By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
The angry debate surrounding the by-law change controversy has dominated the talk on Alabama Republican blogs and social media for the last week, as the two sides lobby for the hearts and minds of Republican Executive Committee members. The heated debates continue as the Alabama Republican Executive Committee’s Annual Summer meeting in Montgomery approaches.
Cleburne County Executive Committee member Heath Jones has proposed yet another change to the by-laws. Heath wrote in an exclusive statement to the Alabama Political Reporter “I have watched a lot of debate over the latest proposed ALGOP by-laws and I have proposed a change to the party bylaws that I plan to present from the floor on Saturday.”
Jones wrote, “I would like to offer a by-law proposal that I believe would prevent some of the sudden changes in the future. As you know, almost all of our representatives on the ALGOP Steering Committee are put into place by a vote of the members of the SEC. However, four members of the Steering Committee are put in place automatically, based on the vote of an organization not officially affiliated with the Alabama Republican Party. The organizations granted a seat on the ALGOP Steering Committee are the Minority GOP, Republican Women, College Republicans, and Young Republicans. The Chairman of each organization is automatically granted the Steering Committee position for their respective group. Don’t get me wrong; I am not in favor of eliminating these four positions. These folks provide a perspective to ALGOP that I believe in invaluable. However, I do believe that these four members should answer to the SEC as the rest of the members are obliged to do. My proposal would preserve these positions on the Steering Committee with full voting privileges. The by-laws would also continue to require that the person filling the position ‘be an active member in good standing of an approved member group of the organization in question.’The difference would be that the representative for the organization on the steering committee be elected by a full meeting of the SEC at the winter meeting in each calendar year. This gives the SEC oversight over who will be casting votes to determine the future of the SEC. While it is important that we preserve these organizations’ representation on the Steering Committee, it is also important that the representative also reflects the wishes of the State Executive Committee of the Alabama Republican Party.”
Jones wrote, “Keep in mind, the position that each of the organizations has on the Steering Committee is granted by the by-laws adopted by the SEC. As a body, we essentially give them this position as a privilege. As a result, we should hold ourselves responsible for these positions as a responsibility that we hold as representatives of Alabama Republicans. There is no better way to ensure that the representation that is given to these organizations is held to the same standard as our Chairman and other members of the Steering Committee are held to – a vote of the people.”
The Alabama Political Reporter has talked with Stephanie Petelos, the ALGOP Steering Committee member whose outspoken support for extending Alabama marriage privileges to homosexual couples ignited much of this effort to change the by-laws. Petelos who is the Chairwoman of the Alabama Federation of College Republicans is not in favor of the Jones compromise which would allow the ALGOP executive committee select who represents the college Republicans on the steering committee rather than allowing the organizations themselves to choose their representative. At this point it is not known how the Republican Women, the Young Republicans, and the Minority GOP view this potential change to how their representative on the steering committee are selected. Since Heath Jones’s compromise would be introduced from the floor, it would need a 4/5s majority to pass.
The Alabama Political Reporter has asked Alabama Republican Party Chairman Bill Armistead to present his recommendations on the myriad of by-law changes on the record prior to the meeting.
Alabama Executive Committee member and Tuscaloosa political consultant Matt Jenkins wrote on facebook of the three by-law changes already on the agenda,
“I am very proud to serve on the Alabama State Executive Committee that represents the Republicans in Tuscaloosa, County Alabama. I feel it my obligation to my Republicans that I represent, that I explain how I will vote on Saturday for the three amendments on the table. On the amendment to not have elected officials serve on the State Committee, I will vote no. Three of our State Committee Members from Tuscaloosa County are Representative Bill Poole, Representative John Merrill, and Senator Gerald Allen. All three of these gentlemen not only do an outstanding job representing Tuscaloosa in Montgomery, they are also leaders and mentors to those of us who are a younger generation. It would not be fair not to have their leadership, experience, and guidance as members of the executive committee.”
Jenkins wrote, “On the amendment to have members pay a qualifying fee to the State Committee in order to be elected to the State Committee, I will be voting no. Elected seats and bonus seats should be controlled at the local level, since these Republicans are representing the local executive committees at the State level.”
Jenkins concluded, “On the amendment to remove any member of the State Steering Committee who does not agree with the parties’ platform, I will be voting no. There are a couple of reasons for this and I have talked to both sides on this matter. First this is politics and whether you are a Republican or Democrat, people speak out all the time, good, bad, or indifferent about issues and political platforms. Senator Shelby voted for Secretary Hagel, Governor Christie is for the NSA spy program, Jeb Bush is for common core, Mary Cheney is for same sex marriage, Senator Cruz is for lower taxes, Senator Chambliss is for rising taxes and the list goes on. If we are going to be the true party of economic freedom, freedom of speech, if we are going to champion against abortion, be a party of prosperity, and are truly for smaller government we must let our members of our party express their feelings. I know people on both sides of these issues and I respect them all and the way they are going to vote.”
The Alabama Executive Committee meets twice a year: in the Summer and in the Winter. The Alabama Republican Party is expecting 860 members to be present at the Summer Dinner on Friday night to hear Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R). The summer meeting where the Executive Committee of the party will vote on the proposed bylaw changes is to be held on Saturday morning.
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.