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Converting for a cause: Behind the Fielding switch

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—There is an old saying that rules are made to be broken, that may be exactly what happen when Democrat Senator Jerry Fielding switched to the GOP.

According to the bylaws of the Alabama Republican Executive Committee, Standing Rules Adopted by the Alabama Republican Party there is a very specific procedure that must be followed for “Switching parties.”

The first step is “The elected official shall contact the Chairman or Vice Chairman of the Republican Executive Committee of his/her county of residence, and request a meeting before the county Republican Executive Committee.”

According to Danny Hubbard, chairman of the Talladega GOP, Senator Jerry Fielding did not contact him prior to being “welcomed” into the republican party and caucus.

“I have talked to Jerry about that [since his announcement] and he has asked about meeting our executive committee, and about them accepting him into the party,” said Hubbard. “It will actually happen later on.”

In fact all 22 members of the Senate Republican Caucus and Governor Robert Bentley welcomed Fielding even though the party switcher had not followed the most basics of the GOP rules.

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In July the Talladega Chairman was asked his opinion on party switchers. Then Hubbard’s position was that there was a process to switching parties. He also believed that an office holder who wants to switch parties should be accountable for their voting record. “When you have a staunch liberal voting record then I would say that individual is not a conservative at heart. I would have a problem with that person switching parties.” At the time, Hubbard was not specifically addressing the question of Fielding but a generic lawmaker wanting to change affiliations from democrat to republican.

But with regards to Fielding and as if to answer Chairman Hubbard’s thoughts, the Chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party said last week, “I’m interested to see how Senator Fielding operates in this next legislative session. The Republicans welcomed him today with open arms, but he voted against nearly every major Republican piece of legislation during his two years in the Senate. My guess is that he’ll be a pretty miserable member of the Republican Caucus.”

Kennedy seems to think that Fielding’s voting record is not very conservative, a criteria that Hubbard says is important.

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While Hubbard admits that Fielding has circumvented the rules, he says that he is scheduling a meeting between Fielding and the Talladega GOP executive committee after the November elections.

The rules say that, “Upon learning of a request, the Chairman of the county Republican Executive Committee shall schedule such meeting at a regular or special meeting of the county Committee, within 30 days.” Hubbard’s timeline for Fielding meeting with the executive committee is outside the 30 window.

Not to put too fine a point on the issue but the rules also state that, “At the meeting, the elected official shall present his/her reasons for wanting to switch parties and should be prepared to answer questions by county Committee members. The county Republican Executive Committee shall then deliberate on the request in a closed session. After due deliberation, the county Republican Executive Committee shall vote on whether or not to recognize the elected official as a Republican.”

Hubbard said, “I think the party here in Talladega county will let him [Fielding] in.”

Under what scenario would it be conceivable for a county executive committee to deny an office holder the privilege of switching parties after he or she has been welcomed by the top legislative leaders and governor of the party?

Elbert Peters, a longtime GOP official from Huntsville and a member of the state Republican Party Executive Committee who helped craft the rules on party switching, said that the rules on switching parties is, “a relatively new rule,” [adopted in August 2011].

Mr. Peters also said that in the Fielding situation, the rules “have not been followed so far,” but he does offer Fielding the benefit of the doubt with a caveat.

“The person who needs to take the first step is the person who wants to switch parties,” said Peters. “Jerry Fielding should have contacted his county chairman and said, ‘I am thinking about switching to the republican party and I would like to meet with the executive committee, and answer any questions you might have, and get you folks to vote on whether you will accept me into the republican party.’” He says maybe Fielding didn’t know to do that, but adds, “The process broke down on the first step.”

The word now coming from the Senate leadership is that Fielding is caucusing with the GOP and so presumedly Fielding will still be classified as a democrat who will caucus with the GOP, in much the same way Senator Harri Anne Smith, who was not allowed to run as a republican as punishment for endorsing Bobby Bright a democrat.

While the GOP rules on switching parties are very clear, there seems to have been an undisclosed reason for subverting the process and rushing forward to bring Fielding into the fold.

Fielding claims he had a change of heart after hearing the new National Democratic Party platform. More than a few people believe Fielding’s real change occurred sometime during reapportionment.

Fielding voted against the GOP plan for redistricting on all levels, perhaps knowing the under the new plan he would have a difficult time retaining the seat he won two years ago against Republican Ray Robbins.

The Republican Party poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into defeating Fielding who was backed by huge campaign contributions from democrat sources. Including $206,834 from the Tennessee Valley Citizens for Economic Development PAC in Huntsville. That PAC received $700,000 of its more than $1 million in contributions from A-VOTE, which is part of the AEA, according to reports in the Press register. Fielding also received $139,227 from Progress for Alabama Chaired by Democrat Steve Raby. The [Democrat] Senate Majority and Senate Majority PAC contributed over $120,000 to Fielding campaign.[Fielding’s campaign contributions can be viewed at the Alabama Secretary of State website]. All of this money was given to Fielding because he was a lifelong democrat with over 20 years of loyally serving the party.

Even though there seems to be plenty of excuses for Fielding not following the GOP rules, there still is Hubbard statement, “When you have staunch liberal voting record then I would say that individual is not a conservative at heart. I would have a problem with that person switching parties.”

Fielding’s recent voting record had him oppose the GOP on redistricting, he also voted against the bill prohibiting mandatory participation in any Health Care System, a GOP bill to block Obamacare in Alabama.

He voted against the GOP on increasing retirement contribution for public employees and repealing the deferred retirement option plan. All of these bills were critical pieces of the conservative republicans agenda. This on the surface does not appear to be a conservative voting record by most standards.

Perhaps his first test will be how vigorously the newly minded Republican Senator supports local GOP candidates in the up coming elections in Talladega county.

Since the GOP took control of the government of Alabama in 2010, over 50 one-time democrats have had said they experienced a political and ideological awakening. Fielding is the latest to hear the call. The question remains, was it one of conviction or convenience, that goes for Fielding and those who welcomed him with open arms.

RULES

STANDING RULES ADOPTED BY THE ALABAMA REPUBLICAN PARTY

This procedure shall be followed when an elected official of another political party other than statewide, congressional, or state school board desires to become a Republican. The elected official shall contact the Chairman or Vice Chairman of the Republican Executive Committee of his/her county of residence, and request a meeting before the county Republican Executive Committee. Upon learning of a request, the Chairman of the county Republican Executive Committee shall schedule such meeting at a regular or special meeting of the county Committee, within 30 days. At the meeting, the elected official shall present his/her reasons for wanting to switch parties and should be prepared to answer questions by county Committee members. The county Republican Executive Committee shall then deliberate on the request in a closed session. After due deliberation, the county Republican Executive Committee shall vote on whether or not to recognize the elected official as a Republican. An affirmative vote of two-thirds of those present and voting shall be required for recognition. The Republican County Chairman shall verbally notify the official and the Chairman of the Alabama Republican Party of the vote as soon as practical and the county Executive Committee secretary shall do so in writing within ten calendar days. A news release and other appropriate publicity shall be at the discretion of the county Republican Executive Committee and/or the Chairman of the Alabama Republican Party. With the prior approval of the County Republican Executive Committee, the County Chairman may use either the county Republican Executive Committee or the county Steering Committee for the meeting. If a county Republican Executive Committee is so inactive that a meeting is not likely to take place within 30 days, the Steering Committee of the Alabama Republican Party shall assume the responsibility for acting on the request to switch parties.

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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Study: COVID-19 infection rates more than double without lockdowns

Infection and fatality rates would have been higher without stay-at-home orders, a new UAB study found.

Micah Danney

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(STOCK PHOTO)

New research from the University of Alabama at Birmingham says that if there had been no stay-at-home orders issued in the U.S. in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the country would have experienced a 220 percent higher rate of infection and a 22 percent higher fatality rate than if such orders were implemented nationwide.

Seven states never imposed stay-at-home orders, or SAHOs. The study analyzed daily positive case rates by state against the presence or absence of statewide SAHOs between March 1 and May 4, the period when such orders began to be implemented. Twelve states lifted their SAHOs before May 4.

The researchers defined SAHOs as being in effect when a state’s governor issued an order for residents of the entire state to leave home only for essential activities and when schools and nonessential businesses were closed.

“During March and April, most states in the United States imposed shutdowns and enacted SAHOs in an effort to control the disease,” said Bisakha Sen, the study’s senior author. “However, mixed messages from political authorities on the usefulness of SAHOs, popular pressure and concerns about the economic fallout led some states to lift the restrictions before public health experts considered it advisable.”

The research also sought to determine if the proportion of a state’s Black residents was associated with its number of positive cases. It found that there was.

“This finding adds to evidence from existing studies using county-level data on racial disparities in COVID-19 infection rates and underlines the urgency of better understanding and addressing these disparities,” said study co-author Vidya Sagar Hanumanthu. 

The research can help advance a greater understanding of racial disparities in the healthcare system as a whole, and help leaders make future decisions about shutdowns as the virus continues to spread, Sen said.

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“While the high economic cost makes SAHOs unsustainable as a long-term policy, our findings could help inform federal, state and local policymakers in weighing the costs and benefits of different short-term options to combat the pandemic,” she said.

The study was published Friday in JAMA Network Open.

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Elections

Jones to attend Auburn student forum, Tuberville hasn’t yet responded to invitation

Jones has agreed to attend the forum, but it was unclear whether Tuberville planned to attend.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Sen. Doug Jones, left, and Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville, right.

The College Democrats at Auburn University and the College Republicans at Auburn University have asked U.S. Senator Doug Jones, D-Alabama, and his Republican opponent, Tommy Tuberville, to attend a student forum on Wednesday. 

“We are excited to invite the candidates running for our U.S. Senate seat and provide this opportunity for any Auburn student to hear directly from them, and we hope it will inform our student bodies’ decisions with the November 3rd election only days away,” said Carsten Grove, president of the College Democrats at Auburn University, in a statement. 

Jones has agreed to attend the forum, Auburn University College Democrats confirmed for APR on Sunday, but it was unclear whether Tuberville planned to attend. The student organization  was still awaiting a response from Tuberville’s campaign. Jones has for months requested that Tuberville join him in a debate, but Tuberville has declined.

“AUCR takes great pleasure in coming together with AUCD to co-host the Alabama Senate candidates in this forum. We are looking forward to a very informative and constructive event,” said Lydia Maxwell, president of the College Republicans at Auburn University.

Dr. Ryan Williamson, assistant professor of political science, is to emcee the forum, which will be open to all Auburn University students in the Mell Classroom Building at 6 p.m., according to a press release from the College Democrats at Auburn University. 

 Students will be permitted 30 seconds to ask a question of either candidate, and each candidate will have two minutes to answer, according to the release. Capacity at the forum will be limited and precautions taken due to COVID-19. Any student with an Auburn ID is welcome and attendance will be first come, first served.

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122,000 Alabamians would lose health coverage if ACA is overturned, study finds

Eddie Burkhalter

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At least 122,000 Alabamians and 21.1 million in the U.S. overall would lose health coverage if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the Affordable Care Act, according to a recent study. 

The Washington D.C.-based think tank Urban Institute’s analysis found that Alabama’s uninsured rate would increase by 25 percent if the court strikes down the Affordable Care Act (ACA), after oral arguments in a case against the landmark health care law is to begin on Nov. 10.  

President Donal Trump’s administration and 18 states, including Alabama, are asking the country’s highest court to strike down the entire ACA. 

Trump, speaking to CBS News’s Lesley Stahl in a recent interview, said he would like the Supreme Court to end the ACA. There’s concern among many that Trump’s pick to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the court, conservative Judge Amy Coney Barrett, could be a deciding factor in the repeal of the ACA when the Supreme Court hears the case just after the Nov. 3 election.

“I hope that they end it. It’ll be so good if they end it,” Trump told Stahl.

“Repealing the ACA would throw our health care system into chaos in the middle of a pandemic and a deep recession,” Alabama Arise executive director Robyn Hyden said in a statement. “Tens of thousands of Alabamians would lose health coverage when they need it most. And hundreds of thousands would pay more for coverage or lose protections for their preexisting conditions.”

Health care coverage losses could be even larger next year, as the COVID-19 pandemic and recession likely still will be ongoing, according to the study. 

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“The ACA has been a health lifeline for many Alabamians during the pandemic,” Hyden said. “It provides coverage options for people who have lost their jobs or seen sharp reductions in their income. And it ensures people aren’t denied insurance just because they got sick.”

Ending the ACA would also reverse gains made in reducing racial disparities in health care coverage, researchers in the study found, noting that overturning the ACA would strip health coverage from nearly one in 10 Black and Latino Americans under age 65, and more than one in 10 Native Americans nationwide would lose health insurance. 

People with preexisting conditions would be charged higher insurance rates, or have their coverage dropped altogether, if the ACA is struck down, according to the study, which also found that the law’s repeal would harm people who have health insurance through their jobs. 

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Those who have health insurance through their jobs could see their plans reintroduce annual and lifetime coverage limits, and requirements for plans to cover essential benefits and provide free preventive services would disappear, according to the study, as would the requirement for insurers to allow young adults to be covered through their parents’ plans.

While millions would lose health care if the law is repealed, the country’s top earners would receive tax cuts, according to a study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which found that the highest-income 0.1 percent of households, which earn more than $3 million annually,  would receive tax cuts averaging about $198,000 per year. 

“A portion of these tax cuts — about $10 billion per year — would come at the direct expense of the Medicare Trust Fund, since the additional Medicare tax the ACA instituted for couples with earnings over $250,000 flows to the fund,” the Center of Budget and Policy Priority study reads. 

Pharmaceutical companies would pay $2.8 billion less in taxes each year, according to the study, while millions of seniors would pay billions more for prescription drugs due to the gap in Medicare’s prescription drug benefit if the ACA is repealed. 

“The ACA has left Alabama better equipped to fight COVID-19 and rebuild our economy after the recession,” Hyden said. “And those benefits would be even greater if Alabama would adopt Medicaid expansion.

“Striking down the ACA would harm the Alabamians who have suffered the most during the pandemic and the recession. It would deprive our state of the opportunity to save lives and strengthen our health care system by expanding Medicaid,” Hyden continued. “And it would shower huge tax cuts on rich people while making life harder for everyone else. Alabama officials should stop seeking to undermine the ACA and start investing in a healthier future for our entire state.”

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Two military pilots killed in plane crash in Foley

Brandon Moseley

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Navy Lt. Rhiannon Ross, age 30, of Wixom, Michigan, died when her T-6B Texan II trainer aircraft crashed. Also killed was Coast Guard Ensign Morgan Garrett, a 24-year-old student aviator.

Friday, a Navy pilot and a Coast Guard student pilot were killed when their Navy T-6B Texan II training airplane crashed into a home in Foley. No one in the house was killed.

Commander Zach Harrell, a public affairs officer with Naval Air Forces, said that the plane crashed around 5:00 p.m. A house and two cars on the ground were hit in the crash.

“It is with a heavy heart that we mourn two of our pilots who lost their lives during an aircraft crash in Alabama today,” the Chief of Naval Air Training said in a Twitter post. “Our deepest sympathy goes to their family and friends at this difficult time. Rest in peace, Shipmates. We have the watch.”

Navy Lt. Rhiannon Ross, age 30, of Wixom, Michigan, died when her T-6B Texan II trainer aircraft crashed. She was a Navy instructor pilot, officials announced on Sunday. Also killed was Coast Guard Ensign Morgan Garrett, a 24-year-old student aviator.

Ross earned her commission in April 2012. Before joining the Florida-based Training Squadron Two in February 2018, she served three years with Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 26 out of Norfolk, Virginia.

Garrett was from Weddington, North Carolina, and was a 2019 Coast Guard Academy graduate.

“Their spirit, friendship, and devotion to their country will not be forgotten,” Navy officials said in a Sunday news release.

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Ross was a member of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor’s Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps, according to her Navy career bio. Her personal awards include a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal.

Friday’s accident marked the Navy’s first aviation-related fatality in more than a year.

“The incident is currently under investigation,” Harrell said. “The Navy is cooperating fully with local authorities.”

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U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, said on Twitter, “Very sad to hear about the Navy trainer aircraft that crashed in Foley. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the two service members who lost their live.”

Congressman Bradley Byrne, R-Montrose, said, “As we await additional information, I hope you will join me in praying for the victims and their families. According to the Baldwin County Sheriff’s office, the plane was a US Navy aircraft.”

A home caught fire after the plane crashed but the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office also said no one on the ground was injured.

The T-6B Texan II is a tandem-seat, turboprop aircraft primarily used to train Navy and Marine Corps pilots, according to the Navy.

There are 245 T-6Bs based at the Navy’s two aviation training bases, Naval Air Station Whiting Field, outside of Pensacola and Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas. The airfield is about 45 miles from the crash site.

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