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Democratic gubernatorial candidates debate in Birmingham

Brandon Moseley

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The Alabama Democratic candidate for governor debate at the Lyric Theatre in downtown Birmingham on Tuesday, April 24, 2018. (via AL.com)

Tuesday, the Democratic candidates for governor of Alabama all attended a debate hosted by Reckon, an al.com vehicle, at Birmingham’s historic Lyric Theatre.

Alabama Media Group columnist Roy Johnson was the moderator. ABC 33/40 TV’s political journalist Lauren Walsh, the Alabama Media Group’s Kyle Whitmire, and Alabama Media Group’s Cameron Smith were the panel.

Sue Cobb is the only one of the Democratic candidates who have won a statewide campaign before, being elected chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court in 2006. Cobb’s husband Bill has a severe artery blockage and will soon have surgery soon, but her husband and her daughter urged her to come to the debate tonight.

Walter “Walt” Maddox is the mayor of Tuscaloosa. Maddox said that he supported passing a lottery, taxing gaming, and reaching a compact with the Poarch Creek Band of Indians.

James Fields is a former state representative who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2014. “We believe in this campaign that we are going to move Alabama forward, because Alabama is ready to move forward.”

Doug “New Blue” Smith ran for Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries unsuccessfully. Smith said that Alabama has been moving backward since Bob Riley was elected as Governor and accused Republicans of forcing austerity policies on Alabama.

Christopher Countryman is an equality activist. He said that the people of Alabama are taxed already enough.

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Cobb said that as governor Alabama she will be advocating a lifetime learner lottery that will bring in another $300 million a year. Cobb said that after that we have got to look at revenue.

Countryman said that he is looking at bringing new recycling industries to the state.

Fields said that he would look at raising property taxes particularly on owners of large tracts of land. Fields also expressed a desire to end the tax on groceries.

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Maddox said that his lottery vote would occur in November 2020 during the Presidential election.

Fields said that Alabama can not wait that long.

Smith said, “In 2002 49 percent of state revenues were from federal revenues. That has dropped to 37 percent. We don’t need to raise taxes we need to recapture those funds.”

Cobb said, “My plan for the life long learner lottery would bring in $300 million to the state.”

Smith said, “We cut education $1 billion in 2008. We need to replace those dollars with federal dollars.”

Maddox said that the lottery is the first major step we can take and then the state can begin re-defining expectations for education in Alabama.

All six of the Democrats expressed that they are in favor of a lottery of some kind.

Reckon’s Kyle Whitmire invoked Gov. Don Seigelman’s 1999 lottery plan that was rejected by voters when asking about the lottery.

“He ultimately failed because he did not have a plan B. Do you have a plan B?” Whitmore asked.

Fields said that he is looking at collecting taxes on internet sales; but whatever we do it can’t come from grocery taxes because that is taxing the poor.

Cobb said that bringing a lottery is the most likely option that we can bring through the Legislature. Cobb said that she would have a special election rather than waiting until 2020.

Maddox said, “I feel cofident that it is going to pass.”

Smith said that he would approach the Congress and ask for a block grant for education that we can use at our discretion and secondly use a lottery if it should pass.

Countryman said, “I would build five new recycling facilities in the state in my first year as governor. We could easily generate 12,000 new jobs.”

Cobb said, “The people want it.”

Countryman said, “The ability to cross between the aisle is relatively easy for me. We need to find common ground with Republicans.”

Fields said, “Alabama is ready for progress, Alabama is ready to move forward.”

Fields said that he could work with Republicans the same way we did in Cullman.

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” Fields said.

Maddox said that for a Republican in Haleyville worried about losing his hospital, our plan to expand Medicaid will keep that hospital open. For a Republican in Escambia County our plan will fix his roads and bridges.

Smith said that under the Republicans the state troopers have gone from a force of 1000 to just 250. The National Guard has gone from 25,000 to 12,000.

Cobb said that everyone supports clean water and even Republicans are now astounded by the fact that the legislators have zeroed out water quality enforcement. She said that she can lure moderate Republicans.

“I am the only person on this stage who has proven that she can beat a Republican who outspent me three to one,” Cobb said.

Maddox said that he supports the decriminalization of marijuana and making medical marijuana prescriptions available for doctors to issue and suggested that his administration would move forward in a thoughtful and strategic way towards the legalization of recreational marijuana.

Smith said that cannabis helps his throat and his ability to speak better so, “I am in favor of medical marijuana,” but warned that smoke from marijuana is more dangerous than cigarette smoke.

Cobb said that she favored a a re-examination of all of Alabama’s drug laws and that medical marijuana has a significant impact on a number of conditions.

“Mass incarceration is a significant problem,” Cobb said. “I still believe that marijuana can be considered to be a gateway drug.”

Countryman said that he supports medical marijuana but suggested there be a hierarchy in place to prevents consequences like the Colorado man who lost his life from a marijuana brownie.

Fields said that we should approach this with caution. The opioid crisis did not happen overnight and the prison overcrowding did not happen overnight. Fields said that he did not think that getting caught with one little joint should mean spending the rest of their lives in prison.

“The longer we keep them in there the longer we have to provide for their families out here,” Fields said.

Cobb defended her decision to resign as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.

“I was with my Mother when she breathed her last breath and nobody will ever convince me that that was a mistake,” Cobb said.

Cobb and Countryman attacked Maddox for not allowing lower income Tuscaloosa citizens to rebuild their homes after the 2012 tornado ripped through the heat of the city.

Cobb said that the rebuilding plan had been a disaster for everybody except for wealthy developers and wealthy students.

Maddox said that he worked in the rule world, rather than “Ruling from a marble castle in Montgomery.”

Ask the people of Tuscaloosa they re-elected me twice after the tornado.

Cobb said that the people who lost their homes didn’t have the money to contribute to campaigns.

“What you are saying is absolutely untrue and it is sad that you are that desperate,” Maddox responded.

Maddox said, “Judge you quit.”

Cobb said, “Running for mayor and then running for Governor six months later is another definition of quitting.”

Cobb said that she spent 30 years on the bench.

“It was not my role to get on a soap box against the legislature,” Cobb said.

Fields said that as governor he would forge friendship and develop trust legislators to move the state forward and fix Alabama.

“We can work with Republicans, first we have just got to get Democrats working together,” Fields said “Compromise is what makes politics work. We are not going to allow the people of Alabama to be robbed but there are some issues we can compromise on.”

Countryman said. “Food is a life necessity. Why we are taxing somebody’s way to sustain life?”

When asked by Walsh how he would replace that revenue, Countryman said, “We have other means by which we can replace that revenue.”

Maddox said that he built a recycling center in Tuscaloosa after the tornado.

“Tuscaloosa City schools are more segregated than they have every been and two of your high schools are on the failing schools list,” Cobb said.

Maddox said that governors have more control over education than mayors do.

The major party primaries will be on June 5, 2018.

 

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Lilly Ledbetter speaks about her friendship with Ginsburg

Micah Danney

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Lilly Ledbetter spoke during a virtual campaign event with Sen. Doug Jones on Sept. 21.

When anti-pay-discrimination icon and activist Lilly Ledbetter started receiving mail from late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Ledbetter’s attorney told her to save the envelopes. That’s how unusual it is to get personal mail from a member of the nation’s highest court.

Ledbetter, 82, of Jacksonville, Alabama, shared her memories of her contact with Ginsburg over the last decade during a Facebook live event hosted by Sen. Doug Jones on Monday.

Ginsburg famously read her dissent from the bench, a rare occurrence, in the Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. decision in 2007. The court ruled 5-4 to affirm a lower court’s decision that Ledbetter was not owed damages for pay discrimination because her suit was not filed within 180 days of the setting of the policy that led to her paychecks being less than those of her male colleagues. 

Ledbetter said that Ginsburg “gave me the dignity” of publicly affirming the righteousness of Ledbetter’s case, demonstrating an attention to the details of the suit.

Ginsburg challenged Congress to take action to prevent similar plaintiffs from being denied compensation due to a statute of limitations that can run out before an employee discovers they are being discriminated against. 

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 was passed by Congress with broad bipartisan support and signed into law by President Barack Obama. It resets the statute of limitation’s clock with each paycheck that is reduced by a discriminatory policy.

Ledbetter said that her heart was heavy when she learned of Ginsburg’s death on Friday. The women kept in touch after they met in 2010. That was shortly after the death of Ginsburg’s husband, tax attorney Marty Ginsburg. She spoke about her pain to Ledbetter, whose husband Charles had died two years before.

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“So we both shared that, and we shared a tear,” said Ledbetter.

Ginsburg invited her to her Supreme Court chambers to see a framed copy of the act, next to which hung a pen that Obama used to sign it.

Ginsburg later sent Ledbetter a signed copy of a cookbook honoring her husband that was published by the Supreme Court Historical Society. Included with it was a personal note, as was the case with other pieces of correspondence from the justice that Ledbetter received at her home in Alabama. They were often brochures and other written materials that Ginsburg received that featured photos of both women.

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Ledbetter expressed her support for Jones in his race against GOP challenger Tommy Tuberville. The filling of Ginsburg’s seat is a major factor in that, she said.

“I do have to talk from my heart, because I am scared to death for the few years that I have yet to live because this country is not headed in the right direction,” she said.

She noted that Ginsburg was 60 when she was appointed to the court. Ledbetter said that she opposes any nominee who is younger than 55 because they would not have the experience and breadth of legal knowledge required to properly serve on the Supreme Court.

She said that issues like hers have long-term consequences that are made even more evident by the financial strains resulting from the pandemic, as she would have more retirement savings had she been paid what her male colleagues were.

Jones called Ledbetter a friend and hero of his.

“I’ve been saying to folks lately, if those folks at Goodyear had only done the right thing by Lilly Ledbetter and the women that worked there, maybe they’d still be operating in Gadsden these days,” he said.

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Courts

Justice Ginsburg’s death will supercharge a heated 2020 campaign

The passing of one of the court’s most liberal justices so close to the Nov. 3 general election has set off a political firestorm as to what president should pick the next justice — President Donald Trump or Joe Biden, should he defeat Trump in November.

Brandon Moseley

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President Donald Trump, left, and former Vice President Joe Biden, right, are running for president in 2020. (STAFF SGT. TONY HARP/AIR NATIONAL GUARD AND GAGE SKIDMORE/FLIKR)

Just hours after the death of 87-year-old Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday, conservatives, including the Alabama-based Foundation for Moral Law, said Ginsburg’s passing is an opportunity to reverse the ideological trend of the nation’s highest court.

The passing of one of the court’s most liberal justices so close to the Nov. 3 general election has set off a political firestorm as to what president should pick the next justice — President Donald Trump or Joe Biden, should he defeat Trump in November.

The controversy over when and how to confirm a new justice will likely supercharge an already heated 2020 election campaign. Trump was at a campaign rally on Friday night when he learned about the justice’s death from reporters.

“Just died? Wow, I did not know that,” Trump said. “She was an amazing woman. Whether you agreed or not she led an amazing life. She was an amazing woman. I am sad to hear that.”

Ginsburg, since her appointment by President Bill Clinton, has been bastion of the court’s more liberal wing. The court was divided with four “liberal” justices led by Ginsburg and four “conservative” justices led by Samuel Alito.

Chief Justice John Roberts, though appointed by President George W. Bush, has been the swing vote on a number of major issues since the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy in 2018. Her death gives Trump the opportunity to appoint her replacement and potentially shape the direction of the court for decades to come.

Conservatives want Trump to select the nominee and the current GOP-controlled Senate to confirm the Trump appointee.

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The Foundation for Moral Law — a conservative legal group founded by former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore — released a statement saying that Ginsburg’s passing is an opportunity to move the court in a more conservative direction.

“For many years United States Supreme Court has been a bastion for liberal anti-God ideology,” Moore said. “The passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg will be an opportunity to reverse this trend. I’m hopeful that President Trump will immediately nominate a true conservative who understands that our rights come from God and no authority in this country can take those rights from us.”

“This is a very critical time for our country and our future and the future of our posterity depends upon our vigilance and direction,” Moore said.

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Judicial Watch, another conservative legal group, echoed Moore’s statement.

“Judicial Watch sends it condolences to the family of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She had a wonderful judicial temperament that will always be remembered,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “President Trump now has a historic opportunity to nominate yet another constitutional conservative who will honor the Constitution and the rule of law across the full spectrum of constitutional issues.”

“And the U.S. Senate should move quickly to work with President Trump to consider and approve a new justice who will faithfully apply the U.S. Constitution,” Fitton said. “There is no reason we cannot have a new justice by Election Day.”

Trump is expected to put forth a nominee to fill Ginsburg’s seat in the coming days, according to ABC News.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, wrote in a statement that, “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”

But Democratic senators and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, disagree.

“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice,” Schumer wrote on social media Friday, parroting a similar quote McConnell used in 2016 when he refused to give then-President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, hearings and a vote for confirmation to the court. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”

Republicans in the Senate blocked Obama from selecting Justice Antonin Scalia’s replacement. Scalia was the most conservative jurist on the court.

Ginsburg was a staunch supporter of abortion rights and voter protections, and she played a major role in upholding Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision protecting abortion rights. She also voted in favor of same-sex marriage and to uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.

Most political observers expect Trump to appoint a woman to fill Ginsburg’s spot. Political insiders have suggested that Trump believes that appointing a woman to the court could help him with woman, a key swing demographic that will likely decide the next election.

Will the Senate confirm Trump’s appointment before the election or wait until after the public votes? If Republicans lose control of the Senate, could a lame duck GOP majority select the direction of the court on their way out?

Alabama Sen. Doug Jones has been widely criticized for his vote against the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh. If the vote comes before the Nov. 3 election, Jones’s decision on whether to confirm Trump’s appointee will be heavily scrutinized.

The questions about the Supreme Court is likely to only further inflame passions on both sides this election cycle.

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Elections

Prisoners quarantined at formerly closed prison kept in unconstitutional conditions, groups say

Conditions are so bad that inmates have been forced to urinate and defacate on themselves because restrooms are not accessible, the complaint alleges.

Eddie Burkhalter

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The male intake area at an ADOC facility. (VIA ADOC)

The Alabama Department of Corrections is violating the constitutional rights of inmates being quarantined in deplorable conditions in the previously decommissioned Draper prison, several civil rights groups wrote in a letter to the state’s prison commissioner.

The ACLU of Alabama, the Southern Center for Human Rights, Alabama Appleseed and other groups in a letter to Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn on Thursday detail those conditions, which include no indoor toilets or running water, repeated power outages, deprivation of regular showers and the requirement of incarcerated men to urinate in “styrofoam cups and plastic water” bottles.

“These conditions fail to meet the most basic constitutional standards and present a substantial risk of serious harm to people already suffering from a potentially fatal disease,” the letter reads. “We therefore request that you immediately cease using Draper to house and/or quarantine COVID-19 patients, and instead house them in medically appropriate settings in accordance with Eighth Amendment standards.”

The groups note that Draper was closed after the U.S. Department of Justice, during its investigation of violence in Alabama prisons, noted Draper as exceptionally “dangerous and unsanitary” with “open sewage” near the entrance, rat and maggot infestations and “standing sewage water on the floors.”

In October 2017, the Justice Department informed ADOC of the department’s shock at the state of the facility and a month later ADOC’s engineer concluded that Draper was “no longer suitable to house inmates, or to be used as a correctional facility,” the letter states.

ADOC reopened a portion of Draper earlier this year to house incoming inmates from county jails being quarantined amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but the civil rights groups note in the letter that ADOC failed to indicate plans to also use a classroom without bathrooms, running water or adequate medical care at Draper to house COVID-19 patients from other state prisons.

The groups allege in the letter that approximately 15 cots are located in the approximately 500 square feet former classroom, where at any given time between 5 and 15 inmates are being kept. The only restroom facilities the men can use are portable bathrooms outside, and the men have to “bang on the classroom windows to get officers’ attention.”

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“Though officers sometimes escort the men when asked, they decline at other times and fail to maintain a schedule; thus, the men do not have access to bathroom facilities when needed,” the letter reads, adding that the men aren’t allowed to use the outdoor restrooms between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

“We have further reason to believe that one man was permitted to use the bathroom only three times during a 13-day quarantine. Another man was not taken to the bathroom until his third day at Draper, while another was forced to urinate on himself on multiple occasions after being denied bathroom access,” according to the letter. “One man suffering from diarrhea was forced to wait hours to use the restroom to defecate. Many others could only relieve themselves into styrofoam cups, plastic bottles, portable urinal containers, or trash cans.”

“They had to hold onto urine-filled bottles for hours at a time until they were allowed to leave the classroom to empty them. It is also our understanding that some men held in these conditions did not receive bottles at all; correctional officers simply told these men that they were ‘out of luck,’” the letter continues.

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The letter also details instances of alleged inadequate medical care, including a man who was sent to a local hospital with heart attack symptoms after not receiving his heart medication for several days.

The groups are also unaware of any Inmates leaving Draper who were tested for COVID-19 before being returned to Elmore and Staton prisons, the letter also states.

“We also have reason to believe that many of the symptomatic men at Staton and Elmore have not reported their symptoms to prison staff for fear of being held at Draper in the deplorable conditions described above,” the letter continues.

APR has learned from several sources in recent weeks, who asked not to be identified because they have loved ones in Alabama prisons and are fearful of retributions for speaking out, that many inmates who have symptoms of COVID-19 aren’t reporting those symptoms to prison staff for fear of being quarantined. Those family members are concerned that the disease is spreading much more broadly in Alabama prisons than is known as a result, putting their loved ones at greater risk of contracting the deadly disease.

Many of the concerns expressed in the letter were first reported by AL.com reported on Sept. 13, which found that access to medical care in Draper is limited and the conditions unsanitary.

In a response to AL.com’s questions for that article, an ADOC spokeswoman wrote that inmates at Draper have access to “medical and mental health care, telephones, law library, mail services, and showers.”

“Please remember — Inmates remanded to our custody have been convicted of a crime and handed a sentence to serve time as determined by a court. The unfortunate reality is that he or she, as a result of the crime committed and subsequent conviction, loses his or her freedoms,” ADOC said in the responses.

“This response is unacceptable as a matter of principle, and inadequate as a matter of law,” the letter from the civil rights group states.

“As ADOC knows, the fact of a criminal conviction does not strip incarcerated people of their rights under the Eighth Amendment, nor does it relieve ADOC of its constitutional obligations to the people in its custody, which are to provide them with ‘humane conditions of confinement,’ ‘adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care,’ and ‘reasonable safety,’” the letter continues.

On Sept. 16, ADOC reported that there have been 403 confirmed COVID-19 cases among inmates, 21 deaths of inmates after testing positive for COVID-19, and 375 cases among prison staff. Two prison workers have died from COVID-19, ADOC previously said.

As of Sept. 14, there had been 1,954 inmate tests for coronavirus, out of the approximately 22,000 state inmates, according to ADOC.

ADOC on Sept. 16 said that on Thursday the department was to begin rolling out a plan to provide free COVID-19 tests to ADOC staff and contracted healthcare staff using fixed and mobile testing sites.

“In addition, we will test all inmates in facilities that house large numbers of inmates with high risk factors as an enhancement to our current testing protocols,” ADOC said in a press release.

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Elections

Alabama Democrats: Tuberville doesn’t have a plan or experience

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville (VIA TUBERVILlE CAMPAIGN)

The Alabama Democratic Party on Wednesday released a statement slamming Republican Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville for not commenting on Hurricane Sally.

Tuberville is challenging U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, in the Nov. 3 general election.

“Tommy Tuberville said he didn’t have a clue how to address the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, so it isn’t surprising that he hasn’t offered a single word for the Gulf Coast in the face of a life-threatening storm,” said Wade Perry, the executive director of the Alabama Democratic Party. “He doesn’t have a plan or the experience to tackle an actual crisis. Unlike our own U.S. Senator Doug Jones.”

The Jones campaign has seized on the “Tommy Tuberville does not have a clue” narrative, trying to make the argument that Tuberville, a career football coach who has never held a public office before, lacks the experience necessary to represent the people of Alabama in the U.S. Senate.

Jones used that line several times at a Labor Day appearance in Leeds.

“Senator Jones was on the ground in Lee County after devastating tornadoes and worked across party lines to secure emergency relief for farmers and families in the Wiregrass,” Perry said. “He will always be there to help Alabamians navigate a crisis and save lives— he always has, and always will.”

The Tuberville campaign disputed the ADP narrative.

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Hurricane Sally devastated Dauphin Island in Mobile County as well as Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, and Fort Morgan in coastal Baldwin County when it came ashore as a category two hurricane with 105 miles per hour winds.

Sally then inundated South Alabama, West Florida and Georgia with heavy rain, leading to localized flooding. Several roads were closed on Thursday across South Alabama due to flooding including in Troy, Andalusia and Opp.

Almost 200,000 Alabama homes lost power due to the storm. Alabama Power crews are still working to restore power to customers who lost power.

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Jones defeated former Chief Justice Roy Moore in a 2017 special election. This was the only time that a Democratic candidate had won any statewide race in Alabama since 2008.

Jones and his allies led an effort to topple the then-existing leadership of the Alabama Democratic Party in 2019. The new chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, State Rep. Christopher England, D-Tuscaloosa, is trying to make the case that times have changed and the state has two viable political parties.

Republicans are targeting Jones, a Democratic senator representing a very red state. Democrats are hopeful that they can hold Jones’ seat and take control of the U.S. Senate.

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