By Lee Hedgepeth
Alabama Political Reporter
MOBILE — Stephen Carr is currently running for the Alabama House seat for the 104th district. He is the only Democrat in the race.
Running on the Republican ticket are Ralph Carmichael, Susan Hightower, Nathan Davis, Charlie Plyler, and Margie Wilcox. The election will be held October 15th of this year.
This weekend, Carr sat down with Alabama Political Reporter for an exclusive interview. Below are the questions and answers.
APR: Why are you running for the state house?
Carr: My main purpose in running for this office is to be able to continue the work of serving my community, state, and nation that I have done my entire working life. From my time serving in the US Army, to my work as a child and adolescent therapist at a community mental health agency, to my more recent work as a disaster response and recovery program manager, I have proven that I am able and willing to serve the public and to work on their behalf to address issues that face all of us.
Further, my work as a teacher through the years has given me a perspective that is unique among candidates in that I am well aware of the concerns that young people have and their fear that graduating high school and college will not ensure that they will be able to get a job that pays a living wage so that they may move on with their life and away from their parents’ house. I want to represent those who work each and every day to provide for their families and who struggle against the political machine that targets wages and benefits of workers for cuts in the budget while extending and increasing corporate benefits of tax forgiveness/incentives to those who need them the least.
I believe that responsible government is one that is fiscally conservative while maintaining its mindfulness of the needs of the most vulnerable in our society. This means being slow to spend money that “we” do not have and making sure that the programs that are vital to reduce and prevent poverty are not the source for making up budget shortfalls.
I am also running because I believe that the people in my district needs to elect a representative who comes from a working class background and understands what it means to have grown up here, in Mobile County. The people who live and work in this district are hard working, patriotic, professional, and have respect for their neighbors and their elders. We need an elected representative who will represent those values and who will make sure that those values and interests are represented in Montgomery.
APR: Many Democrats in your district have expressed concerns about your view of the Party. Before you announces your run for office, you said the following, “…If I do decide to run, I would enter the race as an independent candidate as I am not confident that either political party currently in power truly has the best interest of the electorate in mind when they consider and vote on proposals that become yet more laws that restrict the rights of the individual to make his/her own decisions in their daily life.” Why did you decide to run as a Democrat, and why should Democrats believe that you will represent their values, if you do not think the Party represents yours?
Carr: My decision to run as a Democrat was ultimately decided by my family of origin. I grew up in a family that was touched by many issues and who struggled to make ends meet at many times in our history.
My grandfather worked for Mobile Pulley works for nearly thirty years and I remember him not only tired from his job in the machine shop, but also tired from having to worry about his ability to make a consistent living for his family. He belonged to the local machinist union and he related stories of the work that was involved with negotiating and struggling against those factions who would have rarely, if ever, listened to the workers if it were not for the union. My mother, sister, wife, cousins, friends, and I have, or are, working as a teacher in the Alabama public school system.
I fully understand the constant struggle they have to maintain healthcare benefits, gather classroom supplies, fight for comparable salaries with other states, and at the same time provide the incredibly important education that our children need in order to succeed. When I was trying to decide whether to run, or not, in this campaign I asked friends and family through social media to give me their opinion and insight as to whether I should run and under which banner I should fight for this office. Ultimately, understanding the Alabama Democratic Party platform and its continued support for workers in the public sector and its work to support our teachers in the State, the choice to acknowledge my Democratic values was easy.
I am very much repulsed by the constant gridlock and hate-filled speech that comes from both Republican and Democratic Parties at times in the National political debates and I do believe that I represent the majority of individuals and families in this country who are centrist in their politics. For this reason, I did consider for a very short period of time running as an independent candidate. However, the day that I heard that the Alabama GOP executive committee actually considered a vote to ban members of its party who “disagree with a party platform issue” was the day that I was able to cast aside any thoughts of pursuing the independent nomination.
The Democratic Party in Alabama has been nothing but kind and consultative for me during this process and I am very thankful that we are able to tolerate differences of opinion without an attitude of discarding anyone who would dare to disagree. Long answer I know, but the short answer is that I am a Democrat and will do everything in my power to represent the interests Democrats as well as those in my district who may be affiliated with any other political party as I am able.
APR: What are your main disagreements with Democratic Party platform, and do you see this as a potential problem for you?
Carr: My main point of concern is on the issue of gun control and 2ns amendment rights. I do support the 2nd amendment and believe that we should pursue policies that will make it safer for the public to own weapons, but that do not overly restrict the individual right that is guaranteed in the Constitution. I do not support a ban on any weapon that is currently legal to manufacture.
Rather, I support legislation that would limit the capacity of magazines for semi-automatic weapons that are currently legal to manufacture and possess. I do support closing the gun-show loophole by requiring private sellers at gun shows to work through a licensed dealer at the gun show in order to access the Federal background check system. I am supportive of law enforcement in that I would support legislation that ensures adequate funding for police personnel and equipment.
Again, I believe that public sector workers (police, firefighters, EMT’s, teachers, state and county/city workers) and our veterans deserve our support and praise, not the constant attacks on benefits and pay that they currently experience in the political process. Ultimately, I believe that I am able to work with anyone who is willing to work toward solutions and this means that even in areas of disagreement, I am able to set aside personal beliefs in order to serve the public interest.
APR: What is your position on the Alabama Accountability? Do you believe it is as effective use of taxpayer money? Do you support Rep. Craig Ford’s proposal to reallocate AAA funds to the Alabama Math, Science, and Technology Initiative?
Carr: I am opposed to the process by which this bill was introduced and passed and I am opposed to its use of taxpayer funding in order to send our public school children to private schools. I do support Rep. Ford’s proposal and I have seen firsthand how beneficial AMSTI is to students in our public school classrooms.
APR: It has become clear recently that in special elections like the one in which you are participating, voter turnout is critically important. Sam Jones in Mobile, for example, easily could have one had voter turnout in some precincts been as high as in previous elections. What is your plan to turn out voters?
Carr: My plan is to mobilize individuals and families who support our veterans, teachers, public sector employees, and our most vulnerable populations by door-to-door canvassing, advertising, speaking engagements, social media, and ultimately offering voters a choice of a candidate who truly represents their interests as opposed to allowing for a “no opposition race” like we have seen too often in recent history. I believe that in races that include no opponent, those voters who are obviously disenfranchised will not turn out to vote. I plan to offer them an alternative and present a compelling case as to why I should be the one they choose to send to Montgomery.
APR: There has been much debate about the financial cost of special elections. What do you think about the recent flurry of Republican legislator that have moved on to more lucrative careers in lobbying, etc.? Would you propose or support legislation to regulate lobbying by former members of state congress (even in the opposing house), or legislation to require lawmakers who resign midterm to pay some money toward the special election to replace them?
Carr: I do believe that public servants have an obligation to serve out their term with few exceptions, such as medical or family emergencies. A better job offer is not a reason that I consider adequate for resigning a publically elected position. What responsibility the official has for repayment of the cost of special elections is a question for the legislature and I would propose legislation that is reasonable. Maybe there should be a buyout clause of some sort that is written into the legislator’s commitment to serve the public.
Lobbying firms, if they want the potential employee to work for them, would have responsibility to the State to pay a portion or all of the cost associated with a special election. Further, I would support legislation that would impose rules on nepotism in the legislature. In every organization I have worked, public or private, there have been rules against nepotism and I believe the same should be true for legislators. Family members either direct or extended, serving as legislators in a particular district or area of the State should be an area of concern for the people. Family members serving alongside one another, in elected positions, presents a conflict of interest in my opinion and should not be allowed by State government.
APR: Do you think that you can win this race?
Carr: Not only do I believe I can win this race, I believe that I must win this race in order for the people of this district to finally have a representative who is not in the office for his own best interest, but who will represent what is in the best interest of the public. My record of public service is clear and it is undeniable that I have worked on behalf of others for my entire career. I have not amassed a personal fortune as a result of my work in the public arena.
I have not garnered favors or contracts from the government entities that I have represented in my work as a program and project director. Instead, I have overseen programs and projects that have helped thousands of individuals and families recover from the devastating effects of hurricanes and tornadoes. I have worked with children and young adults in my community to overcome barriers and obstacles to their success.
I have served and am only running for this office to continue to serve. If the public wants an individual with a servant’s heart, they will vote for me. I believe that the public does want that type of representative and that is why I do believe I can win this race.
Three mental health crisis centers coming to Mobile, Montgomery and Huntsville
“Today marks a culture change in Alabama for treatment of individuals with mental illness and substance use disorders,” Mental Health Commissioner Lynn Beshear said.
Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday announced an $18 million project to create three new mental health crisis centers to be located in Mobile, Montgomery and Huntsville.
These centers, once in operation, will reduce the number of people suffering from mental health crises who are hospitalized or jailed, Ivey said during a press briefing in front of the Capitol Building in Montgomery.
“When these facilities are open and fully staffed, these centers will become a safe haven for people facing mental health challenges,” Ivey said.
Lynn Beshear, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Mental Health, said during the briefing that the centers will provide “recovery based” care with “short term stays of a few hours, or up to a few days, to provide treatment, support, and connection to care in the community.”
“Today marks a culture change in Alabama for treatment of individuals with mental illness and substance use disorders,” Beshear said.
Beshear said AltaPointe Health in Mobile will operate one of the three facilities, and once built it is to serve Mobile, Baldwin, Clarke, Conecuh, Escambia, Monroe and Washington counties with 21 new beds, including 15 temporary observation beds. Altapointe will begin with a temporary space while constructing the new facilities, she said.
Beshear said the Montgomery Area Mental Health Authority is partnering with the East Alabama Mental Health Authority and the Central Alabama Mental Health Authority to serve the 11 counties in Region 3 with 21 new beds, including 10 temporary observation and respite beds.
“The regional crisis center will be located in Montgomery, and will be open to walk-ins and for drop off by law enforcement, first responders and referrals from emergency rooms,” Beshear said.
Wellstone Behavioral Health in Huntsville was selected to open the third center, and will do so at a temporary site while a new facility is being built, with the help of an additional $2.1 million from local governments, Beshear said. That facility will eventually have 39 beds, including 15 for temporary observation and 24 for extended observation.
“There’s not a day that goes by that after-hours care is not an issue in our state,” said Jeremy Blair, CEO of Wellstone Behavioral Health, speaking at the press conference. “And so I applaud the Department of Mental Health and the leaders for their efforts in recognizing that and taking it a step further and funding our efforts here.”
Asked by a reporter why a center wasn’t located in Jefferson County, one of the most populous counties with a great need for such a center, Ivey said those residents will be served in one of the other regions.
“Plans are underway to continue this effort. Today’s beginning, with these three crisis centers, is just the beginning,” Ivey said.
Ivey added that request for proposals were sent out for these three centers and “it was a strong competition for the location of these three crisis centers.”
Alabama House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, said during the briefing that more than a year ago, Ivey asked him what the state should be looking at, and that he replied “we’re failing miserably in mental health.”
Ledbetter said Ivey asked him to take on the challenge of correcting the state’s response to mental health, and a team was created to do just that.
“Working together, today’s announcement will not only change Alabamians lives, but will help to save lives,” Ledbetter said.
Ainsworth returns to work after testing positive for COVID
Ainsworth’s office on Sept. 21 announced he had tested positive earlier that week, having been tested after someone in his Sunday school class tested positive for the disease.
Alabama Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth on Wednesday announced that he was returning to work that day and had met public health requirements for quarantining after testing positive for COVID-19 some time last week.
Ainsworth’s office on Sept. 21 announced he had tested positive earlier that week, having been tested after someone in his Sunday school class tested positive for the disease.
“While many have battled with coronavirus, my symptoms never progressed beyond some mild congestion that I usually experience with seasonal allergies,” Ainsworth said in a statement. “During the quarantine period, I participated in several Zoom calls, caught up on some office work, spent some quality time with my family, and completed a number of overdue projects on my farm.”
Members of Ainsworth’s staff who were in close contact with him haven’t tested positive for COVID-19 but will remain in quarantine for a full 14-day period as a precaution, according to a press release from Ainsworth’s office Wednesday.
“Ainsworth once again urges all Alabamians to practice personal responsibility, which may include wearing masks, maintaining social distancing whenever possible, and taking other precautions to lessen chances of exposure to COVID-19,” the press release states.
Ainsworth still disagrees with Gov. Kay Ivey’s statewide mask mandate, he said. According to the release, he considers such orders “a one-size-fits-all governmental overreach that erodes basic freedoms and liberties while removing an individual’s right to make their own health-related choices.”
The wearing of cloth or medical masks has been proven to inhibit the spread of COVID-19 and the more people who wear masks, the better. While not perfect, masks limit the spread of respiratory droplets that may contain infectious virus shed from the nose and mouth of the mask wearer.
It is possible — even likely — for symptomatic, pre-symptomatic and mildly symptomatic people to spread the virus. That’s why it’s important to wear a mask even when you’re not sick.
Cloth masks offer only minimal protection from others who are not masked, meaning that masks are not simply a matter of personal safety but safety of others. Masks are also only effective when worn over both the mouth and the nose. [Here’s a guide on how to wear masks properly.]
Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House’s coronavirus task force, told Ivey after she announced the statewide mask order that it was a “brilliant” idea. The order has been credited by Alabama infectious disease experts as having dramatically reduced the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the weeks after the order went into effect.
Dr. Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association, told APR on Tuesday that from personal observation he is seeing more people not wearing masks, or wearing them improperly, and said the state could dramatically reduce the risk of COVID-19 if the public regularly wore masks and wore them properly.
Hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients in Alabama on Monday crossed the 1,000 mark for the first time since Aug. 31 — a sign that Alabama may be headed for another peak in hospitalizations as the state prepares for winter and flu season.
Faith in Action Alabama calls on law enforcement to protect voters from harassment
“In these harrowing days it is incumbent upon all of us as citizens and you and your colleagues as law enforcement professionals to do all we can to maintain this right secured by so much courage and sacrifice.”
Nine clergy members from across the state have signed an open letter calling on local and state law enforcement to protect voters against intimidation and harassment at the polls.
The clergy are leaders in Faith in Action Alabama, a regional association of Christian congregations affiliated with the national group Faith in Action, the largest grassroots, faith-based organizing network in the country. It seeks to address a range of issues like gun violence, health care, immigration and voting rights.
This is their letter:
Across our country and here in Alabama, it is being seen that citizens are turning out in record numbers to vote early and by absentee ballots. It is very heartening to see so many of our fellow citizens energized and committed to exercising that most fundamental and critical duty of citizenship, the use of their franchise. As servant leaders of an ecumenical association of nearly 2,000 faith communities across our state we are certainly encouraging our congregants to fulfill this duty either through early, absentee or day of election voting. For us this is not only part of our civic duty, but as people of faith obligation as well.
Unfortunately, it it also largely known that there are forces in our country that are actively, publicly and fervently at work to suppress the votes of some of our fellow citizens. We write to implore you to use the full authority of your office and department to ensure that those who seek to vote, especially on November 3, 2020 are not assailed or intimidated by illegal harassment in their polling places. We believe these threats are pervasive enough and real enough that proactive measures should be in place as citizens come to vote throughout that day. The strong, visible presence of uniformed legitimate law officers will hopefully prevent any attempts at confrontation or intimidation and violence.
The history of our state is marked by the efforts of tens of thousands of Alabamians who marched, protested, brought legal actions, shed their blood and some even gave their lives that every citizen of this state might have full and free access to the ballot box. In these harrowing days it is incumbent upon all of us as citizens and you and your colleagues as law enforcement professionals to do all we can to maintain this right secured by so much courage and sacrifice.
Please be assured of our prayers for you and the men and women of your department who have the awesome responsibility of providing public safety and equal protection under the law for every Alabamian. If we, the members of Faith in Action Alabama’s Clergy Leadership Team, can be of assistance please do not hesitate to call upon us.
Rev. Jeremiah Chester, St. Mark Baptist Church, Huntsville
Rev. David Frazier, Sr., Revelation Missionary Baptist Church, Mobile, and Moderator, Mobile Baptist Sunlight Association
Bishop Teresa Jefferson-Snorton, Fifth Episcopal District of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
Bishop Russell Kendrick, Episcopal Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast
Bishop Seth O. Lartey, Alabama-Florida Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church
President Melvin Owens, Alabama State Missionary Baptist Convention
Bishop Harry L. Seawright, Ninth Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church
Dr. A.B. Sutton, Jr., Living Stones Temple, Fultondale
Father Manuel Williams, C.R., Resurrection Catholic Missions of the South, Montgomery
Report: Alabama’s Black Belt lags behind state in economic prospects
Black Belt counties lag behind others in economic prospects and investments in businesses.
It took Marquis Forge five years and 18 banks before he and his partner were able to open their company, Eleven86 Water, in Autauga County, just north of the Black Belt, and a report released Tuesday shows how Black Belt counties lag behind others in economic prospects and investments in businesses.
Forge, a former University of Alabama football player, told reporters during a briefing Monday that he considers Autauga County, which borders the Black Belt’s Lowndes County, part of the Black Belt, and said it shouldn’t have been so difficult to access the capital needed to start a business.
The report released Tuesday by the University of Alabama’s Education Policy Center titled “Black Belt manufacturing and Economic Prospects” is the last in the center’s Black Belt 2020 series, and found that only four of the state’s 24 Black Belt counties, as defined by the center, are above the statewide average of 22.4 businesses per 1,000 residents, and just one, Montgomery County, was above the 2018 statewide average of personal income of $43,229.
Researchers also found that just three Black Belt counties are above the state’s average in gross domestic product being produced by counties of $45,348.
“To achieve Governor Ivey’s ambitious goal of 500,000 a million more Alabama workers with skills by 2025, all hands have to be ‘on deck.’ It will require higher labor force participation rates, particularly in the Black Belt, where the average is 20 points below the statewide average,” said Stephen Katsinas, director of the university’s Education Policy Center and one of the authors of the report.
“Due to smaller economies of scale, our approaches to education, workforce development, and community building will have to be different to reach Alabama’s Black Belt,” Katsinas continued. “In the longer term, we first must define the Black Belt, because you can’t measure what you can’t define. Then we must do what West Alabama Works is doing–go where the people are to bring hope by connecting them to a well-aligned lifelong learning system that makes work pay.”
Donny Jones, COO of Chamber of Commerce West Alabama and Executive Director of West AlabamaWorks, told reporters Monday that one of the keys to helping the Black Belt will be helping state and Congressional legislators understand the nuances of rural Alabama.
Jones said the state should look at how colleges are graded, and that many smaller colleges don’t get credit for putting students through programs that get them short-term certificates that lead to jobs.
“Those are some of the things on the statewide level that we can really start to work on,” Jones said, adding that they’ve already begun teaching modern manufacturing in Black Belt high schools that gives students college credits toward an associates degree while still in high school.
“I think that’s very important for individuals to understand the impact that we can have in our higher ed and our K-12 system, really works hand in glove to move the needle for workforce development,” Jones said.
Jim Purcell, State Higher Education executive officer of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education, told reporters that it’s also important to look at one’s own community and identifying what is “unique and special,” and said he was recently in Autauga County, where he is from, and bought two cases of Eleven86 Water because he remembered how good the water there was.
“I think that’s what you’ve done, is you’ve taken the gift that Autauga’s environment has and enhanced it, so that the people can benefit from it,” Purcell said to Forge. “I think that’s the key.”
Asked what he’d tell state legislators to spur them to make changes so that other entrepreneurs wouldn’t have to struggle as hard as he did to open a business, Forge said he would ask for a clearer path for assistance.
“Instead of digging down through a tunnel with a spoon I would have someone outline the tracks on getting funds and assistance from local, state and the national level, because there are funds out there,” Forge said.
After going to 18 banks to get the financing he needed, he still had to liquify all his assets to make it happen, Forge said.
“How many people are going to do that?” he asked. “We shouldn’t have to do that.”
To read all of the Education Policy Center’s reports on Alabama’s Black Belt, visit here.