By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Election campaigns are a lot of hard work. Contested campaigns can be very demanding struggles. Most people decide not to run for elected office because it is just too much of a struggle. For Rob McHugh this election is far from the most difficult struggle that he has faced.
In 2003, the Steele Republican was the owner of his own electrical business but he was experiencing some muscle cramps and numbness in his hands which were interfering with his ability to do his job as an electrician. His doctors diagnosed him with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease or simply ALS. The most common of the motor neuron diseases is still considered a death sentence and McHugh’s doctor told him to get his affairs in order because he would be dead by 2005.
Rob McHugh would not accept the scientific fact that he had less than 24 months to live. Slowly he lost use of both of his arms and eventually he lost the use of both his legs. Typically that is followed by the loss of the ability to speak, the ability to swallow, difficulty breathing, which typically leads to death. McHugh however is not typical. Where most ALS patients wait in vain for a new drug that will cure the condition, McHugh took the bold alternative strategy of assuming personal responsibility for his own condition and fought to regain use of his limbs. A herbalist and a chiropractor provided help. Slowly, through a vigorous exercise and training effort he regained use of his arms and legs. McHugh could no longer do his job as an electrician because he no longer had the fine motor skills necessary to perform at a high level so he went to work with his dad in the nursery business managing greenhouses on his family’s farm. Eventually he was forced out of the nursery business because of repeated attacks on his greenhouses by metal thieves. McHugh told ‘The Alabama Political Reporter’ that they caught the last thief with $30,000 worth of greenhouse equipment at a metal yard where he had just received $900 for it. McHugh has supplemented his income over the years as a singer/songwriter.
The Board member of the St. Clair County Farmer’s Federation knew he needed a job that he could perform at a high level despite his physical challenges. To this day he has not restored all the strength in his hands but otherwise his health and full use of his limbs has been restored through hard work and either luck or divine assistance. McHugh decided that he would become an ALFA agent and began the studies necessary to get his Alabama insurance license. When he successfully finished all of his class work and passed the Alabama Insurance exam, ALFA (despite his long relationship with them) told him that he was not experienced enough to be an ALFA agent. Undeterred, McHugh is now an agent for Farmer’s Insurance.
Rob McHugh told ‘The Alabama Political Reporter’ that he is a longtime friend of former District 30 Representative Blaine Galiher and would never have run against the former Republican incumbent. When Rep. Galiher resigned to become Governor Bentley’s Director of Legislative Affairs, many of McHugh’s friends urged the insurance agent to run for the vacant Alabama House District 30 seat.
McHugh said that he talked with his family and made the decision to run as a Republican for the House District 30 seat. Rob McHugh told ‘The Alabama Political Reporter’ that, “I am good at helping people figuring out things. I will do what I can to help.”
Mr. McHugh said that he is pro-life, pro-gun, and opposes raising the tax burden on Alabama families. McHugh said that the state should pay back the money that was raided from the Alabama trust fund. McHugh said that all the revenues from the internet sales tax that Gov. Bentley is lobbying for should be used to pay off the trust fund diversion when that money comes in. McHugh said that the internet sales tax should bring in $130 million.
McHugh told ‘The Alabama Political Reporter’ to save money, “We can streamline more programs” and that the state should, “quit spending what we don’t have.” McHugh said that ending the DROP program will help the finances some. McHugh said that he did favor Governor Bentley’s plan to offer incentives to coax veteran state employees to retire. McHugh said that he is concerned about an Alabama Policy Iniative plan that would replace the state workers’ pensions with 401 (k)s. McHugh was concerned that the state would have a difficult time recruiting and retaining teachers and state workers when the economy turns around if surrounding states had a better benefits package. Mr. McHugh said that he would need to get the opinions of the people in his district before making a big decision like that.
McHugh said, “I think we need to generate more revenues.” McHugh however opposed the $2 a pack cigarette tax hike proposed by Rep. Joe Hubbard as being too large. McHugh said that the state needed to be more careful with tax breaks and incentives packages. He cited as an example the Sax distribution center built in Steele. The company came for the incentives and then “just packed up and left” after just a few years costing tax payers millions.
McHugh said that he represents the people on two state boards and serves on ten committees and boards throughout the district. When state prison farms were selling produce at just $2 a box, McHugh said that the tomato farmers called him and he worked successfully to prevent the prison farms from competing with Alabama farmers.
Mr. McHugh said, “I will represent the people of the district” and said that he “wants to do what is right for people.” McHugh said even though he lives in St. Clair County he has family and friends in Etowah County as well and he is, “not biased towards one county or the other.”
McHugh said that he has not been asking for campaign contributions because he doesn’t want to be beholden to anyone when he gets to Montgomery. “I don’t want to owe any favors,”
McHugh’s wife is a PE teacher and they have two children a 9 year old and a 5 year old.
Rob McHugh faces former Etowah County School Board President Mack Butler in the special election Republican Primary on Tuesday, October 23. House District 30 is composed of parts of Etowah and St. Clair Counties.
Jefferson County health officer, UAB head say COVID-19 numbers are improving but flu season is near
Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson said Friday that the county’s COVID-19 numbers are improving, but with schools reopening and flu season approaching, it’s critical for the public to continue wearing face masks and practicing social distancing.
Wilson and Will Ferniany, the CEO of the UAB Health System, held a press briefing on Friday to discuss the state of coronavirus and what’s being done to mitigate the disease that has killed 1,825 people in Alabama and infected 102,196.
In the last few weeks, the number of new daily COVID-19 cases and the percent of tests that are positive in Jefferson County has begun to decline, Wilson told reporters, but he put that decline into perspective.
“Keep in mind though that this is a slight improvement from being at a pretty bad place with really high numbers, so we still have a long way to go,” Wilson said.
There have been 13,682 confirmed coronavirus cases and 262 deaths in Jefferson County as of Friday, and 939 cases were added within the last week. The county’s seven-day average of new daily cases fell from its peak of 295 on July 18 to 156 on Thursday.
Wilson said there is good evidence that the county’s face covering order is making a difference in the spread of the disease, and that he thanks the public for making that difference, and asked that they keep doing so.
“We have four levels of surge,” Ferniany said, referring to UAB Hospital’s process of temporarily adding hospital bed capacity for COVID-19 patients by removing beds from other areas. “We’re on level two capacity.”
Ferniany said the hospital is running at 90 percent capacity, which he said is a “very full hospital” and that between March and around July 20, the hospital was caring for between 60 and 70 coronavirus patients daily, and reached a peak of 130 patients a little more than a week ago.
“Today we’re at 97 patients in-house, and roughly 40 percent are in the ICU,” Ferniany said.
Ferniany said the hospital’s ability to care for COVID-19 patients is now limited by the numbers of nurses and other staff, and that UAB is “down several hundred nurses” and burnout from long periods of caring for coronavirus patients is common.
Both Ferniany and Wilson said they’re very concerned about the upcoming flu season and the impact it could have on hospital capacity, as physicians continue to care for COVID-19 patients.
“The 2018-2019 flu season was the worst flu season we have seen in 40 years, and we actually asked the governor back then to declare a state of emergency because our hospitals were full then with influenza,” Wilson said.
Wilson urged the public to get their annual flu shots once available on Sept. 1 to help prevent additional strain on hospitals statewide. Public health officials worry that the combination of flu and COVID-19 could be difficult to handle — both on a system-wide level and the level of an individual person.
“We have no reason to think that somebody can’t get the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, which could be a deadly combination,” Wilson said.
Wilson said while he isn’t certain what Gov. Kay Ivey may decide about the statewide mask order, but “in Jefferson County, it’s very likely I’m going to be pushing to continue face coverings through the flu season,” Wilson said.
Wilson in July advised school superintendents in Jefferson County that middle and high school students should attend school virtually only for the first nine weeks, a stronger recommendation than most superintendents elsewhere have received.
Wilson told reporters Friday that his recommendation for virtual-only classes to start was done to keep kids, teachers, staff and families safe.
“We’re probably going to have some cases. It’s inevitable, but what we want to do is everything we can as kids go back to school to reduce the spread within school so that schools can stay open.”
There are also preliminary plans for a new testing site for children as schools reopen, Wilson said, but those plans continue to be developed.
Ferniany said UAB Hospital on Thursday got initial approval from the hospital’s board to expand COVID-19 testing capacity.
“Our goal is to try to expand it significantly by the end of December. We probably can’t get it up faster than that, but this pandemic is not going away by the end of December so I think we will have a significant increase in our ability to have rapid tests in place by the end of this year,” Ferniany said.
Seventeenth Alabama inmate dies after testing positive for COVID-19
William Edward King, 65, is the 17th Alabama inmate to die after testing positive for COVID-19.
King tested positive for COVID-19 on June 1 at a local hospital, where he was being treated for an end-stage preexisting medical condition, the Alabama Department of Corrections announced on Thursday.
King’s condition improved, and he was released, but his health worsened, and he was returned to the hospital on July 26. He was discharged from the hospital on Aug. 11 and was taken to a hospice care area inside the Kilby Correctional Facility, where he died later that day.
Six more inmates and another staff member have also tested positive for COVID-19, ADOC said Thursday.
There have been 296 confirmed coronavirus cases among inmates and 340 self-reported cases among prison staff. Two prison workers at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women have died after testing positive for COVID-19.
Ivey urges Alabamians to complete census or risk losing federal funding, seat in Congress
Gov. Kay Ivey urged all Alabama residents to complete the 2020 census before the Sept. 30 deadline in a 30-second video released on Friday.
In the video, Ivey said, “Complete your 2020 Census today. We only have until Sept. 30th. Without you, Alabama stands to lose billions in funding, a seat in Congress and economic development opportunities.
“It only takes minutes to complete. Go to my2020census.gov or participate by phone or mail. Be counted – if not for you, for those in Alabama who depend on you for a brighter tomorrow.”
Jones says Mitch McConnell failed country by adjourning without COVID-19 aid
Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, on Friday expressed his concern over the Senate majority leader adjourning the Senate without passing another round of COVID-19 relief aid.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, adjourned the Senate until Sept. 8 without passage of relief aid that Jones said is critical for struggling citizens and businesses.
“Mitch McConnell’s decision to adjourn the Senate without any further efforts to fulfill the Senate’s obligation to the American public during a healthcare and economic crisis demonstrates an unconscionable failure of leadership. Congress acted swiftly in March as the pandemic took hold and every American who put their lives on hold and stayed home for weeks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 did so out of a patriotic duty and a belief that it would give our government leaders time to implement a plan to get this virus under control.
“Now, it’s been five months and not only do we still have no national strategy, our nation is facing some of the highest rates of coronavirus spread in the world, over 167,000 Americans dead, unprecedented housing and eviction crises on the horizon, and we are slowly coming out of the worst economy since the Great Depression and the highest level of unemployment ever recorded.
“The House of Representatives passed a relief bill on May 15th – three months ago – because it was clear even then that this virus would be with us longer than we had hoped and that more support to American businesses and American citizens would be needed to save lives and save livelihoods. Sadly, however, instead of using this legislation as a framework for a bipartisan relief package, Mitch McConnell buried it in his office and sat on his hands, letting vital programs expire without even participating in efforts to reach agreement.
“His decision to send the Senate home for the next three weeks is an insult to every sacrifice made, every job lost, every small business that has had to close its doors, every person who had to say their final goodbye to a loved one over Facetime, and every graduation or wedding or birth celebrated over Zoom instead of in person. The American people have done their duty, and today Mitch McConnell has thrown in the towel and given up on doing his.”