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Analysis | Democratic candidates offer idealistic goals in debate. Realities remain unseen

Sam Mattison

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Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, former Chief Justice Sue Cobb and former state Rep. James Field gathered in Birmingham on Wednesday in a televised debate by WVTM 13.

The debate, while eventful in moments, was plagued with common solutions by Democrats in the state.

Here are the highlights of the night:

Maddox and Cobb spar over minimum wage

When it came time for candidates to ask each other questions, Cobb did not hold back and confronted Maddox on a decision he made to oppose a proposal to increase the minimum wage in Tuscaloosa to $10.10 in 2016.

The former chief justice said that actions spoke louder than words and questioned Maddox’s commitment to raise the minimum wage, which has been a talking point of Democrats for years.

Maddox defended the decision by pointing to a law that was going through the Legislature at the time. The bill would have prohibited municipalities and local governments from increasing the minimum wage. It eventually passed out of the body and was signed into law.

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According to reporting from AL.com at the time, Maddox had been informed by Tuscaloosa’s attorney that the city did not have the authority to raise the minimum wage and the Tuscaloosa mayor re-iterated that point at Wednesday’s debate.

Maddox said that he swore an oath to follow the “laws of the land” and also said that passing the proposal to raise the minimum wage would have embroiled the city in “costly litigation.”

Cobb, who has served as a legal authority, disagreed and continued to criticize Maddox.

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The continued attacks led to a back-and-forth between the two candidates, which is not allowed per the debate rules. Cobb, while engaging with Maddox in an argument, restarted her time and Maddox was not allowed to respond.

Lotteries

Perhaps the most used solution during the debate was a state lottery to pay for Alabama’s budget shortcomings. The budget shortfall, mostly from the large Education and General Fund budgets passed this year, will reach into the tens of millions unless Alabama makes plans to stave off the deficit.

All the candidates have proposed a state lottery to fix the problems in the state, whether they be in improving education or shortfalls in the General Fund Budget. The candidates floated those same plans on Wednesday by proposing the funds go to lofty budget items like Education, Work Development, and Mental Health Funding.

Actually passing a lottery, however, is an issue that has plagued the state government for years.

While Republican leadership has cozied up to the idea in recent years with support coming from as high as Gov. Robert Bentley’s administration, passing a lottery bill in Alabama has been an arduous task for state legislators.

The most recent bill, proposed by Huntsville Republican Sen. Paul Sanford, never made it to the Senate floor after narrowly passing its own committee. The main hang-up for most lawmakers is finding a lottery bill that has the right language and does not overextend the powers of the state government.

Senate President Del Marsh, R-Anniston, cited this very reason for not supporting Sanford’s bill.

Even if a lottery bill were to clear the Legislature, it still must contend with a popular vote in the state, and the citizens of Alabama voted down a lottery proposal in the 1990s.

Candidates on Wednesday all said the time for another vote has come, but it is unclear if the Legislature is ready to act on lottery proposals.

When asked about solutions to the funding shortfalls that did not include a lottery, Cobb and Maddox indicated that the problems could not be solved without a lottery.

“I don’t think you can take the lottery out of the equation,” Maddox said.

Fields took a different approach and proposed an overhaul of Alabama’s taxes. He also said the government would face tough decisions as they decide how to fund a system with little revenue.

Marijuana Debate

A brief question segment dealt with the question of Marijuana legalization in the state. While all candidates proposed relaxed solutions, Maddox was by far the strongest by advocating for decriminalizing the drug.

Cobb took a softer approach and said we needed to move towards medical marijuana. She said Alabama’s drug laws were “out of step” with the rest of the nation.

While bills like Sen. Dick Brewbaker’s in 2018, which advocated relaxing punishments for possession of Marijuana, passed favorably out committee, an outright decriminalization of the drug hasn’t picked up traction in the Legislature.

Domestic problems also include a contingent of senators and representatives who bitterly oppose the relaxation of drug laws and would likely stop any bills like Brewbaker’s from passing out of the body.

The decriminalization also seems unlikely as U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a former Alabama Politico himself, has indicated that the Justice Department will crack down on states that evade the federal prohibition on drugs.

Blue Wave

Unsurprisingly, the three candidates pointed to Sen. Doug Jones’ victory over favored Republican Roy Moore last year as an indicator that a Democrat can win in Alabama.

Jones, a once thought long shot, defeated Moore by a significant margin and was seated in Washington earlier this year.

The candidates hope to be part of a “blue wave” that Democrats say will fall on the country in the 2018 midterms as a result of the Trump administration’s unpopularity. In December of last year, Jones’ victory in Alabama sent shock waves around the country and many pointed to his win as a sign of changing times in the YellowHammer state.

But to others, Jones’ victory was the result of a special election with a controversial, firebrand GOP candidate who lost the backing of Republicans after allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced in a Washington Post report.

Jones’ victory did leave an infrastructure of support as volunteers were the foot soldiers of his campaign, but it is unclear if national Democrats are willing to fund the campaigns in Alabama when they could focus on other battleground states and districts that hold a more strategic advantage.

WVTM will host a Republican Debate tonight that will feature every candidate except for Gov. Kay Ivey, who had other events to attends, and Michael McAllister, who was found dead on Wednesday.

Editor’s Note: This article originally incorrectly stated the news station as WTVM in the lede of the story. The correct call letters are WVTM.

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Congress

Voting rights activist calls for federal Department of Democracy

Micah Danney

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(VIA BLACK VOTERS MATTER)

The co-founder of an organization that is working to mobilize Black voters in Alabama and elsewhere used the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act on Thursday to call for a new federal agency to protect voting rights nationwide.

LaTosha Brown, a Selma native who co-founded Black Voters Matter, issued a statement saying that it is time to reimagine American democracy.

“The Voting Rights Act should be reinstated, but only as a temporary measure. I want and deserve better, as do more than 300 million of my fellow Americans,” Brown said.

The U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a key provision of the law in a 5-4 ruling in 2013, eliminating federal oversight that required jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to get approval before they changed voting rules.

“To ensure that the Voter’s Bill of Rights is enforced, we need a federal agency at the cabinet level, just like the Department of Defense,” Brown said. “A Department of Democracy would actively look at the patchwork of election systems across the 50 states and territories. With federal oversight, our nation can finally fix the lack of state accountability that currently prevails for failure to ensure our democratic right to vote.”

She cited excessively long lines, poll site closings and voter ID laws in the recent primaries in Wisconsin, Georgia, Kentucky and Texas as voter suppression techniques that disproportionately affect Black and other communities of color.

Brown said that the July 17 passing of Rep. John Lewis, who was nearly killed marching for voting rights in Selma in 1965, has amplified calls for the Voting Rights Act to be strengthened. That’s the right direction, she said, but it isn’t enough.

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“History happens in cycles, and we are in a particularly intense one. We have been fighting for the soul of democracy, kicking and screaming and marching and protesting its erosion for decades,” Brown said.

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Elections

Alabama Forestry Association endorses Jerry Carl

Brandon Moseley

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Congressional candidate Jerry Carl.

Thursday, the Alabama Forestry Association announced its endorsement of Republican Jerry Carl for Alabama’s First Congressional District.

“Jerry Carl has experience working closely with the forest products industry in his role as County Commissioner and will carry that knowledge to Washington,” said AFA Executive Vice President Chris Isaacson. “Throughout his career, he has been a strong advocate for limited government and free markets and will continue to promote those same values in Congress. We are proud to endorse him.”

“I am thrilled to earn the endorsement of ForestPAC,” Carl said. “Alabama has a thriving network of hard working men and women in all aspects of the forestry community, and I look forward to being a strong, pro-business voice for them in Congress. As a lifelong businessman and an owner of timberland, I understand firsthand the needs and concerns of the forestry community, and I will be a tireless advocate in Washington for Alabama’s forest industry.”

Carl is a small businessman who has started over 10 small businesses in South Alabama, creating hundreds of jobs. He is currently serving on the Mobile County Commission.

Carl said that he was inspired to run for County Commission when he became frustrated with local government.

Jerry and his wife Tina have been married for 39 years. They have three children and two grandchildren.

Carl faces Democrat James Averhart in the November 3 general election. First Congressional District incumbent Bradley Byrne (R-Montrose) did not run for another term and has endorsed Carl.

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Elections

Alabama Forestry Association endorses Tuberville

Brandon Moseley

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Republican U.S. Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville.

The Alabama Forestry Association announced Wednesday that the group is endorsing Republican Senate nominee Tommy Tuberville in the upcoming general election.

“We are proud to endorse Tommy Tuberville in the United States Senate race,” said AFA Executive Vice President Chris Isaacson. “He is a conservative with an impressive list of accomplishments, and we know that he will continue that record in his role as U.S. Senator. Tommy knows that decisions made in Washington impact families and businesses and will be an effective voice for the people of Alabama.”

“I am honored to have the endorsement of the Alabama Forestry Association,” Tuberville said. “The AFA is an excellent organization that stands for pro-business policies. Protecting Alabama industry is a key to our state’s success.”

Tuberville recently won the Republican nomination after a primary season that was extended because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Tuberville is a native of Arkansas and a graduate of Southern Arkansas University. He held a number of assistant coaching positions, including defensive coordinator at Texas A&M and the University of Miami where he won a national championship.

Tuberville has been a head coach at Mississippi, Auburn, Texas Tech and Cincinnati. In his nine years at Auburn University, the team appeared in eight consecutive bowl games. His 2004 team won the SEC Championship and the Sugar Bowl.

Tuberville coached that team to a perfect 13 to 0 season.

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Tuberville has been married to his wife Suzanne since 1991. They have two sons and live in Auburn.

Tuberville is challenging incumbent Democratic Sen. Doug Jones in the Nov. 3 general election.

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Elections

Jones campaign says Tuberville is not taking the pandemic seriously

Brandon Moseley

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Incumbent Sen. Doug Jones, left, and Republican challenger Tommy Tubberville, right.

Incumbent Democratic Sen. Doug Jones’ re-election campaign released a statement critical of Republican Senate nominee Tommy Tuberville, suggesting that he is not taking the COVID-19 pandemic seriously enough.

“The Washington Post reported today that the stock market plummeted after jobless claims climbed last week by 1.4 million and the economy shrank by 9.5 percent — the biggest decline in most of our lifetimes,” the Jones campaign wrote. “While economists are worried about the permanent damage COVID-19 will do to the economy, and public health experts are pleading for people to abide by state and local mask orders, Tommy Tuberville ‘snickers’ in response to questions about flouting public health orders while in DC to raise campaign cash. The people of Alabama need to know that Tuberville is not taking the pandemic seriously, raising serious questions about how he would handle this crisis if elected.”

The Washington Post reported that “Tuberville is fundraising and holding ­in-person meetings in Washington this week, defying orders from D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) that visitors from Alabama and other coronavirus hot spots quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.”

“Tuberville spent at least some of his time at the Trump International Hotel, according to a photo posted to Facebook by Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) showing the two men in the hotel lobby on Tuesday night,” the media reports stated. “Neither man was masked.”

Tuberville told AL.com that he has been called “everything in the world” so the last week is nothing new.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday the former Auburn coach broke Washington D.C. policy requiring “non-essential” visitors from states with high coronavirus case counts to self-quarantine for 14 days when he attended fundraising meetings in the city this week. In addition, a photo of Tuberville with Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Arkansas, at the Trump International Hotel in Washington showed neither man wearing a face covering.

Tuberville addressed the controversy in comments to the Alabama Republican Executive Committee on Saturday. Tuberville said that he followed all the rules and wore his mask everywhere he went. When he was at events he would take his mask off to dine and people would come over to his table to shake his hand and get their picture taken. The press has seized on those moments to attack him, he claimed.

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The COVID-19 global pandemic has killed 707,158 people worldwide including 160,833 Americans since it first was discovered in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China in late 2019. Absent an effective treatment or a vaccine, social distancing and masks are the only tools that we have to slow the spread of the virus.

The Tuberville-Jones race for U.S. Senate is going to have an important role in whether or not Republicans are able to hold on to their narrow Senate majority.

Tuberville is an Arkansas native. He is best known for his tenure as Auburn University’s head football coach, which includes an undefeated and untied team that won the SEC Championship and the Sugar Bowl. He also coached at Texas Tech, Cincinnati and Mississippi.

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The general election is Nov. 3. Tuberville has been endorsed by President Donald Trump.

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