If the State Board of Education is picking a new superintendent, count on controversy.
Eric Mackey, the head of the Superintendents of Alabama group, was selected as the state’s newest superintendent on Friday, and almost immediately there was controversy. There are also currently at least two groups considering lawsuits to challenge Friday’s vote.
According to sources familiar with the process, there are two main complaints about Friday’s vote: That board member Mary Scott Hunter was allowed to participate despite an obvious conflict of interest, and Mackey’s various conflicts from serving as a lobbyist for the Superintendents of Alabama.
“There are some serious questions being raised the more people find about some of this stuff,” said a source.
In what was a very odd selection process, which included zero discussion by board members of the candidates, and ended with Mackey earning five votes and Jefferson County superintendent Craig Pouncey receiving four.
As such, the vote of Hunter became critical, which many see as a problem. That’s because Pouncey currently has an active lawsuit against Hunter, claiming that she defamed him by participating in a smear campaign prior to the last superintendent selection process.
Through the course of the lawsuit and a parallel legislative committee inquiry into the matter, it became fairly obvious that Hunter and others at ALSDE were working to prevent Pouncey from obtaining the job. They pushed an anonymous ethics complaint, which turned out to be well outside of the statute of limitations and 100 percent false, and Hunter was spreading the rumors of a Pouncey ethics issue at a legislative retreat.
Pouncey’s lawsuit has cleared a number of hurdles, including having the judge dismiss several parties because they enjoyed immunity in their state jobs. But Hunter has remained, as has another ALSDE attorney, James Ward.
And yet, there was Hunter voting against Pouncey again, with her vote swinging the results.
“Why was (Hunter) allowed to vote?” school board member Ella Bell asked after the vote was announced.
More questions have followed — mostly concerning Mackey’s position as a registered lobbyist and Gov. Kay Ivey’s potential conflict of interest.
As the head of the Superintendents of Alabama group, Mackey was required to register as a lobbyist, since he was a lobbyist for that group. Last July, Ivey went after lobbyists, signing an executive order that prevents lobbyists from being appointed to boards or to lead executive agencies.
In that executive order, Ivey went to great lengths to explain why appointing lobbyists to those lofty positions was wrong: “it is essential to the proper operation of a Democratic government that government servants be independent and impartial….”
Ivey, who voted for Mackey, had an apparent change of heart.
“Dr. Mackey is the most qualified candidate to lead the State Department of Education in a new direction, which will focus on student achievement at high levels,” Ivey’s office wrote in an response to questions from APR. “His selection by the State Board of Education, through a independent competitive process, is not a gubernatorial appointment as referenced in Executive Order 706. Dr. Mackey’s previous position with School Superintendents of Alabama required him to register as a lobbyist, it also provided him with experience working closely with legislators, a vital part of the State Superintendent’s job. Also, his appointment is not effective until a contract is executed and once that happens, he will no longer be a registered lobbyist.”
However, there was also one other matter: In August, Mackey personally donated $4,000 to the Alabama Group PAC — a PAC that is used by the Superintendents of Alabama to make donations.
Five days after Mackey’s contribution, $2,000 was sent from that PAC to Ivey’s campaign account.
In response to a question about her potential conflict of interest because of the donation, Ivey’s office said: “Governor Ivey remains committed to the highest ethical standards and she expects nothing less from the newly selected state superintendent.”
Alabama reports record-breaking 2,164 new COVID-19 cases
Thursday’s number of new cases hit 2,164 and blew past the previous daily record set on July 3 by 406 cases.
New COVID-19 cases in Alabama on Thursday jumped by nearly double from the day before, and for the first time broke 2,000 in a single day, according to the latest data from the Alabama Department of Public Health.
Thursday’s number of new cases hit 2,164 and blew past the previous daily record set on July 3 by 406 cases. Both the seven-day and 14-day rolling average of new daily cases in Alabama were also at record highs Thursday.
Thirty-two percent of the state’s 48,588 cumulative confirmed cases have been added within the last two weeks.
The Alabama Department of Public Health did not publish Wednesday an update to the total number of tests performed, which throws off the day’s figures for the percentage of tests that are positive, but on average, over the last week, the state’s seven-day rolling average of percent positivity has roughly 15 percent.
Public health experts say the percent positivity should be at or below 5 percent — otherwise there isn’t enough testing being done and cases are going undetected.
Along with surging new cases, the number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized on Wednesday was higher than it’s been since the beginning of the pandemic. On Wednesday 1,110 coronavirus patients were being treated in state hospitals, which was the fourth straight day of record current hospitalizations.
UAB Hospital’s COVID-19 Intensive care units were nearing their existing capacity Tuesday. The hospital has both a COVID ICU and a COVID acute care unit designated to keep patients separated from those who don’t have the virus, but it has more space in other non-COVID units should it need to add additional bed space.
Hospitals in Madison County this week are also seeing a surge of COVID-19 patients. Paul Finley, the mayor of the city of Madison, told reporters Wednesday that local hospitals were reporting record numbers.
Hospitals there were at 80 to 90 percent capacity.
“Our ambulances yesterday had their greatest number of runs since this started,” said Crestwood Hospital CEO Dr. Pam Hudson on Wednesday, adding that in about 20 percent of calls staff is having to wear full personal protective equipment. “That indicates that they are working with patients who have symptoms that could be compatible with COVID.”
Meanwhile, Madison County set a new daily record, adding 286 cases Thursday, the first time the county has surpassed 200 cases a day. The county was largely spared early on in the pandemic, with low case counts and low death rates, but roughly 42 percent of Madison County’s total case count since March has been reported in the last week as 803 new cases have been added.
Jefferson County and Madison County, over the last week, have accounted for 26 percent of the state’s new cases.
Jefferson County led the state in the most new cases Thursday with 343 and has added 1,498 cases in the last week. The county’s total cases increased by 33 percent from last week, and stood at 6,030 confirmed COVID-19 cases Thursday.
While Jefferson County and Madison County are seeing the state’s most intense increases, other large counties including Shelby County, Baldwin County and Tuscaloosa County have also seen record increases and rising percent positive rates.
At least 81 people have died from COVID-19 in the last week, and 162 people have died in the last two weeks.
At least 1,042 people have died from COVID-19 since March, and at least 26 other deaths are listed as “probable” COVID-19 deaths.
Congresswoman Martha Roby endorses Jeff Coleman
Congresswoman Martha Roby endorsed Jeff Coleman for Congress Thursday. “I fully support Jeff Coleman to be our next Congressman,” Roby said. “Jeff Coleman is a businessman who supports cutting government regulation and lowering taxes to help grow a strong economy. Jeff strongly supports our men and women serving in uniform, as well as our veterans.”
She continued, “The Second District needs someone who will support our interests right here in southeast Alabama, particularly our farmers. Jeff will do just that. He’ll get results for Alabama.”
“I am humbled and honored to receive this strong endorsement from Representative Roby. She has been a staunch supporter of our military men and women, as well as our farmers. I am looking forward to continuing her legacy of fighting for our conservative Alabama values, protecting the family farm, and fighting to ensure our veterans and active-duty personnel have all the resources they need,” Coleman said of the endorsement.
Coleman has now been endorsed by 10 mayors, multiple business associations in the state, the U.S. Chamber, and Roby. Coleman finished the Republican Primary on March 3 with 38 percent of the vote — 18 points ahead of his closest challenger.
Coleman has never run for public office and touts a 35-year successful business career.
Secretary of state says office will assist voters in complaints if local authorities punish voters without masks
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill told the Alabama Political Reporter that all 1,980 polling places will be open on Tuesday for in-person voting if a voter chooses to cast their ballot in person.
COVID-19 has been a paramount concern for people across the state and citizens have to deal with a number of business, Church and government office closures since March, but Merrill insisted that voters will be able to vote in either the Republican or Democratic Party runoffs on Tuesday at the polling place they are assigned.
A number of cities and counties are requiring masks whenever anyone goes out in any public place and government offices and businesses are refusing service to persons who do not have a mask or who refuse to wear one.
Merrill told APR that the Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Scott Harris and other public health authorities are suggesting that you should wear a mask when you go out. Many polling places will provide them to voters that need them, but wearing a mask is not required to vote.
“There are only five requirements to vote in Alabama: You have to be 18 years of age. You have to be a citizen, You have to be a resident of Alabama, You must not have been convicted of an act of moral turpitude that has taken away your voting rights, and you must have a valid photo ID,” Merrill told APR. “When you meet those requirements you can vote in the state of Alabama.”
When asked whether voters in those jurisdictions with face mask requirements have to wear masks when at the polls, Merrill said, “I don’t think anybody at the local level is trying to prevent people from voting.
Merrill said if localities place police or other law enforcement outside polls and attempt to ticket those who try to enter or exit without the required mask his office would get involved.
“If they want to try to do that, we will assist the voter in filing a lawsuit on infringement of their civil rights,” Merrill said.
Public health authorities are urging that everyone wear masks or cloth face coverings to protect themselves from becoming infected with the coronavirus and to avoid spreading the virus to others. Dr. Anthony Fauci told the Alabama press corps Tuesday that 20 to 40 percent of people infected with the virus have no symptoms and don’t event know that they are infected.
Thursday is the last day to apply for an absentee ballot to participate in the Tuesday, July 14 party primary runoff election. The close of business Thursday is the last day to apply for an absentee ballot. The last day to return those completed absentee ballots is the close of business on Monday.
Voters with a health concern due to the possibility of getting or transmitting the coronavirus may obtain an absentee ballot. The voter will still have to check a reason for asking for the absentee ballot. If the reason is fear of the coronavirus, mark that there is a health reason for the application. You will be allowed to vote absentee. Remember to fill out all the paperwork completely and to mail or return the ballot on time.
In the Republican primary runoff, former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville and former U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions are running for the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate. Judge Beth Kellum faces challenger Will Smith for the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals.
There is no statewide Democratic primary runoff races, but in the 1st Congressional District, James Averhart and Kiani Gardner are running for the Democratic nomination for Congress.
On the Republican side, former State Sen. Bill Hightower, R-Mobile, and Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl are running for the Republican nomination for Congress.
In Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District, former State Rep. Barry Moore, R-Enterprise, faces Dothan businessman Jeff Coleman. There are also a number of local races being decided in primary runoffs on Tuesday.
Notably in Etowah County, the revenue commissioner’s race is a runoff between State Rep. Becky Nordgren, R-Gadsden, and Jeff Overstreet for the Republican nomination.
In Jefferson County, State Rep. Rod Scott, D-Fairfield, faces Eyrika Parker in the Democratic primary runoff for county treasurer.
If either Nordgren or Scott win the local offices they seek, that will lead to a special election for what would become open seats in the Alabama House of Representatives.
The polls open at 7 a.m. on Tuesday and close at 7 p.m. A valid photo ID is required to participate in any Alabama election.
Absentee ballot applications are available online.
On Wednesday, the Alabama Department of Public Health reported that 25 more Alabamians have died from COVID-19, raising the state death toll from the global pandemic to 1,032. Also, on Wednesday, another 1,162 Alabamians learned that they were infected with the novel strain of the coronavirus, raising the number of cases in the state to 46,424.
Only about 9 percent of the state has been tested at this point in time.
Sessions says that he will never stop fighting for law enforcement officers
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Sessions said on social media that he will “never stop fighting” for law enforcement officers. This was in response to the Saturday slaying of Ohio police officer Anthony Dia.
“We must end the violence against police,” Sessions said. “The last words of Officer Anthony Dia before he died on Saturday was ‘Tell my family I loved them.’”
“The disrespect and even attacks on our courageous law enforcement officers have reached a totally unacceptable level,” Sessions continued. “It is immoral and insane.”
Sessions prioritized good relations with law enforcement while he was U.S. attorney general.
“I understand how difficult their job is and how important it is for the peace and safety of our people,” Sessions said. ”I will never stop fighting for them. Let us remember Officer Dia and pledge that we will not forget his sacrifice.”
Toledo Police Officer Anthony Dia was 26-years old when he responded to a call about an intoxicated man in a store’s parking lot. When he “approached the male to check his safety,” the man turned around and fired a single bullet from a handgun, police said, citing witnesses account.
“He bled out, pretty much. They did what they could with lifesaving measures, but there was nothing they could do,” Dia’s widow Jayme told the Toledo Blade newspaper. “The last thing he said over the radio was, ‘Tell my family I love them.’ He lived for his family, and he loved, just loved, being a police officer.”
American law enforcement has come under heavy criticism by politicians, the media and the public alike following the death of George Floyd during an arrest by the Minneapolis Police Department.
Sessions served in the Senate from 1997 to 2017, when he was confirmed as U.S. attorney general in the Trump administration. Sessions is also a former U.S. attorney, Alabama attorney general and assistant U.S. attorney.
Following his service as U.S. attorney for both the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, Sessions was chairman of the Alabama Republican Party. Sessions is a former U.S. Army reserve officer. He has a bachelor’s degree from Huntingdon College in Montgomery and a law degree from the University of Alabama School of Law.
Sessions and his wife, Mary Blackshear Sessions, started the first college Republican club at Huntingdon College. They have three children as well as grandchildren. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III was born outside of Camden in Wilcox County in 1946. Sessions is a native Alabamian. He is 73 years old.
Sessions is running in Tuesday’s Republican primary runoff. His opponent is former Auburn University head football Coach Tommy Tuberville. The winner of the GOP nomination will face incumbent Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, in the Nov. 3 general election. Defeating Jones is considered critical for Republicans efforts to try to retain control of the Senate.