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BCA and Allies Backing Brown and Newman in Tuesday’s School Board GOP Runoffs

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

On Tuesday, April 12, Republican voters go to the polls in State School Board District 1 and District 7 to decide who the Republican Party wants on the state school board.

Very large sums of money are pouring into the campaigns of incumbents Matthew Brown and Jeffrey Newman: most of it from the powerful Business Council of Alabama (BCA) and the Alabama Farmer’s Federation.

Brown is also receiving paid advertising from the school choice advocacy group the Alabama Federation for Children.

Matthew Brown is running against retired principal Jackie Zeigler. Brown has never worked in education, held a political office before Gov. Bentley appointed him to the board and his children are not school age yet. Brown is best known for spearheading the “No” vote on higher school taxes in Baldwin County in 2015.

The Alabama Political Reporter looked closely at the Secretary of State’s campaign finance filings for Matthew Brown. He reported a single $17,000 contribution from PROGRESS PAC and a $9,000 payment to Birmingham based Red State Strategies on the April 8 report.

On the April 7 filing, Brown reported that PROGRESS PAC (the PAC arm of BCA) donated another $18,850 contribution to Brown. Brown also reported a $9,000 in-kind contribution from Gov. Riley’s, the Alabama Federation for Children. Brown reported a $7,500 payment to Victory Phones in Grand Rapids, Michigan presumably to flood Alabama Republican votes with get out the vote phone calls.

On April 6, Brown reported receiving a $19,400 contribution from the BCA’s PROGRESS PAC. Brown also reported that the Alabama Federation for Children spent $16,522.08 on advertising to elect Brown.

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The Alabama Federation for Children is a lobbying group that promotes Scholarship Granting Organization (SGO) that gives scholarships to children who are zoned to failing Alabama public schools for them to attend a private school. SGOs and the option to opt out of a failing public school was created by the Alabama Accountability Act which was championed by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) in the 2013 legislative session. The bill began and passed both houses of the legislature as the School Flexibility Act which gave school systems the option to ask for flexibility from certain rigid state laws. In Sen. Marsh substituted that for the much longer and more complex Alabama Accountability Act in a conference committee. With the backing of Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) the substituted bill passed both house literally in the middle of the night.

As previously reported by the Alabama Political Reporter, the American Federation for Children was founded by Florida’s John F Kirtley who is a close friend as well as political and ideological ally of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (R). Kirtley is the Vice-chairman of Bob Riley’s Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund. Until recently, former ALGOP/Mike Hubbard political operative, former Sen. Del Marsh policy adviser, Ryan Cantrell was the Director of the Alabama Federation for Children. He is now employed by the American Federation for Children as their Regional Advocacy and Political Director.

Matthew Brown reported spending another $7,500 with Victory Phones of Grand Rapids, presumably for more phone calls. He also reported spending $6,500 with ADVictory LLC of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

On the April 5 report Matthew Brown reported that he had received another check from BCA’s PROGRESS PAC for $18,250. He also reported receiving a $10,000 check from FARM PAC, the Alabama Farmer’s Federation PAC. Why the farmers are using their resources in a GOP state school board race for a candidate who has never held public office before is an interesting question we can’t begin to answer. Brown reported writing a $17,934,88 to Red State Strategies of Birmingham. He also wrote two small checks to himself totaling $135.82.

On the April 1 report Matthew Brown reported that he had received a $16,500 check from PROGRESS PAC. He also reported receiving three $500 contributions from Columbia Southern University, Inc. of Orange Beach; William McNair of Point Clear; and Barry Booth of Spanish Fort. Brown’s campaign spent $10,000 with Victory Phones of Grand Rapids, Michigan; $4,000 with ADVictory LLC of Grand Rapids, Michigan; and $8104.80 with Vertical Strategies of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

According to their website, Vertical Strategies (Vertical Phones is a component) are a team of political consultants: Ethan Eilon, Jordan Gehrke, Emily Hoffman, Corinne Clark, Robert Scoggins, Courtney Green, Andrew Kim, and Joe Craig.

US Senator Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska), Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker as three of the clients they have consulted for in the past before coming together as a team. They have offices in Grand Rapids, Michigan and Washington DC.

The campaign also reported two checks to Matthew Brown totaling $198.93, as well as two checks to the post office totaling $692.45, and a check to Wal-Mart for $41.35.

On the report from March 25 Matthew Brown reports just one $50 contribution from Susan McConnell and a $12,048.19 payment to ADVictory LLC of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Jackie Zeigler’s campaign said in a statement, “As in the primary, Brown is depending on Alabama political action committees and out-of-state billionaires to finance his campaign. He shows only raising $2,550 from individuals for the runoff. The Business Council of Alabama has contributed $90,000, the Alabama Farmers Federation gave $10,450 in contributions and in-kind contributions and the Alabama Federation for Children has donated $24,522 in in-kind support. (Info on file with Secretary of State shows that the money from AFC is actually part of a $50,000 donation from WalMart’s Alice Walton of Arkansas.) BCA contributed $54,000 to Brown’s primary campaign. So they now show total contributions to Brown of $144,000. A review of records going back to 2010 show that this is the most BCA has ever spent on a state school board election.” Zeigler had the most votes in the Alabama Republican Primary but failed to get the 50 percent plus one needed to win the GOP nomination outright.

Both District 1 and District 7 have GOP Primary runoff elections on Tuesday, April 12.

In District 7, BCA’s PROGRESS PAC donated $17,745 to incumbent State School Board Member Jeffrey Newman (R) on April 7. PROGRESS PAC also wrote a $15,550 check to Newman on April 5 and another $16,755 on April 4. The Alabama Farmer’s Federation PAC wrote a $10,000 check to Newman on April 4. Newman’s campaign is spending most of their money with Greystone Public Affairs in Hoover. The Greystone group received a $38,200 check on April 5 and a $22,400 check on April 8.

Newman’s opponent is Jim Bonner who worked for 30 years as a classroom teacher. He has a Master’s Degree from the University of North Alabama and a bachelor’s degree from Athens State University. Bonner almost won the office outright in the GOP Primary.

Jeff Newman has more than three decades of experience in education, Newman most recently retired as superintendent of education of the Lamar County School System. Prior to his service as superintendent, he served as an administrator of federal programs, a career technical principal and director, a high school assistant principal, and an agribusiness teacher.

Polls open at 7:00 am on Tuesday and close at 7:00 pm. Remember to bring a valid picture ID to the polls.

The Alabama Political Reporter’s Bill Britt contributed to this report.

 

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Health

Wisconsin students test positive after spring break on Alabama beaches

Eddie Burkhalter

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A number of college students from the University of Wisconsin-Madison have tested positive for COVID-19 after spending time on Alabama’s beaches during spring break, according to the university and multiple news outlets.  

University Health Services (UHS) and Public Health Madison & Dane County (PHMDC) recently became aware of a cluster of COVID-19 cases associated with a spring break trip organized by seniors, many of whom might be members of fraternities and sororities at UW-Madison,” wrote Dr. G. Patrick Kelly, interim medical director at UW-Madison’s University Health Services in a letter to sorority and fraternity members as reported by WKRG.  

“This trip started in Nashville, Tennessee around March 13 and moved to Gulf Shores, Alabama around March 16. Most students returned home by March 20. Multiple students on this trip have tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19 and many others are reporting similar symptoms,” the letter continues. 

Gov. Kay Ivey closed the state’s beaches on March 19. Prior to that decision, images circulated on social media of college students gathering along the state’s shorelines. 

UW-Madison has asked students who returned from Alabama to self-quarantine for 14 days.

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Governor awards $9.5 million in grants to expand internet access

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Gov. Kay Ivey has awarded 20 grants totaling more than $9.5 million to provide high-speed internet access to numerous communities throughout Alabama.

The grants, part of the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund, were awarded to nine broadband providers to fund multiple projects in their coverage areas.

“Availability of high-speed internet has always been vital, but the events of the past several weeks magnify just how imperative it is that all Alabamians have access to broadband,” Gov. Ivey said. “I am pleased to support these projects and look forward to the day when every household, school, healthcare facility, emergency service and business throughout Alabama is afforded broadband availability.”

The fund, which is being administered through the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, was created by the Alabama Legislature in 2018 to provide high-speed internet to rural and underserved areas of the state.

“As our day-to-day way of living has been impacted over the past few weeks, it has underscored the value and necessity of high-speed broadband services. That is something that Governor Ivey, the Legislature and ADECA have been working to address through the Broadband Accessibility Fund,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell said. “ADECA takes its role in administering this program seriously and is honored to be entrusted with the responsibility.”

This latest round of Broadband Accessibility grants came from applications submitted in late December 2019. Additional awards from this round of applications could also be announced.

Grants awarded and coverage areas are:

  • Central Alabama Electric Cooperative – $224,175 to provide broadband services in north Lowndes County including 301 households and 15 businesses.
  • Central Alabama Electric Cooperative – $289,100 for service in southwest Autauga and southeast Dallas counties including 343 households and 38 businesses.
  • Central Alabama Electric Cooperative – $480,200 for service in northwest Autauga, northeast Dallas and south Chilton counties including nearly 500 households and 31 businesses.
  • Central Alabama Electric Cooperative – $682,325 for service adjacent to the town of Billingsley in Autauga County which includes 656 households and 45 businesses.
  • Central Alabama Electric Cooperative – $1.06 million for service in Chilton County south of the city of Clanton and north of the town of Billingsley which is in neighboring Autauga County. The project will offer service to 1,093 households and 41 businesses.
  • Central Alabama Electric Cooperative – $557,987 for service in north-central Autauga County and parts of south-central Chilton County to include service offerings to 743 households and 21 businesses.
  • Central Alabama Electric Cooperative – $531,650 for service in southeast Chilton County, northeast Autauga County and northwest Elmore County including 509 households and 17 businesses.
  • Central Alabama Electric Cooperative – $279,300 for service in northwest Chilton County and east Bibb County including 409 households and 12 businesses.
  • Charter Communications – $336,830 for service in the town of Autaugaville in Autauga County including 641 household and 14 businesses.
  • Comcast of Alabama – $820,750 to service the Town of Dauphin Island in Mobile County including 2,500 households and 24 businesses.
  • Hayneville Telephone Co. – $205,705 for service in Lowndes County’s Black Belt and Hicks Hill communities including 258 households and four businesses.
  • Hayneville Telephone Co. – $125,671 for service in an area southeast of the town of Hayneville including 187 households and one business.
  • Hayneville Telephone Co. – $143,265 for service southwest of the town of Hayneville including 191 households and two businesses.
  • Hayneville Fiber Transport Inc. (Camellia Communications) – $90,072 for service in the Butler County community of Poorhouse community northeast of the city of Greenville.
  • JTM Broadband – $404,414 for service in Lauderdale County east of the town of Killen including 1,303 households and 247 businesses.
  • Mon-Cre Telephone Cooperative – $529,707 for service in north Crenshaw County and south Montgomery County including 350 households.
  • National Telephone of Alabama – $357,171 for service in the Red Rock community in Colbert County including 205 households and six businesses.
  • Roanoke Telephone Co. – $308,882 – for service in an area of south Randolph County between the municipalities of Roanoke and Wadley including 269 households and four businesses.
  • Troy Cablevision – $1.38 million for service in parts of Coffee, Covington, Geneva and Houston counties including 1,190 households and 80 businesses.
  • Troy Cablevision – $750,625 for service in parts of Coffee, Crenshaw and Pike counties including 603 households and 38 businesses.

ADECA administers a wide range of programs that support law enforcement, victim programs, economic development, water resource management, energy conservation and recreation.

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Alabama exploring empty hotels to bolster hospital bed capacity

Chip Brownlee

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Gov. Kay Ivey said on a conference with lawmakers and state officials Monday that the state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are considering using hotels, especially in Alabama’s large metro areas, to expand hospital bed capacity.

The discussions come as public health experts warn that hospitals could face a surge in patients as the coronavirus pandemic spreads in Alabama and hospitals begin reporting more hospitalizations.

“The governor continues to explore all options to combat COVID-19,” the governor’s press secretary, Gina Maiola, said when APR asked about the plans. “A decision has not been finalized, but her priority remains focused on the health, safety and well-being of all Alabamians.”

On the conference call Monday, Ivey told lawmakers that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is visiting the city’s major metro areas to study facilities that could be used to provide extra hospital bed capacity if a surge in patients materializes, according to several lawmakers and elected officials who were on the call.

Ivey said on the call that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is looking at ways it can contract with empty hotels to expand hospital bed capacity quickly to avoid an overwhelming of the state’s medical facilities with COVID-19 patients.

The Corps of Engineers is surveying potential sites in Tuscaloosa County, Lee County, Birmingham, Mobile, Montgomery and Huntsville. The discussions seem to mirror a nationwide plan being discussed by leaders of the Army Corps of Engineers.

It’s not clear when any of these popup hospitals could be functional in Alabama. More information or some kind of report on the possibility of using the hotels is expected by the end of the week, lawmakers who listened to the call said. But that would only be the first step of the process.

Some experts have also recommended using closed rural hospitals across the state to increase bed capacity. “While there is not a specific plan to do so at this time, the governor is not ruling out any option,” Maiola said of re-opening rural hospitals. “The health of Alabamians is of the utmost importance.”

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States across the country are looking at hotels — largely empty during the economic shutdown — as potential venues to bolster bed capacity. Washington purchased motels to add bed capacity early on its outbreak. The Army Corps of Engineers, according to McClatchy, explored using hotels in New York City.

The Corps then played a large role in New York, setting up a number of temporary hospitals at convention centers, colleges and other sites in the city, which is now the epicenter of a national outbreak.

The commanding general of the Army Corps of Engineers, Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, told Fox News that residents of other parts of the country can expect to see pop-up field hospitals like those appearing in New York City.

The hotels, officials said, would be the easiest to convert into extra hospital bed capacity because there are already individual bathrooms for each room and often air conditioning and heat for each individual room.

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Health

State health department confirms 13 COVID-19 deaths

Chip Brownlee

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The Alabama Department of Public Health, after investigations into causes of death, has confirmed 13 COVID-19 deaths in the state. The department reported the deaths Tuesday morning.

Three deaths have been confirmed in Chambers County, two in Lee, two in Shelby, one in Jackson, one in Lauderdale, one in Mobile, one in Madison, one in Montgomery and one in Tallapoosa.

The department will continue investigating deaths to determine the primary cause of death.

East Alabama Medical Center over the weekend and on Monday reported seven deaths, including five in Chambers County and two in Lee County. Most of those, but not all, appear to have been confirmed by the state health department.

“In public health, we have to all make sure that we’re counting things the same way from state to state and we have fairly precise processes and definitions so that we all make sure that we are counting the same things,” state health officer Scott Harris said last week when asked about the state’s process for reporting deaths.

People might sometimes die from acute respiratory distress or cardiac arrest, but the primary cause of death must be determined before the state will report the death.

“It does take a little bit of time to review medical records to talk to people who were caring for that patient,” Harris said.

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