By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Monday, July 7, the two Republican Primary Runoff candidates for Senate District 30 met at a forum at the Bass Pro Shoppe in Prattville, Alabama. Former Autauga County Commissioner Clyde Chambliss spoke at the forum along with his opponent, small business owner and electrician, Harrison Garner. The forum was hosted by the Central Alabama Republican Club.
Harrison Garner said, “I believe we should have term limits at all levels of government.” Garner committed to limit himself to just two terms in the Alabama Senate. Garner said, “I wish the Federal government would do the same.”
Chambliss said that he limited himself to three terms on the Autauga County Commission and committed to limiting himself to three terms in the Senate.
Chambliss and Garner both said that marriage is between one man and one woman.
Garner said that municipal governments and county commissioners in general would like to have more home rule, but you have got to be careful with that. It is a slippery slope because you don’t know who is going to have those positions in the future. The current Alabama Constitution contains checks and balances. “I would oppose home rule.”
Chambliss said, “I would favor limited home rule.” Limited not to include taxes or zoning authority. Giving counties zoning powers could drastically hurt our farmers.
Garner warned that there would be a chance of duplicated government services. Home rule could be a burden on landowners and property owners who go out in the country because they want more freedom.
Chambliss said that he support re-writing the Alabama Constitution in a piece meal fashion. A State Constitutional Convention would be taken over by special interests. Chambliss supports going back and revising the old language in the State Constitution and called the current work by the legislator a good start.
Garner said that our State Constitution has roughly 800 amendments to it. The writers of the 1901 Constitution made it difficult to change for a reason and he would never favor anything that would hurt the freedom of the people of Alabama. Changing the Constitution could be a slippery slope. Garner was in favor updating the Constitution by amendment or by changing articles of the Constitution.
Garner said he believes we should have stricter ethics reform. He said that he favors making legislators sit out for four years before they can return to Montgomery as lobbyists.
Chambliss also said there should be a four-year waiting period for former legislators becoming lobbyists.
Chambliss said he personally opposes a state lottery and believes that gambling revenues aren’t stable and is a tax on those who are least able to afford it. However Chambliss said, “I would support a vote on a lottery.” It would have to go to education and would have to in a regularly scheduled election.
Garner agreed, “I believe it is time if the people want to vote they should be entitled to it.” Garner said that a lottery vote should not be in a special election and all the money should be earmarked for higher education. “We have a lot of people trying to figure out how to send a child to college.” Garner said that support for a lottery is a lot more favorable that it was years ago. We are a people represented by representatives and if the people want to vote on it I will let them.
Garner vowed, “I will never raise taxes on the citizens of Alabama.” Garner included in that no vote of any kind for fee increases. “We are overtaxed already.” “New taxes are not going to solve our problems.” Garner also said he was opposed to a unified budget combining the education and general funds.
Garner said that we won’t solve our revenue problem without putting people back to work and that we need to spend the people’s money wisely.
Chambliss said that he will never say never. In Chilton County they don’t have a hospital anymore and people die on the highway going to seek treatment. They have the right to vote on that themselves. There are times when it is appropriate to allow people a vote on whether or not they want to raise revenues.
Garner accused Chambliss of having raised taxes or fees seven times as a member of the Autauga County Commission.
Chambliss said that Garner lied about his record. The first time he lied about me raising taxes was at Verbena. Chambliss said that Garner is including annual renewals of already existing taxes in his campaign ads as well as creating a new slot for a new type of business license and calling those tax increases. Chambliss reiterated his position that, “Mr Garner lied.”
Garner said, “My opponent just called me a liar.” We have records. I am not lying. I am just stating the facts that is not mudslinging.
Garner said, “I support the governor’s decision to reject Medicaid expansion.”
Chambliss also stated his opposition to expanding the expensive Medicaid system to include even more persons in Alabama.
Garner said that we have to make sure that our kids are properly educated, but what we have to look at is our current public education system. Garner said we have got to fix some things; but called the Alabama Accountability Act a band aid.
Garner said he was opposed to the controversial Common Core standards. “It is not a solution to our problems here in Alabama.”
Chambliss said, “I am opposed to common core as well. I have been from the beginning of this campaign.” Chambliss accused Garner of putting out information there that is not correct.
Garner said that if he had been in the legislature he would have supported Sen. Scott Beason’s bill. He opposes the federal government trying infiltrate our school systems. He supported Beason’s bill forbidding school systems from accepting “Race to the Top” money from the federal government or reporting information about students to them.
Chambliss said that he will not throw his support behind any certain bill to overturn Common Core, but did say that he liked Senator Dick Brewbaker’s the best. Chambliss opposes taking us back to the old standards, before Common Core however. Chambliss would take the Brewbaker bill and create a committee of parents and teachers to write the next set of standards that allows Alabama to compete on a worldwide stage.
Garner said that he is committed to co-sponsor the Brewbaker bill and charged that Chambliss has twice said he would not sponsor or co-sponsor a bill, but would instead leave it to the state board of education who is being manipulated by the Business Council of Alabama (BCA). “Common Core has got to go.”
Chambliss said the school board apparently is not going to do something so we will have to do it.
Garner denied having taken any money from AEA. Garner accused the Realtors association and the BCA of putting out false information. “I have never taken money from them (AEA).” Garner said that he started this campaign 9 months ago running against incumbent Senator Taylor (Sen. Taylor did not run for re-election.) “I want to be a statesman.” “I made a huge investment into this campaign.” My opponent has made little personal investment in his campaign. I have taken money from PCI (the Poarch Creek Indians), because I could not keep up with the special interests that have invested huge amounts into my opponent’s campaign. We got to do what we got to do and I only did that after he heard that my opponent was down at Atmore (PCI headquarters).
Chambliss said, “I have never been to Atmore to talk to the Indians.” Chambliss did say that he had taken contributions from BCA and praised BCA for their role in passing tort reform. Chambliss said that only 14% of his contributions came from BCA, while 63% of Garner’s contributions came from the Indians (PCI). Chambliss said that Garner is so desperate to get his $163,000 personal loan back that he made a deal with them (PCI). “He will get that money back IF HE WINS!”
Chambliss said the biggest issue we have is fiscal responsibility. Chambliss said that the state needs to budget so that when recessions come we are no devastated by them and said that the Rolling reserve act is a step in the right direction. He favors basing next year’s spending on prior year revenues rather than factoring in projected growth in revenues. The net affect over time would be increased reserves. “It all ties back to the finances. We know the economy is going to go down because it always does.”
Garner said that the long term fix is making more Alabamians into productive citizens and Alabama’s fiscal problems would be solved by the resulting revenue from sales and income taxes. Garner predicted that the state’s fiscal problems will continue until we put people back to work: getting the people out of the dens or wherever they are at and putting them back to work or in small businesses.
Garner said that he owns Garner Electric with his wife, and is running because somebody has got to step up. Career politicians are ruining this country. They are ruining this state. Garner promised if elected that he would not take a salary and instead would put the money into a third party trust and would give it to volunteer fire departments in the district.
Chambliss said that Garner, “Has done everything and said everything to destroy my reputation.” “If a man will distort my faith I think he will distort the truth.” The contrast is clear. He spent the last six weeks talking about me. I spent the last six weeks talking about me and the stories are different.
Chambliss said I don’t think you would hire an accountant with no experience I don’t think you would hire a doctor who had no experience. I don’t think you would even hire an electrician to wire your home who had no experience. Experience is not a bad thing.
The Republican Primary runoff is July 15.
No Democrat qualified for the open seat. The winner of the Republican Primary will have to face Independent Bryan Morgan in the November 4 General Election ballot.
“A tidal wave:” ICU beds scarce as Alabama breaks another hospitalization record
Infectious diseases experts worry if hospitals will have enough staff to handle “what might be a tidal wave of patients in the next month.”
There were no intensive care beds available in Mobile County on Tuesday, the second day in a row Alabama set a record for hospitalized COVID-19 patients, and if models hold up, there could soon be the need to set up temporary medical facilities outside of hospitals, according to a UAB infectious disease expert.
Dr. Jeanna Marrazzo, director of UAB’s Division of Infectious Diseases, told reporters on Tuesday that looking at some models that forecast what might happen in the three weeks after Thanksgiving “you could conceivably see a true need for setting up ancillary care places in three weeks.”
“I hope that doesn’t happen. Are we looking at the kind of situation that New York City experienced in March? A lot depends on what happened over Thanksgiving weekend,” Marrazzo said, referring to the use of tent hospitals in New York City during the early spring surge there that overran hospitals.
UAB had a record high 125 COVID-19 patients hospitalized on Monday and Tuesday, and Huntsville Hospital also set a new record Tuesday, with 317 hospitalized. There was a record high 1,785 COVID-19 hospitalizations statewide on Tuesday, and on Monday there had never been fewer intensive care beds available in the state.
Marrazzo said the health care workforce continues to work valiantly and are “struggling very hard.” What keeps her up at night, she said, is worrying if hospitals will have enough staff to handle “what might be a tidal wave of patients in the next month.”
“It may not look like we can affect what’s going to happen in two to three weeks, post-Thanksgiving, but we can impact what happens around Christmas time and after that,” Marrazzo said.
The death toll from COVID-19 continues to increase across most of the country, Marrazzo said. On average, the U.S. is seeing between 1,400 and 1,600 people lose their lives to coronavirus each day, she said. In Alabama, at least 3,638 people have died from COVID-19.
Alabama reported an additional 60 deaths on Tuesday and has averaged at least 24 deaths reported each day over the last two weeks.
Each morning, Marrazzo gets a list of those admitted to UAB for COVID-19, those discharged and those coronavirus patients who have died. Not a day goes by when there isn’t one name on that list of someone who didn’t make it, she said.
“And I think about that person, and I think about their family,” Marrazzo said. “And unfortunately those numbers, as I mentioned before, are going up, and the balance of people being admitted is higher than the number of people who are being discharged.”
Alabama added 3,376 cases on Tuesday, which was the largest single-day case increase, excluding when on Oct. 23 ADPH added older backlogged test results. Tuesday’s high number was the product of a delay in reporting to ADPH due to the holiday weekend, the department said in a data note.
Still, Alabama’s case count continues to increase alarmingly and testing is still down, Marrazzo explained. The state’s 14-day average of new daily cases on Tuesday was at 2,289. That’s a 28 percent increase from just two weeks ago.
“This is a really, really scary inflection point, “Marrazzo said, “and I don’t think that we are going to be able to turn it around without experiencing some more stress and some more pain.”
The positivity rate in Alabama over the last week has been an average of 32 percent, more than five times as high as public health experts say it should be to ensure there are enough tests and cases aren’t going undetected.
“If we would test more we would probably find more, so I think these numbers are an underestimate,” Marrazzo said.
Asked what has gone wrong, that even with the knowledge of how people can protect themselves — wearing masks, practicing social distancing and staying home as much as possible — we’re still seeing huge spikes, Marrazzo described a complicated set of circumstances.
“Is it because they don’t believe it’s going to affect them?” she asked.
At first, COVID-19 was something happening in China, and then it moved closer to home, Marrazzo explained. Next, it became a question of “well, it’s older people who are getting sick,” and there was a sense of invulnerability among the young, who thought they’d be fine and that they wouldn’t infect others, she said.
“And then I think even for people who have been trying to be good there’s a huge amount of fatigue,” Marrazzo said. Even health care workers become worn down, and may take risks they know they shouldn’t and become infected in their own communities, she said.
“I think we’ve been hammering it home, but I also think in some ways, we need to do it in a way that’s sympathetic and not angry,” she said. “Because yeah, I’m pretty upset about what’s going to happen in the next couple of weeks, but getting angry with people and shaming them is not the answer at this point, so I think all we can do is to continue to report on the facts.”
Last Conversations: Dr. Frank Lockwood
At the time of those texts, I had no clue that I’d never speak with my brother again.
My brother, Frank Lockwood, was a family practice doctor with an office in McDonough, Georgia. Frank was a great doctor, who used his intelligence, compassion and humor to improve the lives of his patients. And, even though he was great at his job, the practice of medicine, in many ways, just paid the bills.
Above all else, Frank wanted to be an entertainer. He submitted video applications to participate on “Survivor” and even got a call-back for “The Mole.” The highlight of his 15 minutes of fame was his disastrous appearance on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” (Google: Worst. Audience. Ever. On. Millionaire.)
Locally, Frank was a founding member of Atlanta’s Village Theatre, an improv comedy group.
In short, Frank was highly intelligent and wickedly funny. So, I was dismayed when he called me in early July, and I couldn’t recognize his voice. Frank told me that he’d contracted coronavirus from one of his patients and had been sick for several days. The cadence and rhythm of his voice were clearly Frank, but the pitch was all wrong. I assume the coughing had wreaked havoc on his vocal cords.
I am an employment lawyer. I defend employers who are getting sued by their employees. In my younger days, I defended plenty of employers who were sued for workers’ compensation benefits — monetary and medical benefits provided to employees who are injured on-the-job.
Thus, in my role as the Lockwood Family Consigliere, Frank wanted to know if he could receive workers’ compensation benefits from his employer because he caught coronavirus at work. We discussed the intricacies of a workers’ compensation claim, and Frank hung-up, promising to think about the issue further.
My next communications with my brother were my last. On July 3, 2020, at 5:36 a.m., I received this text from him: Wanna work comp these folks to death. I’m in micu now.
MICU is the intensive care unit. I was asleep at 5:36 a.m., but I texted back at 7:40: Glad to see the ‘rona has not dampened your spirit. Want me to get you a lawyer?
His response: Yep.
At the time of those texts, I had no clue that I’d never speak with my brother again. He was 52 and in good physical shape with no co-morbidities. He was a patient in a hospital where he knew all of the physicians treating him. I knew a few people who contracted the disease and recovered. Everything I read led me to believe that my brother would have a fight but would recover.
It didn’t work out that way. Frank was sedated, placed on a ventilator and temporarily rallied. The greatest tragedy is that he was removed from the ventilator and briefly conscious on July 13, but his husband, Bernie, did not get a chance to speak with him.
Frank’s immune system turned on him with a “cytokine storm.” He was returned to the ventilator and struggled for the next three weeks. I am thankful that I was able to be present, along with Bernie and our brother, Chris, when he passed away on Aug. 5.
As we walked out of the hospital that day, an announcement was made over the facility intercom that a patient was leaving for home. And then they played Pharrell’s “Happy.” In hindsight, I’m pretty sure that song was for somebody else. But at that moment Bernie, Chris and I simultaneously bawled and laughed. To us, it was like Frank Lockwood, the entertainer, had chosen his own exit music.
I’ve got a lot of regrets about my relationship with my brother and my last words with him. But, I promise you this: We have retained counsel in Georgia, and we are gonna work comp those folks to death.
Kirk Hatcher’s (potential) problem with the Hatch Act
Hatcher is set to face former Rep. John Knight in a special election runoff on Dec. 15.
Is Kirk Hatcher eligible to run for public office? That might seem like an easy question to answer, given that Hatcher has represented Alabama’s 78th House District since 2018 and is currently the overwhelming favorite to win a special election for the District 26 state Senate seat.
But on Monday, a question about Hatcher’s eligibility — specifically, whether the Hatch Act would prohibit him from holding public office because of his employment as director of Head Start in Montgomery — sent Hatcher’s staff scrambling.
While assuring APR that Hatcher is “absolutely eligible” to run, his spokesperson, Ashley Roseboro, forwarded a redacted opinion that Roseboro said the campaign requested and received from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.
Roseboro said the opinion stated that “Rep. Hatcher is in full compliance with the Hatch Act.”
However, that opinion, after the redactions were removed by APR, turned out to be from 2014 and for a nonprofit named Opportunities for Otsego, located in upstate New York. It did not address Hatcher’s specific situation, and it obviously did not find him in “full compliance.”
The Hatch Act is a federal law in place to prevent federally funded programs from engaging in political activities and to restrict the political activities of federal employees and employees whose salaries are funded by federal grants. In Hatch Act guidance issued by various agencies online, Head Start programs and their employees are specifically mentioned as examples of workers who cannot participate in political activities during working hours or run for or hold partisan public office.
As the director of Montgomery’s Head Start program within the Montgomery Community Action Partnership, Hatcher would seem to fall under that limitation. However, there are a few exceptions to that general rule, mostly based on how federal funds are distributed and controlled at the state and local level.
According to the Otsego opinion, which outlines the general funding setup for Otsego County’s Head Start programs, it seems likely that the Head Start program in Montgomery also operates on federal grant dollars and has local control of how that money is spent.
In that case, according to the Office of Special Counsel in the Otsego opinion, Hatcher, as the Head Start director, would be ineligible to hold partisan public office if his salary was fully funded by federal money.
APR asked Roseboro if Hatcher’s salary was partially funded by sources other than federal funds. He declined to answer, saying only that “Rep. Hatcher is eligible to hold public office.”
Late Monday night, Roseboro sent a final email acknowledging that the initial opinion he sent APR was not prepared for the Hatcher campaign, as he previously stated. Instead, he said the campaign was directed to that opinion by the Office of Special Counsel when it called seeking guidance regarding Hatcher and the Hatch Act. Roseboro said the campaign also spoke with attorneys at the Special Counsel’s office, but specifics about those conversations or when they took place were not provided.
The email also contained a statement from Hatcher: “My candidacy for State Senate is not in violation of the Hatch Act and I am in compliance with all state and federal election laws. I am excited about finishing this race as people have shown that they are ready to move forward with new leadership and continue to maximize Montgomery’s opportunities and potential.”
The email did not offer an explanation of how Hatcher is in compliance with the Hatch Act or what specific exception he is relying on.
Hatcher is set to face former Rep. John Knight in a special election runoff on Dec. 15. The winner of that runoff is almost certain to become the District 26 state senator.
Alabama Political Reporter partners with Covering Climate Now
We’re making a commitment to inform you, our readers, about the parts of climate change that are within your spheres of influence.
Climate change is a complex and evolving subject. It is often difficult to comprehend on a personal and community level, yet its effects are already being felt on those levels, whether we realize it or not. Climate science researchers project catastrophic consequences for every place and organism on Earth if current trends continue, and most say that humanity is somewhere inside a critical window for action that may prevent the worst.
At Alabama Political Reporter, we believe that within this context, journalism’s role is to make sense of this topic as it relates to our state. Every person on the planet is doing something about climate change for better or for worse, intentionally or not. We’re making a commitment to inform you, our readers, about the parts of it that are within your spheres of influence. APR is excited to announce a partnership with Covering Climate Now (CCN), a global journalism initiative co-founded in 2019, by the Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation, in association with The Guardian. In partnering with CCN, we join more than 400 news outlets globally with a combined audience approaching 2 billion people.
CCN will work with APR as we craft climate coverage stories that will show the real impact those changes are having on communities, as we hold businesses and politicians accountable for how they are addressing climate change — or aren’t — and how poor people and people of color are disproportionately impacted.
Through this partnership, APR‘s stories will be available to a wider audience, and APR will occasionally publish articles from other outlets that are relevant to our readers. Our focus will be projections for our region and prevention.
APR began a more concerted effort to cover climate change during the summer of 2019. Throughout the year, we talked with state experts, such as James McClintock, a professor of polar and marine biology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, who has spent decades researching climate change. APR looked at how people communicate about climate change, how climate-change-induced heatwaves and stagnation are affecting air quality and how Auburn University planned to use a $3 million grant to fund climate change education.
With a new administration entering the White House in January will come changes in how the federal government addresses the threat of climate change. President-elect Joe Biden’s appointment of former U.S. secretary of state and Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry as special envoy on the climate crisis is a sign that a Biden administration plans to tackle climate change head-on.
Kerry was instrumental in the international effort to craft the Paris climate agreement, and he will likely approach climate change as a foreign policy issue.
“America will soon have a government that treats the climate crisis as the urgent national security threat it is,” Kerry tweeted on Nov. 23.
Biden also recently appointed numerous climate advocates to senior economic leadership positions, including climate change advocate Neera Tanden, as White House budget director. Tandem is president and CEO of the Center for American Progress and CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
“President-elect Joe Biden has committed to a government-wide strategy to combat the climate crisis — a plan that must start with investing in clean, renewable energy so we can put people back to work,” said Lori Lodes, executive director of Climate Power 2020, a partnership of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club. “This team of outspoken advocates for climate innovation and leadership will be meaningful allies for Biden’s vision of immediate and bold climate action on day one of the new administration.”
With the incoming administration refocusing on the climate crisis, APR believes that it is critical to refocus coverage on a topic that will continue to impact Alabamians for decades, and generations, to come.
We hope that through factual reporting, with a focus on the human impact, APR will give our readers and state leaders better information with which to make decisions that can affect lives and our environment for the better.