By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Thursday, October 2, Mark Lester, Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress in Alabama’s 6th District, attempted to draw a contrast between himself and his opponent, Gary Palmer (R), on the issue of early childhood learning.
Lester, in a written statement, cited Palmer’s pledge to oppose any federal funding for “child care, home visits, or Pre-K.” Lester said, “Gary Palmer’s opposition to early learning initiatives is misguided. By pledging to defund valuable, voluntary programs such as Head Start, he threatens to deprive young minds of the educational stimulation and activity that they need.”
Lester suggested that the elimination of federal funding for early learning programs would negatively impact working mothers, “who seriously depend on quality child care. These working mothers need our support as they are working to support their families.”
The Alabama Political Reporter asked Lester about studies that show that there is no measurable difference in educational performance between students in the Head Start program and their non-Head Start peers by the end of the third grade.
Lester said that some of the early studies showed that, but more recent studies have shown the opposite affect and that there is a benefit to getting those kids in a learning environment as early as possible.
The Alabama Political Reporter asked Lester if he favored making kindergarten, Pre-K, and Head Start type programs mandatory.
Lester said that there is not enough money to do that at this time and said that he believes that there will always be parents who want the Mother to stay home to do the Pre-first grade education themselves. Lester stressed that single mothers can not afford to stay home with their kids and that programs like Head Start are needed by many families in this country.
Lester said that both Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) and former Governor Bob Riley (R) support State Pre-K programs. Lester said, “Early learning is not a partisan issue, it’s a common sense issue. We should be proud of what we have done in Alabama. Early education programs help Alabama’s children at a critical stage in their lives—when their brains are still developing. Such programs are at the vanguard of creating a more educated, prosperous Alabama, and that is why they have garnered such overwhelming bi-partisan support…Unlike my opponent, I applaud the efforts of Governors Bentley and Riley to invest in our state’s future,” said Lester, “and I will make every effort to obtain as much federal money as I can for early learning programs that benefit the children of the 6th District.”
Head Start was one of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s programs to create what he called a “Great Society.” The theory was that if you take impoverished three and four year old children out of underprivileged homes for a few hours a day and put them in a classroom that they will enter kindergarten ready to rock and roll with their more affluent peers. The reality of the program never quite lived up to its promise.
Rebecca Bendheim with Vanderbilt University wrote recently, “After ignoring numerous psychological studies, the government finally performed their own study of the effectiveness of Head Start and found what psychologists have been telling us from the very beginning. The Department of Health and Human Services randomly assigned children to Head Start and tested them against non-assigned peers, finding that the benefits of the program completely diminish by the time the children reach first grade (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2010). Therefore, we are spending over seven billion dollars a year for a portion of our low-income kindergarteners to know a few more words.”
Of course no Congressman or Senator wants to be accused of cutting $7 billion a year in funding for poor children, so the program, now in its sixth decade of existence, continues to this day, even though the economic benefits of what is essentially, government day care for poor kids, are hard to document.
Gary Palmer, in his role as President and Founder of the Alabama Policy Institute, has been critical of LBJ’s ‘War on Poverty’ and government programs, like Head Start, that have a noble purpose but a questionable performance record.
Mark Lester is a history professor at Birmingham Southern College. The Alabama Democratic Executive Committee selected Lester after their previous nominee Avery Vise unexpectedly dropped out of the race.
According to his website, Dr. Lester is a lifelong Democrat, who was born and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas. He and his family have lived in Homewood for the past 23 years. He attended Rhodes College, received a master’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University, and earned a law degree from the University of Virginia. In 1991 Lester earned a PhD in Modern British Economic History from the University of Oxford. He joined the faculty of Birmingham-Southern College in 1991 where he has received the “Outstanding Professor Award” given by students. He has also taught a course on First Amendment law as an adjunct professor at University of Alabama School of Law.
Mark Lester has been married for 36 years to Jeanne Jackson, who currently serves as President and CEO of The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham. She is past President of the League of Women Voters of Arkansas. Jeanne and Mark have two married sons. They are members at the Cathedral Church of the Advent (Episcopal).
After finishing law school, Mark Lester was appointed Assistant United States Attorney where he prosecuted drug dealers and white collar criminals. He later formed a small law firm, specializing in commercial litigation. Lester co-founded an organization to provide legal assistance for the poor. For his efforts, he was named his county’s “Lawyer of the Year.”
The seat is currently held by Republican Representative Spencer Bachus from Vestavia who is retiring after 11 terms in the Congress. Congressman Bachus was an Alabama State Senator before defeating Congressman Ben Erdreich in 1992.
The Republican nominee, Gary Palmer grew up the son of a small logger in Hackleburgh where his mom still lives. Palmer attended the University of Alabama where he got a degree in Operations management. Palmer went on to found the Alabama Policy Institute, where he was President for 24 years.
The General Election will be on Tuesday, November 4.
The Alabama Senate will be under new leadership in 2021
The caucus unanimously elected Sen. Greg Reed, R-Jasper, as the new pro tem.
The Alabama Senate will be under new leadership when the 2021 legislative session begins.
Del Marsh, who has served as president pro tem of the senate since 2010, announced that he wouldn’t be seeking a leadership role during a Republican caucus vote held Monday. The caucus unanimously elected Sen. Greg Reed, R-Jasper, as the new pro tem.
The caucus also selected Clay Scofield, R-Guntersville, as the new majority leader, a position Reed has held for the last several years.
Marsh’s decision not to seek the leadership role wasn’t particularly surprising. Numerous ALGOP lawmakers have said privately over the last two years that Marsh has toyed with the idea of stepping down and handing the position to Reed. Marsh also announced last month that he won’t seek re-election to the Senate when his term ends in 2022, bringing to a close a 24-year tenure.
In a particularly candid interview with his hometown newspaper, the Anniston Star, in October, Marsh indicated that he had grown tired of politics altogether due to the hyper-partisan climate and was unlikely to seek any public office. He also blamed President Donald Trump for helping to create a toxic climate.
“I’ll be darned if I want to go up there and fight all of the time,” Marsh said in the Star interview. “I don’t know what it’s going to take to end the animosity. I blame [President] Trump for part of this. What happens on the national level — the fighting and name-calling — filters down to the state.”
For Reed and Scofield, the moves up the ladder weren’t exactly speedy. They’ve each served in the senate since 2010, and Reed has served as majority leader since 2014.
Poarch Creek Indians partners with Sweet Grown Alabama
The tribe’s support will be used to fund traditional and digital marketing to encourage buying local, according to the nonprofit’s press release.
The Poarch Creek Indians have joined eight other organizations as founding members and supporters of the nonprofit Sweet Grown Alabama, which aims to help consumers find locally grown produce and products, the nonprofit announced Monday.
“I am excited to announce our support of Sweet Grown Alabama,” said Stephanie Bryan, Tribal chair and CEO, in a statement. “We are always looking for ways to support Alabama’s economy and this important initiative will educate Alabamians about products that are grown and bred in our own backyards.”
“This financial support from the Poarch Creek Indians will have a positive ripple effect on Alabama’s economy,” said Ellie Watson, Sweet Grown Alabama’s director, in a statement. “The Tribe has a strong reputation of community support and economic development, and we are incredibly grateful for their sponsorship of Sweet Grown Alabama at the highest level.”
Other founding members and supporters of the nonprofit, which formed in September, are the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, Alabama Farm Credit, Alabama Farmers Cooperative, Alfa Farmers, First South Farm Credit and PowerSouth Energy Cooperative.
To learn more about Sweet Grown Alabama or to find locally grown produce and products visit the nonprofit’s website here.
Governor awards nearly $19.4 million in block grants for Alabama communities
The CDBG funds will be used to repair dangerous roads, provide safe water, build community and senior centers, improve sewer systems and more.
More than 60 Alabama cities and counties will soon see improvements in their communities thanks to almost $19.4 million in Community Development Block Grants awarded by Gov. Kay Ivey.
“Community Development Block Grants help raise the living standards for thousands of Alabamians who may have struggled with dangerous roads, sewage backed up in their homes or find it difficult to wash clothes because of inadequate water pressure,” Ivey said. “I am pleased to award these grants and I must commend those local elected officials who recognized those struggles and responded to address needs in their communities.”
Grants are awarded on competitive basis in several categories including small city, large city, county, community enhancement, Black Belt and planning. Some cities received planning grants in addition to other competitive grants.
In most instances, awarded governments are required to allocate some local funds to projects as a match for the grants.
The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs is administering the grants from funds made available by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“Many local governments, particularly this year with the COVID-19 pandemic, often struggle for funds to provide basic services for residents,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell said. “ADECA is pleased to join Gov. Ivey in awarding these funds from the CDBG program, which enables governments to accomplish worthwhile projects to make their communities better places to live.”
Grants awarded and projects (grouped by geographical region) include:
- Ardmore– $350,000 to replace sewer lines and ensure safe disposal of sewage.
- Colbert County – $182,876 to raise the roadbed and improve drainage to eliminate pavement flooding on Gnat Pond Road, Cassie Davis Street and Marthaler Lane.
- Courtland– $350,000 to replace aging water lines and provide safe drinking water to residents.
- Fort Payne– $450,000 to demolish and clear the abandoned Fort Payne General Hospital complex.
- Glencoe– $450,000 to replace sewer lines on East Air Depot Road, Taylor Road and Lonesome Bend Road.
- Haleyville– $450,000 to upgrade sewer, water and streets in several areas of the city.
- Holly Pond– $250,000 to construct a new senior citizen center to help meet the needs of the growing program.
- Limestone County – $301,000 to provide pavement and drainage improvements on Chapman Hollow Road south of the town of Lester. The project is designed to alleviate flooding.
- Morgan County– $250,000 to upgrade and add an addition to the Falk Senior Center.
- North Courtland– $347,300 to improve drainage along Davis Street and other parts of the town.
- Red Bay– $445,000 to improve sewer lines in the southeast part of the city.
- Sheffield– $210,000 to demolish and clear multiple dilapidated residential and commercial structures throughout the city.
- Tuscumbia– $365,000 to raze and clear 23 dilapidated structures located throughout the city.
- Vina – $348,650 to install a new boost pump at a water storage tank to improve water flow and pressure.
- Winfield– $450,000 to improve drainage and upgrade streets to alleviate flooding along Regal Street.
North Central Alabama
- Blountsville– $250,000 to repair and resurface parts of College Street, Chestnut Street, Church Street and Ratliff Street.
- Chilton County– $350,000 to pave more than four miles of county roads including County Roads 127, 128 and 201
- Cleburne County – $350,000 to extend public water services to 32 households along portions of County Roads 49, 689, 114 and 447.
- Columbiana– $450,000 to improve the city’s main sewer line to prevent sewage backup and related problems.
- Detroit– $350,000 to install new water lines and add fire hydrants to benefit more than 100 residents.
- Talladega (city)- $250,000 to demolish and clear dilapidated structures at several locations throughout the city.
- Woodland– $350,000 to replace water lines at several locations throughout the town to improve water quality and flow.
South Central Alabama
- Boligee – $350,000 to improve the town’s sewer lines and manhole covers to ensure no infiltration into the lines from rain and other sources.
- Brantley– $350,000 to rehabilitate or replace sewer lines and other components of its sewer system.
- Brantley– $32,000 for a planning grant to help develop a land-use plan, subdivision regulations and zoning ordinances.
- Demopolis– $450,000 to resurface portions of nine streets to include South Glover Street, McGee Street, Hilltop Circle, East Capitol Street, East Lyon Street, North Chestnut Avenue, North Cherry Avenue, North Ash Street, and North Front Avenue.
- Franklin– $32,000 for a planning grant designed to help the town develop future plans.
- Greene County -$350,000 to improve 4.5 miles of roads including Basketball Lane, Sandy Way, Smoke Lane, Brush Creek Circle, Curve Lane, Country Road Lane, Plum Lane, Star Lane and Jasmine Lane.
- Linden– $350,000 to resurface and improve drainage on Easley Street, Adams Drive, Ford Street, Brandon Avenue, Barkley Street, Lucas Street, Gardner Street and Louisville Avenue/Pool Street.
- Livingston– $450,000 to replace sewer lines in the north-central part of the city.
- Pine Hill– $350,000 to rehabilitate two sewer system lift stations.
- Phenix City– $250,000 to fund a city-wide cleanup of multiple dilapidated structures.
- Selma– $450,000 to improve drainage along LL Anderson Avenue, Arsenal Place, Alabama Avenue and Mechanic Street, and Highland Avenue.
- Selma– $40,000 for a planning grant to help the city develop a strategy to deal with dilapidated structures, housing and economic development.
- Sumter County– $250,000 to renovate the Sumter County E911 Call Center to streamline emergency operations.
- Union Springs – $450,000 to improve water, sewer and drainage along Bloomfield Street, April Street and Tye Avenue.
- Uniontown– $250,000 to demolish and clear several dilapidated buildings in the town.
- York– $350,000 to upgrade sewer lines and rehabilitate sewer mains in the Grant City community.
- Ariton – $250,000 to resurface and improve drainage along Dillard Street, Zumstein Avenue, Williams Street, Barnes Street and Claybank Street.
- Ariton– $30,000 for a planning grant to help the town develop long-range plans and goals.
- Crenshaw County– $350,000 to repave Helicon Cross Road and Rising Star Road north of Petrey.
- Cottonwood– $350,000 to replace old and damaged sewer lines and a failing lift station.
- Daleville – $292,500 to replace water lines along Culpepper Street, Wells Avenue, Ennis Street and Holman Street.
- Dozier– $250,000 to improve water pressure and improve fire protection capability in an area along Main Street.
- Eufaula– $450,000 to implement the fourth phase of its housing rehabilitation program. The program will be in the Edgewood subdivision area.
- Hartford– $350,000 to replace sewer lines and components in the vicinity of Third Avenue.
- Headland- $450,000 to rehabilitate up to 30 substandard houses in the central and north part of the city.
- Florala– $350,000 to continue to rehabilitate old and damaged sewer lines in a project that has been ongoing with CDBG funds since 2005.
- New Brockton– $314,000 to renovate and upgrade three sewer pump stations to improve sewage collection.
- Ozark– $250,000 to resurface at least a portion of nine streets including Brown Drive, Lowery Road, Julian Street, Wilson Avenue, Hall Drive, McDonald Avenue, Woodview Avenue, Brookview Drive and Parkview Drive.
- Pike County – $350,000 to resurface County Road 7749 (McLure Town Road), northeast of Troy and pave County Road 2256 south of Troy.
- Troy– $250,000 to renovate a portion of the historic Academy Street School and convert it to a community and cultural arts center.
- Beatrice– $350,000 to replace deteriorating water lines and add fire hydrants.
- Conecuh County – $350,000 to pave sections of 26 roads throughout the county.
- East Brewton– $337,000 to rehabilitate sewer lines and pumping station in the southeast part of the city.
- Elberta– $350,000 to improve drainage along Baldwin County Road 83 (Main Street) to alleviate flooding.
- Escambia County – $350,000 to replace and extend water lines and install fire hydrants in the Ridge Road community.
- Frisco City– $250,000 to resurface at least part of several streets including Harvestview Drive, Martin Luther King Jr. Street, School Street, Wiggins Avenue, and Wild Fork Road.
- Fulton– $350,000 to pave at least sections of Main Street, Eighth Street, First Street and Green Acres Road.
- Jackson– $208,000 to improve drainage on Cemetery Road including adding curbs and gutters.
- Lisman– $350,000 to resurface parts of Commerce Street, Thomas Drive, Kinnon Heights/Circle, Broad Street, Tower Street, Coleman Circle and West Second Avenue.
Governor announces HomTex expansion to create 300-plus jobs in the Black Belt
A family-owned and certified minority-owned business will create 300 to 325 new jobs.
Gov. Kay Ivey on Monday announced that HomTex Inc. received $10,572,100 in CARES Act funds to expand operations to Selma to develop Personal Protective Equipment.
A family-owned and certified minority-owned business headquartered in Cullman County, the new Dallas County manufacturing location will create 300 to 325 new jobs.
“HomTex has made Alabama proud by stepping up during the COVID-19 pandemic to shift their production to create critical PPE supplies,” Ivey said. “Their ability to be flexible in order to remain operational is the exact intent of the CARES Act funds. I appreciate their commitment to the economy and Alabama workers by providing needed jobs in Dallas County and thank HomTex for being a great corporate partner with the state of Alabama.”
In a partnership with the state of Alabama and Wallace Community College in Selma, HomTex will establish an operation to produce General Purpose and FDA approved Level 1, 2 and 3 Surgical Masks and N95 masks.
Wallace Community College will offer apprenticeship programs that will allow students to help make masks for their region and beyond.
“The coronavirus pandemic has clearly demonstrated that our country needs a dependable domestic production pipeline for PPE, and Cullman-based HomTex has stepped up to fill a portion of that critical need,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “With its expansion in Cullman and its new growth plans in Selma, HomTex is helping to make Alabama a U.S. hub for the production of PPE. In addition, the company’s new Selma operation will provide an economic boost for the Black Belt region and advance our strategic goal of providing opportunities in Alabama’s rural communities.”
HomTex Inc. was founded in 1987 by Jerry Wootten in Vinemont and now has its headquarters in Cullman. In addition to its Vinemont and Cullman locations, HomTex has production and distribution facilities in Sylva, North Carolina; Belton, South Carolina; and Leoma, Tennessee.
“We are very honored to be the recipient of COVID-19 Relief Funds from the state of Alabama,” president and chief financial officer of HomTex Jeremy Wootten said. “This second operation will make HomTex one of the largest face masks manufacturers in the USA, and we are proud to be manufacturing these products in Cullman and Selma. We very much appreciate the support from Governor Ivey, the State Senators and everyone who made the factory in Selma a reality.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, HomTex shifted production at the Cullman plant from bed linens to disposable medical-grade masks as well as reusable, washable cotton masks. The manufacturer of DreamFit sheets, HomTex sells directly to furniture and mattress stores as well as national retail chains, specialty stores, gift stores and E-commerce.
This fall, HomTex secured a contract to provide protective face masks to the federal agency responsible for the operation of the U.S. Capitol Complex in Washington, D.C.
Officials in Cullman and Dallas counties welcomed the company’s expansion plans.
“Through this pandemic, we have seen the need for bringing supply chain manufacturing back to America. The only way to make these expansions happen is by working together. The partnerships that made this project a reality include: Governor Ivey and her cabinet; the Cullman-Selma partnership; the Economic Development Committee in the Senate working across the aisle; and, Wallace State Selma and Wallace State Hanceville working as one to provide training,” State Sen. Garlan Gudger said. “Alabama is proving that partnerships are the key to creating a better future for our state and the nation.”
“I must first thank God for these 320 new jobs in the Black Belt of Alabama. I am so appreciative of Governor’s Ivey’s decision and work to make this happen for the people of the Black Belt. It is a major step in our goal to help people help themselves out of poverty in Senator Singleton’s and my district,” State Sen. Malika Sanders-Fortier said. “I am humbled by the bi-partisanship cooperation that made this all possible. This is how we build the Beloved Community. I believe this is a first step that can breathe new hope into the people of the Black Belt for much more economic development to come.”
Alabama received approximately $1.9 billion of federal CARES Act funding to respond to and mitigate COVID-19. Alabama Act 2020-199 designated up to $300 million of the Coronavirus Relief Fund to be used to support citizens, businesses, and non-profit and faith-based organizations of the state directly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.