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Campaign Juggernaut Running Low on Cash

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—Political Action Committees controlled by Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, and former Gov. Bob Riley, are woefully underfunded heading into the November General Elections.

Combined Alabama 2014 PAC and Storm PAC have approximately $52,000. currently on hand. With several competitive Senate and House races looming, Hubbard and Riley will need to raise big money over the next three months if they hope to retain command over the Republican Supermajority at the State House.

To date, Alabama 2014 PAC has spent $2,055,466.98 and Storm PAC, $407,703.57. This is far short of the $10,000,000 Hubbard bragged about to the Birmingham Young Republicans in 2013.

Despite success in holding Senate seats during the ALGOP primary, seven of Hubbard’s handpicked candidates lost House seats to those friendly with the Alabama Education Association, (AEA).

There is also concern among many republicans that the U.S. Supreme Court may rule that the  Republican Supermajority may have  illegally redrew legislative districts in 2012. African American lawmakers have accused the State’s Republican Supermajority of “racial gerrymandering” by stacking and packing minority voters into a few districts. The court will hear two cases concurrently, in which Alabama Democrats allege the State’s legislative district lines intentionally marginalize black voters.

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Secretary of State Jim Bennett said, if the court found that the District had been drawn illegally, the State may face a complete election do-over.

The specter of the Lee County Grand Jury proceedings, which are investigating possible public corruption on behalf of Hubbard and others, hangs dramatically over the coming elections.

Inside Alabama Politics (IAP) has reported that Riley plans to scuttle Alabama 2014 PAC in the near future. There is rampant speculation that Riley is closing his PAC because of the on going investigation in Lee County.

Hubbard closed his long standing political action committee, Network PAC, on September 3, 2013. Hubbard along with his wife Susan had operated the PAC since 2002. Shuttering Network PAC is believed to be directly linked to the Attorney General’s investigation into Hubbard’s allegedly illegal actions.

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As for November’s General Election, Senate District 29 will be Hubbard and Riley’s  biggest challenge.

Hubbard has vowed to unseat incumbent Senator Hari Anne Smith, I-Slocomb, who serves as an Independent. Hubbard has been gunning for Smith since she backed Bobby Bright over Jay Love in Alabama’s 2nd congressional race. Running as an Independent, Smith has received over 14,000 signatures to place her on the ballot.

She faces Melinda McClendon, R-Dothan, in the fall. McClendon was handpicked by the Hubbard faction of the Republican party.

Smith’s campaign war chest currently sits at $109,215.25 verses McClendon’s $37,672.10. Smith is the odds-on favorite according to most insiders. If Hubbard hopes to finally exact revenge on Smith, he will need a major boost in fundraising.

Another troubling race for the Hubbard/Riley faction while be held in Senate District 10, where incumbent Sen. Phil Williams, R-Rainbow City will face former Sen. Larry Means, D-Attalla. While Williams bested Means in 2010, the popular Mayor of Attalla, has a wealth of support from democrats as well as republicans.

Williams is not polling well in the district and it would be surprising to find Hubbard and Riley expending a great deal of cash to save him. However, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, is said to be very concerned about losing Williams, who often serves as Senate enforcer.  William’s currently has the fundraising advantage with $46,566.12 verses $22,926.32 for Means.

Hubbard and Riley also face a challenging race for House District 90, where Chris Sells, R-Greenville will face Walton Hickman, D-Greenville. Sells picked-off incumbent Rep. Charles Newton with the help of pro-education republicans, only to turn to Hubbard after winning the primary. District 90 has a large minority voting population and Hickman will have the advantage, especially after Sells betrayed the people who carried him across the finish line in the primary. Sells, however, has a huge cash advantage. This race ultimately may turn on what the AEA has in mind.

Hubbard and Riley have not raised the kind of campaign funds they had hope or bragged about. For now, they are cash poor and facing a long road, with many obstacles ahead.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Health

Alabama breaks daily case record, hospitalizations reach new high for third straight day

Rising cases and hospitalizations suggest the death toll will keep climbing in the weeks and months to come.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Alabama on Wednesday broke the state’s record for a single-day increase in coronavirus cases, and for a third straight day had record high COVID-19 hospitalizations. 

There were 1,801 hospitalized COVID-19 patients statewide on Wednesday, which was a 40 percent increase compared to two weeks ago. The rapid pace of rising hospitalizations is raising alarms among hospitals already overburdened with coronavirus patients, in addition to regular patients seeking other care.

Concern is also rising among public health experts and hospital officials that Thanksgiving gatherings will lead to the number only increasing in the days and weeks to come.

Dr. Jeanna Marrazzo, director of UAB’s Division of Infectious Diseases, told reporters Tuesday that there is a possibility that hospitals will have to set up mobile hospitals to care for the rush of patients, and that she worries hospitals may not have enough staff to care for “what might be a tidal wave of patients in the next month.” 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield made a dire prediction Wednesday during a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event, as cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to surge across the country. More than 90,000 people in the U.S. were hospitalized for COVID-19 on Wednesday, Redfield said.

“The reality is December and January and February are going to be rough times. I actually believe they’re going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation,” Redfield said.

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UAB Hospital was caring for a record 127 COVID-19 patients on Wednesday, the second straight record-high day for the hospital. Huntsville Hospital on Tuesday had a record 317 COVID-19 patients. The hospital hadn’t updated daily numbers as of Wednesday afternoon. There were no formal intensive care beds available in Mobile County on Tuesday. 

The Alabama Department of Public Health reported 3,928 COVID-19 new cases Wednesday but noted that 706 were older test results not reported to the department from an outside facility until Tuesday. Even without those cases included, the remaining 3,222 cases reported Wednesday amount to the largest single-day increase, excluding a similar but larger backlog of old test results reported Oct. 23. 

Alabama’s 14-day average for new daily cases was at 2,382 on Wednesday, which is a 29 percent increase from two weeks ago. 

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Rising daily cases can’t be attributed to more testing, however. Over the past week, roughly 35 percent of reported tests have been positive. Public health experts say that number — known as the positivity rate — should be at or below 5 percent otherwise cases may be going undetected and not enough tests are being performed.

ADPH also reported 73 more COVID-19 deaths Wednesday, bringing the state’s death toll to at least 3,711 deaths. Of those deaths added to the count today, 20 occurred during the month of November, 32 occurred in previous months, and 21 aren’t yet dated by the department, meaning they could be new deaths from late November or early December.

Of the 779 deaths added to the death toll in November, 34 percent died in the month of November, 56 percent died during previous months and the remaining 10 percent haven’t yet been dated. 

Deaths are lagging indicators, and it can take weeks, and sometimes months, for ADPH to review medical data and confirm a person died of COVID-19 and verify the date on which they died, so it will likely be many weeks before a clearer picture emerges as to how many Alabamians are currently dying from coronavirus.

Rising cases and hospitalizations suggest the death toll will keep climbing in the weeks and months to come.

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News

Two more Alabama inmates die after testing positive for COVID-19

The deaths mark the 33rd and 34th deaths among inmates within Alabama’s correctional facilities.

John H. Glenn

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Two inmates in Alabama prisons have died after testing positive for COVID-19, marking the 33rd and 34th deaths among inmates within Alabama’s correctional facilities.

Ash-Shakur Halim Shabazz, 60, who was serving a 26-year sentence at Limestone Correctional Facility, was transferred to a local hospital on Nov. 20 after exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19. Shabazz suffered from multiple pre-existing medical conditions, dying the same day he was admitted to the local hospital. The full autopsy concluded that Shabazz was positive for COVID-19 at the time of his death, according to the ADOC press release.

Three days later, a second inmate, Danny Joe Mann, 66, died after being transferred to a local hospital.

Serving a 20-year sentence at Hamilton Community Based-Facility/Community Work Center, Mann likewise suffered from multiple pre-existing medical conditions and was transferred on Nov. 23 after showing symptoms of COVID-19. He was tested upon admission and a positive test result was confirmed. Mann died later that same day.

As of Nov. 27, 834 inmates and 645 ADOC staff members have tested positive for COVID-19, according to ADOC’s COVID dashboard. Of those inmates, 40 have recently tested positive at eight separate facilities, while 30 workers at nine facilities recently tested positive.

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National

Department of Justice sues Ashland Housing Authority alleging racial discrimination

“AHA has engaged in a pattern or practice of race discrimination by steering applicants to housing communities based on race,” the complaint alleges. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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The U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday filed a lawsuit alleging that the Housing Authority of Ashland violated the Fair Housing Act by intentionally discriminating against Black people who applied for housing because of their race.

The DOJ in its complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, names as defendants the Housing Authority of Ashland, the Southern Development Company of Ashland Ltd., Southern Development Company of Ashland #2 Ltd. and Southern Development Company LLC, which are the private owners and managing agent of one of those housing complexes.

The department’s complaint alleges that the Ashland Housing Authority denied Black applicants the opportunity to live in overwhelmingly white housing complexes on the city’s East Side, while steering white applicants away from properties whose residents were predominantly Black in the West Side. The AHA operates seven public housing communities spread across both areas, according to the complaint.

“From at least 2012 to the present, AHA has engaged in a pattern or practice of race discrimination by steering applicants to housing communities based on race and by maintaining a racially segregated housing program,” the complaint alleges.

The federal government states in the complaint that as of June 2018, 69 percent of all AHA tenants were white, but 99 percent of tenants at Ashland Heights, on the East Side, were white, 92 percent of tenants at another East Side community were white and 91 percent of tenants at yet another East Side housing development were white.

Similar disparities were seen in public housing communities in the West Side, the complaint states.

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AHA kept separate waiting lists for both segregated areas, the complaint alleges and allowed applicants who decline offers of housing “without showing good cause, even when they decline offers for race-based reasons,” to maintain their position on the waiting list, in violation of AHA’s own policies intended to prevent race discrimination.

“On April 11, 1968, one week after the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the United States enacted the Fair Housing Act to outlaw race, color and other forms of discrimination in housing. Denying people housing opportunities because of their race or color is a shameful and blatant violation of the Fair Housing Act,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division in a statement. “The United States has made great strides toward Dr. King’s dream of a nation where we will be judged by content of our character and not by the color of our skin.”

“The dream remains at least partially unfulfilled because we have not completely overcome the scourge of racial bias in housing,” Dreiband continued. “Discrimination by those who receive federal taxpayer dollars to provide housing to lower-income applicants is particularly odious because it comes with the support and authority of government. The United States Department of Justice will not stand for this kind of unlawful and intolerable discrimination. The Justice Department will continue to fight to protect the rights of all Americans to rent and own their homes without regard to their race or color.”

U.S. Attorney Prim F. Escalona for the Northern District of Alabama said in a statement that individuals and families should not have their rights affected by their race or national origin. “Our office is committed to defending the civil rights of everyone,” Escalona said.

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The lawsuit seeks damages to compensate victims, civil penalties to the government to vindicate the public interest and a court order barring future discrimination and requiring action to correct the effects of the defendants’ discrimination.

The DOJ in a press release encouraged those who believe they have been victims of housing discrimination at the defendants’ properties should contact the department toll-free at 1-800-896-7743, mailbox 9997, or by email at [email protected] Individuals who have information about this or another matter involving alleged discrimination may submit a report online at civilrights.justice.gov.

The DOJ in August the U.S. Housing and Urban Development determined that the Decatur Housing Authority was disallowing Black people to live in public housing located in riverfront towers while requiring Black people to live in less attractive apartments elsewhere.

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Economy

Clean water advocates want a comprehensive water plan for Alabama that creates jobs

Under new leadership, a plan for preserving clean water and fair access to it may be within reach in Alabama.

Micah Danney

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Environmentalists are optimistic about making progress on water resource issues and the state’s climate change preparedness under the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden and next Congress, particularly because the president-elect is indicating that economic gains go hand-in-hand with protecting the environment.

“It’s really exciting to see the Biden administration put jobs in the same conversation with their climate and environmental policies, because for too long there has been that false argument that jobs and the environment don’t go together — that you can’t have a regulated business sector and create jobs,” said Cindy Lowry, executive director of Alabama Rivers Alliance.

On a recent post-election call with other advocates, Lowry said that the current policy outlook reinforced the importance of voting. There have been some steps forward for conservation during the presidency of Donald Trump, she said, like the president’s signing of the Great American Outdoors Act in August, but the administration has prioritized industry interests.

Under new leadership, a plan for preserving clean water and fair access to it may be within reach in Alabama.

“We have spent so much time and energy as a movement trying to defend and basically just hold the line against so many of the rollbacks, and now we can focus on moving forward on certain areas,” Lowry said.

Julian Gonzalez, a clean water advocate with the nonprofit Earthjustice in Washington D.C., said on the call that the incoming Congress will be the “most environmentally aware Congress we’ve had.” Still, the real work remains.

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“Everything needs to be one conversation, and you should be able to go call your Congressperson and say, ‘How are you going to fix America’s water problem?’ and they should have an answer, but right now that’s not the case,” Gonzalez said.

For Alabama’s water advocates, priorities are what to do with coal ash, how to prepare for droughts and flooding, improvements to water and wastewater infrastructure and providing relief to communities that have been affected by environmental degradation.

While production of coal ash has reduced due mostly to market-driven decreases in the burning of coal, enough facilities still use it that Alabama is developing its own permitting process and regulations for storing it. The Biden administration can provide leadership on the issue, Lowry said.

While many people associate water issues with drought, Lowry said the topic encompasses much more than that. Pipes that contain lead need to be replaced. There’s plenty of water, she said, but the state needs a comprehensive water plan that prepares communities for drought management, especially as more farmers use irrigation, which uses more water.

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Her organization has been working toward a state plan that can ensure fair access to water without depleting the environment of what it needs to remain stable.

With the increased frequency and intensity of storms being attributed to climate change, water infrastructure will need to be upgraded, Lowry said. Many communities rely on centralized treatment centers to handle their wastewater, and many of those facilities are overburdened and experience spills. Storms and flash floods push old pipes and at-capacity centers past their breaking points — pipes leak or burst and sewage pits overflow.

Lowry said that there has been some progress in recent years on funding infrastructure upgrades in communities and states. It’s a more bipartisan conversation than other environmental issues, and communities that have been hit hard by multiple storms are starting to have new ideas about how to rebuild themselves to better withstand the effects of climate change.

Still, Alabama’s preparedness efforts are all reactionary, which is why a comprehensive water plan is a priority, she said.

“Policies like that — proactive policies that are really forward-thinking about how we will make decisions if we do run into challenges with our environment — are something that this state has not been very strong on,” she said.

Lowry hopes for more emphasis on environmental justice, with official agencies working more with local municipalities to provide relief to communities hurt by pollution and weather events. Such problems are characteristic of the Birmingham area, where Lowry is based, and the Black Belt.

She wants to see stronger permitting processes for industry projects and easier access to funding for cleanups in communities that need them. North Birmingham activists have been trying for years to get a Superfund site there on the Superfund National Priorities List.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to address these problems, Lowry said. Having multiple avenues for access to funding is important so that all communities have options. Smaller communities can’t always pay back loans, so they need access to grants.

Lowry emphasized that new jobs must be created without exacerbating climate change. Although Alabama tends to look to heavy industry for economic gains, she said she’s hopeful that a different approach by the Biden administration will trickle to the state level.

Lowry also said that conversations about climate change in Alabama have to be put in terms of what is happening in Alabama.

For her and other environmentalists working in the Deep South, it’s all about relationships and establishing trust. The environment becomes a less partisan issue when you focus on the basics, she said, because everyone wants clean water.

“I’ve found it much more easy to have conversations with elected officials at the state level in places like Alabama, where people do kind of grow up a little closer to nature and conservation, and [by] just kind of meeting people where they are,” Lowry said.

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