By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Monday, April 21, the seven Republican candidates in the Sixth District met at Hoover High School for their third candidate forum. The candidates each gave a standard introduction and closing statement. Hoover High School students asked questions directed at each candidate. Radio hosts from 105.5 FM; Leah Brandon, Jim Faherty, and Jeff ‘J.T.’ Tyson; also had the opportunity to ask questions directed at each candidate. The format did not allow head to head debate and not every candidate got to answer each question.
Former Alabama Policy Institute (API) founder Gary Palmer said that he is from Hackleburg and is the first member of his family to graduate from college. Palmer said “We are facing some serious problems,” but that solutions existed to turn the nation around.
Palmer said that we are going to replace the Affordable Care Act. We can insure every America for a fraction of the cost. The nation needs to unleash its considerable energy resources to put Americans back to work. There are 3 trillion barrels of oil in one formation out west, 70% of it on land owned by the federal government. That is more than the world has used in the last 100 years.
Robert Shattuck said, “Congress has stopped working,” and that his first priority would be to get Congress functioning properly but that he had a plan to do that. However on the various topics like education, energy policy, national security, etc. being asked about today he had no position at this time. Shattuck said that average Republicans, average Democrats and average independents can come together to find common ground; but that a political class for their own personal benefit seeks to divide the electorate which prevents getting compromise. “I do not have any preset ideas on many of these issues,” Shattuck said.
Tom Vigneulle is the owners of Royal Bedding Mattress Manufacturing in Pelham. His father was a pastor at Shades Mountain Church and grew up in Hoover. There are seven of us on the stage and six of us are going to vote 90% of the time the same way. Vigneulle said, “We need to have an advocate working for small business.” “89% of Americans will work for a small business at some time in our lives.” Small business is the engine that drives the economy.
Dr. Chad Mathis said, “What we need in Congress are citizen legislators.” “My background is as a physician and a small business man.” Mathis said he has learned about the problems with Obamacare first hand by talking to his patients. “I have seen this and I want to fight this in Washington,” Mathis said.
State Senator Scott Beason (R) from Gardendale said that his, “Track record shows that I have been willing and able to get pieces of legislation passed. There is always an ability to compromise.” “If we will work together we can solve the issues that we face
Shattuck said, “I think I indicated on my website and otherwise that I have a plan for reforming how Washington works.” Once that happens Shattuck will develop plans on individual issues.
Leah Brandon asked, “You are saying that you are not going to give us any answers?”
Shattuck said, “I have no preset ideas.”
Will Brooke said that he practiced law in a very wide variety of areas not just corporate law. He has served as COO and corporate counsel at Harbert where he has started over two dozen companies and can count over six hundred jobs created in the Sixth District alone. Brooke said that he has been involved in a variety of charity and civic organizations all of whom were better after he got involved. Brooke said that we need to make progress in this country.
Palmer promised if elected, “I will only serve 5 terms that is ten years.” Palmer said has networked in every state with 65 state based think tanks. Reforms would be introduced in Congress but to get passed you need to take them back to the state and drive reform from the bottom up.
Tom Vigneulle said, “I am a small business owner and cattle owner.” “We keep sending professional politicians and lawyers,” to Congress and there are already over a 100 lawyers in Congress. “I would not want a hundred mattress manufacturers in Washington. The nation is $17.6 trillion in debt. “I am calling for a fundamental change in how we do things.” Vigneulle supports the Fair tax.
State Representative Paul DeMarco from Homewood said, “If I am honored to be elected I will make sure that I am representing people looking out for the Sixth District.” DeMarco declined to tell which ideological group he would caucus with in the House. DeMarco did promise to be available and approachable to constituents.
Dr. Chad Mathis said in response to a question about his negative campaign ads, “We said we are all similar on the issues. We need to be careful about where the talking points do not match up with past actions.”
Gary Palmer said that he would support either a flat tax or a fair tax as an improvement on the current complicated tax system, but that if he had to choose, “I would be for a fair tax.” Palmer cited 25 years of experience working and opposes the death tax. Palmer said that we should cut the corporate tax in half. $1.7 trillion held by corporations overseas would be repatriated.
Shattuck said that he had no opinion on Speaker John Boehner. Shattuck said that Boehner is part of the problem, but he is not particularly relevant.
Will Brooke said on legalizing marijuana. “We have a remarkable Constitution that leaves certain things to the states.” “Colorado has made its own decision.” it is an experiment that we all are watching. “In this state there is currently no appetite for legalizing marijuana.”
Rep. DeMarco responding to a question about making South Alabama’s Tenesaw Delta a new national park said, “I am concerned any time we are giving the federal government more land. I would be concerned about taking more lands that are already accessible to the public.”
Palmer agreed with DeMarco and said that most of the Tenesaw Delta is owned and protected by Forever Wild and does not need to be a national park.
Shattuck cited energy as a good example where average Democrats average Republicans and average independents agree. “We have a mess in Washington because Congress has stopped functioning for the American people.”
Mathis in a question on mental health said, “You don’t look to the government to solve those problems you look to the health professionals in that area: the psychiatrists and psychologists.” Mathis did favor funding the National Institute of Health (NIH).
Vigneulle said that in Nevada the desert tortoise and those cows have been there for hundreds of years and the cows have not affected those turtles. Vigneulle condemned overregulation. Vigneulle said, “What the federal government did (to rancher Clive Bundy) was such an overreach it was incredible… The American people are tired of how the government is treating its citizens.”
Brooke said that our immigration laws are creating a serious problem for the country. Presidents, particularly this President, have not enforced immigration laws. Congress needs to deal with this. The President is ignoring the law. We need to take control of our borders and a path for legal status for those who are here illegally. Brooke said we need to have comprehensive immigration reform and that he doesn’t care which Congress passes it but it needs to be a thoughtful solution.
Palmer said that the federal government is doing a terrible job of interdicting drugs coming into the country. “Young people are literally destroying their futures by using drugs.”
Senator Beason said the United States has a tremendous reserve of oil and gas however the federal government has regulated us out of using those reserves. “If we would open up those reserves we would have an energy renaissance.” A lot of problems we have we have done to ourselves. We need to tap those resources we have and need to do it in a responsible way. Beason said it is difficult to drive a car with a windmill on top. “Oil is going to be with us for a very long time.”
Rep. DeMarco said, “We have got to go back to a system where there is choice for healthcare.” DeMarco proposed creating a panel of experts: doctors, administrators and patients to study healthcare reform. Part of that likely includes more medical malpractice reform and allowing insurance buyers to buy across state borders.
Chad Mathis said, “I will be working as part of the doctor caucus,” to be part of that team that is working on healthcare reform. It will have to pass the House then for it to pass Republicans will have to take back the Senate. With both Houses of Congress Republicans can delay implementation for two years. “It will take a Republican President to repeal and replace,” Obamacare. Mathis favors patients making choices on their doctors, Health Savings Accounts, individuals making decisions about where their money goes, and tax credit for small businesses. Reform should get the government out of the business of healthcare.
DeMarco said that as a member of the state legislature, “I have been opposed to Common Core.” “We don’t even need a Department of Education.” “We don’t need Washington pushing down on Hoover.” “I want local decisions made because local decisions are best.”
Jim Faherty asked the candidates is they were all opposed to Common Core. The six mainstream Republican candidates all were. Shattuck said that he has no opinion.
Brooke said that Obamacare was a socialist policy and is inconsistent with how we run our country. He favored a free market centered program, portability, tearing down barriers between competition, emergency care centers instead of an emergency room, and fixing CMS reimbursement rates.
Beason said Congress should look at how the healthcare law affects people. We need to look at how do we get healthcare costs down. Beason favors competition and bringing the market into play. “That is really the direction we need to go.”
Palmer said that he supported Governor Bentley’s decision not to expand Alabama Medicaid. Palmer said that we did a study of this and it would cost the state $600 to $700 million over a period of ten years and we can’t afford what we already have. The present Medicaid system has zero incentives for recipients to live healthier lifestyles or make sensible choices about their healthcare and suggested HSAs for Medicaid recipients.
Vigneulle said that unlike the other folks on the stage he has been personally affected by Obamacare. His insurance cost has climbed from $685 a month to $1524 a month.
Obamacare is regulation of healthcare and we should move to a more free market system.
Rep. DeMarco said that the Second Amendment is something that I support and I have always supported. “Gun control is not the answer,” to dealing with gun violence like at Sandy Hook. If government disarms citizens, “The ones with the guns will be the bad guys.”
Brooke said, “The Second Amendment is in our Constitution is in there for a reason.” Brooke said that it is a guarantee of freedom for the American people and we should never be casual about taking freedom away. Brooke said that the permitting process is an important part of keeping guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t carry. Sheriffs know who is dangerous. “Let sheriffs control who can carry a gun.”
Palmer when asked how someone can be both anti-abortion and pro-death penalty and still call themselves Pro-Life said, “I don’t think there is an inconsistency because the government has the right to protect the public.” The fundamental issue that we have to deal with is the protection of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Of these the first one is life. Without life, liberty and the Pursuit of happiness doesn’t matter.
Mathis said, “I think we do need to pass legislation to limit abortions.” “Life begins at conception.” “We need to overturn Roe v. Wade,” and that he favors no abortions allowed after 20 weeks.
On social issues Shattuck said that he, “Will do what the voters of the sixth district tells me to do.”
Brooke said that marriage is between a man and a woman, but states are places where we can experiment. Alabama is nowhere near a place where it would legalize same sex marriage. Brooke said all of us are created by God and we need to be kinder to one another. Many of the social issues should stay out of the public domain so we can deal with each other civilly.
Brooke said that there are major issues for the nation to focus on now. The federal government should not pay so much attention to social issues which are divisive
Rep. DeMarco said that the government has a spending problem not a revenue problem. Government needs to get out of the way so the private sector can create jobs. DeMarco said that EPA regulations are getting in the way of economic growth.
Sen. Beason said that it will take about five years to balance the budget but we have to move toward a balanced budget with each step. Beason said that the federal government can abolish the Department of Education, the Department of Energy, and the EPA and that across the board cuts through proration also can be useful because it will show what is necessary and what is not.
Brooke said that Congress seems to have no willpower when it comes to the budget. Obama has doubled spending over the term of his office and this was inexcusable. The first thing to do is to repeal Obamacare because it is going to cost us $2.7 trillion we do not have.
Beason said that he was pointing out to the ‘Anniston Star’ reporter that overall the textbook he was referencing has an anti-American bias. Beason said we should be teaching a more balanced point of view. “America’s best days are ahead of us. American is a fantastically great place. That is what I want taught in those history books.”
Beason said that the biggest obstacle to abolishing Common Care in Alabama is the Business Council of Alabama. School Superintendents across Alabama also supported Common Core. “If we are going to adopt a new way of doing things we need to adopt a system that is proven,” not an educational experiment that is unproven because there is a promise of dollars.
Vigneulle called for a redistribution of the Department of Education’s funds. Very little of their $52 billion reaches the states or the students. “Send their $52 billion back to the parents. Whether it is for a public school, a private school or a home school. When we empower parents to educate their children, they will find a path too success.
Beason said, “If you look at the amount of money that I have not been able to raise you can see that I am not the darling of the lobbyists. I never have been.” Citizens tend to be apathetic. “It is important to make sure that we elect people that can say no to the lobbyists.”
Shattuck said, “I support simplification of the internal revenue code.” He said that lobbyists preserving their deduction fight reform but that he would support a simpler fairer tax code. He said that he preferred a flat tax.
Leah Brandon asked Brooke to clarify his answer on immigration because it sounded like code for something else. Ms. Brandon asked Brooke if he supported a path to citizenship for illegal aliens as a part of comprehensive immigration reform.
Brooke said that he is not in favor of amnesty, but it was not pragmatic to send out paddie wagons to pick up 11 million illegal aliens. Many of those people are serving in important roles in the economy like working for peach farmers and tomato farmers in the sixth district. “If they are breaking laws they need to leave.” “The ones that remain can play the part that immigrants have always played.” We need to control our borders and we need a rational immigration policy that identifies people with special skills because we need to attract those people.
Brooke when asked if he supported Alabama’s anti-illegal immigration law (HB 56) said, “The only reason we had to have any law in the state of Alabama is the President and the Congress are refusing to do their job.”
Vigneulle said that 36% of the graduates from college are getting jobs that don’t use their degree. I am a small business owner for 23 years. Vigneulle said that we need to get the government out of the way by putting regulations back under Congress and getting taxes out of the way with tax reform. Dealing with deregulation, reforming how we do taxes, and repealing Obamacare will grow the economy so that in four or five years when Hoover High School students finish college and are out in their work force they will have jobs.
Shattuck said that Washington has been highjacked by lobbyists. “I believe there is a dire problem.”
Palmer said, “Most people believe the country is going in the wrong direction.” “I believe we can turn it around. He promised to use his network of 65 local organizations to move the debate out of Washington and to get the country back on the right track.
Dr. Mathis said, “I am just a dad and a doctor,” and urged the public to read his 12 point plan for repealing and replacing Obamacare.
Rep. Demarco said, I am proud to be here. I have been here my entire life. DeMarco promised that he will not move to Washington DC. “I will not forget that I represent the people of the Sixth District.”
Will Brooke said that Our Constitution allows us to have a revolution every two years. He wants to go make a difference for the people of the Sixth District. If we want different results we need to send a different sort of people to DC. I don’t need a job and I don’t need a career.
Senator Scott Beason said that he too is a small businessman and that he is a middle class guy from a middle class family. We need to grow the middle class. I have been the tip of the spear on Right to Life issues and Second Amendment issues.
Current Sixth District Congressman Spencer Bachus is retiring after 11 terms in the United States Congress.
The Republican Primary is June 3rd.
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.