By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Thursday, April 3 the Republican House District 44 candidates participated in a candidate’s forum at the Trussville Civic Center. Channel 13’s Ken Lass moderated the event that was sponsored by the Trussville Chamber of Commerce and the conservative Republican Women of Trussville. Candidates John Amari, Joe Freeman, and Danny Garrett all participated in the forum.
John Amari said,
“I am running for three reasons: John Paul, Maya, and Vinnie: my three children.”
Amari said that he is: Pro Life, Pro Second Amendment and for term limits. Amari said that he is deeply routed in this community. His grandparents came here to farm; but they also started the Huffman Curb Market.
“My wife Amber and I chose a community to raise a family with safe communities and good schools.” Amari said that if he is sent to Montgomery he will work to cut regulation and red tape. Amari said he will work to improve trade schools and vocational schools. “I have a vested interest in making sure that your tax money goes to schools.”
Joe Freeman said that he is a graduate of Hewitt Trussville High School and Auburn University where he got involved in conservative Republican politics. Freeman said that he paged for Rep. Arthur Payne (R) page when he was just 13. In college he worked to get rid of Seigelman (the last Democrat Governor of Alabama who now resides in a federal penitentiary). “We changed that and got Riley (R) in office.”
As Chairman of the Alabama Federation of College Republicans Freeman served on the ALGOP State Steering committee where he voted against Amendment One (a Draconian set of tax increases supported by Governor Riley (R), Mike Hubbard (R), corporate lobbyists, AEA and the then Alabama Democrat majorities in both Houses of the legislature). Freeman said that he has been a member of Jefferson County executive committee for ten years. “This area desperately needs a fighter.”
Danny Garret said that he favors reducing role of government in lives. “I love my community.” Garrett said that God has blessed him with 32 years of success in the business community. Garrett said he has negotiated numerous contracts in my career and has built a reputation as a problems solver.
He has experience serving on local school board and two university boards. As a school board member he has encouraged parents to become involved. Garrett promised to be a common sense voice in Montgomery and wants to be a problem solver.
Garrett said that home rule for Jefferson County sounds like a good idea at first glance, but Jefferson County filed bankruptcy several years ago and collected Illegal occupation taxes. Without the power to raise taxes the County government has cut costs, county offices have got more efficient, and now the legislature has passed a law allowing municipalities to collect the car tag renewals. “The free market works.”
John Amari said I do not support home rule. Amari warned of the risk of putting too much trust into local government. “I am always a proponent of limited government.” Home rule would potentially allow government to grow bigger.
Joe Freeman said that Jefferson County should have limited home rule and criticized the 1901 Constitution. “Things have changed since 1901.” Freeman said that Rep. John Rogers threat to put a stranglehold on the County Commission was going too far so the County should be given limited powers, but taxing power should remain with the legislature. “My answer is limited home rule.”
John Amari said the Republican Super Majority has done a good job of making government smaller and more efficient but they still have wasted money on things like decorating offices. Amari said he will work to stream line government and will work to reduce waste.
Joe Freeman said that the state ABC stores have $200 million of liquor revenue but only produce a profit of about $2 million. The ABC stores should be privatized and the bureaucracy should be slashed. Freeman said that there were too many good ole boys with jobs in ABC bureaucracy.
Garrett said that the state has borrowed from Peter to pay Paul. They shift dollars and programs from fund to fund. There is always ways to cut spending.
Freeman said that the state still had too much bureaucracy. We have got to learn how to cut red tape to foster the existing businesses that we have. It is time to cut red tape. Airbus and Remington are great great projects but the state needs to foster local businesses and homegrown manufacturing.
Garrett said that much of regulations come from Washington DC. There a lot of regulations that prohibits business particularly in the environmental area. The EPA stuff is coming out of Washington.
Amari said that state based regulations should sunset every five years. Amari said that the Secretary of State’s office has got a backlog of business filings that is six months unless you are willing to pay a $100 expedition fee.
Garrett said that most of his donors are individuals. He has also collected some contributions from pro business conservative PACs including a $2500 contribution from the Alabama Homebuilders. Garrett said that he has taken no money from the AEA (Alabama Education Association) or from the trial lawyers.
Amari said that over 95% of his contributions have come from individuals. He has not taken money from the AEA and pledged that he will not take money from the AEA.
Freeman said that he has not taken any special interest money and will not take money from the AEA. Freeman said that the Associated General Contractors have said they will support him but he has not received a check from them. Freeman said the contractors are the backbone of the economy and “I will be proud to help those guys with their legislation.”
Amari said that there are some places where the federal government does not belong and one of those areas is education. He vowed to cosponsor legislation to repeal Common Core.
Freeman said that the whole process has been hijacked by the federal government. “Once we are hooked we are hooked.” “Common Core needs to be repealed.” We have got to keep education local.
Garrett said that Common Core has divided Republican voters and that something this divisive must be repealed, but said we can’t go back to where we were. We need standards higher than common core.
Freeman said, “I am not in favor of Medicaid expansion at all.” Medicaid already takes half of the general fund budget. “The problem is that doctors are getting rich off indigent healthcare.” Freeman said that the real problem with Medicaid is in the billing. This is a statewide problem. Primary care is being billed as acute care. “The system is being bled dry by people trying to get rich.”
Garrett said that Governor Bentley is right about refusing to expand Alabama Medicaid and warned that Medicaid expansion is part of the Obamacare law. We should not do that. “Let the free market work.”
Amari said, “I stand with Governor Bentley on expanding Medicaid.”
Garrett said I support the gun legislation that was passed in the last session. “I do believe that business owners have the right to determine if guns are brought on their premises,” and said that there is a liability issue for property owners.
Amari said, “I am a card carrying member of the NRA.” Amari said that he supported the recent bill allowing citizens to carry their gun in their vehicles. “I am for as few restrictions as possible.”
Freeman said, “I am a member of the NRA.” Freeman said that bad guys are going to have guns. “They don’t pay attention to laws because they are bad guys.” “The bad guy is going to have guns.” Your car should be an extension of your house.”
Amari said, “The best way to protect our school funding is to keep cutting bureaucracy. We have too many politicians in Montgomery trying to get as much money as they can.” Amari blamed the problems on career politicians. Amari said that he favor continuing to cut bureaucracy to get money to the classrooms. “Teachers should not have to pay for construction paper,” as his sister (a teacher) has to do.
Freeman said that he will vote against any tax increases. The schools should cut overhead. The state should come in to failing school systems and cut the bloated staff. Freemans said that this is going to be painful.
Garrett said that the state needs to attract jobs by luring new industry and new businesses like Remington out of New York.
Freeman said the prisons are overcrowded and Montgomery politicians have been sweeping this fact under the rug and hoping that it goes away. Freeman said that the state should consider the possible early release of non-violent offenders and warned that the federal authorities are probably going to make us build prisons. We probably going to have to spend a couple of $hundred million next year to deal with prison overcrowding. Freeman said that the prisons need to teach skills to prisoners about to be released to get them back as productive members of society.
Garrett said the state needs a plan to address the root problem. We need a strategy to get the justice department off our back and a strategy to reduce the amount of the state budget going to corrections.
Amari said that the state is going to have to both release inmates and build more prisons. Amari warned that the federal government is likely to intervene soon. Amari said part of the problem is mandatory minimum sentencing. The sentencing guidelines need to be reformed and local judges given more flexibility to determine who the real bad guys are.
Garrett said that custody guidelines need to be revised and revamped so that more fathers get custody of their children or joint custody.
Amari said that he does not favor legislation telling local judges who to award custody too. Amari said that local judges see the facts in the case and that local judges should get to decide. Amari said he would not be supportive of any legislation that sets a government mandate.
Freeman said there has been a past where the mothers have received favorable treatment there are situations where the father would be better. Freemans said that fathers should have an equal opportunity to have custody.
Amari said that he is fighting for the future of Alabama’s children. I want to know we have the best trade schools and vocations schools in the country. A four year degree is not the best option for every child.
Freeman said that he will fight for the taxpayers and ratepayers of Jefferson County. He supports passage of a taxpayer protection act.
Garrett said that the state should raise education standards. He wants to lock everybody in the room and stop fighting in order to move education forward in this state.
Freeman said after two terms you ought to be done in Montgomery.
Garrett said that George Washington was a great example and he also supported a two term limit and a prohibition of former legislators lobbying current legislators.
Amari said that the Founding Fathers did not intend for career politicians. “They start listening to special interests and stop listening to us.”
Amari said that we have some legislators who are down there to serve special interest groups, then they leave and they are the special interests. Amari favored legislation barring legislators from returning as lobbyists.
Freeman said there is too much money. Folks get down there and they lose track. “Legislators should never be allowed to lobby other legislators ever.”
Investment banker Joe Freeman, attorney John Amari and Trussville School Board Vice President Danny Garrett are all running as Republicans for the House District 44 seat in the June 3rd Primary.
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.