By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Wednesday, October 29, an overflow crowd packed the Lurleen Wallace School of Nursing auditorium at Jacksonville State University to hear the Senate District 11 debate between incumbent Senator Del Marsh (R from Anniston) and his opponent, attorney Taylor Stewart (D from Anniston). The event was a heavy weight slug fest between two gifted politicians who are both supremely confident in their command of a stage.
Taylor Stewart called the situation in Montgomery a, “Disgusting mess.” Stewart said that if one of his colleagues were accused of unethical behavior of using his office to gaining money for his business, “I wouldn’t stand behind that person. I wouldn’t perjure myself before the grand jury. I would be doing whatever I could to clean up that mess in Montgomery.”
Senate President Marsh said that Montgomery is not like that. The first thing that the Republican Supermajority did was to pass sweeping ethics reform legislation.
Marsh said that Mike Hubbard has been accused of a crime, “And he will have his day in court.” “Mike Hubbard (R from Auburn) is my friend.” “I pray for him and for his family every night as I would for any of my friends if they were in the same situation. I pray for (former Governor) Don Seigelman.”
Marsh said, “I was called as a witness to testify before the Grand Jury twice.” Marsh said that you will not find Del Marsh guilty, indicted or charged with anything. Marsh guaranteed that he won’t be convicted of anything.
Stewart accused Marsh of a lack of sincere concern for our students, teachers, and schools. Mr. Stewart said that the district needed a leader who cares about our schools. The people in the district want a leader who properly funds our schools. They want a leader who does not divert funds from the educational trust fund to scholarship funds for their friends who used to be in office.
Senator Marsh said that in 2008 we had a housing bubble to bust. That was not the fault of the Republicans. That was not even the fault of the Democrats who were in charge in Montgomery at the time. State revenues dropped. Over a $ billion a year in revenue were gone. We didn’t cut anything, we couldn’t spend more than we had. Sen. Marsh said it would have been fiscally irresponsible to raise taxes on the people of Alabama in an economic crisis.
Sen. Del Marsh said that the GOP Supermajority in the legislature did everything we could to streamline state government. Despite the hard times teachers still received one pay raise. If you take 2008 out of that equation and it was just a 3% drop from the 2007 budget.
Taylor Stewart said if elected he would appeal the accountability act. “It diverts millions into a scholarship fund.” “That is the kind of money that we need in education.” Stewart promised that teachers and state employees would get cost of living wages every year if he were the state Senator.
Mr. Taylor Stewart said that repealing the Accountability Act would be $25 million more for the Education Trust Fund. That could be $50 million. Who knows that could be $100 million a year diverted from education next year? “That is funding we need for the educational trust fund.”
Mr. Stewart said, “We also need to get new industry to this community. He has been negligent in this regard.” If elected he would talk to local leaders and ask them what industry do we need here? And then develop a plan for economic development in the district.
Del Marsh said that only 1/3 of the funding for Jacksonville State comes from the state of Alabama. Jacksonville State and the other colleges and universities were hurt by changes in Pell grants by the Federal government.
Marsh said that in the last budget that the legislature added $400,000 to Jacksonville State more than the governor asked for. Marsh said, “We have got to raise revenue. I am a businessman. I personally created 160 jobs. As a businessman I know how to create jobs because I have done it and I will continue to do it if I am sent back to Montgomery.”
Sen. Marsh said that the unemployment rate in Calhoun County is 6.7%. The state average is 6.6%. That is just .1 percent higher than the state average after we lost Ford McClellan, had to deal with the pollution problem at Monsanto, and had an incinerator burning chemical weapons. Under the circumstances I think that is pretty good.
Sen. Marsh said that the district needs more Aerospace, automotive, and high tech jobs. Those are the kind of jobs that we need. We want people who graduate from this great University to be able to stay here. We need to create jobs.
Stewart said that if you go to each community and talk to public officials they want to get manufacturing jobs, soft industry jobs, technology jobs, and construction jobs. That is what we need to do. “Actions speak louder than words.” When the state recruits industries it doesn’t come to this district it goes elsewhere.
Stewart said, “I do support raising the minimum wage to help those people out.” There is no rule that says we (the state of Alabama) can’t raise the minimum wage.
Senator Del Marsh said that most minimum wage jobs are starter jobs. Students need those jobs. According to one study over 500,000 people would lose their jobs if the minimum wage were raised.
Businesses will reduce their sales force and people will lose their jobs. The starter jobs are traditionally held by high school and college kids. “It is what they pay for their college education with.” The last thing we need to do is decrease jobs. Instead we need to concentrate on creating those higher paying jobs. “That is what I am going to do.”
Senate President Del Marsh said, “I have no issue with a lottery.” “As Pro Tem I can stop that from coming to the floor at any time,” but said that he will not do that.
Sen. Marsh did object to the idea of earmarking that money for scholarships. Marsh said, “87 percent of the money we have is earmarked.” Marsh said that lottery income should be put in a safety valve fund and then used where that pit of money is needed; whether that is for education, prisons, Medicaid, whatever is the biggest need that year. “Don’t tie your hands.”
Sen. Marsh said, “We have worked for the last several years working on long term problems,” and a safety valve fund would be s solution for a long term budget problem.
Stewart said that he support an educational lottery. Stewart said that voters want lottery money, “Earmarked not put in the general fund where folks can grab it and use that money for whatever they wish.” Stewart said that Georgia has Hope scholarships. “I do disagree with him (Marsh) about not earmarking that money.” Stewart said that he favors a bill to let the people vote on an education lottery.
Sen. Marsh said that Medicaid System cost the state $365 million when he got in office it costs over $700 million today and consumes a third of the state’s general fund. Medicaid is a broken system in Alabama. In the last session the legislature passed a plan that will reform Medicaid. If that plan to save us millions of dollars works then we can look at adding more people. Putting 300,000 more people on our Medicaid rolls would break the general fund budget after the first three years when those federal dollars run out and the burden is on the state.
Del Marsh pledged, “I will work to fix the problem and when we do we will address those of us in need as well as we can.”
Stewart said that the UAB study showed that expanding Medicaid would create 30,000 to 40,000 jobs and will produce income tax that we need. Our tax dollars are going to expand people’s Medicaid in other states.
Stewart said that he supports expanding Medicaid, because it is the moral thing to do.
Stewart said that he support plan 2020 and higher standards. He said that Common Core has opponents because the teachers are not yet all properly trained and parents are confused.
Marsh said that the state trusts curriculum and standards to the Alabama State School Board. If you don’t let them make those decisions, why have a school board?
255 people attended the event at Jacksonville State University which filled the auditorium and the overflow lounge outside.
Voters go to the polls on November 4.
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.