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AEA’s Henry Mabry, sees Amendment 4 as wallpaper over real intentions

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY— Supporters of Amendment 4 that will appear on the November ballot, say the bill simply removes racist language from Alabama’s 1901 Constitution, others see a hidden agenda. Is there a clever plot, a diabolical calculation, a misunderstanding or a difference of opinion?

We recently asked Dr. Henry Mabry, Executive Secretary of the Alabama Education Association what he thought about Amendment 4.

“Amendment 4 replaces language that is for providing an education for our school children with language that says the state does not have an obligation to provide an education for our school children,” Mabry said.

Yet, the bill’s sponsor State Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) has said it only to remove racist language, something everyone should be in favor of voting to approve.

Mabry says he has a question for the Senator and those who support the amendment, “If that is the case then why did they amend their bill to take out the original section 256 language from their bill which also has racist language in it? It says, ‘Separate schools shall be provide for white and colored children and no child of either race shall be permitted to attend a school of the other race.’ I would consider that racist language. Why did the sponsor take a section of his bill that would have struck that language out of his bill than leave it. The reason why is because exactly what we are saying, that they are replacing the original Section 256 with Amendment 111 language, period.”

Opponents are saying that this maneuver was a bait-and-switch to open a back door to the amendment. But supporters have said this is the cleanest bill that was available.

Mabry disagrees with the bills supporters, “No, the original bill [before Orr amendment] was the cleanest. This bill is being supported by ALFA insurance all across the state and ALFA insurance isn’t going to be for something altruistic.”

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According to Mabry, ALFA is running radio advertisements on black stations around the state encouraging African-Americans to vote yes on Amendment 4.

“For decades and decades and decades ALFA insurance has been opposed to anything progressive in Alabama. They have been against any kind of reform effort,” said Mabry. “They have been against any kind of tax reform, education reform or constitutional reform.” Mabry believes that ALFA’s support points to something more than language reform, “Something smells here.”

If Mabry is right, what is ALFA’s agenda? Is it to make sure that no more money is spent on education?

“That is exactly the case,” says Marby.

However, backers of the amendment turn it around and point a finger at the AEA, saying, the AEA is taking an offensive posture to seek more money for school and more money for teachers and the consequently more money for the AEA.

“We are in a defense posture,” said Mabry. “We don’t want to be in the position, where they make a case that education is not a responsibility of the government, that is what Amendment 111 does.”

While Amendment 111 doesn’t say anything about putting more money into school, Mabry says, “What is does say is that the state doesn’t have to provide money for schools which could certainly open the door for diversion efforts in the future.”

Some have suggested that the AEA is looking for a way to bring back the Equity Funding lawsuit, that was fought in the Alabama courts for 12 years.

However Mabry says, “Do we see this as a way to get back into the equity funding lawsuit, no but proponents would say that to try to scare people.”

Mabry says that the AEA discovered this slight of hand in Amendment 4 only in the last few weeks, the discovery led them to take a stand “in favor of pubic education.”

Recently, talk radio and detractors of the AEA have been painting the organization as being against removing racist language from the Alabama Constitution.

“That is nonsense, that is foolish nonsense and anyone who would say that needs to be examined by a psychiatric professional,” said Mabry.

Mabry says he believes Amendment 4 “opens the door to give public school money to private outfits. It is pretty clear.”

He then quotes the amendments, “The Original 256 says, ‘The legislature shall establish, organize, and maintain a liberal system of public schools throughout the state for the benefit of the children thereof between the ages of seven and twenty-one years.’ The bottom line comes down to that first sentence. What 111 does to amend what I just read?, again he quotes Amendment 111, ‘The legislature may by law provide for or authorize the establishment and operation of schools by such persons, agencies or municipalities, at such places, and upon such conditions as it may prescribe, and for the grant or loan of public funds and the lease, sale or donation of real or personal property to or for the benefit of citizens of the state for educational purposes under such circumstances and upon such conditions as it shall prescribe.’ So, in reality, they talk about vouchers, and charter school, this is one avenue to allow them to get to this goal.”

Amendment 4 is being promoted as a bill that is designed to remove racist language from the Alabama Constitution. Mabry says it is “wallpaper to cover over the real intentions of legislators.”

Many more reports may need to be written before a clear picture will fully emerge, but the voters need to know all the facts and not just the summary that appears on the November ballot.

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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Supreme Court sides with Alabama in COVID-19 voting case

Brandon Moseley

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The U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision Thursday blocked a federal district judge’s order that would have made it easier for many Alabamians to vote during the pandemic, issuing an emergency stay of the lower court’s injunction in People First of Alabama v. Merrill.

The court’s more liberal justices dissented, while the five conservative justices voted to strike down the lower court ruling, which had blocked absentee ballot witness requirements in a few Alabama counties and a statewide ban on curbside voting programs.

The decision to grant the stay means that Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill’s ban on curbside voting remains in place, and he may intervene into any county in Alabama to prevent curbside voting.

Voters in every county in the state must still follow all the required witness, notary and photo ID requirements for absentee ballots.

Federal District Judge Abdul Kallon had found in favor of the plaintiffs and issued an order allowing local officials to implement curbside voting. Merrill and the secretary of state’s office appealed the lower court ruling to the Supreme Court, who issued the emergency stay.

The court could still hear Alabama’s appeal, but the ruling was a blow for the groups representing the plaintiffs in the case. Caren Short is the senior staff attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“While we are deeply disappointed with today’s ruling, we look forward to presenting our clients’ case at trial later this summer,” said Short. “Our goal is simple though unfortunately at odds with Alabama officials. We want to ensure that during the COVID-19 pandemic, Alabama voters will not be forced to choose between exercising their fundamental right to vote and protecting their health or the health of a loved one.”

Deuel Ross is the senior counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

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“We are deeply disappointed by the Supreme Court‘s stay,” said Ross. “Unfortunately, this means that Alabama voters who are at greater risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 will be required to risk their health and violate CDC recommendations in order to vote on July 14. This is occurring at a time when COVID-19 infections are soaring in Alabama and nationwide. Nonetheless, the litigation will continue and we intend to seek relief for our clients and other voters in time for November.”

Plaintiffs argued that making voters go to the polls and wait in line to show a photo-ID would be a bar to voting given the fear of the coronavirus in Alabama. Voters will have to decide whether voting in the July 14 party runoff elections is really worth the risk of possibly contracting the novel strain of the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and possibly dying.

At least 14 Alabamians died from COVID-19 on Thursday, taking the state death toll to 961. Additionally, 1,162 Alabamians tested positive for the coronavirus.

The state argues that voter ID and other security measures are necessary to protect the integrity of the vote and prevent voting fraud. Since his election as Alabama secretary of state, Merrill has said that it is his goal to “make it easy to vote and hard to cheat.”

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Elections

Gary Bauer endorses Hightower for Congress

Brandon Moseley

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Congressional candidate Bill Hightower’s campaign announced Wednesday that he has received the endorsement of national social conservative leader Gary Bauer.

“I am proud to endorse Bill Hightower for Congress,” Bauer said. “Bill is a man of God who is an unapologetic voice for faith, family and freedom. He has worked to defend the unborn both in public and private life for 40 years and there has been no stronger advocate for protecting our religious liberties.”

“Bill Hightower has a proven pro-family, pro-life record that the voters of south Alabama can count on,” Bauer said. “As their congressman, I know Bill Hightower will stand with President Trump to defend our values, protect our constitutional rights, secure the border and put hard-workings America first.”

“Susan and I have followed Gary Bauer since his service to President Reagan, and his later work on the Family Research Council,” Hightower said. “Because of our personal support of James Dobson’s, Focus on the Family, with whom Gary worked, we have for at least 30 years leaned heavily upon his conservative, family-oriented commentary on culture. It is an honor to be endorsed by Gary, because like him, I am a staunch supporter of Israel and deem our religious freedoms as core to who we are as Americans.”

Bauer currently serves as president of American Values, a public policy think tank, and was Washington director of Christians United for Israel Action Fund. Bauer has held several positions in the administration of former President Ronald Reagan including deputy under-secretary of education from 1982 to 1985 and under-secretary of education from 1985 to 1987.

Bauer was then appointed assistant to the president for policy development, a position he held until January 1989. He later served as a senior vice president of Focus on the Family and as president of the Family Research Council.

In 2000, Bauer sought the Republican nomination for president of the United States. Then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush won the nomination and went on to win the 2000 election.

Hightower is running in Alabama’s 1st Congressional District in the July 14 Republican Primary runoff against former State Rep. Barry Moore, R-Enterprise.

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Incumbent Congressman Bradley Byrne is not running for re-election.

Hightower has a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Alabama and a master’s degree from Vanderbilt University. Hightower has worked for several Fortune 500 companies around the world before moving back to South Alabama in 2002. He has started and run several small businesses in the Mobile area. Hightower is a husband, father and grandfather.

The winner of the Republican nomination will face the winner of the Democratic primary runoff in the Nov. 3 general election. On the Democratic side, James Averhart is running against Kiani Gardner.

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Josh Moon

Opinion | Has Alabama lost its independent streak?

Josh Moon

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What if I told you that Sen. Richard Shelby, outraged by the stories of laid off Alabama workers forced to camp out overnight to get unemployment compensation, was pushing his fellow senators to pump more money into states to rectify the situation? 

What if I told you that Shelby had fought to get more funding for Alabama to expand Medicaid and provide 300,000-plus Alabamians with medical coverage during the ongoing pandemic? 

What if I told you that Shelby recently condemned the Tennessee Valley Authority for shipping jobs overseas, as Americans, including many Alabamians, suffer through a recession? 

What if I told you that Shelby pushed a bipartisan bill through the Senate that would strengthen and enhance telemedicine programs? 

What if I told you that at least once a week, Shelby hosts a livestreamed press conference, in which he and guests — usually medical professionals or local leaders — discuss the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and provide the public with critical updates and behind-the-scenes details on upcoming plans to address the most pressing matters?

What if I told you that Shelby had been honored in the Senate as one of the most bipartisan lawmakers, co-sponsoring dozens of bills with senators across the aisle? 

Would all of that impress you? Make you think more highly of Sen. Shelby? 

Well, what if I told you that I was actually talking about Doug Jones? 

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Because it’s Jones who did all the above over the last month. 

That’s right — month!

But it doesn’t matter to a good number of people in this state. Jones’ record while in the Senate, and his work ethic and his good bills that have done good things for the working people of this state, just don’t matter at all unless there’s an “R” beside his name. 

It’s a real shame that a man who has done all that in a month is running neck-and-neck, according to polling, with both of his potential opponents — Tommy Tuberville and Jeff Sessions. 

Quick: Name one bill Sessions passed in 20 years in the Senate. 

Take your time. 

Yeah, that’s what I thought. His biggest accomplishments were fighting against the Violence Against Women Act and not saying anything racist out loud. 

Tuberville, in the meantime, is quite possibly the most policy-ignorant candidate in recent history. The man knows nothing about anything, and he hasn’t even pretended to have a plan for anything. He just keeps showing up at barbecue joints, muttering stuff about football and Trump, and pretending that not knowing anything is the same as being “an outsider.” 

That — along with the little R — is apparently enough for half the state. 

And it’s a shame. 

Because if Alabamians were even a sliver as independent or stubborn as they like to pretend, this thing wouldn’t even be a contest. 

On one side, there’s a guy who’s actually working, who cares about good public policy, bipartisanship and right and wrong — a guy who locked up the clowns who killed four little black girls in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. 

On the other side, two guys hoping to skate by on party affiliation. 

But Jones doesn’t whine about it, even when I gave him an opportunity to do so on Thursday. He refused to take shots at anyone, and instead said it was time to get to work. His only pointed frustration was directed at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has repeatedly blocked efforts by Democrats to get more relief funds out to the American people. 

McConnell has sat on a bill sent over by the Democratic-led House, and now, Jones said, McConnell plans to draft his own relief bill. 

“That’s crazy to me,” Jones said. “We’ve had that bill for weeks now. It’s not a perfect bill by any means, but it sets up the framework. We could have worked within that and got something out to the people who need it most before the Fourth of July holiday. Now, it’s going to be after this two-week break. That’s too long.”

Jones said a big concern for him was getting money to state and local governments, which employ about 20 percent of the American workforce and have been devastated by the coronavirus shutdowns. Those issues often manifest in terrible ways, such as forcing people to sit in a parking lot to receive basic help because your state department of labor is overworked and understaffed. 

“It’s not a matter of someone being lazy or not doing their job,” Jones said, speaking specifically of the situation that has left thousands of Alabamians waiting in long lines to get routine unemployment questions answered. “It’s a matter of giving these folks the resources they need to get the job done. That’s what we’re hoping to do.”

Jones is trying. And really, I’m not sure what else you can ask for at this point.

Well, except for one petty, and utterly meaningless, thing: An R beside his name.

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Congress

Jones calls for more federal funding, support for state departments of labor

Staff

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U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-Ala.) today is urging Senate leadership for additional federal funding and support for state departments of labor, which have been overwhelmed by the wave of unemployment insurance claims. This also comes as disturbing reports emerge out of Montgomery, where Alabamians have been camping out overnight outside of an unemployment claims center in search of help with their claims.

“As the nation continues to struggle with the health and economic repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic, Congress must do more to help those who are suffering from unemployment as a result. Alabama’s unemployment rate in May was 9.9%, and my home state is facing a 70% increase in the evictions of renters,” Senator Jones, a member of the Senate Banking Committee, wrote. “This hardship is sadly not unique to Alabama, and Americans across the country are struggling to pay their bills, to keep the lights on, and to put food on their tables.

A recent article in the Montgomery Advertiser detailed a line of unemployed Alabamians that has formed for weeks in a parking lot outside an Alabama Department of Labor (ADOL) claim processing center, with many sleeping outside overnight in the rain or participating in a “black market” system of selling spots in the line.

“While the ADOL has noted that an in-person presence is not required to file or resolve unemployment claims, technical glitches and difficulties reaching ADOL staff have so frustrated claimants that for many, traveling to Montgomery seems to be the only remaining option. These claimants seek such urgent relief that they have been camping out overnight in the hopes that their claims will be resolved.  To make matters worse, Alabama’s unemployment fund is on track to become insolvent within the next month or two,” Senator Jones continued.

“As we continue to observe the grave status of unemployment and its repercussions on our nation, I urge the leadership of the Senate to consider including language that addresses unemployment issues in the next pandemic relief legislation in July. I respectfully urge the inclusion of language providing greater availability of federal funds for state Departments of Labor, to ensure that hardworking Americans can rely on temporary monetary aid to help feed their families and keep a roof over their heads during these trying times,” the letter concluded.

Senator Jones has been a strong advocate for support for working Alabamians throughout the COVID-19 crisis. He has introduced legislation to cover the wages and benefits of employees of affected businesses and non-profits until the economic and public health crisis is resolved, and during the negotiations for the CARES Act, he proposed the Small Business Lifeline fund to direct financial assistance to workers through payroll processing companies. Senator Jones has also called for the Treasury Department and the Small Business Administration to allow payroll processing companies to disburse the CARES Act small business loans to reduce complications and expedite salaries to workers who have been impacted by the coronavirus.

Full text of the letter can be found here and below.

Dear Majority Leader McConnell and Minority Leader Schumer:

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As the nation continues to struggle with the health and economic repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic, Congress must do more to help those who are suffering from unemployment as a result. Alabama’s unemployment rate in May was 9.9%, and my home state is facing a 70% increase in the evictions of renters.  This hardship is sadly not unique to Alabama, and Americans across the country are struggling to pay their bills, to keep the lights on, and to put food on their tables.

Millions of Americans have lost their jobs during this pandemic, and have turned to the unemployment benefits provided by programs in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. These newly created programs have created a much-needed lifeline for folks across the country. Most notably, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program, and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program were created to ensure states would be able to expand coverage of unemployment benefits given the outsized nature of the pandemic on employment.

However, the majority of State Departments of Labor have been experiencing great difficulties in updating their technical systems to withstand the sudden influx of numerous claims, disbursing benefit payments efficiently to claimants, and effectively communicating with claimants who may be frustrated with the speed at which their claims are processed.

The Alabama Department of Labor (ADOL) has disbursed nearly $2 billion in COVID-19 related unemployment compensation benefits under the PUA, FPUC, and PEUC programs. While ADOL has been working incredibly hard for Alabamians, phone call lines remain jammed, and benefits take significant time to process. ADOL has received 576,314 unemployment claims to date, and the Department is staffed enough to field less than 4% of the calls it receives per day. Since the crisis began, ADOL typically receives 210,000 calls per day; yet only 6,000 to 7,000 of those calls can be processed each day.

Put simply, ADOL is overwhelmed by the massive influx of claims. An article in the Montgomery Advertiser, enclosed with this letter, details the difficulties that Alabamians are experiencing.  In an effort to address claims more efficiently, ADOL opened an in-person claims center in Montgomery, Alabama, but it too was inundated by the unmanageable number of claimants.  While the ADOL has noted that an in-person presence is not required to file or resolve unemployment claims, technical glitches and difficulties reaching ADOL staff have so frustrated claimants that for many, traveling to Montgomery seems to be the only remaining option. These claimants seek such urgent relief that they have been camping out overnight in the hopes that their claims will be resolved.  To make matters worse, Alabama’s unemployment fund is on track to become insolvent within the next month or two.

This is not the first time in recent times that state unemployment funds were in need of aid from the federal government. During the Great Recession, states that exhausted unemployment benefit funds were able to borrow from the Treasury Department to strengthen their funds. Given these dire economic times for state and local governments, the ability to access federal funds should be available once again to cover the costs associated with unemployment benefits.

As we continue to observe the grave status of unemployment and its repercussions on our nation, I urge the leadership of the Senate to consider including language that addresses unemployment issues in the next pandemic relief legislation in July. I respectfully urge the inclusion of language providing greater availability of federal funds for state Departments of Labor, to ensure that hardworking Americans can rely on temporary monetary aid to help feed their families and keep a roof over their heads during these trying times.

Sincerely,

Senator Doug Jones

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