass an ordinance to stop it.

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Cities in Alabama already spend millions of dollars on police departments, even though we have seen time and again that police have failed to keep our communities safe. Not only have they been responsible for terrorizing Black communities for decades, we are also seeing right now how easily police turn to excessive force that does much more harm. Birmingham City spent 95 million dollars in fiscal year 2019 on their police force alone, with a proposed budget of 92 million dollars for fiscal year 2020. By comparison, in fiscal year 2019 the city spent 77 million dollars on all of general government functions and 46 million on all of culture and recreation activities.

Instead of turning to police once again to enforce protest and movement restrictions, we call on city mayors across Alabama to recognize this moment as an opportunity to address the ongoing problems within their respective police departments, made very evident this week, and to stop pouring money into this abusive system. We need to fundamentally reimagine the role police play in our society, and that role has to be smaller, more circumscribed, and less funded with tax-payer dollars. This massive shift will not only reduce the misguided, harmful abuse and harassment of impacted communities by police, but also allow for the money saved to be reinvested into community-based services, resources, and alternatives to policing that are best suited to responding to actual community needs.

Meanwhile, the ACLU of Alabama is continuing to monitor these protests, and we encourage anyone participating in a protest to document as much as you can regarding police activity. You have the right to photograph or film anything in plain view, including government buildings and the police. They may order someone to cease if the filming is truly interfering with legitimate operations, but they may not confiscate or demand to view your photos or videos without a warrant. Help us collect more documentation of these protests by submitting them to [email protected]

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SPLC applauds removal of Mobile Confederate monument

Eddie Burkhalter

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The removal of a confederate monument in Mobile is encouraging, but the state law that protects such monuments should be repealed, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. 

The Admiral Raphael Semmes statue was removed during the early morning hours Friday at the request of Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson after being damaged during protests this week. 

“Moving this statue will not change the past,” Stimpson said in a statement on Twitter. “It is about removing a potential distraction so we may focus clearly on the future of our city. That conversation, and the mission to create One Mobile, continues today.”

SPLC spokesperson Lecia Brooks in a statement Friday said for more than a century Confederate monuments have been used to glorify those who fought to keep Black people enslaved. 

“Symbols such as this monument are a reminder of our country’s ongoing dehumanization of Black people and systemic racism – the results of which have been playing out through protests across the U.S. over the last two weeks. While it’s unclear if the removal is permanent, it’s encouraging that this symbol of revisionist history is gone from public land, and we urge public officials to put it away for good,” Brooks said. 

“Unrepentant symbols of oppression such as this monument continue to be displayed throughout Alabama’s government buildings, schools and parks, and are currently protected by the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act that protects symbols commemorating white supremacy and the brutal subjugation of Black communities. It goes against American ideals and should be repealed,” Brooks continued. 

Stimpson’s decision to remove his city’s Confederate monument followed Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin’s order to remove that city’s Confederate monument in Linn Park following a lengthy court battle and a recent lawsuit by Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall that will likely cost the city a $25,000 fine for the statue’s removal. 

In a statement to APR Friday, a spokesperson for the attorney general said there are “conflicting reports” about the nature of the removal of the Confederate statue in Mobile.

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“There have been conflicting reports concerning the circumstances surrounding the removal of the historic Admiral Semmes statue from downtown Mobile.  The Attorney General is presently gathering more facts to make a determination of whether the law has been violated,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “If the Attorney General finds that a violation of the law has occurred, he will take appropriate steps to enforce it.”

As protests against police brutality in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis continue across the country, more of these symbols of the Confederacy have begun coming down. 

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Thursday announced a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee is to be removed as quickly as possible, Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett said that same day that a monument dedicated to Confederate soldiers who died in Union camps will be moved from a city park. 

“Our streets are filled with voices of anger and anguish, testament to centuries of racism directed at Black Americans,” Hogsett said in a statement, according to IndyStar. “We must name these instances of discrimination and never forget our past — but we should not honor them. Whatever original purpose this grave marker might once have had, for far too long it has served as nothing more than a painful reminder of our state’s horrific embrace of the Ku Klux Klan a century ago.”

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Crime

Two charged in Moody police officer’s death

Eddie Burkhalter

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Two people have been arrested in the shooting death of Moody police Sgt. Stephen Williams.

St. Clair County district attorney Lyle Harmon in a press conference Friday announced that Birmingham residents Tapero Corlene Johnson, 27, and Marquisha Annissa Tyson, 28, have been arrested and charged with capital murder in the officer’s death. 

Williams was shot while responding to a call at the Super 8 Motel on Highway 411 late Tuesday night. 

Moody Police Department Chief Thomas Hunt during the press conference said the department’s officers are hurting. 

“We’ve lost a brother. We’ve lost a dear friend,” Hunt said. 

Williams’ visitation will be Sunday, June 7, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Ridout’s Southern Heritage Funeral Home at 1011 Cahaba Valley Road in Pelham.

His funeral will be held on Monday, June 8 at 11 a.m. at First Baptist Church in Moody at 962 Church Street.

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“I’ve never felt the fear I felt then:” Demonstrators describe police action at Huntsville protest

Chip Brownlee

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Photo: Sarah Myers

Protesters gathered in Huntsville on Wednesday, first at an NAACP rally against police brutality, and later an unorganized protest downtown near the Madison County courthouse.

The largely peaceful demonstrations ended when police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at demonstrators who refused to disperse after a protest permit expired at 6:30 p.m.

The Huntsville Police chief and Madison County sheriff have said they used appropriate force to disperse an “unauthorized protest against the government.”

Police claim the protest had to be dispersed because “anarchists” from out of state hijacked the gathering and threw rocks and water bottles at police.

“It’s darkness coming on, when we lose the fight,” Chief Mark McMurray said. “We have daylight, we win. It’s 90 minutes. It’s an unauthorized protest against the government. That’s what it is. That’s what anarchists do. This was not NAACP. This was a separate splinter group that took advantage of a peaceful protest and hijacked it to cause anarchy against our government. Their way is to cause damage, set fires, loot, pillage.”

At least 24 people were arrested, all locals from Madison County — 20 of them charged with disorderly conduct. Several people were injured by “less lethal” rubber bullets and tear gas deployed by police. At least two police officers sustained minor injuries and returned to work the next day, the police chief said Thursday.

Below are some accounts and videos from demonstrators at the protest, based on their own recollection of what happened. Their accounts have been edited for length and clarity. This post may be updated with additional perspectives.

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Video: Eddie Swift


Sarah Myers from Huntsville:

We came to the protest in the park initially at around 5:30 p.m. It was so packed we could barely get anywhere near the crowd or speakers, but we came with medical supplies in case people got maced again like they did Monday.

We dispersed our supplies to various people around the park, and then shortly after headed home. At 7:30 p.m., we came back because we saw people posting about how the protest moved to the courthouse square and there was a strong police presence. I wanted to document and make sure people were okay. I had no idea what would happen.

As we approached the square at about 7:30 p.m., all the stairs to the courthouse were barred up and heavily armed, shielded officers wearing gas masks lined the entire perimeter of the courthouse.

I’ve never felt the fear I felt then. I genuinely felt as if I could be shot at any moment for any reason. They were intimidating, smug, snickering amongst themselves as we protested.

I suppose, we were blocking the streets, so we gave them a “reason.” I say that very loosely and sarcastically because the way they responded was in no way appropriate toward civilians — even if we were standing in the street.

I’ve heard about the 6:30 p.m. expiration of the permit — which I guess the NAACP agreed upon — but is public property not always fairground for a protest? Even if we, as a separate group, wanted to continue after 6:30?

Photo: Eddie Swift

Maybe I’m wrong, but what I do know is we were 99 percent peaceful. The majority SHOULD HAVE spoken. The police could have easily taken a knee with us, as many police in many cities have done, and we would have been gone by 8.

But what they did instead was wait for the clock to strike “8” (7:45) and started sounding off loud intense alarm sounds, so I fell back about a block. I’m honestly not even sure on a perfect timeline after that — all hell broke loose, time stretched and warped and still hasn’t really returned to the same.

I cannot get my mind off of that night, the feeling of terror in my own city.

They were trapping us, yet shoving us, there were people screaming blood-curdling screams because of pepper spray or tear gas being sprayed directly into their faces.

Immediately turning around to see a young boy, who looked no older than 17, with a huge hole blown out of his calf and blood covering his entire leg. He was in such shock that you couldn’t even tell anything was wrong until you looked down. We were trying to help this guy, and they still just kept shooting behind us, dropping gas on us, shoving us while we knelt down on the sidewalks, trying to aid people.

We literally just had to take off running for shelter in the parking garage on Jefferson in the middle of helping that guy because there was just constant shots approaching behind us.

Everyone I saw who was shot, was shot with their backs turned to the police. People who were trying to disperse, being maced as they ran by. A medic helping someone on the sidewalk, and police throwing smoke canisters at them.

It was barbaric, unnecessary terrorism. Someone needs to be held accountable for the absolutely uncalled for brutality that happened that night.

Even if someone threw a water bottle or yelled at them, we were unarmed. We were 99 percent peaceful and not participating in antagonizing the police, but when they decided they were over it, they didn’t care who was what or what was what. They started shooting, harassing, arresting, and gassing innocent people who pleaded with them and protested for change.

We left at the point that the riot police began advancing down Jefferson. It just seemed like there was nothing else we could do. They made it clear to leave if you can — or get brutalized one way or another.

I don’t really know what else to say other than I got a glimpse of what a black person goes through everyday … who do you call when its the police that are attacking us?

Warning: Video contains violence and profane language.

Video: Eddie Swift


Dr. Pippa Abston from Huntsville:

I arrived at Big Springs Park at about 4:30 before the start of the protest at 5 p.m. I am pleased to say that multiple medical people and first aid volunteers came. We had at least one EMT. People brought armloads of supplies and water. We had a medical area set up towards the back, and some of us walked through the crowd. I carried a medic sign on a pole.

After the speakers — which I don’t think I can do justice to describing, other than to say extremely inspiring — we were led up the stairs on the side of the park to march. There was chanting. It seemed to me that there were a whole lot more people than on Monday night. The line of marchers really couldn’t move much. We chanted.

Instead of a big march around the square, mainly people seemed to settle in the area in front of the courthouse. Everything I saw appeared peaceful in that area. Again, there were large numbers of police on the courthouse steps. This time they were holding large numbers of wrist ties, indicating to us that they planned to do a lot of arrests, I suppose. We could see people posted on top of the courthouse, and I was told they were snipers, but I couldn’t get a close enough look to verify that.

Suddenly — and again for no discernible reason — police dressed in riot gear lined up along the intersection where Fountain Circle turns into Southside Square. We heard a siren and then once again, unintelligible talking over some kind of sound system. I was roughly opposite the courthouse steps, and none of us could hear them.

Video: Pippa Abston

It turned into that game “operator” that kids play. People were passing along information that they had heard, but it wasn’t the same information. Some said we were supposed to leave in 4 minutes, others said everybody just had to get off the street and onto the sidewalks.

Toward Clinton, which was blocked also on Monday, there was no riot line of police, but there were some police cars, and it wasn’t clear to anyone standing there if that was an exit route. I asked several people if anyone had provided an exit route, as is required, and they said no.

Around that time, some people started coming up to us and reporting that first aid volunteers were being detained and ordered to remove their red cross signs made with tape, on the grounds that they were impersonating doctors. Because of this, the many medical volunteers we had were not identifiable to the crowd.

Several people came to me over the course of the night, because I still had the sign and a red cross on my shirt and backpack. I had put my medical license in with my ID, and I said “let them just try that.” But no one did.

We were also told that police on the courthouse roof were targeting medics — that they were pointing out our position. We were warned by several people to watch out because of that.

A few minutes later, people started passing down the word that they were about to start shooting rubber bullets. So the medical team I was with once again went down the stairs towards Big Spring Park, thinking likely that would be the way folks would flee again.

There was an initial rush of folks running down the stairs again, with some screaming, but this was brief and then people went back up again. We were unsure what to do but decided to stay in the park to be ready for their return. We heard chanting.

Photo: Sarah Myers

After some amount of time, which I did not note because I intentionally left my watch at home, a large crowd of people came screaming, running down those same stairs again into Big Spring Park, being chased by police and we heard shooting of rubber bullets.

We ran also. We heard several large explosions that sounded like bombs. We were told it was tear gas.

Even though it wasn’t really too close to where we were, my eyes did burn.

People passing us said that police had told them we had to leave Big Spring Park, a city park, because it was private property, and that we would be fine if we went across Church Street as long as we didn’t get near businesses.

So a lot of us — maybe 100 or so — walked over there. As we were heading there, we saw a large line of patrol cars with lights and sirens on, coming down Church Street, and we wondered if it was ok after all to go there, but they passed by. We were told they were circling the courthouse.

People milled around on the sidewalk area across near Church Street, which is definitely public property, talking, wondering what was next. Again, we stayed in case we needed to give medical help and also because we had never received any instructions from the police about where to go.

We got word that they were loading up large numbers of police into trucks and coming … to do what, we didn’t know, but we were worried, so we walked further away from Church Street toward the Von Braun Center area.

We saw a line of police advancing down Clinton and onto Monroe Street, and we were worried we were going to get trapped. A large crowd to the left of us were moving past the art museum, and suddenly there were explosions again and what looked like fireworks aimed at the crowd. I was told it was tear gas.

People were running and screaming and several of us were trying to help wash their eyes. These tear gas explosions happened several times. We thought they were trying to drive us to Monroe Street, but we had also seen troopers marching that way, and we didn’t know if we were going to get cornered.

We were still washing people’s eyes. Some people were having intense skin reactions to the gas, burning and redness.

One person had been hit so badly in the eyes that they couldn’t see to find their ride, so they walked with my group back to where we were parked and got a ride with my friends. It seemed like protesters were mostly dispersing from that end of the park. We heard there were continuing protests on Jefferson Street.

I made it home. That was like being in a war, getting shot at, having gas thrown at us. And once again, one of the scariest parts was that it wasn’t clear where to go and be safe from being shot at.

We have to keep showing up for these protests. They are obviously trying to terrorize us into staying home, but we must persist.

The Huntsville police chief is saying that us putting on eye protection and getting out first aid equipment was one of their reasons for gassing and shooting us, because it was a sign we wanted violence.

If I go hiking during hunting season with an orange hat on, am I hoping a hunter will shoot me in the head?

If I lock my car door, am I hoping to have my window broken?

If I wear a mask, am I hoping to get COVID-19?

They had snipers yesterday. If we come wearing bulletproof vests — and no, I don’t own one — are they going to shoot us and say well, look what they made us do?

Could it be that we are aware of their weapons and their history of unprovoked brutality and want to protect ourselves while we exercise our First Amendment rights?

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