By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Monday, January 5, Alabama state Auditor elect Jim Zeigler (R) announced that he filed a request for a last-minute motion to block the controversial “four-laning” of an historic Avenue in Eufaula.
State Auditor Zeigler wrote on Facebook, “Workers are expected to start Tuesday paving a six-foot strip the entire avenue of historic Eufaula Pilgrimage, made famous in the movie “Sweet Home Alabama.” But it may be a race between the bulldozers and the bulldog, as State Auditor-elect Jim Zeigler filed for a temporary restraining order.”
A number of large home were built on Eufaula’s historic First Avenue, beginning well before the Civil War. Some of the homes were built a human lifetime before the first automobile appeared. Tourists from across the South and beyond come to see the historic homes and enjoy the fishing and wildlife at the nearby lakes, state park, and national wildlife refuge.
Over the decades, First Avenue has become part of U.S. Highway 431. Throughout the 20th Century this was not a problem, as Highway 431 was two lanes. However over the decades, the Alabama Department of Transportation has worked on “four-laning” segments of the highway that serves rural east Alabama, but is primarily used a conduit for tourists going to Panama City and Destin in Florida.
First Avenue in Eufaula with it’s stately Antebellum and Victorian homes was however bypassed by the most recent road improvements remaining relatively unchanged for decades. ALDOT officials has announced that that is changing and they must widen that one mile of road because it slows motorists. Homeowners argue that widening the road will cost the scenic stretch dozens of trees and will hurt the aesthetics of the neighborhood. They argue that the state could simply build a bypass around the center of Eufaula. ALDOT argues that that would cost them too much money and that turning First Avenue into a four lane highway is a much cheaper option for the State of Alabama.
Residents have organized and put up “Save First Avenue” signs; but have been ignored by State officials. Residents wrote recently, “There is absolutely no need to destroy this beautiful street, the trees, and historic home’s front lawns to widen three blocks. The entire three blocks is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (Eufaula has the largest historic district in Southeast Alabama – over 700 homes and buildings), and North Eufaula Ave is our main street.”
Jim Zeigler is an attorney and former Public Service Commissioner. In 2014, Zeigler was elected auditor of the state of Alabama and will be sworn in this month.
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.
Republican efforts focus on Georgia Senate races
Georgia was a huge disappointment to Republicans on Nov. 3. Can the GOP retain its Senate seats?
Georgia was a huge disappointment to Republicans on Nov. 3. The normally reliably red southern state voted with Virginia as the only two southern states to prefer then-Democratic nominee Joe Biden over President Donald Trump in the presidential election.
It was by the smallest of margins, but the narrow win has Democrats energized and hopeful that they can win both U.S. Senate seats in the state in dueling runoffs on Jan. 5. Meanwhile, Republicans are rallying to the defense of incumbent Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.
Perdue and Loeffler face well-funded Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock
Former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville unseated incumbent Democrat Sen. Doug Jones in Alabama, the only Republican pickup in the November election. Democrats unseated GOP Sens. Corey Gardner in Colorado and Martha McSally in Arizona, both western states won by Biden.
Vulnerable GOP Senate incumbents Susan Collins in Maine and Joni Ernst in Iowa both held on. That gives the Republicans 50 seats in the Senate in the next Congress. With Sen. Kamala Harris being the deciding vote in a tie as the incoming vice president, Democrats could take control of the Senate with wins in the two Georgia runoffs.
The Alabama Republican Party is mobilizing to help the embattled Georgia Republican Party.
The Alabama Strike Force, which was successfully deployed to Florida in the presidential election, has been redeployed to Georgia for the runoff elections. The group of Alabama Republican party volunteers, led by Shelby County Republican Party Chairwoman Joan Reynolds, are going door to door in Georgia urging Republican-leaning voters to come out and vote for Perdue and Loeffler in the runoffs.
Alabama Republican Party insider former State Rep. Perry Hooper Jr., a staunch Trump supporter, is working to raise funds for Perdue and Loeffler.
“It is imperative that everyone support the two Republican Georgia Senators, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, in their bid for re-election,” Hooper said. “The control of the Senate hangs in the balance. Republicans currently hold a 50-48 [majority]. However, if the Democrats sweep these races in the January 5th runoffs and Joe Biden is the president, Kamala Harris represents the tiebreaker on all votes that are tied 50-50 in the Senate. The Democrats nationwide are pulling out all stops to win these elections with two radical left-wing candidates.”
Likely 2024 Republican presidential hopefuls Sens. Marco Rubio, Tim Scott and Tom Cotton as well as Vice President Mike Pence all have been on the ground campaigning for Loeffler and Perdue. The potential Republican presidential candidates in 2024 would all like a few moments of early-stage presidential campaign time.
Biden will take office as the oldest president in American history. President Ronald Reagan was 77 years old when he left office. Biden will be 78 when he is inaugurated so it is far from certain that he will run for a second term, making the 2024 election likely a wide-open race.
Republicans and Democrats are both throwing piles of money and resources at the state. The pitched battle for Georgia is going on even as Georgia’s election officials are conducting a hand tally of votes in the presidential race.
Pres. Trump still has not conceded the presidential election or Georgia. The President criticized Georgia’s Republican Governor and Secretary of State this weekend.
Trump is another possible 2024 contender. The president won more votes in 2020 than anyone in American history other than Biden.
“We must do all we can to support the Republican ground game in Georgia,” Hooper said. “This effort will enable Republicans to verify all signatures on all ballots. Call all your friends and family in Georgia and do not hang up until you have convinced them of the importance of this election. If possible, travel to Georgia and go door to door. Contact your local Republican party and volunteer to make calls on behalf of Senators Loeffler and Perdue. You can do this on your cell phone from the comfort of your own home. We must win or all is lost.”