By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
WASHINGTON, DC–Any day now, the United States Supreme Court is set to rule on the Constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Alabama State Representative Greg Wren (R-Montgomery) is in DC, with the National Conference of State Legislatures, (NCSL).
Wren is the National Chairman of NCSL’s Healthcare Reform Committee they are in DC preparing for what comes next after the high court’s ruling. When working with the committee, Wren’s travel and activity with the group is paid out of his own pocket, he points out.
“It is a bipartisan group with a focus on protecting the individual states, with state specific plans with regards to the Affordable Care Act,” said Wren.
Wren who is consider by many to be Alabama’s foremost authority on ACA and its mechanisms is concerned about the what is happening in Washington as well as what is taking place at home.
“This latest revelation that the state has partnered with several other states and the federal government to create an exchange, is troubling,” said Wren. “Just look at who those states are. People across Alabama and here in DC are scratching their heads wondering what is going on. We deride California on a thousand different things and yet we may be partnering with them to build a healthcare exchange for Alabamians.”
Wren has worked since the passage of what some call Obamacare to shield Alabama from the most dreaded effects of the bill. In the 2012 Legislative Session, Wren authored legislation that would have formed a governing body for Alabama’s healthcare exchange with a proviso that the bill would become null and void if ACA was found unconstitutional.
“The key features of the bill we had in the legislature was to protect Alabama if portions of the ACA will be or are upheld by the supreme court,” said Wren. “But the governor fought us at every turn.” The bill that Wren sponsored was defeated in the Senate with a “poison pill,” amendment.
“What harm would there have been to establish a statute, a shell model, but there has been a ‘no way but my way,’ attitude by the Governor. He has wanted total control of this process,” Wren said.
According to Wren, about two weeks ago CMS [which is the Federal Coordinated Health Care Office at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)], officials announced the final blueprint for timelines for ACA the deadline now is November 16, 2012.
“This is the date by which state must make a determination if they will establish a state-based exchange , a state/federal exchange or a federal-facilitated exchange,” said Wren. “These are the only three options available.”
According to Wren, all this means it that a state must tell the Federal Government what type of exchange it will offer and submit it to them by November 16, 2012.
“This does not mean that any portion of the program has to be ready for implementation, at that time,” said Wren. “But obviously, there is a disconnect with the Governor’s Administration.”
Wren said that the governor’s office has been moving aggressively with creating a healthcare exchange for Alabama.
While Wren says that the Federal Government would like to see progress it is in no way a mandate.
Wren says that Governor Bentley has been using “these Federal block grants to staff-up his operations inside the Department of insurance.”
Wren points out that the federal millions being spent on the project are federal taxpayer dollars and therefore not subject to appropriations by the Alabama Legislature. The millions received Wren believes are being “warehoused at the Department of Insurance.” He says, “However, all the money that is being spent by the Alabama Health Insurance Exchange must be reported to the CMS and the OIG (Office of Inspector General).
Insiders within the administration have said privately that money has been used out of Medicaid and was to be paid back once federal block grants were received. The insider said, that because the governor’s people did not understand block grants that this was a problem for awhile.
Wren says, “There have been a lot of question raised about these expenditures.” Wren said he would be making inquires into the matter of Medicaid or other state dollar.
For the record, Richard Fiore, the Director of the Alabama Healthcare Insurance Exchange nor Kathleen Healey an executive within the exchange have not returned repeated calls for information by the “Alabama Political Reporter.”
“I have been working on ACA for the legislature since the beginning and I don’t even know who Richard Fiore is,” said Wren.
“An interesting fact is that many governors who opposed the Affordable Care Act actually sent the Federal money back, refusing to accept it, “ said Wren.
“But here in Alabama our governor says, ‘I don’t want it, we are not going to have it, we are going to wait and see if we have to have to build it but in the meantime I’m going to spend all the money,’ But take’s the governor and his staff’s call.”
Wren said that he asked the administration many times to work with the legislature, “But their position was that the governor would create the exchange through Executive Order.”
An Executive Order by definition does not have the authority to appropriate funds. Wren says, “They have recently made some overture that they realize they will have to cooperate with the legislature. They seem to now realize that we appropriating body not the governor.”
Wren continues, “I have called for meeting with the administration for 16 months, I have been riding point on this from the beginning. They have told me they didn’t need legislative input.”
Wren says if somehow the Affordable Healthcare Act survives or parts of it do, “What do you think will happen when the Governor comes to the legislature and says, ‘Hurry up we need to have legislation passed to make this happen?’”
Wren seems to believe that the Governor will face a less than friendly reception at the Statehouse.
Slow absentee voting in Tuscaloosa sparks outrage, possible legal action
Among the issues were incredibly long lines that left some voters waiting more than five hours and an inefficient process that managed to take in fewer than 100 absentee ballots in six hours.
Long lines and slow absentee ballot processing in Tuscaloosa County have left voters outraged and incumbent Sen. Doug Jones’s campaign threatening legal action.
On Wednesday, Jones’s campaign attorney, Adam Plant, sent a letter to Tuscaloosa County Circuit Clerk Magaria Bobo, outlining a number of issues with ongoing absentee voting and promising to take legal action if Bobo doesn’t improve the process on the final day, Friday. Among the issues documented by Plant were incredibly long lines that left some voters waiting more than five hours and an inefficient process that managed to take in fewer than 100 absentee ballots in six hours.
Additionally, Plant noted that Bobo has hired her family members to help process absentee ballots and at least one family member had made disparaging remarks on social media about voters.
“You and those acting on your behalf are suppressing the vote of qualified Alabama voters,” Plant wrote in the letter. “If you are unable or unwilling to execute your duties competently, and allow Tuscaloosa voters to exercise their voting rights without undue burdens, we will take further action.”
In an interview with the Montgomery Advertiser on Wednesday, Bobo noted that her office had received more than 13,000 requests for absentee ballots — a remarkable uptick from the 3,000 or so her office usually receives — and there had been problems in managing that number of ballots while also adhering to social distancing guidelines within the office.
However, as Plant’s letter notes, the massive increase in absentee ballots for this election shouldn’t have been a surprise. Also, Secretary of State John Merrill had made additional funds available to absentee managers to facilitate hiring extra staff, purchasing additional computers and staying open for longer hours to accommodate the anticipated increase.
In a press release on Wednesday, the Alabama Democratic Party criticized Bobo and her family members, and the release included screenshots of Facebook posts from Bobo’s daughter lashing out at voters who complained about the long wait times.
“No voter should have to wait in line for hours to exercise their rights,” said ADP executive director Wade Perry. “We should leverage every tool we have to make voting easier, not harder. Also, it should go without saying that election workers should not insult the very people they are employed to serve. If Ms. Bobo is incapable of processing voters quickly, someone else needs to do the job.”
Jones campaign calls Tuberville a “coward” after no-show at Auburn forum
“Tuberville is hiding because he knows that on every front — policy, experience, character, competence — he loses to Doug Jones. Hands down,” Jones’s campaign said.
There are only four days left before election day, and incumbent Democratic Sen. Doug Jones’s re-election campaign is slamming Republican challenger Tommy Tuberville, accusing him of “hiding” and calling him a “coward.”
On Wednesday, Jones addressed an Auburn University forum. Tuberville did not attend.
“Tonight, the College Democrats and College Republicans at Auburn University co-hosted a debate between Doug Jones and Tommy Tuberville, offering students a chance to ask the candidates about the issues that matter most to Alabama,” the Jones campaign said in an email to supporters. “But Tuberville never showed up – he’s too scared to face Doug… even on his own home turf. Tuberville has repeatedly refused to debate Doug Jones. He’s consistently refused to be interviewed by the press. He’s refused to tell Alabama the truth about who and what they’re voting for – and it’s clear why.”
“Tuberville is hiding because he knows that on every front — policy, experience, character, competence — he loses to Doug Jones. Hands down,” the campaign continued. “If he won’t tell the truth, we will. Tuberville expects to win this race off of his blind allegiance to the President and his party affiliation. But Alabamians know better.”
“People deserve to know who they’re really voting for if they vote for Tuberville: someone who … won’t protect our health care, doesn’t believe in science, has no idea what the Voting Rights Act is, and doesn’t care about the lives and livelihoods of Alabamians,” the Jones campaign concluded. “Alabama will never elect a coward. Pitch in now and help us spread the truth about the man hiding behind the ballot.”
“I am disappointed that Tommy Tuberville is not here,” Jones said. “I think it is important that people see two candidates side by side answering the same questions.”
Tuberville meanwhile is canvassing the state, speaking to rallies and Republican groups to turn out the Republican vote for himself and President Donald Trump. Tuberville spoke at Freedom Fest in Madison County on Thursday and at the Trump Truck Parade rally in Phenix City.
“It’s time Alabama had a U.S. senator who represents our conservative beliefs and traditional values,” Tuberville said in Phenix City. “It’s time Alabama had a U.S. senator who supports the Second Amendment, the right to life, and putting God back in the classroom.”
Polling consistently shows Tuberville with a commanding lead over Jones. Real Clear Politics lists the race on their current board as a likely Republican win. FiveThirtyEight’s election model gives Tuberville has a 79 percent chance of defeating Jones.
Tuberville says election is about “the American dream”
“It is not about me. It is not about Biden or Jones. It is about the American dream. They are trying to take it away from us,” Tuberville claimed.
Republican Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville spoke at Freedom Fest asking Madison County voters to support him and re-elect Donald Trump on Election Day next Tuesday.
The former Auburn University head football coach told the estimated crowd of 350 that, “It is great to be here. This has been a lot of fun for me. Two years ago, my wife and I started to pray on whether or not to run. When we decided to run, she said don’t come back until you win.”
“This is a very serious election,” Tuberville said. “This is not about Donald Trump. It is not about me. It is not about Biden or Jones. It is about the American dream. They are trying to take it away from us.”
“I always told my players this: this country gives you the opportunity to fail and if you fail you get back up and try again,” Tuberville said. “When I was growing up in Arkansas I wanted to be a college football coach. People in high school laughed at me for it and people in college. It takes perseverance.”
Tuberville said that this country gives you the opportunity to succeed, more so than any other country in the world. He claimed that most of the rest of the world is “socialist.”
Tuberville also claimed that the other side, the Democratic candidates, are trying to turn America into a socialist country, which is not accurate.
“We are not going to let them ruin this country,” Tuberville said.
The 2020 Madison County GOP Freedom Fest was held at the brand new Toyota Field, the new home of the Huntsville Trash Pandas minor league baseball team.
Tuberville praised Trump whom he said he has “gotten to know through all of this, and we have become friends. He never slows down, and he is sharp as a tack.”
Tuberville said that the president once called him at 2:30 in the morning, “He said sleep is overrated.”
Tuberville said that he has spoken with “a lot of people who are as nervous as I am about Tuesday.” Tuberville, who is being outspent, urged the crowd to ignore all the television ads by his opponent, incumbent Democratic Sen. Doug Jones.
Tuberville vowed to defend the Second Amendment if elected, “They ain’t getting my guns….or your guns.”
“We need to get God back in our schools and teach values again,” Tuberville stated. “The other side does not talk about values and morals.”
We are not going to allow them to tear down our country,” Tuberville said. “God will not allow them.”
“We are going to get God back in our country like it is supposed to be,” Tuberville said.
Tuberville was introduced to the crowd by State Sen. Clay Scofield, R-Guntersville. Scofield said that he “is ready to send Doug Jones back to California.”
“Yes I know he is actually from here, but he sure votes like California,” he said. “He certainly doesn’t vote like the vast majority of the people of Alabama want him to vote.”
Scofield called Tuberville is “a fighter” who will stand up for the values of the people of Alabama.
Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Alabama, said, “This is the most important election of my lifetime.”
“Do we believe in freedom and liberty or do we believe in socialism?” Brooks said. “We need to beat them like a drum.”
The general election is on Tuesday. You must bring a valid photo ID with you to your assigned polling place in order to participate.
Secretary of State John Merrill has predicted that the state would have record participation on Tuesday.
State is cleaning up after Hurricane Zeta
Almost 500,000 Alabama Power customers were without power immediately following the storm, including 163,000 in Mobile County alone.
The state of Alabama began working on recovering from Hurricane Zeta on Thursday after the storm slammed the state this week.
“Zeta gave us a real pounding, and many areas are just beginning the clean up process,” said Congressman Bradley Byrne, R-Alabama. “The storm had an especially serious impact in north Mobile County, Washington County, and Clarke County. My staff and I stand ready to assist our city, county, and state partners to ensure folks get the help they need to clean up and rebuild.”
Almost 500,000 Alabama Power customers were without power immediately following the storm, including 163,000 in Mobile County alone.
“Our storm team is working into the evening replacing downed lines and poles to restore service for our customers,” Alabama Power announced on Twitter. “At 9:30 p.m., 258,000 customers remain without service across the state. … As of 6 a.m. there are 243,000 outages across the state.”
There was damage across much of the state. As Hurricane Zeta moved through Alabama, it left behind many problems. Thousands of trees are down. There are trees down on homes, businesses, cars, power lines, fences, barns and blocking roadways.
Some school systems are closed or are conducting classes remotely on Friday due to ongoing cleanup efforts and the widespread power outages. The schools plan to reopen Monday.
Flooding from the higher than expected storm surge hit downtown Mobile according to the National Hurricane Center. The National Weather Service said that water in parts of Mobile Bay rose to “major flooding” levels overnight on Oct. 28 to 29.
Byrne warned constituents to be careful using chainsaws in the cleanup and using generators to power their homes and businesses.
The Alabama Department of Public Health warned that, “It might take longer than normal to get power and water back up after #HurricaneZeta. Take steps to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning if you’re using a generator.”
Portable generators should be kept OUTSIDE the home. Carbon monoxide can build up rapidly if you are using a generator inside a building. Carbon monoxide is odorless, colorless, and it kills hundreds of Americans each year.
Because the storm was moving so rapidly, it was not just the coastal counties that were hit hard by Hurricane Zeta. Elmore, Butler, Shelby and Calhoun Counties are among the many counties with extensive damage.
The state was already recovering from Hurricane Sally in September.