By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Earlier this week, the Governor asked the members of the Alabama Legislature to agree to a two-year moratorium on portions of the Alabama Accountability Act. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh tersely responded by basically telling the Governor to “stick it.”
Marsh and his House counterpart, Speaker Mike Hubbard, seem to have no respect for Governor Bentley. At times, they ignore him; other times, they simply treated him like a useful nuisance.
Now, it looks as if the final hours of the 2013 legislative session are going to be a showdown between, the man elected by the majority of all the citizens of Alabama, and two men who were respectively elected by the Oxford Country Club and the Auburn Chamber of Commerce.
In a letter send to state legislators, Bentley asked that they listen to their constituents and delay implementing key portions of the wildly unpopular Alabama Accountability Act. Bentley urged lawmakers to delay for two years the part of the bill that gives tax credits to families who move their children from of “failing” schools to private schools.
In a twitter response Marsh wrote, “We only have one constituency when it comes to education in Alabama and that’s the children.” This, of course, is laughable. Anyone who knows Sen. Marsh knows he is not a tweeter. He barely uses a computer.
Marsh and his cronies pretend that the AAA is intended to help Alabama’s poor children stuck in failing public schools.
The bill itself belies that claim. HOW?
I have known Del Marsh for years. I like him as a person and I even voted for him, but he is no champion of the poor and downtrodden. Marsh is an elusive-businessman whose wealth is so vast that he owns a 1.7 million dollar island in the middle of the Tennessee river. He uses his 1500 acre island retreat as a private hunting club, for other millionaires. Naturally, as a rich politician who has served in the legislature for 12 years Marsh’s ego has outgrown his station. In a sad irony for five consecutive years Marsh sponsored term limits for Alabama legislators. But once he became President Pro Tem, he left that issue unaddressed. If his bills had passed, Marsh’s time in the senate would be up.
If Marsh was the man of steadfast principle he now seeks to portray, why has he not term-limited himself?
But now on principle he openly defies a governor who enjoys an 80 percent approval rating. Why? Because he along with his fellow corny-capitalist want to pave the way for private corporations to own education in Alabama.
Men like Marsh and Hubbard don’t know or understand real Alabama conservatives. They seem to think that conservatives in Alabama spend their time reading National Review or following the policy papers of the Heritage Foundation. This could not be further from the truth. Most conservatives in our state are what might most easily be described as “Church-Going Conservatives.” I know this because I am one of them.
By Church-Going Conservative I mean we are concerned about the moral foundation of our families and our communities. We want to be left alone to make a living, to provide for our kids, to support our church, to improve our town —through membership in civic clubs—and to live by the golden rule.
In other words, God, family and community are the things that matter most.
Politicians mistakenly think that they know us. I guess that is because they spend a lot of money with pollsters every four years figuring out how to manipulate us.
In reality most Alabamians don’t know who the AEA is or what ADEC does and, frankly, they don’t really care. But they know what is important and what is right.
This is why the Accountability Act polls like a dead cat.
The people of Alabama don’t buy things without knowing what they cost. And rarely do we follow a course-of-action without understanding details. But this is exactly what Marsh forced on Alabama citizens on February 28 when he pulled the switch-a-roo that substituted the straight-forward School Flexibility Act for the mammoth, unknown and untested Accountability Act. Behaving like Nancy Pelosi on Capitol Hill, Marsh demanded legislators on Goat Hill pass the Accountability Act immediately, and figure out what was in it later.
Marsh and Hubbard sold the idea to the governor, who has now awakened to their deception.
There are those who think that Bentley, has seen the polling numbers for the AAA and now opposes it so he can say he tried. But it could be that the governor now understands the costs and intent of the Alabama Accountability Act, and he wants to change it before it is too late for the people of Alabama. The full cost and impact of the AAA are unclear. But we are learning more and more as times passes.
Rep. Jay Love (R-Montgomery) was tasked with finding the cost of the AAA —after it became law. He places the price tag at around $60 million. What is shocking is that about 80 percent of that money would solely benefit families who can already afford to put their children in private schools.
Gov. Bentley has said he didn’t want money drained from the Education Trust Fund to provide millions in tax breaks solely for those whose children already attend private schools.
If you are a National Review or Heritage Foundation conservative, you might argue that the wealthy deserve the tax-breaks as much as the poor— even if those tax breaks take money away from successful school systems like the ones in Madison, Elmore and Baldwin counties. School boards in each of those counties, by the way, have called on the legislature to repeal the Alabama Accountability Act because it is bad education policy.
Rep. Love is another millionaire legislator. His children attend private schools, and he has said, publicly, that he looked forward to taking a tax-credit. Same thing goes for the sponsor of the AAA, Chad Fincher (R-Semmes) whose children also attend private schools.
This all might sit-well with crony-capitalist-conservatives like Marsh, Hubbard, Love and Fincher. But most Alabamians ain’t buying that mangy-dog.
Marsh has been working hard since the passage of the original AAA to fix a few troubling items. For example, he wants to add what I call the “Mountain Brook Exception”, named after the affluent community high above Birmingham. The exception should actually be called the “Race Amendment” because it allows school to reject any student who applies. Heaven forbid that the poor black children from Center Point or Anniston set foot in premiere schools in Mountain Brook or Marsh’s neighborhood in Oxford.
Let me say, I am for school choice, but not at any cost, or when it excludes the children who would benefit the most.
See, that is another part of being a Church-going conservative that these crony-country club republicans don’t get. We want to lift everyone out of the shallows of life, we believe that everyone should be offered a hand-up. We are not selfish or unfeeling toward those less fortunate.
Because to us the teaching of our Lord Jesus, and the Ten Commandments are not mere suggestions, they are our way of life. These are the principles we live by — not just the words we use before an election.
Love him, like him or dismiss him, Governor Dr. Robert Bentley, is a doctor first. As a doctor he has lived by the code of, “First, do no harm.” This is what the governor is trying to do, with his executive amendment.
Bentley, loves people, it shows. He is a church-going conservative, like most of us in Alabama. On the other hand, the leadership at the Statehouse doesn’t understand us, and, most troubling, they don’t seem to care about us, either.
Onward, Governor, the people are with you.
Trump Truck and boat parades this weekend
As Election Day draws near, Alabama Republicans are excited about promoting the re-election of Donald J. Trump as President and the election of Tommy Tuberville for U.S. Senate. This weekend two pro-President Trump events are happening in the state. There will be a truck parade from Ashland to Phenix City on Saturday sponsored by the Clay County Republican Party, while there will also be a boat parade on Wilson Lake in the Shoals sponsored by the Colbert County Republican Party on Sunday.
The pickup trucks will assemble at the Ashland Industrial Park in Clay County, 8240 Hwy 9, Ashland. There is a pre-departure rally at 10:00 a.m. central standard time. The trucks will depart at 11:00 a.m. and then proceed on a parade route that will take them into the bitterly contested swing state of Georgia. The Trump Pickup Parade will wind through east Alabama and West Georgia traveling through LaGrange and Columbus before concluding near the Alabama/Georgia line in Phenix City, 332 Woodland Drive, Phenix City at approximately 2:00 p.m. central time. Speakers will begin at 3:00. Trump flags will be on sale at the event.
The Phenix Motorsports Park will be hosting what sponsor hope could possibly the world’s largest Pickup Tuck parade in U.S. history that is routing over 50 mile through Georgia in effort to “pickup” President Trump’s numbers in GA.
A number dignitaries have been invited to address the Phenix City rally, including Coach Tuberville. Former State Sen. Shadrack McGill, Trump Victory Finance Committee member former State Rep. Perry O. Hooper Jr., and Paul Wellborn, the President and CEO of the largest Family owned Kitchen Cabinet manufacture in the USA are among the featured speakers who have committed to speak at the event.
Entertainment will be provided by: Charity Bowden, an up and coming country music singer who was the runner up on “The Voice”. Charity will sing ‘I am Proud to be an American’ as well as songs from her Voice performances. The McGill Girls will also perform. The three beautiful and talented sisters will be singing patriotic songs in three part harmony. Geoff Carlisle, a professional DJ will be keeping the crowd pumped with music and entertainment.
Following the speakers and the entertainment there will Trump truck-vs- Joe Bidden truck races down the drag strip for the finale.
The Northwest Alabama boat parade will be on Sunday. The boats will gather at 2:00 p.m. near Turtle Point and then the flotilla will parade around the open waters of Wilson Lake til 3_00 p.m.. There will be a contest for best decorated Trump boats.
Trump supporters have held a number of large boat parades across the state to show their support for the re-election of Pres. Trump.
Boat parade sponsors say that this parade will be: pro-American, pro-law enforcement, pro-military.
COVID-19 hospitalizations, new cases continue to rise
The number of rising hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Alabama is a concerning sign of a possible coming surge of the disease, state health experts said Friday. Alabama hospitals were caring for 888 coronavirus patients Friday, the highest number since Sept 9.
UAB Hospital was caring for around 80 COVID-19 inpatients Friday afternoon, said Dr. Rachael Lee, an infectious disease specialist at UAB, speaking to reporters Friday. UAB Hospital hasn’t had that many coronavirus inpatients since Aug. 18, when the disease was surging statewide.
“We have been dealing with this since March, and I think it’s easy for us to drop our guard,” Lee said.
Alabama added 3,852 new coronavirus cases on Friday, but 1,287 of them were older positive antigen tests, conducted in June through October and submitted to ADPH by a facility in Mobile, according to the department. Still, Alabama’s daily case count has been increasing, concerning health officials already worried that as the weather turns colder and the flu season ramps up, Alabama could see a surge like the state had in July.
Alabama’s 14-day average of new daily cases was 1,247 on Friday, the highest it’s been since Sept 4. Over the last 14 days, Alabama has added 17,451 new COVID-19 cases.
Friday’s inclusion of those older positive test results throws off the day’s percent positivity, by Thursday the state’s percent of tests that were positive was nearly 16 percent. Public health officials say it should be at or below five percent or cases are going undetected.
The state added 16 COVID-19 deaths on Friday, bringing to total confirmed deaths statewide to 2,859. Over the last two weeks, 206 deaths were reported in the state. Alabama’s 14-day average of new daily deaths on Friday was 15.
Alabama state health officer Dr. Scott Harris told APR by phone Friday called the rising new cases and hospitalizations “worrisome.”
Harris noted the data dump of older confirmed cases in Friday’s data, but said “but nevertheless, I think it’s clear our numbers are going up.”
Harris said it’s not yet clear what’s causing the continued spread, but said it may be due at least in part to larger private gatherings. ADPH staff has mentioned a few outbreaks association with such gatherings, but Harris said it’s hard to know for certain if that’s the major driver in the state’s rising numbers.
“It’s football season and the holidays are coming up and school is back in session,” Harris said. “I think people are just not being as safe as they were.”
Harris noted that on ADPH’s color-coded, risk indicator dashboard, red counties, which denotes counties with rising cases and percent positivity, the 17 red counties on Friday were distributed across the state.
“So there’s not one event, or even a handful of events. It seems like there’s just a lot of things happening in a lot of places,” Harris said.
Alabama’s rising numbers are mirrored in many states. The U.S. reported more than 71,600 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, nearing the country’s record highs, set in July.
Birmingham approves $1.3 million contract for real-time crime center technology
Woodfin repeated that facial recognition capabilities will not be used in accordance with the contract.
The Birmingham City Council approved a five-year, $1.3 million contract with Motorola this week to provide new technology for the police department’s real-time crime center amid unease and public concern over the potential use of facial recognition software within the new systems.
Mayor Randall Woodfin insisted in his remarks made before the council that the new technology is meant to integrate existing hardware and technology inside the real-time crime center. “You’re not buying any additional new equipment,” he said, “You’re buying something to integrate all those systems.”
The software suite includes Motorola Solutions’s CommandCentral Aware, a system that aggregates video, image and other data information into one interface, and BriefCam, a “video synopsis” system that will further integrate and analyze information from Birmingham’s ShotSpotter systems, public cameras and police body cameras.
Briefcam offers facial recognition capabilities, which was the main concern of community members speaking before the council, and the risk that use of the technology could disproportionately affect Black people. Facial recognition technology has a record of racial bias and misidentifies Black people at rates five to 10 times higher than white people.
“Despite assurances that there will not be facial recognition implemented at this phase that does not prevent it from being implemented in the future,” said Joseph Baker, Founder of I Believe in Birmingham and one of the Birmingham residents voicing concern on the proposal. “I believe that this software, if fully implemented, can easily lead to violations of unreasonable searches.”
Another resident who spoke against the resolution was Byron Lagrone, director of engineering at medical software solutions company Abel Healthcare Enterprises. Lagrone pointed to IBM and Amazon as examples of companies that have halted or abandoned facial recognition and object tracking software altogether over racial bias concerns.
“The prevailing attitude, among technical people is this technology is not effective, and it causes high amounts of harm for next to no gain,” Lagrone said.
Woodfin repeated that facial recognition capabilities will not be used in accordance with the contract.
“It’s explicit in this contract that facial recognition will not be used,” Woodfin said, “[If] facial recognition wants to be used in the future of this city. It would have to be approved by this body. … The mayor’s office or the police department doesn’t have unilateral power to use facial recognition. That is not part of what our contractual relationship is with Motorola.”
Woodfin also clarified that the total $1.3 million price of the contract will not be paid as a lump sum but spread out over the five-year commitment.
The city council voted 8 to 1 to approve the contract, with District 8 Councilman Steven Hoyt speaking in favor of the use of facial recognition capabilities.
“You can’t say, ‘I’m going to build a house but I’m not going to use the restroom,’” Hoyt said. “If it’s in the house, you’re going to use the restroom. … If it has the capability of facial recognition, guess what’s going to happen? You’re going to use it. I’m going to vote for it because I know we’ve got to have every tool we can garner to fight crime, because it’s out of hand.”
Hoyt also suggested a review of the information collected by the new system apparatus.
“I do think, for the public’s sake, we need to have some way we review that and see how it’s being used,” Hoyt said. “We need that to go along with this.”
District 3 Councilwoman Valerie A. Abbott — who said she was the victim of a burglary the day before the vote — echoed the mayor’s insistence that the facial recognition capabilities would not be deployed unless authorized by the city council, reading a letter from Motorola stating “in order to enable facial recognition, Motorola will require an addendum or change order to the contract,” which would have to come before a public meeting of the city council.
“I too would not want facial recognition,” Abbot said, “I’m voting in favor of this because the majority of my constituents are telling me they want more and better policing, capture of criminals, prevention of crime.”
District 5 Councilman Darrell O’Quinn was the lone no vote among the near-unanimous city council, stating that he had “some reservations about how we’re doing this and will vote my conscience.” Later, O’Quinn was quoted in BirminghamWatch, saying his vote reflected his concerns about “taking on a new debt obligation in the midst of a projected $63 million shortfall in revenue.”
Opinion | Doug Jones’s pathway to victory: Substance over lies
Jones said his work in the Senate should prove to the people of the state that party matters less than productivity.
Alabama Sen. Doug Jones believes voters will ultimately see through Tommy Tuberville’s lazy campaign and lies, and that enough of them will be moved by his work over the last two years to send him back to D.C.
Jones’ comments came during a lengthy interview on the Alabama Politics This Week podcast. He also discussed his plans to address some of Alabama’s most pressing issues and also praised Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican.
But it was Jones’ comments about Alabama voters — and whether too many of them are incapable of moving away from the Republican Party — that were most interesting. Jones still believes there are open-minded voters in the state, and that there isn’t enough attention being paid to polls showing a growing dissatisfaction in Alabama with President Donald Trump.
“There are a number of things that Donald Trump has done that people (in Alabama) don’t agree with,” Jones said. “There are a number of things that he’s done that’s hurt Alabama and that they’re not OK with. That’s where I come in.”
Jones said his work in the Senate, where he’s sponsored the most bipartisan legislation over the last two years, should prove to the people of the state that party matters less than productivity.
“I tell everyone, you owe it to yourself to look at every candidate and every issue,” Jones said. “I do that. I’ve been a Democrat all my life but I don’t think that I have ever pulled a straight lever. Because I look at every issue. I will tell you that there have been times that I didn’t vote for people who are Democrats for whatever reason — I just couldn’t do it. I think we owe it to ourselves to do that.”
Jones had the perfect example to drive the point home.
“Y’all all know our state auditor, Jim Zeigler? Jim wasn’t always a Republican. Jim’s first runs for office were as a Democrat.
“I rest my case.”
You can listen to the full interview at the Alabama Politics This Week website, or you can subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.