Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Countryman recently answered a candidate’s questionnaire sent by the Alabama Political Reporter.
APR: Alabama’s unemployment is at an all-time low, but there are still a lot of adult Alabamians who lack the skills and education to apply for most of the jobs that are coming. Do you have any ideas as to how to improve the employability of many adults in the current work force who are trapped in a cycle of minimum wage jobs?
Countryman: “First we have to take into consideration that Alabama’s current unemployment rate is slightly, if not totally, misleading. This is because the current administration is utilizing what’s known as a seasonally adjusted rate to factor the state’s unemployment, which lowers the unemployment rate below its actual rate. One of the best ways to tackle the problem of growing workforce that lacks the skills necessary to find better employment is through education. The struggle for financial security and industrial equality is nothing new, and we’ve seen this fall into the laps of each generation at some point. We can make the choice to either come up with innovative solutions to the problem, or we can attempt the same methods that we’ve been using for decades, but if it hadn’t worked yet then my money says that it probably won’t this go around either. To do the same things that we’ve done in the past, and yet expecting different results is the very definition of insanity. I propose that we start utilizing the expanding network of free education resources that are being offered by some of the nation’s top universities, and combine those resources with programs through the career centers around the state. Many of these universities offer free college educational courses in subjects ranging from computer programming to entry level skills for those entering the workforce in the clean renewable energy industry. And since many of the newer, and more competitive industries, are in the renewable energy industry we could tackle two problems at once. We can offer those who need to expand their job skills with the training and accountability system needed to get them to the point where they are able to become more financially secure, and at the same time bring a lot of new jobs into the state for the unemployed workers. Plus we can also combine my previous proposals with a basic college education or trade school training that is tuition free to those who are seeking more education to further their career opportunities. This has the potential, if implemented correctly, to drastically improve Alabama’s shortfalls in the workforce, and unemployment rates.”
APR: 267 people in Jefferson County died from drug overdoses last year and the state by some measures has the highest rate of prescriptions for opioids of any place in the world. What can be done to combat the growing opioid addiction rate in Alabama?
Countryman: “We need to start holding the pharmaceutical companies more accountable, tracking the prescriptions being dispensed by the information of the prescribing physicians and the information of the patients who are getting them filled.”
“I wish that there was an easy answer to this,” This has been one of the questions I have been asked most often as well. I believe that we have to look at the pharmaceutical companies first. Second we have to look at the doctors that are prescribing these medicines to patients.”
APR: Should the state raise the minimum age to buy a firearm to 21?
Countryman: “Absolutely. I am not advocating for the repeal of the 2nd amendment. I believe that the 2nd amendment guarantees that citizens have a right to defend themselves with the assisted use of a firearm, within reason of course, from anyone who shows the intent and ability to inflict deadly harm towards themselves or their families. However if an individual has to be 21 to purchase a handgun then that should be true for rifles as well. Exceptions to this law should be made for those who are active law enforcement and military personnel, who should be able to purchase rifles for personal use and target practice as it relates to their occupation.”
APR: “Alabama has the 2nd lowest life expectancy in the country (behind only Mississippi). In some Black belt counties it is as low as 68 (over 8 years below the national average). Is there anything state government can do to improve the health of the people of Alabama?”
Countryman: “Yes, Medicare for all is something that the we can do. Healthcare is a human right and should be available to everyone regardless of income level. The big question that people have is how will we fund healthcare reform and expansion in our state, but I will discuss this in detail latter on in the interview.”
APR: “Some candidates are touting the lottery as a solution to state government’s fiscal woes. Are you concerned that regular lottery players tend to be the poorest and least educated citizens thus increasing the tax burden on Alabama’s poorest citizens, who already bear a disproportionate burden of the state’s finances through high sales taxes, utility bill taxes, insurance taxes, cigarette taxes, and alcohol taxes?”
Countryman: “No, I don’t think that a lottery would do that. I am in favor of a state lottery but I believe that it can’t be the only solution we bring to the table. What would happen if a future administration overturns the lottery? We need to ensure that we aren’t hanging all our hopes on one plan, and one idea. It really is poor leadership to base any solution on just one idea. That is why I am presenting a variety of solutions, so that all we have to do is to place a rounded gear inside our economic machine. It works better than just leaving the wrench in it.”
APR: “There are only 11 counties in Alabama with 100,000 or more residents and 36 counties below 40,000 residents. 25 of those have less than 25,000 residents. What would you do as governor to encourage economic development in rural Alabama?”
Countryman: “By utilizing my economic growth plan, which is built on clean energy solutions, we would be able to use the money generated from the recycling industry to bring high speed Internet to the rural areas, rebuild the roads and start looking into updating public transportation. If Alabama was to recycle all of its recyclable waste we could generate upwards to $750,000,000 in excess revenue.”
APR: The state Legislature just passed the second largest education trust fund budget in history; but revenues going into the state general fund historically are lagging; which is causing chronic funding issues with prisons, Medicaid, mental health, the courts, ALEA and other state agencies. Do you favor combining the two?
Countryman: “No, I do not because it’s easier to keep track of where the money goes, and we need to keep the allocated funds already dedicated to education there. The additional revenue needed for the general fund can be found in other areas.”
APR: Do you support Governor Ivey’s plan to sign a long-term lease with a private company that will build four new mega prisons and the state will then lease these new facilities from that corporation for ~$50 million a year going forward?
Countryman: “No. I think it’s a monumental waste of tax dollars. We have better options than that, and we just need to start thinking smart. There are cost effective ways to rehabilitate non-violent offenders that doesn’t involve having them locked up.”
APR: State Rep. Will Ainsworth introduced legislation which would allow teachers, who have taking firearms training, to carry guns in the classroom as a defense against school shooters. Do you support arming Alabama’s teachers?
Countryman: “No I do not, our teachers have enough responsibilities. There are much better and more creative and innovative ways to implement better security in our schools and as a matter of fact the solution is already there, Cellphones. Almost every student has a cellphone and right now they are thought of in a class room as an annoyance, we instead have them utilize their phones to study and do their class work on, in turn we turned a problem into a solution, the schools can also utilize the use of cell phones, Donated phones can be set up as I.P. cameras for security as well.”
APR: Certain facilities in Dothan, Shorter, Birmingham, Greene County, and Lowndes Countyoperated what they called electronic bingo; but the Alabama courts ultimately ruled that most of those games were actually a new form of gambling machine; which is banned by the constitution of Alabama. The Poarch band of Creek Indians (under the federal Indian gaming law) operate facilities that have machines similar to the ones that were ordered closed at the other establishments. Do you favor a constitutional amendment allowing existing dog tracks and bingo halls to operate “electronic bingo”; a broader constitutional amendment allowing gaming in any county where the commission supported it; or are you content with the status quo?
Countryman: “I lived in Houston County when a similar facility, as the ones you mentioned, called Country Crossing was in operation. I saw how the facility contributed to the local and regional economy firsthand. It was estimated that once every phase was completed that Country Crossing would have employed over 1500 people, created over 200 spinoff jobs and increased the tax revenue substantially. The first revenue check that Country Crossing paid out to Houston County on the revenue that their machines generated was 1.6 million dollars, and Houston County ended up with a surplus of 1.8 million dollars. It was established that Country Crossing would attract 2.5 million visitors each year. We also have some states which are similar to Alabama in demographics, where lottery is legal, showing statistics that less than 10 percent of those who purchase lottery tickets earn less than $24,000 a year, and with the greater majority of those who purchase lottery tickets were the middle and upper class. So given these findings I can certainly see the benefits that electronic bingo, dog tracks and lottery can have for the state and citizens when implemented correctly. I would be in favor of implementing an endorsement code on the back of an individual’s photo ID that indicates if a person is receiving EBT benefits. That way it will be more difficult for the individual to use EBT benefits to purchase lottery tickets or other gaming options. We could use this method at least until we are able to get the EBT system programed not to allow EBT to be used as a payment method for lotteries and such, similar to how we help prevent the purchase of alcoholic beverages using EBT.”
APR: The legislature is considering legislation that would allow state elected officials to ask the Alabama Ethics Commissioner for pre-clearance opinions to allow elected officials to take jobs and contracts that might otherwise be construed as violations of Alabama’s 2010 ethics law. State prosecutors have argued that the Ethics Commissioner does not have the authority to issue these “get out of jail free” opinions and that a letter from the Ethics Commissioner does not have legal standing. Is the Alabama Ethics Law too strict or does it need to be loosened?
Countryman: “The ethics laws in Alabama need to be rewritten from the ground up. There are one to many contradictory laws that make it confusing for the layman, and even equally confusing for some seasoned elected officials. This unfairly puts many elected officials at risk as their fate lays in the hands of other leaders and their interpretation of the ethics laws. One can simply look to Governor Sigelemans case for proof of that. Secondly the ethics laws need to be stricter and less vague. Currently there are way too many loopholes and poorly written laws that makes it all too easy for an elected official to get away with the unspeakable. We need to restore the citizen’s faith in government and at the same time have an ethics law that holds our elected officials accountable.”
APR: Alabama’s infrastructure is funded through fuel taxes; however as vehicles have gotten more fuel efficient that has resulted in some issues coming up with enough money to maintain roads and bridges across the state. Do you favor raising the fuel taxes?
Countryman: “No, because at this time it isn’t needed. Part of my economic growth plan is to bring more industry into the state that is in the clean renewable energy industry, and in the recycling industry. At present Alabama only recycles 10% of its consumer waste with 90% of its recyclable waste ending up in landfills. Currently Europe is using plastic waste as an alternative additive in asphalt road construction with great success. This method is up to 80% more affordable than traditional asphalt roads, lasts 300% longer and the introduction of plastic processing facilities in the state would generate up to 10,000 new jobs. These jobs would include those in the processing facilities, distribution centers, infrastructure jobs and other related positions that are a result of this industry. Plus in a 2015 study by the EPA we find that the recycling industry, and its related spinoff jobs, will generate over $500,000,000 annually in additional revenue for Alabama. So my plan has the capability to generate funds for infrastructure redevelopment, it creates jobs, it reduces the amount of waste in landfills, cleans our environment, provides clean energy solutions and it leaves enough of a surplus in the budget to help fund healthcare and our education system needs.”
The major party primaries are on June 5, 2018.
Moore legal team files motion for Judge Rochester to recuse
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.
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.
Conservatives urge voters to vote “no” on Amendment One
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.”
“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.
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.
Sanders Wins Nevada
Saturday, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, appears to have followed his victory in the New Hampshire primary with a victory in the Nevada caucuses.
“First we won the popular vote in Iowa. Then we won the New Hampshire primary. And now we have won the Nevada caucus,” Sen. Sanders said. “Let me first thank the people of Nevada for their support. We put together a multi-racial, multi-generational coalition across the state that will win not only in Nevada, but all across this country. No other campaign has a grassroots movement like we do, which is a large reason why we’re gonna win this election.”
The Alabama primary is just one week away on Super Tuesday.
“We are going to win across the country because the American people are sick and tired of a corrupt administration that is undermining American democracy.” Sanders continued. “They are sick and tired of a government based on greed and lies. It is time for an administration which is based on the principles of economic justice, social justice, racial justice, and environmental justice.”
Sanders received 47.1 percent of the vote. Former Vice President Joe Biden received 21 percent of the vote. South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg received just 13.7 percent of the vote. U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, continued to underperform with just 9.6 percent of the vote. Billionaire Tom Steyer of California received just 4.7 percent of the vote. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, failed to gain any momentum off of her strong third place finish in New Hampshire and received just 3.9 percent of the vote.
Sanders is clearly the frontrunner going into the South Carolina primary. The self -proclaimed socialist has won 34 delegates to this point. Buttigieg is in second with 23, and Biden and Warren are tied with eight. Klobuchar has seven delegates.
New York City Mayor billionaire Michael Bloomberg have foregone the early primaries. He participated in his first debate and according to most observers did not fare well. Moderate Democrats have expressed concern that the party may suffer in November if the socialist label is attached to its nominee. Republicans are taking enjoyment from the Democrats’ strife.
“Michael Bloomberg maybe a Billionaire but when questioned by his fellow Socialist Democrats, he looked like a Deer in headlights!” Trump national finance committee chair Perry Hooper Jr. said. “Mini Mike was clear the Debate looser. It is very apparent that the National Democrat party today are controlled by the Left and they are very comfortable with Socialist Democrat, Bernie Sanders. But I think the real Looser is the Democrat Party! The Winner is and will continue to be heavy weight Champion, President Donald J. Trump.”
It takes 1,994 delegates to win the nomination. The next contest is the South Carolina Primary
The Alabama Democratic primary is March 3.
Alabama Democratic Women to host first Women in Blue Day on March 10
On March 10, the Alabama Democratic Women (ADW) organization will host their first annual Women in Blue Day, a day where state chapters of the National Federation of Democratic Women meet at their state capitols to speak with their legislators about issues that are of particular relevance to women and families.
Attendees will gather at the Alabama State House at the Tunnels (11 S Union Street, Montgomery, AL 36130) and all attendees are encouraged to wear blue attire in a symbol of solidarity. Check-in/registration will begin at 9:45 AM.
The day will include a briefing with Democratic representatives, a Capitol tour, brunch, observance of the legislative meeting, and a State Party update at the Alabama Democratic Party headquarters from Alabama Democratic Party Chair, Rep. Chris England.
ADW is a nonprofit political organization dedicated to supporting the Democratic Party and Democratic Women in Alabama, according to their website. The mission of ADW is to “unite Democratic women across the state of Alabama to ensure that we have a seat at the table and that our voices are heard.”
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