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Speaker: Ainsworth bill to arm teachers scrapped this year

Chip Brownlee

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Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh and House Speaker Mac McCutcheon watch Gov. Kay Ivey deliver her first State of the State Address. (Adam Brasher/The Auburn Plainsman)

A bill that would have allowed teachers to be armed in classrooms across the state is dead for this session.

The bill, sponsored by Guntersville Republican Rep. Will Ainsworth, was one of the most prominent of several gun and school safety bills filed this session.

Filed three weeks ago, just a month before the Legislature is expected to sine die and end the session, the controversial bill had a steep hill to climb.

It didn’t make it to the top.

Leaders in the legislature — from the House speaker to the Senate president pro tempore — have been cautious about the calendar realities of passing gun bills this session, and McCutcheon was the more optimistic of the two.

But Tuesday House Speaker Mac McCutcheon said opposition from Democrats threatened to derail the session and led to the bill’s demise, though several Republicans — particularly in the Senate — had also expressed opposition to the measure.

“Although the bill was in a position to be considered yesterday, the Democratic opponents of the legislation were prepared to lock down the chamber to prevent its approval,” McCutcheon said. “There was also a great deal of misinformation being distributed to educators, school administrators, law enforcement agencies, and parents that needed to be corrected.”

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McCutcheon wasn’t clear what “misinformation” had been spread about the bill.

The House speaker, in his second session in the Legislature top role, said he expects the bill to make a reappearance during the next session.

“I can offer a personal guarantee that this issue will be revisited when the Legislature convenes its next session,” McCutcheon said.

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The Legislature won’t return for a regular legislative session until March 2019. Lawmakers will have an extra month off next year during the first year of the quadrennium after the 2018 statewide general election.

Ainsworth’s HB435 isn’t the only gun bill that died this week. All of the other proposals — from both Democrats and Republicans — were also given a hypothetical death certificate after their sponsors admitted that it’s unlikely they’ll move forward with less than a week to go in this session.

Ainsworth was more forceful, calling on Gov. Kay Ivey to convene a special session of the Legislature later this year to revisit school safety proposals. It’s unlikely Ivey will call a special session given lawmakers are battling it out ahead of primaries scheduled for June 5 and a general election set for November.

Constitutionally, the Legislature has several more weeks left in the session, but lawmakers are expected to depart next week in order to get home and campaign. It’s typical for lawmakers to end an election-year session early.

Nevertheless, McCutcheon and the bills’ sponsors say they are not abandoning them, and some school safety legislation has already passed or has a much better chance of making it out before the end of March.

“The House is deeply committed to school safety issues, and we are already passing legislation this session that allows retired law enforcement officers to serve as school resource officers, redirects state technology dollars to fund school security needs, and creates a permanent committee that will suggest school security improvements on an annual basis,” McCutcheon said.

The speaker said lawmakers are also researching how existing laws on the books could allow for changes to school safety, and he directed lawmakers to get feedback from their local school districts and law enforcement on how the Legislature could help. McCutcheon said the House won’t forget about the need for school safety and gun reform next year.

“As the next regular session approaches, we will be taking a look at all the pieces of the complex school security puzzle and come forward with a package of legislative proposals,” McCutcheon said. “Ensuring that the children parents send to school in the morning return to their home safely in the evening will always remain among the top priorities of the Alabama House of Representatives.”

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Elections

Moore legal team files motion for Judge Rochester to recuse

Brandon Moseley

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Attorney Melissa Isaak filed Thursday on behalf of her client, Judge Roy Moore, a motion to recuse Judge John Rochester from further consideration of the legal case between Moore and his accuser, Leigh Corfman.

The Moore team said that is the case due to the following reasons: “Judge Rochester’s continued decision to preside over this case despite the fact that his appointment was “temporary” and expired on January 14, 2019 over a year ago, Judge Rochester’s untimely delay of approximately five months in ruling on dispositive motions in this case brought only to accuse Judge Moore of defamation for merely denying false allegations against him, which is not even a valid cause of action, Judge Rochester’s open friendship, support, and financial contributions for Doug Jones in his 2017 Senate campaign against Judge Moore, according to his own personal Facebook account, Open and virulent criticism of Judge Moore by Linda Rochester, wife of Judge John Rochester during the 2017 Senate campaign on her own personal Facebook page, Judge Rochester’s criticism and mocking of Christianity on his Facebook page with full knowledge of Judge Moore’s strong belief in God, Judge Rochester’s political animus against the Republican Party and President Donald Trump who supported Judge Moore in the 2017 general election, Judge Rochester’s obvious political bias in his quick response to set a trial date in this case, within two weeks of the upcoming Republican primary which will determine the opponent in the general election against Doug Jones.”

Moore claims, “As stated in Attorney Isaak’s motion, any individual would have a solid basis for questioning Judge John Rochester’s impartiality, political motivation, and bias in presiding over this case.”
Moore is claiming that Judge John Rochester’s friendship, support, and financial contribution to Doug Jones in combination with his wife’s open criticism of Judge Moore during the 2017 special election for US Senate in which Judge Moore was a candidate, mandates immediate recusal of Judge John Rochester in this frivolous action.

Moore has also objected in the past to this case being in Montgomery County court, when Corfman’s allegations of improper sexual conduct between her and Moore in 1976 allegedly occurred in Etowah County.

Corfman claims that Moore and her engaged in inappropriate touching through their underwear in 1976 when Corfman was just 15 years old. Under Alabama law, then as now, the age of consent for sexual activity is 16, not 15. Corfman’s allegation, along with allegations by women dating from decades ago were released in an article by the Washington Post after Moore had won the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in 2017. The shocking allegations were trumpeted by the national press as well as by Democrats. Moore narrowly lost the December 2017 special election to Clinton era U.S. Attorney Doug Jones (D), the only time a Democrat has won any statewide election in Alabama since 2008.

Moore has steadfastly denied the allegations. Corfman sued Moore in Montgomery Court after the election for defamation of character. Moore has since sued Corfman, the other accusers, and the architects of the Reed Hoffman financed, illicit Russian style tactics, which Moore claims were largely responsible with depressing Republican turnout and increasing the efforts by GOP moderates to defeat Moore by writing in the name of some candidate other than Moore.

While many Republicans accepted the accusations against Moore as “credible” they rejected similar accusations against Supreme Court Brett Kavanaugh.

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Moore was twice elected Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court and is a current candidate for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat, currently held by Jones.

The Republican primary is on March 3.

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Alabama Nursing Home Association selects Brandon Farmer as new president and CEO

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The Alabama Nursing Home Association (ANHA) announced on Monday it has selected Brandon Farmer as the organization’s new President and CEO.Farmer brings two decades of health care and political experience to the Association. He joins the ANHA from NHS Management where he was director of governmental relations and public affairs for 17 years. In that role, Farmer was responsible for state and federal legislative strategy, policy analysis and public relations for the Tuscaloosa-based nursing home operator. Farmer often worked with members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate and staff at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on issues important to post-acute and long-term care providers. Farmer began his career as a public affairs consultant for Stephen Bradley & Associates.”Brandon’s background makes him uniquely suited to lead our organization,” said Sal Lee Sasser-Williams, chair of the Alabama Nursing Home Association. “We are pleased he is joining us and confident he can help us successfully navigate the ever-changing landscape of nursing homes and long-term care.”

Farmer will advise the ANHA board on policy, strategic planning and government relations; guide the Association’s staff and serve as spokesman for the organization. Farmer will also represent Alabama as liaison to the American Health Care Association.

“It’s humbling to be asked to lead an organization that so effectively represents its members,” Farmer said. “I appreciate the trust the board placed in me and look forward to working with the members and staff to advance the work of nursing homes across Alabama. While there is a lot to accomplish, I am confident we can achieve great things for the people who live and work in our member nursing homes.”

A native of Tuscaloosa, Farmer earned Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts degrees from The University of Alabama. He and his wife, Laura, have two children. Farmer began his new role February 1. He replaces Bill O’Connor who retired December 31, 2019.

About the Alabama Nursing Home Association: Founded in 1951, the Alabama Nursing Home Association represents 94% of the state’s nursing homes. It is Alabama’s oldest and largest long-term and post-acute care trade organization. For more information, visit anha.org.

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Sean Spicer addresses Alabama Republicans

Brandon Moseley

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Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was in Prattville on Friday as the keynote speaker at the Alabama Republican Party’s annual Winter Dinner event. This year’s event was held at the Montgomery Marriott, in Prattville.

Spicer talked about his life growing up in a non—political home in Rhode Island and his passion for political campaigning that he developed in college. Spicer worked for a number of campaigns before going to work for the National Republican Congressional Campaign (NRCC). Spicer also worked for the George W. Bush administration in trade.

Spicer was going to leave the political world and accept a regular job that would allow him to spend more time with his family when Reince Priebus asked him to join him at the Republican National Committee (RNC). Spicer’s first two years at the RNC were productive but ultimately were unsuccessful when then GOP presidential nominee Governor Mitt Romney (R) lost to incumbent President Barack H. Obama (D) in 2012.

Despite the crushing loss, the RNC kept Priebus and Spicer on for another two years. Spicer said that the experience of losing a presidential campaign was instructive for the GOP team. They studied what they had done wrong and what Obama and his team had done right The Obama team emphasized a ground game, having political operatives on the ground working in the swing states year-round building support for their candidates. The Republican strategy, however, was to just spend more money on a new ad buy to reach swing voters or get out the GOP base. The throwing more money at it approach was not working so Priebus and the RNC team resolved to assemble data on voters and voter districts and do what the data told them to do rather than throwing money at a race. The GOP won control of the Senate in 2014. The RNC kept Priebus and Spicer for another two years.

Priebus and the RNC resolved to assemble the largest ground game ever in political strategy for 2016. Spicer said that Obama had built a strategy around promoting one candidate, Obama; but the RNC strategy was to build a ground game around Republican principles and ideas. GOP operatives were living among the communities organizing and spreading the GOP message in swing states and districts ahead of the 2016 election.

Spicer said that the GOP had an incredible slate of candidates with all kinds of great experience and then they had this Trump guy that tweets. The Trump message however resonated with Republican primary voters and he won the nomination. Once it was clear that Trump would be the nominee the RNC staff met with Donald J. Trump and his campaign staff. They really did not have a ground game at all. The Trump campaign did rallies and Tweets and that is what they did, but this lack of a large candidate infrastructure actually worked well because they adopted the RNC apparatus that was already in place without the conflicting infrastructures that past campaigns have had to meld in a general election run.

Trump defeated former Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton and asked Spicer to join the administration as White House Press Secretary. Spicer admitted that the Tweets were annoying, but added that “you aren’t going to make him (Pres. Trump) stop. That’s who he is.” Spicer said that Trump sleeps for about two hours and then he Tweets.

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Spicer said that he had a really bad week on the job, and then Saturday Night Live did their skit lampooning him. Spicer did not see it live. On Sundays, he goes to church with his family and ignores the calls. All through the service, his phone was getting texts and calls that he ignored. Normally they go out for ice cream following the service but he told his son no and rushed to home to see what had happened. Spicer said that the piece was hilarious, but was devastating and that his tenure never recovered afterward.

Spicer said that President Trump has built the greatest economy in decades, has renegotiated trade deals which no one thought possible, and he has kept his promises to the American people. Spicer acknowledged that losing the election is always possible, but that is why you have to work hard.

Spicer urged Alabama Republicans to united behind whoever is the Senate nominee this time and defeat Doug Jones. Defeating Doug Jones is critical to the GOP maintaining control of the Senate.

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Former State Representative Perry O. Hooper Jr. is a member of the Alabama Republican Executive Committee, serves on Trump’s national finance committee, is running on March 3 in the Republican primary statewide to be a Trump delegate to the national convention.

“Sean delivered a great Alabama Republican Trump Speech,” Hooper said. “Sean spoke out strong that the two most important races in Alabama and America are the re-election of President Donald J. Trump and beating Democrat US Senator Doug Jones. That was music to our ears!”

“Sean and I visited and I asked him what was the plan to take back the House,” Hooper continued. “I told Sean that America cannot take Pelosi, Schiff, and Nadler any more. Sean told me that the plan was to target 50 House seats. We have to win 23 seats to take back control. Sean felt very positive that we will take control of the House. I told Sean that is a must so we can finish implementing to Trump agenda: border security and building the wall, infrastructure, and affordable healthcare.”

Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan presented Spicer with a handmade quilt of valor that a nonprofit group of volunteers makes for veterans. Spicer is an officer in the Navy reserves.

The ALGOP Winter Dinner, the party’s largest fundraiser, was sold out. The Alabama Republican Party is the largest state Republican Party in the country.

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Elections

Conservatives urge voters to vote “no” on Amendment One

Brandon Moseley

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On February 4 conservative thought leaders from across the State of Alabama spoke in front of the Alabama Statehouse urging voters to vote No on Amendment One.

Amendment one would strip Alabama voters of their ability to elect the state school board and replace the elected board with a commission appointed by the Governor.

Former state school board member Betty Peters (R) said that Amendment One amends the state constitution requiring schools to adopt nationwide standards.

“There are no nationally recognized standards other than the Common Core Standards,” Peters warned.

Lou Campomenosi with the Campaign for Common Sense said, “Voting No on Amendment one is absolutely essential”

“The Alabama Conservative Coalition has been working on this since August,” Campomenosi added. “We are tired of this and we are not going to take it any more.”

Peters called the wording of Amendment One “Deceptive.”

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“I served on the state school board for 16 years and I had a 100 percent record of opposing Common Core, also known as College and Career Ready Standards,” Peters said.

Peters blamed the implementation of Common Core and Alabama’s subsequent drop to last place nationally in education to: Bob Riley, Kay Ivey, Terri Collins and the Business Council of Alabama.

“We defeated Amendment One (in 2003) with a 70 percent vote and lets do it again,” Peters said.

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Dr. Joe Godfrey with the Alabama Citizens Action Patrol said, “We are opposed to amendment one and we are trying to encourage pastors to oppose it as well.”

“We are taking away that very right to elect people that our forefathers fought for,” Godfrey continued. “Church members need to go to their pastor and ask them to get involved in this.”

State Representative Bob Fincher (R-Woodland) said, “I voted against this amendment twice, in the education policy committee and on the floor.”

“I was not sent to Montgomery as a representative of the Governor’s office, the BCA, or the AEA,” Fincher continued. “It is not in the interests of the people of Alabama. The people of this state do not need to cede their right to Montgomery to elect a state school board.”

“A board appointed by the Governor will respond to whatever the governor tells them to do, not what the people tell them,” Fincher added. “That other party has adopted many proposals that are highly socialistic. This is a socialist program. It takes away from the people their power and their sovereignty and places it in the hands of government officials.”

“I am an old high school history teacher and I taught government,” Fincher said, “I hope that we avoid this with every ounce of energy that we possess.”

“Don’t take the bait,” Fincher warned.

State Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) said, “March 3rd is one of the most important state elections in history.”

“Amendment One will take your right away to vote on state school board members and let Gov Ivey have the right to appoint all the state school board,” Zeigler said. “It puts the requirements of the common core into the state constitution.”

“My wife, Jackie Zeigler, ran against a gov Bentley appointee,” Zeigler added. “The young man had never been involved in public schools. He as an incumbent raised $216,000 in special interest money. Jackie Zeigler would never have been appointed even though she is the most qualified person to ever have served.”

Senate candidate State Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs) said, “It is about our children and grandchildren. The socialist left is attacking the very values that built this country.”

“This is too much concentration of authority in the executive branch,” Mooney warned. “I am not in favor of national standards.”

“We don’t need to be educating illegal immigrants at a cost $16,000 per person,” Mooney said.

Rep. Andrew Sorrell (R-Muscle Shoals) said, “I was one of three Republicans in the Alabama legislature to vote against this. In 1970, we had an appointed board.” We switched to an elected board because they at the time thought would work better not they want to switch to an appointed board again.

Sorrell said that the state had tried to build a toll bridge in Mobile without the support of the people. “Thank you to our State Auditor for putting the kobash on that.”

“I have seen the polling on this issue and we can win and we will win,” Sorrell said.

Voters go to the polls on Tuesday, March 3 to decide whether or not to surrender their powers to elect the school board.

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