By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Monday, January 12, state Senator Phil Williams (R from Rainbow City) and State Representative Jim Hill (R from Odenville) both addressed the gathered members of the St. Clair Farmer’s Federation in Ashville.
Sen. Williams told the influential farmers’ group, “Thank you, it is my real honor to be here as your State Senator.”
Sen. Williams said that his race with former State Senator Larry Means (D from Attalla) was one of the most contested races in the state last year. Williams said, “We outspent everybody except for the Governor and the attorney general.” The career Army Officer and Rainbow City attorney unseated Sen. Means (then under indictment) in the historic Republican landslide election of 2010. Former Sen. Means (now the Mayor of Attalla) tried to get his seat back in 214. Williams thanked the farmers for helping him win.
Sen. Williams said, “The (Farmer’s) Federation was a huge asset to me.” All four Farmers Federation County chapters in the District endorsed Williams.
Sen. Williams said, “I am a firm believer that what happens in Montgomery affects our daily lives even more than what happens in Washington DC.”
Williams said that every vote counts and cited the example of long serving Sen. Roger Bedford (D from Russellville) who lost his seat to Dr. Larry Stutts (R) by just 50 votes out of 35,000 votes cast. “It literally came down to every vote counts.”
Sen. Williams said that the 2014 election was the first test of our photo ID law. The Senator cited the case of Union Town where 120 percent of its adult population voted in a recent city election as an example of election corruption in Alabama.
Sen. Williams said that the 2015 legislative session, “Is going to be a rough year in some ways.”
Williams said, “I do feel like we (the Republican Super Majority) have done some great things.” Williams said that the legislature has downsized and consolidated agencies and have avoided proration; but warned that we are coming into what is probably going to be our toughest year yet. The state faces a $260 million deficit in the general fund, “We don’t know how we are going to fill it.” Some people calculate that that deficit could be up to $700 million.
Sen. Williams said, “I am a conservative Republican and I ran as an anti-tax guy.” I believe that we have to be good stewards of what you give us. Alabama is one of the only states in the country with two budgets: one for education and one for the general fund. The growth taxes are in the education budget
Williams said that the legislature will spend a great deal of time consolidating State agencies and said there is a movement to consolidate Agriculture and forestry. “There are lot of things that could happen with those two departments.”
Williams said that there are 4000 less state employees than there were four years ago and there could be less people on the payroll in the future. Sen. Williams said that the State will look at ‘Corporate loopholes’ that are on the books that may have made sense 30, 40, or 50 years ago when they passed; but may not be doing a lot of good today. The legislature will be holding public hearings and these decisions will not be made behind closed doors.
Williams said that he is opposed to anything that will raise individuals’ income taxes.
Sen. Williams said, “Some folks say we need a statewide lottery.”
Williams said that prison reform will be a big issue in the session. Two things: prisons and Medicaid cost over 60 percent of the general fund. The prisons are 22 percent by itself. The State is housing 195 percent of the prisons capacity. “The State prison system is overwhelmed and we are very concerned that the federal government is going to come in and make us fix it.”
Sen. Williams said that Sen. Cam Ward (R from Alabaster) is heading the Prison Reform Commission looking for solutions. A bond issue to build new bigger prisons means borrowing money and the prisons are consuming a huge amount of money now.
Williams said that there was, “Big talk about Medicaid expansion under Obamacare,” but expanding Medicaid would cost the state $220 million a year by 2019.
Sen. Williams said, “I agree with Gov. Bentley on not expanding Medicaid and I hope we stand the line on that.”
Sen. William said that he had had some discussions with Auburn University President Dr. Gouge about starting an Ag. Degree program at the Cherokee County Gadsden State Campus in partnership with the Auburn Agriculture College. Gouge said I would be very interested in that. Four months ago Auburn U. signed an agreement that started with Poultry Science. You can start a four year degree in agriculture and take the first two years at Gadsden State in Cherokee County.
Williams said that one of the biggest issues they face in the legislature is actually about spay and neuter clinics. It creates controversy leading to near riots.
State Representative Jim Hill (R from Odenville) also addressed the group.
Rep. Hill said that while Williams had the most expensive legislative race in the State, he had the cheapest with no primary or general election opponent.
Hill, who has spent 19 years as a Judge, said that he told Speaker Mike Hubbard (R from Auburn) to put me where I can do the most good: something dealing with sentencing reforms and prisons, because that is where I can do the most good.
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.