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Looking Back on 2015

Bradley Byrne

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Bradley Byrne

By Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-1)

2015 was packed full of major developments for Southwest Alabama. As the year draws to a close, I thought it would be a good time to review some of the highlights.

One of the first votes the House of Representatives took in 2015 was on my bill to repeal Obamacare in its entirety and instead move forward with patient-centered healthcare reform that isn’t run by the federal government. My bill passed the House by a vote of 296 to 186.

Also in February, I introduced the Real Choice for Veterans Act to help increase veteran access to private health care. The bloated VA bureaucracy is failing too many of our veterans, and I believe we shouldn’t require veterans to remain stuck in this failed system. It’s time we let veterans seek medical care from doctors and hospitals in their local communities.

In March, I hosted a Leadership Workshop in Mobile for over 500 area high school students. South Alabama head football coach Joey Jones served as our keynote speaker, and I held a town hall meeting to take questions from the students. It was a huge success.

Also in the spring, I introduced legislation designed to reduce the size of the federal government and cut down on unnecessary government bureaucracy. My bill, known as the Sunset Act, would require most federal agencies to be reviewed and reauthorized once every ten years. If Congress fails to authorize an agency, they would cease to exist. This would make government more efficient and accountable.

In June, the House passed a bill that included three of my reforms designed to get a longer Red Snapper season for our fishermen. My provisions would repeal the inflexible quotas, extend state water boundaries for each Gulf state to nine nautical miles, and remove data collection and stock assessments from federal control. I was proud to get these important provisions passed through the House.

In August, I traveled to Israel to visit with our strongest allies in the Middle East. We talked a lot about the Iran Nuclear Agreement and the harmful impact it would have on Israel and the world. When I returned to Washington, I voted to stop the deal from taking effect.

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Also in August, I held a Conservative Solutions Town Hall Tour to listen to your concerns and ideas. I held over 15 town hall meetings with stops in all six counties that make up Alabama’s First Congressional District. Thanks to all those who came out!

This fall, I was pleased to see the National Defense Authorization Act signed into law. As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I worked hard to ensure the bill included authorization to build additional navy ships at the Austal shipyard in Mobile. I remain so impressed by the work done by the men and women who work at our shipyard.

And in December, Congress finally agreed on a long-term highway bill. This is the first highway bill lasting longer than two years since 2005. Having a long-term highway bill in place will allow us to move forward with important highway projects like the I-10 bridge in Mobile, Highway 98 in Mobile County, and Highway 45 in Washington County.

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All told, in 2015 my office responded to over 16,000 pieces of mail, held over 25 town hall meetings in person, over the phone, and online, took part in over 160 events throughout Southwest Alabama, and assisted over 1,000 constituents who were having issues with a federal agency.

We made significant progress in 2015, but more work certainly remains. I’m committed to continuing to fight for our area’s priorities in Congress and pushing for a smaller, more accountable federal government.

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Opinion | Alabama’s economic boom should be heard and felt across the state

Congressman Robert Aderholt

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When I was growing up in Haleyville, I can remember people in July and August saying, “it’s hotter’n blue blazes outside.”  Well, you could certainly describe America and Alabama’s current economic boom as being “hotter’n blue blazes.”  Alabama’s economy is scorching hot, with the lowest unemployment numbers in our state’s history.  One county economic development director told me that “if you want a job, you can find one right now.”

​I don’t doubt that’s true, but unfortunately it also depends on what part of the state you live in.   If you are willing and able to drive a couple of hours to and from work, then you certainly have many more options.  Our Defense and Space industries are experiencing tremendous growth. Agriculture is booming. Alabama is the nation’s second largest producer of poultry – and that’s a good thing.

But we can do even better. A lot of people can’t commute long distances every day to reach good jobs, so we’ve got bring the jobs to them. I believe we can bring high paying, quality jobs to every corner of the 4th District and Alabama and rural America as a whole.  We need to rebuild our essential manufacturing base – and that’s something that President Trump has focused on.

And to build upon that, we must prioritize building up our infrastructure.  We must expand high speed internet to every square mile of the 4th District and North Alabama.  We must protect rural hospitals and clinics to make sure people everywhere have access to high quality healthcare. And we must ensure we have a highly trained work force with the skills employers are looking for.

During a recent visit to a locally owned business in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, I was told they have jobs available, but they can’t find candidates who can pass a drug test.  This is why I worked in Congress to allocate more than a billion dollars to fight the opioid epidemic.  A highly skilled workforce is essential, but we also need a workforce that isn’t dependent on illegal substances to get though the day.  Lack of employment and dependency on drugs is an evil and all-consuming cycle.  We can break that cycle.

We also need to make sure our trade policies are based on common sense.  We want to increase trade by eliminating unfair foreign trade policies.  President Trump did that in the U.S.- Mexico- Canadian (USMCA) trade deal, which opens more markets for American products and helps make America more competitive.  That makes a big difference for our farmers, manufacturers, businesses and for consumers.  We’ll have more opportunities for common-sense trade deals in the coming years.

​It’s also time for us to stop associating social status and class on whether someone has a four-year college degree.  Trust me, I know many people who have bachelors and master’s degrees that aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.  And at the same time, I’ve heard of people who have two-year welding degrees from colleges like Wallace State who are making money we normally associate with a doctor.

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Two-year associate degrees and high school vocational classes are just as valuable to our economic wellbeing than an economics degree from Harvard.  If someone aspires to achieve a four-year degree, that’s great, but they should never be celebrated more than the person who decides to open his own plumbing business.  This is why I’m so supportive of our state’s two-year college system and our vocational schools.

​Alabama has so much economic potential.  I hope you will join me in making sure we see this economic expansion continues in places like Huntsville, but also expands into places like Lamar, DeKalb and Fayette counties.  There’s no reason we shouldn’t all be able to take part in how hot the Alabama economy is right now.   As we also used to say in Haleyville, it’s 100 degrees in the shade!

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Opinion | I proudly salute our state leadership, Alabamians, our Air Force and our Space Force leadership

Glenn Henry

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Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett, according to AFNS in an piece titled, “Department of the Air Force to consider military family support measures in future basing decisions,”  recently approved criteria, to assess states’ policies, for accepting professional career licenses, and a community’s public education system, support of military children; as part of its strategic basing process.

The addition of these criteria aims, to ensure locations, under consideration, have sufficient support, for the unique needs, of military families, who relocate frequently.

“The communities where service members, live and work; impact readiness, retention, and the satisfaction of families,” said Secretary Barrett. “Future basing decisions made, will ensure optimal conditions, for service members, and their families.”

The article goes on to explain, some of the issues, that influence the military members decision, to remain on active duty are, local public education aspects, and support for their children; along with their spouses, to sustain careers, move after move.

It also states, the Air Force collaborated with professional, and subject matter experts, to develop two types of analytic frameworks.

The public education framework, will be used to evaluate public school districts’, educational aspects, and ability, to support transferring military children, in Pre-Kindergarten through the 12th grade, near Air Force installations.

The licensure portability framework, will be used to assess state laws, governors’ executive orders, state Supreme Court, or bar association rules, and the ability for an area, to accommodate licenses earned, from other locations.

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The article further states, while mission requirements remain the top priority, for where a mission is based, the Air Force has developed, a process, to include these support of military family considerations.

The methodology, for these criteria, will be used for future basing decisions, as the Air Force continues, to collaborate, with policy professionals, and subject matter experts.

The piece ends, with Madam Secretary Barrett’s comments. “We know improving schools, and changing licensure regulations, take time, but efforts to meet the unique needs, of military families are vital. States that have improved services, for military families, should be commended and emulated.”

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The criteria will be formally incorporated into the basing process in the spring.

Based on our Secretary of the Air Force’s awesome comments, at this point, I want to respectfully ask all of our state leaders, since the Legislature is currently in Session, that our Great State continue, in our efforts, to lead the way, in making Alabama the most military- friendly state in the nation.

For instance, concerning the licensure portability framework, through Legislation, by waiving all transferring military family, professional licensure fees, and by seamlessly, smoothly moving, and accepting, the professional licensures, from other states, through licensure reciprocity.

Think about military families, having to transfer, every one or two years, and filling out tons of documents, that take weeks, to gather the required pertinent documents, and to complete; and submit all documents.  The numerous hours expended, and the fees, and the costs, dollar wise are often exorbitant.  Military families, currently in many states, have to pay the same, or higher fees, as they frequently transfer, over and over again.

Remember, also many military families, may have been in overseas locations, and remote assignments, in which their licensure, may have expired; and their required number of continuing professional education hours; could not be obtained, nor met. Due to these extenuating circumstances, Legislation is also needed, in which waivers may be granted, so our military families, may be allowed, to regain their licensure; vice having to start basically, from the beginning processes, or re-test to regain their eligibility; and to receive needed credentials, and required certifications.

Some military families, may face issues, beyond their control, in which no jobs are available at their next duty stations. Families may have to make the tough decisions, to accept a transfer assignment, such as going from two family members working, to one family member working. Legislation is also needed, to support all military families, and their spouses, who want to work and, or attend colleges and universities to obtain their degrees.

Concerning the education framework portion, Madam Secretary Barrett mentioned; our Great State is currently, leading the way, in helping military families. I would also, like to respectfully ask, our state Leaders, to continue with your Legislative initiatives, to build the DODEA, Military Magnet, Pre-Kindergarten through 12th grade schools on, or near the base at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base. Along, with your initiatives, to allow the children of military families to attend regional Magnet Schools. Regardless, if families, faculty, professors and instructors live on-base or off-base.

Additionally, add to the Legislation, that families at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base be allowed to attend out of District schools also in Lee County, including Auburn City Schools. In addition, to counties such as Autauga, Elmore and Pike Road City Schools.

In my view, I believe that our Great State, through the highly outstanding leadership, of Governor Kay Ivey. Lt. Gov Will Ainsworth, House Speaker Rep. Mac McCutcheon, Senate Pro Tempore Sen. Del Marsh, and the Legislature, have earned an A+.

I see no other states, nor its leadership, this highly engaged, and proactive, to ensure that military families, are being taken care of, in such a gracious manner. Alabama is the most-military friendly state in the nation. No other state has higher numbers of military- family related Legislative initiatives, on their schedules, nor presently in the works.

Throughout our Air Force and our Space Force, our top leaders and their spouses are visiting families at their on-base homes and on-base military base schools.  It touches your heart, when leaders, care about others, and their families.

Respectfully, my recommendation, to our Secretary of the Air Force; if there are any military basing locations to be considered. Please place Alabama, in the number one slot, and at the top of the list.  Over the years, I’ve actually had a privileged opportunity, to work with these outstanding problem solvers, and highly distinguished Alabama Leaders. We want more, Air Force and Space Force, military families and neighbors.

I proudly salute our state Leadership, Alabamians, our Air Force and our Space Force Leadership; and all military members, families, civilian employees and the Total Force. You all earned an A+.

Glenn Henry is retired from the U.S. Air Force. He has been a high school teacher and university adjunct professor. He has earned numerous IT Cisco certifications. He is a Certified Professional Ethical Hacker. He lives in Montgomery with his wife Teresa.

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Opinion | Primaries next week

Steve Flowers

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Folks, our primaries are next week!  On the Democratic side, the Presidential Preference Primary will be the big show and will be interesting to watch.  On the right, the Republican Primary for the U.S. Senate Seat will be the marquee event.

In addition to the Senate Race, you have two open Republican Congressional Seats in the First and Second Districts. You also have some important statewide Supreme Court and Appellate Court races on the ballot.

Incumbent Supreme Court Justice Greg Shaw and Shelby County State Senator Cam Ward, are both running to be the Republican nominee for the Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, place number one.

Shaw is one of the most introverted, dignified people that ever ran for statewide office. He takes his role as a monk-like non-talking judge to heart. He has not and will not campaign. He thinks it is beneath the jurist to talk to people, much less campaign or shake hands.

On the other hand, Senator Cam Ward is the ultimate people person and campaigner. Ward has worked the state from one end to the other, campaigning in every nook and cranny and county. He has outworked Shaw 20 to 1. However, ultimately in today’s statewide politics, it all boils down to money.

Ninety-five percent of the people who vote next Tuesday will not decide or think about who they are going to vote for until next week. Then after they vote and elect one of them, they will not be able to tell you who they voted for or for that matter who is on the Supreme Court.  This one will be interesting and probably close. Whoever gets the most votes Tuesday will be sworn in for a six-year term in January. Winning the GOP nomination for a judgeship in Alabama is tantamount to election in the Heart of Dixie.

Two Jefferson/Shelby metro candidates are vying for a seat on the Court of Civil Appeals. State Representative Matt Fridy and Phillip Bahakel are vying for place number 2 on the Civil Appeals Court.

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The presiding Judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals, Mary Windom, should waltz to re-election. However, Criminal Appeals Judge Beth Kellum, who has done an excellent job, could have a tougher race with two opponents.

PSC President Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh has an alsoran liberal candidate in her race.

The winners of the March 3 GOP Primary or runoff on March 31 will win the 1st and 2nd congressional districts and go to Washington for 2 years.

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The fist district Mobile/Baldwin race is the best and most up in the air. It is a three man race between former State Senator Bill Hightower, Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl, and Mobile State Representative Chris Pringle. It will be interesting to see which two make the March 31 runoff.

Dothan businessman Jeff Coleman is the front runner to win the open 2nd Congressional district seat. The question is can he win without a runoff. It may be difficult with seven people in the race. He will ultimately win.

As earlier stated the GOP contest for the U.S. Senate is the marquee event on the scene next week. Jeff Sessions is the favorite to win back his seat. However, it will not be a cakewalk. It is doubtful he can win without a runoff. It is a spirited and close race between Coach Tommy Tuberville and Congressman Bradley Byrne to get into the runoff with Sessions. Former Chief Justice Roy Moore has done very little campaigning and will probably get less than 10 perfect of the vote.

All indications point to former Vice President Joe Biden winning our Democratic Presidential Primary. Over 75 percent of the votes cast in our Alabama Democratic Primary will be by African American voters, and Biden has received overwhelming endorsements from almost all of the African American hierarchy and leadership groups in the State. In addition, the two leading African American Democratic Leaders, Congresswoman Terri Sewell and Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, have endorsed Biden.

However, Joe Reed’s powerful Alabama Democratic Conference has endorsed former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg. It will be interesting to see how Bloomberg fares in Alabama next Tuesday. He has spent a lot of money.  

You will see an initiative on the ballot that will ask you if you want to make the State School Board appointed rather than elected. Gov. Kay Ivey is promoting a “yes” vote. She believes an appointed Board is better for education. She would appoint the State School Board, if approved.

Y’all don’t forget to vote.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us

 

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | We can’t let up in the fight against gun-grabbers

Bradley Byrne

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The Second Amendment is under attack like never before in our nation’s history, but I am leading the fight to preserve your constitutional rights.

Last year, just weeks after taking power, House Democrats passed a bill to limit the constitutional right to own guns.  Their misguided legislation would do nothing to address the underlying problem behind actions of mass violence.  That bill, HR8, would prevent lawful gun owners from selling their guns to other law-abiding Americans.  If that bill became law, anytime a gun owner like me wanted to transfer or sell a gun, he or she would have to go through a government-sanctioned middle-man.  Of course, this process would be prohibitively time consuming and expensive.  The authors of this bill’s true intent not only was to freeze all gun transactions through the power of a slow and inefficient federal bureaucracy but to subject millions of Americans to federal prosecution.  Even transferring a firearm to a family member or friend could require federal permission!

Let’s not kid ourselves.  Criminals are not going to put their illegal enterprises on pause while waiting for permission to buy or sell a gun.  HR8 does nothing to stop crime and only burdens lawful citizens.  And it does nothing to address the mental health crisis behind so much of the mass violence we have seen.  During the debate on that bill, I introduced an amendment to strip out this anti-gun legislation and replace it with nationwide concealed carry reciprocity.  My amendment actually could make our country safer.  Unsurprisingly, Speaker Pelosi blocked my amendment.

Fortunately for gun owners, we have a true friend in the White House.  President Trump has been the biggest advocate for the Second Amendment ever to sit in the Oval Office.  To appreciate the significance of that, contrast his Second Amendment policies with those of his opponent in the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton.

In 2008 in District of Columbia v. Heller, in a major victory against zealous gun-grabbing liberals, the Supreme Court ruled against a District of Columbia law criminalizing handgun ownership.  That law made it illegal to possess an unregistered firearm in the city but also effectively prohibited registration itself, a blatant attempt to block constitutional rights to own a gun.  Clinton, however, disagreed with the Supreme Court’s ruling!  Can you imagine if we had a president in the White House who thought it should be illegal to own a gun?  Unfortunately, her beliefs are now standard for Democrat politicians.

The battle to preserve the second amendment continues in the courts.  Last year, I wrote an amicus brief, often called a “friend of the court” brief, to the Supreme Court.  The Court is working on a case, N.Y. State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. City of New York, to determine if New York’s ban on transporting a handgun to a home or shooting range outside city limits is constitutional.  Like the District of Columbia law found unconstitutional in Heller, this law is a backdoor attempt to weaken your Second Amendment rights.  I was proud to have 120 lawmakers sign onto my brief as well as the support of the NRA and Gun Owners of America.

Last week, I signed on as an original cosponsor to an important bill to strengthen and protect gun rights.  The Lawful Interstate Transportation of Firearms Act would ban states from prosecuting lawful gun owners simply traveling through their state.  This commonsense legislation would protect against liberal states’ sneaky schemes to circumvent the Second Amendment.  I’ll continue fighting for this bill with my colleagues, including Mo Brooks of Alabama who introduced the bill.

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The gun-grabbers aren’t letting up, so we can’t stop fighting either. Rest assured I will keep leading the fight in Washington to protect your Second Amendment rights.

 

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