By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On February 8th 2012 of this year, Baldwin County Teacher Claire Waites testified to the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform about alleged improper conduct by the Alabama Education Association (AEA) in their efforts to raise funds for Democratic Party aligned Political Action Committees. Ms. Waites testimony was so compelling and the alleged conduct by the AEA so egregious that Committee Chairman Darrell Issa has referred the matter to the Federal Election Commission and has asked for an investigation into possible violations of federal law.
Claire Waites testified, “In 2004 and again in 2008 I was nominated and elected by my colleagues as a delegate to the national convention of the NEA. The NEA refers to its convention as its Representative Assembly (RA).” “The president of the local at the time, Pat Siano, briefed us on what was expected of us. During this briefing, she told us about the NEA Children’s Fund. The accurate name for the fund is The NEA Fund for Children and Public Education. President Siano told us that we were all expected to contribute to this fund and that this contribution requirement was “nonnegotiable.”” “Every day during that meeting, we were told by the Alabama NEA President to contribute to the Children’s Fund.”
Ms. Waites continued, “Oddly, we were even told specifically how to contribute. We were instructed that we must make two different payments. In the beginning I was puzzled by the fact we had to maketwo different payments and that neither of the payments were tax deductible. After all, it was a charity or so I thought at the time. It certainly sounded like a charity, and I even speculated on what they might use the money for, classroom grants, and underprivileged children.” “Instead of making the contribution right away, I procrastinated for several days because my money was very tight. Every morning the Alabama NEA president would preach to us that we (Alabama NEA) needed to be 100% supporters of the Children’s Fund. I soon began to fear they would know I was the only hold out especially since my local NEA President, Pat Siano, kept telling us to donate. I eventually donated the money with misgivings, and consoled myself with the fact it was for children.”
Later that day, Ms. Waites found out that the Children’s Fund was not a required contribution because it is a political contribution. “I cannot tell you the rush that came over me at that time. It was a mixture of anger and stupidity. I felt as though I had been totally duped. To add insult to injury, later that afternoon, then NEA President, Reg Weaver announced the NEA would be endorsing John Kerry for President. President Weaver went on to announce the NEA Children’s Fund had raised a large amount of money; and that, too would go to our friend in education, John Kerry. I felt a wave of illness come over me like none I have ever felt before. These who were supposed to be my people; duped me into donating to a candidate I was voting against.”
In 2008, Ms. Waites was again “nominated and elected to attend the NEA National Convention. I recounted in my mind what had happened to me in 2004 so that I would be strong and stand up to the powers that be and skip the Children’s fund contribution. I was not going to repeat the same mistake!”
Ms. Waites continued, “I arrived the next day to meet Dr. Jeanne Fox, an administrator in my school whom was also a delegate. The Baldwin County NEA President in 2008 was Saadia Hunter. Dr. Fox and I were in phone contact with President Hunter. Hunter told Dr. Fox that she had made contributions to the Children’s Fund on behalf of Dr. Fox and me using the money Hunter had withheld from our travel money provided by the local. Delegates are given 80% of their travel money up front and are given the rest on the last day of the NEA Convention if they were on the convention floor 80% of the time.”
Ms. Waites said, “I was furious about this, Dr. Fox handed me the phone and I told Ms. Hunter she had no right to do that. She could not make a political contribution in my name under any circumstances. She replied that it was not a political contribution, this was a contribution to a children’s fund.” Ms. Waites explained that the Children’s Fund was actually a PAC “and that I did not want to contribute. I continued to tell her I thought making an involuntary contribution in my name could be illegal.” “President Hunter replied that she did not think I was correct in my statements and would have to confer with Dr. Joe Reed, the Alabama NEA leader, about it and get back with me. President Hunter said she would see about getting my money back.”
Ms. Waites testified that she personally met with Alabama’s President Peggy Mobley and demanded her money back. “I explained to her my Children’s fund contribution was made without my permission and I wanted my money back. She refused and told me they did not do that. When I pressed the issue with her, she became condescending and told me that she would make sure my money didn’t go to the presidential campaign. I told her once again I wanted my money back.”
Ms. Waites testified that she spoke again with her local NEA President Hunter about the involuntary contribution. Hunter admitted that the money contribution would go to the Obama campaign. Hunter refused to return the money and Ms. Waites never got her money back. Waites testified that John Hudson, an employee of the Alabama NEA, told her that the local NEA union included the Children’s Fund contribution in the expense reimbursement of every Baldwin County convention delegate.
In 2008, Unions donated over $400 million to help elect Sen. Barack H. Obama to the Presidency of the United States. Much of that money came from union workers who did not support Barack Obama. Unions are expected to be the largest donors to President Obama’s reelection campaign. It is illegal to use union dues to fund political campaigns. Unions get around this by signing workers up to make donations to political action committees. AEA’s primary PAC is A-Vote. A-Vote contributions are supposed to be completely voluntary and every AEA member has the right to opt out of contributing to A-Vote or the Children’s Fund if they so choose. If you are an AEA member who would like to opt out of A-Vote contributions from being taken out of your pay each month send a letter to AEA asking them to end the contributions.
If you feel you have been a victim of a union forcing you to contribute to political candidates or political action committees against your will a website has been established were your complainant can be reported directly to the Committee here:
To read Claire Waites testimony in its entirety:
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.