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Poarch Band of Creek Indians under attack, Part 1, The real reason

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY–The Poarch Creek Indians (PCI) of Atmore, Alabama, are being threatened by the Escambia County Commission in a move that could take away their land rights and livelihood.

On Friday, April 13, the Escambia County Commission announced that they would seek to find if the PCI have a legal right to use their historical land as promised by the Federal government when the tribal land was taken into trust in 1985.

The commission at the urging of their attorney Bryan Taylor of Prattville, Alabama, cited a 2009 Supreme Court ruling Carcieri v. Salazar which they say renders the PCI’s Land Trust null and void. If the commission is successful in their pursuit this could strip the tribe of their land and sovereignty and return it to the state of Alabama.

If the taking of ancestral land away from Indians sounds familiar it should.

In a recent conversation with former National Tribal Chieftain Bruce Taylor he said, “This is the history of our people. Every time the Federal government gives us something, the minute the Indian begins to build a good life and prosper on that land then the government comes back and takes it away. This is an old story for my people.”

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According to the story from the county commission the dispute between the PCI and the county commission began over the tribes wanting to purchase land and bring it into the trust to build a truck stop. The commission has said that the PCI did not inform them of their wanting to take more land into trust and that is when they decided to take legal action. According to Escambia County Commissioner Brandon Smith the truck stop was opposed by some on the commission because the people who own the competing truck stop complained about the PCI’s unfair advantage.

But that beginning seems long ago in a different Escambia County.

On April 17, 2012, the Escambia County commission sent a letter to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar asking for a clarification of the PCI land trust rights under Carcieri v. Salazar. Robert McGhee who is a member of the Tribal Council and represents the PCI in “government-to-government,” issues points out the letter is more of a restatement of the Supreme Court ruling and seems to say the commission already believes the PCI does not have the right to have their land in trust.

One commissioner does not agree with sending the letter or pursuing any action against the PCI.

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“The county commission is shooting itself in the foot,” said Escambia County Commissioner Brandon Smith who does not agree with his fellow commissioner on pursuing the Tribe.

“I remember when you could drive by the Poarch and there was nothing there but some huts and broken down buildings, today it is a beautiful place with a thriving people,” said Smith. “The Poarch Band of the Creek Indians did this by themselves. They now give generously to everyone in our community, the city is thriving, the county is thriving all because of what the PCI has done in this community. A community that never lifted a finger to help them when they had nothing. Now, the commission wants more, more money.”

At the Friday 13 press conference the chairman of the Escambia Commission David Stokes said,  “On February 24, 2009, the United States Supreme Court handed down its decision in the case of Carcieri v. Salazar, tossing out everything we thought we knew about the legal status of Poarch Creek Indian lands.”

Stokes went on to say, “The Poarch Band of Creek Indians received federal recognition in 1984–50 years too late to have lands lawfully set aside . . . under . . . the Indian Reorganization Act.”

According to Federal law if a tribe’s land is not held in trust then the land is not under the sovereign authority of the tribe but subject to the state. This mean that if PCI land is ruled to be not held in trust under Carcieri then the tribe has no right to conduct gaming in the state of Alabama and must immediately shut down all it casino activity and other gaming establishments within the state.

What started as a dispute among neighbors over a truck stop has escalated into a fight that could destroy all the PCI has built as well as cripple the economy of Escambia County.

In numerous statement the county commission has held that all they want the PCI to do is pay their fair share of taxes.

Bryan Taylor the attorney for the commission wrote in response to questions we emailed said, “After Carcieri, there is also no legally justifiable basis for the County to look the other way while the PCI escape paying the same taxes every other taxpayer in Escambia County has to pay.  It’s a tax fairness issue for other taxpayers, and as County Commission Chairman David Stokes said, “This issue can be resolved.”

Robert McGee, thinks the commission’s agenda may have change with the entrance of Mr. Taylor. “Certain members of the County Commission feel that Bryan Taylor has a different ulterior motive then what the County Commission had,” said McGhee.

Taylor is a sitting Alabama State Senator and began his career in government under then Governor Bob Riley. Taylor join the governor’s staff as a senior policy adviser, as a young man and was very engaged in Riley’s attempt to end gambling in Alabama.

As a lawmaker, Taylor has cultivated a persona within the Senate and among the media as a ernest and moral advocate of ethics and judicial reform.

This however does not stop people from questioning Taylor motivates.

PCI Tribal Councilman Arthur Mothershed is one such critic. “I find myself questioning their alignment with Bryan Taylor,” Mothershed said. “That’s a very unusual partner. He’s a state senator and former policy advisor for Bob Riley, and I don’t think it is any secret about how the former governor felt about gambling — and all of the sudden Bryan Taylor shows up in our backyard.”

“Governor Riley has played absolutely no role in this matter whatsoever,” said Taylor. “ I advise the Escambia County Commission based on the law, as I do with every client, plain and simple. That’s my job.”

But the connection to Riley is the very reason the county commission hired Taylor.

According to Smith the commission contacted Taylor after his name had been mentioned as a good attorney for the commission. “The commission decided to use Mr. Taylor because he had worked for Governor Bob Riley in breaking up gaming in Alabama.”

After several calls the other members of the commission have failed to respond for this report.

Smith says he doesn’t know who suggested Taylor but no one has come forward to identify the person who gave Taylor the nod.

Persistent rumors plagued Riley as governor, accusing him of not only taking money from the Mississippi gaming interest represented by the Choctaw Indians but for also doing their bidding in his administration’s effort to bring down the PCI. The accusation was that Riley worked for the Choctaw to send all of Alabama gaming business to Mississippi. While Riley has denied such allegations they still persist.

Taylor says that he believes, “…As far as the Escambia County Commission is concerned, a judicial or administrative ruling regarding the trust status of PCI lands would be totally unnecessary if PCI were paying its fair share of taxes.  From the County Commission’s perspective, there would be no dispute, nothing for a court to resolve.”

However, Taylor’s remarks concerning the county commission calls into question the legality of such a compromise. The question then becomes if the PCI is operating illegally according to the Supreme Court ruling then does the county commission or any other government entity have the authority to not uphold the law.

In a recent statement Escambia County Commissioner Stokes said, “We see the Poarch Creek’ predicament and recognize their disappointment but a Supreme Court ruling is a Supreme Court ruling.”

However, It would appear the Escambia County Commission according to Taylor’s statement is not concerned about the law but about enriching the county with PCI tax dollars.

“This whole thing goes a lot deeper. The city of Atmore has [privately owned, on city land] hotels, that stay full and businesses that are making good money and the city and county are doing well because of the tribe,” said Smith, “If the PCI land goes down in this fight, we go down along with them.”

In part two we explore the case made by the commission and whether Carcieri v. Salazar has any relevance to the PCI.

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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Alabama’s COVID-19 cases continue to rise

Alabama’s ongoing increase in new cases and COVID-19 hospitalizations is especially worrisome for public health experts as flu season arrives and several holidays are just around the corner.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The number of new confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alabama continues to rise, with 1,789 new cases reported Saturday, despite fewer tests being conducted, and cases are up 55 percent from two weeks ago, based on a 14-day average of daily case increases.

Alabama’s ongoing increase in new cases and COVID-19 hospitalizations is especially worrisome for public health experts as flu season arrives and several holidays are just around the corner.

Coronavirus cases in the U.S. surpassed 9 million on Thursday, and numerous states were seeing surges in cases and hospitalizations. Nearly 1,000 Americans died from COVID-19 on Wednesday, and the country has reported several days of record-high new cases.

“There’s going to be a whole lot of pain in this country with regard to additional cases, hospitalizations and deaths,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House coronavirus task force adviser and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in a CNBC interview Wednesday. “We are on a very difficult trajectory. We are going in the wrong direction.”

There were 960 hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Alabama on Friday, and the seven-day average of daily hospitalizations hit 976 on Friday, the highest it’s been since Sept. 2 and 29 percent higher than a month ago.

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More than 1,000 hospitalizations were reported in Alabama on Tuesday for the first time since August. Huntsville Hospital was caring for 163 coronavirus patients Friday, the largest number since Aug. 19. UAB on Friday had 58 COVID-19 patients and has been hovering between 60 and 70 patients for the last several weeks.

While the number of new cases is rising, the number of tests being performed has been declining. Over the last two weeks, Alabama reported, on average, 6,961 cases per day, 9 percent fewer cases than a month ago.

The rising cases and declining tests are also reflected in the percentage of tests that are positive, which on Saturday was well above public health experts’ target of 5 percent or below. 

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The state’s positivity rate on Saturday was 21 percent, according to APR‘s tracking of new cases and reported tests over the past two weeks. Many other COVID-19 tracking projects calculate the state’s percent positivity by dividing the 7- and 14-day averages of daily case increases by the 7- and 14-day averages of daily test increases.

The Alabama Department of Public Health calculates the positivity rate differently, instead dividing the number of daily cases by the number of individuals who have been tested, rather than the total number of tests done, as some people may have more than one test performed.

There are no federal standards on how states are to report COVID-19 testing data, and a myriad of state health departments calculate positivity rates differently. 

Even so, ADPH’s own calculations show Alabama’s percent positivity is nearly double where public health experts say it needs to be, or else cases are going undetected. According to ADPH’s calculations, the percent positivity on Oct. 24 was 9.6 percent, up 33 percent from the 7.2 percent positivity on Sept. 26. 

As of Saturday, there have been 2,967 confirmed and probable COVID-19 deaths reported in Alabama, with 427 reported this month, 19 percent more deaths than were reported in September.

On Saturday, ADPH reported 35 confirmed and probable deaths. 

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Alabama Democrats launch “biggest” turnout campaign in their history

“Our organizers and volunteers have been working relentlessly to turn out the vote,” the Alabama Democratic Party said.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The Alabama Democratic Party said Friday that they have launched the biggest get-out-the-vote campaign in their history in a bid to re-elect U.S. Sen. Doug Jones.

“We’ve made over 3.5 million voter contacts this election cycle,” the ADP wrote in an email to supporters. “Today, we’ve started the biggest GOTV campaign in our history. We will be contacting voters around the clock from now until Election Day. As it stands, we have enough money to reach about 91 percent of the voters in our GOTV universe.”

“Our organizers and volunteers have been working relentlessly to turn out the vote,” the ADP said. “They are contacting voters in all 67 Alabama counties, making sure every Democrat has a plan to vote on Nov. 3.”

On Saturday, Jones will make several campaign stops throughout the Birmingham area to encourage voters to turn out on Election Day. He will make stops in his hometown of Fairfield as well as in Bessemer, Pratt City and East Lake.

Jefferson County is the Alabama Democratic Party’s main stronghold in the conservative state of Alabama. Mobilizing Democratic voters to come out, especially in Jefferson County, is essential if they are to have any hope of re-electing Jones, who has been trailing in public polling.

Jones’s shocking upset of Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore in the 2017 special election is the only statewide race that the Alabama Democratic Party has won since 2008.

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Jones had a decided advantage in money in that contest to saturate the airwaves and fund a GOTV effort to reach Democratic voters in the special election.

The Jones campaign is trying to build upon that success, but it is an uphill battle and he’s widely viewed as the most vulnerable Democratic senator up for re-election in 2020.

This time, Jones’s Republican opponent is not hamstrung by allegations of sexual misconduct and Trump is at the top of this ticket. The president remains popular in Alabama even if his support has waned in some other states.

Jones needs both an unusually strong Democratic turnout and for a large number of Trump voters to split their ticket and vote for Jones instead of his Republican opponent, Tommy Tuberville.

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Roughly half of Alabamians are straight-ticket voters.

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Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh won’t seek re-election in 2022

Marsh said it would be up to the Republican caucus to decide whether he’ll remain pro tem for the last two years of his term.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston.

Alabama Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, R-Anniston, the top Republican member of Alabama’s upper chamber, will not seek re-election in 2022. 

Marsh told The Anniston Star, which first reported the story, that he will also not run for governor or the U.S. Senate in 2022 or in the future.

Marsh’s decision to not run again will bring an end to a 24-year career in state politics. Marsh, 64, made school choice a focus of his legislative work over the years, championing charter schools and wrote the Senate’s version of the 2014 Alabama Accountability Act, which allows for tax credits for those who make donations to scholarships for students at private schools. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Marsh found himself on the other side of public health experts’ understanding of the disease, suggesting to a reporter that he’d actually like to see more people become infected to build the state’s overall immunity to the virus, a theory that public health experts say would lead to thousands of unnecessary deaths and many more illnesses. 

Marsh also battled Gov. Kay Ivey over the expenditure of $1.8 billion in federal coronavirus relief aid over the summer, suggesting early on that the state should spend $200 million of that money on a new Statehouse, which drew widespread public condemnation.

The Alabama Legislature later approved Ivey’s plan to spend the federal aid, which does not include a new Statehouse. 

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Marsh explained to AL.com on Friday that during his tenure, the Republican-controlled Legislature has put Alabama’s fiscal well-being on solid ground. 

“Fiscally, I think we’re as strong as a state as we’ve ever been. I think this COVID has shown how financially secure the state is through our policies. I feel very good about our accomplishments,” he told the outlet. “But there comes a time for everything and I just want to make it clear that I do not intend to seek election in 2022.”

Marsh said it would be up to the Republican caucus to decide whether he’ll remain pro tem for the last two years of his term.

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Alabama Power reports progress on restoring power following Hurricane Zeta

Alabama Power said 131,000 outages remain and that the utility provider expects to have service restored to 95 percent of affected customers by Tuesday.

Brandon Moseley

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Crews work to restore power after Hurricane Zeta. (VIA ALABAMA POWER COMPANY)

Alabama Power said Saturday that its crews have restored power to 373,000 customers following Hurricane Zeta, which caused more than 504,000 outages at peak.

As of Saturday at 2:12 p.m., Alabama Power said 131,000 outages remain and that the utility provider expects to have service restored to 95 percent of affected customers by Tuesday.

 

 

Hurricane Zeta hit Louisiana as a category two hurricane on Wednesday before ripping through Mississippi and Alabama. There is an enormous amount of damage across the footprint of the Southern Company, the parent of Alabama Power.

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Alabama Power has said the impact of the storm is similar to what the company experienced during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the April 27, 2011 tornadoes.

Because Zeta was so fast-moving, it did not lose much of its strength as it moved inland. Much of the state experienced tropical-storm-force winds. There is significant, widespread damage throughout the state.

Alabama Power is having to deal with downed poles and trees that knocked out wires. The company’s crews are working with more than 1,700 lineworkers and support personnel from 19 states and Canada.

Alabama Power said that its crews are working quickly and safely to restore power and will continue to work on restoring power over the weekend.

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Alabama Power storm team evaluators, line crews and support personnel worked throughout the day Thursday and Friday assessing damage and repairing poles and wires damaged in the storm.

Crews are working diligently and as quickly and safely as possible to restore service, the company said.

Remember that there are line crews working along roadways all across the state. Cities, counties and homeowners are still working on debris removal so drive slowly and give yourself more time to get where you are going while out.

Alabama Power warns everyone to stay away from downed power lines, as well as fallen trees and tree limbs that could be hiding downed lines. Always assume a downed line is still energized and poses a potentially deadly hazard.

If you spot a downed line, call Alabama Power at 1-800-888-2726 or local law enforcement and wait for trained crews to perform the potentially dangerous work of removing the line or any surrounding debris.

Hurricane season lasts until the end of November.

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