By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Tuesday, July 1, both Senate District 17 Republican Runoff candidates, Shay Shelnutt and Brett King, spoke at Oneonta High School in a forum sponsored by the Blount County Chamber of Commerce. The forum was moderated by Blount County District Attorney Pamela L. Casey.
Locust Fork attorney Brett King thanked the Blount County Chamber of Commerce for hosting the debate. King said, “I look over this crowd and I see the decision makers in Blount County…Blount County is my home.” King said that he grew up on a farm near there with his dad and his brothers.
King said that he worked on several farms in Blount County to pay for his college education. King went to Jefferson State Community College, then went to Auburn University, then studied at Yale University. He studied engineering at Auburn, but ultimately went to the University of Alabama Law School.
King said, “God’s plan for my life is to practice law in a rural setting.” Since becoming an attorney King said that he has represented 2100 individuals, small businesses, and municipal governments.
King said, “When Scott (Beason) surprised us in February I had no visions of running. When I saw this opportunity I had to step forward. I will continue to try to step up when these opportunities arise.”
King said that the campaign has been a good experience, “We have got people supporting us that I did not even know before this race.”
Trussville realtor Shay Shelnutt said, “It is great to be here tonight…I was actually a teacher and a coach here in Oneonta High School. It is great to be back here reconnecting.” Shelnutt said that he grew up in Palmerdale.
Shelnutt said that although he liked coaching and teaching, “I made the decision to leave education and pursue real estate to better the situation for my family in 2006. I have been very blessed and successful. I am excited to be here to talk about the issues.”
“I will not create any taxes that the voters do not vote for…we have got to create jobs in order for economic growth to provide more revenues for first responders and government services. District 17 is a huge district. We have got to get over petty feuds. The district has four major interstates and other transportation infrastructure to grow but we have got to be business friendly and need leadership to get mayors and county commissioners working together.” Shelnutt said that he supports incentives to businesses if done right. “When people have a job they are going to go out and buy stuff and everybody gets a raise.”
Brett King said that when Blount County wanted to raise taxes on car tags to generate revenues that measure was defeated by almost 85% of the vote. “We want our roads in better shape but there is not money in the budget…The real answer is District 17 having a strong voice in Blount County.” King said that the highway 160 project has been bumped for too long because it has not been made a priority in Montgomery.
King said that there is a lot of undeveloped property in Blount County. Developing jobs there would allow people in Blount County to drive a little bit closer to work. When people start getting jobs in the district they will buy their gas and do their shopping closer to home and keep those dollars in the district.
King said that Blount County is really going to grow with the completion of the Northern belt line. We need to learn from Shelby County what they did right with that kind of growth and what they did wrong. “We don’t want to be Shelby County.”
The moderator asked King if he supported building a new landfill in Countyline. King said that he recently had lunch with several landfill owners and he did not see a need for another landfill in Blount County and supports Governor Bentley’s moratorium on siting more landfills. King said, building too many landfills too close together is like building too many railroads too close together in the 19th century. There is not enough business and they all lose money. “It is not good for 30 or 40 dumps to be open and all be marginally profitable.”
Shay Shelnutt said I am against a new dump in Blount County and Jefferson County and will sign a pledge to that affect. Shelnutt said as a realtor he understood that dumps are not good for property values.
On Alabama’s looming prison crisis, Shelnutt said, “I don’t want them (convicts) on the streets.” Shelnutt favored building more prisons but opposes new taxes to pay for the prisons. Shelnutt hope that a rising economy will make up an anticipated $200 million shortfall in the 2016 general fund budget.
Brett King said, “dealing with prison overcrowding will be the first thing we take on next year. Sen. Cam Ward and others are already working on addressing sentencing reform. Alabama has the highest incarceration rate of any state in the Union…part of that solution is addressing the problem of crime with young people. We have got to get our young people more in line with the decisions they make.” King said that he would like to hold circuit court on this (Oneonta H.S.) stage and every stage in the district so that high school students can watch a guy be sentenced to years of his life behind bars. King said that that would be a powerful testimonial for the youth to actually see.
King said that as a defense attorney he has had to deal with clients who started drugs when they were young. They fathered babies they are not taking care of and there is nothing they can do about it because they are now behind bars.
King said that we need creative solutions to deal with the general fund problem. Solution #1 would be to trim some fat from the Medicaid mess. “The General fund budget is being consumed by prisons and Medicaid and Medicaid is growing at 15% a year and it is going to consume the whole general fund if the State does not do something about it.”
Then, the candidates were allowed to ask each other questions. King asked Shelnutt about his campaign literature in which he said that he would be guided by the Bible and the Constitution if elected. King asked what are your favorite parts of the Bible and the U.S. Constitution and explain why?
Shelnutt thought for a minute and then said that his favorite verse of the Bible is Joshua 1:9: ‘Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.’ (NASB). On the Constitution part of the question Shelnutt said, “That stumped me. I don’t have a favorite part of the Constitution.
Shelnutt asked King which school did he pull for: Alabama or Auburn?
King said I spent three years of my life in Auburn. The engineering program at Auburn was phenomenal. I was in Tuscaloosa from 03 from 06. We did not win a lot on the football field when I was there because of some of the coaching we had then. The University of Alabama Law School does a great job of teaching you how to practice law. “I am proud to be a graduate from both of our two flagship institutions.” “Roll Tide and War Eagle baby!”
Shay Shelnutt said, “I am excited by the support. We are both very intelligent guys. I am a businessman. We are both local guys. I am older than Brett. Shelnutt said that his experience working with families on their real estate needs has prepared him to be the next State Senator.
Shelnutt said that a year ago he was sitting with his wife. He was making a great living as a realtor, but told his wife that he wanted a challenge. “When you have a praying wife be careful what you say.” Well, she began praying for an opportunity for Shay and then this one opened up, when Sen. Beason chose not to seek re-election.
The Senate District 17 incumbent, Senator Scott Beason (R) vacated the seat to pursue the Sixth Congressional District seat being vacated by longtime incumbent Rep. Spencer Bachus (R) from Vestavia.
Blount Chamber of Commerce Director Amy Wilson told the crowd that, “The key to Blount Counties’ future will be in this election and we need a good turnout.”
The Republican Primary Runoff election is June 15 across the State.
Alabama hospitals nearing COVID-19 summer surge levels
Wednesday was the 18th straight day with more than 1,000 people in hospitals in Alabama with COVID-19.
Alabama hospitals reported caring for 1,483 people infected with COVID-19 on Wednesday, the highest number of patients since Aug. 11, when the state was enduring its summer surge. Wednesday was also the 18th straight day with more than 1,000 people in hospitals in Alabama with COVID-19.
The seven-day average of hospitalizations was 1,370 on Wednesday, the 36th straight day of that average rising. The Alabama Department of Public Health reported 2,453 new cases Wednesday. The 14-day average of new cases was — for the eighth day in a row — at a record high of 2,192.
Across the country, more than 80,000 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 on Tuesday, a record high and the 15th straight day of record hospitalizations nationwide, according to the COVID Tracking Project, a coronavirus tracking website.
The CDC this week recommended people not travel for Thanksgiving to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.
“The only way for us to successfully get through this pandemic is if we work together,” said Dr. Kierstin Kennedy, UAB’s chief of hospital medicine, in a message Tuesday. “There’s no one subset of the community that’s going to be able to carry the weight of this pandemic and so we all have to take part in wearing our masks, keeping our distance, making sure that we’re washing our hands.”
Kennedy said the best way she can describe the current situation is “Russian Roulette.”
“Not only in the form of, maybe you get it and you don’t get sick or maybe you get it and you end up in the ICU,” Kennedy said, “but if you do end up sick, are you going to get to the hospital at a time when we’ve got capacity, and we’ve got enough people to take care of you? And that is a scary thought.”
The Alabama Department of Public Health on Wednesday reported an increase of 60 confirmed and probable COVID-19 deaths. Deaths take time to confirm and the date a death is reported does not necessarily reflect the date on which the individual died. At least 23 of those deaths occurred in November, and 30 occurred in other months. Seven were undated. Data for the last two to three weeks are incomplete.
As of Wednesday, at least 3,532 Alabamians have died of COVID-19, according to the Department of Public Health. During November, at least 195 people have died in Alabama from COVID-19. But ADPH is sure to add more to the month’s tally in the weeks to come as data becomes more complete.
ADPH on Wednesday announced a change that nearly doubled the department’s estimate of people who have recovered from COVID-19, bringing that figure up to 161,946. That change also alters APR’s estimates of how many cases are considered active.
ADPH’s Infectious Disease and Outbreak team “updated some parameters” in the department’s Alabama NEDSS Base Surveillance System, which resulted in the increase, the department said.
Judge reduces former Alabama Speaker Mike Hubbard’s prison sentence
The trial court judge ordered his 48-month sentence reduced to 28 months.
Lee County Circuit Court Judge Jacob Walker on Wednesday reduced former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard’s prison sentence from four years to just more than two.
Walker in his order filed Wednesday noted that Hubbard was sentenced to fours years on Aug. 9, 2016, after being convicted of 12 felony ethics charges for misusing his office for personal gain, but that on Aug. 27, 2018, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals reversed convictions on five of those counts. The Alabama Supreme Court later struck down another count.
Hubbard’s attorneys on Sept. 18 filed a motion to revise his sentence, to which the state objected, according to court records, arguing that “Hubbard’s refusal to admit any guilt or express any remorse makes him wholly unfit to receive any leniency.”
Walker in his order cited state code and wrote that the power of the courts to grant probation “is a matter of grace and lies entirely within the sound discretion of the trial court.”
“Furthermore, the Court must consider the nature of the Defendant’s crimes. Acts of public corruption harm not just those directly involved, but harm society as a whole,” Walker wrote.
Walker ruled that because six of Hubbard’s original felony counts were later reversed, his entrance should be changed to reflect that, and ordered his 48-month sentence reduced to 28 months.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall on Wednesday said Walker’s decision to reduce Hubbard’s sentence was the wrong message to send.
“Mr. Hubbard was convicted of the intentional violation of Alabama’s ethics laws, the same laws he championed in the legislature only later to brazenly disregard for his personal enrichment,” Marshall said in a statement. “Even as he sits in state prison as a six-time felon, Mike Hubbard continues to deny any guilt or offer any remorse for his actions in violation of the law. Reducing his original four-year sentence sends precisely the wrong message to would-be violators of Alabama’s ethics laws.”
Nick Saban tests positive for COVID-19, has “mild symptoms”
It’s unlikely Saban will be able to coach in person during Saturday’s Iron Bowl against Auburn.
University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban has tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of the Iron Bowl and has mild symptoms, according to a statement from the university on Wednesday.
“This morning we received notification that Coach Saban tested positive for COVID-19,” said Dr. Jimmy Robinson and Jeff Allan, associate athletic director, in the statement. “He has very mild symptoms, so this test will not be categorized as a false positive. He will follow all appropriate guidelines and isolate at home.”
Saban had previously tested positive before Alabama’s game against Georgia but was asymptomatic and subsequently tested negative three times, a sign that the positive test could have been a false positive. He returned to coach that game.
It’s unlikely Saban will be able to coach in person during Saturday’s Iron Bowl against Auburn, given the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for quarantining after testing positive and with symptoms. Neither Saban nor the university had spoken about that possibility as of Wednesday morning.
Civil rights leader Bruce Boynton dies at 83
The Dallas County Courthouse Annex will be renamed in honor of Boynton and fellow Civil Rights Movement leader J.L. Chestnut.
Selma attorney and Civil Rights Movement leader Bruce Carver Boynton died from cancer in a Montgomery hospital on Monday. He was 83. The Dallas County Courthouse Annex will be renamed in honor of Boynton and fellow Civil Rights Movement leader J.L. Chestnut.
“We’ve lost a giant of the Civil Rights Movement,” said Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-Alabama. “Son of Amelia Boynton Robinson, Bruce Boynton was a Selma native whose refusal to leave a “whites-only” section of a bus station restaurant led to the landmark SCOTUS decision in Boynton v. Virginia overturning racial segregation in public transportation, sparking the Freedom Rides and end of Jim Crow. Let us be inspired by his commitment to keep striving and working toward a more perfect union.”
Boynton attended Howard University Law School in Washington D.C. He was arrested in Richmond, Virginia, in his senior year of law school for refusing to leave a “whites-only” section of a bus station restaurant. That arrest and conviction would be appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court where Boynton and civil rights advocates prevailed in the landmark case 1060 Boynton vs. Virginia.
Boynton’s case was handled by famed civil rights era attorney Thurgood Marshal, who would go on to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. The 1960 7-to-2 decision ruled that federal prohibitions barring segregation on interstate buses also applied to bus stations and other interstate travel facilities.
The decision inspired the “Freedom Rides” movement. Some Freedom Riders were attacked when they came to Alabama.
While Boynton received a high score on the Alabama Bar exam, the Alabama Bar prevented him from working in the state for years due to that 1958 trespassing conviction. Undeterred, Boynton worked in Tennessee during the years, bringing school desegregation lawsuits.
Sherrilyn Ifill with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund said on social media: “NAACP LDF represented Bruce Boynton, who was an unplanned Freedom Rider (he simply wanted to buy a sandwich in a Va bus station stop & when denied was willing to sue & his case went to the SCOTUS) and later Bruce’s mother Amelia Boynton (in Selma after Bloody Sunday).”
His mother, Amelia Boynton, was an early organizer of the voting rights movement. During the Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March in 1965, she was beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. She later co-founded the National Voting Rights Museum and annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee in Selma. His father S.W. Boynton was also active in the Civil Rights Movement.
Bruce Boynton worked for several years at a Washington D.C. law firm but spent most of his long, illustrious legal career in Selma, Alabama, with a focus on civil rights cases. He was the first Black special prosecutor in Alabama history and at one point he represented Stokely Carmichael.
This year has seen the passing of a number of prominent Civil Rights Movement leaders, including Troy native Georgia Congressman John Lewis.