By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY — With three Legislative sessions down in the quadrennium, social conservatives still see some heavy lifting ahead.
Dr. Joe Godfrey, Executive Director of the Alabama Citizens Action Program, or ALCAP, believes that House Bill 57, also known as Women’s Health and Safety Act, was a major victory for social conservatives in Alabama.
“This bill was a victory for the women of our state, and we hope it is one for the babies,” said Godfrey.
Known around the Statehouse as “Brother Joe,” Godfrey lobbies tirelessly for issues that are at the heart of the state’s social conservative agenda. According to the organization’s website, the decade old ALCAP “is an interdenominational ministry that, working together with the churches of Alabama, serves as “Alabama’s moral compass.” Their work is primarily focused on matters addressing moral concerns like alcohol, tobacco and drugs, as well as gambling, pornography and other promiscuous behavior.
The fight for the sanctity of human life is perhaps the pinnacle of ALCAP’s efforts. While the GOP supermajority promised to make social issues a hallmark of their legislative agenda during this quadrennium, this year’s legislative session has been the only session to see a major bill pass for Republicans’ pro-life constituency.
In his State of the State address given earlier this year, Governor Robert Bentley said, “The most vulnerable, the most helpless, the most abused and the most oppressed. The elderly, the ill – and especially the unborn -everyone has been endowed with the Right to a Life. I will do everything as Governor to protect those who cannot protect themselves, and protect our Freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.” Bentley kept true to his word by signing “The Women’s Health and Safety Act” into law on April 9th.
However, many bills, such as the Religious Liberties Act, failed to make it to the Governor’s desk.
“I was disappointed HB108 failed to get through the Senate; that was a great disappointment” said Godfrey. According to the House summary of bills, “The Religious Liberty Act would allow certain employers to opt out of specific overreaching ObamaCare mandates requiring employers to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives and abortion-inducing agents.” This bill was not only of great importance to Christian, conservative business owners in Alabama; voters from around the nation have called for similar legislation in their states.
Another ALCAP supported bill that failed to pass was Prattville Senator Bryan Taylor’s legislation that would stiffen the penalties for gambling in Alabama. “I was really disappointed in that one. That one was stopped by a Republican senator and a few that refused to cloture a fellow republican,” said Godfrey. He added that this was a case of letting, “party politics take precedent over what was best for Alabama.”
The GOP supermajority could only muster 18 of their 21 votes needed to end the Republican filibuster of the bill, according to Godfrey.
During the final days of the 2013 legislative session, President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) said, “I have a supermajority and I can pass any bill I want too.” Yet many bills important to social conservatives were left hanging, while pro-business – and more specifically Business Council of Alabama (BCA) backed bills – sailed through the legislative process.
Social conservatives have voiced concerns over the fact that their issues have taken a backset to those of business conservatives. But Godfrey believes that one is good for the other.
“I remember after the Republicans took the leadership in both houses and the constitutional offices; that I had a representative from a business come to me and say that she had been hired to try to get the business community working together with the religious community,” said Godfrey. “I told her we are pro-business. The problem is that the businesses are not supporting our social issues. We want them to support the things that we are in favor of on the social agenda.”
Godfrey Continued, “We are for people having the opportunity to make money and to generate wealth, but they don’t seem to see the importance of the social issues.”
One of Godfrey’s main areas of work in the legislature is lobbying against expanding the sale and distribution alcohol. “There were a lot of alcohol bills that were passed [this session]: local bills allowing Sunday alcohol sales, local bills allowing draft beer and keg beer. Of course there was HB9, the home-brew bill which we were disappointed to see that pass.” Godfrey said his concern is that, “people don’t think that alcohol is a dangerous drug, and it is. It destroys lives and families. It is not good for business, and yet that is the argument they use, ‘Oh it is good for business.’” The expansion of alcohol sales has been increasing every year since the GOP took over the Alabama Legislature, and this has social conservatives like Godfrey scratching their heads.
“I have laughed about the fact that apparently conservative Republicans like to drink liquor as much as liberal Democrats because they have been passing oodles of liquor bills over these last few years,” Godfrey said.
Godfrey added that he hopes that in the final legislative session of the quadrennium the legislature will push back against the alcohol lobby.
“[The alcohol lobby] keeps flexing their muscles in the state,“ Godfrey said. “I keep telling legislators that we are talking about a mind altering, addictive drug. It needs to be controlled. It needs to be limited. Taking away the limits, taking away the restrictions and keep liberalizing the laws is not in the best interest of the state.”
When asked if he thought voters paid attention to bills passed by the legislature, Godfrey said, “I think that there are pockets of people who pay attention. The home brewers certainly pay attention to whether those legislators voted for their bill or not.”
Godfrey said he hopes that voters will, “look at the big picture and see the total package and realize that this person doesn’t agree with everything that I stand for but they do on some things, and that they vote for them based on their integrity; based on their honesty and that sort of thing.”
Godfrey said he prays that people will vote for a person of, “high moral conviction and integrity.” He added that it is not realistic or necessary that they agree with social conservatives on every issue, “but that they are people with moral fiber and a high level of integrity.”
Inmate assault injures two St. Clair prison correctional officers
The assaults happened at approximately 7:30 p.m. and both officers were taken to a local hospital and treated for those non-life-threatening injuries.
Two correctional officers at St. Clair Correctional Facility were injured in an inmate-on-officer assault on Monday, the Alabama Department of Corrections confirmed to APR.
Among the two officers who sustained non-life-threatening injuries was a basic correctional officer (BCO), a position created in May 2019, who are not Alabama Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission (APOST) certified and who have some limitations on working directly with inmates without correctional officers present.
The other officer injured was a full correctional officer, Alabama Department of Corrections spokeswoman Samantha Rose told APR in a message Friday. The assaults happened at approximately 7:30 p.m. and both officers were taken to a local hospital and treated for those non-life-threatening injuries and subsequently released, according to Rose.
“The ADOC condemns all violence in its facilities, and the actions taken by the inmate against ADOC staff are being thoroughly investigated,” Rose said. “As the investigation into this incident is ongoing, we cannot provide additional detail at this time. More information will be available upon the conclusion of our investigation.”
The ADOC created the new basic correctional officer position to bolster the state’s woefully understaffed prisons. The creation of the position was also at the suggestion of experts ordered by a federal court to study the department’s staffing problems, ADOC attorneys wrote to the court in a filing in 2019.
The ongoing lawsuit is over the state’s handling of mental health in prisons.
The Southern Poverty Law Center and the Alabama Disability Advocacy Program filed the 2014 suit arguing the state was indifferent to the health of inmates dying by suicide in greater and greater numbers.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs in June argued that ADOC was far behind on the court-ordered hiring new additional officers. It has been more than two years since U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ordered the Alabama Department of Corrections to hire an additional 2,000 correctional officers by 2022.
U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson in a previous opinion wrote that prison understaffing “has been a persistent, systemic problem that leaves many ADOC facilities incredibly dangerous and out of control.”
“Taken together, ADOC’s low correctional-staffing level, in the context of its severely overcrowded prisons, creates a substantial risk of serious harm to mentally ill prisoners, including continued pain and suffering, decompensation, self-injury, and suicide,” Thompson’s previous opinion continued.
The SPLC in court filings late last year expressed concern over the use of basic correctional officers in Alabama’s overcrowded and understaffed prisons. ADOC attorneys have argued to the court, however, that BCO’s are adequately trained to do their jobs and are needed for the department to hire the necessary number of officers per the court’s timeline.
In a court filing on Thursday, attorneys for the plaintiffs asked the court not to again delay site visits to Alabama prisons by two experts who are tasked by the court to determine which positions should be filled by correctional officers and which by BCO’s and which by another new position, called cubical correctional officers, who are to have no direct interaction with inmates.
Those visits were to begin in May, but both parties in the suit agree to wait due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the threat it posed to the experts, who are particularly vulnerable to the disease due to “age and other factors,” according to court records.
Both parties again agreed to postpone those visits in June for those same reasons, those records show. ADOC seeks a third extension but attorneys for the plaintiffs argue that the experts can visit the prisons while keeping themselves, prison staff and inmates safe from harm of COVID-19 and that thousands of employees and contractors enter Alabama prisons daily.
The plaintiff’s attorneys argue in the court filing that the expert guidance is needed because ADOC wishes to use BCO’s and cubical correctional officers to comply with the court-ordered hiring of additional staff by Feb. 20, 2022.
“Ensuring adequate staffing is of upmost importance to address the constitutional violations underlying mental health care within ADOC,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote to the court Thursday.
ADOC in May was employing 494 BCO’s, a 57 percent increase in the number of BCO’s employed in Oct. 2019, according to ADOC’s staffing numbers. The number of correctional officers working in Alabama prisons fell by two percent during that time, dropping from 1,319 to 1,287.
Slow absentee voting in Tuscaloosa sparks outrage, possible legal action
Among the issues were incredibly long lines that left some voters waiting more than five hours and an inefficient process that managed to take in fewer than 100 absentee ballots in six hours.
Long lines and slow absentee ballot processing in Tuscaloosa County have left voters outraged and incumbent Sen. Doug Jones’s campaign threatening legal action.
On Wednesday, Jones’s campaign attorney, Adam Plant, sent a letter to Tuscaloosa County Circuit Clerk Magaria Bobo, outlining a number of issues with ongoing absentee voting and promising to take legal action if Bobo doesn’t improve the process on the final day, Friday. Among the issues documented by Plant were incredibly long lines that left some voters waiting more than five hours and an inefficient process that managed to take in fewer than 100 absentee ballots in six hours.
Additionally, Plant noted that Bobo has hired her family members to help process absentee ballots and at least one family member had made disparaging remarks on social media about voters.
“You and those acting on your behalf are suppressing the vote of qualified Alabama voters,” Plant wrote in the letter. “If you are unable or unwilling to execute your duties competently, and allow Tuscaloosa voters to exercise their voting rights without undue burdens, we will take further action.”
In an interview with the Montgomery Advertiser on Wednesday, Bobo noted that her office had received more than 13,000 requests for absentee ballots — a remarkable uptick from the 3,000 or so her office usually receives — and there had been problems in managing that number of ballots while also adhering to social distancing guidelines within the office.
However, as Plant’s letter notes, the massive increase in absentee ballots for this election shouldn’t have been a surprise. Also, Secretary of State John Merrill had made additional funds available to absentee managers to facilitate hiring extra staff, purchasing additional computers and staying open for longer hours to accommodate the anticipated increase.
In a press release on Wednesday, the Alabama Democratic Party criticized Bobo and her family members, and the release included screenshots of Facebook posts from Bobo’s daughter lashing out at voters who complained about the long wait times.
“No voter should have to wait in line for hours to exercise their rights,” said ADP executive director Wade Perry. “We should leverage every tool we have to make voting easier, not harder. Also, it should go without saying that election workers should not insult the very people they are employed to serve. If Ms. Bobo is incapable of processing voters quickly, someone else needs to do the job.”
Jones campaign calls Tuberville a “coward” after no-show at Auburn forum
“Tuberville is hiding because he knows that on every front — policy, experience, character, competence — he loses to Doug Jones. Hands down,” Jones’s campaign said.
There are only four days left before election day, and incumbent Democratic Sen. Doug Jones’s re-election campaign is slamming Republican challenger Tommy Tuberville, accusing him of “hiding” and calling him a “coward.”
On Wednesday, Jones addressed an Auburn University forum. Tuberville did not attend.
“Tonight, the College Democrats and College Republicans at Auburn University co-hosted a debate between Doug Jones and Tommy Tuberville, offering students a chance to ask the candidates about the issues that matter most to Alabama,” the Jones campaign said in an email to supporters. “But Tuberville never showed up – he’s too scared to face Doug… even on his own home turf. Tuberville has repeatedly refused to debate Doug Jones. He’s consistently refused to be interviewed by the press. He’s refused to tell Alabama the truth about who and what they’re voting for – and it’s clear why.”
“Tuberville is hiding because he knows that on every front — policy, experience, character, competence — he loses to Doug Jones. Hands down,” the campaign continued. “If he won’t tell the truth, we will. Tuberville expects to win this race off of his blind allegiance to the President and his party affiliation. But Alabamians know better.”
“People deserve to know who they’re really voting for if they vote for Tuberville: someone who … won’t protect our health care, doesn’t believe in science, has no idea what the Voting Rights Act is, and doesn’t care about the lives and livelihoods of Alabamians,” the Jones campaign concluded. “Alabama will never elect a coward. Pitch in now and help us spread the truth about the man hiding behind the ballot.”
“I am disappointed that Tommy Tuberville is not here,” Jones said. “I think it is important that people see two candidates side by side answering the same questions.”
Tuberville meanwhile is canvassing the state, speaking to rallies and Republican groups to turn out the Republican vote for himself and President Donald Trump. Tuberville spoke at Freedom Fest in Madison County on Thursday and at the Trump Truck Parade rally in Phenix City.
“It’s time Alabama had a U.S. senator who represents our conservative beliefs and traditional values,” Tuberville said in Phenix City. “It’s time Alabama had a U.S. senator who supports the Second Amendment, the right to life, and putting God back in the classroom.”
Polling consistently shows Tuberville with a commanding lead over Jones. Real Clear Politics lists the race on their current board as a likely Republican win. FiveThirtyEight’s election model gives Tuberville a 79 percent chance of defeating Jones.
Tuberville says election is about “the American dream”
“It is not about me. It is not about Biden or Jones. It is about the American dream. They are trying to take it away from us,” Tuberville claimed.
Thursday, Tommy Tuberville spoke at Freedom Fest asking Madison County voters to support him and re-elect Donald J. Trump Tuesday.
The former Auburn University head football Coach told the estimated crowd of 350 that, “It is great to be here. This has been a lot of fun for me. Two years ago, my wife and I started to pray on whether or not to run. When we decided to run, she said don’t come back until you win.”
“This is a very serious election,” Tuberville said. “This is not about Donald Trump. It is not about me. It is not about Biden or Jones. It is about the American dream. They are trying to take it away from us.”
“I always told my players this: this country gives you the opportunity to fail and if you fail you get back up and try again,” Tuberville said. “When I was growing up in Arkansas I wanted to be a college football coach. People in high school laughed at me for it and people in college. It takes perseverance.”
Tuberville said that this country gives you the opportunity to succeed, more so than any other country in the world. Most of the rest of the world is socialist.
Tuberville warned that the other side is trying to turn America into a socialist country.
“We are not going to let them ruin this country,” Tuberville vowed.
The 2020 Madison County GOP Freedom Fest was held at the brand new Toyota Field, the new home of the Huntsville Trash Pandas minor league baseball team.
Tuberville praised President Trump whom “I have gotten to know through all of this and we have become friends. He never slows down; and he is sharp as a tack.”
Tuberville said that the President once called him at 2:30 in the morning, “He said sleep is overrated.”
To protect the American dream we need to vote on Tuesday to keep the Senate and get Donald Trump re-elected.”
Tuberville said that he has spoken with, “A lot of people who as nervous as I am about Tuesday.” Coach Tuberville, who is being outspent, urged the crowd to ignore all of the television ads by his opponent, incumbent Senator Doug Jones (D).
Tuberville vowed to defend the Second Amendment if elected, “They ain’t getting my guns….or your guns.”
“We need to get God back in our schools and teach values again,” Tuberville stated. “The other side does not talk about values and morals.”
We are not going to allow them to tear down our country,” Tuberville said. “God will not allow them.”
“We are going to get God back in our country like it is supposed to be,” Tuberville said.
Coach Tuberville was introduced to the crowd by State Senator Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville).
Scofield said that he “is ready to send Doug Jones back to California.”
“Yes I know he is actually from here; but he sure votes like California. He certainly doesn’t vote like the vast majority of the people of Alabama want him to vote.”
Scofield called Tuberville is “A fighter” who will stand up for the values of the people of Alabama.
Congressman Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) said, “This is the most important election of my lifetime.”
“Do we believe in freedom and liberty or do we believe in socialism?” Brooks said. “We need to beat them like a drum.”
The general election is on Tuesday. You must bring a valid photo ID with you to your assigned polling place in order to participate.
Secretary of State John H. Merrill predicted that the state would have record participation on Tuesday.