By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Monday, March 31 Republican candidates for Congressional District Six held what was billed as the first debate of the hotly tested congressional race. In reality it was a typical candidate’s forum where each candidate was allowed to give an opening and closing statement while selected members of the mainstream media gave questions which each of the six forum participants were given a chance to answer. ‘The Alabama Political Reporter’ was there to cover the event from start to finish.
Longtime NBC Channel 13 host Mike Royer moderated the Samford University event.
Dr. Chad Mathis told the crowd as well as the TV and radio audience that he was a doctor……a fact he repeated several times over the course of the night. Mathis thanked his wife, Said that he was the first person in his family to go to college, moved to Alabama and built the American dream, but that dream was threatened by the out of control national debt and Obamacare.
Mathis vowed to be a citizen legislator who is going to Congress a Doctor and who will leave Congress as a doctor.
Will Brooke said he has never run for office before, he grew up in Birmingham, married his high school sweetheart, Maggie. “The Lord came in and changed my life,” Brooke said. Brooke said that things are not right in America and he wants to go to Washington to make changes. Brooke vowed that he will keep a copy of the Constitution in his pocket if the people of Alabama will send him to Congress.
Gardendale State Senator Scott Beason from Gardendale told the crowd that he is here with his wife, Lori, and he is currently in the Alabama State Senate. Beason said that his children are why he ran for office in the first place. “What I have done is lead. I led on things that matter for the people of Alabama.” These issues include: immigration, the Second Amendment, and abortion. Beason said that throughout his career, “I have done the things that matter to the people of Alabama.
Gary Palmer said that he has spent 24 years making plans not sound bites as head of the Alabama Policy Institute. Palmer said that we need to replace Obamacare with a healthcare reform plan that provides a safety net. Palmer said that it is important to get the economy growing again producing jobs. Palmer said that the country should develop its energy resources more and that we have 3 trillion barrels of oil, most of it on public lands. “We aren’t broke we are stupid.” Palmer said, “We need to be using those resources to be creating jobs and putting people back to work.”
Robert Shattuck said, “The political class have been doing a big time number on the American people.” Shattuck warned that dysfunction in Congress threatening the people’s well being and that the American people may need to act.
Tom Vigneulle said. “I am a small business owner, not a professional business owner.” Vigneulle said I understand what business is about and I also have a family farm. Vigneulle warned that excessive regulations mean that people have lost excitement about owning small businesses. Vigneulle said that as the owner of Royal Bedding Manufacturing he understands how Obamacare works because he lives with it every day. “I want to be the candidate who will encourage and support small business.”
State Rep. Paul DeMarco from Homewood said that he and his wife Jacqueline are expecting their first child in a few weeks. DeMarco said that he is concerned that the baby will be born owing $60,000 in national debt. DeMarco said that voters need to elect people of courage.
DeMarco said that the Sixth District needs a Congressman who is capable of not only fighting Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi but also taking on members of our own political party. “I have done that. I look forward to representing you.”
Barnett Wright asked the candidates to each explain: “Why are you the best man for the job?”
Sen. Beason said that he has served 16 years in the state legislature and I have seen persons who sat in the state legislature on their hands.
Will Brooke said, “I am a family man of faith”…….not a politician. Brooke said that he is determined to make a difference in Washington and I want to serve you.
Dr Mathis said, “I want to go to Congress to stop Obamacare and really fight for the small businessman.”
Vigneulle said that we need to resolve the business problems we have. “Elect a small businessman who understands how to live within his means and who has a track record.”
Rep. DeMarco said that he has a track record of taking on the big issues.
Gary Palmer said that he has worked on policy for 24 years and has a national network who can drive change from the bottom up.
Talk radio host Leland Whaley asked about term limits.
Gary Palmer pledged to limit himself to five terms ten years and vowed to commute. I will have monthly meetings to train community leaders. Hopefully one day one of them will succeed him.
Tom Vigneulle said that term limits are the first bill that he would support. He is for limiting Congressional service to six terms.
Rep. DeMarco said he supported term limits in Montgomery.
Robert Shattuck said, “The primary culprit is a money monster in politics.” Shattuck warned of excessive riches in politics and that we, “Need a plan to fix the money monster and term limits may be a part of that.”
Will Brooke said that you should not go to Congress to get rich.
Sen. Beason said that the Alabama State legislature needs term limits. I have term limited myself in both the Alabama House and Senate.
Dr. Mathis said, “I am a doctor and I will be a doctor when I leave Congress.” Mathis pledged to serve no more than five terms.
Next the panelist asked, “Is global warming real.”
Shattuck said I don’t know the answer to these questions.
DeMarco said the EPA is using concerns like this to regulate and hurt citizens and businesses across the nation and vowed to fight the EPA.
Palmer said they have lowered the threshold on warming and manipulated their dates. Palmer said he has been working on this for over ten years.
Beason said, “The radical left is using this to harm our energy program,” and warned that people are being told things that are not true.
Brooke warmed that new EPA regulations will cost 20,000 Alabama families their jobs.
Vigneulle said that the Progressive left is using this to get power and control. “I do not believe in climate change or global warming.”
Dr. Mathis said that this is a tool used by the administration to expand their power.
Barnett Wright asked the panel how they would undo Obamacare.
DeMarco said that he favored a market based approach like used in auto insurance or homeowners insurance.
Beason warned that we will not be able to roll back Obamacare until we get a new president……a Republican President. We need a free market based option.
Palmer said you need a plan to put you in charge of your health insurance and that we can do it for less than half of the cost of Obamacare.
Mathis said that we need to replace it with market based reforms, including the ability to shop across state lines, Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), and allowing families to deduct the cost of their health insurance off their taxes.
Vigneulle said that his own health insurance policy premiums has climbed thousands of dollars. Vigneulle predicted that Obamacare, “Will implode on itself because it is so poorly done.” We need to replace it with a free market system.
Will Brooke said, “Obamacare is a train wreck.” We need a free market solution and coverage for preexisting conditions.
Leland Whaley asked about the federal budget and if the candidates would ever vote for a budget that was not balanced.
Brooke said that we can not afford and can not sustain the present level of spending but warned that slamming the brakes would be a shock on the economy.
DeMarco said, “Balancing the budget can be done but is not going to happen overnight.”
Beason said that conservatives need to embrace incrementalism, the Left understands it. It begins by electing people to Congress who will actually move the ball down the field.
Dr. Mathis said, “We are 17 trillion in debt and our debt is greatest threat to our national security. I will support a balanced budget amendment.
Shattuck said, “The staggering national debt is an outgrowth of an out of control Congress.”
Palmer said that we need to eliminate duplications in government and move government closer to the people wherever possible.
Vigneulle said that we have to balance the budget at the federal level. “The Republican leadership has let us down.”
Vigneulle said that he could support a balanced budget amendment in the future.
All the candidates supported Carly’s law but not the legalization of medical marijuana.
Barnett Wright asked about the foreign surveillance program and NSA spying domestically.
Mathis said we should look at the Constitution and there is a difference between citizens of foreign countries versus our own citizens.
Vigneulle said we have got to be Constitutional in what we do. “NSA is doing a good job overseas but we have got to have good oversight.”
Brooke said that Ben Franklin said that men who would trade freedom for security deserve neither. The fourth amendment is clear and we need to be very careful about what we do to ourselves.
Beason said that domestically the Constitution should come first and we should make sure that you have complete privacy; but on foreign spying Beason said that is just how the world works, though we should try our best not to get caught.
Palmer said that we should make sure our intelligence agencies have the resources to do their job, but warmed about the loss of our constitutional liberties.
DeMarco warned that we shouldn’t forget what happened on 9-11 and must do what we can to make sure that that never happens again.
Whaley asked if they favored the Senate immigration reform approach or the Sen. Jeff Sessions approach.
Rep. DeMarco said, “I am not for amnesty. We are a nation of laws.” I appreciate what Sen. Sessions is doing.
Palmer said that first we have got to secure our borders and after that we need to do exactly what Senator Sessions is calling for.
Dr. Mathis said that he is against any form of amnesty.
Vigneulle said, “Our president doesn’t care about protecting our borders.” “We have enough laws on the books.” “I agree with Sessions.”
Sen. Beason said, “There is not anyone in the building who does not know my position on amnesty. I absolutely positively will be with Senator Sessions on this.”
Brooke said that he is opposed to amnesty and Congress should insist that this President enforce existing immigration laws.
Shattuck said that until you deal with the dysfunctional Congress you can’t deal with the immigration issue.
Will Brooke said that our Founding Father never intended to have a governing class controlled by party elites in Washington. He said that his recent commercial. “Tearing up a copy of Obamacare in a wood chipped was a lot of fun.”
Palmer said that this is about more than public policy ideas, it is about people and families. “We still have an opportunity to get this nation on the right track but that window is closing.” Palmer said that he has a national network I know what to do.
Dr. Mathis said that he would be working with doctors in Congress on repealing and replacing Obamacare and that he had just released a 12 point plan to do just that. Mathis vowed that he will fight for them.
DeMarco said, “I am proud to say I lived here my whole life. I was married in the church I was baptized in.” DeMarco said that he, “Will take Alabama values to Washington DC. I will not take Washington values back to Alabama.” Rep. DeMarco said that he is responsive and works hard.
Sen. Beason said that everybody here wants the same things. “The country can have a renaissance.”
Beason said that he is the candidate who will do the best job for you. “I have that record.”
Vigneulle said that we can’t keep doing what we have been doing and sending the same kinds of folks to Washington.
Vigneulle asked, “Do you like the federal government looking over your shoulders? I am looking for what bills we can eliminate. I want to return power back to the people.”
On foreign policy:
DeMarco said, “We have lost our prestige under our president. We have got to regain that.
Mathis said, “This president has failed us.” He has failed us in Iran, in Libya, in Benghazi, in the Crimea.
Beason said, “We need to put our best foot forward.”
Palmer blamed Obama for putting Putin in the position to threaten Russia’s neighbors.
Brooke said that we need to be forging partnerships around the world especially in Southeast Asia.
On a Defense of Marriage amendment to the U.S. Constitution:
Beason said that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. “I would do anything I can to defend those traditional American values.”
Palmer said the definition of marriage pre-exists government and warned that the rights of every Christian in America is under assault.
Mathis said we don’t need an amendment to the Constitution on marriage.
Vigneulle said, “I am afraid we do have to pass a constitutional amendment.”
DeMarco said he would support that amendment.
Leland Whaley asked what Congress can do about an out of control executive branch.
DeMarco said that first you have to send the right people to Congress. He favored a conservative fiscal approach.
Beason said that past Congresses trusted the executive branch too much so gave regulatory authority to the President. Congress now has to begin to pull back the regulatory powers of the executive branch.
Palmer said that Congress keeps passing laws that are not laws but are delegations of authority to the executive branch. That was a mistake and needs to change.
Shattuck said that the problems is due to a dysfunctional Congress.
Will Brooke said that the Congress needs to abolish several government agencies beginning with the Department of Education, investigate overreaches of the President, and indict Lois Learner for contempt of Congress.
Mathis said that Congress needs to reign in the executive branch with the power of the purse. Mathis said that Congress should shut down the department of education. That needs to be brought back to the states.
Vignuelle said, “I will be a vote to replace Boehner as Speaker. “We have the majority we need to have Republicans who will take a stand against this President and his unconstitutional stands.
The Debate was held at Samford University and was sponsored by the Jefferson County Republican Party and the Samford University Republicans.
This was the first televised debate and was aired on NBC Channel 13 WVTM in Birmingham.
Mike Royer said that there are over 419,000 registered voters in the Sixth District as a whole
The Republican Primary is June 3rd and the General Election is November 4th.
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.
“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.