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A Poarch Creek runoff election captures the pains of the tribe’s rapid growth, influence in the state

Josh Moon

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Ask about tribal elections among members of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and you almost always get a wry smile in return.

“There’s no polling necessary, I’ll just say that,” said a tribal member prior to this year’s elections in June. The member wished to remain anonymous, fearful of losing employment on the reservation.

“Everyone knows who’s going to win long beforehand,” the member said. “That’s just the way it is.”

Except, maybe not so fast.

On Saturday, PCI members will hold a runoff election for the position of vice chairman. Incumbent Robbie McGhee is facing challenger Amy Bryan.

And there’s talk of an upset.

Now, let’s not get carried away here. This upset would be of the Flutie-hail mary variety. McGhee is a big favorite, and if there actually were polling in such a race, he’d probably be projected a double-digit winner.

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But there’s also a glimmer of hope for Bryan.

Before we move forward, let me make one thing perfectly clear: I am not a PCI tribal insider, not by any stretch. But I do have a handful of well-connected sources who provide generally basic information and help me stay up to date on what’s happening within the PCI world. This is generally not the deep, dark secrets of the inner workings of tribal government, but more the basic atmosphere around the reservation and commonly known news.

And those sources say Bryan has a better shot than she should because of a combination of factors, but mostly because of two things: general disenchantment among tribal members with the current council and specific problems with McGhee’s recent power grab.

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If you have followed PCI news at almost any level of interest over the years, you know that internal tiffs are in no way uncommon.

But over the last several months, maybe even years, there has been a steady fracturing among tribal members, and there has been growing anger. So much so that a letter from the council, which acknowledged an “existing division” among members, was posted to the PCI website several months ago calling for unity and asking the members to give the council a chance to address their complaints.

There are many causes for the division, according to PCI members, but the most obvious are, of course, related to money. While there’s plenty floating around the reservation, there is a general sense among a large number of members that quite a bit of the gambling money isn’t trickling down to all members.

To be clear, there is zero evidence that anything nefarious is occurring, but that hasn’t stopped the rumors and anger.

That is particularly problematic for McGhee, who has long been the public face of the PCI gaming operation, primarily through his role as a government liaison. McGhee has been the guy who schmoozed the legislators and governors.

Tribal members see him driving around in fancy cars and wearing nice suits, hanging out with lawmakers and giving speeches about gaming. And so, if there’s a problem with gaming, guess who gets blamed first?

But there aren’t just general issues with McGhee. There are also specific ones among tribal members who pay attention to the tribe’s gaming operation and the way it has been handled.

There is a growing sense that McGhee is slowly becoming a Billy Canary-like figure around the Alabama State House — a person who lawmakers begrudgingly tolerate but would prefer not to deal with. That’s a precarious position if you’re a tribe relying on unsettled law and a shaky Trump administration to maintain a gambling monopoly.

McGhee also seems concerned about the tribe’s current relationship with Alabama lawmakers — a group desperate to locate non-tax revenue. Earlier this year, after PCI forked out $1.3 billion to buy the Sands Bethlehem casino in eastern Pennsylvania, McGhee told CDC Gaming Reports that the move was necessary to protect PCI revenue from potential losses from Alabama’s legislature outlawing all gaming in the state or possibly expanding gaming outside of just the tribe.

Many in the tribe have long advocated for a stronger deal — or any kind of tangible deal — between the Poarch Creeks and the State of Alabama — a deal that would cement PCI’s status in the state and ensure financial security in the future. But McGhee (and he’s not alone in this thinking) has found the gray area to be much more lucrative, at least in the short term, with the tribe raking in billions while Alabama Republicans fought to close its competitors. A compact would have eaten into those profits.

But the Poarch Creeks have transitioned from being the lovable underdog who everyone wants to see succeed to the big dog that has all the money and enough influence to push lawmakers around. And McGhee has done plenty of pushing, using the tribe’s vast resources to intimidate lawmakers and isolate other prominent business leaders. And as the tribe’s stature has grown, McGhee has forgotten a number of the politicians and influential people who helped him get his foot in the door, leaving him without the protection around the State House that he’s enjoyed in the past.

“Everyone liked Robbie when he first sort of showed up on the scene, and a lot of people liked the idea of helping the Indians because they had been treated so poorly for so many years,” said one Republican lawmaker. “But that has changed over time. Now, there are some (lawmakers) who won’t allow his personal lobbyists in their office. I can’t imagine that’s good business for anyone.”

Many tribal members, while acknowledging McGhee’s good work with the PCI gaming business, don’t care for the recent track. The way they see it, PCI gaming is a business, and they’re fearful that McGhee’s tactics, and his alienation of so many, will be detrimental to the business.

Now, does any of this mean Bryan has a shot?

Probably not. It’s tough to vote out a guy who has been part of building a billion-dollar business.

But there’s a chance.

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Elections

Coalition of attorneys general file opposition to Alabama attempt to ban curbside voting

The AGs argue that Alabama’s suggestion to the courts that curbside voting invites fraud is “unfounded.” 

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

A coalition of 17 state attorneys general have filed an opposition to Alabama’s attempt to get the U.S. Supreme Court to ban curbside voting. 

In a friend-of-the-court brief, led by District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine, the attorneys general argue to that curbside voting is safer for those at greatest risk from COVID-19, and that a ban on the practice would disproportionately impact the elderly, the disabled and Black Alabamians.

They also argue that Alabama’s suggestion to the courts that curbside voting invites fraud is “unfounded.” 

“The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, established by President Trump following the 2016 election, ‘uncovered no evidence to support claims of widespread voter fraud,’” the brief states, adding that there is no evidence that curbside voting in the many states that allow it invites fraud. 

“The practice is longstanding and widespread—as noted, more than half of states have historically offered curbside voting in some form,” the brief continues. 

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall on Oct. 13 said the state will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court a federal appeals court ruling allowing curbside voting in the Nov. 3 election. 

A panel of federal appeals court judges on Oct. 13 reversed parts of U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon’s Sept. 30 ordered ruling regarding absentee voting in the upcoming Nov. 3 elections, but the judges let the previous ruling allowing curbside voting to stand. 

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The lawsuit, filed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Southern Poverty Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Alabama and Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program, was brought on behalf of several Alabamians with underlying medical conditions. 

“Curbside voting is a longstanding, secure voting option that local jurisdictions have made available to protect the health of vulnerable voters, including elderly, disabled, and voters with underlying health issues,” Racine said in a statement. “Curbside voting minimizes the risk to persons who are particularly susceptible to COVID-19, and local jurisdictions should be able to offer this common-sense accommodation to voters. State Attorneys General will keep fighting to ensure that voters can safely make their voices heard at the ballot box this November.”

The brief filed by the coalition of state attorneys general comes as the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations across Alabama has been ticking upward.

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Racine is joined in the brief by attorneys general from California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.

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Elections

Tuberville, Sessions campaign together

The two former Republican primary opponents participated in a series of campaign events across the Tennessee Valley area.

Brandon Moseley

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Former Sen. Jeff Sessions, left, and Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville, right.

The Tommy Tuberville for U.S. Senate campaign released a social media video Thursday featuring Tuberville alongside former U.S. Sen. and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The two former Republican primary opponents had participated in a series of campaign events across the Tennessee Valley area.

Tuberville and Sessions on Wednesday met with representatives of Huntsville’s defense and technology sectors, participated in an event sponsored by the Republican Women of Huntsville and headlined multiple campaign fundraising events.

Sessions said, “Tommy, I support you 100 percent. Alabama must send you to represent us in the Senate. We cannot allow a Chuck Schumer acolyte – Doug Jones – to represent Alabama in the Senate.”

“You see it on his vote on the judges and Kavanaugh and the way he’s behaved about the new nominee, so I think … it would be shocking that Alabama would reelect a Doug Jones,” Sessions continued. “I know you’re going to win. I feel really good about it, and I’m glad that you’re traveling the state hard and that you’re here in this important community.”

The night after Tuberville won the Republican primary runoff election, Sessions committed to doing his part to help defeat Jones and reclaim the Senate seat for the ALGOP.

“After we won the runoff, Jeff Sessions called and told me, ‘Coach, I’m all in,’ and today’s joint events certainly demonstrate that he is a man of his word,” Tuberville said following the video shoot. “Jeff Sessions understands that it’s time we once again had a U.S. senator whose votes reflect our conservative Alabama values, not the ultra-liberal Hollywood and New York values of Doug Jones’s high-dollar, out-of-state campaign donors.”

Tuberville faces a determined Jones, who is flooding the airwaves with ads. Democrats are desperate to hold on to Jones’ seat, believing that his seat could tip control of the Senate to the Democrats.

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Democrats hope to hold onto their control the U.S. House of Representatives and a recent poll by Rasmussen shows Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden with a five point lead over incumbent Donald Trump.

Sessions left the U.S. Senate to accept an appointment as Trump’s first attorney general.

Jones defeated former Chief Justice Roy Moore to win the seat in the special election.

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Sessions was fired by Trump in 2018 and announced his candidacy for Senate the day before qualifying ended. Tuberville had already spent ten months on the campaign trail at that point.

Tuberville defeated Sessions, Moore, Congressman Bradley Byrne, State Rep. Arnold Mooney and businessman Stanley Adair in the crowded Republican primary. Tuberville is a former Auburn University head football coach. He also coached Texas Tech, Cincinnati and Ole Miss. Tuberville won a national championship as the defensive coordinator at the University of Miami. Tuberville lives in Auburn.

The general election is Nov. 3.

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Education

Report: Alabama is fourth-least politically engaged state in 2020

The study scored states based on 11 key indicators of political engagement. Those included things like voter turnout, political donations and voter accessibility policies.

Micah Danney

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Alabama was ranked fourth from last in political engagement in the country in 2020 in an analysis done by the personal finance website WalletHub.

The study scored states based on 11 key indicators of political engagement. Those included things like voter turnout, political donations and voter accessibility policies.

A record 137.5 million Americans voted in the 2016 presidential election, but that only accounts for 61.4 percent of citizens who are old enough to vote. The U.S. ranks 26 in voter turnout among the world’s 35 developed nations. 

“That’s no surprise, considering most states don’t emphasize civic education in their schools,” the report points out. “Large proportions of the public fail even simple knowledge tests such as knowing whether one’s state requires identification in order to vote.”

One of the study’s metrics where Alabama scored lowest was the percentage of the electorate that voted in the 2016 election, which was 57.4 percent. That number is low, said Jill Gonzalez, a WalletHub analyst, and is 4.5 percent lower than it was in the 2012 presidential election.

She said that other factors responsible for the state’s low rank were its preparedness for voting in a pandemic and the low percentage of residents who participate in local groups or organizations.

The report’s assessment of the state’s preparedness for voting in a pandemic included voting accessibility metrics.

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“Alabama actually received a negative score here because of the unnecessary obstacles created for voter access, such as: voters need a notary or two witnesses to complete an absentee ballot, voters are required to provide a copy of a photo ID for the mail application and/or ballot, and mail ballots are due before close of polling,” Gonzalez said in an email.

She said that states ranked at the top of the list, like first-place Maine, have higher engagement due to measures taken by state legislatures. 

“Making it easy for people to vote increases engagement,” Gonzalez said. “This can be done through things like automatic voter registration, early voting, or voting by mail. The existence of local civic organizations involved in voter mobilization also plays a part in this.”

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A federal judge ordered Alabama on Sept. 30 to do away with its witnesses or notary requirement for mail-in ballots, and to allow curbside voting for the Nov. 3 election. An appeals court reversed the former ruling on Tuesday, a decision which Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill applauded. It upheld the latter decision, about which Merrill said, “we intend to appeal to the Supreme Court to see that this fraudulent practice is banned in Alabama, as it is not currently allowed by state law.”

Metrics where Alabama ranked below average, with a score of one being best and 25 being average, were as follows:

  • 26th in percentage of registered voters in the 2016 presidential election
  • 35th in voter accessibility policies
  • 37th in percentage of the electorate who voted in the 2018 midterm elections
  • 38th in total political contributions per adult population
  • 42nd in percentage of the electorate who voted in the 2016 presidential election
  • 45th is the change in the percentage of the electorate who actually voted in the 2016 elections versus the 2012 elections

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Elections

Alabama Retail Association endorses Mike Rogers

“Proud to receive the endorsement of the Alabama Retail Association’s PAC!” Rogers said.

Brandon Moseley

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Congressman Mike Rogers

Congressman Mike Rogers, R-Alabama, this week thanked the Alabama Retail Association for their recent endorsement. Rogers is seeking his tenth term representing the 3rd Congressional District.

“Proud to receive the endorsement of the Alabama Retail Association’s PAC!” Rogers said. “Through sales of food, clothing, furniture, medicine and more, the retailers’ 4,300 independent merchant and national company members touch almost every aspect of daily living.”

Rogers was first elected in 2002 after previous service in the Alabama House of Representatives and the Calhoun County Commission. He currently serves as ranking member of the Committee on Homeland Security and is a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee. Mike also serves as a member of the Strategic Forces subcommittee.

Rogers summarizes his conservative ideology with the old adage “the government that governs best, governs least.”

Rogers is a graduate of Saks High School and earned both his undergraduate degree in political science and masters of public administration at Jacksonville State University. He was a practicing attorney and is a small business owner in Calhoun County.

Rogers faces Democratic nominee Adia Winfrey in the Nov. 3 general election.

The Alabama Retail Association represents retailers, the largest private employer in the state of Alabama, before the Alabama Legislature and the U.S. Congress. Through sales of food, clothing, furniture, medicine and more, the association’s 4,300 independent merchant and national company members touch almost every aspect of daily living.

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Rogers is a sixth generation East Alabamian and native of Calhoun County. He has been married to his wife, Beth, for 35 years. They have three children. Mike grew up in the small mill village of Blue Mountain. His mother worked in the local textile mill and his father was a firefighter.

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