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Bentley Addresses Alabama Cattlemen

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) addressed the 70th Alabama Cattlemen’s Association (ACA) Convention in Birmingham on Saturday.  ‘The Alabama Political Reporter’ was present to cover the speech as it happened.

Bentley said, “This is the third time I have had the pleasure of coming to speak to you.”  Bentley said that he was giving, “A state of the state in a very abbreviated style.”

Bentley said one of the things he did as he first came into office was to get some organizational structure to Alabama’s efforts to recruit new industries.  Bentley said that Accelerate Alabama is our strategic plan for recruiting new jobs to the state.

Bentley told the Cattlemen that Agriculture and forestry is one of the eleven areas identified in the Accelerate Alabama plan where he is trying to recruit more jobs.  Bentley said 580,000 people in Alabama somehow work in agriculture or forestry.  Bentley said that we have made some good progress.  Alabama has the right environment to recruit new industries. “Alabama is a right to work state.  Asian industries won’t even look at a state that is not a right to work” and European companies would prefer to deal only right to work states.  The state has low energy costs and a low cost of doing business.  Bentley also said, “We have the best workers in the world.”

Bentley said that when he was at the Stutgart Germany he asked Mercedes executive about what percentage of European workers are absent from plants there.  They told him 7% don’t show up to work every day, then he asked them what percentage of Alabama workers are absent.  They looked it up and only .6% are absent on the average day in Tuscaloosa.  “That is a difference.”  Bentley said that when he visited the Airbus plant in Europe, the plant was idle and everybody was outside smoking and eating.  He asked executives what is going on and they said that the workers are on break.  Bentley he told them that At the Airbus A320 plant we are going to produce in Mobile, “You won’t have any of this in Mobile.”  Alabama workers may take breaks but you will have a continuous operation.  “They (Alabama workers) will smile at you but they will keep on working. The people of Alabama have the right attitude.”

Bentley said, “When I came in as Governor I recognized early on that we had nothing in the state of Alabama.  The money I was supposed to have for incentive packages was all gone.” Bentley said that he went to work with the legislature and began cutting government.  Bentley said that we have saved $750 million annually already.  By the end of 2014 we will have saved a $billion annually using simple common sense methods. “We got rid of something called the DROP program which cost $58 million a year.”  Bentley said he refinanced 5% state bonds at 2.5%.  When he was elected the state had 37,000 employees.  Under his leadership we have gone to just 31,000 employees today.  Bentley has also changed the way that people contribute toward their retirement saving taxpayers even more money.  Bentley also said that he had just signed legislation to consolidate state law enforcement functions and state information technology efforts which will save more money.  He also signed an executive order to guarantee that the state gets the lowest cost per mile out of the state’s fleet of 8,500 state vehicles.

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Gov. Bentley said, “Government will always expand to meet the amount of money that you give it.”  The Governor said that he has worked to find ways to consolidate make state government to make it more efficient.  Bentley warned however that “At some point we will have to stop cutting.”  “We don’t want to cut state government to the point that we can not carry out state government.”

Bentley said, “Many of you in local area have probably heard about is our ATRIP Program.  Our ATRIP program is the largest program for repairing roads and bridges in the history of Alabama.  We have already issued $614 million in permits.”  Bentley said that ATRIP utilizes federal money through GARVEE bonds.  By moving when he did the state was able to finance that work at 2.5%.  Bentley said, if we waited it could have cost 6%.  Bentley said, “ATRIP has been very important to you in rural Alabama.  Everybody in Alabama wants a four lane highway but that isn’t going to happen.”  Instead Bentley said that his administration has focused on repairing the roads and bridges the state already has.

Bentley said that some counties can’t come up with the 20% match to apply for ATRIP dollars so he came up with the Rural Assistance Matching program which will give the poorest of the poor Alabama counties up to $5 million.  Bentley said that they would get millions more through ATRIP if they can come up with the 20% match in their budgets.

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Bentley said that on Thursday he signed legislation which would consolidate Alabama law enforcement functions.  “John McMillan has done a great job as Commissioner of Agriculture.”  Bentley said that as part of his law enforcement consolidation plan, “We are going to create some agents that are specially trained to deal with agriculture and forestry crimes.”  They need to stay and be continually trained in this field of fighting cattle rustling, the theft of farm machinery, and cutting people’s timber without paying for it.

Bentley said that he is committed to having specially trained agents to take care of our farmers and forestry people in this state.  On the future of Garret Coliseum, Bentley said he hasn’t made any promises yet but if we are going to keep that facility he would see if we can come up with some money to do what we have to renovate the aging facility which is used for agriculture shows and events like SLE Rodeo.

Bentley credited Emily Schultz for her role as education advisor.  Bentley said that the flexibility is the best part is of the Alabama Accountability Act.  “Our goal is to have no failing schools in this state.”  The flexibility provisions of the bill give school administrators no excuse.  “They can come up with a plan,” to turn around poor performing schools.  Bentley said, “We are going to tighten that (the Alabama Accountability Act) so that it does not hurt education.”  But said it is not fair for children to be trapped in a failing school and not be able to anything about it.

Bentley said, “I am one of 30 governors who have stood up and said you need to make changes,” in the Affordable Care Act.  Bentley said that Alabama already has 938,000 people on Medicaid.  “I am concerned about the poor in this state.”  Bentley said that the Medicaid program is a broken system and that legislation he supports will divide the state into 8 different regions and will let the local doctors and hospitals determine how to administer care in their regions.  Bentley said Alabama is changing the way we do Medicaid.  “We are not going to expand it under its current structure.”  Bentley acknowledged that, “Only ten governors did what I did (refused to expand Medicaid),” but because of that stance the federal government has been forced to negotiate the terms of the Medicaid expansion and it is likely that the federal government will give those states Medicaid in the form of a block grant.  “The federal government won’t admit it, but they have already backed down.”  Bentley said that Alabama needed to stand strong and give Bentley time to negotiate.  “I don’t make decisions on a spur of the moment.”  He said that is trying to make the Affordable Care Act a workable piece of legislation.

Bentley said, “I work for y’all.”  “I get to work with the greatest people in the world and this is the people of Alabama.  There is no greater job than being governor.”  Guys that were governors that go on to be Senators hate it.  “Governors have power.  They can get things done.  Senators can’t.”

The Executive Vice President of the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association Dr. Billy Powell said that Gov. Bentley did not mention his reelection, but said that the Cattlemen need to raise some money for the Alabama Beef PAC in order to help Bentley be reelected.

The outgoing President of the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association Donna Jo Curtis said that so far Bentley has created 38,000 new jobs for the state of Alabama and has made real strides in consolidating state agencies saving taxpayers money.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Redemption not revenge drives Tuberville supporter

Josh Moon

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Edgar McGraw speaking at a Tommy Tuberville event.

It would make for a great political story if Edgar McGraw hated Jeff Sessions. In fact, it would be the kind of legendary story of revenge that TV movies are built around.

This man, Edgar McGraw, is arrested on drug distribution charges in 1986 and prosecuted by then-U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions. Sessions takes everything from McGraw and gives gleeful media interviews bragging about the arrest and seizures of McGraw’s property.

McGraw gets out of prison, rebuilds his life and becomes a respected, successful business owner. All the while, biding his time until the day he can exact revenge upon Sessions.

One day in 2020, he sees his chance: A former college football coach in a football-crazed state is running against Sessions for U.S. Senate. McGraw throws some money to the coach, hosts a fundraiser for him.

And the coach does the unthinkable. He upsets the 30-year politician. With McGraw’s help, Jeff Sessions’ career is over.

McGraw smiles.

But real life ain’t like the movies.

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And in real life, Edgar McGraw has none of these dreams of revenge. He holds no ill will. He wasn’t gleeful the night Sessions lost, instead he was glad his friend Tommy Tuberville won. And he didn’t back Tuberville because he was running against Sessions, but because McGraw and Tuberville were friends long before Tuberville dipped a toe into politics.

That’s life, I guess. You go looking for a revenge story and end up with a redemption story.

“(The conviction) is water under the bridge to me,” McGraw said. “I made my fair share of mistakes, I paid the price, and I have moved on with my life. I believe every single person makes mistakes in life, but how you respond to those mistakes and live life afterward is what really matters. As Dr. Tony Evans says ‘everyone is going to get knocked down in life in one way or another, what’s important is how you get back up.’

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“I never look back, that is just my personality. Just like you don’t drive a car looking in the rear-view mirror, I am always looking forward.”

I first heard about McGraw’s history a week ago, when someone sent me photos of Tuberville speaking at an event, McGraw standing by his side. McGraw was labeled a “felon” in a description with the picture, and that piqued my interest.

I read through a few newspaper articles about his arrest in the 1980s on drug distribution charges, and I thought it was possibly one of the craziest things I’ve come across in quite some time.

Basically, the story is this: McGraw, who was a successful businessman in Camden even in the 1980s, conspired with a handful of people to fly about $2 million worth of marijuana from Jamaica to a private air strip in Camden. The weed was going to McGraw’s farm, according to court records, where it would have been distributed and sold.

It never made it.

Drug dealers apparently aren’t great at physics, and $2 million in 1980 bought a lot of marijuana — approximately 1,400 pounds — that needed to be equally distributed around the small plane. Instead, according to media reports, the guys in Jamaica — McGraw wasn’t one of them — failed to secure the load and it all shifted to the tail of the plane. The plane crashed into a marsh on takeoff.

Still, Sessions and the U.S. Attorney’s Office were able to build a case with several informants and by flipping witnesses. And they went hard after McGraw, who maintained that he had a limited role. The federal jury that convicted McGraw of conspiracy to distribute also acquitted him of conspiring to import the weed, so there was obviously some gray area.

Regardless, Sessions went after McGraw’s property, utilizing recent and broad changes to asset seizure laws in the late-1980s that allowed prosecutors to tie virtually any property to drug money and then seize it. The federal government, with little evidence, took McGraw’s motel, the Southern Inn in Camden. It was one of the biggest asset seizures in the country at the time.

McGraw ended up being sentenced to 15 years in prison. He served less than half of that and prison records show he was released in 1992.

When I learned of McGraw’s history, I tweeted a couple of the newspaper clippings and speculated that McGraw had thoroughly enjoyed Tuberville ending Sessions’ political career. Because, I mean, Sessions took the guy’s motel — for marijuana that didn’t even get here.

He has to hate him, right?

Then I emailed McGraw to ask if he’d be willing to talk to me about it. I expected one of two things to occur: Either he would ignore me altogether or he’d accept the interview and express his great personal satisfaction.

He did neither.

Instead, McGraw told me the same story that he’s been telling at the Christmas party for Camden work release inmates. He volunteers with a Christian ministry that works with the prisoners. And each year, McGraw, who now is best known as part owner of the McGraw-Webb Chevrolet dealership in Camden, stands up in front of those inmates and lets them know that there is a pathway to redemption. To a better life. To a happy life.

“What happened coming up on almost 35 years ago, seems like a lifetime ago,” McGraw said. “My faith grew immeasurably during those years and the Lord has blessed me immensely since. I have been happily married for 27 years and I have three wonderful children; 26, 25 and 21 years old. I would want people to know to not let the past mistakes in life mold you. Brokenness can be a breakthrough.

“I feel like I am one of the most blessed people in the world and I give God all the credit. I would hope that I would be thought of as someone who came back home, worked very hard and served his community, church, and family to the absolute best of my God given ability.”

As far as his dealings with Sessions, McGraw said he’s had very little. While he clearly disagrees with Sessions’ decisions in his case — all McGraw would say is that he’d leave that up to Sessions to answer for — he said he’s spoken to the former U.S. AG just once in the past three decades. That meeting came at an Auburn basketball game, where McGraw introduced himself and reminded Sessions of their past. McGraw said the conversation was cordial and lasted only a few minutes.

He swears he holds no ill will towards Session at this point. His support of Tuberville had nothing to do with his history, or even politics really. Records show McGraw has donated to only one campaign in his life — Tuberville’s. And that came about because the two are old friends.

“My relationship with Tommy Tuberville began sometime while he was coaching at Auburn,” McGraw said. “We became friends with the Tubervilles as our sons became close friends while attending Auburn University and our friendship has grown since. Our family made our first contribution to Tuberville in April of 2019. I want to be very clear that my support of Tommy Tuberville was only influenced by our friendship and his political views and had nothing to do with Jeff Sessions.”

And maybe that’s for the best.

2020 has more than its fair share of nasty political stories, revenge stories and just plain ol’ dirtiness. Maybe a good story of redemption is something we could all use at this point. Maybe what we need to hear is the message that McGraw gives to those 100 or so inmates each year at Christmas.

“I strive to give (them) the hope that whatever they have done in the past does not have to limit their future,” McGraw said. “I learned to take nothing for granted and that every single day is a gift from above.”

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Elections

Merrill gives guidance on straight party, write-in voting

Micah Danney

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill issued guidance Wednesday on straight party and write-in voting.

“Voters who wish to vote straight party for all of the Democratic or Republican candidates on their ballot may do so by filling in the bubble next to their party preference at the top of their ballot,” Merrill explained in a statement.

“If a voter wishes to vote for any candidate outside of the selected party, however, he or she may do so by filling in the bubble next to the preferred candidate’s name. In doing so, the candidate(s) voted on outside of the voter’s designated party ballot will receive the vote for that particular race.

In addition, if a voter wishes to write-in a candidate, he or she may do so by filling in the bubble next to the box marked ‘Write-in’ and then printing the name of the preferred candidate on the designated line.

Write-in votes must be hand-written and not stamped or otherwise artificially applied to the ballot.”

Sample ballots for the Nov. 3 general election are available online.

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Airbus celebrates five years of passenger jet manufacturing in Alabama

Brandon Moseley

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(VIA AIRBUS)

The Airbus manufacturing facility in Alabama has now been manufacturing aircraft for five years in the state of Alabama. The first Airbus passenger jet manufactured in Alabama was an A321 christened “BluesMobile” on Sept. 14, 2015. It went to Jet Blue.

Since then, 180 A320 family aircraft have been built in Alabama for eight airline customers. The Alabama-made passenger jets have flown 60 million passengers 500 million miles, according to Airbus.

“When we announced our intent to build A320 family aircraft in the United States, and to locate that facility in Mobile, Alabama, we also stated our intent to be a good neighbor, to create jobs and opportunities, and to help strengthen the U.S. aerospace industry,” said president and CEO of Airbus Americas C. Jeffrey Knittel.

The Airbus facility at the Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley directly employs more than 1,000 people. Earlier this year, Airbus opened a second assembly line at the complex that produces A220 aircraft. The operation represents an investment of around $1 billion.

“The achievements of the Airbus U.S. Manufacturing team over these past five years are just the beginning,” Knittel said. “We are proud to call Mobile our American aircraft manufacturing home, and we look forward to many more years of partnership with the community, our customers and suppliers.”

“Airbus has announced a series of expansions over the past few years that have placed Alabama on the map as a leader in the aerospace industry. Business analysts predict that by 2023, Alabama will be number 4 or 5 in the world for the production of commercial aircraft,” said economic developer Nicole Jones. “This is a testament to teamwork and strategic partnerships between the public and private sector as well as the quality, dedicated, and skilled workforce Alabamians provide and companies need. Alabama has a history of leadership in aerospace and aviation, and Airbus is an international pioneer in the industry. We are thankful to Airbus team for their continued commitment to our state, nation, and the world.”

This has been an extremely difficult year for the airline industry due to far less business travel, decreased tourist travel and many nations imposing travel restrictions for people from other countries due to the threat of the coronavirus. Many airlines are asking Congress to provide more stimulus dollars.

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Economy

Alabama Gulf Coast beaches remain closed for now

Brandon Moseley

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Gov. Kay Ivey took a tour of the damage from Hurricane Sally on the gulf coast Friday September 18, 2020. (Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced that beaches will remain closed for now due to ongoing repair and cleanup efforts in the wake of Hurricane Sally.

“Working closely with Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft and Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon, as well as Commissioner Billy Joe Underwood, the governor has agreed to keep Baldwin County’s beaches closed until Friday, October 2nd,” the governor’s office said in a statement. “This will allow those communities additional time to get their beaches ready for public enjoyment in a safe, responsible manner.”

Mobile County beaches might open earlier than that.

“Likewise, the governor has been in touch with Mayor Jeff Collier, and she is prepared to amend the beach closure order for Mobile County when he signals that Dauphin Island is ready to reopen their beaches,” the governor’s office said in a statement. “At the present time, all Alabama beaches remain closed until further notice.”

Hurricane Sally came ashore near Gulf Shores on Sept. 16 as a category two hurricane with 105 mile per hour winds. Numerous homes, businesses and farms have been destroyed and many more have seen serious damage.

“As of Wednesday night, approx. 37,000 cubic yards of Hurricane Sally debris (equivalent to roughly 1,700 truck loads worth) has been picked up in Orange Beach since Sunday (4 days),” the city of Orange Beach announced. “Kudos to our debris contractor CrowderGulf.”

“I spent Sunday afternoon meeting with senior staff and I believe we will need some time to get our buildings safe for children to return,” said Baldwin County Schools Superintendent Eddie Taylor in a letter to parents. “We live in a very large county. Power may be on in your area and your school may not have any damage, but we cannot open schools unless all schools can open. Our pacing guides, state testing, meal and accountability requirements are based on the system, not individual schools.”

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“We have schools without power and for which we do not expect power until later this week,” Taylor said. “In this new age, we need internet and communications which are currently down so we cannot run any system tests. We have physical damage at our schools including some with standing water, collapsed ceilings and blown out windows. We have debris on our properties and debris blocking our transportation teams from picking up students. All of this must be resolved before we can successfully re-open.”

“If everything goes as planned, I expect we will welcome back students on Wednesday, September 30,” Taylor said. “Prior to returning students to school, we will hold two teacher work days to get our classrooms and our lessons plans back on track.”

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