By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—An unexpected battle is brewing in Senate District 11 as veteran republican lawmaker, Rep. Jim McClendon,(R-Springville), takes on newly-minted GOP Senator Jerry Fielding (R-Sylacauga). But if early campaign contributions are an indication of the final results, this will not be a heated conflict but a bang and then a whimper.
In what might be called a “July Massacre”, McClendon out-raised Field 10-to-1 in campaign contributions. According to the secretary of state filings McClendon raised $76,130.00 in July with Fielding bringing in only $7,000.00. The FCPA reports show that Fielding has $14,180.92 in cash on hand while McClendon has $156,956.89.
McClendon said that he was pleased with his “widespread grass roots support,” but was not surprised that “the voters in the most conservative senate district in Alabama are turning to and supporting the tried-and-true conservative candidate.”
McClendon has served in the state legislature as a republican state representative since 2002, while Fielding is a recently converted republican, switching from the Democratic Party after almost 30 years.
Fielding, who won his seat in the state senate as a democrat in 2012, jumped to the republican supermajority in October of 2012. At the time, Fielding said he was not “leaving the Democrat caucus with any ill will…”, but said that he felt the national Democratic Party was going “further and further to the left.” In fact Fielding’s 2010 race for the senate was one of the most costly for the republicans in which Fielding, with the aid of democrat political action committees, raised over $600,000 to defeat republican Ray Robbins. Two years later, Fielding joined the ranks of those he once opposed drawing ire from many who had been his closes supporters.
Judge Mark Kennedy, who was then chair of the Alabama Democratic Party, said of Fielding’s leaving the party, “This has everything to do with… the fact that Jerry Fielding was targeted for elimination by the Republican supermajority unless he switched parties.” Fielding changed parties after the new redistricting maps were signed into law. He voted against both the House and Senate maps.
Fielding’s former colleague, Kennedy, did not give him a pass on this fact either saying, “”The redistricting plan passed by the Republican supermajority is intended to make white Democrats in the legislature extinct, and Jerry Fielding must have decided that serving part time in the legislature is more important to him than principle or the Party that has had his back for almost 30 years.”
Kennedy had earlier said that Fielding was also promised a major committee assignment if he switch parties, “[He] was promised a position as Vice Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee if he switched parties.”
In fact, Fielding at a press conference denied Kennedy’s claim only to be elevated to Vice Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee a few days later.
“Jerry Fielding’s first act as a Republican Senator was to stand in front of a room full of people and lie,” said Kennedy referring to Fielding’s denial of the promised chairmanship.
McClendon said of his history as an individual and legislator, “I have always run as a conservative, been elected as a conservative, and voted as a conservative. My voting record in the House clearly reflects unchanging core values.”
Fundraisers in Montgomery and in St. Clair County—the conservative stronghold in District 11—have yielded few contributions for Fielding. McClendon, a native of St. Clair County, who has served as Chairman of the House Health Committee, the Permanent Legislative Committee on Reapportionment, the Government Relations Subcommittee of the Standing Committee on State Government, the Hospital Committee of the State Health Coordinating Council and the Health Insurance Exchange Study Commission has received widespread support in District 11 and in Montgomery.
The reapportioned Senate District 11 includes: St. Clair County: Springville, Margaret, Odenville, Argo, Moody, Wattsville, Cropwell, Riverside. Talladega County: Talladega, Waldo, Sycamore, Sylacauga, Fayetteville, Talladega Springs. Shelby County: Wilsonville, Shelby, Columbiana and Alabaster.
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.
New unemployment claims decreased last week
Fewer people joined the unemployment rolls last week compared to the week before.
There were 7,964 new unemployment claims filed in Alabama last week, down from 8,581 filed the previous week, according to the Alabama Department of Labor.
Of the claims filed between Oct. 11 and Oct. 17, there were 4,032 related to the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s 51 percent, compared to 36 percent the previous week.
Trump to visit Pensacola tonight
Trump is making a push in Florida in the final weeks of the election, and Northwest Florida is part of his strategy.
Neither presidential candidate is likely to visit Alabama before the general election, as both campaigns accept that Alabama will be certainly in President Donald Trump’s camp on election day no matter what else happens. While Alabama is not a swing state, Georgia and Florida are both in play, and both campaigns are devoting enormous resources there.
Trump is making a push in Florida in the final weeks of the election, and Northwest Florida is part of his strategy. Trump will be just across the Florida-Alabama state line visiting Pensacola and is scheduled to address supporters at the ST Engineering hangar beginning at 7 p.m. CT.
The doors open at 4 p.m. and the event begins at 7:00 p.m.
The president’s rally tonight comes right after a visit to Pensacola last week by Second Lady Karen Pence and is one of many Florida campaign events planned for Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
Trump arrived in Florida after Thursday’s final presidential debate with Joe Biden. He is scheduled to hold a campaign event in The Villages before traveling to Pensacola. The president will spend the night at his Palm Beach resort Mar-a-Lago and will vote early Saturday.
The vice president will hold rallies in Lakeland and Tallahassee on Saturday. Florida has 27 electoral college votes. It would be very difficult for Trump to get the 270 electoral college votes necessary to win without winning Florida.
Democrats warn that attending a Trump rally could be dangerous due to the coronavirus threat.
“The last thing Floridians need is for Donald Trump to host more potential superspreader rallies across our state,” Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo said in a statement on the rally in Pensacola. “What we do need, however, is a president capable of putting Floridians ahead of his own self-interest and get this pandemic under control.”
Most recent polls have Trump trailing Biden in Florida. Tickets are required to attend the rally.