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GOP party split may soon show in AL-01 race

Beth Clayton

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By Beth Clayton
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—Last week, former Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pennsylvania) joined Quin Hillyer on a media call to offer Hillyer his endorsement in the first Congressional district special election to fill the seat vacated by Jo Bonner.

Santorum discussed his support for Hillyer’s platform, and even stated that Hillyer helped form his platform on zeroing out the corporate tax rate. Santorum also mentioned that his platform did not go quite as far as Hillyer had advised that it should. Hillyer did not express many of his policy ideas on the media call, and, as of this writing, his campaign website did not include any of his positions on the issues. Most of what is known about Hillyer’s political views is inferred from Santroum’s endorsement or from the various editorials Hillyer has authored throughout his journalism career.

Background information available on Hillyer’s website and other online sources shows that he is a senior editor of The American Spectator and a senior fellow at the Center for Individual Freedom.
The Center for Individual Freedom is a 501(c) organization that received $2.75 million from Crossroads GPS, a 501(c)4 that works alongside the 527 PAC American Crossroads. Both of these organizations are lead by Karl Rove.

Santorum’s endorsement could be a major boost to Hillyer’s campaign in the Republican primary. During his presidential campaign, Santorum received the support of the Alabama Tea Party, a major voting block in Republican primaries. Santorum’s endorsement could significantly boost Hillyer’s chances of receiving the Tea Party’s support in the race for Alabama’s first congressional district.

Shifting gears into state politics, the 2013 legislative session revealed a growing split between the grassroots efforts of the Tea Party and the financial interests of the Business Council of Alabama.

The split first manifested itself in the debate over the “gun bill.” While Tea Party activists supported stronger pro-second amendment positions, the Business Council fought to ensure that company liabilities were protected and that businesses could limit gun owners’ rights to keep and store firearms while on company property. The split re-emerged during debate over several education issues, including the Common Core Curriculum, the Tim Tebow bill that would have allowed home-schooled children to participate in extra-curricular activities at local public schools and the Accountability Act.

It is not clear if this divide between business interests and grassroots activists in the Tea party will continue or have any affect on the special election for Alabama’s first congressional district.

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State Representative Randy Davis (R-Daphne), Orange Beach businessman Dean Young and Mobile Realtor Jessica James have announced they will seek the Republican nomination for this seat. While the seat is favored for Republican, Democratic Party leaders have said they believe this seat is winnable and plan to field a competitive candidate. So far, Representative Napoleon Bracy (D-Prichard), who announced on Facebook that he will be forming an exploratory committee to determine if he will seek the Democratic nomination, is the only Democrat to publicly express an interest in the special election.

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Economy

Business Council of Alabama Small Business Exchange on APT tonight

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The Business Council of Alabama (BCA) will present the Small Business Exchange on Alabama Public Television (APT) tonight, Thursday, April 9. This event is designed to help small businesses applying for federal stimulus funding under the new CARES Act.

In partnership with APT, BCA will bring together experts in business, banking, accounting, and law to answer phone calls from Alabama business owners and employers as they grapple with the impact of the coronavirus on the state’s economy. New federal loans are now available for small businesses, but funding is limited in some cases and quick action is required.

The Small Business Exchange program airs tonight on APT from 7-8 p.m. BCA experts will be available to answer questions from 7 p.m. – 10 p.m. tonight. In addition, experts will be available for consultation from 9.a.m. to noon tomorrow, Friday, April 10.

To ask a question or consult with our BCA experts during these times, the phone number is 1-833-BCA4BIZ (1-833-222-4249).

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Opinion | Alabama Republicans can’t manage the crisis they helped create

Josh Moon

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On Tuesday, Alabama’s governor called together the state’s media, in the midst of a global pandemic, so they could broadcast pictures of her tying a ribbon around a post to remind people to pray for healthcare workers. 

Surrounding Gov. Kay Ivey at the event were various pastors from churches in and around Montgomery. And they each were given time to speak about the importance of prayer and remembering those who are risking their lives. 

It was a nice gesture. And possibly the clearest indication yet that Ivey and the Republicans that are in charge of Alabama haven’t the faintest idea of how to lead this state through a crisis. 

They have no real plan. They have no ideas for how to address the mounting problems. They have been completely and thoroughly overwhelmed by the COVID-19 outbreak since the start. 

And so, they have turned to what they know best: Pointless pandering. 

Except, you can’t folksy your way out of this mess. You can’t blame the black folks and throw money at a few jobs and hope no one notices that you don’t know what you’re doing. 

And that’s a problem in this state. 

Because the ALGOP leadership of this state has built its brand on division and distraction. It has used petty nonsense, like the protection of racist monuments, and emotional ploys, mostly built around religion and false claims about abortions, to seize and maintain control of Alabama’s government, even as they totally wreck the place. 

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They’ve gotten away with it because up until now no singular event has simultaneously exposed how their incompetence has negatively affected the lives of so many Alabamians in almost every racial and economic demographic. 

And then along came coronavirus. 

It has laid bare all of it. And the devastating reality of this void of leadership continues to grow day after day as the bodies pile up. 

Now, just so we’re clear and so no half-wit starts clamoring on that I’m blaming the ALGOP leadership for the coronavirus, I’m most certainly not doing that. I’m blaming ALGOP’s lack of leadership for the excessive number of deaths that will occur in this state, and for the many thousands of lives that will be forever ruined by the hospital bills that result from this. 

And make no mistake, there is blood on their hands. 

The refusal to expand Medicaid alone has effects that will eventually negatively impact every single person in this state. That purely political decision that makes no practical sense if politics is removed has already cost thousands of lives around Alabama over the last six years. The devastation from the current crisis is going to be staggering. 

Not only are uninsured people who contract coronavirus less likely to go for testing or to seek treatment until the latter stages of the disease (meaning they’ll spread it far and wide), a good portion of people are responding more negatively to the virus because they have underlying conditions that have gone undetected and untreated for years. Because people without insurance don’t go to the doctor.  

Even if the virus doesn’t kill them, many of those uninsured citizens in Alabama will face unmanageable medical bills. A study from the independent nonprofit FAIR Health found that the average cost to treat coronavirus for an uninsured person was around $75,000. If a ventilator is required, the bill jumps to more than $200,000. 

And with a fresh crop of unemployed Alabamians — more than 200,000 claims filed as of Monday — that’s a whole mess of people who are suddenly missing insurance and the ability to pay their hospital bills. 

Which, of course, means that more Alabama hospitals will close. There have already been 14 closures over the past eight years, and there are at least three more small hospitals teetering on the brink of bankruptcy right now. By the time this is said and done, the only cities that will have hospitals will be Huntsville, Birmingham, Montgomery and Mobile. And a few of those aren’t looking so great. 

And not having a hospital within 30 miles is an issue that affects everyone — not just poor people. 

The news is even worse for black Alabamians — a phrase that black Alabamians know too well. More than half the state’s deaths from coronavirus have been black people. A staggering figure when you consider that only 27 percent of Alabama’s population is black. 

The reason for this, Dr. Selwyn Vickers, dean of the UAB School of Medicine, suggested is that the African American population in Alabama — high in poverty and low in insurance coverage — is possibly more susceptible to the virus due to underlying medical conditions that have gone untreated due to a lack of routine and preventative visits to a doctor. 

After all, you don’t go to the doctor very much if you don’t have insurance. 

And you don’t have insurance in Alabama if you don’t receive it from a job. 

And you don’t have a job with great benefits, including health insurance, if you live in a predominantly black county in Alabama. 

And you don’t have a job with those benefits in those counties because the state of Alabama has done a suspiciously poor job of using incentive dollars to steer relocating companies to those counties. 

So, you see, the mismanagement goes well beyond simply not expanding Medicaid. And that is true even when focusing only on this current crisis. 

From the mixed messages of “folks, we’re not California or New York or even Louisiana” to the insistence on protecting businesses over people to the absurd stay-at-home-unless-you-need-to-go-out-for-something order, Ivey’s responses — when she’s popped out every 3-4 days — have been a disaster. 

But to her credit, I guess, at least she’s doing something. The state legislature, where ALGOP enjoys a super-majority, literally did nothing but adjourn as this virus started to spread. 

As the crisis grows, we have also realized that the ALGOP mission to underfund every government agency so they can issue a press release touting the tax “savings” isn’t really paying off so swell. Thanks to those funding cuts, pretty much every department needed in this crisis is understaffed, poorly trained and poorly equipped. 

The Alabama Department of Public Health has been a national laughing stock, despite the best efforts of its employees. They’ve lacked the tools and personnel to adequately do the job for years. And it shows. 

How bad is it? 

Louisiana is lapping us. And we lost sight of Mississippi a long time ago. 

But they’re not the only ones. The Department of Labor can’t keep up with unemployment claims, and its online operation has been down more than it’s been functional over the past several days. And the Revenue Department is again going to delay issuing tax refunds. 

But perhaps the best example of just where we are came on Wednesday, in a story reported by al.com. In 2009, Alabama had a pandemic plan, and it had used federal dollars — in the midst of a national recession, mind you — to stockpile ventilators and personal protective equipment for doctors and nurses. We were ready for COVID-19. 

In 2009. 

But in 2010, ALGOP stormed the state house. And, well, here we are. 

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Education

Slight decline in number of Alabama graduates attending college, report shows

Jessa Reid Bolling

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The number of Alabama high school graduates enrolling in college has slightly decreased over the last five years, according to a report published by a nonpartisan research group based at Samford University.

The Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) has a tradition of reporting college-going rates for Alabama and its local systems and schools.

The percentage of high school graduates in Alabama enrolling in college after graduating in 2018 remained the same as the graduating class of 2017, at 62 percent. The number and percentage attending two-year colleges slightly increased. The number and percentage of recent graduates entering four-year colleges both slightly decreased.

The data, drawn by ACHE from the National Student Clearinghouse, follows Alabama public high school students who graduated in the spring of 2018 and enrolled in higher education in the fall or spring of 2019. The data includes records for in-state and out-of-state institutions, both public and private.

Over the past five years, the college-going rates for Alabama’s high school graduates have declined slightly. In 2014, the first year this set of statistics was produced, 65 percent of high school graduates enrolled in college the year after their graduation. In both 2017 and 2018, 62 percent of graduates enrolled.

At the same, the size of the senior classes has been larger and graduation rates have been higher. That has produced more high school graduates going into college. 

While 2018’s 62 percent college-going rate is tied for the lowest rate over this five year period, the actual number of graduates enrolling in college increased in 2018 compared to 2017. Only in 2016 did more students attend college, 31,414 in 2016, compared to 31,337 students in 2018.

However, the larger classes of seniors and higher graduation rates have resulted in greater numbers of students graduating with a high school diploma but not immediately continuing their education. Among graduates of the Class of 2018, 19,191 did not enroll in higher education after graduating high school.

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The report found that the top five systems sending students to four-year colleges includes:

  • Mountain Brook City: 86 percent
  • Vestavia Hills: 79 percent
  • Homewood City: 71 percent
  • Hoover City: 64 percent
  • Trussville City: 59 percent

The report also found that the top five systems sending students to two-year colleges includes:

  • Lamar County: 67 percent
  • Boaz City: 69 percent
  • Roanoke City: 60 percent
  • Marion County: 57 percent
  • Winfield City and Winston County: 55 percent
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Sewell announces $4.2 million in funding for community health centers

Brandon Moseley

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Wednesday, U.S. Congresswoman Terri Sewell (D-Selma) announced $4,227,190 in funding for community health centers (CHC) throughout Alabama’s 7th Congressional District as part of the funding allocated by the CARES Act.

“Our health care workers and health care centers are our first line of defense in combatting this deadly virus,” said Rep. Sewell. “I am grateful for this substantial investment, which will provide much needed assistance to our overextended system, particularly to our community health centers, who fill an urgent need within our rural and urban communities. I will continue to fight to make sure that Alabama’s 7th Congressional District receives the support and resources we need to ensure the safety and health of our community.”

“The CARES Act will really be beneficial to those who have been affected by the Coronavirus,” said CEO of Whatley Health Services, Inc. David Gay. “This helps to put food on the table for those who may not have food on the table. Our thanks to Congresswoman Sewell, who continues to fight for those who live not just paycheck to paycheck, but day to day.”

The CARES Act, Congress’ third COVID-19 response bill, allocated $100 billion to the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund to help fight COVID-19 and $1.32 billion in supplemental funding to community health centers (CHC.) This is the second round of funding received by these CHC, who received initial funding through the first COVID-19 response bill passed by Congress, the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act.

Sewell’s office said that this most recent round of funding represents a substantial investment in Alabama’s health care response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are thankful for the dedicated work of Congresswoman Sewell and our entire delegation in making sure solutions are available to help our patients and community through the unprecedented chaos that surrounds us,” said CEO Christ Health Center Dr. Robert Record.

“We truly appreciate the efforts that Congresswoman Sewell and our other representatives have made in helping community health centers to equip ourselves with the tools we need to fight this pandemic,” said CEO Rural Medical Health Program, Inc. Keshee Dozier. “These funds are greatly needed and will be used to test current and future patients who may not have access to a primary care provider. With this funding, we can now put together a plan to maintain our employees, stay staffed and plan ahead, buying PPE for the future, not just month to month. We can now equip ourselves for what is needed.”

Congress is currently working on a fourth Coronavirus response bill to provide much needed resources and support in the face of this crisis.

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The Rural Health Medical Program, Inc. in Selma received $719,960 for coronavirus aid. Whatley Health Service Inc in Tuscaloosa will receive $1,215,500. Aletheia House, Inc. in Birmingham received $568,625. Christ Health Center, Inc. in Birmingham will get. $912,185. Alabama Regional Medical Services in Birmingham will receive $810,920

Congresswoman Terri Sewell represents Alabama’s Seventh Congressional District.

The U.S. has 435,160 confirmed COVID-19 cases. 14,797 Americans have died in the global pandemic, including 67 Alabamians. 22,891 Americans have recovered from their illness.

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